" SpiritofSaltSpring:BC:Canada:GulfIslands:SaltSpring:Salt Spring:

December 31, 2007

Year End

Goodbye 2007
abbreviated version

BC Mental Health & Addiction Services Riverview Sydney Smoke-Free initiative Maria Ric Fred Children's Mental Health programs Open House North Lawn Closure Briefing Notes Ministry of Health Bowen Island Linda Lockdown FPH Flooding Lakeview Tin Babe with a Backpack Lynn Canyon Fuse Vancouver Art Gallery Fred Herzog Anthony Bourdain Hons Yuk Yuks YWCA Mentoring Santa Fe David Sweet Abiqui Heidi Jim Sara Sparkey El Paradero Gloria from Houston Ghost Ranch calligraphy O'Keeffe Chama River Yurts Witchita Falls, Texas Nancy from N. Carolina Steve Danceworks CRU Social Marketing Review Board Hearings Photography Meetup Lorna Vanderhague Dave B. Jolly Indian Queens Crossing Prospect Point Richard from Quebec Clove Mrs. Carruthers Lisa Tapastree Rocky Pt. Park Reiffel Bird Sanctuary Psychometry The Tomahawk Saltspring The Driftwood Ruckle Point camping Afrorobics Shannon Falls Coast's Courage to Come Back Awards Stanley Park Neil Beth Richard Carderos Sharkeys Ladner Depression in the Workplace ConferenceThe Pinnacle PHSA Vancouver Heritage House Tours Kayaking Deep Cove Colleen Maple Ridge Blues and Jazz Gwen more free time Sala Thai Bistro Bistro Michele Paul Michelle Reading Monastery without Walls The Black Swan NikonD40 The Yale The Fish House CMHA Fundraising Breakfast Bianca birth Justice baby shower June Sheila Dad The Sylvia Stanley Park Seawall Robson Street Strathcona Coal Harbour Steamworks Brew pub Powell Street Festival Ian Ponchos Mexican Restaurant Chill Winston Fireworks Phyllis Jim Alison Scott Cypress Narida The Lift Peggy Saltaire Ambleside Anne Bob Sechelt Friendship Wakefield Lighthouse Park Squamish Kelowna Aunt Jean Lakeshore Drive Okanagan Lavendar Farm Cedar Creek Winery Summer Hill Winery See Seven Gwen Cara Greenwood Nelson The Hume Hotel Kaslo New Denver Slocan Osoyoos Hedley Phil Synchronicity Gold Rush Inn Mascot Mine Tour The Hitching Post Lightning Lakes Laptop Vancouver General health Fringe Festival Theatre Terrific Aquarium Steveston Holly Bridges Chen Artegiano's Kerrisdale High Tech Communicators' Exchange Vancouver International Film Festival Morse Code Taste of Health Karen & Victor's Thanksgiving Crabtree Corner Dog Mountain Grouse Architectural Institute of BC walks Glenn Gould Blogging CBC Radio Studio One Eleanor Wachtel Bill Duthie Memorial Lecture writing poetry Megan Kim Stanley Theatre Earthsave Blogging Parade of the Lost Souls Leila Luis Libre Room ambulance paramedics Surrey Memorial Hospital kidney dialysis Mom Dr. Karim death Jim Dad The Emerald Suki Madhu New West Quay Joy Shannon Carl The Giants Burgoo The Pen Cafe and Bistro George Strombolopoulis taping Hotel Vancouver Lounge Dee Lolitas Brazilian Steakhouse Michael Lucias Keiko Blenz volunteering CMHA giftwrapping booth Grace Scuzzie's watercolour Bojangles UBC Golf Course Pub Van Dusen Festival of Lights Checo VOC Soul Gospel Choir Peggy Chris Courtenay Catherine Cody snow Stanley Park train Christmas shortbread Banana Leaf Megan Umoja Gordon Karen Kelly S. Doug Yaletown Brewing Company Seymour Snowshoeing Lisa Dave Karen Heather Vince Seymours Pub
One foot in front of the other moving forward.
Enter. 2008.

December 24, 2007

Measuring Longevity through Christmas


Can you call forth Christmas seasons now past
like photos in an album?

Listen harder
for the creaks of
all the rooms
you've been in
on every December 25th
as the last image
of that morning's dream
slipped behind dawn's light

were you alone
or wrapped
snuggly
around the heartbeat of another
clinging safely to
the quietest morning of the year
on the jagged breath
of a lover?

is there a face
long since gone

now
a reminder
that
some sentences
once spoken
stay strong

the final note
of a gospel choir
in full harmony

Further back still
you see them arrive
single file

mother and sisters
giggling and glaring
as the 16mm camera
captures the pilgrimage

Tray after dish
gravy boat after platter

white linen
costumed with
silver spoons and crystal goblets.

Wrap yourself in the smell
of all the arms and legs
of those favorite baby dolls

grip tightly
at what happiness was then

even as the whiff
of vacant stares

rocking, rocking, rocking

greet the nursing home staff
mouthing the words
to Silent Night.

December 20, 2007

Before E-mail



I liked it better
when we were young
and your words
waited like a secret inside the mailbox
loose, crayola-coloured handwriting
saying hello
as warm as your smile and a hug
scrawled on white envelopes
or postcards
some even made of wood

December 19, 2007

How Not To Recycle a Computer

So, I've been trying to get rid of my old desktop computer because it's taking up space in my apartment and my kitchen table has become a desk for my laptop and my apartment looks a little like the living space of a computer science geek. Well, no, then I'd have two monitors, not just one.

Yesterday I had a job interview. Today I have another interview and I think to myself, I can't even figure out how to recycle my 1999 Pentium III computer. It has been almost 5 months since I got my laptop and I just can not get the old desktop out of my house. Who knew this would be a monumental task. If I can't get an old computer out of my house I yell at myself how effective am I really? Would I hire someone who can't get a computer out of their house?

But, wait. It's really not as simple as it sounds. It must be done properly. It's not just like taking out the recycling and separating it properly which, by the looks of the back lane is too intellectually demanding a task for the majority of the Canadian population.

First it requires that I erase the hard drive. Because, hey, I have such confidential records on there. Financial documentation that reveals the sheer lack of depth in my bank accounts. The miniscule income tax returns I've received. Etc.

So, I'm on the Internet trying to find out about all sorts of things I should have already known. I'm learning that Shareware does not mean Freeware. Freeware means Freeware which is why the word free is not in the word share. So after going through all the first stages of downloading a shareware program that I think will do the trick, I must cough up money to complete the deed. But No. No. No. No. I'm not paying MORE money to get rid of my almost 10 year old computer. I might as well just go outside and throw $40 up in the air. So, once again, I'm stalled and every day, I look at that old computer. Sometimes I turn it on thinking I'll try again to find the right program to erase the hard drive. But, I can't seem to bring myself to do it. Not again. I'm too tired right now. It's Christmas. I'm tired. It's raining. I'm tired.

Then, I must know for sure what "recycling" means to the place where I might take it to be recycled. I hear that the Salvation Army recycles. I call them. What do you do with the parts? I ask. I don't know she says. Well who would know? I don't know, she says. Well, is there someone there I could talk to who would know? "No" she says. "Check our website," she says. I do. There's nothing.

I look over at that computer, that white monolithic monitor on my desk and feel helpless. Feel pathetic. I'm being reduced to making whining noises all because of a piece of plastic. I'm leaning over the keyboard, whimpering. Holding my head. Help me.

But, lest you think it's so simple, just try it. Try recycling your obsolete computer. Because nothing is what it seems.

I think I know why THEY say, just take a hammer to the hard drive. Then THEY say things like you could use a magnet to erase the hard drive. A big magnet? How big I think. Can I take one of those little lady bug magnet's off my fridge? Will that erase the hard drive? Who are THEY anyway?

Even if I could find the right sized magnet where would I direct this magnet? Should I be standing back, holding it the way Luke Skywalker holds a lightsabre? When I have this magnet in my hand should I be wearing one of those lead lined covers; the kind they make you wear when you go to the dentist and they take an X-ray? Which part of the machinery would I be holding the magnet in front of? GRRRRR? Do you see what I mean? Can you feel my pain?

I've almost reached a point of no return where I've just decided, I'll just keep it for historical reference. I'll have it, still, on the same desk taking up space when I'm 90 and by that time, I'll have a whole bunch of obsolete computers that I still haven't figured out how to get rid of because the computer chip will surely be implanted, by then, in my hearing aid. Or my pace maker. My cane. My night vision goggles. My artificial frontal lobe.

By then, I will BE a computer myself.

Then, when I die, they'll have to figure out how in the world can we do a "green burial" on this one when she's chalk full of electronics? Most of which, I might add, will be severely outdated.

And with any luck, they'll have just as much trouble trying to recycle me as I'm having trying to recycle my Pentium III which is even too old to give to some charity because Computers in Schools want at least a Pentium III but one that has at least 833mhz of memory or something like that.

Help me. Help me God. Give me a sign. Can't you just beam it up?

December 16, 2007

Closest Thing I've Got to a Christmas Story


Some time in the late 90s I went through an Internet dating phase except the original point of contact wasn't via the Internet as much as it was over the phone.

