Monday, January 31, 2011

A camel ride for a very little girl

Camel saddle image from PR web.

In the early seventies, Tom and Alvina Wylie, newly returned from their years in Dar Es Salaam opened a shop on West Fourth called Central Africa Imports.

Tom, a veteran of World War II, had furthered his education after the war with the help of the DVA, now called Veterans Affairs. He studied anthropology, and after graduating, got a job at the National Museum of Tanzania.

He and Alvina went out by ship, passing through the Suez Canal. Hearing their stories of the dock in Alexandria, I was transported. One story I recall described how they got the camel saddle.

In the suffocating heat of the dockside, hawkers promoted their wares and bargained in singsong voices, cranking various items up the side of the ship on ropes so that the passengers could examine them. Alvina and Tom bought a tiny folding camel saddle with an embroidered leather cushion.

Somewhere I have a picture of my daughter, aged about three, riding that miniature camel with its carved wooden head, her favourite perch at Alvina's. By the time Yasemin was born, Alvina was a widow. Tom died shortly after they sold the shop and moved to Salt Spring Island. When I married, Alvina and my husband got on famously, and she became an honorary grandmother to our little girl.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Buying a Bernina

Image from Q is for Quilter

Back the early seventies, when I was finishing my Arts degree at UBC, I went to the PNE and fell in love with the latest model top-of-the-line Bernina sewing machine. It had a red case, and came with four sewing lessons. It could hem, pleat, frill, smock, and embroider on leather. But even with the Pacific National Exhibition discount, it cost over $600. I knew I must have it. But how could I spend two and half months' rent on a toy?

Meanwhile, the PNE would be over in a couple of days, and so would the special price. I had to come up with an idea that would make the Bernina affordable. Walking disconsolately down Fourth Avenue, I passed a tiny shop called Central Africa Imports. That's when the miracle happened. In the window, a sign said seamstresses were needed. I'd buy the machine and earn back its cost by taking in sewing.

When I walked into the shop that day, I didn't expect the other bonus. I was about to enter into a fruitful lifelong friendship with the couple who owned the store.

These days, I do more mending than sewing, but I still have the Bernina Record. After traveling through many miles of stitches, it continues faithfully to run. The drawer of the sewing table contains large wooden spools of cotton thread from my days of sewing for Central Africa Imports.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Making Clay

To live a good life, said Gandhi, we should be aware of our thoughts, for they lead to words and to habits, which form the character that leads to our destiny. For a writer, the notion that the chain of habit eventually leads to destiny is both a challenge and a comfort.

If a writer's destiny is to become an author of stories, that writer must create and live out the habit of producing daily -- at least six days a week. Part of this involves producing what some call clay. That's the material written on off days, when inspiration has cooled. Then the slog work of putting in time, finishing the word count, comes into play.

Until a story draft written, it can't be edited. And in order to write a story, the author must stay with it, writing each day until it is done. Otherwise the story becomes elusive, begins to drift away. That's where clay making comes in.

Once made, clay and all, the story must rest before the arduous work of editing begins. The completed story must be put away for a time where the writer can temporarily forget it. This way the author can first approach the story as a reader, then as an editor.

Establishing these habits, I believe, will bring forth the stories that are clamouring witin a given writer to be told. Meanwhile, there is the daily practice of discipline, the frequent necessity of making clay.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Writing as a daily necessity

Some writers write in the morning, first thing after rising. The writer I mentioned yesterday, Robert Olen Butler, even recommends writing before you talk to anyone, or make coffee. He believes in harvesting the time that is closest to the dream state for writing.

Hemingway wrote in the morning; Anthony Burgess preferred the drowsy time of afternoon.

But writers have other lives and relationships than the ones of the characters in their heads. If they hid in solitary garrets scribbling, they'd eventually run out of things to write about. And real life has ways of getting you off track.

People need to be flexible, and writers have figured out ways. While writing Of Love and Shadows, Isabel Allende managed to block out the noisy life going on around her while she sat at her dining room table banging away on an old typewriter.

Toni Morrison changed her writing schedule as her kids grew up. Diana Gabaldon goes to bed at night and then wakes and writes while the household sleeps. In view of her astonishing productivity, this has clearly worked well for her. Elizabeth George likes to do her daily exercise each morning before she begins to write.

