No news like good news!

Well, it seems miracles can happen after all.

The US mid-term election results are in, the Democrats control the House, and may yet control the Senate, and Rumsfeld has stepped down.

I'm hoping these are the first signs that the national paranoia will ease, human rights will be restored, and the troops will be withdrawn. It will take time, of course, but the USA needs to get back in touch with the rest of the world.

These events give me more hope than I've had in quite a while.


back in action

I'm editing a post on my experiences at TIFF, but it's going to have to take second place this weekend, as I prepare 4 entries for a contest on a web-site I visit. Obviously by the time I post it, my report will be out-of-date, but since nobody reads this but me, that's just fine.


TIFF Ahoy!

Yes I know, it's been forever since I posted. So sue me.

A friend & I are on our way to Toronto tomorrow, for 8 days at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). We went last year & had enough fun to give it another try. Films on our agenda:

The Journals of Knud Rasmussen
A Good Year
For Your Consideration
Copying Beethoven
Alatriste (2 showings, hoping to see director & cast & hear them talk about it)
Dixie Chicks - Shut Up and Sing
Snow Cake
When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts

We're hoping to get last minute tickets for:

An Evening with Michael Moore
Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan

Tickets in hand for:

Spamalot (Monty Python-based musical revue)

Our rule is no more than 2 events per day, and we also want to take in the ROM, the Warhol exhibit at the AGO, some smaller galleries & a little judicious shopping. Oh, and eat at a bunch of interesting restaurants. Probably not much in the way of night life, but you just never know. We're leaving the boys at home, where they can rent DVDs and go to jazz clubs and swill all the wine they can hold. I call that a fair trade.

Reports will be posted as & when. In other words, don't hold your breath.



I drive to work each morning
Tears come to my eyes

Not from bright sun
Or from beauty
Or even from anger

I have no explanation
For these
Unwanted tears

Who is it I cry for?
Or the ones without names?



There's no question about it, I've been neglecting this blog. Sometimes it's just going to be that way. I've still got a demanding day job (not retired yet!), and family and friends outside of cyberspace. I don't do all my writing here, either.

So, any of you out in net-space who stumble across this little haven, be warned that I don't do daily updates, and when I do update it may be trivial, profound, or just plain weird.

That is all.


Poetry, Even If It's Not Tuesday

Here's a couple of short ones from Exene Cervenka, from "A Beer On Every Page". The originals were handprinted so I can't reproduce them accurately, but will try to mix upper & lower case to give you the idea. Get yourself a copy & see the rest! Her other poetry books are "Virtual Unreality" and "Adulterers Anonymous" (with Lydia Lunch).


We cAN't See the
TiMe UNiQUe.
i WiSH it WASN't ALL
it WAS JEt bLACk
& StARRY. LiKe
DReSS & A WHite
the WAY. CUPiD'S
OR the COMPUter'S ~
MAttER. the
& i CAN't SEE

Check out Exene's web-site


The opposite of negative

An internet friend has put me onto a very good thing.

The concept is to recognize and record three positive things that occur every day, for at least 30 days, thereby forming a habit of acknowledging that good things do in fact happen. The positive things can be external, like a beautiful day or something in nature, nice things that happen between people, events that are enjoyable, and of course, personal accomplishments. It’s not a particularly new idea, but it flies in the face of most schools of therapy and certainly of the prevailing point of view in today’s media.

It’s not enough, as a colleague of mine says, to “quit your whining”. We need to be open to seeing the good and nice; to feel good about ourselves and our environments. Because, when all is said and done, we have it pretty good here and now. I doubt there would be many people in so-called “developing countries” who would disagree – a lot of them are trying to be just like us, or to come here and live among us. Just imagine how much better it could be if we could invoke a POSITIVE self-fulfilling prophecy.

This doesn’t mean putting the blinkers on about bad things that happen to us or around us, or evil and corruption which occurs all too often in public office. That wouldn’t be sensible; we need to recognize and deal with those things too. The danger is that focusing exclusively on the negative actually damages one’s health and mental well-being. Whereas the positive thoughts can exert an opposite, beneficial effect, helping us cope with the negative and strengthen us in counteracting it.