I went through so many meetings that after their names were long gone from memory, I'd latch on to some attribute about them to label them. I'd catch myself describing them like: The native carver who almost drove me insane. The chanting Buddhist who took me to that temple where we chanted for an entire hour in unison with hundreds of others. The Japanese gardener who kissed me in the elevator at Chapters. The freelance phone psychic. The golfer. The 'Born Again' palliative care-giving, philandering Philippino. The Italian father of five grow-op king. The lover of masochistic films who declared I was exactly the type of person he was looking for 5 minutes after meeting me. No whips required. The polish poet I met at Kinkos. That American whom I was crazy enough to go on a train trip with that required us to be really close together for almost 18 hours when we'd never previously met. Before the train had made it out of West Van, I was looking to get off. The train that is.

I've blocked the majority of meetings from memory the way a survivor of post traumatic stress syndrome surely blocks the original trauma.

The meeting that left the most bittersweet memory however was the one with the biker. I mean the former biker. I had to meet him. I had spoken to him more than once and I jokingly asked him if he had tattoos. When he told me he had 10 I tried to imagine where 10 tattoos would fit on one body then quickly put those thoughts out of my mind.

I pictured this beer-gutted, black-vested, bushy bearded polar bear of a guy scuffing his way towards the nearest coffee shop.

"Make that a double Latte!" Is that what he'd say in a gruff sort of way? Maybe he'd add "on the rocks" just to be safe.

Would his butt crack hang out of his faded blue jeans? Would women's names and arrows shoot from the skin on his forearms and other places I'd rather not imagine. I really didn't know. I was however intrigued at the thought of finding out. His face staring at mine over a coffee was something I felt the need to experience. I wanted to see at least one of those tattoos.

I arrived at the coffee shop. I did the cursory glancing around and spotted him right away. He was on a bar stool staring out the window.He was sipping an orange juice with extra pulp. Don't ask! He as wearing a cracked, brown leather bomber jacket, blue jeans, black and white runners, wide-framed Tortoise shell glasses. His sandy brown hair, tied back in a pony tail, hung a little string-like down his back. He was chewing gum. He looked like a movie star on one of the film sets where I would discover he actually worked as a grip. Danish he was and those Danish genes were present.

"Mark?" I asked.
He stared at me in response.
"You don't look so intimidating," I said a little too loudly, a combination of nerves and relief at his appearance amplifying my voice.
An ever so slight smile crossed his face then changed its mind. I couldn't tell whether he wanted to kiss me or smack me.

We talked. No. Actually. He talked. He told me all about his son, his therapy, and making a lot of changes in the past few years. He kept alluding to us - him and I - being the kind of people who would never have known each other then.
"You're not the kind of woman I'm used to," he said.

Visions of myself as a librarian or kindergarten teacher danced across my mind.

I tried to envision myself clinging to a fat beast of a bike burning rubber down the highway outside of 100 Mile House or Clinton. I really liked the idea. It's never going to happen.

I believed him. I wouldn't ever be the kind of woman he had been used to. I did, however, sometimes have fantasies wishing I could be more like those women.


It was a few days before Christmas. At the time, I was getting ready to go to Mexico so had no intention of staying long. But, we were getting along so famously which in hindsight should be read as: I was doing a good job lisening ad nauseum that he invited me to have lunch and I accepted.

We wandered down the street to a tiny diner where the tables were mere centimetres apart.

He opened the door and just barely across the threshold his big voice boomed, "Excuse me" with such command that I actually jumped a little. So did the rather short guy standing with his back to us in the entrance. I had visions of my biker picking him up by the scruff of his jacket and depositing him behind us. Instead, in complete contrast, my biker simply asked, "Have you been waiting long?"

Now you would have thought based on the way he made the enquiry that he was the minister's wife greeting a young couple on the afternoon of their wedding rehearsal. That's how soft his voice was. I was really beginning to enjoy this. A biker. Sure. Why not? Why not a biker, I said to myself. We squeezed our way into our tiny table.

He pushed his sleeves up a little. I finally caught a peek at one of his tattoos. I tried not to stare. He pushed his sleeves up a little more. A guy on a Harley had left no skid marks on his right forearm. An American flag and a bald eagle perched comfortably on the underside of that same arm. The colour of the flag had faded so that where there had once been stars and stripes, there was now only skin.

"Is that you?" I asked, pointing to his right arm and the guy on the Harley.
I could feel the couple at the next table move in unison, a little to their right, a little closer to us. We all wanted a good look. Step right up.

"Where didcha get those done?" I asked.
"You know," he said.
I was silent. Why in the world would he think I would know I wondered.
"I don't know," I said, like the naive little librarian I was beginning to resemble even more.
"Mac's leathers?" I guessed taking a stab at it.
"No" he said beginning to realize just how far removed we were from each other's realities.
"You know" he said even more quietly as my mind swirled no closer than before to the correct answer.
I really didn't know. In fact, I didn't have a clue.
He paused a bit longer as if trying to decide how to tell me the obvious before he just blurted it out.
"The Joint. In The Joint!" he said as if I was the stupidest person on the planet.
Like two sharp slaps across my face that word - "the Joint" - hit me.
Do people actually use that word in real life? The Joint? I felt like I'd been transported into that old Paul Newman Movie: Cool Hand Luke!

"You get a number 6 guitar string and you heat it up..."

"What are you going to have?" I interrupted him knowing there was no possibility of my appetite remaining if I let him go there.
"I think I'm going to have an omelette," I said. With mushrooms.
The waitress had just arrived.
"I'll have the special," he said. "And, make sure there's no cheese in it!"
No cheese? she asked as if to suggest that there really wasn't much point in making an omelette without cheese.
"That's right. No cheese." he repeated.
I ordered as well. Everything seemed to be going relatively smoothly. I let slow silent breath seep out.
He talked about his work. Some little rich kid protege actor was terrorizing the set. One day he'd had just about enough of him, cornered him in the back all alone, held him by the arm and said, "Look everybody else might be letting you get away with your game but I'm onto you. I'm onto you and I want you to sit down and shut up and stay out of my way."
"Does that look like cheese to you? he asked moments after the waitress had deposited our orders.
I was enjoying a mouthful of fluffiness not overly concerned with his question now that my food had arrived.
"It's cheese!" he said, really quickly, exasperated as if he'd been betrayed during a drug deal.
"Can't they ever get it right?" he asked me, himself, everyone who had ever lived and nobody really.
"Didn't I say it twice?" he asked me, shaking his head with disgust.
I stared at him in silence wondering where this little impromptu performance was going.
His face was beginning to get red. In fact, it was doing what I believe is called a slow burn. The flow of blood boiling just underneath the surface was rising and leaving streaky patterns on the neck and face the same way a jet leaves its zippered incision on a summer's blue sky.
I was noting that fact. Red face? Check! Anger? Check! Me getting extremely anxious? Check!
Don't sweat the small stuff. That's what my voice mail ad had said. I was looking for someone who didn't sweat the small stuff.
Cheese in omelette. MMMMMM? Not exactly another species gone extinct by my standards.
In as contained a manner as his emotions would allow he caught the attention of the waitress.
I was beginning to hold my breath.
"Miss" he said loudly, with authority, but containing himself just a little in honour of my embarrassment.
Thank God he refrained from snapping his fingers I thought.
I was beginning to slump a little in the booth.
He articulated every word.
"I asked not once but twice for no cheese! This has cheese. I can't EAT cheese," he said.
We were both staring at him now, the waitress and I. Like two parents staring at their eldest who was acting like king of the castle but whom we had deemed a little pain in the ass.

"I'm sorry," she said, whisking the plate from under his nose leaving a faint cheesy smell hanging in the air between us.

I could almost feel the vibrations of barely contained anger levitating.

Not really believing the spectacle that was occurring before me and realizing I'd seen this type of behaviour way too many times before as a child coming from my own father over something equally inane, my own anger molecules began to bubble just below the surface.

I looked him straight in the eyes. With great authority, picking my words in the same manner that he had picked at the cheese, I said ever so slowly, "You can handle it!" I enunciated every word. My tone was low and steady. Each of those words. You. Can. Handle. It. were said as if they were, individually, a complete sentence.
He stopped. His eyes bore into mine. I held my ground. My gaze did not waiver from his but I felt as if I might just wet my pants.

We stayed that way, locked onto each other's willful stares for a second or two and then we were silent.

It was one of those really awkward moments. The kind of moment that makes you wish you were actually just editing a film from the privacy of an editing suite. You would have cut this scene out. Rewound. Start again.

I didn't look to my right. I looked at my plate. The couple who had been so interested in free viewing earlier on had their eyes forward front as well.

I was beginning to wish I could leave. He noticed my fidgeting. "What's wrong?" he asked. "You want to leave?" he asked, reading my body language and my thoughts, neither of which I've ever been good at hiding.

"Well, it's just that I usually don't spend this much time with someone when I first meet them," I said, lying, not wanting to say what could not be said.

More silence.

By this time his cheese-free omelette had arrived. He gingerly lifted one of its mottled corners with the prongs of his fork. Cheese check! Cheese alert! Please don't find any I thought. Please. Please. Pretty Please.
He dug in.

I felt relieved he was feeling a little better. I took the opportunity to inhale. He seemed to be a little less angry. I began to wonder what it must be like to be him. What would it be like to feel so betrayed throughout one's life that even a rather typical error, especially when it comes to service in Canada, like having a waitress get your order wrong - again - could set off paranoia, the betrayal bells, the sense of not being important enough for someone to get it right.

