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May 31, 2010

Cancer treatment and Singledom

Breast Cancer Treatment Choice
This weekend I met a woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she felt a small lump. I don't know how many years ago this was but she chose not to have treatment and opted instead to use "alternative treatments". When she described some of what she's been doing it sounded so "crazy" to me I just wondered how it was that someone could choose to walk away from all that has been learned about breast cancer treatment (even if the end results are still no where near good enough) and do what would essentially be, in my mind, nothing. She now is questioning her decision because she says, lately, the lump has grown a lot bigger. I wanted to just look at her and say, "Are you insane?"
To me, it seemed like she chose what she called "alternative treatments" which seemed to consist mainly of supplements, out of fear, rather than out of some rational, systematic approach of her own designed by some integrated alternative health practitioners.

It freaked me out for her while at the same time I recognized that it's her life and her death. I had such a strong reaction in my own gut and mind to her choice that it was clear to me what I would do should the same thing happen. I would do both. I would not mess around. I would choose to get medical treatment and I would investigate every alternative approach - including the mind-body connection including visualizations - voraciously. I mean, why, in this day and age, with the amount of knowledge we have, could you arbitrarily decide to walk away from that? I don't get it and it really bothers me because it seems like such ignorance in the face of possibilities and, millions of dollars of health research and years of studies.

Singledom and Support
I had a conversation with a friend this weekend about the fact that when you're single, especially if it's the status quo for you which it has been for me for quite some time now, those who are coupled often don't get how important it is for "singles" to maintain a strong support network and have that be a two-way street.

Being part of a couple seems often to lead to a laziness because they have each other  and maybe have always had someone as a partner in their life and have no real experience as to what it's like to be single for any length of time. Now, I know there are only so many hours in a day and as parents, partners, etc. there are incredible demands on time. I'm not really referring to that. I'm referring to people who just don't make the effort to keep in touch as soon as you left a geographic area, like a baby watching a T.V. screen and as soon as the ball disappears, it's gone. Where'd it go?  That just says so much about how much you mattered in the first place it seems to me, in spite of their words to the contrary.

It's so typical of women, especially, it seems to me to suddenly disappear when they have a male partner in their life and approaching 50, while I can understand to a certain degree, especially if it's a new relationship, I find that behaviour very insulting and immature especially since inevitably, those same women and sometimes men, when they are single,  are the first to call you and want to hang or to treat you like their personal therapist when it ends. Annoying!

So thank you, to those of my friends from Vancouver and Salt Spring (you know who you are) who have gone above and beyond to include me and who actually do pick up the phone and keep in touch with me even though you  have a long term partner and a family. Yea to you!

Had any revelations this week? Why not share one?

May 28, 2010

Social Media: The New Gatekeepers

Which side of the fence are you on?
The other day a friend of mine sent me a reporting/writing-related job that could be done from home. Perfect. I see the name of the person I should apply to and of course I do what's now possible. I Google him.
Up until a few years ago, without Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any of the social media sites, if you saw a name on a piece of paper the information attached to the name in the form of a resume would be read and judged on the merit of the information and how it was presented.

In terms of work search, you'd look at the piece of paper sent to you and not be able to do all the background work ahead of time to determine whether the person was someone you'd want to bother speaking with, getting to know, and perhaps work with, or whether they're actually the one that was admitted to the psychiatric ward according to your neighbour down the street who happened to be in there at the same time. Or, weren't they the one that cheated on your ex-husband after he dumped you? I think you understand what I mean.

In the past, a name on a resume and that person's experience would have to stand alone with only written or verbal references in the form of hearsay or word-of-mouth to substantiate their value as an employee and their character. But, that was then.

Not exactly a revelation I know. But, knowing something and seeing the reality of it are two different things.

The reality of understanding that when someone gets my information that they are more likely than not to Google me, check LinkedIn to see how many/few "connections" I have, or how many "friends" I have on Facebook, caused me today to feel a little down given that I am not a Washington, D.C. mover and shaker as if that needs to be stated. How much further away could I get from that reality I wonder?

Has this technology changed the way we "judge" in a way that might be considered an improvement or are all these social media sites just tools for allowing people to discriminate more effectively and in a more insidious manner with class being just one of the parameters they'll be able to discriminate against?
When I looked at the results for the person I Googled, it became really clear to me that I probably don't have a hope in hell of getting an interview even though I have the experience to do the work (being fully aware that so would a lot of other people.)

He's more than 10 years younger than I am; a fact he'll surely notice when he looks at the year I graduated from university and the year I obtained my education in Journalism.  His wedding got published in the style section of The New York Times because his family is financially successful enough to count and he went to the best journalism school in the U.S. completing a Masters and receiving a fellowship that enabled him to travel and work in a developing country.

Lest this sound like sour grapes, I'm also very aware that these sites can be really beneficial in aiding people to make connections they otherwise would not make in their natural and much smaller social circles as wel as allowing them to establish in-person meetings that often lead to very positive relationships.

Sometimes however, it can feel as if social media sites are just another virtual world of "the old boy's club" - albeit easier to penetrate - at least as an observer.

They are virtual first impressions that welcome you in or lock you out before you've even had a chance to truly show up. For me, it's a sobering thought.

