Friday, December 16, 2005

Reminders of faithfulness

Hello to my few and faithful blog readers. I came across this piece on my friend Ben's blog, delighted to find that I had wormed my way into my friend from Idaho's internet maunderings. Read his post entitled "Artistic Liberties," a piece about an adventure taken in the fall of 2000, when we were younger, more adventurous, and for the first time, very far away from home.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Everyone needs a happy-list

What does it mean to be on my way "home?" I think my upcoming visit to Winnipeg will tell me a lot about this feeling. Or is it a truth? Indeed homefulness has inspired many an adage, truism, proverb: It's where the heart is. You take it with you. It's where you decide to be. I have learned many of these things for myself, that there is a home in every place, every thing, every idea, and every person I've ever loved. If I live a life of movement through the vistas surrounding me, whether by choice or circumstance, I will have to leave home many more times. I will have to close more doors, I will have to accomodate homelessness, I will have to part with more mugs, picture frames and potted plants. I would rather this perpetual loss than utter isolation, insulation, the locked door of the heart.

Last weekend I was putting eggs florentine in front of my favorite regulars, a gregarious couple, also Vancouver transplants. Robert remarked to me: When you come back to Vancouver for the first time it will then begin to feel like home." I wonder if home is about returning--that sense of the familiar that you begin to hone--about imbedding yourself into a place.

I just finished attending a class on biblical "re-readings" with a Regent College professor, Dave Diewert. The other day, after finishing up my 5am shift at JJ Bean, I grabbed my book and found a cozy corner of the cafe. Dave came in shortly after, and close by, sipping his coffee. It's so easy to ignore people you recognize, laziness the best excuse for not introducing yourself, choosing private comfort over connection. I was glad that I said hello. We sat and chatted for awhile, and many of his own words could've come out of my mouth: "Sometimes when you move from something instead of into something you find yourself asking 'what am I doing here?' " I have asked myself that many times. But then again, the way I understand my surroundings changes every day. So reason isn't really a reliable guide. But then again, neither are feelings. So instead, I am left with placing my trust in the mysterious marriage of the two.

I remarked at how in a city as transient as this one, connection is elusive. The ties that bind us are much more tenuous. How does community happen among exiles and runaways? The modern city: a yawning mouth catching so many errant flies. (see artwork--Jordan Bent--Vancouver artist discovered at November's red-letter Eastside Culture Crawl). When I was twenty years old someone spoke words to me that still reverberate: "The tensions of home and away will be with you your entire life." Yes, the Christian life has its prophecies, divinings, palm-readings of a sort.

The other day at work I was talking with a friend about dreams, and the untapped knowledge latent in them. I was marveling at how much of our life we spend asleep, and I said "we're only really alive for like 45 years! That's scary!" But you're not dead when you're sleeping, she replied. So we're only conscious for half our life. I think of how quick God's people were, in the ancient times, to see a divine hand in their dreams. I think about how science, psycology, pop self-help theories, have co-opted God's canvases for their own mediums. Have arenas where God once played, spoke, danced with us, been stolen for other means?

The sense of freedom I feel right now is tantamount to the options at hand. I heard something in a sermon once, something about how the amount of options available is inverseley proportional to human choice. Translation: the more possibilities, the less actual freedom. It sounds backwards, but the truth is that your choice will end up being more random. If I stand in a bike shop looking out over a potential 1000, my choice will be random. If I stand in front of 4, my decision will be both more informed, and more intimate.

Speaking of bikes, I've finally acquired a "new" one. It's an old Nishiki hybrid. It feels so good to be hybrid myself, again. Adding a genius of a machine to the strength of my body, two efficient wheels to these sticks of legs. To feel the curves and contours of the land underneath me as I circle the sparkling city at 2 am. I feel invincible on a bike. As my bitterness at property crime wanes, I can finally hope that whoever is riding my former two bikes is as happy as I am. And that I am smarter for it.

Everyone needs a happy-list. One to keep around for those days when the soul gets dreary, when a cup of tea isn't enought and friends seem far away. One to remind you of what life is about. I started one once, but I've forgotten where it went. Last Sunday I was perfectly content and begun another in my head: Farmer's markets in December/soup on the stove made from what you already have in the cupboard/an indulgent bath after a run/the smell of lavender/Yo Yo Ma on the stereo/a visit home just around the corner/a new Jean-Pierre Jeunet movie to watch from Marla/dark chocolate in the drawer/three new messages on the phone/a clean bathroom and freshly-done laundry/the smell of beeswax/lapsang souchong tea steaming beside me/moving impossibly slowly.

Current musical obsessions: Over the Rhine and the Innocence Mission. Current favorite lyric: "I'm a mirror, you're a mirror too." (by The Super Furry Animals)

Good thing these blog entried aren't essays, because I definitely do not stick to a thesis! Rather, this is a place to try ideas. Please leave comments on anything I've said, I really value them!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

On Advent and Vancouver's first snow

This shot was taken in August, during a backpacking trip in the Skoki Valley with Adam. I've posted it here to commemorate snowy days long past for me now, here in temperate Vancouver. It is strange how the last time I saw real snow was in August. Really though, snow is a gift. (This goes out to all you Winnipeggers, slipping and sliding on the stuff, cursing your way over icy sidewalks or into frozen keyholes.) Snow is the cheeriest member of the precipitation family. Rain--the melancholic teenager, sleet--the attention starved sibling. Snow is slow and unassuming. I love those fat and healthy flakes, floating towards my tongue under the glow of street lights suddenly made magical. One of snow's best voices is in its delightful squeak, underneath your sled, your tire, your heel. I will miss the presence of snow this winter, even though Winnipeg will grant me a few days' jaunt in my winter play clothes. Still, a mere flirtation with winter will be a pronounced change from a former long-term relationship. Today it snowed in Vancouver. Coincidentally, I also sipped my first eggnog latte, at Starbucks (cringe), where I probably paid as much for one steaming mug of nostalgia as a whole carton would've cost me. (While fighting off a sinking sensation of guilt at my pre "Nog's Eve" indulgence!) In my analysis, this pathetic version of Snow does not really deserve its namesake, for it didn't even care to stick around long enough to even be heralded as such. Nope, off it went, melting into the (still green) grass, the pavement, our jackets, anywhere that would conceal its true identity. Cowardly stuff. Snow can't handle this city, and this city can't handle snow. Nevertheless, it provided a nice dose of Christmasy coziness for me, now that November's embers are cooling into winter's bleakness. First Advent is passed and we are summoned to a time of Waiting, Expectancy, Hope. I have been recently invited to think of the bodily posture of expectancy, and to translate it to my spirit, as I wait for the Kingdom of Heaven to be founded upon this earth. What does that actually mean? I look at the people around me at the bus stops I've been frequenting since my beloved bike (#2) was snatched from my embrace last week. Eyebrows raised, body leaned forward, gaze looking out and over the distant horizon. What would it mean to live through the Advent season in this manner, with this kind of expectancy, as we beckon "Come, Lord Jesus, Come."