I felt sad for him. I felt sad for myself. He wasn't going to work out. I wouldn't be his dream girl either.

He finished eating and we made small talk. The excitement was over. It was the Boxing Day of our short aquaintance. We were on the other side of a crescendo. It was the week after starting a new job. It was the last day of a vacation. It was Sunday evening. You know what I mean. Something anticipated, now fully experienced and ready to be let go. Move on. Next! The 21st Century's version of hunting and gathering.

We left the restaurant and walked towards my car parked farther down the street.
I had brought him some shortbread that I'd made. It was wrapped in cellophane inside my purse. I hoped I hadn't squished the cookies into crumbly bits. I didn't want to set him off. We stopped beside the curb at my car.

He smiled one of the most genuine smiles I'd seen in a while. It surprised me. He took my hand in his large palm, the same palm that had bolted sets together, hammered stages in place and grabbed at the sleeve of a tiny, whiny movie star.

"It was nice to meet you," he said.

I pulled the shortbread from out of my purse and felt happy that I was going to give him something that I suspected no one else would. In fact, I suspected he was unlikely to get much of anything for Christmas or any gifts on any other days.

"That's a really nice gesture," he said. "Thank you!"

"Well, you know, I hardly every bake. I only bake short bread and only at Christmas," I said catching myself, realizing he wouldn't care when I baked. My babbling was diminishing the moment.

"I thought so too," I added, quickly, as an afterthought, shyly, feeling the creeping flush of embarrassment cross my cheeks.

We stood there for a second each trying to decide whether hugging would be an option or even a good idea.

Apparently, we each decided against it. He would realize not to go there. Afterall, he was an expert in reading body language like everyone who has ever lived with the kind of uncertainty and negativity he must have, in that place, and every place he had been before, emotionally, to lead him there.

You know the place I mean. In the Joint!

December 12, 2007

Guardian Angel



I can still recall my feelings as she graced my presence that winter’s day. I was standing alongside the road in a town where streets swelled with tourists in the summer and turned sparse and lonely in the winter. I was waiting for a parade to begin. Parents had bundled their babies’ heads with crazy toques. Boys, doing what they do in winter, shoved, strutted, raced, and smashed each other with snowballs. Their shrieks were captured in clouds of frozen breath and held on earth for a moment like a comic book caption.

I was alone. Just me and my camera awaited Santa, sleigh bells and Christmas music to pass by and provide comfort through ritual.

The weather was the way it was there in December. Below freezing. I kept my legs moving. On left foot, on right foot, back to left. The crunch of the snow sounded underfoot like the breaking of Styrofoam packing chips. I cursed the wait. I checked the time with two mothers, heads huddled, comparing their children’s school-year events.

The sun glinted off the snow reminding me of the stucco we’d pick off the sides of my best friend’s house when we had been of the age where parades had really mattered. I began daydreaming about my favourite part of a parade. Xylophone notes piercing the distant air as the band marched closer. Parents dragging toddlers and squeezing their way into spots nearest the curb. Eyes squinting as the baton twirled too high reaching for the clouds the way children’s feet on swings tap the air. Older and bolder children dart bird-like into the street grabbing at the candy now strewn across pavement much the way bird seed drops in patterns at the base of a fir tree. The whine of the fire truck’s engine drowns out crying babies and little girls dream about sitting atop buggies pulled by Clydesdale horses. Those same little girls, hairsprayed and ironed, imagine waving to the crowd. They could not yet know, wouldn’t even want to know, that being crowned ice-princess wouldn’t really make anything more clear.

But for me, at this time, this parade didn’t really matter. Just another event it was. It could have been a minor hockey game. As they say in the ‘biz, I was searching for a "photo opp" hoping to replace white space with familiar faces on the pages of the small weekly newspaper where I was filling in as Editor. I was too cold and tired for this. Get the shots, get back to my desk, lay out the paper and get home I thought. I was soon to leave this small place to return to Vancouver.

I was distracted by anticipation and intuitions all proving, in hindsight, to be true.
I almost didn’t hear her greeting. “Hello,” she said, more through her gentle smile than through words.

Then, as if her soft-as-cotton-candy breath had crossed my cheek, my head turned in her direction. She appeared, apparition-like. Had someone painted her into existence when I wasn’t looking? She announced herself through her reflection off the south-facing window on a tooth-paste clean, wooden house. She reached out in brilliance as if to say, “It’s not so bad you know? I’m always here with you. Today I thought I’d let you see me. I think you need to see me. What do you think?”

I was silent. I held my breath. “Glorious,” I replied, surprised at uttering that word aloud. She was glorious. Gazing upon the flourish of gold and black and silver that formed her painted being, I could almost believe she was real. She was not a figment of my imagination. “Is she my guardian angel?” I asked no one in particular. I was embarrassed. What kind of a question was that?

Her shimmering presence filled that entire window. A swish of a halo floated atop her honey-white curls. But, mostly her wings held my awe. Their luminescence curved high across her back and melted into the black and grey and golden feathery lightness of each wingtip. I squinted into their lightness. I looked away. I stared back. She held my gaze. For a split second I thought I felt the gentle kiss of her lips against my eyebrows.

She would not permit me to focus on the slush and stones on the side of the road. Her slender fingertips, would have held my chin if my gaze had attempted to look anywhere but up.

For the first time that day, or more accurately, for the first time that week, I noticed the patterns of the winter sky. I compared the shades of the evergreens to the blue overhead. I inhaled the shiver of winter and felt it travel through my nose to my lungs. Children stood infront of me and behind. I noticed them. Each one had that expression that only blesses children when everything is for the first time and seems like forever and their awakening rejuvenates parents in a way expectant parents secretly and unfailingly hope a new baby might.

“Now you’re paying attention,” she whispered in praise. It was then, it hit me. I was standing in one of my own dreams. How had it crept up without my notice?

I was the only woman there that day holding a camera with the sole intent of capturing a moment of that town’s history. It wasn’t an important moment the way we think history must be. Nothing about that day in that place mattered to the world. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe anything could have mattered that day to anyone as much as that moment mattered to me. I was doing what I’d been dreaming of doing for years. The evidence spread out before me. I was doing what I’d dreamt about at 10 years old when I’d unwrapped a small blue, plastic typewriter for Christmas. My fingers had travelled instinctively across the rigid white keys of my newest gift. Twenty-two years later I was standing in that dream from the past.

I looked around and saw. I knew I must keep some of that happiness just for myself. I must horde it for when I needed it again, most.

Turning to my angel on that window, I focused and released the shutter. A little boy was watching me with curiosity. He quickly glanced away as my eyes met his and my attention snapped back to the procession on the street.

And now, especially if I’m having trouble believing in dreams, I focus on her by focusing on the ordinary right in front of me.

I wonder if I was to return to that same street in that picture perfect small town if she would be there?

For now she makes her home in an antique frame in my bathroom.

Yesterday she captured my attention following a lengthy indifference and asked with a motherly urgency and concern, “What’s your next dream?”

December 02, 2007

Strange Place for a Reunion

Just following my mom's memorial, I'm in the reception area as people are filtering into the room and who should come up to me but this guy I dated for about a year when I was 21.

For a split second,as he came towards me, I dissociated and was confused about where I was.

What is HE doing here? I thought to myself, my brain calculations speeding up.

"J. Wow. What are you doing here?" I heard myself saying in a way that sounded very far away all the while still feeling confused, like I was double-checking (no pun intended given his last name which I will refrain from using) whether I really was where I thought I was.

"Well, you know, you've heard of wedding crashers? I thought I'd try funeral crashing!" he said.

I laughed, a barely audible one syllable laugh, and then continued to just stare at him, not saying a thing.

After a minute, probably less, I literally walked away from him without even saying anything. It was just like, okay, can't process this baby! Next!

So, a couple of days pass and I think, that was a tad rude of me. Besides, my curiosity got the best of me. I look him up in the phone book and leave a message apologizing for being what must have seemed rude, not that such behaviour would be out of the ordinary for me with some of the men I've known. Not that their idiocy hasn't warranted such rudeness at times.

He calls me back. We get together for a coffee.

Just as our meeting is coming to an end, he says to me, "So, you never asked me how I ended up at your mom's thing?"

Well, I guess you saw the obit in the paper, I say.

"Actually, I was lying awake at 1:00 am one night and I thought to myself, I should Google Gayle Mavor. Your mom's obit came up. I realized that she'd just died. I debated whether to show up and I thought, what the heck, so I did."

I found this explanation very amusing, mainly because who admits such a thing and secondly because it's just another reminder about why you should never assume the reasons behind why anyone does anything.

How did anyone ever look up their past before Google? At least 40% of the search engine traffic must consist of people looking up people from their past. Unrequited loves. Ex husbands and wives. The ones they used to work for. The ones they had an affair with. Former employers. Future employees. You name it! It's dangerous. Especially when so many people have the same names. There's a young American woman with my name. She talks about things that I don't want people to think I talk about on teen sites that I don't want anyone to think I visit.

I then say to him, "So do you recall our last interaction?"

"You called me one friday night and said, "Hi, I'm just flipping through my address book and I came across your name and I thought I'd call you." This was after I hadn't spoken to him in a very long time.
I responded, at the time, with four curt words: "Well, take it out!" [my name that is...referring to its location in his address book].