What these people have in common is the one thread: they couldn't get through the day without writing. Like eating, drinking and sleeping, for better or for worse, writing has to be worked into the daily schedule of those of us who have been called to it, and have chosen to answer.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Moving forward into story, one step at a time

In From Where You Dream, (New York, Grove Press, 2005), novelist and writing teacher Robert Olen Butler talks about how to get into the dream space from which great stories arise.

Writers have their methods; Butler's is fascinating. From the dream space, receive your scenes one by one and just note them down in brief. Each scene must be grounded in sensory impressions.

The process of dreaming the scenes is the magic, he says. Mining your subconscious brings up the motifs that will appear in the work. When you run out of ideas for scenes, (after maybe a couple of hundred), write them out briefly on 3 X 5 cards.

Then comes the fun part. You lay out the few cards that you know represent scenes early in the book, and then you arrange them in order on a large flat surface. You can now start writing your draft.

Problem is, I was using another method. Write every day, get through the first draft. Only then go back and edit.

That was how I got to Chapter 22, the furthest I've been able to get into my story so far. But I got bogged down again.

Though I like Butler's ideas, I know I have to develop a method that works for me. Now I'm going to try writing scenes rather than chapters. Later I can figure out how to knit them together.

Thanks to Nancy Lee for recommending Butler's fascinating book.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Now even Lars is developing a character arc

I thought Gunnar's younger brother was a spear carrier, one of those minor characters that form part of the scenery rather than functioning as independent characters in their own right.

Once again, I was wrong. It turns out that after his elder brother Gunnar is accidentally shot, Lars comes into his own.

Lars has a big epiphany; he literally grows up while he sits in the damp marsh beside the inert body of Gunnar, his lifelong protector, waiting impatiently to hear the wail of the ambulance over the sound of the prairie wind.

More work for the storyteller, sure. But I really don't mind. The character of Gunnar's heretofore hapless younger brother turns the tables on the relationship between the two and gives the story a greater depth and breadth.

You go, Lars!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fictional characters have lives of their own

Fictional characters are not built, they grow. Take up residence. Reveal themselves to the writer. Refuse to do what the author wants them to do, unless it's also what they want.

This can happen even with minor characters, the kind some writers call spear carriers. These characters are there to provide background and verisimilitude rather than to move the plot forward.

For awhile now, I've known that Simon's brother Cyril is called St. Cyr within the family circle. Now I know why he has that nickname. This knowledge appeared in my mind while I was swimming lengths.

The nickname comes from a childhood game the brothers played when they were children. "Call me Sir Simon," commanded the elder brother. The younger replied, "I am St. Cyr." Although only his parents and siblings use it, this name has stuck every since.

It was Simon who let me know. Well, not directly. At the time, I was listening in while he chatted with Joan. Anyway, thanks, Simon. Sorry about being such an eavesdropper.

What? You don't mind. That's great. But Simon, you do realize that's because you are such an egotist, don't you? Don't look at me like that. You know perfectly well I like to delude myself that I am getting the last word. At least some of the time.

Why do I feel compelled to write?

At the Writer's Studio, we discuss our writing goals, as well as strategies for achieving them. For me, the question that keeps coming up is why do I write?

If I didn't write, I would have so much more leisure time. I could read and walk and swim and knit and garden go to the theatre and see more films. But I just can't live without writing. I've tried.

What do I want from my writing? I've pondered this question many times. The answer I keep coming up with is that there's a part of me that knows that I am supposed to write. But what does this mean?

I think it means I believe in a symmetrical and coherent universe. If I have the need to tell a certain story, then somewhere, someone wants or needs to read that story. And so I can never rest until I unearth it, tell it how it wants to be told.

This is what I hope for when writing. First, that when I read back after time passes, I want to be flooded with knowing. Confident that I've captured the story that called me to write it.

Also, I hope that when my story goes out into the world, someone reading it will be flooded with memory, with recognition. Maybe tears or laughter too, but mostly just the mysterious and profound solace that comes from immersing oneself in a good story well-told.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Purple shoes and happiness at last

Wearing these purple shoes makes me feel happy. One reason they make me smile is that they remind me of "Sandy" McCall Smith's Mma Grace Makutsi, whose blue shoes brought her happiness.

Grace Makutsi's relationships with her other shoes are interesting too. Her boots call her Boss, standing in both as conscience and reality check.