What are your thoughts?

May 26, 2010

Spring Garden Conversations

Join me on a walk across the dirt road into the garden where you can feel free to pick a pink camelia blossom for your hair or your lapel. Every visit is a special occasion and must be treated as such. Maddy, the dog, will greet you unless she's in wicked pursuit of a flash of white fur on the behind of some frightened bunny hightailing it for the hedge row. The many different coloured columbines hang like raindrops, delicate flicks of pinks, purple, orange, mauve and white whereas the tightly packed begonia buds, hints of lipstick red around the rim, stand like upside-down exclamation marks.

The iris, two different versions, compete for attention with the creamy peach and pink rhododendron. I've never seen one that colour before. How did the colours of mango and bubblegum gelato wind up stirred into one delicate ruffly petal? Mauve and white lilac buds hang so as to require only the smallest of tip toe action for a whiff of their perfume-light scent.  

Watch your step as you take a closer look at the purple iris, it's bottom petal a large purple and white tongue ready to lick you if you get too close. A garden snake, hint of a yellow line running the full length of its back like the worn out yellow lines on the road in front of the house before they just got painted, is seeking shelter in the underbrush heading towards the pond. "That's good," she says. "Eat the slugs". Squishy, shiny licorice strips sucking on the earth.

What kind of lavender is that? A miniature bushel of lavendar is what it looks like. French? No, it's topped lavender.  A rose is a rose is a rose. Especially a pink rose climbing up the aging lattice. Although, I admit, white and yellow have always been my favorite.  Those buds over there, yellow and white close to the ground are, she tells me, a Geum chiloense ‘Mrs. Bradshaw’. Don't you just love the names of flowers? Geum chiloense 'Lady Stratheden' is purple star-shaped. As many colours as Crocs.

The poppies are not the kind that produce opium seeds but they are the orangest of orange, a cover for the vibrant purple moss on top of the green pods tucked like a secret inside the petals.

Tomato plants grow like miniature soldiers standing at attention in their milk carton condos  ready to be transplanted into the garden to be watched over by the fruit trees: fig, peach, golden plum, cherry, apples, two blueberry bushes, pear, a hazelnut tree. It's a zero-mile garden in action. 

They can feed themselves self sufficiently my neighbours. They can feed me. And, I don't just mean my tummy!

May 23, 2010

Salt Spring Hat Tricks

Yesterdays Saturday Market in the park definitely lived up to expectations for the May 24th long weekend. The island was packed with tourists and soccer players, sailors and weekenders returning to "the cottage" to get it sorted for the summer ahead. And, even better, the weather gods seemed beyond happy.

I managed to get one of the last decent spots. I was squeezed in beside Tony the bread guy who surely spends his every waking moment in the kitchen in preparation for hawking gooey dough for green dough on Saturday mornings. Bake it and they will come! Visitors and locals alike have awoken by about 10:00 am and begin streaming stall to stall or making a bee-line for their favourites.

Tony transforms from baker to juggler to expert change maker.  I was mesmerized. He becomes a one-man Cirque du Soleil the way he must manage the crowds, follow the direction of their fingers, answer their questions (olive or fig?) hand off loaves while taking cash and giving change. Selling photographs does not elicit this type of feeding frenzy (go figure?). So, I watched and enjoyed the show. None of Tony's clients seemed to be on low carb diets.

He sold out by about 1:30 pm and looked like he'd just returned from an hour or two of intense boot camp training. His forehead was wet with sweat, his face ruddy. I hadn't met him before and at first he seemed a bit "Soup Nazi" (Seinfeld) formidable but that wore down and he was really nice. I liked him! To my left, Sherren, a watercolour artist whose house on Vesuvius Bay road I used to covet on my walks towards the Bay. She and her husband are returning to the Lower Mainland in the fall (somewhat reluctantly) to be closer to kids and grandkids. But first, a detour to France beckons to fuel new subject matter. She was very easy to talk to and be around. It was fun!

As for the photos, I was intrigued by the girl with the beautiful hat and the face-painting as she looked at me looking at her through my camera lense. I love the little silk rosebuds around the brim and the feather really makes it.

I wasn't clear on the fashion statement being made by the guy in the top right and why he was moved to wear - Dr. Seuss-style  - seven or eight hats. Perhaps he just couldn't pick a favourite.  The man with two straw hats doing double duty was being a dutiful husband.Where do I get one of those? A man whose willing to make a fool of himself for you? Shouldn't be too hard to find as I write that I laugh. (I meant in a good way). His wife had bought a new hat, wasn't about to ditch the old faithful white straw, handed it off to hubby who, I must say, was wearing it with good humour which is really all he needed to carry it off. Everyone seemed to be in great spirits yesterday and that's always contagious.

I sold photos to a woman from L.A. and cards to a young guy from Marseilles looking to send a couple of cards to his grandparents. There was a fabric artist who was thinking of using one of my photos for a new project. I talked Dave on his regularearly morning rounds into buying one of my favourite matted prints that no one has yet to buy. It's called "strength" and I think the light shining into the water on a chain is superb (even if it's a subject matter with limited appeal). It always amazes me how sometimes the photos I love, don't sell the way others might.  I'm sure  it will grow on him. Thanks Dave!

