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September 29, 2010

The Bittersweetness of Childhood Reconnections

I love reading The New Yorker.

The Sept. 20th issue has a feature on Mark Zuckerberg, the guy who co-created Facebook. When I read the article I felt that the writer was really having to work hard to get Mr. Zuckerberg to give him something of real interest. The article said that Zuckerberg was a private person who didn't speak to The Press and who wasn't thrilled about the increasing number of public engagements required of him.

Can you imagine being him? He'd have to change the privacy settings just to accommodate his own need for privacy. His facebook quote says that he's "trying to make the world a more open place by helping people connect and share." And, that's why I'm even talking about this.

Come to think of it, I wasn't actually on Facebook (but LinkedIn) when I made a reconnect with a girl I knew from childhood, elementary school, birthday parties. You know, that part of our other lives that we all have but in adulthood, we can't really believe, so many years later, that we ever truly had.

If you're of a certain age, it's the one where you and I got dressed up for birthday parties, where we actually played a game called Pin the Tale on the Donkey and where my mother, (as so many mothers of that era) would wrap pennies (or was it dimes?) in Saran Wrap and put them inside the cake. I don't really recall ever getting money (or choking on money) but my memory of  my childhood has always been a bit hit and miss.

We'd play musical chairs with all manner of chairs collected from throughout the house and just as the anticipation interspersed with hesitation reached a peak, dear old mom would lift up the needle from the record player and the lap scramble would begin.

My brother and other boys would have greasy, Brylcreamed hair. I had a pink, organza party dress that was too short and I'd wear white ankle socks with pointy black patent shoes. We each had a cake because our mother, bless her, would make my brother and I each a separate cake. And, we'd sit at each end of the table, King and Queen, over our small but very special birthday party domain.

There was Phyllis and Michael and Darryl, Diane, Jo-Anne and Gary, Leo, Richard and Robin and I'm sure I'm forgetting someone.

I can recall this person, that I just connected with, as a child. I remember, vaguely, her mother, the fact that she didn't have a father around and she lived in an apartment. Her mother smoked and I liked her mother. I remember this friend's thin felt or black velvet ribbon that she often wore in her hair  and the way her thick, coarse brown hair curved around her face. I remember her smile and her teeth and her sweetness and I think she even had a dimple.

I feel the need to emphasize that unlike the pseudo preciousness of celebrity that has been touted as the "norm," none of the people I grew up with are famous, and, I have to remind myself as you should do occasionally just to to check in with reality that, NOT being famous IS actually the norm. It's easy to forget that nowadays.
Whenever I hear about people from my childhood, or my past, and undoubtedly if/when they hear about me, none of our lives have turned out to be what might have been anticipated for us when we were children. I find that so very bittersweet - for them, for their parents and for the type of hopes that may have had for our futures. Maybe it's just my very working-class background that has made that so. Maybe it's just the norm.

Perhaps that is why I've always found connecting to the past more sad than satisfying once the momentary curiosity that comes from being "updated" on the person's circumstances has passed. In a short life, it's always seemed good, to me,  to leave the past back there where it was being lived  instead of brought forward although I have had at least one or two really enjoyable times reconnecting for short periods.

Any thoughts about re-connecting with people from your past?  Sweet nostalgia? Waste of time? Major annoyance? Path to forgiveness? Reminder that you can never really go back.

September 23, 2010

Farm Stand to the Rescue

There's a farm stand just two doors down from where I live. It's a little square wooden structure with a cover and a shelf. There's a locked money box and the honour system is in place. You take what you want and you place your money in the box.

Tonight, I needed some tomatoes to add to some basic pasta. I didn't have any. I wanted to taste a freshly grown tomato, not the kind you buy in Safeway. I walked down to the stand hoping there were tomatoes for sale and sure enough, they were there packed into the plastic tub above with rosemary branches stuffed in for a decorative effect, adding a wonderful aroma. Grab the rosemary branch and run your fingers up it and the essence of rosemary remains on your fingertips and has transferred to the smooth red/yellow tomato skins.

I've bought a delectable summer squash there about a month ago and a friend purchased sunflowers on my behalf that stayed on my mantle for a sunny week.

You just never know what might be there at these home-grown zero mile gardens on sale. I like to think of the people who own the stand arriving, excited that the fruits of their labour have found a new home,  stealthily, with only the smiles of satisfaction and anticipation on the faces of those who have purchased, anticipating the flavours on the way back to their own kitchens.

September 21, 2010

Newport Oregon gets my vote for favorite Coastal Town

Did I mention it rained a lot on our trip to Oregon which by the way is pronounced Oregin but absolutely not OreGone. I had a bit of a problem with getting that right it seemed.
In a way, the brash weather was exactly what was required to provide us with the full-on, authentic Oregon Coast experience. Think of it as a little bit of the same little bit of hell that so many of the early explorers, lighthouse keepers undoubtedly turned closet boozers must have endured 365 days a year shrouded in the natural prison of the quiet, foghorned wet, gray flannel horizon. The first lighthouse we tried to see - Tillamook - was invisible through whiteness. The endless wind and rain began full force in what might just get my vote for favorite little town along the coast: Newport, Oregon.