My shoes must satisfy only three conditions. They have to fit without pinching or flopping. They must not drag socks down (as I've learned, to my cost, that some shoes can). Finally, they have to prove they won't hurt, even after a walk along the beach promenade.

The purple suede shoes I tracked down on the internet (after falling in love with the wrong size in a store a couple of months ago) just passed their final test.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

"You never know how distracted your mind is till you're left with yourself"

So says Dr. Joe Dispenza. He speaks from experience. Years ago, a car hit him, severely injuring his spine. He was told that radical whole-spine surgery was his only option, yet recovery was uncertain. Declining the surgery, he used his mind to heal himself. A researcher and chiropractor, he now travels the world a healthy man. His mission? Teaching what he has learned about how understanding the plasticity of the brain makes self-healing possible.

Dr. Dispenza also explains how over years, our brains "learn" negative emotional sequences because emotions create neural pathways. "Neurons that fire together wire together," says Dr. Joe. Fortunately the reverse is also true. These negative views can be unlearned, and healthier neural patterns installed in their place.

The tool that makes this possible is creative visualization. The body does not know the difference between the real and the imagined; what we imagine generates the same emotions and neural habits as the real. Each morning Dr. Joe imagines the ideal of himself that he wants to be that day. "I'm not going to let any thought go by unchecked," he says.

Breaking long-held chains of negative thoughts is the most important self-healing we can do. Our thoughts build up to form attitudes and our attitudes become beliefs. These beliefs determine our perceptions, the crucial determinants in every decision we make.

To see Dr. Joe interviewed by Iain McNay of Conscious TV, click here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

"Dreamhealer" speaks about preserving the Arctic

Image of Adam from Conscious Living Radio

The young man who helped Ronny Hawkins heal and live on for nine years after having pancreatic cancer was known simply as Dreamhealer. So was the writer of a number of books that explain how he got started, and how he is able to do what he does.

Dreamhealer was the only name the audience was given, when as a young student at Simon Fraser University, Adam McLeod did his healing work on a large room full of people at the Metrotown "Crystal" Hotel in Burnaby a few years back.

Now that he is an adult studying in medical school, Adam McLeod uses his own name. He still travels and does healing events, as his study schedule permits.

In a short video, Adam speaks compellingly to raise consciousness about the loss of ice in the Canadian North, where he recently traveled with his father. The film shows compares photos of the ice and snow they witnessed north of the Arctic Circle with the much greater snowloads seen in those same places just a few years ago.

But this young man does not speak of banning fossil fuels or of changing our gas-guzzling lifestyles. His is a simpler idea. We need not feel helpless and immobilized; instead each of us, he says, can resort to our intention to heal our planetary home.

Adam believes in the power of intention. He suggests that if each person gave just a minute a day to healing, this would create a huge boost in the health of the world.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Chuck Leddy discusses reading in the digital age

Book cover image: biblioklept

In the February issue of The Writer, contributing editor Chuck Leddy reviews a book by David L. Ulin called The Lost Art of Reading: why Books are so Important in a Distracted Time (Sasquatch Books, 2010)

Ulin, and his reviewer Leddy, discuss how we read in the digital age. Distraction, currently a much-discussed feature of our time, is a topic I've tackled some recent posts, as well as an ironic essay I posted yesterday.

I was reassured to see that along with my 23-year-old daughter, Leddy and Ulin are optimistic about the long-term survival of paper books. According to Leddy, Ulin believes books will survive "because we need them, and the speed and ease of digital technology are no substitute for the life lessons great literature teaches." (42)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cell phones benefit commuters immensely

Image from xcitefun
The cell phone has dramatically improved our lives. We can now bother anyone at any time. This device also a special boon for travelers. On the ground, on the sea or in the air, cell phones have made travel easier, safer and more comfortable.

First, with the advent of the cell phone, exhausted travelers on buses and trains are no longer in any danger of missing their stops due to relaxation or dozing. On every public conveyance, cell phone addicts can be relied upon to prevent quietude by sharing the most inane information, not only with the people on the other end of the call, but with entire busloads and trainloads of strangers.

On the SkyTrain especially, this loud unending chatter acts a free wake-up service. For those who cannot read the route maps or are unable to decipher the recorded voice that announces the stops, cell-toting commuters assist by shouting useful bits of information into their instruments with preternatural loudness: "We're just coming in to Edmonds," or "We've just passed Metrotown."

