My writing has been infrequent, these pages empty. Not, however, for lack of words. Perhaps I am tiring of this form. Perhaps I am longing for the old ways of quill pens and parchment paper. But the technological side of me still lures me, begs me to throw my words at this teeming and cavernous Internet mass.
I don't know where to begin after all this time. Less than a week left of Jen-the-single-person, and I find that I am neither deeply mourning nor ecstatically celebrating its passing. I am simply welcoming it. Being single had its joys, its somehow pleasureable pains, its exquisitely lonely walks in the woods. I will miss the parts of myself that reflected the good things of singlehood. This is largely unexplainable to me. Yesterday at a family gathering it was said that to marry young is the best way. That may be the way of many, but not of us all. Did I feel the need to defend my 26-year-hiatus from wedded bliss? Partly, but I kept it to myself, wrapped up in my private cocoon of experiences.
I won't miss the wondering and the restlessness. It's not that marriage fixes a person completely, or covers over the wounds of other hopes turned sour. But I am grateful and excited to have chosen the journey. For the companionship that will provide a base and an inspiration for the rest of me. For the parts that it will heal and illuminate. Marriage does not legitimize a person, and I have always resisted it being seen as a stamp of approval upon a person's life. I'm looking forward to sharing what I (sometimes reluctantly) love about myself. I'm looking forward to the side-by-side. I'm looking forward to the challenge of another, facing me in a call towards selflessness.
Next Friday I will greet more than I will bid farewell to.
Amidst all the preparation of flowers, cakes and music, we wait expectantly for the Saviour of the world. What a tiny matter our celebration seems in comparison to this grand announcement.
Life seems so much bigger when you step back to look at it.
So let go, let go, jump in, oh well what are you waiting for?
And so jump in I do.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
My writing has been infrequent, these pages empty. Not, however, for lack of words. Perhaps I am tiring of this form. Perhaps I am longing for the old ways of quill pens and parchment paper. But the technological side of me still lures me, begs me to throw my words at this teeming and cavernous Internet mass.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
"To understand things and people, we must love them." A simple quote. Walter Rauschenbusch. I don't even know who he is. Perhaps I should.
A simple quote, read from the front of Winnipeg's largest inner-city church. The one with the glowing orange cross on top of it. I think it must be one of the biggest. A cloudy Wednesday, and hundreds are gathered to figure out how to say goodbye. We are gathered to support his family. We gather to be part of the act of gathering. We gather for ourselves.
There are hugs, flowers, people moving in a collective grieving mass. "Did you know that it was exactly two years ago that we had him over for supper?" a friend reminds me. To the day. Wow. We drive just outside of the city limits, where airplanes line up for take-off behind us. A metaphor of movement surrounding the stasis of concrete and stone.
I have witnessed only three physical burials in my lifetime. I have attended my share of memorial services, but this part of death felt foreign. It felt too intimate, like I shouldn't be there. Like I should turn my back from the center of the crowd's attention, like my only role should be to provide shelter from the sheets of wind flapping against the family. It felt scandalous to watch. Voyeuristic.
What an earthy, gritty thing is death. Our hearts believe eternity, choirs, angels, and glory. Our senses witness soil, stone, salt, and November's vitriolic winds.
May your dying teach us even more than your living did.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006
A collage of my time in Germany, featuring Steffi (in the grey) Laura, (the blonde), Angela (below) Oktoberfest (blech), and at the end, my dear Ottawa cousins with whom we spent Thanksgiving. Oh, and the mosaic is one that I made, under Steffi's careful direction! Enjoy.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
[Thanks to the Wailin' Jennies for that title.]
i am finished for now. finished with being crammed into small spaces, moving at high speeds with large groups of complete strangers. the novelty of travel fades;
planes become buses become trains become
the mundanity of the everyday car.
but along those roads, and beyond these skies
are the voices of those I have strained to remember,
and the mud on my shoe is thicker than before, and
my feet carry me
than I ever thought possible.
there have been too many pasts,
words (now etched mockingly
on a cold computer screen)
used to pass between us
now it is me--wondering how you're really doing,
wondering what you're doing at all
wondering if you wonder the same.
i am finished for now, but i will always keep moving.
never further from those i've known,
please, i beg, let me come to you again and again.
i need your voices,
your dirty shoes,
even your coldest words,
that render me loved.
