Writing desk as home

mydeskThis is my desk.

A lot of famous writers or published authors have taken to showing where they work. I’m positive they clean it up and manipulate it. I didn’t even bother to dust.  I wanted to give you the authentic experience. Oh the glory!

Of course, I’m neither famous nor published (at least not in book form), but as a tip of my hat to all writers who spend hour upon hour alone with their thoughts, music or not playing on a DVD, and engrossed in a story they want to tell, I pay tribute to you, my friends. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re published or not. I have a small sense of what’s in your hearts and how much of yourselves go into what you’re creating out of nothing but your memories and your imaginations. You are the experience. The experience is you.

I have a relationship with this space that’s as every bit as real to me as those I have with people in the flesh. Even though in the past four years, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve spent way too much time here in this five foot rectangle. I’m not denying that being out in the world, interacting with people, seeing places near and far is a good way to live and explore. It’s the best! But there is a world so rich and so deep inside that Dr. Seuss got it right even when he didn’t mean for the expression to encompass what I’m talking about: Oh the places you’ll go! The people you’ll meet! Even inside your own head. ha ha.

Like most people, the things I’ve chosen to have around me hold meaning.

Clay mask

I have this weird mask that I bought in a small art gallery called Marigold Arts on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was made by Allan R. Bass. I spent more money on it than I’ve ever spent on a piece of art. The pamphlet that came with the piece says he “developed a style of firing that combines Raku and Pit-firing techniques to achieve an Ancient yet contemporary expression.” He lives in a Kiva-styled pit house in rural New Mexico. In other words, he’s my kind of guy! But I bought the mask because it was just so different than anything I’d seen.claymaskArbutus Tree

I took this photo of an Arbutus tree on Salt Spring, of course, on a visit in 2007 with my friend Lisa Wolfe. She was recovering from an operation and still chose to come camping with me. I was being interviewed for a job at the Driftwood which I didn’t get. Gotta love rugged women! I just loved the patterns and the green bark. This tree is in a special place in Ruckle Park that I go to where few people ever are, and it takes me back to so many times of happiness and peace. The first time I ever saw it was with Will Gerlach whom I am eternally grateful to for introducing me to Salt Spring.

arbutustree

Buddhist Temple

In 1987 or 1988, I went to San Francisco with a friend named Pam Melnyk. She was a quintessential hippy, a few years older than me. Pam had been to San Francisco many times and was the perfect person to travel with, especially for me a newbie to the city. We stayed at a hotel in Union Square. She took me through Haight Ashbury and because she was such a music buff, I got the whole history. At the end of a most memorable few days we got bumped from the plane and got paid to stay. We were so HAPPY you would have thought we’d won Lotto max. One more day! This Buddhist temple was at the end of a fantastic walking tour of China town and it was high up in a building that overlooked the financial district. I still recall the experience of lighting those incense sticks.sanfranbuddisttempleElephant

I have a little gold elephant in front of me bought by my dear friend Colleen Eaton on her trip to India. She has a fantastical story about getting on the back of a motorcycle to go back to this shop to have these little prints framed. I love elephants and elephants with trunks up are lucky. Did you know that? Never buy an elephant print if the trunk isn’t up!

elephant

Ruckle House

Below elephant is Ruckle house. This photo taken by a very dear friend Tom James while I lived on Salt Spring. I just love the reflection through the window and the photo of original Henry Ruckle with his wife and baby. I have peered into this window so many times, a ritual whenever I visit Ruckle farm, and it never changes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There aren’t many places or things you can say that about and that really appeals to me.

Ruckleportrait

BC Women Artists

A poster I purchased at the Art Gallery of Victoria on a week-long trip to Victoria in 1986. I used to look at this poster and wonder about it, not really understanding the second to last shape. Now that I am that shape, I get it. Damn! I have always loved this poster. There is something profound in those five shapes representing the five phases of women which is its title. By the late Victoria artist Margaret Peterson.