Friday, November 11, 2005

Taking a day to remember

So, it's Remembrance Day. I think that is probably the most beautiful-sounding holiday out there, just rolling off the tongue. That this day has been designated for remembering is something I am grateful for, but this year I notice that it too is becoming stained by commerce and the drive to consume. Even our most solemn holidays are being shaped by the impulse to keep moving. To keep busy. To get things done. What am I supposed to do, stay home and make soup? Knit? Think about war or some other depressing event?

I am a case in point. I went out for brunch this morning with friends, as if it were any other long weekend. Mind you, I did expect the city to be shut down, so out I went, tesing it: If I will go, will they open for me? Of course. Take my money. This is business.

Yesterday at work a few of us talked about how we'd spent various recent November Elevenths. To my chagrin, I couldn't remember. When I was young we'd have assemblies and afternoons off. We'd spend the week previous writing awkward poems in hopes of being picked to read aloud in the echoing gymnasium--smelling of rubber and basketballs and play. Every year the same man would come in and play the same haunting song on the trumpet. The one with that part that makes every elementary child's heart leap up for the first time in some sort of empty patriotic impulse. The song that was perhaps for us then the first strains of a pride larger than egoism. A glory bigger than the self. The halls leading us towards the gym would of course be decorated with little squares of red tissue paper that had been meticulously ruffled around the index finger and glued to a Flander's Field of felt. The year I remember most clearly is the one where I sang John Lennon's "Imagine" with my friend Maria; we were the soundtrack to a visually accosting slide show of images from the second world war. Our backs were turned. Everybody else had to watch and all we had to do was sing. I think even in the cold sweat of stage fright, we had the easier time.

Past those ritual assemblies of youth I don't remember most of my Rememberance Days. For most of us now they mean a day off, or at least time and a half. I don't doubt that this morning many ate their eggs benedict and sipped their americanos with a heightened sense of respect and a bright poppy on their lapel. I just marvel at how we so casually go about our normal outings, demanding that retail cater to our material hunger. As we waited for a table one of my brunch partners mused at what we weren't remembering--civil wars in his dual homelands Columbia and Egypt, all the wars ending and beginning, the war in the East. Later I stopped and looked around at the turtlenecks, the shoes, the espresso beans glimmering behind the bar. I thought of all the blood that had been shed for these things we indulged in so unthinkinglyon this Friday in November. I gave it only a moment, and then turned back to my breakfast. A sense of social justice is so seldomly translated into action.

On the bus on the way home a large man came and stood right in front of me. Maybe my "Peace" pin had set him off, or maybe he had some kind of prophetic message for us, his captive cargo. "I am the first-born son of a liberal-voting...went to a pentecostal church after I left Catholicism...I am grateful for the united states' effort to save the world...after 6 years of living in assonance..." all these unfinished, mumbled sentences. When the bus stopped he barrelled through the crowd, raising his voice, "OK folks we're going to get to that door, let's MOVE, I'm needing to get to that door now..." and then he was gone. The young man standing across from me smiled and said "that guy is on something." As I looked down at my poppy, and the guilty-looking pin on my bag, I wondered what war had been raged around him, with him, in him.

It's Rememberance Day and there's much to forget, much to remember, and much to take notice of in the people and things around us every day. This day is an ode to memory and to indifference. To battles unneccessary and un-fought. To pain we don't understand and to wounds we do not see.

In Dachau Concentration Camp, an iron gate remains. The German words for "Work Makes One Free" are set into its clasp. The picture at the top of this post is the International Monument that stands at the entrance to the site's Museum. I wonder what it is that truly makes us free, ignorance or memory.

"Alas for those who lie on beds of ivory, and lounge on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the stall; who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp, and like David improvise on instruments of music; who drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph! Therefore they shall now be the first to go into exile, and the revelry of the loungers shall pass away." Amos 6:4-7.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

As voices having aged grow stale

Our lives tend to turn and turn about like the arms of a great mill in a steady wind. When a decision comes, it is like a squall or an abrupt calm interrupting life's mechanism, changing its intensity and altering its movement. The time for action, whether to take sides or choose a particular course, comprises some of the most intense moments of our existence. Our emotions and our rational powers come together to joust--to test the other's weakness, and to weild their best weaponry. Our desires balance upon the narrow beam of others' expectations, and our best reasoning is toppled by our wildest dreams. Voices that were once clear become parched with time's gravel. The fresh fruit of revelation grows pocked and brown, the sweet scent of promise fades to a stale unknowing. When decisions loom, the everyday is transformed. We are catapulted to loftier heights where every thought and word is heavy with significance. On this altar of deliberation, where we are fated to the sacrifice of one of our loves, we are prone to a unique sort of spiritual lonliness.

In the pull of the options and opposites that make up choices, I am prone to feeling strangely alone. Not the kind of alone, however, that is the result of abandonment or neglect, but rather like a pillar of plaster as the mold is peeled away. Decisions render me exposed, stark and solitary. In the seasons of choice this pillar reminds me of my stature--secured to the ground beneath me that is trust, faith, and knowing. All around me there is the no-thing space that gobbles up our failure, like a ravenous dark chasm. But when I look down, when I wiggle my toes, there is that very-thing which enables me to exist at all, and it seems silly to ask this ground of being for anything more. And that is why these images bring a particular kind of alienation. And that is why I feel so full of glory--even tottering as I do in the open air, vulnerable and breakable--because I have been given this body and this life.

