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


Matt said...

There all song titles, now wheres that reward!

Matt said...

i mean lines in songs

Juanita said...

Wow my friend! Hope refreshing it is to read your blog. After spending the morning reading court cases and bills parliment has passed, I have determined that whenever I need a break from reading, or studying at that, I will visit your blog and live vicariously through you. How amazing it all sounds! You definitely need to keep writting and I'm trilled to hear of you new intern. However, I'm even more thrilled to learn that you're on the West only a mere 8 hours away...instead of 25 hours that is! Maybe we could possibly see each other again!?! But for now, keep writing so I can be inspired by your words. Miss you. Juanita

sheri ward said...

i loved reading your latest posting, dear Jen! What a treat to come home from the great white (and it was!) north.
love and miss you!