Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Belonging and Being Canadian

In 2004, when I first came to Vancouver from Australia many things took my breath away. Perhaps to you kangaroos, kookaburras, and koalas might seem just as strange, but the first time I saw a bear and her cubs, a deer, skunks, a family of racoons crossing a busy street and people stopping traffic to let them; snow-capped mountains at the edge of the city, and snow in my front yard, I had to stop and make sure I was awake and not watching something out of National Geographic.

And many things confused me: Traffic going the wrong way with signal lights on the other side of the intersections (did that throw off my depth perception or what!), lilting accents, 25 cent coins, what a loonie was and why, and what ice hockey was all about.

Seasons passed and I became comfortable with the main difference between my previous homeland and my new one; Australians are loud and laid-back, Canadians are polite and laid-back. (Of course this is a generalisation, there are always exceptions) But one true thing eluded me: what it meant to be a Canadian. Before I could call myself one, I had to know what that meant. Not just my compilation of what Canadians do.

To live in this country, to commit to this country, I had to include more than being in a relationship with a Canadian in my reasoning.

I paid attention to provincial and federal politics, watched the news and read opinions, and after a few years of observation, many library searches, and asking my friends complex and disconcerting questions, all I had to show for my effort was a picture that really didn’t make any sense. After all this time and research I’d only figured out what Canadians weren’t and didn’t do.

It seemed to me that Canada was a collection of individuals scattered between three oceans. Individual people and individual provinces who appeared to be going in different directions. I couldn’t understand what had held it together for all this time. Reading ‘Ocean to Ocean’ by Iggy’s great-grandpa Sandford Fleming certainly didn’t help. (although it did make for some interesting reading all by itself)

Then I spent a couple of weeks watching the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The legacy of the Games will be debated here in Vancouver and in the hearts of political movers and shakers, heatedly and quietly, for a while yet, but that’s not I’m writing about, others will do that. I alternated between mushy tears and amazement as I wallowed in the stories and achievements of those wonderful athletes. But it was only half the picture.

Apart from all the hype, the lack of new snow on the mountain, and the sheer emotional steamroller-effect of the whole spectacle, I saw something rather startling emerge from within the people around me.

With my red maple leaf mittens on I went out into the streets and looked into the faces of the crowds who filled the pavements to overflowing. I saw them on TV in P.E.I and Nunavut, Saskatchewan and my own back yard, B.C.

I saw a whole people wear their hearts on their sleeves for a little while. They’d dusted them off and polished ‘em bright. With a big grin and yes, a flag to wave, not only did they say, “I’m a Canadian” but also “I’m an individual, and my racial heritage may spring from all parts of the world, but I choose to live here, bury my roots here, and I belong here”.

And after the circus packed up its tents and snow finally fell on Cypress mountain, the hearts were lovingly wrapped in tissue and put back in the hope chests for next time.

But now I know they are there, and I know that I too, belong.

I get it now.

P.S. I get ice hockey too. Almost!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Names ... and the importance of Naming things ...

I was reading a blog the other day when the author reminded me of a poem I read quite a few years ago now, on a continent way across the Pacific Ocean. It was ‘The Invitation’ by Oriah Mountain Dreamer and was all the rage at the time for fast-tracking a romance from the ‘getting to know you’ phase to ‘wild and satisfying sex’, sometimes in the span of a single night. This was in the days before the internet and you actually had to go out to dances and other communal gathering places for the purposes of getting laid.

It was also the most profound piece of writing I’ve ever read.

Anyway, back to the blog ... the author stated that he valued the poem in spite of it being written by some with such an outré name.

That got me to thinking of the importance we give names, and to the naming of things, ourselves, children, cats and dogs, inanimate objects. Who among us hasn’t given their favourite inanimate object (computer, car, motorbike, screwdriver) a name?

Why? Because names help us personalise a world that is increasingly impersonal. It helps demystify the unknowable so that even though its still unknowable, we can still have a personal and workable relationship with it.

Then there’s that ‘first impression’ thing. One version of a first impression is visual, what someone/thing looks like (how we interpret and judge what we are looking at is a whole ‘nuther kettle of kittens) Another version of a first impression happens when we haven’t yet met the person in real life, but see their name, like an author perhaps, and built a whole image around our interpretation of it. How often have you said, “But she doesn’t look like a Millicent.” (A whole ‘nuther ‘nuther kettle full) Getting the name just right is a multi-billion dollar business; ask any advertising executive!

The blog writer had a preconceived set of notions of what a woman poets name should be and I guess Oriah didn’t fit the bill. When he took a second look though, he found a gem.

So, when Billy Shakespeare asked us to ponder ...

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet”

Romeo and Juliet (Act 2, scene 2)

.. we can truthfully answer ...

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet Act 1, scene 5

Monday, July 5, 2010

They’re filming a movie in front of my house.