A woman from Washington D.C. bought a print of a wooden bench amongst the lavender taken at last year's Lavender Festival at Sacred Mountain Lavender.  I wondered if she was buying it for her mother or for herself. Women love lavener shots. As always, lots of positive feedback but this time backed up by enough people putting their money where there compliments were to make it a great day.

I felt like people were flocking from every direction, the flow of interaction was good and that helped the day to fly by.

When you make decent money, and have fun doing it, even the sun seems to shine more brightly. Hat's off to that.

May 22, 2010

Hot Docs 2010 Requires Strategy and Stamina

In early May, I attended Hot Docs 2010 in Toronto, which is North America’s largest documentary film festival. It runs for 11 days with over 170 films from 35 countries. Imagine 80 hrs. of sitting in the dark and 600 minutes of waiting over a 9 day period. This is someone’s idea of a great vacation – mine, actually! My film fest foolishness began, April 30th, on the flight from Vancouver to Toronto.

Screening Marathon
Armed with a premium festival pass for $140, I intended to get my money’s worth! I was in Toronto for 9 days of the festival, and by the end, my cost per screening (which was sometimes actually more than one film) was down to $3.33. Forty-two screenings in 9 days at six different theatres for $140 equals $3.33 per screening!” You’d be challenged to find that deal anywhere else, except maybe Honest Ed’s (a Toronto institution/landmark, but more about that another time).

Personalized Screening Strategy
My strategy for figuring out what films to see has been developed over many years and began when I was a grad student with thesis-avoidance-time on my hands (and attended the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) every fall). Getting it right takes several hours of planning.

Here’s how I figure out my viewing schedule:
1) Read through descriptions of films and circle films of interest.

I quickly read the descriptions of the films and circle the films that interest me, also checking to see if the film already has a distributor, and noting if it is done by a famous director, has famous actors, etc. Such films are more likely to come to a mainstream theatre or be released on DVD after the festival. I want to use my precious screening time slots to see films that I will not have an opportunity to see again – which are often just as good, but perhaps will never be picked up by a distributor as the topic doesn’t appeal to the masses. I avoid films that are shown in gala opening or closing nights – these films will definitely end up in a mainstream theatre, sometimes even only a day or two after the festival closes.

2) Write out names of films of interest on a separate sheet in random order.
I write out all the films I’ve circled in the original guide onto a separate piece of paper. I don’t filter or eliminate at this point. There will usually be over 100 films listed, and no possible way to see them all in a 10 or 11 day festival.

In most festivals (Hot Docs or VIFF), the maximum number of screenings you can fit into a single day is four or five. Films usually start at about 11:00 am with the last screening beginning at about 9:30 pm. If you allow 2 hours per screening + 0.5 hours for Q&A with the filmmakers (who may be in attendance) plus time to change theatres, squishing in five films each day is almost a cinematic accomplishment of its own. Don’t forget to leave time for the Q&A after the screenings!

3) Using overall film schedule, which will show in a bar chart format all the films playing each day for each theatre, start to map films from interest list to actual schedule.

This is the part where, given my computing background, I could probably write a computer program to automatically take my list of films and match it to the overall schedule to come up with a personalized schedule that maximizes the number of films from my list, minimizes shifting between theatres, and avoids major time gaps. I resist that urge however and just do it by hand, constantly shifting between my list of interesting films and the master schedule to create my personal viewing schedule.

Bodily Considerations
Occasionally, I am forced to choose between two films being shown at exactly the same time. I may also choose one film over another if I know the theatre’s more comfortable. In the Hot Docs festival, the Isabel Bader Theatre (that is part of Victoria College at University of Toronto) has the most comfortable seats and arm rests. It’s beautiful and used for lectures for undergraduate classes at the University of Toronto – lucky students! A mediocre film there might just win out if I have spent 6 hours that day in a theatre with poor seats (like the Cumberland 2 and 3 cinemas). After some butt-numbing experiences in Hot Docs 2008, I payed attention to venues this year.

My average for Hot Docs 2010 ran around four to five films per day. I made it to 42 screenings proving that while I may no longer have the endurance for long bike rides; my attention-span for documentaries has not diminished.

A Typical Film Fest Day
Up at 8:00 am. I was staying in a cheap hostel near King/Church and there was road construction starting at 7 am. – sigh. Shower, eat bagel or yogurt from my supplies in the hostel kitchen. Check email on hostel computer. Get coffee, perhaps a little window shopping or go to grocery store or St. Lawrence Market to get some snacks. Take subway to theatre for 10:00 or 10:30 in time for box office opening. Show festival pass to pick up tickets for films I will see at that theatre, and perhaps walk or take subway to another theatre to pick up tickets there as well. If a film is really popular, it’s possible that there won’t be tickets available later in the day. Ticket holders line up outside the theatre for a screening, but I try to avoid this. I know that there will be a guaranteed seat for me as long as I show up with ticket in hand at least 15 minutes prior to the screening start time.