[pictures to come]
Thursday, September 21, 2006
-which means, 'all will be good.'
The art of travel. A small book in the stuffy Frankfurt airport beckons me from the shelf. I don't have time for anything more than a short flip through it. Mobility, flexibility, newness, difference. To travel is to be human, with a body designed to walk 75 kilometres a day.
To travel is to trick the body, the mind, the senses. Rhythms dictated by light, breakfast offered in the new time zone, though it may be 2 am for the stomach. Time is made irrelevant and inconsequential. Time is reduced to waiting, and waiting to stillness. There are no hours, only the opening and closing of doors.
I am back in Germany with a very good friend. It's been five and a half years since I've set foot on European soil, but strangely, it feels familiar, warm, known. It's like returning to a scrapbook, train stubs and receipts jutting out from its pages, worn with years. This time it's less survival-oriented and more enhancing. There is less an attitude of acquisition and more one of perception. I have returned, it seems, not to a land once travelled but to a friendship unchanged by distance.
Sometimes it seems unbelievable that I'm here again. Sometimes it feels absolutely expected. The more I travel, the more I move, relocate, and explore, the more hospitable the world seems. Otherness diminishes, borders narrow, home is spread out. When I'm in another country there is a point at which nothing feels different. My breath, the weight of my body on the ground, is exactly as it would be anywhere else. In those moments of realization, in order to convince myself of the distance I've actually come, I must picture a map and the comparative distance those centimeters represent. How interesting that when travelling, we often think of our world pictorally rather than experientially.
As for the specifics: I'm finally naturalized to the time change. Finally convinced that time is just a construct, numbers relative to sleep and light. I've traversed Regensburg's many alleyways and cobblestone corridors, shied under the dwarfing vaults of her cathedral ceilings. Marvelled at her people's youthfulness, vitality, and fashion, over cups of steaming macchiato. Visited the world's oldest brewery at the kloster (monastery) on the curving Danube. Drank prosecco in the Bismarkplatz listening to children speak a langugage I cannot. Visited the hall of the gods with its busts of Kant, Goethe, Bach, and Schiller. Listened to covers of English pop songs over Guiness in an Irish pub. Caught up and reminisced about an experience on a ship in the Atlantic, seemingly long ago, but still burnt on our memories like the touch of hot iron.
And the sun is a lazy September coal, drying the sunflowers, and coaxing my skin to glow.
Saturday, September 09, 2006
it seems as if i've switched, in the last few entries, to titles beginning with lower-case letters. maybe i'm feeling as though what i have to say lately is less important. maybe it's a confidence thing. maybe it's an aesthetic thing, but i've noticed that more and more people are jumping on this anti-capital bandwagon.
and then i thought, maybe it's a poet thing.
yeah, that could be it, because it's so much prettier to write poetry that fits along a single line and doesn't just out into the white space above, exerting itself like some kind of primadonna.
so there i go, reading into things that probably don't matter much at all, in the wide scope of things. but that is writing, that is criticism, and that is poetry. without them we would be stuck in the present. trapped in the constant momentum of doingdoingdoing. never stopping to ponder. never possessing the ability to look back. never wrapping our fingers, sticky with the present, around the world whizzing past us.
Wednesday, September 06, 2006
A week and a half into my continent-trotting parade, and I have seen many states that look exactly the same as the provinces north of them. I have seen many freeways, the bloodveins of a restless nation, where people drive too fast and where there are too many greasy roadside distractions. Another week and a half and I’ll be looking out upon more of this state, from the window of a bus where I’ll sit, alone, in motion. Another week and a half and I’ll be heading towards
Prose that slowly burns off its skins of usefulness, exposing the raw stuff of beauty
that lies embedded in the poetry’s subtle gestures.
This is how we live; observing, accomplishing tasks,
carrying out our various modes of survival.
All the while pushing for the thing that makes it all worth carrying on at all.
The thing that for many of us is nameless, but stronger and louder than
anything we’ve heretofore been able to name.
Poetry, force your way through the mundane flurry of words I write.
Redeem this language. Brighten this day. Amen.
Friday, August 11, 2006
Poetry inspired by rainy days. Photos from here and there. Preaching about good music and bad theology (both in my opinion, of course). Turns out the purpose of this blog has outgrown its original hat: as an update about "the Vancouver chapter" of my life. Yeah, it's become a bit of a catch-all. A little scattered, perhaps. Lacking focus, maybe. Eclecticism might be prettier as a decorating style than a writing one. Eclectic is one of those words that is so satisfying to feel in your mouth. Like a particularly cripsy piece of tempura, or perfectly roasted nut.