I’ve been doing it for nearly a week, and I can already feel the difference. This could become a permanent habit. Finally, a good habit! Thank you, E.P.



In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m Canadian. That means I live in a (nominally) bilingual country. What does that mean? Well, it means that all our federal laws and official documents must be issued in both languages. Of course, that may or may not happen at provincial or municipal levels. New Brunswick is currently the only officially bilingual province. Quebec is unilingual French, and the rest of the provinces are unilingual English. The degree of accommodation to either of the minority languages, depending where you are, varies quite a lot. For example, merchants in Quebec City and Montreal don’t mind speaking English, just in case they’re addressing a rich USAmerican tourist…

Wikipedia has a good article on Canadian linguistic demographics:
Language demographics of Canada

Sadly, language is used divisively by most politicians, of whatever stripe. That’s one of the reasons why tensions over language continue. It’s a handy whipping-boy for the politicians, used instead of wars to distract us from their less-than-savoury antics.

The linguistic majority here has had much the same feeling as is currently being expressed by our USAmerican cousins about the increasing Spanish-speaking population. While I’m not keen on how they treat their immigrants and minorities, I think that they will find as we have that bilingualism as a movement can neither be ignored nor legislated in any meaningful way. I remember well when it came in force here, as recently as 1969, and how intransigent it has continued to be as an issue. I also think they will find that a substantial linguistic minority, regardless of origin, is likely to push until they get what they want, and whether or not the demographics justify the burden of bilingualism (and it IS a burden, however justified). However, here in Canada we accept it (more or less) as one of the fundamentals of our culture, awkward as it is. If only we were as considerate of our First Nations…

Having said all that, it sounds as if I was opposed to the notion of speaking a second language; I’m not! I can't imagine anything more useful and more mind-expanding than learning at least one other language. As early as possible, so it has a chance of sticking! We've been frustrated here by the attempt to re-educate adults, rather than immersing children, for far too long. Unfortunately, unless you live in New Brunswick or certain limited bilingual regions in the rest of the country, you're unlikely to have sufficient chance to use your second language on a daily basis, and with language it's definitely "use it or lose it", as I know to my cost. On exiting high school *mumble* years ago, I was a fairly fluent French speaker. In spite of having lived in the nation's capital, Ottawa, a supposedly bilingual region, for more than 30 years now, where I could be expected to have lots of chance to use it (but don't really -- don't get me started on people who start speaking English the moment I try my French) I have lost almost all of it. The only time I ever seem to speak French now is on trips to Europe. Like the time I helped a French woman in Bergen Norway with directions. Go figure.

As for our anthem, if you’re interested enough to look, there are some official & unofficial links to the words & music, below. It doesn’t say the same thing in both languages, but that’s no surprise. All too many of our documents say one thing in one language and something entirely different in the other. And of course when you move into the realm of non-official languages, it’s a whole other problem.
Personally, I sing “all of us” rather than “all our sons”, and an extra “O Canada” instead of “God keep our land”. But then, I’m not all that dedicated to the preservation of national, gender-based or religious symbols.

We usually treat language along with religion and politics as one of the “touchy” subjects. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t talk about it, but it tends to produce a lot of shouting. And nobody convinces anybody of their point of view. Too much baggage and emotion attached to the whole sorry business.

The moral of this diatribe? You can't legislate language. It'll get used where it's needed. And to maintain a learned language you've got to live in it at least part of the time, especially if you come to it late.



I don’t know about the rest of you, but my life seems to be ruled by lists.

Here are just a few:
Work projects (mostly with impossible deadlines)
Work documents (ever-increasing thanks to ISO)
Household organization & maintenance
Groceries & other shopping
Inventories (books, music, films, clothing, artifacts)
Social events

Something about the industrial age lends itself to the creation of itemized schedules, as if no goal could ever be achieved otherwise. It’s linked to the quest for perfection, in some sort of mechanical sense. Even our families and friends get put on lists, as if we would forget about them otherwise. Everything carefully slotted in. No room for error. No allowance for mistakes. No creativity. No freedom.

We rely on lists to give structure and meaning to the routine of life. They punctuate and ease mundanity. They propagate – argument could be made that they are a kind of life-form, similar to clocks (but that’s a topic for another day).