MargaretPeterson

Paper weight

A paperweight with raspberry’s inside. Takes me back to a simpler time, a time in the country. I imagine this lying on a half-finished quilt in a small house with a wood stove and I just love it. A Value Village find.

paperweightIdog

Hey, it can get lonely here. Sometimes as a distraction I press the nose of my little yellow Idog and he shakes his head and barks. Often he’ll be silent and then out of the blue he’ll let out some robotic yelp and scare the hell out of me. Bad dog! Unpredictable! He wants attention but he’s so much less fuss than a real dog, if not quite as unconditionally loving. idogPhotos

A picture of Colleen and I on a trip to Salt Spring way back in 2001 to visit her sister who owns a house there in Vesuvius Bay. A particularly nice weekend.

colleenandme

A saying

Whenever there is a problem repeat over and over. “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” A gift from Colleen, probably at a time when I wasn’t feeling very good.

newagesaying

Another card, hidden behind the one above. A card from Catherine Bennington, a woman I shared a workspace with at UBC in the basement of the David Lam building when I worked at UBC Multimedia Studies between 1995 and 1999 and she worked for Teaching and Academic Growth. She still works there. We’re Facebook friends and I know she would probably be amazed that I still have this card. But it was perfection and she captured what really matters to me in this simple handmade card. Thank you Catherine.catherinecardThere’s also a photo of the house I grew up in on Hamilton Street at Canada Way across from Moody Park in New Westminster that was ripped down in 1980 to make way for condos after my parents sold and moved to Langley. mavorhouse

A photo taken by me inside the old barn at Burgoyne Bay.  I love the colours of the wood and the beautiful vines across the window. I used to go there on my own with my camera and the enjoyment I got from that old run down place is impossible to describe or perhaps even understand. The sound of the starlings. The aroma of the grass in summer. Those moments are embedded inside of me and this photo helps to remind me of how special my time on Salt Spring was; how much contentment. It almost makes me cry now thinking of it.DSC_0746

I could go on but this is already way too long. Suffice it to say that our things are special to us. And this tiny space, my desk, so easily dismantled, is also a reminder of how little is truly required to feel at home when the richness of life inside of us is equal to that all around in the world.

Maybe you’d like to tell me about your writing space. Or show me.

The importance of year end musing

TarotcardsA quote that struck me as particularly relevant by Paulo Coehlo – “Life has many ways of testing a person’s will, either by having nothing happen at all, or by having everything happen all at once.”

Even though I know that the end of another year is an artificial marker, I think it’s truly important to spend time reflecting on the 365 days that have passed.

Beginnings and endings are a container for life and it’s good to sift through that container and discover, to remind ourselves annually, what has been deposited in that time frame?

What am I hoping to do better in the next 365 days? It seems, especially as we age, if we begin to recognize the significance of one day, each day, everything becomes more urgent.

I don’t want that urgency to manifest in a panic stricken, deer in the headlights, rushing around, never having the capacity to be alone kind of way. No. I just want to accept that no matter where I’m at, no matter what is going on, acceptance is really the only way to calm down and get through it.

If I’m not pleased with the way I have spent too much of my time in the past year, with the way relationships have unfolded, or even if you are exceptionally delighted with all that has transpired, it is good to remind yourself that this is no dress rehearsal. The challenge, then, is to weigh that conscious awareness of what your ideal reality might look like, then realign the structure of your current endeavours to fit better with that ideal. It sounds so much easier than it is.

These past few years have felt really challenging, emotionally. To use a cliché, two steps forward, three steps back. That’s how the past couple of years have felt to me.  I’ve thought about it a lot and wondered about it deeply without being very successful at finding the ultimate solution. Expecting that there is one is probably the problem.

I know that part of it has to do with the move back from Salt Spring. It was as if the biggest dream I could ever dream, one that I never imagined could ever happen, happened by my spontaneous move to Salt Spring for a few years. Then, I returned to a place that I never really wanted to come back to for a variety of reasons that made sense then, and after all, it was only temporary so no big deal.  That’s what I told myself. It was time for other things that I didn’t think I could make happen from that island and I was right about that.

Temporary has now been four years. I’ve struggled with trying to understand what this is and why, as my former shrink once said in reference to my leaving the island and my subsequent feelings about that, “It’s as if you are mourning for a long lost lover.” Perhaps Salt Spring was my ideal lover. It fit so many of the experiences that matter to me – nature, community, creativity, solitude, relationship with self – that I experienced much less of prior to that move, and didn’t really know how much they truly mattered to me until I lived on that island and experienced them to a degree I hadn’t experienced previously.