Those commuting in their own cars have not been left out either. Even with the new law banning hand-held cellphones, there is still the hands-free set. Waiting at intersections, in traffic jams, even while driving at night in the rain or snow, cell-packing commuters can always relieve the boredom by taking both eyes off the road and one hand off the wheel to blab to their friends on their mobiles.

Finally, the cell phone is useful for any ferry or airline passenger expecting to be met on arrival. In spite of the absurd warning that the signals from thousands of cell phones might interfere with docking the ship or landing the plane, droves of arriving passengers call to announce that the ferry is in or the plane has landed. After all, the airport arrivals monitors may be inaccurate. Or someone waiting at the dock in Tsawwassen may not actually see the enormous vessel, the Spirit of Vancouver Island, arrive from Swartz Bay in its accustomed terminal. This can easily happen to those who have been busy text messaging, or downloading music when the ship docked.

Undoubtedly, the cell phone has revolutionized travel for those who go and those why stay. Never again will weary travelers have to endure private moments alone with their own thoughts.

Brilliant movie portrays the reluctant king

Image from goodreads

I'm gazing at a borrowed copy of Sarah Bradford's biography of George VI, The Reluctant King. The reason I keep it close is that I don't like to keep borrowed books too long in case the owners might want them.

We saw The King's Speech a few weeks ago and I'm still getting flashbacks. When Helena Bonham Carter delivers the line, "That's Ma'am as in ham, not Mom as in palm," she's almost bored as she repeats the oft-used rote instructions on how to address her as royalty. And the look on Colin Firth's face when Logue, the "upstart" Australian speech tutor first calls him Bertie is indescribable.

Yesterday I walked past the Hotel Vancouver. For the first time, I paused and read the plaque about its history. Turns out that King George VI and the Queen Mother -- the Helena Bonham Carter character -- were there in 1939 when it was new. The parents of Queen Elizabeth, as well as the Queen, were a living part of Canada's history. Right, I told myself, I'll read the book.

In the film, elder brother David (Edward VIII of abdication fame) and his girl friend (Wallis Simpson) were unmemorable. Churchill, who should have been larger than life, was simply weird ("a distended bulldog...chewing wasps," according to a review in The Telegraph).But all these weeks later, I clearly remember Bertie's character arc in the film. I'd see The King's Speech again in a heartbeat. Meanwhile, I'm mining the book and for more gems on the social and cultural history of Canada and what we used to call "The Mother Country".

Monday, January 17, 2011

Technological innovation makes hiding obsolete

Stacy Johnson, referring to a similar list in the Huffington Post, has published a much longer and more complete list of obsolete technologies than I came up with in some recent posts about things that have become obsolete in my lifetime.

Johnson's list is entitled "Things Babies Born in 2011 will never know." Some of the items -- travel agents, encyclopedias, film cameras -- do not seem to be such tremendous losses, considering what has replaced them.

Others I'm not so sure about. Along with "the separation of work and home" and "talking to one person at a time," Johnson lists "hiding."

The introverts among us have definitely noticed that. A solitary walk in the park or on the beach doesn't do it anymore. Neither does driving long distances alone in a car. Loved ones would think you mad if you insisted on going off on a long car trip without a cell phone.

Up in the mountains? Not necessarily. On a trail ride in the high alpine above Sun Peaks, I was startled to hear the ring of a cellphone -- from the horse of the guide who rode in front of me. Diablo didn't even switch his tail. Obviously, it was nothing new for him.

This is the only thing that really worries me about the latest development in communications. The ability to take some time alone and choose to remain incommunicado is now a thing of the past. Some of us feel that as a dramatic loss.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Winter night beach

It was wonderfully refreshing to walk bare-headed on the wet beach in the early darkness. The feeling of rain and wind in my hair was lovely.

The promenade was nearly deserted, and I almost turned at the pier. Then I decided to walk out along the wet wooden boards after all. The tide line was about halfway along the dock. I wanted to get close enough to smell the salt and hear the breakers slap the sand.

When I came abreast and paused to hear the waves, I pulled on my lined gloves before walking on. The sound of the breakers faded behind me, and instead of their glowing white spume I looked out over smooth dark water and noticed a slight movement.

Gulls -- about twenty of them, sat in a silent flotilla, riding the small swells up and down. They were almost invisible in the dark.