I'm slowly inching my way toward writer-dom, with the excitement of the month being my first internship! As a writer, this is pretty big news. Cahoots Magazine is a Canadian women's magazine focussed on art, politics, and womens' issues. I'll be compiling events, dates, and news from women across the country for a calendar. Harper's here I come! (ha ha)
I don't have much to say tonight,
either than that I've been staying up far too late
ripping duct tape with my teeth to tie around cardboard boxes
of journals and essays, coin collections and stuffed sheep.
No, not so much to say, but the knowledge of an early morning arising
to meet me, where I will be living again between lives
on the periphery, where interstates meet fields of sunflowers
and I go to greet another home.
Tonight is silent, as the grass at midnight
as the tomatoes clutching the sun's old rays
turning them to red flesh.
Tonight holds the summer and all its warmth,
words, ashes, cut grass, distance
we travelled to meet the day we will call new.
Thursday, August 03, 2006
The other night I was out for drinks, and someone said that they couldn't stand religious people. It never really became a serious conversation, and there were guffaws and light-heartedness. Still, my heart quickened and my blood seemed to thicken, a reaction common in me when met by attitudes that I strongly oppose. I felt the poles of passion and reason magnetize strongly. Of course I can deal with hearing things I don't agree with. Of course I can try to see the other person's perspective. But first I had to let that wave of instinctive anger sweep over me. Then I took my little teaspoon of anger, and tried to imagine how this person felt every time he was confronted with such "religiosity." And I was reminded of something.
Anger often surfaces as a reaction to injustice. That is why I think the first tremours of anger are good--they render us moral and alive. If it's been a long time since I got really angry, maybe I should be worried. So in a way, this person's anger was a wake-up call. Maybe it wasn't anger I felt at all. Maybe I understood exactly what he meant, and hated it too. Maybe I wanted to change his mind but knew what a feat that would be to even attempt. Maybe I just wanted him to meet one single solitary person who could move him an inch from his hatred.
All I could manage was a calm, "so how do you define 'religious?' " To which I didn't really get an answer. Then the conversation slipped away down the eavestroph of forgotten words, and something else replaced it. Religion says very little about God. Religions says more about us and our inadequacies. It is the way we reach towards something more beautiful and more true and we are. We can find God in it, but we must be very, very careful not to get in the way.
My fingers tingled and I longed to show him a glimpse of what it is like to be persued by God. My heart thudded and I feared all that conspires to try to show me the allure of running away.
Wednesday, July 19, 2006
I took the "Make Poverty History" advertisement off my blog. In my latest copy of Geez I read about a new one: Make Affluence History. It's funny how a simply parody can open your eyes. Mass assumption: less is bad, more is good.
Speaking of more, what do changes in your surroundings do to you? I am housesitting a type of house I am not accustomed to. Sometimes it is like wearing someone else's clothes. I am very far away from downtown. I have two options: spending my savings on gas, or putting in long days in the (bike) saddle.
Speaking of bikes, I just got my first two (significant) articles published in Momentum: a Vancouver cycling magazine. I'm feeling like a tire: pretty pumped. (If I still have readers after that double serving of cheese, thanks be to God!)
Speaking of readers. I think I'm almost over the fact that I don't get very many comments on this thing. I'm more thankful in fact for the verbal feedback. I've been at two gatherings lately where people have come up to me and told me how much they enjoy it. It's nice to be able to see their eyes and not just their words.
Speaking of words, I just finished my first Iris Murdoch book. I am wondering if the next book I choose will be about betrayal. This has been a random, unexpected trend. My last--The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and this one The Sacred and Profane Love Machine both have been.
Speaking of Love: I think I might be getting it this time.
Wednesday, July 12, 2006
Every year the Winnipeg Folk Festival feels a little more like home. I think it's safe to say that I look forward to this event more than Christmas, and with so many old friends on the rollicking bandwagon, it feels just as festive. This year I dragged Mark out for his first festival, and was he ever a trooper! We volunteered on the Admin crew,-- a nice change from the sweatin' buckets of La Cuisine. ("Is the granola done yet Jen?" "I don't know, it's +40, do we really need to bake it?") This time around we had fans, and no ovens. Just paperwork.