Time Management
I’ve become an expert at taking off to go sit in a park and read, or go hop on the subway and run an errand somewhere, making it back to theatre at about 16 minutes before the show starts. The first film of the day begins at 11:00 or 11:30 am., and I would see films all the way through until 11 pm. at night. I would usually have max 1 hr. between films – time for bathroom breaks, get to next venue, maybe grab a coffee or snack from some take-out place on the way. I’d get back to the hostel at about midnight and finally tiptoe back into my dorm-style room, trying not to wake the other women sound asleep.

Repeat that eight more times! On paper it may sound monotonous but I was able to fit in a lot between films. I visited my sister-in-law in the little Italy neighbourhood where she lives, dropped in to see my nephew in a store on Queen St. where he works, ate out at various restaurants, walked around quite a bit at the University of Toronto campus, read an entire 600-page book while on transit/waiting in line, went to St. Lawrence Market twice (fantastic food market – great bagel place there and too many (is that possible?) cheese vendors – yum!), drank a lot of coffee in Starbucks, Tim Horton’s and Second Cup, discovered a great sandwich place, went to an internet cafe to finish up a few things for my job, and ate way too many times in the hot food section of Whole Foods. Many of the theatres for Hot Docs were centred around Bloor & Avenue Rd. (Yorkville – expensive area), so Whole Foods was the most reasonably-priced food option around.

Then, of course, you’re wondering what about the films??!!! I enjoyed most of them. The topics ranged from storage of nuclear waste, to men who were men then women then men again, to climate change and environmental issues, political conflicts, family problems, social issues, candy inventors, abortion, surrogacy, art, music, and the list goes on.

Film Triggers
Do I remember any of them? Yes. Or at least something about all of them, even if I can’t remember the title. Last night I tested myself and tried to write out as many as I could remember without looking at the website or program guide. I remembered 34. And then today I remembered the other eight. Someone mentioned Singapore at work today and that made me remember the film “Complaint Choir” as one part takes place in Singapore. It turns out that I have little memory triggers for each film and I am fascinated with my own brain and how it has stored things. Complaint Choir was filed under Singapore. The Absence of Mr. & Mrs. B was filed under confrontation and arguments during the Q&A. Ryszard Kuklinski was filed under Ryszard Kapuscinski (a Polish journalist whose works I read recently).

Stay Tuned for Film Reviews
For those film-fest geeks like me (that have likely skimmed this entire article just to find the list of documentary film titles in hopes of finding a gem that they haven’t heard of before), my next guest post will share the list of films I saw with quick comments about each one. Stay tuned, or maybe I should say, keep watching...

Gwen Litchfield, my first guest blogger, is a film geek with a Masters in Computer Science. She works as the Program Manager for the Science & Environment Co-op Program at SFU which just may explain her need to escape into dark places and other realities – documentary style - for extended periods of time.


Daisy Simplicity

Perfection in nature

May 19, 2010

Simple Country Fences

Something there is that doesn't love a wall, 

That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,

And spills the upper boulders in the sun,

And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.

The work of hunters is another thing:

I have come after them and made repair

Where they have left not one stone on a stone,

But they would have the rabbit out of hiding,

To please the yelping dogs. The gaps I mean,

No one has seen them made or heard them made,

But at spring mending-time we find them there.

I let my neighbor know beyond the hill;

And on a day we meet to walk the line

And set the wall between us once again.

We keep the wall between us as we go.

To each the boulders that have fallen to each.

And some are loaves and some so nearly balls

We have to use a spell to make them balance:

'Stay where you are until our backs are turned!'

We wear our fingers rough with handling them.

Oh, just another kind of out-door game,

One on a side. It comes to little more:

There where it is we do not need the wall:

He is all pine and I am apple orchard.

My apple trees will never get across

And eat the cones under his pines, I tell him.

He only says, 'Good fences make good neighbors'.

Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder

If I could put a notion in his head:

'Why do they make good neighbors? Isn't it

Where there are cows?

But here there are no cows.

Before I built a wall I'd ask to know

What I was walling in or walling out,

And to whom I was like to give offence.

Something there is that doesn't love a wall,

That wants it down.' I could say 'Elves' to him,

But it's not elves exactly, and I'd rather

He said it for himself. I see him there

Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top

In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.

He moves in darkness as it seems to me~

Not of woods only and the shade of trees.

He will not go behind his father's saying,

And he likes having thought of it so well

He says again, "Good fences make good neighbors."

by Robert Frost, Mending Wall

May 18, 2010

Bob Needs a Massage on a Ferry 'Round SaltSpring Island. Be There!

Eat your Heart Out, Bob!

I'm stealing a line from a headling in The Province newspaper to let you know that "BC Ferries is finally rubbing its passengers the right way" by starting a new onboard spa service from Swartz Bay to Tsawwassen on its Thursday to Sunday trips. I expect locals, more than tourists, may use the service. Once you've done the trip for the 535th time, why not make it useful time. I'm just disappointed that they aren't going to have it on the 3-hour milk run that happens from Long Harbour on Salt Spring to Tsawwassen. That's where it's really needed. Although, I thought it was a massage service. The obssession with nails has always baffled me. Read all about it at C-Spa. Nails, Sail, Exhale! Is that backwards? I want to change the order but it sounds better, as I'm sure they realized, with nails first.