So to leave that ideal and return to the muck of my own history, by returning to the place where I was born and lived the first 20 years of my life because it was close to my elderly father, because the rent was cheap, was not what I would call a well thought out decision.

Some people think my equating my feelings about the past four years with a place is ridiculous. It’s just a place! We have the ability to determine how we think about where we are at, geographically.  But anyone who thinks that hasn’t thought very deeply about how childhood shapes us, defines us before we can define ourselves, and how much work it took, especially if that childhood was less than ideal, to throw off that cloak and walk towards something better in the first place.

Given that, how could there not be psychological consequences to return to such a defining place. Places are memories and experiences that have led to ways of thinking about ourselves, not just dots on a Google map. Anyone who has made a move to a new location, found a new home, will have experienced that feeling of rightness or out of placeness. “Wherever you go there you are,” but sometimes where you are truly isn’t the best place for who you’ve become.

And in spite of my resistance, the decision has resulted in some personal growth. Since I’ve been back, I’ve travelled to Cambodia and Thailand and my favourite big island, Hawaii. I went through the Writer’s Studio, I wrote a lot, I met some new people. I’ve then taken a bunch of courses towards a different goal related to counselling and met a smattering of other types of people – wannabe counsellors are different from wannabe writers. I enjoyed observing the differences and mulling over the similarities.

I’ve never felt so in between things in my life, except, as I say that, I think that’s wrong. I think that experience, that in-between, has been the theme of my life for a very long time. Not quite settled. One foot in the past. Another in the future. Hovering above the present.

These past couple of years have been a test of my patience which is limited at the best of times. It’s been a test of being forced to examine the past, layers of memories around every corner where I now live, and there is some minor inkling that this reluctant return is not a coincidence even if born from a less than insightful choice.

There is a sense that at some point in the future, in my writing, or in my life, that this detour, will prove to have been the returning to the source that was required to start anew no matter how far a stretch that seems as I write it.

So tapping into intuition, or perhaps yearning for it to be so, I’m feeling that 2016 is going to be a year that finally frees me from this stuckness. I think it’s going to be a very good year. Better than I can imagine right now. Hoping I’m right. Hoping I have the will to make it so.

I hope that for all of you as well.

Cultural appropriation or reverence?

nativebracelet2With all the talk in Canada these days fuelled by the new Liberal government in relation to Aboriginal peoples, I opened this blog, my blog, and realized not for the first time (but with deeper consideration) that what people see is a photograph in the header of a bracelet created by an Aboriginal man and I’m a middle- aged white chic.

What’s THAT image got to do with anything relevant to my life?

I wear this bracelet every day, and a silver with gold ring that was given to me by the UBC Department of Computer Science, after I worked there for almost four years doing Communications for them.

It was such a special gift and so amazing to receive because it was something more than I could have imagined any work place would ever give me, and because it represented something that I really revere: Aboriginal art and the culture it emerges from.

After all these years, (I left there in November 2006), I almost never take it off and it has become a part of my identity, a comfort, a symbol of rightness in feeling, when it’s on.

I realize that I have never even acknowledged the artist who created it, and now, unfortunately, I’m having trouble really recalling who that was. It could be Tony Hunt Jr.  The image on the bracelet is representative of the Wolf.

mynativebracelet

I’m thinking about this now because it is so heartening to see that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is at least moving in the right direction in terms of inclusivity and acknowledgement of Aboriginal peoples trying to build on the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As a non-aboriginal person, it can feel awkward speaking to aboriginal anything. Are you using the right terminology? What’s the difference between indigenous, aboriginal, and First Nation’s? Here’s an article from UBC about this topic of terminology. I’m hoping it’s as up to date as it should be in terms of understanding.

Where’s the line between appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is it wrong to call in aboriginal dancers and carvers at every major event (think Olympics) while throughout our country our lack of valuing Aboriginal peoples is carved into the landscape in reserves without running water, in missing and murdered aboriginal women whose numbers continue to grow, in the homeless,  in our prisons where the percentage of Aboriginal people is disproportionate.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013/2014, Aboriginals account for one-quarter of admissions to provincial/territorial correctional services in spite of representing three percent of the Canadian adult population.  They made up 26% of total custodial admissions in 2013/2014.