But it is not entirely this way. Our existential lonliness is countered by the sages, seers, friends and lovers who journey with us. Some join hands with us momentarily, others for a lifetime. Counsel of all sorts takes shape in soft voices, sharp-edged epiphanies, and the rare neutral settling of inner peace effected by a word. When I stumble into a season of decision, I stretch myself out, like tentacles grasping for wisdom and insight. I become fragmented into little pieces, scuttling about for some wayward shard of sense. I comb through the debris and the treasure of other people's knowledge. I grow weary, and want to be whole again. I begin to stumble and to lose my sight, and I want to be strong and secure again. As the chorus of voices recedes to a hum, only one voice remains--my own.

When it comes to making decisions, being a cynic by nature and dreamer at heart make for a frustrating hybridity. I lean one way one day and the other the next, one reason to stay is countered by one thousand to leave, and back and forth they play. In the heavens where my God resides and which are all around me there is a great mind and a great heart that knows what I will choose. It would be much easier to be let in on this future, but it is not my own to know. It is much more difficult to travel in this cloud of unknowing that is faith, to stumble half-blind and only half-enlightened by what we have come to know so far. I may shake my fist at this power, or beg it humbly to speak, but perhaps to let it be still and work instead inside of me--my desires, my dreams, and my reasoning--is the only real choice I face, and the wisest choice of all.

And if a prayer is just a musing directed towards something bigger than we are, then we ask for these things: For self-discipline, refreshment, and in emptiness the fullness of the kingdom. For the courage to live openly, and to embark creatively rather than nailing down who we are, and what our lives are, into a small, suffocating box of a strategy. To see life less as a business plan and more as a succession of moments. A moment followed by a moment followed by a moment. And then a memoir. And then at the end of time, like a long and weary day, a wonder-filled telling of all the stories that we've lived by. Amen.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Stealing away on a sunny day (and a short piece about Winnipeg)

My mom sent me these bright memories of summer, and aside from the amount of flesh I'm baring, they pleased me--dousing me with joy and a shot of nostalgia. The first is me and my brothers in Gimli, Manitoba. The second is my parents--the cutest picture of them I've seen yet. (They must be high. . . ha ha)

I am looking out at the mountains, backed by an orange sky, listening to CBC radio through my computer, and sending out words to land on familiar laps. I am sitting on a simple red futon in an apartment furnished just enough to take the edge off the echo of voices. A simple paper lamp from Japan. Some used jars full of spices. A table, a chair, and a burlap coffee bag from Nicaragua haning on the wall. I found this quote today, which came out of the 19th c. 'arts and crafts' movement, and it is fitting:

"To live content with small means. To seek elegance rather than luxury, and refinement rather than fashion. To be worthy not respectable, and wealthy not rich. To listen to stars and birds and babes and sages with an open heart. To study hard, think quietly, act frankly, talk gently, await occasions. Never hurry. In a word, to let the spiritual, the unbidden and the unconscious rise up through the common. This is my symphony."
-- William Henry Channing, 1898

I am fresh off my month of 65 hour work weeks. I do not yet know the full range of effects this has had on me, but I feel well in body and in spirit. I've still managed to find time to seek God, to socialize, to write and move and nourish myself. The anticipation of comparative freedom that the coming week will drop, like a brown paper package on my front stoop, is almost too much to bear. I am not afraid of boredom in the least, however, as there will always be books to read, words to write, people to love and places to merge with.

I attended a concert on Tuesday at the Orpheum theatre in downtown Vancouver that lifted me off this planet. The theatre reminded me of the Vienna operahouse; grandiose in design and plush in atmosphere. I saw Sigur Ros, an Icelandic group who play very dreamy, almost magical, score-like atmospheric rock. I described it to a friend as the music the stars and northern lights would make if they could dance together on a glacier. He said that coming from anyone else he'd be skeptical of such a description! Watching and listening to them, I felt waves of childhood mixed with a grand sense of the order of the universe. It is a rare thing when God's finger reaches down past the skin of our world to show it's maker through the music we think we are creating.

This week contained the urge for home, for various reasons. Why do we feel so limited even when girded with the strength of words? Nothing replaces touch, presence, eyes noses and mouths.

And so, in an act of trying to stretch my heart over two provinces, I wrote this little piece about place. Enjoy. (Oh yes, I've changed my settings so everyone can now comment on my postings, not just "members.")

The View from Not-Here

Newspaper clippings unraveled in envelopes have a firmness that internet links can only cheaply imitate. The other day I received one from my mother, a recent “View from Here” section of the Winnipeg Free Press. I unfolded the square, pleasantly heavy with ink, and read by the light of the evening sun, miles from home, in a city much further west. I read the author’s cheerful praise of my home city ravenously—as if her words were being spoken across a small table at Stella’s cafĂ© on Osborne St. I read stealthily—as if it were some perfect but unappreciated piece of graffiti art scrawled across a forgotten square of exchange-district brick.

The motivation for my mother’s enclosure was threefold: she missed me and wanted me to miss the city I had so recently left. It also spoke of her knowledge of my interest in issues of urban identity; the beautiful, awkward musings of Winnipeggers on why their city is “one great” one, is indeed one of my favourite things. And lastly, I’ve always loved the place. On the back of love there often rides the accompanying inability for love's true expression; why do so many people either want to leave Winnipeg, or find some form of pleasure in poking fun at it? I've always been one of a (perhaps growing) few to trumpet the city’s hidden jewels, as the author of the aforementioned article highlighted in better detail than I could be bothered with. It still angers me when national publications, seeking to provide a written thematic “tour” of Canadian cities, simply skip out on Winnipeg altogether. As was pointed out however, perhaps we should be happy that this is the case.

And just as the greatest things always lend themselves to endings, last month the proverbial “gateway to the West” that is my hometown swung open and newness ran to meet me. It was nothing essentially “Vancouver,” and most definitely not the “un-Winnipeg” that drew me here. In fact as patchwork fields receded in my wake and Manitoba grew thumbnail on the horizon, the Pacific, rolled out on the carpet of the Rockies, seemed to loom like a great and insatiable god.