Happy Birthday Bob. It's Bob Dylan's birthday on May 24th (his 69th) and the folks on Galiano Island have created a Facebook page and a partay to celebrate Dylan's annual milestone for 15 years. One wonders what the man himself does to celebrate when so many others are celebrating for him? Maybe he just gets on YouTube and laughs hysterically at all those trying to imitate him. Whatever. Celebrating his birthday seems to make a little more sense than celebrating the birthday of a dead monarch dontcha think? 

I understand from my friend Sharon Bailey, who's a singer/songwriter that The TreeHouse Cafe on Salt Spring is also hosting a bunch of performers who will be singing Dylan songs as well. She'll be singing, among others, one of the eternal favorites, You Gotta Serve Somebody!  (I chose this version, not because it's Sharon, but because it just cracked me up. How did these guys - look at them closely - ever come together? They look like they wouldn't know each other in a million years? Like they're doing community service. (And, I really could have done without the lingering, saggy butt shot of the lead singer halfway through.)

Sink or Swim. Sink or Swim. Speaking of which, in the worst segue ever, if you're rich enough to throw your money into a moneypit (a.k.a. sailboat) then it's the big  round Salt Spring regatta this weekend. How long can that take? (kidding!)

It's a long weekend. What else can we get up to?

May 12, 2010

Smiling at Diversity

Ghost Ranch door

You never know who's going to walk through the door. One day it might be an executive chef just returned from running the large kitchen at a resort hotel on a tropical island and the next, a woman who described herself as a Lama, (the first female Lama, she said) got an inheritance, became a daytrader and well, we could have predicted where that was going and where it did go. But why? I wondered. Why would a true Buddhist go there?

There are new arrivals from Quebec and Ontario with only the knapsacks on their backs and a plan to enjoy the summer and to see BC. There are truck drivers with Class 1 licences and a guy who counts fish off fish boats all over the coast and people with autism, one of them with the same abilities as the autistic man played by Dustin Hoffman in that old movie Rainman. He's really amazing with numbers. If you tell him what year you were born, he can tell you what you are in the Chinese Zodiac. I'm a Metal ox. My co-worker's a Water dog. The next time he came in, a week later, I asked him what my birthday was. He gave me the exact date and year with only a moment's hesitation. Wouldn't you just love your husband and boyfriend to have that ability?

People come in who need to work with Salt Spring Literacy but the ones who need it the most are usually not able to go there. If you have never learned to read and you're now 40 years old and all you've ever done is physical labour, how do you come up with the right reason for you to take yourself into a literacy centre and be vulnerable enough to admit that you can't read or write past a Grade 2 level and that you've just now found a good enough reason to begin to learn anew?

In contrast to that, I worked just yesterday with a woman who'd been a software developer for more than 20 years who now wants to work more with people and community. We did an amazing job mining her transferable skills over three attempts at reinventing her on paper. I like working with people who listen, do the work based on the feedback and as a result, see the results. Baby steps. She volunteered at the 2010 Olympics with an Eastern European team using her fluency in three languages to be a translator and support Athletes.

There are men still living in some past era controlling their wives lives as if this was 1922, thankfully, very few of those.  I consider them a lower level of species. As you can imagine, being who I am, itt takes everything I have not to just tell them to "speak to the hand"! Ug.

Mental health issues are a daily reality. We see when people improve, wonder if they're taking their medication regularly, and we see when they start to go downhill so to speak. When they are having a full-on conversation with themselves sitting in our office wondering why there aren't any jobs for them, it's sad. But we can truly see past that too. We see their intelligence because it's there and that's what makes it so sad. Their mental health burden has robbed their potential and their frustration is palpable and we wish we could help them but even with jobs, more often than not, we can't get them one. They get odd jobs with people in the community who either take advantage of them or with big hearts truly want to help them and give them something to do.

As just about anywhere in BC and Canada, Salt Spring island desperately needs funded positions that work one on one with youth and with people who live with some form of mental illness. There are some amazing people here who do that. But there needs to be more. There are people with some sort of challenge - mental illness and learning disabilities - who need one on one coaching on an ongoing basis and sympathetic employers to employ them so that they can be productive and not just wander around all day long. They want to work. If anything, the people I see who fit into this category want to work more than the rest of us do. (I should speak for myself!)

Addictions. Lots of addictions. I always try to remind myself that addiction equals pain. Pain came first. Then addiction. No judgement. There's no greater reason for Raffi's Centre for Child Honouring to exist than the fact that lack of love - parental love, self love leads to scenarios in life that take us down paths that mean we will be less than we can be. Period.

And then there are the people who are so insecure because of their personal histories that they can't bare to sit with you and have you review their resume because it's too scary for them while for us it's so obvious what's going on. They're usually the ones who say they are so fantastic,they can do anything and when they register they think they're doing us a favour because the government would get rid of our jobs if they didn't and hey, we have absolutely nothing to offer them.

Every day I am reminded how to be when I walk into a new environment and I need that reminder, don't we all?  If we could all just remember the following two things for starters, life might just get happier and easier.  I'm going to focus on this today and tommorrow, and okay, the next as well. 

1. Smile. Sometimes as the day wears on I forget to smile. I'm sitting at my desk and I'm the first person new clients meet. Smiling is so easy and yet in the middle of the day it's easy to forget to do it. Smiling equals openness and acceptance. I'm training myself to smile at every single person who walks through the door. Smile and look directly into their eyes when you say good bye. Smile more.