For some reason I didn't take many pictures. I guess I'm just getting used to the weekend so much that it doesn't seem like a novelty anymore. I think when something becomes so familiar, it acquires that "homey" feeling I opened with.
This year I wasn't running around like a stress case, trying to catch all of the amazing acts I wanted to see. I felt generally more relaxed. And proud--proud that all those people were drowning their city sorrows with the soothing strains of music--right in our own prairie backyard.
I saw a shooting star. I cried tears of bliss at a concert where Ruthie Foster sang a song for her deceased "big momma." I cried tears of laughter at one of T.O.F.U.'s lyrical extravaganzas. I saw old favourites like Hawksley and Greg MacPherson, jumped around to K'Naan (a Somali-born rapper) and Flook (Folk Fest's token Irish party band), and marvelled at Inuit throat singer Tagaq's brave mainstage performance. I settled underneath a tree to hear Crooked Still belt out their revved-up but honey-sweet bluegrass. I talked to James Keelaghan, and he sounds as pretty as he sings. On Sunday night we took in an art-infused performance by Christine Fellows and company, and then retired to the sounds of Bruce Cockburn's twilight kissed finger-picking. I went home with a Neko Case shirt, a $4 piece of art from an art vending-machine, and more Folk Fest memories to last me until next July.
The pictures below are as follows: Mark and I, me harassing my little brother, and a shot of the duct-tape cuffs Mark and I handcrafted while on a slow Admin shift. Think we should go into business anyone?
Monday, June 26, 2006
Harry Lehotsky is a Baptist minister and rabble-rouser in the core of Winnipeg's downtown. In the last few months, he has been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His legacy is long, though his life sentence is short. I have worked off and on at one of his church's ministries, the Ellice Cafe and Theatre, and have been privileged enough to see a true servant at work.
Tonight I went to "A Big Harry Night of Fun," a fundraiser put on by the West End Biz. The money raised will be put towards a new mural that will be added to the neighbourhood's increasingly colourful streets. There were speeches, dancing, tributes, and sermonettes. My favourite part of the evening (besides all the donated baking and a reference to the Cafe as "Le Hot Spot") was when Joan Hay, an aboriginal community activist, got up to speak and pray.
Her prayer was a simple, conversational, ground-level statement of gratitude. It went something a little like this:
I am not waiting for You to answer all my questions or fix my problems: I am thanking You right now.
I am not holding out for change or for things to suddenly turn better: I am thanking You right now.
I am not waiting until I get that job or achieve that goal or become who I want to be: I am thanking You right now.
I am not waiting until I've made sense of my past and put things in order so that I may understand: I am thanking You right now.
How often do I think of prayer as some magical wand or worse--vending machine? Prayer is talking to God, in spite of what might come of it. In Gord Downie's words, it is looking up to the sky above and saying "Hey Man, thanks." Pretty simple, and I like it. When we cease to be grateful, we are blinded to what God is doing in our lives.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
The cloak of familiarity is heavy
my shoulders droop
with its weight and warmth.
Every turn the old haunts,
faces I know or recognize
and have forgotten (me).
At a bright cafe on the corner of the dusty intersection
of Ellice and Sherbrook
I am mopping floors again.
Not forgotten: Re-placed.
I can't find you, Great Prairie City.
Isolated, plain, caracature of ice and fire.
I am lost among thousands of my own footprints.
I trace my nostalgia in yours.
Shoes, frames, books, sweaters, receipts.
Pawn shops a testament to our constant "too much."
I am back and I am dragging my feet.
finding my place,
Trying not to be afraid in a house too big for one.
The skin of the places I've been is peeling from my heels.
There is movement latent in my bones.
Orbit and Axis meet in a confused dance.
For now I'll just keep sending out homing devices
like Noah's dove
hoping for a handful of soil from the solid earth I've heard so much about.
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Now that I've succeeded in surprising a sufficient number of people in my life, I'm ready to show the world my first tattoo! After years of journal-sketches and toggling back and forth between images, I decided on a compass rose, the beautiful symbol found on old nautical maps. (Thanks to Mike at Stark Raving Tattoo in Victoria for his beautiful work!)