Recently I was reading a paper written by Amrita Roy from Manitoba about Inter-generational Trauma and the implications for Mental Health in Aboriginal Women during pregnancy.

One of the sentences in this paper that really struck with me was this one: “The explicit patriarchy embedded into Aboriginal societies by missionaries, residential schools and the Indian Act have yielded inequities and oppression based on gender (LaRoque, 1994). It goes on to talk about how “the symptoms of the Intergenerational Trauma experience have been absorbed into the culture and transmitted as learned behaviour from generation to generation”(Sotero, 2006, p. 96).

When I read what now seems like such an obvious statement,  I had this lightning bolt realization that of course there is a connection between  missing and murdered aboriginal women and this history relative to Aboriginals, especially Aboriginal women, in Canada.

Now, you might think to yourself, “Duh, where have you been?” But, to really realize how the history of patriarchy has played out in the individual lives of aboriginal peoples, and focus that lens on how that continues to impact girl children and women, with the most obvious signs being that of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal girls and women, seems pretty key to learning how to overcome the humanitarian crisis in Canada in relation to Aboriginal people in general, and girls and women in particular.

So, that’s a very convoluted thought process to say that I wear this bracelet because it was a beautiful gift, because of what it represents to me in what I have overcome in my own life and how that specific job was a part of that, and for hope that understanding through cultural sharing can create a bridge to emotional recovery and success.

In search of a personal peace

dove

In the wake of the terror that has struck at Paris, but will strike elsewhere in an equally senseless manner, I’ve been really struggling with how to go about my life while being inundated by news of horrific realities?

I can’t stop thinking of fearful innocent children and babies, their heartbroken mothers and fathers, and the desperate, confused, sick and elderly all trying to survive in what is amounting to hell on earth.

I can’t stop seeing that photo of a little boy’s body, like a doll’s, prostrate on a beach. I can’t escape the photos in social media and on TV of life rafts bulging with desperate humans, or soldiers in Belgium with automatic weapons who must be wondering about every single person walking towards them and whether they are who they seem.

I was in a shopping mall the other day and I saw a Muslim woman pushing her child in a stroller. I felt sad thinking about what it might feel like to be her. I wondered if she was fearful just to go shopping knowing that even though it’s Canada, there is that ignorant plague who haven’t bothered to educate themselves, and never have. Their reactions always predictable when confronted by any type of difference regardless of its manifestation, whether indigenous, homeless, or immigrant.  We all know them.

All of this going on and yet I still have clean sheets. I wash my dishes. I have the luxury of safety in my living room.  I eat chocolate. I watch TV. I go about my small little life and feel comforted by familiarity. I enjoy some of the nice things that I have purchased – and grown attached to –  on vacations in foreign places. So many people have had that small luxury of attachment ripped from their reality. Or they never experienced it in the first place.

So when I hear Canadians call into radio shows and say, “But we’re just not ready to accept 25,000 refugees,” I want to laugh at them and their wariness in a world that is begging for heroes. Who said anything about being ready? Just like those fleeing, ready or not has become the new reality. Our risk, however, is so much less than the risk refugees lived with ever time they left their homes, when they had homes, before their homes were blown to bits.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that this is just about the newly power hungry. Don’t let recent events lull you into ignoring the West’s role in this, the actions of Superpowers, and who armed who and which side is backing the others and learning a least a little bit about what contributed to how we ended up here in this mess.

If not now, then when? If you’re not willing to have your small little life disturbed just a little, for the sake of others in desperate life and death need, then when? Stop living as if he or she, they, those foreigners, have nothing to do with you because they’re there and you’re here. If you live in Canada, you won the lifestyle lottery through no effort of your own.

What strikes me overwhelmingly in the frenzied din of all those media producers beating every Think Tank for commentators is all the new terminology. There’s that word: caliphate. Whenever I hear that word, I am offended. It’s as if I’ve entered some medieval video game that I never wanted to play in the first place. And then at complete odds with that ideology, we have a term that I just heard today in a different context – pathological hopefulness – which I think is a perfect fit for all those naive enough to think that, in this instance, prayer is going to make a difference.