As soon as I was off the ground the definitions came: Oh the paradox that is Winnipeg; the central outsider, the landlocked wanderer. Like an adolescent trying on life, so we its inhabitants have donned our many, sometimes conflicting understandings of our (urban) selves. One day we are humbly picnicking in Assiniboine Park, the next we are sporting yellow billboards, flaunting our best traits. One day we are complaining about mosquito infestations, the next we are compulsively writing articles about ourselves. We are hybrids: dreamers fed by infinite prairie horizons, realists wrought by the harshest of winds. In the light of Vancouver—a city so more sure of herself—Winnipeg’s fog of self-reflection becomes clear. Surrounded by natural splendour, Vancouver is like a child of wealth lacking in self-awareness, for whom beauty has outgrown its wearer. As Shakespeare wrote, “some are born great, some are made great, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” Winnipeg lies somewhere between the first two, bearing the fledgling greatness of blue jeans and back alleys. And I will be the second voice in this newspaper begging it not to grow out of them too quickly.

The recent article, which sought to stir up in us a quiet pride of place, reinforced the conviction I've always had about the city I left on the wheat-washed prairie. It is characterized by a plea to be noticed. I would add now that those happiest in Winnipeg are the ones who direct that desire inwards, to be noticed within itself, and by its own people. The author warned against betraying our secret, asking us to guard River City’s vulnerable turrets of charm from encroaching publicity. Perhaps the modesty running in our muddy waters makes us not want to sully them with brazen recognition. Perhaps we're allright with being the middle child of a nation, never trumping Toronto’s velocity, nor crown Calgary’s raucousness, but always coming out the champion of self celebration. At times we entertain the wish to rise above marginalization by other major Canadian cities. This is the impule that makes us love things like the Pan-Am Games and the Junos. However this is also what makes us dissatisfied, makes us want to give up--and when we do, to say goodbye. I wonder if contentment would mount upon realizing that we matter most where it counts—right here at home. But I suppose then we would be lacking in the disquietude that produces such great poets and lyricists. And worse, we'd have nothing to write about save burger joints on bridges.

If this piece had intent beyond mere musing, it would be that Winnipeg shouldn’t be so sure that obscurity is its national namesake. My experience has led me to quite the opposite conviction: On an unnamed peak in the Rockies I met a European couple who, upon learning where I was from looked at each other incredulously: “You’re from Winnipeg?! That’s an almost mythical place for us.” They were, for some reason, strangely drawn to it. Within days of my arrival in Vancouver I received a suspicious “I thought so” on the news that I had recently arrived from Winnipeg. Why? “Because you’re still friendly.” This seemed a tad extreme, and I scoffed at the ensuing prediction that I would lose my amicability after a good dose of metropolitanism. Days later, another remarked that my disposition clearly revealed a "prairie soul."
Coming from the lips of strangers these observations didn’t carry much weight. They did, however, leave me feeling slightly smug. Sure, some have arrogantly applauded my advancement up the proverbial social ladder of Canadian postal codes. Mostly however, faces brighten to welcome me—if anything endeared by my hometown’s hold on me, and intrigued as to why I wasn’t itching to leave.

Above all, Vancouver and its residents have left me with the deepened conviction that geography matters. If place truly matters—our surroundings, our neighbourhoods, where we live, work and play—so does that which makes up the collective casing that is our city. On this thanksgiving weekend, I want to say thanks Winnipeg, for making me who I am, or for somehow extending what I brought to you as I walked on your concrete, and in your dust and snow and slush and sunshine.

Post Title Courtesy of: Over the Rhine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Collapsed in the act of just being here

"Wanderlust." by my new friend, Aleks Rdest

It's been a dreadfully long time since I posted last. I think this blog has become a sort of cross-section into my thinking, which has lately been like a swinging door. . . (a phrase I steal from Sarah Harmer). Work has consumed most of my time, but I've managed to fit life into the holes and craters it leaves in its glacial retreat.

I read in George Orwell's Why I Write, of a simple adoration of the world: "So long as I remain alive and well I shall continue to love good prose, the surface of the earth, and to take pleasure in solid objects and scraps of useless information."

~Here, a scrapbook of recent moments, favourite and found~

I am in a park by my house, at 37th and Prince Edward. One of the city's many parks, dogs running free, flurries of white, black, brown. Above me a metal sculpture bearing these words:
"This city now doth like a garment wear
the beatuy of the morning;
silent, bare.
Ships, towers, domes, theatres
and temples lie open
Unto the fields,
and to the sky."

The harshness of steel and chain-link grasping those jewels so humbly. There are many hidden treasures here, artistic flourishes, as if Vancouver were a great canvas.

An old man pushes his walker towards me, and slows down, as if to indicate his plea for company.

"I do this every day if I can," he said.

Those words will remain with me, I will carry them through my day. He was speaking of his daily amble, his morning mustering of strength. I am speaking them now as a collective mantra. A reminder to be grateful for even our footsteps. Life, something we do every day, if we can. And when we can't, there's a host of help at our bidding.


I am on my bike, riding towards Stanley Park. It is the two-week anniversary of my acquaintance with this ocean-skirted city and I have not yet dipped a toe in its hem. I come off the Burrard St. bridge, dart under a loud overpass, and am met with a vast blueness. The sun shoots off the rippling waves, the brightness staving off the hunger of my eyes. I cannot look until they adjust.

I've picked the perfect music for this occasion--Air's Talkie Walkie album. The ocean is mine, the tourists disappear and the afternoon sun leaves my skin tasting like the ocean.


A few days later I have the chance to see the city from the sky. A friend visiting from Toronto joins me for a climb up Mt. Seymour. I feel for once as if there's been a reversal. Place envelopes us, but up in the sky, it becomes ours to hover over.


Malani and I were recently priviledged enough to have an honourary 3rd wheel for a week. Aleks is an artist in Toronto, and her beautiful ethereal paintings can be viewed at Aleks introduced us to the Vancouver art scene as we tagged along with her to SWARM, an open-house festival of sorts, of small artist-run centres. The evenings we spent roaming back-door galleries and drinking free wine reminded me of the truly healing effects of art. Standing before it, endeavouring to speak of it, to defend taste and beauty, to simply appreciate what most would never take the time to create. One local artist in particular, Leah Bridges, mesmerized me with her monochromatic series of dream-like scapes. The way she celebrated solidity and airyness at the same time reminded me of how we often try to shape or understand the present with the smudgy shapes of the past.


