Who Are You? Can You Remember?

I sit in my favourite, ancient chair to write this afternoon, my imaginary friend – I have been away from it for a rather long time. It is a pleasure to envelop myself in its comfort, and naturally I have a cup of “Kick Ass” coffee to enhance the moment, not to mention the sun streaming in my windows. My morning hike sparkled with this oh-so-welcome sun after too many days of rain; a lovely lunch; the familiar motions of making cookies and enjoying the sugary smells…a day of simple content.

The best part of my day, however, has been the discovery of a marvelous book: The Elegance Of The Hedgehog, by Muriel Barber. One of those books in which one meets a ‘kindred spirit’, to invoke Anne of Green Gables – well, one of those books in which you meet yourself, maybe. I shall whole-heartedly recommend this novel, though it is certainly not my intent to write a book review…indeed, I am only halfway through the thing. Wanting to prolong the sheer enjoyment as long as I can – is it not exquisite to find such a book? Movie? Music? Art?

There is a remark in the book that perhaps we write to find ourselves, and I am moved by this, in the context of the story… The very literate, cultured, articulate, and intelligent concierge of a Parisian apartment building who endeavours to appear stupid and morose to the buildings’ wealthy residents, understanding that this is their assumption of who she is…and who troubles to look beyond their assumptions? One or two do, of course – ah, but I am just getting to that part! In any event, another of the characters writes to meet herself, she says, to move beyond those assumptions of the shallow and preoccupied she is surrounded by.

What is profoundly moving about this, I suppose, is that we are all the ‘victims’ of assumptions by the people we encounter in any given day – that the way we dress, where we work (or not), what kind of car we drive (or not), where we live, in what restaurants or stores or galleries or museums we are found in – any one of these details, taken singly, is enough for someone, somewhere to form an assumption of us that may have no bearing in reality. When I say victim, I mean this: at best, any or all of these details describe a minute piece of us, the most trivial and the most superficial aspect of us, indeed. Why does this matter?

It may or may not matter individually – many of the people we interact with daily are likely acquaintances or chance-met strangers, and presumably as individuals we have other, deeper relationships. It obviously matters very profoundly to a culture, though, in a million ways I shall not explicate, save this: the idea of being able to look at and acknowledge another human with openness and a smidgen of genuine curiosity is a great void in Western culture. That every time our eyes slide over someone…shiftless bum…teenage thug…bag lady…slotting them into a precut jigsaw puzzle, we lose a piece of our humanity. In case it is not evident, the jigsaw pieces of ‘attractive woman’, ‘powerful man’, ‘pretty girl’ (and so on…) are also dehumanizing…and not only to the objects of our gaze, but to ourselves.

Who are you, my imaginary friend? Maybe more importantly, who might you become? What vast longings and wellsprings of joy have been squeezed into the jigsaw shape someone else assigned, that you gamely try to fit within the puzzle?



My adventure has begun, though having said that, I must tell you I spent the day cleaning windows, that most prosaic of tasks. I find it a chore that allows for reflection, as house cleaning in general does for me, and it was good to take a day to do homey things and think things over.

I am at present some 600 kilometres from where I started, having had possibly the most enjoyable drive of my life. Including ferry travel I spent about nine hours on the road, but with no deadlines or schedules it was delightful to watch the stunning geography of British Columbia unfold, and to stop whenever and wherever I liked. From the lush forests and sparkling sea of Vancouver Island, to the epic thunderstorm in the mountains, to the semi-desert of the south Okanagan, it felt like a gorgeous film unwinding. Oh, I love this province!

I have been exploring the south Okanagan for a week or so, and for various reasons will be here a while longer. Although this is a familiar place I have managed to find some new landscapes most every day. I have hiked a few mountains, explored the unique forests (mostly Ponderosa Pine with grassland between relatively sparse tree cover), and visited a few eclectic little towns – and the sense of adventure is, in fact, deepening. Likely for the aforesaid reasons: no deadlines or schedules.

The sense of liberation is deep in my spirit, though it is a complexity to describe it…In essence, though, I am liberated from my old life, not yet having got to the new, and it is delicious, exhilarating, and frightening. It is also deeply thought-provoking: I carry my me-ness with me, along with my daily habits – what, exactly am I liberating myself from? I suppose it is a sense of not being satisfied, of searching for more.

By chance I find myself reading a book about the black migration out of the southern U.S., told both in general terms and from the intimate view of three particular families. The individuals telling their stories tell of their longing for the ‘better life”, though it is different for each of them, and while the material (better pay, owning a home) is a part of the generalized longing, really they are speaking of the inchoate and amorphous. And I fear that I, too, may need a book to explain what I go in search of.