At the far end, I paused to look down at the breakwater -- a wall of rocks that protects the jutting boardwalk and the small dock with its pleasure boats from the potential rages of the sea.

I looked along the small boat dock, with its row of pleasure boats, sails furled. Facing seaward, they floated quietly under the four orange dock lights. At the far end, a square blue lantern flashed.

As I was leaving, I glanced back once again, marveling that similar waves on the edge of this same sea are even now pounding the warm sands of Puerto Vallarta. We have walked so often barefoot in the early tropical darkness. Night beaches are magical.

In the bleak midwinter...

In the cold days of January, we do what we have done since long, long ago.

Craving light, we huddle round the fire and light candles. In the warmth of our homes, we play games and do handwork, like jigsaw puzzles and knitting.

We also take time to think of our friends, to write and receive letters in the old way.

These are the special things about this cold season when life slows down. This feeling of slow stillness is a wonderful counterpoint to the frantic pace of life most of us live today.

Before we know it, we'll be gearing up again. The dawdling days that winter permitted will recede as we speed up and speed up again.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mannequin conveys atmosphere of another era

This mannequin was discovered, bought and placed here by my friend Val Hignett of Sew Unique Designs. Val is a fibre artist in Victoria, BC.

Isn't this dolly beautiful? She's Italian, as her wide arm gestures reveal.

This gal -- perhaps she's called Sophia -- dates back to the 1930s.

I think she looks perfect here, with her garden backdrop of cream callas and a knitted blanket beside her.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Neuroplasticity -- neurons that fire together wire together, but the reverse is also true

Image of Dr. Joe Dispenza from Hay House

When my friend Pat and I were undergrads at UBC, we teased each other about drinking coffee. We'd heard it killed brain cells.

Being young and unversed in mortality, we didn't worry about the brain cells we'd lose over the long term. Nor did we brood over the idea that such losses would leave us daft or ga ga as we aged.

The accepted wisdom of the time was that you were born with a certain number of brain cells and that if damaged, these could not regenerate. Once lost, they were thought to be gone forever.

That was wrong. As many experiments have demonstrated, the body has an astonishing capacity to heal. Leading-edge thought now holds that healing capacity is limited mainly by our inability to believe in it.

The brain grows to compensate for injury. As explained on MedicineNet, the process of "axonal sprouting" means axons can regenerate damaged neural pathways.

"Neurons that fire together wire together," says Hebb's Law. But strong neural pathways can work both for good and ill, and that's where Dr. Joe comes in.

Dr. Joe Dispenza has written extensively on Hebbian learning. He also discusses the corollary, "neurons that no longer fire together no longer wire together." Thus, destructive thought sequences can be weakened by disuse and eventually pruned from the brain.

Brain plasticity is scientifically understood and easily demonstrated, and the implications are magic.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Wabi Sabi

Photo: snow on the skylight.

Doesn't the phrase wabi sabi sound nice? It's a kind of Japanese philosophy and aesthetic, which, according to Tadao Ando, "grew stronger as inessentials were eliminated and trimmed away."

Beauty is found in the authenticity and profundity of nature. Wabi sabi's emphasis on the natural cycles of life remind us that we are here on earth temporarily, part of cyclical nature.

The transitory illumination that passes through the snow-covered skylight reminds me of these things. I wonder if it represents or portrays a kind of wabi sabi worldview.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Broken fragment of poinsettia plant lives on

If I had been told, even ten years ago, that I would soon be able to take this close-up of a small flower with my cell phone camera, even appearing as a reflection in the window while doing that, I wouldn't have believed it.

And if I had been told that I would easily copy the image from the phone onto my computer and then disseminate that information over the internet via a blog that would have been seen by people in 57 countries and 171 cities around the world, I certainly wouldn't have believed that. Amazingly, all that is true.

Perhaps even more amazingly, the fragment I broke off my freshly bought poinsettia plant several weeks ago has survived all this time. It sits on the windowsill in a jar of water -- small but beautiful.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Rocky Mountaineer

Ready to begin its tourist-laden journey, the Rocky Mountaineer stretches out along the rails between Commercial-Broadway and Main Street.

The last time I saw this train was a close up in Jasper. I had just arrived, around dinner time. The weather was brisk and breezy in the mountain town, and the mountain shadows were already closing in.