This new mark on my body symbolizes the two poles I often find myself struggling between: home and travel, stasis and momentum, permanency and adventure. The prophet Isaiah said "Whether you turn to the right or to the left you will hear a voice behind you saying: This is the way, walk in it." That kind of faith--found somehow in even the seemingly random wanderings--has always given me a sense of direction that is more comforting that latitudes and longitudes.
I might lose my way again. I might make new trails that branch off of the ones others think I should be on. I might fall, I might follow the wrong star. I might wander, but as Tolkien says, I will not neccessarily be lost. Something will always point me Home. Some wind will always push me, sometimes gently and sometimes not, towards my own True North.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
. . . Neko Case kept crooning. This girl is my current favourite vocalist. She has a voice that
barrelled down into the Gorge behind her, and continued to fight the hailstones that had started to pelt her 1 minute into Star Witness. Graciously passing the coat offered her to her backup singer, Neko kept singing, as if conversing with the antagonist sky. She raised a hand to the clouds, as if in a humble offering of mortality. It was only when it was truly impossible and dangerous to continue that Neko surrendered along with her fans--huddled together under tarps and umbrellas on rugged prairie above the Columbia River. Thus, hers was the most memorable performance of the weekend for me, and if she wasn't on the bill for the Winnipeg Folk Festival this July, I would be very sad to have missed her.
Besides contracting some kind of strange stomach plague, my first Sasquatch Music Festival was a success. It was my first outdoor festival of the rock genre, and a few highlights stand out besides Neko's war with the weather gods: 1) I actually enjoyed Nine Inch Nails' performance (it was like full-body massage set to lightning). 2) I realized how much geography can interact with music: there was something about Iron and Wine's feverish back-porch folk that was heightened by the desert stretching out around him. 3) Sufjan Stevens is a really nice guy (yes folks, I talked to him!!!) 4) I'm not sick of seeing the Hip live and they sorta do make me feel proud to be Canadian, even though Gord Downie is an eccentric lad, 5) live music knows no comparison and has not, cannot, will not ever get old for me.
Favourite Musical moments: Mercir's electronic version of Sufjan's Chicago, The Flaming Lips' s sing-a-long rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody, Beck's "Puppetron" (marionettes made of his entire band, acting out the entire performance), discovering Laura Veirs and the Headphones, Ben Harper's energetic delivery of With my own two hands, and waking up from a mid-evening doze to Death Cab for Cutie's I will follow you into the dark.
Being surrounded for 12 hours by such great music often has a saturating effect on me. That's why I appreciate the Winnipeg Folk Festival's approach so much more, there's more to do, and you can return to your campsite (yes, Sasquatch has a "no re-entry" policy, which is awful in my books). Despite all of the amazing music, I started to feel numb sometime Sunday afternoon. You almost need a break, in order to let your ears get hungry again.
That said, I wouldn't trade this weekend's experience for the world. But I might for a settled stomach . . . for more pics, click here.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
I am afraid it's been so long that I wrote here, that whatever faithful audience I had has stopped reading. Oh well, that wouldn't be the end of the world, only if blogs were worlds. Parallel universes and such. A possibility, I suppose.
My trip is over. I am now an unemployed, vagabond drifter, no longer a traveller "proper," as a loaded touring bike helped testify to. Two days now in Vancouver. Two in Washington for this, a few more days in Vancouver, and then . . . home? Ah yes. Home is that little brown bungalow in Oakbank that is now up for sale. Home is a brick house in Wolseley, stained with memories. Home is a sunroom on Beverley Street. Home is the back room of the old Banff Post Office. Home is this apartment. Home is my tent pitched on a grassy knole. Home will be many more things, too.
If my soul were a compass, I feel like it would still be wavering, still trying to find true North. Like all the peaks I climbed during my summer in the Rockies, we'd round a bend, striving for the peak, and then the true peak would emerge, far off in the distance and luring us further with its increased altitude. How much of life is like this, "a striving and a striving and an ending in nothing," as Olive Schreiner says in one of my favourite novels. But yet this is not dismal, it is not empty. That our strivings end not in our own great worth, but that our worth was and is there anyway and all along, is of great consolation to me. But I'd still like to find North. And if not, South or West or East would do, too.
It's good to be back to my virtual home. There is still room for rambling . . . have no fear! And if I'm only talking to myself and my few relentless readers, that is fine by me.