I can’t say which one it is because they might sue me or something but suffice it to say, that this is Vancouver and its July.

This is a new experience for me. The closest I’ve ever got to a film shoot has been travelling past long lines of trucks and long trailers for the actors and crew on my way to somewhere else.

Its an interesting process to watch from my balcony. A few hours after sunrise, heavily laden carts started trundling along the footpath. I suppose the trucks they came from were parked somewhere beyond my line of sight. And a small army of men of all shapes and sizes, all wearing the same style of baggy shorts and mismatched T-shirts trundled along with the carts and began unloading them.

An hour or two later women began arriving, slightly better dressed, with paper cups of coffee in their hands. Luckily for them there’s a Starbucks on a nearby corner. Lucky for the Starbucks, along with the wonderful array of specialty eateries along our little strip of street too, seeing as the HST (Harmonised Sales Tax for those who are not B.C.-ers and may not have an idea why we are so irate about it) came into force five days ago and sales are not looking healthy. I suspect the women are involved with something more than the mere grunt-work of the trundling carts.

Then more people arrive, also with coffee cups in hand, who don’t appear to be doing anything useful at the moment and have their cell phones permanently attached to their ears. These strange beings are the actors, who embody the phrase ‘hurry up and wait’.

Further up the street giant lights and cameras connected to fat strands of cables are turned on, and the words, “... and action!” echo back to me.

It appears that I’ve witnessed my first live ‘take’. How could this day get any better?

And now, for the Quote of the Post....

“Can’t act. Slightly bald. Also dances” – Anonymous studio official about Fred Astaire

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Oddball Characters

Another thing I am is a writer, and as such I’ve been watching the Harry Potter series of movies again on DVD to reacquaint myself with them in anticipation of the last two movies arriving at a cinema near me somewhere in the near future. And here’s the connection between being a writer and those movies. Oddball characters.

In a series that’s full of them my favourite is Luna Lovegood.

Although not a main character, she, and all oddball characters (hereafter known as ObC’s) fulfill several unique requirements of any story.

a) They tend to be a manifestation of the author’s quirkier personality traits. These traits need to be exorcised regularly or the author might implode (or explode) and thereby depriving their readership of the next instalment of their trilogy or ten-ology.

b) The ObC’s true role is that of the Fool who points out that the Emperor really isn’t wearing any clothes and bursts bubbles of pomposity with clever humour.
Those who regard their dignity highly might laugh at or with the Fool, but later, alone, may reflect on why they laughed and find an ounce wisdom at the bottom of that well and change their perspective a little.
Luna is one of my favourites, both in the books and the movies because the tragedies of her life are so shallowly buried underneath her surface persona that they shine through so eloquently when she speaks.

There aren’t enough Fools in our polarised world and we can so easily dismiss the ones we have as eccentric or a comedic flash-in-the-pan, then swiftly move on to the next distraction. But that is a dangerous thing. Imagine the world where the Fool never spoke out about the Emperor …

Quote of the Blog (hereafter known as QotB!)

No-one went to their deathbed saying, “you know, I wish I’d eaten more rice cakes – Amy Krouse Rosenthal

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Getting to Know Me

So ... Who am I? ....

Riddle me this! ... I am a wife and I have no husband. I am a grandmother and I have never given birth. I have lived in three countries and the sun has never set on any of them. I’ve reinvented myself many times and my name has stayed the same since I became an adult. And ... I am also a bicyclist.

Let’s begin with my bicycle. It’s not your everyday bicycle, a little top heavy, being rather high in the saddle and short in the shanks. This is because I can only bend my right knee so far, the result of a rather unfortunate three-way collision between myself, my motorcycle, and a very large truck, more than a quarter of a century ago.
I fell off my (brand new in the summer of 2008) green bicycle when standing still. (I recall I did exactly the same thing when I first rode my motorcycle way back in 1981!) Having got that out of the way I haven’t looked back since.

I don’t look like your everyday bicyclist either. I’m not the type to wear snug fitting, brightly coloured spandex, or any other fabric ending in ‘ex’. Give me something loose-fitting that flaps in the breeze so I can really feel as though I’m moving along. Going down the hills at least. My top is a cut down t-shirt, and my shorts used to be a pair of long trackpants. Nor do I race along the road as though my very life depended on it, and have muscles poised to jump out of the afore-mentioned tight clothes at a moments notice. I do have muscles, but they are discreetly covered by an abundance of other sorts of body tissue. I don’t speed along anywhere unless it’s downhill. I amble. And I amble along the scenic route wherever I can. There’s so much more to be seen that way. A lot like life really.

So, what is what this blog is all about: Personal observations about the scenic route. The journey itself, things one might see, and reflections that arise along the way.

And finally .... A bit about comments. All are welcome, however, those that contain excessive Profanity, Libel, Slander and Spam (sounds like a legal firm!) will be deleted. If you communicate like that, try writing a hard-boiled mystery novel.