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June 27, 2011

The Unbearable Accuracy of Reality

I went to Butchart Gardens in Victoria on Sunday. It's a place I haven't been in at least 10 years and I have to say, it is one of the most lusciously beautiful places I have ever witnessed. It's as if you expect to come upon Adam and Eve and an apple tree; as if you have been transported back to some naturally beautiful beginnings of perfection.
  To think that someone rejuvenate an old quarry into such an abundant natural space of beauty and to think of what that person would think if they saw it now; the huge business it has become, can't help but bring a smile to one's face.
 Today has been weird.  It was a day that did not bring the intended results and of course the questions I have about the real reasons behind that decision exist  in balance with the acceptance that I will never have the real answers to that question.
 I have enough faith to know that whatever unfolds in one's life is meant to be. There's no point in questioning it. By the time you have lived, really lived, you know if you are wise and have lived through enough challenges to see the other side that what unfolds is unfolding exactly as it is meant to be. The journey that you are on, is a journey that is perfect in all its disappointments and its surprises and so, in spite of any surface level disappointment, inside, deeper, where the truth lives, you know that acceptance and faith is the only belief system that contains any wisdom.  I know that I will have an experience with those people whom I am meant to for reasons that are bigger than myself and I won't with those when we have no lessons to learn from each other.  It's so incredibly simple really.

But, today, as too often in the past year, I have thought so much about a man I used to love and I think that author Mitch Albom was so right in his book, For One More Day. I would give so much to be able to spend just one afternoon with this person in conversation the way we used to knowing what I now know, living the way I now live, understanding that it isn't as easy to change the way we are as we get older and how that will either work against us or for us, for better or worse. But, alas, parting again would be even more unbearable so it's just as well it's not possible.

Sometimes it is a curse to be anything other than "the norm", the mainstream, the typical. I often wonder what life would have been like to be what was expected of me; to be on the inside what I appear to be on the outside.
  And you?

June 22, 2011

Rumana Monzur

Today I went for a wonderful hike up the back of Mount Maxwell on Salt Spring. Most people drive up the long road. But, it`s possible to drive only part way up by taking a different road and then hike the rest by coming up the back on a marked trail. It was sunny and I'm aware of the signs when my mind is seeking relaxation to replace concentration on work. It was that kind of day. 

I went by myself after being shown the way by photographer John Cameron last week. I wanted to retrace our steps to see if I could choose the right fork in the road  while driving on the gravel road to find the small trail sign and to enjoy being in a wild place soaking in the energy of the trees, appreciating the green and feeling movement in a body that doesn't get nearly enough movement. I wanted to be alone with my thoughts in nature.

As I came back down from the walk which takes in the most spectacular views at the top, and I had my camera in hand, I stopped along the trail to inhale the silence; marvel at it actually. I remember thinking how wonderful, how freeing it was to be able to walk alone, in a forest, without fear for my personal safety.  I thought about nature deficit disorder and how much beauty surrounds us all daily in nature and how few people I ever come across when I go on trails here.

It wasn't until I returned from my hike that I saw the headline in The Vancouver Sun  newspaper about Rumana Monzur, a graduate student at UBC from Bangladesh (a fulbright scholar) who returned to Bangladesh to visit her four year old daughter and apparently in a vicious attack during an argument, her husband gouged out her eyes and bit her nose disfiguring her face. 

Now she is blind. Barbaric doesn`t describe the horror.  I thought of my own experience. Can you fathom how so few women in the world will experience what it is like to walk alone in a forest and be safe?

One in every two women is a victim of domestic violence in Bangladesh and around 60 per cent of women are subjected to torture in the hands of their husbands, a UN World Development report says.
On Sunday there will be a demonstration in front of The Vancouver Art Gallery at 3pm to show support for Monzur.  You can sign this petition to appeal for a timely judicial response in Bangladesh to her brutal attack by her husband.

Read if you`re curious, some up to date statistics on Family Violence in Canada.

Do you know the signs to watch for in your own relationship?

June 19, 2011

Arbutus and Jade and the Past

This photo of Jim Meyer is borrowed from his website and was taken by Sandra Vander Schaaf.

 On my recent trip to Vancouver I had a funny thing happen. I was down at Granville Island on a beautiful day. It was the day of the Canucks final game against Boston.  I had taken the Aquabus from Science World to the Island. I wandered around and just soaked in the atmosphere at one of my favourite Vancouver places.