That's all I said before the conversation, as would be appropriate, ended. And that was about a decade ago.

I believe it was 1998 and I was going through a particularly difficult time then. I'll throw that in as a feeble excuse although, in hindsight, even I amaze (and amuse) myself.

"Ah, yes," he said laughing, "but I can distinguish between real anger and personality."

(Not with 100% accuracy I thought to myself)

But, that statement did remind me of one of his redeeming features. He was really funny! (albeit in a really warped kind of way!)

December 01, 2007

Walking Towards the Fountain of Youth

Thinking of how difficult it would be for my father in these first days after my mother has been gone, waking up alone, going to bed alone, not having my mother around to serve as he had become accustomed, I asked him if he'd like to come into Vancouver and go for a walk around the park. His voice seemed shaky but I think the prospect seemed inviting. I told him to call me back when he decided whether he was up to it. He did.

I went to pick him up at the Burrard skytrain station and I was waiting and waiting. Geez, you'd think I was HIS parent. I sounded like an anxious mother on the phone as I gave him instructions. Be careful on the stairs at the skytrain stations. Hold onto the railings. Don't carry too much money on you. What are you wearing? It's really cold today. Are you wearing your winter coat? Don't forget the gloves. What kind of shoes do you have on? Burrard comes right after Granville. Get off after the Granville Station and I'll pick you up on the side of the station the way I used to with mom.

He FINALLY shows up. It took him SO long that I was having all these scenarios in my head. Maybe he's been accosted by some low lifes. Maybe the train has stopped on the tracks. Maybe he didn't hear me properly and he's actually waiting at Granville. Maybe he was here early and waited and I was here later than expected and he got back on the train. It went on and on.

Finally, I see his familiar cap, the one that makes him look like the Scotsman that he is, and he explains that he somehow got off at the Waterfront Station and had to turn around and come back one.

We got back to my apartment and we set off. I noticed that when you're walking around the park with an old person who appears to be related to you people treat you better. It's as if you get the same reaction when you're with a baby or with a really cute dog. They smile. They say hello more.

I'll spare you the details of our every step but suffice to say that when you're 10 months short of your 90th birthday and you can walk around the entire Stanley Park Seawall, minus the detour at the totem poles, then you're not doing too badly.

In fact, and this cracked me up, as we're approaching 2nd beach, he says to me, "Is this your normal pace?" implying that maybe he thought I'd slowed it down for him. "Well, ya," I say. "Why, is this too slow for you?"
"No, but I tend to walk just a shade faster," he says.

By the time we get past Third beach and the Canadian flag on the Sylvia Hotel is visible, he says to me, "I think we should try and keep up with her," he says, pointing to a woman doing a slow speedwalk just a bit in front of us. Now, this is the point where I can usually begin to feel the back of my thighs aching just a little but I'll be damned if I'm going to be outdone by a 90 year old. So, we move a little faster knowing that the faster we move the sooner we get lunch.

We pick up the pace and head into the Sylvia Hotel. I did notice that he could barely get up the stairs. I told him that next time, perhaps we'd just stick to my hour-long route. He agreed.

We sat down at the Sylvia at the window and Bruce came to serve us. That's the beauty of the Sylvia. Consistency!

I said "Dad, when was the last time you walked around the park?"

"Well, my parents would sometimes rent an apartment and we'd come here in the summer when I was a kid to be close to English Bay. I don't think I've done that since I was a kid," he said. "There used to be a pier coming right out from the beach over there he said pointing a little north and buildings on that side as well."

I think my father is adaptable. I think he has figured out something about the fountain of youth. It has something to do with lots of walking. And, forgetting about how old you are. I notice he has a habit of thinking people much younger than him are just around his own age. Apparently denial is also good for longevity!

It was a good day.

November 27, 2007

In Remembrance


The Eulogy I gave at my mother’s memorial service
November 27, 2007

When I think of my mother I think of her hands. The veins on her hands have always been raised and crooked, blue and strong, like roots at the base of an old tree.

I remember as a child I used to trace those veins with my fingers always curious about why her hands looked the way they did. They seemed old. Like they`d been here before perhaps.

In hindsight it was as if her hands were our hands; I hate to say it but her hands, at the time, seemed to exist mainly to serve us – her family. Her hands were never idle.

It was as if my parents raised two families. They had my sisters when they were in their 20s/early 30s and then they had my brother and I when they were in their late 30s/early 40s.

My mother used to say, “Women of my generation don’t get to retire!”

When I think of her hands and I asked others what stood out for them about our mother it was unanimous: She was always in the kitchen. Baking cookies, preparing roast beef for special Sunday dinners, getting out the good china, instructing us how to set the table. White linen tablecloths. Good silver. Grandparents were always invited. Heather`s boyfriends. Relatives. If it was Sunday then company WAS indeed coming!

As if it wasn’t enough to cook for us, she volunteered with Mrs. Oikawa to be the camp cooks on a special week-long field trip to Saturna Island with our Grade 7 class. After cooking spaghetti one lunch-time for about 50 people they discovered that strainers were nowhere to be found. What else could they do but use their hands. So they did.

Hers hands made thousands of lunches over the years for my father as she packed his lunch kit for another day at the mill.

She did a lot of packing as well of camping equipment for camping trips to Gallagher Lake in Oliver and Westbank with Heather, June and Joy and to Osoyoos with Gordon and I.

In the summer she’d pick blueberries and strawberries and sometimes I’d go with her. I’d be hot and tired and bored in about 10 minutes. Afterwards, her fingers would be stained red and blue as she prepared the berries and canned them so we could have fresh jam for our toast and fruit for dessert on top of ice cream in the winter.

I can recall once when we were camping in Osoyoos, my parents left my brother and I alone when we were old enough and they went off to pick cherries or apples or something. They were gone for hours. Apparently they were in different locations but my father had climbed up one of those tall ladders. When my mother returned, she saw him from a distance lying on the ground. Now most wives might be alarmed but not mom. Her first thought was: Look at him. I’ve been slaving away all morning and he’s been taking a nap!!!

In fact, Dad had fallen out of the tree and was unconscious. They had to go to the hospital to see whether he had a concussion!

My mother taught me how to drive. She was a good driver but because she wasn’t the most patient person in the world, she was fast. As a result, after a mere one time behind the wheel, she thought I was ready for the actual route they take you on in New Westminster when you do the driving test.

This belief was definitely more about her impatience than my readiness.

I remember coming up 4th street in New West and taking that left turn onto Royal at what felt like 60 mph. I ended up driving onto the median all the while I could hear a voice, her voice, somewhere beside me in the car yelling, “hit the brakes”. Of course, I continued to hit the gas, because I’d only been in a car once. I swerved over 3 lanes to the curb in front of City Hall where we came to a screeching stop a little out of breath, a little amazed that we had managed to avoid crashing into anything. I think the only thing she said before we headed home was, “Oh my god. Maybe you should take driving lessons!”

She sewed a lot. My sisters tell me she was incredibly stylish as a young woman taking after her own mother. She made matching clothes for my twin sisters which we`d make fun of when we saw them in the family movies that dad shot. She made wool winter coats for my brother and I when we were toddlers and there are home movies where we look as if we were getting ready for a fashion shoot as we ran around Moody Park. She made a graduation dress for Heather. She sewed the dress I wore when Lord Kelvin Elementary won May Queen that year and my good friend Phyllis and I were flower girls in Grade 1 or 2. She made her own square dance dresses.

She even sewed clothes for my dolls, the dolls I had kept from childhood, refitting them with new outfits even though I was in my 30s at the time and they had been sitting, neglected, in the spare bedroom for years. My mother and I were very different. But, when I saw that, and I noticed that one of the dolls had on these new white cotton polka dotted shoes, I was taken aback. I realized that in that one act she had expressed her love for me in a way that she could never verbalize. That one act – her making new clothes for them and getting those new shoes – helped me see her in a different light and inspired me to write a poem for her which you have.

She was very musical.
Her hands guided my father during the years they square danced and when I took classical piano lessons she took popular piano lessons at night school. They bought an organ, and we used to have to listen to her practicing at night. Long before we came along, before she met my father she played the Hawaiian guitar in a group with her sister Gloria and entertained in Winnipeg. She sang in the church choir at the Presbyterian Church here in New West.

I spent some of the last week looking at some old photo albums. One picture of her in particular stood out for me. She was wearing men’s trousers and had on suspenders and loafers at clear lake in Manitoba. When I looked at that photo I saw her as an adventurous spirit, athletic, someone with the spirit of an entertainer.

I think she had dreams that we never knew about and had it been a different time, perhaps she would have been more than our mother or someone’s wife but I think in the end those roles - wife and mother - would still have been the most important to her.

While her hands weren`t very good at shuffling cards, I do recall the banter and joking that took place during the many Saturday evenings my father and her spent with Uncle Gordon and Aunt Jean, Pat and Vi. The friendship she shared with her brother and his wife was unusually close for siblings, it was lifelong and cherished.

I can visualize her hands and the strong strokes she took as she swam lengths at the Canada Games pool and even lifted weights; a place where she spent so many happy hours with her friend Sheila and others up until she was about 81 years old. It seemed to me that one day she was independent, driving and swimming and the next, she became ill. That’s how it seemed although I’m sure there had been warning signs.