St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican Church, Sunday, Sept. 18th. I have gone from worshipping with a family to being on the outskirts once again. I now look into the ring of fellowship from a place of uncertainty, rather than dance around the fire at its centre. I wonder how we've come to the point where "church (s)hopping" is so commonplace, so acceptable, so encouraged, even. We are hestitant decide, to commit, or, heaven forbid, to stay too long and not be challenged anymore. I realize there are times to move on, and I have done it many times myself. I can't help but wonder though, at the effect of being exposed to so many faith options. Something in it seems flat, empty, random.

The congregation is at worship, a lively mix of two traditions I have known intimately. Hymns are sung in a celebratory timbre, choruses welcomed with upraised arms. I am a solitary individual within this community. I am a marble rolling slowly into the game. I am a wisp sunk a little lower than the canopy of puffy clouds.

It is ok to be on the fringe. Centers here are always shifting, centers evaporate where I am a minority every day. Where all are newcomers. I hear the Gospel read in English, Cantonese, and Japanese. The sound of the words tickles my eardrum. They are seagulls on a sandbar, flying away when I run into their gathering.


I am thrilled by the feeling of not knowing what's next. Of not knowing who I'll meet, or what I'll see. There is a woman I work with who is preparing for what "the scientists' say" is a massive earthquake due to hit Vancouver. Shall I stock away some extra chickpeas, or as Eliot says, dare I eat a peach? or should I just keep living. Later that night I am listening to a singer-songwriter I love from my home city. He sings "did you know the west coast is gonna fall, into, the ocean someday." The irony of coincidence. A great cosmic joke. Like the tenacious fall flowers, still blooming here, I turn my face to laugh at the sky.

"He is a sane man who can have tragedy in his heart and comedy in his head." - G.K. Chesterton, Tremendous Trifles

Post title courtesy of the band, Stars.

Fall Minstrel Piece

For those of you who don't have access to the witty and scholarly St. Margaret's publication known as The Minstrel, (now under the expert editorial proficiency of Mr. Andrew Siebert), here is an online version of my contribution to the fall issue. (They put me in the "sermons in stones" section. Maybe this one should be "lessons in leaves. . ." but then that wouldn't be as Shakespearean.)

A Measure of Parting

If J. Alfred Prufrock has measured out his life in coffee spoons, then I have in goodbyes. Eliot's words may refer to a number of things, but today they bring me a picture of a great sea. This sea could be one of virtue, of charity or of faith. It could be a sea of emotion, or of things much greater than we are. Whatever it is we picture, the sea is that thing's full reality, and the small spoonfuls we dip over and over into its fathoms are only tastes. My goodbyes as of late are like this sea, too voluminous to bear, and I am no Atlantis.

Goodbye defies the axiom practice makes perfect. One cannot practice loss. The warmth of intimacy betweensouls allows no room for even the slightest zephyr ofapathy. The sweetness of love and friendship contain a bitter goodbye deep within their pit. Thus, the very spark of acquaintance binds us to the pain of its counterpart. In Shadowlands, C.S. Lewis says "the happiness then is part of the pain now."

Fall brings change, and for me this year, many"badbyes," as a good friend wrote in a parting card. Another said "we can't believe you're gone." In our search for balance, we often meet truth when faced with its absence. Goodbyes tip the invisible scale of heaven, shattering our tidy togetherness, whisperingof some other way. The ticket meter at the airport swallows another and another. Goodbyes teach me to hold the things of this world loosely, while, paradoxically, never letting me forget the tragedy of renunciation. They strip me down again and again, plunging me into an unexpected asceticism. In a small, dark gallery in downtown Vancouver I read W.R.Rodgers' words etched on a painting: "There are no homecomings, of course, no goodbyes / In that land /neither yearning nor scorning / Though at night there is the smell of the morning." Goodbyes tether us to the questions we are hurled about our whole life: "What is it I've hoped for?" "What has caught me in this hurricane dance of longing?"

My life, albeit short, reveals the recurring motif of a uniquely autumnal sort of loss. Fall bears the train of melancholy more than any other season, but so elegantly she does so. Leaves fall like words unsaid, memories of warmth, crumpled tickets to sunshine's past charade. Goodbye, from the simple God be with ye (godbwye): How very many blessings we bestow upon those kissed by our most commonplace farewells. The fields will burn, like the seven embers of September, and on the breeze we will catch the faintest whiff of glory.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel;
to set budding more
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimmed their clammy cells...

Ode to Autumn-John Keats

Saturday, September 17, 2005

From Such Great Heights

On August 21st, I had the opportunity to climb one of my favorite mountains in the Lake Louise area, Mt. Temple, at a soaring 11,626 feet. I finally was able to import some pictures from our climb, and here is the bonus commentary. (Offered at no extra charge, to you, my faithful viewers):
1) the group, looking happy and healthy before we set out on our trek (^)

2) the quintessential summit group-shot, 6 hours later and huddled for body heat!

3) yours truly, in one of her upright moments. Having arrived only the day prior from the flatlands, I was struck by a mild case of altitude sickness, resulting in stumbles, light-headedness, and nausea. All this for a mountain. . . it must be love.

4) even amidst freezing temperatures, we still had time for a quick hug!

5) Adam caught me in the last few hundred meters of sheer pain

6) and the best part of scrambing. . . the scree-surfing down! What a day, what a mountain.

title courtesty of the Postal Service

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

When near is just as far away as far

I am following a theme in my post titles. Would anyone hazard a guess? A juicy reward awaits you. Today's thoughts will follow the path of a lost wanderer, but "Not all who wander are lost." -(J.R.R. Tolkien.)

It is a Wednesday afternoon. My nerves remind me that snacking on the chocolate-covered espresso beans we keep behind the barista counter is not such a smart prelude to a post-work dose. I have noticed, however, that some of my most creative moments come with the help of caffeine. I think we all just need to accept that "No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee's frothy goodness." (~Sheik Abd-al-Kadir) That's risky on in this age of relativity. I can see it, the only remaining permanent and universal truth.