Poinsettia and a last white rose

My potted Christmas poinsettia lives on, but today I threw out the last creamy rose from a bouquet I received from my students in early December. This flower was on the kitchen window sill in a tall black bottle, along with a bit of the baby's breath from the original bouquet.

Granted, it was sere and a bit wrinkled. It seemed to have simply dried up, rather than losing all its petals, as roses usually do. In fact, roses tend to fade very quickly once they're cut.

For some reason, these were very long-lasting. When I had to throw out most of them, I made the pleasure and memory last longer by keeping some in a smaller vases. After I pulled off a few outer petals and trimmed the stems, these final roses still looked like new.

After seeing one another almost daily for nearly four months, the students who gave me those roses have now dispersed. Their gift of flowers left pleasant memories of the time we spent together.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Room to Write

How lovely to have a room to write in, with sunshine falling over the bookcases, even if they are a bit dusty.

How wonderful to have so many cherished books, neatly organized and within arms' reach of my desk.

How great it is to be able to communicate my thoughts in writing and put them out there in case anyone else may wish to read them.

Above all, I cherish the time and space I have to write. It is a fortunate condition for which I feel the most profound gratitude.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Seagull gets a bird's eye view of the tracks

This seagull perched on the railway crossing sign at White Rock Beach was getting a good look at the goings-on.

He was not shy of being photographed; indeed, he appeared quite willing to pose himself to take advantage of his best profile.

Birds get so used to people in urban areas that they tend to ignore us beach walkers.

They also give those who walk on the beach the once-over to see if we have any offerings of food for them.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Beach Bear Ritual

This stone bear has been my companion for many years on my beach walks.

He is a guard, an amulet and a destination. That's very appropriate, as he was placed there in memory of someone who is no longer alive.

Yesterday I saw that I was not the only one with the idea of using him as a turning point for a walk on the promenade; a couple out walking did exactly as I do, rounding his base before returning the way they came.

I have another part to my ritual; I stop and rub his nose. He has a chip out of his nose now. I don't know how on earth that could happen to such a solid statue, but it has.

It gives him a friendly vulnerability he might not otherwise have. After all, he is a grizzly.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Danger: do not walk or play on tracks

As a child I walked the tracks every day, and played on them too.

Yesterday afternoon, walking west along the beach at White Rock, I saw a glaring light round the peninsula from Crescent Beach. I watched the freight train move toward me as the glow resolved into the triple headlight of an engine.

I calculated that I would I reach the railway crossing first, then watch the train pass from the beach side.

But the train was moving faster than I realized. It reached me before I reached the level crossing. As it thundered by, smelling of hot grease and metal, I read the lettering, Burlington Northern and Santa Fe, and remembered how impossibly exotic those places seemed when I was a young child in a northern town, watching trains go by.

A song came into my head then -- by Sylvia Tyson. "I walk these rails." Here it is: hope you enjoy its mood of ineffable yearning as I do.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Anarchic inventive excursus"

That's what Alexander McCall Smith called this particular form of word play.

The character who indulges in it is Basil Wickramsinghe, from the recent Telegraph podcast of the second in his Corduroy Mansions series.

Basil is amusing himself with "anarchic inventive discursiveness" when he gets the opportunity to do his wonderful deed: reuniting the intrepid Pimlico terrier, Freddy de la Hay, with poor grieving William, who has given up on Freddy, and assumes he will not see him again.

Without his volition, Basil's mind runs on, thinking of parallel word groupings and inventing terms that rhyme or have uniquely parallel alliteration. It is his weakness, the reader is told, but what a charming weakness.

My daughter and I have that sometimes too. We have long conversations in which we indulge it.

Writers are supposed to be spare and sparing with their words, but some days it's fun just to revel in "anarchic inventive excursus."

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Inkwell lunch and cookbook

Photo: Lara604

Still not willing to let go of Christmas, I'm remembering fun things I did. One of these was a holiday luncheon with my former crit group.

When my schedule changed I had to leave the Inkwells. I was commuting in to the city in the morning and it was impossible to schedule time out in the valley.

Not for the first time, I was late for lunch at Milsean's in Aldergrove. My friends kindly forgave me and we sat down and tucked in. It was great to see the others again. We read our latest bits to each other and laughed our heads off -- a notable Inkwell activity.

I was impressed when Loreena Lee showed me a copy of Kitchen Tales. She told me about the launch, which happened at a bookstore coffee shop. Seems they cooked my personal egg and lemon soup recipe from her book and it went over well.