As I walked through the market, I heard a musician playing something I'd never seen before. It was a long, 4 inch wide "stick". I thought he sounded really great but I was just walking by and kept walking. A bit later, all caught up in the festivities, I decided to buy a Canucks donut.

I went back to listen to him with the Canucks donut in my hand and sat down on a bench a ways away. I started to delight in devouring it. He was a tall guy and he had on a green cap that made it hard to see his face in the sun. He had on sunglasses.

I sat down and he smiled at me. I raised my Canucks donut in solidarity thinking he was looking at the donut. I listened to him and when he finished playing a man in a motorized cart came over to him. When he turned around there was something about the way he moved that made me think he seemed familiar.

As I watched him, I began to think I knew him.  So, I got up and went over to where he was selling his CD's and as soon as I got closer I realized it was someone I'd worked with and knew from UBC Multimedia Studies.  His name is Jim Meyer.

As soon as I got closer to him he said, Hi Gayle.  I couldn't believe it. First, I couldn't believe he was busking. Second I couldn't believe he'd recognize me since I'm not exactly as thin or as young as I was then.  I thought you were admiring my Canucks donut I said at which point he just shook his head and laughed a laugh I recalled fondly.

He and another instructor and I would go out for the occasional beer. And, the even stranger thing was that I had just reconnected with the other instructor - Paul Hibbitts - about a month prior to this doing some work for him and I was about to meet him the next day after not seeing him for about 10 years as well. Life is weird!

Jim has put out this CD called Arbutus and Jade and my favourite song is called Camucia.

Listen to his playing off his website and feel free to buy his CD.

Vancouver Riot Rationalizations

 Back on island after four choice days in Vancouver with lots of thoughts, like everyone else, about what happened after the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and why?

Depending on how sensitive you are and how much the city of Vancouver has factored into your personal history, I know that some friends felt absolutely overwhelmed and as one said, on an "emotional rollercoaster" in response to the "Lord of the Flies" type behaviour.

From what I've read in the media, a lot of the assessment about the 2011 Vancouver Riot has focused around villains and heroes and those caught in the moment or a "mob mentality" explanation.

What exactly is a "mob mentality" and at this point in Canada's history is that really an accurate description of what happened? I can guarantee you, without a doubt, that if I'm standing in the middle of a city and people start to torch cars and fights are breaking out all around me, I don't inexplicably, get caught up in the same type of frenzy and become what I am not in the first place. If nothing else, this should tell us as a society that there is something very broken with many young males in our society. They ARE angry on a daily basis. We need to do a lot better analysis than "mob mentality". If I'm caughtin the same scenario, I don't suddenly think, oh, I have to get this fight, this torching, this car rolling on camera for my Facebook page or my Twitter feed instead of getting the hell out of the violence.

Explain that mob mentality thing to me because I don't buy it.  I only buy it if in fact, all those people are walking around with so much seething anger so close to the surface on a daily basis in the first place that given a chance to unleash it, such as others participating and normalizing it, they do what they've been wanting to do for a very long time anyway.They completely lose touch with any moral compass they may have had (or not)!

The other thing I don't buy is the lack of strategic planning and readiness on the part of the City of Vancouver and The Vancouver Police Department. Yes, it's a tough job and there was no way that the resources exist to contain thousands upon thousands of people but my question is how could the city of Vancouver be so out to lunch that they thought it would be absolutely fine to have 100,000 people convene in the first place?

Yes, it's true they might have been lulled into a false sense of born-again Christian-like fairy-tale delusion but the citizens of Vancouver pay them to be strategically prepared. And, oh ya, didn't they have some report from the 1994 riots to guide them? My first thought, as I watched the behaviour on television, was God help us when the "big one" hits Vancouver as it recently hit Japan. Looting? Not at all. Didn't happen there.   Imagine being in Japan and watching the mindless violence over a hockey game? Most people in the world, people who have not been overly priviledged their entire lives, riot over human rights, not hockey.