Maybe because she thought she`d finally done enough for everyone else her whole life and because unfortunately she really was ill, she had a tendency to be a little bossy. (Actually to be honest, she was bossy long before she became ill). As a result, especially after she was ill, Dad became what I would call her manservant. I can hear her now. I can see them sitting in their chairs. He’d settled in with the paper. She’d be sitting there, looking around and she’d say, “Jay could you get me a drink of water? He’d dutifully get up and faithfully deliver the glass of water. 15 minutes would pass. Then she’d say, Jay, What`s that on the floor? And she’d point to some piece of lint or paper. He’d get up and get it out of her sight. Another 15 minutes and she’d say, Jay, why is that light on in the kitchen? Could you turn that out? And dad would faithfully do as she asked.

As an observer of this, I used to think, Wow. It’s definitely payback time!

Our mother was a very friendly person and people always remembered her or thought they`d met her somewhere even when they hadn’t. This seemed to happen to her a lot, especially when she worked at Woodwards during the 70s.

I think her friendliness was one of her best traits that she passed down to all of us. She enjoyed a good laugh. She was quick, she was blunt, she was stoic, she kept her feelings and her emotions to herself so as her children we sometimes felt like we didn’t really know what she was feeling. Those traits persisted to the end.

Overall, she was very lucky. She had good friends. She had a devoted and loving husband and we know that she truly understood the value of that these last couple of years of her life. As someone who has never been married, it has been clear to me these past few years, as I looked at what they were to each other that their relationship was based on a strong love right from the beginning and I could truly see the value of a 62 year commitment to another person especially as he was truly there for her these last few years.

In short, I have to believe she completed exactly what she was meant to here on earth --to learn whatever she was meant to learn.

In the end she had the courage to make a difficult decision and let go – for herself – and I believe, out of love for my father. She had been too active a person her whole life to continue existing the way she had been as a result of dialysis. She also knew, I think, that her health care needs would begin to impact his own health and so out of love, she chose to make the decision she made.

As a result, I view this day (and I’m sure she’d want us to view this day) as a celebration of a life well-lived – one that was worthwhile.


As her children, I believe every one of us is thankful for all the positive traits that she helped cultivate in us.

She was the matriarch of our family in the purest definition of that word and we will miss the energetic spirit we knew before her illness.

I’d like to finish by reading part of a poem from Kahlil Gibran. He was a Lebanese-American poet. He’s probably not someone my mother would have been aware of but I believe the sentiments in this poem express something that she would have understood prior to making her choice to end dialysis.

Kahlil Gibran – excerpt “On Death”
...what is it to die but to stand naked in the wind and to melt into the sun?
And what is it to cease breathing, but to free the breath from its restless tides, that it may rise and expand and seek God unencumbered?

Only when you drink from the river of silence shall you indeed sing.
And when you have reached the mountain top, then you shall begin to climb.
And when the earth shall claim your limbs, then you shall truly dance!

November 23, 2007

Letting Go

My mother died on Tuesday, November 20th at about 1:15 pm. My father, one of my sisters and I had been with her all morning as we had been every day since she went into the hospital on November 6th.

When she chose to go off dialysis they said her death would be peaceful, that she'd just go into a coma. I wouldn't characterize her last 3 days that way at all.

In fact, the last 3 days seemed completely unnecessary and inhumane.
If we can put our pets to sleep, why can't we choose to put people to sleep in the same way when we know that they are going to die? Why must we wait for them to waste away, to stop breathing on their own, even when it seems that what they are experiencing, in spite of morphine, is labored?

I couldn't help but think that in life she had not been good at letting go and that was what I was watching as she journeyed towards death.

We were stroking her face and talking to her and holding her hands on and off because they say that hearing and touch are the last senses to go. We were telling her that it was okay to let go, that she could just let go and everything would be okay. We would be okay.

I believe, in spite of her not being able to communicate those last 3 days that she did hear me and in fact, if I could indulge in a little black humour I believe she was probably thinking that she wished she could tell us to stop saying THAT. I can just hear her saying that. Lying dying and having living people tell you that it's okay to let go would be really annoying don't you think? I'd find it annoying.

The waiting was the same as I imagine it must be waiting for a birth. The impatience mounts. You can't believe it's taking so long. But, you know you have no control over when the timing is right. All you can do is wait.

It was the most profound experience I've ever had. It was love personified to be with her. A messy reminder that every physical thing you have ever owned, every disagreement you've ever had, every person you've ever met, every memory, every place you've ever been, everything your ego has ever believed about you, or wanted to believe, every denial - let it go. Be in the moment. Your fingers are being unwrapped from whatever you are grasping for in every moment of every day until the timing is right for your own death. And, you don't get to decide when "right" is.

November 12, 2007

Her Hands



For a year I volunteered in the cardiac ward of St. Paul's Hospital as a one-on-one patient visitor. That meant I basically walked into the Cardiac wards on 5A and 5B, walked into rooms, looked around and picked someone to talk to. I just started chatting with the person. At first it was really intimidating - as if my first words weren't mine, barely audible.

I learned a lot during those visits. I learned that sick people are not defined by whatever has brought them into the hospital. I learned that I really like listening to people. I really liked helping people. That on some days just getting someone ice for their water was more fulfilling than what I'd done at work all day and my job at the time was quite fulfilling.

I learned that sometimes strangers can tell a stranger what they can't tell their families. That hospitals are so boring just about anyone to talk to is an improvement over staring at the ceiling. I learned that the human spirit is a social one even when it's in pain. And, after 2 or 3 hours on the wards, after talking and listening, and really looking deeply into someone's eyes, making the connection, I'd walk home down Robson street and it was as if my own heart had been healed a little bit at a time. I didn't think it was a coincidence that I'd chosen the cardiac ward. Love's disappointments had impacted my own heart the kind of healing it required could not be bestowed by surgery.

Sometimes I'd make a strong connection with just one person the whole evening and the other chats would be superficial and light. Sometimes I'd talk to several people and with each one of them it would feel like we had touched upon something of significance to them. A worry had been eased, they'd been distracted from their fears. I'd heard about family estrangements and each night I was reminded how insignificant life's problems are if they weren't life threatening. On some nights, there would be no significant interactions. I also learned that heart surgery, while huge to us on the outside is actually quite routine.

So, as I visit my mother in the hospital as she has chosen to end dialysis and is on the journey towards the end of her life, it feels a bit like getting at the pulpy middle of a squash; slashing through the hard exterior to discover a stringy vulnerability or a treasure chest where all the secrets are hiding.

I'm grateful that a specialist by the name of Dr. Mohamud Karim, a nephrologist, was exceptional in his ability to communicate with us and with her. I liked his gentle manner. I liked his calmness. I saw how he focused on my father during a family meeting, his hand squeezing my father's arm when the emotion began bubbling to the surface. The tone of his voice. The choice of his words. His bedside manner was impressive and humane. And, I think too many people have had the opposite experience. I saw how he talked to my mother after he talked with us. I felt the respect.

I have never experienced a birth, giving birth, seeing a birth. And, I have never really been up close to death except for when my sister slipped into a coma on her last day on earth in a cabin on Shuswap lake before she was taken by ambulance. I remember sitting on her bed and holding a cold face-cloth on her forehead for a reason I now can't recall. She was wearing a T-shirt that said Life's a Beach. And, that was the last time I saw her.

I'm reflecting on how different that experience was to this one. That was scary. That was overwhelming. That was emotion that had no where to go. I had no faith then. I had no spiritual beliefs then. I didn't know who I was then. That was so many problems ago, now overcome; transformation of every cell kicking and screaming through the sorrows to the other side.

I feel blessed that I am not working. I want to visit with her every day. Although we have not had a close relationship it has been complex in its emotional distance as relationships always are.

I want to photograph her hands because her hands are buried in my memory. They are gnarly hands with one permanently bent finger on the right hand that has never been right ever since she sliced a tendon as a young girl.

The veins on her hands have always been raised and crooked and strong like roots that have wound around a base of a tree. I see her fading blue eyes looking at me intently. She isn't saying much but it's as if she's looking at me for the first time; really looking and I wonder what she's thinking. I wonder about her regrets. I wonder if she's afraid. I notice how even now in what could be considered now or never time she doesn't verbalize what is going on for her.

I feel how everything is in the being there.

They say it takes less than 7 days to die once dialysis has been stopped. But, I really hope she's still there tommorrow. Just another day. One more day! I want to capture a photograph of her hands that says everything to me there is to say.

November 11, 2007

How to Stay Single Forever

Now I suppose this might seem a little uncaring or like I shouldn’t be thinking about my future happiness when my mother is nearing the end of her life but would it be so wrong to have something good come out of something not so good?

When my mother was admitted to the hospital this past week, my sister and I spent 3 hours or so standing in the hallway of Surrey Memorial Emergency.