Saturday, April 29, 2006
Malani and I climbed Grouse Mountain this afternoon, affectionately referred to by Vancouverites as "the Grind." I did this not only for some cross-training for next week's "launch of the grand tour," but for some good fun and sense of accomplishment. Our efforts were almost thwarted before even beginning, as the trail is still officially closed to the public. Being the deviant, mischievious lassies that we are, we found our way off the well-trodden path.
As for the hike, it's a gruelling 1 hour natural staircase; a good workout but not a great natural experience. If you like beer, food, tourists and gondolas waiting at the top, this hike is for you. If you like scenery more diverse than treetreetreetreetree (don't get me wrong, I like the trees, but), then you might want to look elsewhere. For some reason today it struck me as ridiculous, this fencing and developing of natural space that belongs to all of us. Being told I couldn't climb a mountain was like being told I couldn't breathe, because someone owned that air. More and more as the day went on, as I rode in seabuses and gondolas, I pined for an unmediated nature. Solitude and silence, not the smell of gasoline and the tinkling of coins in cash registers where only hawks should be.
The rhythm of my step, step, steps lulled me into a calm acceptance that my time here is done. The view from the top brought me a sense of wholeness, as if seeing the city from on high allowed me to move beyond it. I felt like a little girl again, learning perspective and proportion by looking at a large object from a distance and "measuring" it with my fingers: Wow, Vancouver is only 2 inches wide. I could hold it in my hand. I could blow it away like a dandelion seed. I could put it in my shoe and carry it with me.
The day of departure is approaching, and excitement has elbowed nostalgia out of the way. I know she will come though, revealing herself in future whiffs and memories of these past 8 months. "I'm glad you came to Vancouver with me," she said. I'm glad it was here for me to come to.
These last days have held many beautiful moments. The scent of the cherry blossoms is like roasted honey, and I cannot leave my apartment or open the window without wanting to drink the air. Outings with friends. Long, lingering afternoons. Ignoring "what needs to be done."
I just returned from an evening with friends. People I've known for only a short time. They are like frayed ropes I want to singe together with the flame of time. I wish my bike could carry it all. But I know better. Wanderlust travels light.
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
I write, and in my writing is both truth-making and lie telling.
Fiction: to fabricate. To weave, to make up. To lie, with a willing audience.
To find truth through the portals of the false.
Why do I write? Why do I publish it for all to see, in this way?
Maybe because I want to be known. Maybe because I want to be trusted. Maybe because you’ve chosen to trust me.
Choosing to trust is possibly the most important decision we will make in our entire life. It renders us smaller, more incomplete, and a hell of a lot more vulnerable. Choosing trust makes skies possible when we live in a world of beginnings and endings.
I was at a wedding on Saturday night and sat with strangers. Strangers have a way of making a night magical. Beginning in anonymity and ending in a finale of future familiar faces. They were curious about me, why I liked to blog, why I blog at all. I proceeded to convince them that it’s not blogging. It’s writing. Actual, real live writing. Just in a different form. We talked about how it is like permissible voyeurism. We talked about how people try to communicate via their blogs, and whether or not that is a good thing or just a neutral bi-product of our technological age. Somehow it seems cheap or stifled to say things this way that you wouldn’t say straight to someone’s face. As in all our most impassioned declarations of the baseness of people in general, I am probably guilty of this too. I’m just glad that I have no major vendettas right now. It’s just these musings, and my new bike blog.
We throw these words to nowhere, not to be caught by pages or clasped in boxes . . .
Where will these pixels find their beauty, how will they be remembered if not bound?
I left a message to the future
Call it futile, call it vain
Call it tryin’ to cheat the hangman
Call it ego, call it aim
Left a message to the future
Maybe they’ll find it, maybe not
Past is past, past is present
Tomorrow's when it’s all and gone (-James Keelaghan)
Maybe this is all just trying to leave messages to the future. Trying to do justice to our epic lives, to our sense of being special, being set apart.In a conversation today about the psychology of journaling, a friend suggested that this writing business is really us just wanting to write ourselves into our own story. This seems plausible to me. Surrounding ourselves with those who can tell us who we are. Building up that edifice with words generated from the chaos of our experience. And on and on and on.
Saturday, April 22, 2006
It's flashy, it's the latest, it's Jen's New Bike-a-licious Blog!
Since I'm about to embark on a wee bit of a solo adventure, I thought heck, why not start a blog about it? (Beware: This public-sharing-of- the-processes-of-your-thoughts business can be addictive.)