I mean, it's not as if the police (City police and RCMP)  live on la la land here on Salt Spring Island with the bunnies and the deer and the faeries. They police the streets of Vancouver and the Lower Mainland on a daily basis. On a daily basis they interact with people who are emotionally damaged and angry and often desperate  in a city where poverty and wealth are at the extreme and ever widening; a city with a reputation for gang violence and where 31 women who lived in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada, the Downtown Eastside, went missing before anyone even really noticed or cared in any significant or active way because hey they were just "Indians, drug addicts and hookers."

I personally wasn't warmed by the sight of a police car covered in Post-It notes.I was thinking we, the public, were being treated to a really fine PR recovery operation by the police PR people and once again, the media just lapped up the scene without any analysis.

Given that context, and with a winning, not losing, Olympic Gold, where crowds were happy, not angry, the city and the police decided to throw all caution to the wind?  On this occasion, optimism doesn't seem like such a fine attribute.

In a city where violence happens daily, how is it possible for the mayor and the police chief to have been lulled into such denial  about what potentially could happen and what would make sense to be ready for should the worst case scenario come to pass?

No, really!? Tell me. I'd like to hear some rational, believable reason.

June 06, 2011

Aim to be friendly on Salt Spring

Meet Bella as a baby on the shoulder of Amy taken at least a year ago
One of the many good things about Salt Spring is that if you're feeling isolated, you know you can always go into town, buy a coffee, sit down and more often than not someone you know will come along and join you. This happened to me even when I didn't live here. It's sort of how I met the Camper Man

I'll be honest and say that the past two months working at home, writing and trying to find new writing work and exploring off island Communications work has been a challenge for many reasons, not the least of which is the amount of time it means I'm spending alone.
Silence might be golden when you live in New York but when your weekdays are mainly spent interfacing with a computer and seeing nothing while you work except ocean, trees, bunnies, deer, swallows, robins and hummingbirds, things can just get too quiet for me. Afterall, in the past, I did work in a department at UBC that had 55 professors, 175 grad students and 700 undergrads, not to mention about 65 employees AND I lived on Robson Street near Stanley Park so there's quiet and then there's pinch yourself to see if you're still above the grass (not under it) quiet.
One morning last week, having had enough of my own company, I went down to The Treehouse Cafe. I was going to have a late breakfast. As I entered The Treehouse, Terena LeCorre, who owns it with her husband Marc, was heading towards a table.We both eyed each other at the same time, and I hesitantly asked her if I could join her because I've met her a few times but really only to say Hello.

We ended up having a really nice, easy conversation that lasted about an hour and if not for her, I wouldn't have been directed out to visit Salt Spring Island Bread Co, owned by Heather Campbell and I wouldn't have been able to finish writing an article about Salt Spring for Boulevard Magazine that I was having a lot of trouble with.

So, after our lovely conversation and the boost to my mood, I heeded Terena's advice and drove out to Ruckle Park, which has always been a refuge and then on the way out of Ruckle, I drove to Heather Campbell's studio and property that is situated to take in a 180 degree view panningMount Bruce, Swartz Bay, the San Juan Island, Mount Baker, Saturna, and Pender. (Sorry, I purposely left my camera at home that day so I might need to make another trip this Friday which, according to Heather, is actually the best day to come since she and two assistants who have worked with her for 10 years, do the baking that day). She's not open Saturdays but sells her bread at The Saturday Market.

While I was there, two ladies were visiting from Vancouver and Heather gave us a mini tour showing us the view from inside the house that her husband, Phillip Van Horn, an architect, renovated after they moved here in 1997. It's a really comfortable, just one-bedroom, light-filled open-style house with windows all around to capture the spectacular views off the terrace.  Then her and I chatted just a short time in her bakery which is a converted garage with old garage doors that you pull up in the summer on three sides. Every bit of the property seems so full of light. There's also a tiny room of its own in a separate free standing buildin with nothing but a double bed, a wood-burning stove and a spectacular view. It's meant for close friends who visit and small enough to keep the potential visiting crowds at bay. As a parting gift, she gave me a lemon loaf. 

Sometimes, I see people here who don't seem very friendly. You can walk right past them and they won't even acknowledge you. Some of them actually run businesses here.  I just have to feel sorry for them because they're missing so many great opportunities.

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt because often I am lost in my own thoughts and have undoubtedly done the same without realizing it, but taking the smallest risk you can make by smiling and saying hi, even if you don't know people, will not only make the island an even nicer place but could open up your own world to possibilities you never imagined.

Try it!