When she was brought in there were the requisite 2 paramedics who picked her up. And, while they were helping her to the stretcher, I said, "Hey mom, it’s not often you have two good lookin’ guys helping you into bed lately eh?" (like THAT’S a joke they’ve NEVER heard!)
One of them, talking to my mother said in response, “those crazy kids eh?” He had such a nice energy about him. Like the kind of face you’d definitely want to look into if you’d just crashed your car head on into something.
Anyway, that was about the extent of the conversation.
Fast forward three hours.
As my mom was being wheeled up to the dialysis unit this same paramedic who I hadn’t seen in a couple of hours, comes running down the hall towards me and says, Hey, are you going to the concert on Sunday the 18th?
“Concert?” I say totally confused.
“Yes, I live in the complex next to where your parents live and there’s a concert on the 18th he says. It’s country. It’s Sunday morning.”
Still confused, I look at him and say, "Aren’t you kind of young to live there?” unaware that the same complex has independent condos that people can just buy and live in.
My brain is kinda getting that, duh, he must LIKE me and I can vaguely hear my friggin voice saying you little weirdo NOW is not the time to get specific OVER DETAILS.
But, maybe I could be forgiven given the events of the day and the context. So, do I say what I should have said which should have been Hey, if you’re going, I’ll be there! And, I don’t even like country music. But, maybe he doesn’t either. There’s always hope!
Of COURSE NOT. Of course I don’t say that.
I hear myself saying, well, I live in the West End. That’s it. That’s what I say. Like that isn’t even an ANSWER to the question!
And that’s that. And I have to catch up with my sister and my mother being wheeled away.
But, of course, later, I’m kicking myself knowing I must follow up on every lead. Like job-hunting. And, just as in jobhunting, it’s not every day I’m actually INTERESTED in the position! So, dammit, I’m now on a mission. I’m going to that concert. Even if I don’t really know where the hell it is. Which complex?

The next day I tell my dad this little story and he shows me the “entertainment” schedule for the “complex” and I don’t see any country concert. I only see a classical music concert. It is on the 18th however.

So yesterday when I took my dad to the hospital and we parked the car in the parkade overlooking Emergency, he looked out at an ambulance parked there and said to me,
"We could always stand here a while Gayle and see if you can see him."

Now that brought a smile to my face. The picture of me and my 89 year old dad hanging out in the Surrey Memorial Hospital parking lot so I could pick up an ambulance driver who tried to pick me up.

How crazy sweet and creepy is that?

November 07, 2007

Mother


I wrote this poem for my mother 7 years ago and it felt right as she gets more ill to type it out again here - making the connection from my head to my heart.

I can see your love for me
in the dresses
you make now
for the dolls I carried
when I was a child.

I can see your way of
hoping I will carry you with me
when you are gone.

A simple act
invisible hug
reminding me of all the love
you tried to show
not the words I desperately
wished you could say
instead
acts of kindess
offered as required
for all those times when I was sick
when I was sad, and tired.

Your white head bends forward
crooked fingers pushing straight cloth
feeding the shiny needle of a Singer sewing machine.

Alone in the spare bedroom
not even noticing the noise of
Hockey Night in Canada
ricocheting off the hall walls

Dad watches Gretzky retire
while the whirr of your womanly machine
drowns out the Zamboni between
the second and third periods.

Absorbed in your own documentary
scenes from the 76 years of your life

memories recovered
armholes created
one stitch at a time

love's light reclaimed
pin pricks of a hemline.

A tiny dress
and you shrinking more fragile
and vulnerable

trading me places
the way you needed me to be
when I carred those dolls
right before, I too, went to sleep.

We won't bother waiting for the speeches
"Women of my generation don't get to retire," you say
Precisley why I would choose that sentence as the first line
in a memorial I may not ever get around to offering
on your behalf.

Such thoughts wash across the
baby pink cloth
and I turn my head
as if distracted by the hands
of a silent clock -
the moment it takes two strangers to nod,
a sinking prediction
about how quickly you'll be gone.

For now we pretend
there's lots of time

You carry on measuring
finished garments against my
plastic children
maneuvering their stiff, artificial limbs
smiling with satisfaction
at your good job.

I like to think you might have smiled at me
in that same way
when I was a child
Sunday mornings after my bath
Scrubbed combed obedient and clean
pointy black patent shoes
huring the shortbread soles of my feet.

Did you assess me then
your creation as well
and feel just a tiny bit of victory
helping you to endure the losing battle
of begging him to join us behind those
sombre Presbyterian walls?

It scares me to know
you are clearing and sorting
preparing to leave the only reality we have,
imagining the new worlds
being fabricated for you.

Tailoring a departure
you hope won't evoke complaint.
Intent that I,
the daughter most foreign to you,
will have something to hold to me
show me how you cared
remind me that you loved me
in the only ways you could
long before I questioned all the ways you couldn't.

Doll 1: Baby
Doll 2: Chatty Cathy
Doll 3: Regal princess
her long, silver-white hair
and newly fashioned polka-dotted shoes
bought by you at an Arizona thrift sale.

Strangers barely noticing
just another senior citizen
wanding alongside a highway of tables

snowbird vultures in a foreign desert
searching for deals

But, oh, so much more;
the finale of life statements,
personal treasure hunts
and this one ending
in what might prove to be
the most important find in our lifetimes.

Those tiny, white, cotton, polka-dotted shoes
helping me to forgive
letting me understand
walking away from anger
into the arms of this single, caring act
embodying why you are
without any more doubts
the title you have worn for so long --

Mother.

November 04, 2007

Facial Anyone?


I’ve never been big into beauty products. I find those women, you know the kind, the Heathers and the Stephanies and the Staceys who work behind cosmetic counters, positively intimidating!

If I see some woman (or a gay guy) standing in a Department store hanging on to perfume and giving out samples, I pretty much duck and cover and walk at least two aisles out of my way just to avoid them as if I’m detouring a potential landmine site.

I’m not really sure how this phobia began! I realize it sounds like it may be wrapped up in self-esteem issues but it’s not really that. Not anymore. Maybe now it’s just a deeply ingrained habit. I think what it really is, is that way down at my core, I’m actually really, really shy. It’s the same reason I don’t like to talk on my cell phone in confined public spaces. There are SOME THINGS that should just stay PRIVATE! Like flossing!

I’ve never had a manicure. Never had some tiny person of colour kneeling at my feet sloughing off the dead skin of my heels because, oh, I don’t know, to me it reeks of colonialism or something. I realize they’re being paid. Apparently, by the looks of it, I’m one of the few people on the planet, or at least on Robson Street, who feel this way. But, I just can’t do it. It’s the same reason I can’t call up a male escort and believe me it’s not because I haven’t really wanted to.

I don’t want a tattoo. I don’t want jewels or flowers painted on my nonexistent nails. Aren’t I a child of God already? Aren’t I just perfect the way I am? Give or take the extra 25 pounds. I’ve never even had anything waxed.

To think that there are women out there having what they call “Brazilians” just amazes me. What do you call those people who offer that service for a living besides suckers? I’d love to hear their title. Maybe it’s something that’s a cross between whatever they call a greeter at Wal-Mart and a dog groomer. I mean, can you imagine waxing someone’s butt hair and ripping it out. For who? For some guy? Give me a break. I don’t think so.

As my favourite comedian, Margaret Cho would say,” If someone is fucking me and they’re that uptight about what I look like they shouldn’t be fucking me in the first place.”

How do they do that anyway? Get at those hairs? Like, do you get up on a table and bend over doggy style? It’s one of those things I’ve always wondered. And the whole bikini wax thing. I’m way past wearing a bikini so there’s no need to shave the hair down there into a landing strip. I’m not exactly expecting the world. It’s not Heathrow International. It’s more like one of those landing strips in the outback, the grassy strip that you can hardly see from the sky cuz it hardly ever gets used!

But every once in a while, I do treat myself to a massage and yesterday I thought, I really want a facial too. I go to this place with the required French name. They have the requisite Enya tape playing forever. When Enya runs out, they put on the Buddhist chimes, or the rushing water or the forest sounds. I get undressed and get onto the table face down.

So I’m lying there trying to get into the zone and this woman puts her hands on my back and in my mind I let out this blood-curdling scream because her hands are so damned cold. It’s as if she’s just come in from the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg during a white-out. Not wanting to be difficult, instead of saying something, like a normal person would, or actually letting out the scream, I control my mind. I consider this a spiritual exercise. COLD HANDS, WARM HEART. COLD HANDS WARM HEART I repeat over and over again.

For 60 minutes she has her hands running all over my body and instead of being able to relax I can’t seem to control my monkey mind. I can’t shut off these thoughts I’m having so I’m not really relaxing because I’m feeling like I’m picking up on HER thoughts and I feel like she wants to go home. She’s tired. She has a cold. She tells me this when I arrive. Great I think. Perfect. Rub your germs all over me. I want to be sick too. Maybe you have some of that stringy snot still on your fingers to make this really special.

Next, it’s time for the facial. I was REALLY looking forward to this part the most. I meet the woman. She’s European. She doesn’t seem very warm, personality wise. But her skin is flawless.
“What’s your beauty routine?” she asks.
MMM? How do I break it to her I think. “Umm. I don’t know!”
“What do you wash your face with?” she asks.
“Soap,” I say, knowing that even THAT’S a lie. Usually I just use water, which now that I say that out loud is even a bit shocking to me. Who am I? Pig Pen? I’m definitely not the little red headed girl in Charlie Brown cartoons even though I do have red hair. Oh my. In my mind I begin to visualize the re-runs of that makeover show, Style by Jury.