There is reggae playing outside the office window. The city just buzzes on days of uncharacteristic sunshine, celebrating it in every imaginable way. This city is a people-watchers' paradise. The other day I saw a car with about 50 plastic toys and bric-a-brac crazy glued to it's trunk lid. There is a homeless man in my area who has his shopping cart done up like a Harley. He stops in for a coffee every morning, contented with the routine.

I ride my bike down Commercial Drive's gradual slope each morning at 4:30 am. The city is crisp and still, the mercury is at its lowest. Everyone is tucked neatly into bed, while I fly through flashing yellow lights and past stores with their upside-down bar stools. That is, everyone except the handful of folks near Broadway Station, lying in their makeshift beds in the entranceways of Subway, Starbucks, MoneyMart. I can't help but notice the irony here.

Since I last posted, I've acquired another job. Since I'd already given my (then full-time) availability to JJ Bean, I had to add this new one onto an already fully scheduled plate. Thus, over the past few days I've felt like nature's wonder--the hardworking little ant. I'm only me, I don't have a nice mansion of a hill, and I can't carry something 100x my weight, but other than that the analogy works. I've decided to sacrifice some of the other things I value in my life just for the month of September, to build up a cushion for myself. Plus, I don't want to lose my job at either place. I'm enjoying them both so much.

My second job came only a few days after JJ. It's a restaurant called the Ouisi Bistro (pron. WEE ZEE) over on South Granville. The neighbourhood is more akin to Academy, for all you Winnipeggers, while JJ is on a street much like Corydon. It's a half an hour bike ride one way, so I am getting my excercise and seeing the details of the city along the way. (There are bike routes everywhere. I can take the "midtown ridgeway" route all the way to the restaurant--pedaling along merrily, pressing the button at major road crossings for all the traffic to stop for me. It's quite luxurious, save the sweat and the 3 am jaunts home. As I ride home I smell lusious curries and other ethnic foods wafting out of kitchen windows, mingled with the fresh smell of pine. The air here is so clean.) I was initially hired to be a brunch server, but after my first training shift my schedule suddenly read all nights! I asked Tim why, and he said "because you're good." I was pleased, as I like the atmosphere there better in the evenings. The staff is wonderful. I was hired just in time for our summer staff party--a boat "cruise" up the coast to a little inlet where we'll wine and dine for an evening. It's next Monday, I can't wait to explore outside of the city. The servers are all older than I am. Malani and I have observed that serving seems to be more of a recognized profession/career here than in Manitoba. We've deduced that perhaps it is because people treasure their days to go hiking, climbing, and skiing, and also the lifestyle here is more leisure-oriented.

I worked last night and we had live jazz-- a bass and piano pair. We're running a fundraiser for the New Orleans relief, as Ouisi is inspired by the cajun and creole cuisine of that region. We've had a good response to it, and even had a media piece done on us last week. (Jen's 15 seconds of fame, carrying plates of sauteed gator in the background!)


On another note, Malani and I are cosying up in our little place at 1986th 38th Avenue East. I think when I last wrote we had just recently moved in. We celebrated our "one week anniversary" there this past Sunday night by going out (oh my goodness, Malani and Jen are leaving the comforts of home, is Vancouver ready for them!?) to RIME , a local music joint on "the Drive." We have an artist from Toronto, Aleks, staying with us for a week, so our slightly augmented party justified our frivolity. Since I spent the last month in Winnipeg constantly out socializing, I've been laying low while here, besides working. However, I think my schedule will begin to fill soon enough as I meet up with an childhood friend this Friday, and start to make friends at work. It seems that people are more receptive to new friendships here. Perhaps in a place that only a few clench with home's grip, we are increasingly open to others so gripping us.
Anyway, we heard the most beautiful instrument, but its name escapes me. It was a Chinese string instrument that sounded like a fusion between a fiddle and a sitar. It looked like it was made out of broom handles and tin cans. Genius. Matt--you would've revelled.

In the past few days I've adopted the role of breadwinner while Malani has stayed home to prepare dinner for us. This has become a source of much laughter for us!

Our apartment is slowly losing its empty, echoing ring. I've spent many hours roaming thrift and antique stores, garage sales and dumpsters for useful treasures. Malani dragged a coffee table home one afternoon, and I scored a desk, 2 shelves, kitchen table, small speakers, bulletin board, and chair all for forty dollars! The woman even delivered it to our home in her truck! I was so grateful, and dropped off a pound of Palomino Dark Roast Organic beans to her door the following day. We've been able to benefit from other people's rejects very well, and I am quite happy to be slowing the consumer cycle by doing so. Other than our one Superstore run, escapade, where we proceeded to entertain the entire bus with our "let's carry 200$ of groceries and household goods home in our travel packs!" escapade, we've managed to do all our shopping locally. Let me tell you, I knew the Asian's could do fish and rice, but my can they bake as well! I had a torro-root/pineapple dumpling for lunch today. Krispie-kream watch out!

Our next-door neighbours are a beautiful Sri Lankan family with two adorable children. The father supplements his income by working at a bagel shop. The day we moved in he delivered four fresh bagels to our door! Having not yet done our first grocery shop, we were in need of such sustenance. A few days later, the mother brought us fresh popcorn, complete with a wide smile and understanding words. Our neighbourhood does have some rough edges, but there is a warmth to its community-feel, and people seem to watch out for each other. Our landlords are attentive and pleasant, though Malani is much better at communicating with them! I have trouble understanding their accents. Thank goodness for my resident Asia-trotter who is proving to be most conversationally savvy!

The streets are filled with fruit and vegetable stands. The electric buses keep the air so clean, as they are powered by overhead wires you can hear wisk and zap when the city sleeps. I ate a full Japanese meal the other night, sushi and tempura and terriaki vegetables and soup and tea, for 5.95. I'm sure I walked out of there with a hanging jaw. I've been giving my bike a lot of love, adding new parts, borrowing neighbour's (and church's!) garden hoses to clean it, and keeping the chain running like silk. I am so thankful for the gift of self-propelled transportation!