Well, my imaginary friend, it shall unfold in these virtual pages much the same as my life, messy and unpredictably. But this sense and spirit and ethos of adventure is key, I think: to be open to the possibilities. To see every vista as through a lens, and to contemplate how the most artistic picture may be captured. To be awake to the wondrous. To drive the curvy highway with a five-speed stick shift, not on automatic…

This is where my journey has taken me thus far. And the view from the clean windows is delightful!


Photograph by Lentilcia

Photograph by Lentilcia

TV news? No thanks.

Breaking News! Well, perhaps that is a tad overstated, but please watch the story aired here.

Yes, go ahead, watch it again. Does it strike you that there is nothing newsworthy about it? It certainly struck me that way. Does it strike you that we still don’t know the story of what happened in the restaurant? It certainly struck me that way. Let’s recap the bare outlines of this purported news clip: a small restaurant owner asks a customer not to bring her children back, which apparently humiliates the customer, and then posts a picture to her business Facebook page. You can be forgiven, my imaginary friend, for wondering why this should warrant a ‘news’ story; why what is essentially a  private action should be given the full nighttime news treatment. And I do mean treatment… The reaction to this is thousands, yes thousands, of comments both on the restaurant’s Facebook page, and that of the TV station, most of which appear (I did not count) to be negative, vulgar, and threatening.

It is self-evident that all these commenters were not in the restaurant at the time this story unfolded, given their sheer numbers, so their comments – including threats to boycott the restaurant – are based completely on the ‘news’ story. It takes little effort to see the ‘hooks’ that have been built into the story: a restaurant owner that doesn’t like kids! A military mom whose husband is deployed, sob! How could anyone be so callous as to berate a military mom! The truth appears to have been lost in the edit, or perhaps the questions simply weren’t asked. Just off the top of my head, here are some questions that might have been asked: did the customer make any attempt to clean up after her kids, or to offer an apology? If she was humiliated, why did she cross-post the restaurant’s Facebook post to her own page? Did that have something to do with revenge? Was the owner respectful in her request to the customer in asking her not to bring her kids back? Was it really a confrontation?  Is there something more to this story?

There are really no words to describe professionals who consider this journalism, and the unthinking hordes that dutifully follow along and turn this into a muckraking scandal. The piece is nothing but gossip mongering, in my view, and I could leave it at that, except for two very salient reasons. First let me make it clear that I do not know the restaurant owner, nor the customer, nor do I even live in the same country. I happened to see this ‘news’ clip in my own Facebook news feed, and I simply couldn’t figure out why it should be news, though I quickly figured out it might have the potential to destroy a few peoples livelihoods. And when I investigated further, it became clear that there is a knee-jerk reaction to this story that paints an awful picture of the culture we live in. Consider this: a few days prior to this story, the restaurant was accepting donations for a back to school drive for needy children, which would seem to indicate a business owner that is a pretty good citizen. The point being that the TV station didn’t choose to run a story on this, why not? Or even a story on the hardships of running a small business, or the difficulties in being a military mom? They could have made this into a piece that truly reflected some of the agonies of living through these challenging times, instead of this worthless and harmful piece. Of shit.

In the final analysis, which is more harmful: the ‘journalists’ who troll Facebook looking for ‘news’ stories, or their viewers who dutifully follow along and perpetuate faux journalism by their failure to ask questions, or to demand in-depth stories? It is a rhetorical question, I suppose, but it is not rhetorical for those who face losing their livelihood. And it is not rhetorical for us, the citizens in free and democratic countries, for the very idea of democracy relies on informed citizenry. We are not being served by news outlets that both decide what we see, and how we see it. The way to change this is to start asking the questions that the news outlets are not asking, to demand that news is presented completely and without biased editing, to stop fomenting and spreading gossip masquerading as news. To begins acting as citizens worthy of freedom and democracy.

One final point: it has been suggested in a few Facebook comments I saw that this is a triumph of social media, in outing the restaurant owner – it is not. At best, through social media, this private incident would have been confined to a few hundred people, who might have talked it over and represented more than one side. No, it is a sad triumph of mainstream media that seeks to boost rapidly declining views, no matter what truth may be obscured in the process. And you might ask yourself, my imaginary friend, what else is being obscured by this same mainstream media, for your future in a democracy depends upon it.

Of Hobbits, Indirectly

The late-morning, low-hanging winter sun is streaming into my living room, and I am ensconced in my favourite chair savouring a third cup of fair trade coffee. Third cups are an indulgence reserved for days off! This day just beginning promises an oasis of relaxation, a grateful happiness – fleeting perhaps, but worth writing about for all that. Some treats in store for me – the library! Gifts from my brother, sister-in-law, kids, and kitties to open! Something special for dinner! Oh, and I am wearing my hair down, which is such a pleasure as it is rather tightly braided for work.

What I am most gratefully happy for is my family, who have come together in unexpected ways this past year. We live so far apart, but we have been able to enjoy each other’s wit and humour a few times this year, and make memorable stories. (Which are not for publication, most of them!) We are a memorable bunch.