“You know, I don’t mean to alarm you,” she says but your skin is prematurely aged. It’s dehydrated. It’s SO dry. It’s coarse. It doesn’t have the FLEXIBILTY of the skin someone your age. How old does she think I am? I wonder. Maybe she thinks I’m 30 I think, in a classic moment of denial. I thought I was doing okay because most people don’t think I’m as old as I am. But apparently my friends aren’t REALLY my friends after all. Apparently they haven’t even been LOOKING at me. If they had, they would have recommended plastic surgery a long time ago if I’m to believe this chic.

Anyway, I’m wrapped up like a newborn. I can barely move my friggin arms. It’s as if she was trained as an embalmer or something. Or, I’m being prepared for a traditional Hindu burial. Light the pyres!!

She covers my eyes and begins to rub this wonderfully aromatic lotion all over my face, my neck and my shoulders and at that point I actually begin to have sexual fantasies. If only she wasn’t there. She’s rubbing my face in a way that seems like it’s probably some ancient Indian ayervaetic, yogic, tantric procedure that she learned from her guru. I know for sure I’m probably not doing a very good job of concealing the smirk on my face.

Her magic fingers are slathering this stuff all over my face and neck and shoulders and then without saying a word she puts on some steamer, as if I’m a child who has a severe bout of pneumonia and she’s my granny and then I hear the door close. She doesn’t even say goodbye. I have abandonment issues lady! Where the hell are you going? How long am I going to be left here?

I can’t see because my eyes are covered. And then I notice the music. I calm down. I’m trying to get in sync with my breathing because to be honest I’m feeling a little claustrophobic. Five minutes pass. 10 minutes. I start to move my legs around. It feels like an entire afternoon has passed. Did she forget me? I lift up my back. I have to get my arms out of this straight jacket. I begin to sort of thrash around a bit. My blankets surely must look like I’ve been having a bad dream. I’m actually feeling like I might just have to get up and run screaming from the room. What are these blankets made of? Why is it so HOT in here? Am I having a hot flash? I wish they’d turn that damned music off. What the hell are those monks chanting anyway? Please just SHUT UP, I think. How does she stand listening to THAT all day?

I start to actually let out some audible sighs, groans, like maybe uttering sound of my own will help me. I can’t stand it any longer and just as I sit up, my eyes still covered, I hear the door open and I scare the hell out of her because I’m sure I look like a dead person in which rigamortis has just set in which is why I’m now stiffly upright!

“You scared me,” she says a little out of breath from the fright. “I`ve never had anyone sit up like that,” she says. I start laughing, a bit on the hysterical side.

“How much longer do you think this is going to take?” I ask. Who knew that my face was a full day’s work; a massive renovation project? Something that some realtor might consider selling for a profit afterwards! "We’re almost done," she says, and I really begin to hope beyond hope that when she takes off the mask I’ll look like Jane Seymour.

But, before I am excused, there’s more. “I don’t want to come across as pushy,” she says “but are you considering buying any product?” I realize at this point that I’d have to have the lack of conscience of a Sociopath to say No. Instead, much to my disbelief I hear myself saying, “Umm. Well, maybe some exfoliant.” I say this as if I’m trying to guess the right answer on a surprise math test in high school. Maybe some day cream?

“Well, that’s a good start,” she says. “But, if I were you, I’d really recommend that you also get the eye cream. I think to myself, Look lady, if you were me, you’d realize how ridiculous it is to be talking to me about my face as if you’re a scientist who just discovered the human genome.

“I’ll just put it all out for you when you come downstairs,” she says. I get downstairs. At this point, I’m feeling resigned to buying whatever it takes to be presentable in public even though I am over 40 and I’m female so nobody’s looking at me anyway.

I’ll take a truckload of whatever shit you want to sell me if it means I can just finally get out of here RIGHT NOW I think.

I finally escape, but not before I have spent more money than it would have cost me to fly to LA and back. Who am I? Lady Di? I’m NOT EVEN WORKING! I just did a freelance job and apparently they should have just done a direct deposit into the bank account of this salon. Now that’s a RELAXING thought.

“Touch your face,” she says. “Your skin looks amazing!” And, well, I have to admit, it is a lot softer!

Beauty never comes cheaply now does it?

October 30, 2007

O'Keeffe Country



For the past two summers I have taken a photography course offered at the 21,000 acre Ghost Ranch in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

The spirit of the place exists in its looming orange landscapes, in the intimacy that develops quickly between strangers, and a solitude that provides the much needed space to listen better to oneself.

If I close my eyes, I can see the turquoise worn rug on the floor of the Ghost House where the course takes place. I can feel the scratch of the simple Teal-coloured cushions on the wooden, arm-chaired couch, and allow my mind to linger on the exact shade of blue of the woodwork around the windows.

In that cool quiet sitting room I have wondered if perhaps it is the spirit of all the others who have spent time there before me – including the most famous Georgia O’Keeffe - that creates the feeling of sacredness. It’s as if all the conversations that have ever taken place within those thick, white, adobe walls, hang dust-like, in the same way petroglyphs indicate the presence of earlier inhabitants in other sacred places.

O’Keeffe, the artist most known to the public for her macro stylized view of flowers, and her detailed replication of the skulls and bones she’d collect on her desert walks, lived for 98 years. She died in Santa Fe in 1986. The man, 30 years her junior who had cared for her in the last 13 years of her life, Juan Hamilton, was with her. What were they to each other, really? He knows. The rest is speculation.

She was originally married to a famous photographer. Alfred Stieglitz ran one of New York's most avant garde galleries, Gallery 291, in the 20’s. I wondered whether she would have become famous had a friend of hers actually obeyed her and not shown her charcoal drawings to Stieglitz? Had he not been 20 years her senior, and able to withstand her self-righteous intensity, would her personality and her art have become as iconic?

When you step outside into the courtyard of Ghost House you are confronted in the distance by Pedernal, O'Keeffe's beloved, sloping, flat-topped indigo Mountain. It’s a constant reminder of her former presence. Her ashes were scattered at its base and she was well-known for having proclaimed, "God told me that if I painted it enough he would give it to me."

She moved to the Abiquiu area, permanently in 1949, three years after Stieglitz died. He’d never seen the ranch preferring to remain in New York or spend time with his large extended family at Lake George in New York state.
She purchased her house Rancho de los Burros sold to her for a steal by Arthur Pack, the millionaire who owned the ranch and started Nature magazine. In 1955, much to her disagreement, he besqueathed the ranch to the Presbyterian Church so that others would be able to enjoy what he and his wife Phoebe had enjoyed for years. Pack also developed the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum near Tuscon.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe which is the only museum in the United States dedicated entirely to a lone female artist. Events are commemorating its anniversary throughout the summer, each one sure to be on the social calendar of the nouveau riche dripping in turquoise as they enter. They’ve undoubtedly snatched the most desirable tickets including ones to a dinner in late August to be held outside O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu home where a live performance of her favourite chamber music will waft through the evening air. The intent is to allow the guests to experience the majesty of a New Mexican sunset in a way that might give them a minor sense of how it might have been possible for O’Keeffe’s artistic concentration to be captivated for decades.

At the ranch, it’s easy to understand through the magnificence of the rocks, the purity of the ever-changing light and the intimacy of a heat that feels supportive not oppressive, how O'Keeffe's attention could have been captivated by this place for decades.

As soon as I arrived, I could feel the warmth sucking the moisture out of my rain-soaked Vancouverite bones. My skin became a human canvas awash with the pastel light shows of the evenings. My mind, so often scattered and not operating in the present, felt clear.

Standing, just after dusk, on a full-mooned night, looking across the alfalfa fields, I could imagine Miss O’Keeffe out and about in her trade-mark black and white. She had on the wide-brimmed black hat. She had on her sensible shoes, scuffed by the dirt of the road from her exploring. She was still surveying the heaven she had found on earth right here at the ranch.

As someone once said, Ghost Ranch is a place where God’s finger pokes through.

I don't know about that but when I'm there, I feel more alive and I feel more acutely aware of my mortality. It’s the kind of place where the natural beauty goes straight to the heart. There's awe and an ache. It's a place where I understand better what the poet Dylan Thomas might have meant when he was moved to write, "... Rage, rage against the dying of the light..."

October 28, 2007

Hedley



Meeting Destiny in Hedley, BC?

As a child in the 60s, packed away with my brother in the back seat of the blue Pontiac station wagon on our annual summer vacation, I’d squish my face against the window and dream. Past the boulders of the Hope Princeton slide on Hwy 3, the inside of the car grew eerily silent as if the environment outside demanded reverence. As we’d near the village of Hedley, my dad, in the best imitation of our favourite TV show of the time – The Friendly Giant - would alert us to look up, look WAY UP to the buildings on the side of the mountain.

Stretching my meagre neck to see, the dilapidated buildings represented mystery and adventure presumably like the kind I’d seen in cartoons in which skunks would scream, “There’s gold in them there hills!”

Hedley or Sna-za-ist “place of the striped rock” is squeezed into the base of the mountains near the banks of the Similkameen River. In 1898, gold was discovered at Nickel Plate Mountain with a tram built in 1904 to carry the ore from the mine to the mill below. In 1936 the Mascot Mine opened and remained to 1949. About 30 years later the Nickel Plate Mine became an open pit mine and operated between 1985 and 1995. Together the two mines yielded approximately 2.5 million Troy ounces of gold, 600,000 ounces of silver and 1900 metric tonnes of copper. In 1994 assisted by the Hedley Heritage Museum and then local MLA Bill Barlee, the Mascot Mine buildings were saved from demolition and the site restored by the Similkameen Indian Band.
Fast forward 40 years and this summer I felt compelled to visit Hedley as part of a longer road trip.