I attended church for the first time since St. Margaret's on Sunday night. I was tired from a long shift, but felt as if a long thread was attached to me, pulling me ever so gently toward St. John's Shaughnessy Anglican. Or, perhaps it was toward something Else. I was a little late, but so happy that I made the effort to go. As I sat, once again, in a hard wooden pew, knelt to pray with the other congregants, and merged my voice in the final hymn, I felt moisture cover my eyes and that familiar pinch in the nose that is the precursor of liquid emotion. I sang, good ol' Praise and Worship (this is a very evangelical Anglican church), and listened to a singer-songwriter from Australia. I spoke to the youth minister afterwards, and the church is "in desperate need" of female leaders for the senior high youth group. His wife will be contacting me to have coffee in the next week. He also gave me an overview of the church's culture, and what life at St. John's is all about.

One thing he said has stuck with me. After I told him that I had just begun to look for a church, he said "Would you let me be so bold as to suggest to you to look no further?" I didn't take this as a religious marketing pitch, but rather as a caring gesture. I responded positively to him, saying that from my experience "church shop/hopping" can often lead to alienation, confusion, and bitterness. Making the decision to serve and care for a community, much like we do for the people in our lives, yields sweet fruit down the road. After the service I rode past the parish hall where everyone had gathered for tea, and looked inside at the mingling crowds. I had choosen not to join them this time but knew that I would return.

In between furniture shopping, putting miles on my tires, and just generally getting my life together, I've been writing quite a bit. I have been accepted for an internship with a local bi-weekly culture magazine (called Terminal City), and have been invited to contribute to some other publications as well. My writing is a god that must be appeased, whom I have been neglecting for too long now. The rumble is becoming a roar, and in this land of open air cafes and ample park benches, my pen need not sleep.

I am going to sign off now and bike down to Stanley Park. I have not yet been there, and have a free evening to go and cruise along the seawall. I will think of all of you as I watch the ocean swell in the palms of the rolling, friendly mountains (they are gentler here than in the Rockies). I am delighted that so many of you are reading my blog (thanks to Matt for just recently adding a counter to the site! I've recently hired him as my tech support. Matt, you can bill my office. Hee hee), and sending me so many loving emails as well. It is a priviledge to stay connected to my roots, even in times where they dangle a little more timorously. I am very joyful here, well-loved, well-fed, inspired, and challenged. I am understanding more and more how distance is bridged when I begin to embrace the place that has found me in it. There is so much that seems far from us in the world, so much we call "other," so much that we perceive as distant. In contrast to the title of this post, (borrowed, as so many words are, from a text of circumvented yearning), I have found that the far and the strange quickly becomes the near and familiar as it is lived in, loved and respected.

May your cups overflow-- whether cracked or in glorious splendour, whether fashioned from humble clay or choice crystal, whether lovingly used or gathering dust.


title courtesy of the Weakerthans

Monday, August 29, 2005 midnights, in cups of coffee

That's how you measure, measure a year.

It's been five days in this new city and I've managed to secure a steady income for the time being. With 26 resumes dropped, slightly sore feet and a sunkissed nose, I sat down to wait. The next day I received a phone call from...the first place I applied! The store named after me (JJ Bean--Vancouver's own micro-roaster) decided that they indeed needed me as their poster-girl. I sighed modestly, tossing my hair over my shoulder in the light breeze. "I think I could fit you into my busy schedule." They complied. Drama aside, the "interview" yesterday went smashingly well. I stopped by the cafe to chat over an americano with Kyle, the manager, and 45 minutes later--not having covered anything "work-related" really--started my first "muffin shift" at 5 am this morning. Phew. Out of the fire and into the muffin pan.

I've now added Granville Street to my avenues of exploration. That one was alone, on Friday, and took about 5 hours as well. I bought a bed, in great condition, from a thrift store right downtown. Delivery, frame, and decent mattress for 130.00. Take that, IKEA. And the guys running the place were good for my days' entertainment. Downtown Vancouver can't seem to decide what it would like its identity to be. Or else it's just content being the eclectic, bustling yet laid-back, modern ugly-bluish-tinted condos meets turn-of-the-century "Gastown" architecture, tidy business suits brushing boho-beauties, cafe doors swinging open into outdoor stores and upscale restaurants, the fresh air of Stanley Part tickling my shoulders. I stopped at the Granville island market, which is the Forks x 50. The Vancouver Wooden Boat Festival was in full swing, and I stopped to listen to a small kitchen band play Eastern Canadian folk songs (and wished Anna was sitting there with me. ) I took a little water bus across for my 5 minutes of touristy fame.

Moving via public transit is an experience I recommend to all for the building of character, and shoulder muscles. With my water bottle and iPod in tow (Help! I have acquired a cell phone, an ipod AND a blog in less that 3 weeks. I'm barely a week here and already modern life has engulfed me!), I proceeded to move my stuff from our temporary condo on 41st to our new digs at east 38th and Victoria. Don't let the proximity of the street numbers fool you--it was not a quick jaunt. And being the frugal female that I am, I had to race against the clock so my transfer would remain active for the duration of my move. I was done in roughly 3 hours--almost but not quite!

Our new place is clean and seems safe, though it is lacking in shower curtains and its kitchen colours seems to boast of bygone days. (ie: the early 80s) It seems we are smack dab in "asia-ville," not Chinatown proper, but a more southeast asian stew of mom-and-pops, family-run grocery stores, hairsalons, and yummy bargain restaurants.

As I rode the bus today wondering how our culture produced the neccessity for getting up while it's still dark (no, haven't done this in awhile, guess that makes me bourgeoise by comparison), excitement washed over my sleepy consciousness. Part of it was admittedly the free coffee I would soon put my grateful lips to, but more of it was the sense of newness the early morning mirrored in its crisp not-yet-sunlight. I feel alive.

I just finished reading "the Alchemist" by Paulo Coehlo. It's gained a bit of a cult following, but aside from its at times cliche newageiness, offers some valuable wisdom. One of the things I came away with was a reminder to live for the present, which he ties in with the Biblical mantra, "where your heart is, there also will your treasure be." The book gave this little lesson new life for me. The promise of something inspires us to pursue it, and there is definitely something to be said for relentlessly chasing after things of we value. But perhaps it is better to love first. Perhaps treasure follows the impulse of the heart. For right now I am content to live less for the hope of a sparkling future, or in a state of pining for the sweetness of the past. The blessings of the present moment are rare and fleeting things, like tiny minnows in a great sea. They are asking of me only one small thing. My whole heart.

title courtesy of the Broadway production, Rent

Saturday, August 27, 2005

A turn of the wheel

There is saxophone music wafting in the open window out on 41st. (I don't think one can appreciate the beauty, if not poetic, of numbered streets until one lives in a city of them.) Kerrisdale Days are on in my new, but temporary up-scale neighbourhood. It is my third day here, and so far, everyone was wrong about Vancouver being rainy. The sun has shone every day since my arrival, except for, of course, on the eve of my arrival on Wednesday...when the stars took over its reign. I've been gone a week.