I suspect that even after I retire, I will be unable to totally shake my reliance on these parasitic entities that infest my life. Perhaps I should put list eradication at the top of my list of retirement projects?


everything at once

Item: one furnace, 18 years old (approximately) -- crapped out while we were on vacation this winter --rewarded us with a freezing cold house on our return from a month of travel -- replacement cost (high efficiency model, for sure!) probably several thousand (that's Canadian dollars)

Item: one 1993 VW Jetta, blown transmission -- replacement cost about $2700 is more than we could expect to sell it for if it was running well & didn't need major work -- solution? used car, 3-4 years old anywhere from $7500 (fixer-upper) to $12500 (pretty good) -- he doesn't want to pay more than $10K, but I don't know what will be on the market for that!

Item: basement, sorely in need of finishing, now that we've fixed the moisture problems -- he wants to do it all himself, but I'm concerned about things like wiring & plumbing -- needs to get done before next winter since insulation will help against the ever-rising cost of heating (see the furnace item) -- looks like the summer will be "under construction"

Item: 2 interesting opportunities for travel this fall, one to a film festival in Toronto & the other to a conference in Tokyo -- both could get derailed by cost of above items plus the second hasn't been approved for funding from work yet.

I'm sure that won't be the last thing that comes up this week! Oh yes, and it's raining, as well as pouring.


You know you have too many books when...

...you start to organize them in earnest, and discover just how many duplicates you have unknowingly acquired. I'm not talking here about softcover versions of beloved hardcovers, specifically purchased to take on long plane trips. I'm talking about identical books, bought at times far enough apart that you'd forgotten buying the first copy. I think Nick Hornby had something to say about that in his Believer column, along the lines of never having enough time to read all the books he had bought. I can certainly relate to that!

Meanwhile, I still have to get on with the sorting into reasonably intelligible categories & groups. Cookbooks were already in their own bookcase, as were music books (although both are overflowing & probably need to be culled). I've now sorted poetry and books about writing, mostly, made a good start on the travel, gardening, math & science, and biography. Still have a huge number of science/nature, history and art books to organize, and that doesn't even touch on all the novels, ranging from kiddy lit through fantasy & speculative fiction, historical novels, mysteries, mainstream, literary & modern works. Oh yes, and there's a rather large humour section, too.

Did I mention that there are books in every room of the house? I can never move because nobody will be willing to tote all the boxes of books. And I've only scratched the surface. The three rooms with the most books in them haven't even been touched.


Poetry Tuesday

Poetry Tuesday is an event I have just been introduced to. You can post your own or others' poems. A lovely notion, and I always find that it's good to have some external impetus to encourage me to do things I love.

So to start off, a short poem by Wendy Cope:

Another Unfortunate Choice

I think I am in love with A.E. Housman,
Which puts me in a worse-than-usual fix.
No woman ever stood a chance with Housman
And he's been dead since 1936.

...so there. Perhaps it will be one of mine next time.



It looked like just another Monday. You don't see a whole lot of happy faces on the drive in to work Monday mornings. Even those of us who enjoy our jobs, and it seems we're scarcer every day, would rather get a little extra sleep or wind back the clock to Sunday afternoon.

What seemed odd to me was the fact that everyone I spoke to, all day, had little good to say about anything. As the day went on, I found myself feeling more and more discouraged. It didn't help that all the news was either depressing or frightening in some way. People being oppressed or killed does not make for encouraging news. Surely there must be some positive things happening in the world? But I guess they don't sell advertising.

Outside, the temperatures finally broke through solidly into the double digits (Centigrade), the sun was shining cheerfully, and all seemed right with the world. It damn near made me burst out crying.

We walk with our heads down, glumly. We complain about everything. We tolerate opressors in our own purportedly free countries. Our greatest danger is in becoming our own self-fulfilling prophecies.

I'm no Pollyanna, but I do think that there is more positive than negative in the world, and I'm determined to make my little corner of it a more positive place. I refuse to believe that there is no hope for the world.

If hope springs eternal, then let me help it flow.


Springing into action

Hypothesis: Spring is not a gentle season.