I will be documenting my antics periodically over the course of my trip (Hopefully more than once, depending on Internet availability on the Island and yours truly's desire to look at a screen instead of the majestic Pacific waters) at A Turn of the Wheel.
So for those of you for whom there's been insufficient "action" on this here blog, check out the new one, rollin' in to a browser near you.
Friday, April 21, 2006
This is a beautiful song accompanied by a beautiful video. I wanted to share it with all of you, because it seems to be a celebration of simple love; like a child's love for teeter-tottering, which makes you feel a bit more like a bird, the jumping of your insides that take you a little closer to heaven.
"If she sees me on her way, Hallelujah, then forever in love we'll stay, Hallelujah. When she meets me with her tears, Hallelujah, I will give to her all my years. I won't shush her when she whines, Hallelujah, I won't ditch when trouble finds, Hallelujah."
The background is mountainous and moonlit, which gets me even more excited for my cycle-tour to Vancouver Island.
Thanks to Ben for introducing me to this website, where there are some fantastic videos of Sigur Ros, (as close as you can get to live!) Feist, (very cute video) and others. Here's to music videos on blogs, and discovering bands like Viking Moses!
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
I read two friends' posts today. One inspired me to think about how we go about this business of understanding ourselves; self-interpretation, as it were. The other got me thinking about the little closed-circuit language systems of specialists in various disciplines. Academic jargon, discourse, elitism, and all that. And then I started thinking about how these two activities are similar. . .
The first friend wrote "I wish I could get to the point of understanding myself without requiring constant interpretation. Then again, sometimes I think we all know ourselves, we just choose to confuse ourselves because we don't like the conclusions we arrive at." How true is this! Is the truth of the self really so dark and unfathomable, as we so often think? And why does this notion seem to correspond more with youth? The second friend wrote about how the language of specialists (ie: philosophy, medicine, music, anything) can exclude people from contributing to and understanding valuable things. He wrote about not wanting to get lost in language so that it would inhibit his ability to create. He wrote about how creating is part of being human, a notion reminiscent of Tolkien and the Inklings' idea of "co-creation," that our human creativity is part of creating alongside God. Maybe his feeling of the way that discourse tends to obscure is the same feeling that we have when we start trying to label ourselves with all kinds of "I am this's and I am that's." It's the fine line between language used for communicating and understanding, and language in the service of silencing and abusing.
So here we are trying to understand ourselves. Trying with . . . language. Maybe the key is in the creating. Maybe we spend our lives learning our own language, hearing ourselves spoken back to us. Maybe the "constant interpretation" is what we need to weed out the lies we've been told or come to believe; maybe the act of interpretation itself IS the ongoing creation of the self. Maybe we like to confuse ourselves because we tend to prefer darkness to light. And I'm not the first to say that.
I am honoured to know such brilliant people. People who make me think about real things. Now everyone should go read some Woolf.
"It was not knowledge but unity that she desired, not inscriptions on tablets, nothing that could be written in any language known to men, but intimacy itself, which is knowledge . . ." -Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse.
"It is curious how instinctively one protects the image of oneself from idolatry or any other handling that could make it ridiculous, or too unlike the original to be believed any longer." -Virginia Woolf. The Mark on the Wall.
Monday, April 17, 2006
The ocean has delivered unto us another winter. A cold snap to accompany Eastertide; winds and rain thwarting the coming of spring, slowing the blood that should rush more quickly in our veins, sun-powered. Here on the coast, we wait in shivering expectation. I am sad this year that I did not usher in the Easter celebration with the preparation of Holy Week. I meant to go to church on Good Friday. I meant to go on Saturday too. I meant to fast from something. I got called in to work.
On Thursday night I got together with friends. We talked about sin. One of the funniest quotes of the night was "if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, what's the road to heaven paved with?" Someone said "beer." It was meant as a joke, but the laughter that followed was of the kind that only familiarity can breed.
Yesterday morning I was able to celebrate Easter at Christ Church Cathedral here in Vancouver, on the corner of Georgia and Burrard. I've never witnessed the ritual of smoking the altar, but it was strange and beautiful. When I finally fell asleep last night, the smell of sandalwood and cedar was still in my hair, and the voices of hundreds pushed wildly against the walls of my heart. The beauty of the higher churches, the ritual gatherings of Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox and some Anglicans, somehow seems more appropriate for the intensity of the Easter celebration. Yesterday I participated in something that liturgy uniquely gives: the sense of glory, carefully prepared for, meticulously ordered and beautifully executed.