I was in another transition. I’d just left my job and was taking a break with only one potential employer crossing my consciousness. Located 10 minutes from my house, they develop exhibits for museums and science centers the world over. I’d applied there to no avail previously and as I left on the trip, I made a mental note for my return: Apply again!

I checked into the Gold Rush B&B, a large colonial house with a clean white wrap around veranda. Simon, a Brit from the Cotswolds and his Canadian wife has owned it for 8 years. I walked around the little village. I wandered through the old fashioned country store across the street and looked at the mural of miners on the side of a building. I visited the Hedley Heritage Museum. The Mascot Mine tour was scheduled for the next morning. It was time for dinner. I chose the Hitching Post in the village. Tanya, the waitress, said, “If you’re set on the seafood pasta ask for extra prawns and hold the mussels.” I did. It was scrumptious!

The next morning, Chuck our driver and Mike our guide loaded us into the bus set to wind 40 minutes up the steep switchbacks to the buildings at the top. It was a small group: me, a family of five, and a couple in their early 60s.

“What brings you on this trip?” asked the man of the couple. I relayed my childhood daydreams.
“Are you a geologist?” I enquired. ``No, I own the company that did the exhibits at the top,” he replied. My wife hasn’t seen them. I looked at him, amazement building.
“Is your company on Georgia Street?” I asked, the name escaping me when I needed it most.
“Yes” he said. “It’s called AldrichPears,” handing me a business card that read Phil Aldrich, Principal. I hesitated for a moment. I couldn’t believe it. “I’ve always wanted to work for your company,” I said and I noticed the expression on his face, perhaps amazed that I even knew his company.

We exchanged chit chat. At the top we stepped carefully down the 598 stairs admiring the dot that was Hedley below. At the bottom, we donned hard hats and headed into the mine shaft. . When Chuck ordered “lights out “so we could concentrate on the audio simulation of miners talking while they worked, Trudy Aldrich said, "Gayle, you can hang on to me if you like." It was sweet of her to think of me. I slipped my arm through hers.

We perused the exhibits. We huffed and puffed back up the 598 stairs. "Don’t worry,” said Mike, "I’ve got a defibrillator” and he tapped his backpack. “Haven’t had to use it yet though!” Phil was first to the top. Back in the parking lot he said, "Keep in touch! Send me a resume!”

I returned to my car, smiling, amazed, wondering at the odds of meeting the president of one of the only companies in Vancouver that currently piques my interest as a future employer, and, in Hedley, BC. Population: 250.

If that isn’t fate, what is?

One August Day

Parade of Lost Souls

October 24, 2007

"My" Park




Usually in the morning, whenever I have been without work, I try to walk around the park even when the monsoons arrive. This morning - grey, wet, rainy - I don my raincoat and my boots, put up my umbrella and as I begin I like to fantasize that the park is actually my own personal backyard.

I'm just on a wee walkabout something which is a cross between what the Scots and the Aussies do; one high up on the bonnie Glen between the heather and the other in the dusty outback. I'm just surveying how things are on "my" palatial property.

I survey "my staff" working diligently in the rain, driving their little tractors and trucks clearing away weeds, cutting down trees that may prove to be hazardous. Much to their wimpering protestations, I've left the corgis at home. I wouldn't afterall want them to catch colds.

At 10 am along the seawall there is next to no one else except the requisite Vancouver jogger, the retired man, and a young female tourist from Japan wearing sweats and a baseball cap, raindrops dripping from her hat like water off the eaves. She comes towards me motioning with her camera and I take her photo. I realize the flash needs to be on. I can't figure out how to do that on her camera, so her face isn't even defined in the photo. I try to explain this using bad sign language to no avail. But, as Japanese females are socialized to do from birth she thanks me profusely.

I have a special route I follow. Down under the underpass, past the Vancouver Rowing Club and the Yacht Club, looking down the water towards the city and the building of the new Trade and Convention Centre. The floatplanes fly overhead except on days like today it seems when perhaps it's too socked in with white to fly safely.

Although it has been quite a while since I've attemptd, badly, any watercolour painting, when I'm walking around on these wet days, it's hard not to see the colours and the tones as if they have been dabbed from palette to canvas.

I pass the cricket fields and decide to take a shortcut past the totem poles and back down onto the seawall. I look past the lady in the wetsuit sculpture across to the yellow sulfur piles in North Van.

I notice the leaves under my feet, the ones that are perfectly formed and the difference in sizes as if some are the babies of the others. I wonder why some are red, some are brown others green and gold. I know there's a scientific reason. Another bit of common knowledge I should know and don't.

I always look across at the memorial to Pauline Johnson hidden in the trees as I pass that part of the seawall and I try to imagine what this place was like then. More silent, more green, and I can almost hear the paddle of her canoe in the waters of Lost Lagoon when it actually connected by water to Coal Harbour. This year it seems to me that the colours in the Fall palette are more vibrant. They also just happen to be my personal colours; the ones I'm supposed to wear: Browns, greens of every shade, baby lettuce coloured moss a cloak for the rocks, auburn, mustards, gold.

Maybe because I've been consistently employed during the past five years or so, and therefore my attention did not have the luxury during the day to focus on such minute details, I'm surprised at the vibrancy of colours declaring Fall at the peak of this season. I can't recall the colours being so vivid.

I'm nearing Lumbermen's Arch and pass the kids waterpark. Today it is empty with only the water falling from the sky but I can see the ghosts of little boys screaming and running, energy personified, plotting to attack their friends with the hoses. I can see parents guiding their babies first steps as tiny toes shrink in reflex at the cold water in the puddles; images left over from my summer walks. The top of the Lions Gate Bridge is vanishing behind cloud.

I head up past the concession stand and the Japanese War Memorial and stop in at the free part of the Aquarium where the belugas are floating as if they are asleep. One of them floats towards me, rolls on his side and his jellybean black eye checks me out briefly. I try to stare right into it through the glass as if to communicate with him. He does this a couple of times and then lets out one of those whale sounds; the high pitched squeal. I wish we could have a conversation. One that we could both understand.

I carry on around the corner and a dog barks at the big sea lion in the next tank. I head up the walkway between the Japanese cherry trees. I slip ever so slightly as I cross the wetness of the wooden bridge, water in a small stream rushes underneath.

The Stanley Park Pavilion is just at the top where a photography class is determined to carry on,in spite of the wet, there cameras wrapped in Safeway bags. They position themselves as if they are surveying the land in preparation for a new highway. I try to figure out where some of the lenses are pointed and think of my own photography. What captures our attention? I find that fascinating. We're all looking at something different; something that speaks to us, alone, and if we're lucky says something, on that rare occasion, that is universal.

I wonder about the Dubrulle cooking school and imagine how nice it would be to host a large party inside the Pavilion, maybe a 50th birthday party. I'd like that. The party, not the 50 part! But, even that doesn't seem so bad. It feels good just thinking about it.

Coming up to nearly an hour, I continue down the walkway through the rose garden now lying dormant, with only sad, withered petals, light brown around the edges remaining as hints about what was and what will be again.

Having walked around the park so many times, through so many seasons in the past, especially when things were not good and this place, my own personal backyard was my salvation. It's as if every image has stayed with me: light, colour, shade, texture, and these form a collage of seasons and memories like one of those tole paintings, layer upon layer so that even in sepia Winter, yellow Summers are present, in the Fall, blue Spring is here too.

Stanley Park 365 days a year.

October 21, 2007

Home?

Went to the 20th Bill Duthie Memorial lecture tonight as part of the Writer's Festival. It was Eleanor Wachtel, the host of CBC's Writers & Company speaking about the late great canadian fiction writer Carol Shields. Her writing. Her way of being. Her kindness. Their friendship.

I don't know about you but whenever I go anywhere, there's usually at least one thing that stands out for me, that I take away, and tonight it was the way Wachtel spoke about Carol Shields' emphasis on the meaning of the word home. How do we know when we're home? What does it feel like? Is it possible to feel at home regardless of where you are geographically? What does that call upon inside? Effortless, at peace, contented, engaged. Comfortable.

For Shields, home was whenever she was writing. Nothing brought her more satisfaction. It was her salvation during her battle with breast cancer when the illness forced her to be overly self absorbed. It was her refuge. It's her legacy.

I do not feel like I am home. I have lived here my entire life and I have never felt like it's quite right, especially between October and March. Every year when the monsoons hit, it feels less and less like I want this to remain my home during those 6 months.

In so many ways it is the right place: multicultural, incredible ethnic restaurants, festivals, cultural activities, relatively safe, naturally beautiful, friendships. But, psychologically it has never felt right.

I contrast the way I feel here, with the way I feel in New Mexico and I feel like I'm in the wrong place.

The closest I can come to describing the difference is the feeling of relief I have been aware of when I've stepped off the plane for the past 2 summers in New Mexico. I notice the sense of relief. I feel relieved there. I feel like the sunshine soothes me. Makes everything feel better. More hopeful. Vancouver doesn't feel like that to me. Vancouver feels sad to me. Is it because I feel like it's time to shed the entire first half of my life - including all the sadness associated with it?

But at the same time, I'm extremely aware of the reality behind the saying, Wherever you go, there you are!