Inkwellian Pamela Kent continues to create her terse and evocative pieces. Mostly set in London during the era around WWII, they are often hilarious. Carol Johnson, whose married name, confusingly, is the same as my maiden one, was unfortunately unable to attend.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Adored pet helps create holiday memories

Photo: Chris Perkins

One funny moment on Christmas Day involved the cat. After we whipped the cream for the trifle, abetted by his very favourite human, he licked the beaters before carefully placing them in the dishwasher.

(No, I was kidding about the dishwasher. Actually he had one of his assistants do that.)

Cats enjoy Christmas too. Do they welcome the season as humans do?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Perspectives of eye and camera

Photo: tree with berries on 140th Street, Surrey

What the eye sees is very different from what is seen by the camera.

When I took the first picture, what I hoped to capture was the brilliance of red berries on a bare tree against the warm yellow of a house wall lit by the westering sun.

What I got instead was a tiny house and berries almost invisible.

I was determined to try again. The tree was in the middle of the boulevard, so I had to wait for a lull to cross the traffic lane. This time the tree loomed large, and the berries were visible.

But the yellow house, so brilliantly lit by the slanting winter sun, had almost entirely disappeared.

It occurs to me that this is a nice metaphor for how we see our lives; some things loom large while others fade into the background. It's all in the perspective.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Central Africa Imports

Imagea of Dutch Java print shirt from etsy

Central Africa Imports, opened in the late sixties or early seventies, was a shop on Fourth Avenue during the time it was the hippie section of Kitsilano. It was run by a couple, Tom and Alvina, who had lived and worked for years in Dar es Salaam.

The narrow space was filled with Makonde sculptures from Tanzania, batik clothing and Dutch Java print shirts from Indonesia, Indian bedspreads in coloured stripes, or block printed with elephants.

Entering the door, hearing the small brass bell tinkle, I was greeted with a wave of the most wonderful mix of fragrances. Sandalwood was prominent, one of many escaping fragrances from the tiny bottles of flower essences, evoking just a hint of the dust of distant continents. Frangipani was another, as was the pungent patchouli oil, so popular in that era.

This mix of evocative fragrances was sometimes overlaid with the smell of cooking. Alvina, who began her life in Saskatchewan among German immigrant farmers, was a wonderful cook. She often made lunch or dinner in the back, behind the bead curtain, and if I happened along at the right time I was always invited to partake of whatever delicious East African curry she was preparing.

Tom, an anthropologist who had worked at the National Museum of Tanzania in its early days, was a veteran of World War II who had grown up on Vancouver Island. He was a large man with a bushy grey beard and a story always on his lips. He wore the colourful cotton shirts the shop sold, and when it was quiet, he would play hand-made African instruments: flutes and thumb pianos.

The shop has been gone for many years now. I still miss it, and my friends who started and ran it, introducing me to all kinds of new objects, ideas and lore. They were the first and only people I ever heard speaking Swahili.

Root Power

Photo: Tree roots leave their mark on the paved pathway of Bear Creek Park.

I was at a standstill. "Are you lost?" asked a woman with a small white dog on a leash.

"No," I said, "I'm just thinking about these roots, how powerful they are." I looked down at the paved path which the roots have lifted again.

"Oh yes," she said. "They have to repave the path every two years."

"Really?" I asked, thinking that means they'll do it this year again.

I was thinking about about rootedness itself. How strong solid roots make us, and how we can dance, bend and sway in the wind when we are deeply rooted in love for family, friends, spirit and earth.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Country Diary memories

Photo: frost on grass

Today again as I walked in the park, the slow holiday pace made it possible to notice many small natural things.

Stopping to watch a squirrel eat and a blue heron fly up, then to look at frost crystals standing upright in snowy grass, I remembered a column I used to read in the then Manchester Guardian, the white tissue paper air mail edition. My treasured Sunday reading.

Today's leisurely observation of nature reminded me of a column that I liked back then, about birds and plants, weather and seasons. I envied the columnist of "A Country Diary," imagined him looking out an upstairs window into a peaceful garden, describing what he saw.

I think I've been following unconsciously in the footsteps of that columnist. I've discovered that The Guardian still has the same column. It's good to know someone still gets space in a major newspaper to write about daily details of nature.