I've named this post for the first song I listened to in the Calgary airport, back on Saturday. James Keelaghan's voice gave me just enough of a taste of home without nostalgia too painful to bear beneath brimming tears. "The steady state of matter is said to be the norm/But wait for a turn of the wheel," he sings. "The things we never challenge are the things that never change."

I have spent a lot of time in airports over the past week. Thrill and anxiety mingle in those terminals of transitions, those mysteriously non-places. You can be anything. You can be nothing. All are without context. People in motion, stability a memory or future destination. I have waited for moving objects so much this past week. Objects to cart me like cargo, the ghost in their machine.

I cannot recreate what I saw passing into the Canadian Rocies. They unleashed some grandeur or some rectitude in my soul and I was unabashed, even in this small van of seven strangers. The towering cliffs echo my gains and losses, the peaks shout out remnants of glory I've managed to hang onto. Their valleys resound each parting of the past few weeks.

Later, on our backpacking trip, Adam would remark how the mountains were not really sublime for him. They were far from foreboding, rather warm, welcoming, a protective barrier. Once you climb one and are granted the view out over the strange, mottled mountain horizon, it is no longer possible to be intimidating.

I had a glorious time at Num-ti-jah, the lodge where I worked last summer. Despite a persistent illness, a nausea carried over from the day of my departure perhaps, I was able to climb Mt. Temple (Altitude: 3,543m [11,621 ft]), see the picture above (one of me is forthcoming!). I also backpacked into Skoki Valley for one night with Adam, until we got caught in a bonafide blizzard. (I experienced all four season in less than a week, I am sure.) No matter though, we hiked back and dried off back at Num-ti-jah playing scrabble by the fire. It was also a higlight to see Meghan, the Ward cousin who has proved herself to be the reincarnated Yaheweha ("mountain woman") of our family.

I arrived in Vancouver sore and tired on Wednesday night. Thursday was recovery day, with some promenading on 41st. Malani and I are condo-sitting for friends of hers, and they have a beautiful home equipped with good music, good wine, and a wonderfully soft cat. I quickly learned that Vancouver is synonymous with Starbucks (you can wave at friends from one to another), sushi (we ate it for lunch for 2.50 each--and it was good!), and health. I am continuously delighted to see elderly people out and about, on the bus, shopping in the markets and enjoying their neighbourhood. We barbequed salmon, and made a mango salsa with fresh herbs and a salad. There are fantastic bakeries here as well. We've been reconnecting, and reading out on the open-air patio that stretches around their corner suite.

I am feeling 100% healthy again.

Yesterday, my second day here, we walked for 5 hours straight applying for jobs. I left with 15 resumes in tow, and returned with 3. Once you get going, it becomes kind of like a game, and your confidence builds. We bused by our future apartment, and then down to Commercial Drive, which is voted by one of my favorite magazines (Utne) as one of NA's hippest neighbourhoods. Upon seeing a coffee shop named JJ Bean, I had to apply. My dad's childhood nickname for me was an omen, I guess. I would gage a prospective job site by its vibe, and apply at the ones whose energy I liked. I applied for a catering company run by a Winnipeg chef, at various restaurants and cafes pulsing with music, conversation, and art. We walked all the way down Commercial, Venables, back down Main, and home via 41st.

I cannot put my finger on the culture of this place. Metropolitain, mediterranean, Canadian, and very asian. It feels like a different country, but simultaneosly as familiar as an old pair of Birks. I could see a live act every night. Sigur Ros, Juana Molina, the Arcade Fire, Death Cab, the Killers and the Proclaimers are all playing in the next week alone! Rodin's sculptures are at the Gallery, and there are community events galore.

I've also applied for an internship with a local magazine called Terminal City, and for door-to-door sales with greenearthorganics.

Good Vancouver Karma Episode 1: After eating a delicious portobello sandwich and leaving my resume at a tiny adorably kitsch "chew and chat" eatery on Main, Malani and I wandered down past the strip's plethora of antique shops, furniture stores, and clothing boutiques. I stopped outside a pawn shop to envy some of the Brodie bikes (and grieve my latest loss), as well as eye some of the guitars. I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a deal going on. A young man was trying to sell his bike to the shop proprietor. "I can only give you 60$, it's the end of the season and it's just not likely it will sell." The young man apparently just wanted to get it off his hands. I meandered over and asked if I could look at it. There was a semi-awkward pause, which I filled with statements of growing interest as I examined the componentry. The seller now seemed more interested in me as a prospective buyer than the pawn shop owner. The owner asked us to leave if we wanted to conduct business in his shop! (5 minutes later we were futher "encouraged" to move down the street!) As it turned out, the young man was about to travel to Thailand and wanted to get rid of his mountian bike that day. We met up later than night to complete the transaction, and now a Giant Yukon-model beauty, the same colour and year as my beloved Brodie is mine...all for only 70 bucks! And just when I was about to sigh with contentment at how generous and well-meaning Vancouverites were, John smiled and said "I'm from Manitoba, too!" I returned to a phone call from JJ Bean wanting to pursue my qualification. (listen to me, I've been writing too many cover letters!) What a day.

I am about to embark on another job hunt down Granville Street this afternoon. I can't wait to keep exploring the city and all its wonderful quirks and unfolding vistas. Friendly mountains tumbling all over the place, a diversity of cultures, and delightful clusters of blackberries hanging over all the sidewalks. Where else can you get a pint of strawberries for 2 dollars, a mango for 50c and 18 pieces of sushi for 5.95?

I think of Winnipeg fondly but do not miss it yet. I do, however, notice the absence of all the fine folks I know there. From my heart to yours,