2. Let people help you!  When people want to help you, let them. If people have expertise that you don't, mine it. Let them share it. They want to. Maybe they're even being paid to share it. It's okay not to know what you have no way of knowing based on what your unique existence may have not yet taught you.

May 10, 2010

Self employment and the Illusion of Leisure

Sometimes I get annoyed when people look at me, enviously, and say... "Ya but, you only work 4.5 hours a day, four days a week". That assessment makes it sound as if I'm independently wealthy and the rest of the time I'm just sittin' back with my feet up.  It also makes it sound like there's no such thing as choice. I made a choice. You can too!

My choice has meant living at the poverty line but it also means incredible natural beauty, peace, solitude, and in some moments, sheer happiness and gratitude at being in this environment. At 49, I'm trying to do, one more time, what I should have been doing my entire life but never got right because I have never approached it in a systematic, professional manner or believed, truly, that I could do it.

I work 4.5 hours a day at a part-time job because I need a minimum income to maintain my financial comfort level (or unease level) as the case may be.  I don't have the benefit of a second income as a safety net. I don't have the distractions that another person in the form of a partner would bring or any of the positives as well. At what cost I have always asked. Maybe that's truly because I've never met the "right" person but it's more likely that my choice is my choice and I prefer it that way.  The "right" person is afterall, to some degree, a choice.

Friday I was up at 6:22 am. I was on the computer almost immediately while making coffee. Initially, I was looking at my photos trying to decide which ones to order in 8x10 sizing. Did I need that at this point? The Market isn't busy enough at this point. It's a fine line between having a healthy stock and having too much stock.

I was reviewing my Excel spreadsheet looking at who I was going to cold call that morning. I was reviewing my writing resume, tweaking it, and adjusting the pitch I was going to use in the e-mail and on the phone. I was Googling companies and trying to narrow down the name of the right person to call and then around 9:00 am I started picking up the phone. I was doing that, non stop until about 3:00 pm. At that point, I took a bit of a break. I didn't leave the cottage until then. I brushed my teeth finally. Ugh.  I went over to say Hi to Marjorie, my neighbour and sat a bit with her.

After that, around 3:45, I came back and started thinking about story ideas that I could pitch to a specific magazine that I have in mind. I had a response to one of my queries from a magazine that I'd sent a while ago and they told me to follow up. They were asking for images. They wanted to see the images that would accompany the story. I had to e-mail the photographer who the story is about and get him to get me images.

I have been reading Writers Digest lately and I really like it. It's a good magazine with lots of practical tips. One of the tips is, know the magazines and then come up with story ideas. It's much easier  than trying to pull story ideas out of the air and then figure out who might buy them. Do it the other way around. I've ordered Canadian Writers Market and Writer's Market 2010 on a great deal from Amazon. No shipping charges.

My friend Lisa who is the networker/cold caller extraordinaire pointed out that in order to get work doing contract writing or freelance writing articles, querying at least 25 people a week via e-mail and having a systematic system for following up in a cold call is important. I'm not sure how I'm going to do that while I'm working 20 hours a week at the job that's really just an annoying distraction, but that's my goal. 

I'm starting to really think about how I'm using my time. This Blog is really a waste of time except, it's a bit like therapy or something. I can't not do it at this point it seems.

My friend Karin who just moved back to Vancouver was very good at this. She works way more than 40 hours a week doing all that's related to her art. When you walk into her house she has a bulletin board and on it are competitions and grant deadlines hanging with dates in black pen on the top. She's very good at setting boundaries with people making it clear that she's working because when you're an artist, people think you're just playing around or something, not working. When I first came to Salt Spring, I remember thinking, so much for the laid back artist stereotype after learning about how much she works.

Back in my own realm, by 6:00 pm I went out for about 3 hours. Then, I came back and I started getting my photographs in order for the market. I was making more photo cards until 10:45 pm and doing some matting as well.

I went to bed around 11:00 to get up at 6:30 am to go to the market. So you see, when someone says to me, you only work 4.5 hours a day like I"m a lazy slob, they be wrong!

Are you self employed? What are some of your biggest challenges? I'd really like to hear about them.

May 09, 2010

Country Morning Magic

I got up really early this morning as I often do and started off down the road for a walk. The birds were chirping and darting about. I quickly came across a couple of black bunnies, one after the other, and one of them ran across the road trying to get away from me but at least I caught him with my camera. The sun was dropping sparkles like fairy dust onto the water and when I looked behind me the soft, misty shades of blue were a Toni Onley painting by nature. No watercolour required.

I could hear bees and the only sounds were my footsteps on the pavement. When was the last time you heard only your own footsteps on pavement and the chirping of the birds? I stopped at the crooked tree to see if I could get a decent photo but I couldn't. I kept on and noticed a small white garage with a palm tree growing behind it up a dirt driveway. It reminded me of my favorite watercolour that I'd purchased in Hawaii in a little place called Volcano. The artist had named it "Old Style" for the kind of cottage that used to exist, deep in the bush almost covered by the huge fiddleheads and ferns.