1. Snow melt in cold climates along with heavy spring rains produces widespread flooding.
2. Rapid temperature swings increase chances of severe weather including thunderstorms, hail, freezing rain, late blizzards.
3. People respond to changeable weather with increasing irritiability, joint aches & pains, and susceptibility to minor ailments. Mortality increases in populations reliant on seasonal foods, as stores become depleted or deteriorated.
4. While it may look "nicer" outside as plants "green up", increases in insect pests like mosquitoes and blackflies may make it intolerable, as does the flood of pollen for many. Molds and dust lurk under melting snowbanks to add to the burden of allergens.
5. The advent of daylight savings time results in greater frequency of road accidents during the week following the change.

Why is there a disconnect between popular perception of spring as a season of soft colours, baby animals and gentle renewal with the reality of the season as one of the most stressful periods of the year? My view is that winter in northern countries is so painfully long that we impose our own wishful thinking on the reality. We know winter is hard. Therefore spring must be gentle.

We forget that growth and change are painful. This may be a necessary coping mechanism. Or it may simply be a symptom of our will to make the world conform with our notion of how it should be. It is no coincidence that most mythologies incorporate periods of deprivation, struggle and death into their parables of spring. All of this is required for renewal. Where we in the modern world lose the page is in our constant expectation of the best without the leaven of the worst.

Spring is, above all, a season of hope. Achieving those hopes means understanding the risks of not moving towards them, and agreeing to undergo the pain. Delusions of gentleness mask spring's true promise.


Weather vs Climate

Earlier this year I spent some time in Nelson, New Zealand. Now there's a place with climate! Neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter, with miles and miles of perfect beaches. There are some places not unlike that on Vancouver Island. No doubt some of the more fortunate among us live in those idyllic places.

Ottawa, on the other hand, is beset -- no, plagued -- with an excess of weather. Of winter weather that's too cold and so dry that the skin peels right off your lips. Closely followed by summer weather so hot & humid that you simply can't take off enough clothes. Right now, we're having what's laughingly referred to as "spring". The switch flips between rain, snow, sun and wind almost without notice. It's still too soggy now to get in the garden, but in just a couple of weeks the ground will be dry and starting to bake hard. Then it will be hotter than tolerable until sometime in September when the switch will flip back in the other direction. And winter will be upon us again, for somewhere between 6 and 8 months. I think I've been here too long. Surely 32 years is plenty? I don't remember signing up for life...although I did choose to come here originally. I just never thought that it would be forever.

Apart from the weather and the politicians (more on them another time), both of which we love to hate, Ottawa is a great place. Lovely green spaces, abundant art, music and culture, and interesting people everywhere you turn. I suppose if it wasn't the weather, it could be something worse. We're pretty lucky on the whole. So I'll quit my whining...for now. I'll rant about the political climate another time.


Musical Friends 001

Music is a big part of my life, and I have a lot of musical friends. About 10 of us got together today for our monthly shape note sing (see http://fasola.org for more information). It wasn't possible for us to meet in our usual hall, so we went to the house of a friend whose husband died this past January. Very strange not to have him there, and he is much missed in the bass section. We had planned to sing for 2 hours, but it ended up being more like 3. It's difficult to explain this kind of 4-part a capella singing to people who have never heard it, but it is a traditional form from the early to mid 19th century, when musical instruments were in short supply in churches, and communities would hire singing instructors to teach them sight-reading. True to the origins, most of the songs are old hymns with words by Isaac Watts & Co., but today they are sung by a diverse mixture of people with & without religious affiliations. As one of my Jewish friends says, "We sing the poetry". The harmonies are contrapuntal and often quite open -- tenor carries the melody, bass underpins the whole, treble (soprano) warbles the descant (that's me), and alto fills in the middle (some songs have no alto part). It's extremely satisfying to sing, but not really a performance art.

We rarely sing at someone's house, so we added a pot-luck dinner to our day. Everyone brought something different - quiche, foccacia, salad, chili, and some exceedingly decadent desserts. We had the most stubborn bottle of wine I have ever seen. The cork absolutely refused to come out. So, we drank tea instead. Some days are just like that.

Fresh Start

This space is both public & private, shared with a few friends but findable by any who share common interests. Who knows what may be found herein!