I don’t want this new ugly knowledge as the warlord of my consciousness. It’s like a strain of bacteria that has mutated and is well on its way to becoming a Super bug.

Suicide belts and caliphates and all that other ridiculous boy toy, war game craziness feels like some James Bond film in which the virtual reality has managed to leap from the screen.

Given all this, I find myself wondering how to integrate what is going on in the world with the peace that is my own reality, the peace I have only ever desired be available to every soul on the planet.

So how are you feeling these days? Do you find yourself asking similar questions? What kind of touchstones are you finding any solace in? I’d really like to know.

Life choices and steering the ship

 

StevestonboatIt has been quite an interesting month or so.

I’ve interviewed a wonderfully quirky glass artist whose father was best friends with the former Pierre Elliott Trudeau.

I loved meeting a self taught musician who is passionate about making silent films and has made 40-50 doing everything from acting to filming, production and set building.

stevestondockI was fascinated to meet with a female real estate executive who built her career from the age of 19 and whose brokerage did a sales volume of 11 billion in 2014. She was nothing like I expected her to be. I felt as if she should have been sitting in some English country manor hosting me to tea, her refinement so much a defining feature.

DisneyshipI got a contract through a friend of a friend who connected me with a neuropsychologist, originally from New York, who specializes in concussion. She is the only person in BC with the specialized credentials that she has related to baseline testing and providing the kind of comprehensive, interdisciplinary post-injury care that, according to her, isn’t done here, even though many pretend to do it if you are convinced by their marketing.

As I was enjoying meeting and hearing the stories of these very diverse individuals, I was reminded of why it was that I was interested in journalism in the first place. It wasn’t really the writing. It was the people. Or maybe that isn’t quite right. Maybe it was both. It’s the melding the oral stories into print stories and the combination of those two realities where interpersonal and inner worlds meet. The wonder, still, of being given the privilege of asking questions of individuals whom I would never meet in my daily existence.  And regardless of whether they were incredibly wealthy or invested very little in our society’s focus on money, they were all successful to me, because of the unique lives they’ve created for themselves.

saltspringboat

Yesterday, I was reminded, again, that we all have our stories. You don’t have to be famous to count. Someone I’ve been acquainted with for about four years in a very superficial way told me a personal story as I folded my laundry in her laundromat. She told me that when she was 16, she came to Canada and was adopted by her mother’s sister because her mother’s sister didn’t have any children. So she actually has two mothers, one biological in the Philippines, and the other, her aunt, now her mother, who took her in, raised her and legally adopted her.

“But did you want to come here?”

“Yes and no,” she said.

whiteboat

I was intrigued by the family dynamics that would have gone into that decision and after the fact I wondered what made her finally share that personal story with me, yesterday.

One of my interview subjects grew up in Outremont and now drives around in a rusted, dented truck in which the passenger seat doesn’t even sit upright so when you’re in it you have to support yourself leaning forward or pretend you’re a mannequin in some film noir movie where you’re leaning back, crooked and stiff.

She’s an example of how far we move from our roots both geographically and metaphorically when artistic sensibilities drive us to alternative choices than the ones our parents would have hoped for us. Or perhaps it was the tragedy in her past that has pushed her to this opposite coast, like the fallout after the storm when a rare bird ends up in a part of the world where it isn’t typically to be found.

deerlakekayaks

Two of them spoke about the role of unconditional love and how that early security and attachment to a caregiver, a mother, a father, imbued in them the ability to embrace risk, confident that they could go out into the world secure in knowing they had an anchor to turn to when emotional turbulence struck. It was a theme.

Then I read a Facebook posting that introduced me to a test that I’d never heard of before called the ACE Score with ACE standing for Adverse Childhood Experiences. Apparently, your score on this test, based on your experiences in childhood, can predict a lot about your future in terms of mental, physical health and overall wellbeing.   If you feel like it, you can take the ACE test. But then what? What do you do with the result if you score 4 or higher? What are you supposed to do with that number?  It’s why some tests may be better left untaken.

net

A friend who always has pearls of wisdom wrote to me the other day and ended her letter this way.   “Remember that you steer your own ship, or to change metaphors, you are the mistress of your soul. So go for what, in the clear light of your present situation, you really want to do. Life is short.”