We packed in the camping at that point and found ourselves a really sweet deal at the American Inn and Suites which was exceptionally clean and cheap at $55 per night. I liked Newport because it seemed real. Newport looked like what you'd expect from a small town along the Oregon Coast. It had the Coors signs in the windows. It had the crab traps on the streets. Small forklifts were working the dock.

The barking of the sea lions huddled together for warmth along the dock permeated the mist. Crusty bearded fishermen were downing a pint in the local Tavern.

I peeked into a store window and noticed two bumperstickers, "Time to Cancel the Obama Drama" whatever that means and "Uncle Sam Wants YOU to speak English!" Just the kind of local colour I'd expect from a small town in Amurica.

The downpour painted the streets like a lucky accident in a watercolour painting and turned our umbrellas inside out. We poked around a  few shops. Gwen patiently held the umbrella over my head while I tried to take these photos in the downpour. We wandered around before deciding to go to Mo's for some New England clam chowder and to get out of the rain. We had the onion rings and the soup which was extra flavourful with bacon.

The Newport restaurant is the original location of Mos and the story goes that "early one morning a woman returned to her car parked outside the restaurant, put it in drive instead of reverse, and crashed through the front of the café. Far from being disgruntled, owner Mo Niemi put her arms comfortingly around the woman and said, 'Well, just put in a garage door so you can drive in anytime you want.' To this day, the garage door on the front of the restaurant is raised on nice days and turns Mo’s into an instant sidewalk café. On the inside, there's a painted characterizaion of a surprised looking woman, seated in her car, just after the crash. The desserts looked fabulous too but we were too full to try them.
After dinner, we moved the car to a spot in front of The Rogue Ale Public House famous for its 31 brews on tap. Enriquez, originally from Mexico, was the bartender that night.We pretty much just had to think we might like to taste test one of them and he'd be filling a shot glass taster; a bartender with E.S.P. and a steel trap memory for names it seemed.
Then Kent Harrison showed up. He was celebrating his return to Newport after taking a job in California for a year.  He was ecstatic to be back in the rain of Oregon and he was celebrating with a drink and dinner (homous) after his first shift as the chef at Embarcadero Resort Hotel.  Kent's favorite beer? The Shakespeare Stout. Enrique preferred IPA Brutal. Kent was gracious, knowledgeable and a seasoned conversationalist. Nice guy. One barstool down sat Bonnie Breach. A regular. A true blue Oregonian with long grey hippy hair to prove it. By the look of the pint glasses in front of her, Bonnie seemed to prefer dark ales  but geneaology was her true passion. She wanted to know my last name. She had me spell it twice. The v is very unusual she said. I'll have to do some research.

We slept well that night out of the rain and headed the next morning to the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, with a quick stop at Nye Beach  and a wander through the Sylvia Beach Hotel (a haven for writers and cats). We then dropped into the Newport Visual Arts Centre and took in a sobering but fascinating Washed Ashore project by Angela Hazeltine Pozzi. Large sculptures - turtles, jellyfish -  created solely from the plastics that she had found on remote beaches in Southern Oregon.
After that we made a stop at Oregon State University Hatfield Science Center(suggested donation: $5)  and it proved to be an excellent place (an alternative to the Aquarium)  full of interactive displays, information on Tsunamis and earthquakes and other research studies complete with a "touch pool" full of ginormous sea anemones, starfish, sea urchins each managing to survive in spite of being poked more than a cute Grade 5 girl by the Grade 5 boy who sits behind her in class.
In mid-2011, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will move its base for research ships from Seattle to Newport. The base has about 110 marine officers and a total of 175 employees. It will base four ships and provide support for up to two itinerant vessels.[5] NOAA already has some personnel at the Hatfield Marine Science Center which support the Alaska Fisheries Science Center and the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. The ships will join the RV Wecoma which is based at the center. There were signs all over town welcoming NOAA and you can only imagine what a welcome to the economy new residents will be.

September 20, 2010

Depends on your definition of romance perhaps

The beach near Seaside

Okay I admit it. One of the reasons I'd never driven down the Oregon Coast sooner in life is because to me it seemed like such a wonderfully romantic thing to do that it required the right partner. Long walks on the beach. Oregon Pinot Noir tastings. Wonderful seafood in cozy restaurants perched high aside the ocean's splashing surf.  The wind whipping up the hormones with the fare at exquisite restaurants the mere appetizer for a more sensual dessert. Small towns with quirky nooks and crannies to discover and interesting characters to meet.  Conversations that reminded you why you were with your "love" in the first place.