It as as if I was the only person out of bed until a lone cyclist, a woman, passed me and said Good Morning. I continued on the way to Fernwood dock and as I came close I noticed a gate that would take me down to the beach on the side I rarely walk on. Once on the beach I observed the way the dock's reflection from this new side was different. It had a very Asian feel to it. Can you see that from the photo in the collage? Maybe not.

As I walked down the beach, and got closer to one of the Arbutus trees I could hear the humming of bees growing louder. I looked but couldn't see where they were. I don't like bees. I'm beginning to be obsessed by bees given the beautiful yellow trees that are near my cabin and seem like a Burning Man event for bees.
I continued under the dock and walked farther along the beach until I noticed a Blue Heron. I walked towards where it was but as soon as I got close it flew off. I followed it back towards the dock. I took a photo. Not the best photo but at least I got a shot of it.

I got up on the dock and walked to the end, looking across to Wallace Island. It's supposed to be beautiful there. You can camp there if you can kayak there. I wish I had my own kayak.

I started off back down the road. I passed the first house and it is the most immaculate little place. I passed other houses. I passed the tiniest little white cabin with a beautiful view that I thought couldn't possibly be selling for more than $370,000 but when I checked, the price tag was $490,000. It couldn't be more than 600 square feet inside if that. Sheesh! Location. Location. Location. It's being offered by Li Read, a realtor whom I met in the mid '90s when she must have been one of the first realtors to sign up as a student in the UBC Multimedia Studies program so that she could design her own website before most realtors were even thinking about that.

I passed a gate that had two signs saying Private Property. Keep out! What is it about that that just makes you want to see what's up there. Grow Op?  I wondered.
Walking along the road I spotted a beautiful daisy and farther along, I liked the way the light made the grass so green against the base of some trees positioned at interesting angles to one another.

When I got back to near my lane, I looked up and my neighbour and her dog Maddy were coming down the road. I said hello to her and petted Maddy. Audrey said I could look around her garden. I went in and right away a beautiful Camelia tree with blush, red petals greets visitors. There's a little pond to the left with lily pads in it and my favorite purple-blue corn flowers their petals whispy as brush strokes and complementing the yellow daisies.

I also liked the little wooden bench she had under a gate. I could imagine sitting under it on a hot summer day drinking lime margaritas or Cuba libras.

Ahhhhh. It's almost summer again!

May 08, 2010

Clairvoyant Surprises

New Mexican Sky

Last night I went to an "event" that happens here on the first Friday of each month. It's a clairvoyant night. There is a spiritualist church here and I hadn't been since I'd first come to Salt Spring so I thought I'd check it out again last night. The first time I went there were lots of people and nothing happened for me. It happens in the basement of the Masonic Hall.

I walked in and there weren't many people there, maybe about 10. Two spiritualist ministers were at the front of the room. They dress in good clothes and they could be your aunt or your kids's kindergarten teacher. They don't look weird in any way. If you saw them in the grocery store, you wouldn't look twice at them. They don't advertise themselves with all sorts of crazy titles like shamanic healer or experienced near death participant or remote sensing expert.

As an aside, I was reading this new magazine called True Blue Spirit, Pursuits of Intuitive Living, when I came across this ad for someone who is a counsellor and the heading said, (are you ready for this?) Heard by the Herd. It actually made me laugh out loud. I don't want to be mean because we're all just trying to do our thing but please. Heard by the Herd? Most of just want to be heard by somebody. Period. We don't need the whole herd to hear us. Would you go to a counsellor who advertises with the words Heard by the Herd. I can't even say it without laughing. I digress.

Back with the clairvoyants and mediums, while waiting for this meeting to begin, I suddenly could feel that one of the women at the front was looking at me. She was looking right at me and I was thinking, Oh god, please don't come to me. Because, when they hear or feel or whatever happens for them, they look at you and say, "May I come to you?" Of course you're not typically going to say no. I've never really had it happen before.

She stands up and starts saying, "I have this woman. She has the most beautiful grey/white hair. She's a little taller than me but not very tall. She's digging something. A pitchfork. No.  A shovel. She's using a shovel but she's not dressed as if she would be working in a garden. The shovel might be metaphorical. It's a shiny shovel like it's not actually used to dig in the garden. There's a man behind her. He's got the kind of hair, a brush cut. Does make any sense to you she says?
My mother had really beautiful white hair, I say.

She wants you to know that when you're feeling a little lonely, she comes to you. My first thought was Great. I can think of so many other people I'd rather have around me when I'm feeling lonely. My mother and I always had what felt like a less than loving relationship. Two days before she died when she could have said something nice to me knowing that she'd never see me again in this lifetime, she chose to say something really hurtful that came out of nowhere. She was lying in her hospital bed dying and even then she couldn't look at me and say something really nice to me. And, that has never left me. So I have not missed my mother since she has died because I missed having the kind of mother I now know is possible in the relationships I've had with other mother-like figures.

The woman continued. You've been doing a lot of thinking lately. Turning things over. (True) I think your mother has been turning over a lot of things as well. I'm feeling emotion around the heart, the woman says. It's more than just emotion, it feels like pain. Did your mother have a heart attack? she asks. She had some heart issues but she didn't die of a heart attack I say. Well, I'm feeling a lot of emotion. She wants you to know that she's proud of you. It's important for her to let you know this.