Simple happiness is prosaic, is it not? At least in the telling – easier to write of the drama, and struggles, and large moments of life, or at least, thought by some to be more entertaining. My thoughts have wandered down this track since my pastimes over the holiday: first, to read again Tolkien’s “Lord Of The Rings” books, and then to watch the movie trilogy. I was saddened by some of the story changes in the movies, which perhaps reflects our cultural distrust of simple happiness. Or maybe, more accurately, our culture’s disdain of simple happiness when compared to ambition,  accomplishment, the accumulation of money and power…

This is not meant to be literary or film criticism, my imaginary friend, but rather my observations on the simple. Tolkien wrote marvellous and complex stories – which have their flaws – but I believe he celebrated the simple pleasures, simple happiness and contentment throughout his books in the evocation of the land of the Shire. The Shire is certainly emblematic of ordinary folk going about their ordinary business with contentment, and part of the over-riding theme of the books is this preservation of ordinary happiness. Of course, the movies are faced with the difficulty of compressing into a limited time space the events of the books – never the less, the movies certainly privilege the violent and horrific over the scenes and vignettes of the Shire and its people. I can’t say I enjoyed the movies much for this reason. In my readings of the books over the course of many years, always the Shire has been my beacon, my joy and delight, and my favourite place to come back to…

I do not think it makes for dramatic tellings or riveting stories, but I think my simple happiness and your simple happiness are the most important things in the world. Maybe, if we privileged and elevated the idea of simple happiness, more people would experience it, cultivate it, reverence it?

What do you think?

My Inner Green

Just shy of a year ago, I embarked on a project to change my world. To say I am amazed at the results thus far is a tad understated …I shall write more of my inner journey at a later date, but for today, I want to make a quick sketch for you of the place I find myself in.

 I have moved from the lush and beautiful rain forest of Vancouver Island to the south Okanagan area of British Columbia, a place that is unique in its geographical aspects and climate, for it is considered semi-desert. The town is situated between two large lakes and surrounded by low mountains – although it is very different, it also is stunningly beautiful. Once surrounded by fruit orchards, many have now been transformed  into vineyards and wineries. Hiking and biking opportunities abound, and one is never far from the water.

 Gaaaaaack – this is beginning to sound like a tourist brochure…

 In a way, that is apropos for there are many, many tourists that visit here: one and a half million per year is the last figure I saw quoted. I am sure you can appreciate that impact on a small city of just over thirty thousand people. Penticton draws its name from the Syilx First Nation (that name itself has a wonderful symbolic meaning, do look it up) who called it Sin-peen-tick-tin. The tourist brochures translate this as ‘a place to stay forever’, which seems to somewhat miss the point. Other, more subtle translations say ‘permanent place’ and  variations – a place to linger, perhaps and to enjoy the world with fresh eyes and fresh spirit. It is undeniable that there is something here that calls deeply to the spirit.

 I am certainly not a world traveler, although I have explored my own vast country in a way few others have – there are two other places that have called to my spirit so deeply and compellingly. What is this call? It could be ascribed to the beauties of nature, or various psychological constructs, or simply delights of exploring a new place, although I suspect it goes much deeper than that. I know my words are not adequate to the idea, but I believe the call is to some deep and primordial place in the human soul…

 Eileen Delehanty Pearkes wrote this of my birthplace, a few hundred miles to the east of here, in a book called “The Inner Green”:

I knew I was standing not only at a drainage divide in a narrow valley along an abandoned rail line at the origin of a minor river called the Salmo, but also as a witness to one of the Earth’s central landscape functions: the movement of melted snow or rainwater into a welcoming, but distant ocean. Like a point on a gothic arch, this branch of the vast Columbia River watershed begins at a precise point, representing the apex of twin drainage systems that drop with great elegance and complexity from the mountains to the plateaus and then to the ocean. Unlike a gothic arch, this river locus had no pretences, no heavenly aspirations. It was on the ground, placed as such to remind me that authenticity has its source in the Earth, the personal terrain, the place of truth.

 These words never fail to thrill me, to move me to that place of authenticity, the earth and the environs we are located in. One small town in western Canada is much like another, as we humans impose our cultural trends on the landscape. For those who look and seek, there will always be some deeper undercurrent of truth – the very formation and movement and regeneration of the land that births us.

 I have moved from the mundane descriptive to the banal metaphysical – I rarely apologize for my words, though I must here – for as I said, my words are not equal to the task. Never the less, I find myself in a place where I wake each morning to the sure and certain rootedness of spirit that tells me I am just where I ought to be at this particular time. Where every aspect of the landscape calls to me to learn and explore. Where I feel, in the most physical embodiment of feeling with my whole body, connected and alive and cradled by a generous spirit. I shall endeavour to live up to this gift, my imaginary friend. Thanks for being here with me.