Two words. Read my lips. Dream on!

There's only so many years in one lifetime to await such a Made-for-T.V. fantasy. So, instead, I decided that it's long overdue for me to pack up that silly notion, pack the car and just hit the road with a friend who just happened to be able to take time off at the same time as me whom I thought might be a decent travelling partner: Gwen.

Gwen and I on the beach

No, I am not a lesbian for anyone who might suspect it. Let's just say my taste is so discriminating and my meetings of men that I actually let into my life in any real way so limited that I'm scanning my memory for the long romantic walks on the beach scene.

Instead, we stayed in a yurt (which I loved),  we set up a tent in a few of Oregon's first rate state parks, (I like camping but not in the rain),  we stayed in cheap but clean motels (I like a lot less) and finally, we checked into the bottom bunks in room number 8 of the International hostel in NW Portland, a beautiful old house, where one morning I awoke to see the young, large, Muslim woman (who had slept above me in the top bunk) praying at the foot of my bed.  Right before I went to sleep I had visions of being crushed or paralyzed for life when the top bunk broke and came crashing down on me.

Yurts at Fort Stevens State Park

She called herself a "revert" not a "convert". It's not a term either Gwen or I had heard. Gwen seemed particularly troubled by the term. Revert? What's that? "I don't think she was facing the right direction when she prayed," said Gwen.

I, on the other hand, asked her if she could please take her cell phone conversation at 7:30 am out in the hall tomorrow morning should she receive a call at that time and she looked at me with a defiant look that would have unnerved a younger me.

Oh and did I mention it rained hard 4 of the 7 days.

Me doing a Colonel Klink  (Hogan`s Heroes) imitation
Rain on a bench outside the Portland Art Gallery

And, isn't life (and dreams) often like that.

What's something you've always wanted to do but have put off waiting for the "right" time for reasons that have no basis in reality? Don't be shy!

September 07, 2010

Opening the Door to Self Forgiveness

Last night I went to see that movie, Eat, Pray, Love and the line that really struck me was when Richard from Texas was talking to Liz or "Groceries" as he liked to call her in reference to her healthy appetite and the first time they met at the ashram in India.

After sharing what I think was the best scene in the movie where he described his seriously misguided existence prior to his time at the Ashram, he tells Groceries that when she has forgiven herself, she'll be ready to leave or something along those lines. She realizes that it isn't about forgiving her husband whom she left. It's about forgiving herself.

I was sitting there and feeling a bit emotional over that scene because as she was experiencing that on screen I realized that I don't think I've ever forgiven myself for not having a more "mainstream" life. I don't think I've ever realized how much I've never truly forgiven myself for not getting married or having children even though I honestly feel that it was never my choice as much as a choice that felt made for me mostly just because of my way of being.

I started to really think about that later and it felt quite freeing to recognize that I am really tired of living - at least internally - as if I'm a third class citizen because I haven't participated in the two most important life rationales for being human- a long term partnership and the production of more human babies.
The other thing I'd like to forgive myself for is how many times I felt so badly every time I freaked out on a guy, who in hindsight and with the wisdom of time, I can unequivocally say, always deserved exactly what he got in the first place.

What's the most challenging thing you think you'd like to forgive yourself for?

September 03, 2010

Swami Pragyapad Leaves Islanders Questionless

The other night I went to the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga. The ad said that Swami Pragyapad was giving a presentation. I showed up about 10 minutes prior to his arrival. A somewhat flurried middle-aged woman was acting very officious and nervous as if she was awaiting Jesus or Buddha or the reincarnation of Mahatma Ghandi or something. She seemed annoyed at me for hanging around the lobby. Namaste to you too, I thought. Namaste. Namaste. Namaste.

A few minutes later Swami Pragyapad arrives up the stairs. He's got a very lovely face and very beautiful black hair. Love his hair. Imagine running my fingers through that hair. He's dressed in a long white sari. He has a fantastically warm energy. I would have liked to have gone up to him and asked for a big bear hug. There's something really sexy about a nice looking guy in a sari. I thought it was just kilts. Saris and kilts. Good to know. Scotland and India.

He seemed to have a bit of an entourage of Indian women of a variety of ages. Maybe he travels with his family. He was being driven around in a black Mercedes and that kind of ticked me off.  He better not being staying on that massive yacht in the harbour I thought although as I say that I think, why not? Why shouldn't we all be so lucky?

He was very silent and calm a the front of the room  as he sat with a placid smile resting across his lips. He just surveyed the crowd and was completely at peace. He didn't even move his feet or anything. No finger drumming on the chair. Nervous white people were wondering when he wanted to begin. "It's up to you," he responded. "Whenever you like."

