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 www.aleksrdest.com. 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 now...coffee, 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