She thinks you are on the right track. She wants you to follow your heart. She's proud of you for doing that. She has a bit of a quirky sense of humour, I just heard the line, Follow the yellow brick road.

I feel that you are coming to a cross roads and you'll have to go inside and feel what you're feeling, feel intuitively to know which direction to take but I feel that you are on the right track.

I forget how she ended it and I'm sure she said other things that I didn't catch as I was listening. As she moved away from me, she said, I'm not sure if I'm being drawn to someone else or if this is still about you but I'm getting two women's names. Eileen and Helen. (My  middle name is Ileane).  She then moved on to someone else.

I no longer question this kind of experience. I know that some people have developed their intuitive abilities to a point where they "see" things that they're able to pass on that other people don't. I don't question it. I'm just curious. It's good to hear what comes up and when you go there, what's really striking, is the ability of these women to speak in a way that is a way that I don't think you could fake even if you tried. I know the difference between someone making up a story and someone telling you something that is coming to them from somewhere and it sounds very authentic when they begin to talk.

So, there you go. If you ever have a chance to go to a spiritualist church, check it out. Evenings where people practice their clairvoyance happen all over the place.

On the day before Mother's day it was an interesting experience that leaves me wondering.

May 07, 2010

Ferries like Starbucks in the Gulf Islands

Around here, ferries are like the dualing Starbucks on Robson Street at the corner of Robson and Thurlow in Vancouver. There's one on every corner (or at least three points on island).

I took this photo last summer off of Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island where the campground is and I thought it was cool because it's not often you see two big ferries passing there. Or, at least I haven't. I decided to play with the shot a little to make it more interesting and I like the way it looks on an angle.

Last night someone told me about a conversation she'd had with a long time resident who commutes off island for work. The long time resident said something akin to blasphemy around here. She said she wouldn't mind if they built a bridge between Vancouver Island and Salt Spring. Apparently, in the morning, getting off the island to Crofton if you're headed to Duncan or Ladysmith or Nanaimo is getting so busy that sometimes there are more cars than ferry. Who knew?

I don't like the idea of a bridge. For me, part of the charm of living here is having to take a ferry. Of course, I haven't lived here very long and I expect the longer you live here the more you hate BC Ferries. But, honestly, from my perspective, if you choose to live on an island how can you be in your right mind and complain about ferries. Get off the island. Go live right in the middle of a city.

Last year a Salt Spring resident was banned from the ferries for six months because was so pissed off that the last Friday night ferry from Crofton was under capacity but a ferry employee would not let her board because it was ready to sail. She had 40 litres of fresh milk for her capuccino stall at the Saturday Market and couldn't get on.  In total frustration, she nudged a ferry employee with her car. The RCMP were called. When she tried to board a ferry the next morning on the first sailing she was informed that she was banned from riding a BC Ferry for six months.  Get a grip lady! Maybe it's time to move.We're not talking a kidney transplant here, we're talking coffee!  Get a watch. Show up earlier. No sympathy here.

While trying to find the above details I discovered this West Coast Ferries Forum.  Ferries and islanders. Just another love-hate relationship.

May 03, 2010

Car and Flight-Needy with Oil Spills as Proof

Pretty eh? Imagine it soaked with oil.

You've undoubtedly heard about what's happening in The Gulf of Mexico off the state of Louisiana but with a reach as seeping as the approximately 5,000 barrels of oil a day now spilling and threatening the ecosystems off the coast of Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Eleven people were killed in the explosion of an oil rig leased by BP Petroleum. The Louisiana fishing industry has been decimated and may be permanently wiped out. This spill seems headed towards topping  the Exxon Valdez 1989 spill of 10.8 million gallons in Alaska and is an unprecedented environmental (and economic) disaster.

There has yet to be an explanation for the explosion on the rig that was 50 miles off Louisiana. The well was 1500 metres below the surface. According to the story in The Globe and Mail, the first response was unhelpful (to say the least) given that fire boats began pumping massive streams of water onto the rig.

Mike Miller, CEO of a Calgary-based company called SafetyBOSS Inc. which gained notoriety for its ability to handle burning oil wells in Kuwait, said that was a mistake. "Why they put the fire out is beyond me," he said in the weekend's Globe article. He said the fire would have burned the oil, had it been left to burn. To make matters worse, a key safety device - known as a blowout preventer - failed to function.  BP officials have not explained why that device malfunctioned.  The solution at this point is looking to be 2-3 months worth of work away and the resultant decimation of the ecosystems and sensitive wildlife/bird habitat.

I was thinking about about how I contribute to this problem as a result of my dependence on my car more now than ever. The only other time I've driven my car as much as I do now, living on this little idyllic Gulf Island, is when I commuted to SFU from Langley as a student in my early 20s. Isn't it ironic that to live downtown on Robson Street actually means living a more environmentally-friendly existence than living on a Gulf Island. I walked almost everywhere downtown because of the sheer frustration of parking and paying for it. That was a good thing.

Learn more about why this issue is an accident waiting to happen right in our own backyard. There are three levels of risk: exploration, tankers moving down the coast, and a pipeline.

Visit The Dogwood Initiative for more information and Action.