Advice we all know. The trick is to live it.

The World as Sexist Amusement Park

womenandmen

I walked into my apartment building the other afternoon and heard a man somewhere on the second floor yelling vehemently at a woman with his words ending with the C..T label ringing out onto the street.  I am so incensed by the use of this label to demean women. And I’m willing to bet that most women, even those you wouldn’t expect, have had this spiked back at them in the heat of an argument.

Sitting on the sky train last night I was using Twitter and as sometimes pops up, I was able to see others who are connected to WIFI. Someone had labelled their WIFI connection CityRapist. That alarmed me. I looked around the Skytrain car trying to guess which guy that might be. What are you supposed to do when you see that? How can you not think that someone in close proximity could be dangerous?

Saw the video on that loser from Hydro One who couldn’t get enough of the FHRITP immaturity which led to his firing which seems, in a way, too easy a response towards his behaviour. His firing will change nothing about his behaviour. In fact, it may entrench it further in an even angrier way.  Participation with victims after extensive sensitivity training might have gone further towards a minor hope for change given his Neanderthal-level maturity that was so vividly captured on videotape.

Hearing about the reported discrepancy between Prime Minister Harper’s directive to the Canadian Military to try and find a way to change what has been described as a misogynistic and sexualized culture and then the follow up report by CBC that Gen. Tom Lawson, chief of defence staff, who has allegedly responded in a way that leads one to assume that key recommendations will be ignored.

And that’s only what we hear about en masse. But we all know that too often what gets said to a female’s face is not the same as what gets said behind her back, and that can often fall along the lines of what that guy on the street said to that reporter, complete with snickers and defiance and a sense of gender superiority and judgement based on the grading and judgement of female sexuality, female bodies as commodity, not human beings.

It’s all so tiring and old.

And I have to hope that it’s because we’re on the cusp of a significant social shift that the natives, at times, can become even more unruly which is why we’re seeing such pushback from those desperately trying to hang on to a status quo of sexist thought and behaviour as the ubiquitous and unconscious norm.

Revisiting Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

It must have been about 20 years ago now that I started to read the book, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Enquiry into Values and then, like a lot of people, I got a little overwhelmed by the density of the content in spots and put it down.

I love reading about road trips. I have fantasies about being a motorcycle owner and riding off into the sunset. Who hasn’t?  Robert Pirsig’s descriptions along the way kept me engaged even though I was increasingly frustrated by not really understanding what the philosophy behind the book was really about. I didn’t get it.

A few months ago, I heard a really engaging radio documentary about the book which brought it back to life, and as you might have noticed in your own life, the universe conspired to put the content right in front of me, albeit in a bit of a round about way.

I stumbled across, Zen and Now, a book written by Mark Richardson, the editor of the Wheels section of the Toronto Star newspaper. Richardson published his book in 2008 after doing the Pirsig Pilgrimage, following the route that Robert Pirsig took with his young son, Chris, back in 1968. Pirsig’s book was published in 1974.

Richardson had an inkling about writing a book before he took off on his copycat journey in 2008 but really wasn’t sure he would follow through on it.

What I enjoyed most about Richardson’s book was the background information on Robert Pirsig’s life, written with the advantage of history on Richardson’s side.

Robert Pirsig is still alive. His son, Chris, was robbed and murdered outside a Zen monastery in the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco when Chris was 22-years-old.

Pirsig is now 86-years-old according to Google and his whole life (at least to the public) has been defined (for better or worse) by taking that motorcycle journey from Minneapolis to San Francisco and his compulsion to write about it, and then follow the first book up with a second book, Lila: An Enquiry into Morals.

If you’re interested, here’s Mark Richardson’s website, Zen and Now.

Here’s a timeline of Robert Pirsig’s life: http://www.psybertron.org/timeline.html

Watch an 8 minute video and hear Robert Pirsig speak and hear how the title of the book came to him.

Here’s a discussion group on the Metaphysics of Quality. http://moq.org/

I now have the little pink paperback, the original Pirsig book. I purchased it at a used bookstore near UBC and I’m feeling a little more ready to commit to getting through it this time, now that I’m a little more clued in to what he was trying to communicate.