The same officious women crept up to him and nervously poured him some water and placed a white napkin over the glass. God forbid he should get a fruit fly in his water. Minutes and minutes passed. I looked at him. He looked at me. A smiled crossed his lips. Maybe he could see my right eyebrow raised in questoning. How do you get to be a swami anyway? Who says so? I'd like to ride around in a mercedes and have men follow me and sit at the front of the room waiting for "sincere seekers" to ask me questions so I could ponder them and try to impart my spiritual wisdom to calm their conflicted minds.

He tells us that he doesn't really like to talk a lot. He'll talk a while and then as "sincere seekers" we must have questions so he'd be pleased to hear them and have this be more interactive. Isn't that right? he asks. That's his trademark question. Isn't that right? he asks. Right? Isn't that right? Well, you tell us I think.

Now here's the thing. On this island chock a block with people who boldly proclaim their "special powers", their ability to see your aura or fix your aorta, who claim to be able to read your future in a bunch of loose sticks left at the bottom of your teacup or to read the health of your intestines by looking at your tongue when they have a real, live, sexy, breathing Swami sittin' a mere 10 feet from them only THREE of us have questions. WTF?  That's right people. A total of 3 questions by an audience of more than 25 people. I don't get that.

After it was over he suggested that if anyone would like to be blessed they could come to the front. Many people lined up. They bowed. He put his hand on their head. They knelt towards his feet, as if they were going to kiss them.I thought about it for a minute. Should I have him bless me? Why not? Why wouldn't I want him to bless me? Why wouldn't I want anyone to bless me? But then I decided against it. I didn't really want to bow in front of him. I'm not really the bowing in front of anyone type ya know? Afterall, he's a mere male mortal and I want nothing to be happy and I can be happy in any situation so I don't really need his blessing and I have absolutely no doubt that these, his very own words, apply to me not requiring his blessing. But, he was a cool guy. I could tell. Just a feeling.

If I was a Swami what would you want to know from me?

September 01, 2010

Fernwood Dock Unlimited

This morning, after a night of heavy rain, the sun was warm. It sparkled on the ocean. I got out of bed in some sweats and a T-shirt and after microwaving my coffee, I put on the same thongs I've worn all summer, the ones that have left my feet a perpetual black, and I walked outside.

As I crossed my backyard and walked around my car, I could feel the dew of the blades of grass tracing my skin.  I could hear my steps on the gravel of the road. I love the way, in the sun, long yellow sheaths of grass are backlit and golden.  The Arbutus bark has turned as red as it will ever get bronzed by a summer of sunshine. I saw the black bunny run across the road near the house that's been for sale for ever and 7 crows in a tree farther ahead.

I was headed the 15 minutes or so it would take me to get to my favorite dock, Fernwood Dock. I now feel that I have photographed this dock, including the image below, from almost every angle possible. I'd have to be under the water or in an airplane to get it some other way than I have already. But, I'm sure I'm wrong as I say that. I'm sure there are still more ways. That is the challenge.
As I was walking back down the dock after taking these photos, two people - a man and a woman - walked hurriedly towards me. "There are whales out there," they said. "We could hear them from the beach." I turned around and walked back with them. Why couldn't I hear them I wondered. I couldn't see anything either. They pointed again. "Near the end of Wallace island," they said. I could see them, barely. I caught the glint of the sun off their wet skin and intermittent black fins as arrows rising from the water. I could see the fine mist from their blowholes. Just barely. A whole pod of them near Wallace island.

We watched in silence. They had binoculars. More people showed up. There were 9 of us now.
"It must be the sockeye," she said. Another two locals showed up. "Friends called us. They could see them all the way up  Trincomali Channel. We haven't seen whales in this channel for a while."

Another recalled the time a pod of Orcas cornered a Minke whale all the way into Ganges Harbour. "They cornered it and finished it off," she said.

It was one of those mornings when I was really paying attention knowing that being here, surrounded by beauty, is not to be taken for granted. A morning when everywhere I looked a natural gift materialized.

I could get up out of bed, wearing what I'd worn to bed, throw on a coat, walk in flip flops down the road and feel the warmth of the sunshine on my face while it brightened the red of beautiful Fernwood Dock. I could play with my camera at 8:30 am, capturing reflections and experience others' fascination with barely visible Orcas across the water. I could see sailboats and power boats and follow the wake they made in the silence of faraway waves. I could share the experience with others, just as awestruck by the luck of living surrounded by beauty and peace in a world where so few get to experience that reality, consistently.

When was the last time you were really paying attention to your surroundings and counting your blessings? When was the last time you were looking around and knowing that the moment you were experiencing would never come again, in the same way, and that you must savour it because it is the present and it's all you have. Just one moment after another. If you do not savour them, your life is passing in numbness and then, with regret, you will look back knowing that you experienced only a small portion of what was right there in front of you holding your potential for joy as if in a palm stretched lovingly towards a blind man?