I wrote this on Good Friday. I was going to publish it but I didn't have time. So here it is:
What is this day, this week, this Christian life without community? I find myself wanting it, craving the presence of others, craving it bodily and reaching out for it in my soul. Today is a still day, a sombre day, a day where death bleeds into possibility and destruction is overlaid with hope. It is too hard, alone, walking down the streets, drinking coffee even among friends. I come home, and without a Bible (I sent it home as I'm leaving here in 2 weeks) turn to the Internet for the Easter readings. Somehow it just isn't the same. I was going to go to church tonight but got offered an extra shift. Sigh. I start thinking in deal-makings (always the mark of slipping into piety, into thinking we're so Godly, into thinking we've evaded the need for God), "I'll go tomorrow." "I'll go Sunday morning too." The deals aren't really with God, I don't think, but more with myself.
I want to hear a good sermon. I want to hear in a choir the vastness of grace resounding and the relentlessness of life breaking through.
After last night's talk about sin, it is interesting to consider today, this very day, as the day that it was rendered powerless over our spiritual destiny or existence. We concluded that not everyone calls it "sin," and that other faith traditions and religions have their own words for the concept: Immoral, unethical, wrong, bad, tragic, disastrous. "Sin" is loaded with religious connotations, and somehow it's helpful to strip it of that and see it in other lights.
Is sin the possibility for wrongdoing? Is it guilt? Miscommunication, misguided intention, or simply the possibility that exists for us to fail? I heard once that it means "missing the mark." Well, that could be said of a whole lot of things.
How was Jesus "without sin?" Was it that he was born of some other substance, the substance of Divinity. It's not that he did nothing bad, for we know that he "grew in wisdom and stature," and growth is usually messy. He riled up religious leaders. He was a shit-disturber, and an agitator. He said things he shouldn't have, and was looked down on by many. He was sinless, but he wasn't safe. He was sinless, but he did things people called wrong.
Last night someone made a comment that made us all laugh. "I honestly thought I had never sinned until I was 10 or 11. I thought I was somehow different, that I had missed out on something, that I was special and sinless. I was a good kid!" This feeling testifies to the way we are taught about sin. That it is one-dimensional. So purely moral. What about the sin of bad lighting, as someone said jokingly. The sins of ugliness? Sin touches more areas of our existence than simply our behaviour. It is non-response. It is unwittingly participating in unjust economic systems. It is institutional and corporate as much as it is personal.
All I know is that the journey of Easter meant, or begun to mean, a whole lot more to me when sin exploded its tired vestiges. Sin is the possibility to screw up. The possbility to wound and be wounded, to misunderstand where we sought to learn, and to tear down where we sought to build. Christ was infused with holiness and perfection, and all the flickers of things gone right. He was a hybrid of God and (hu)man, and by simply existing, let alone dying, cross-bred our depravity with glory.
We may be tired of the story, or we may not get it at all. We may be confused at what actually took place in his body, emptied of life so many years ago. We may not really understand the hopelessness of the world, being so surrounded by the incessant laughter of a culture hopped up on pop music, fake tans and colgate smiles. But we recognize this weekend, held in Spring's cupped green palm, that everything will be fine.
"The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." - the prophet Isaiah
"Beauty itself is the fruit of the Creator's exuberance that grew such a tangle, and the grotesques and horrors bloom from that same free growth, that intricate scramble and twine up and down the conditions of time. This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over." - Annie Dillard
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Awhile ago, while purusing greeting cards in the shops along 4th Ave, I came across one that has stuck with me. It read: "It's easy to fall in love, the hard part is finding someone to catch you." I'm not even sure who said it. It makes me think of falling in love, and its connotations of random, uncontrolled impulses. It makes me think of choice versus intuition. It makes me think of how the feeling of love relates to the actions of lov-ing.
It also makes me think of J.D. Salinger's notion of catching, in his benchmark novel of lost innocence "Catcher in the Rye." In the main character's most memorable speeech, he states that all he wants to do with his life is be the one who catches the children who fall off the unseen cliffs of innocence, unawares.
Maybe in this business of love we are like children, running and running in fields of rye, pushing through the rising stalks to be startled and delighted, to be frightened and tripped up. What if love were not the field at all, or those we met there, but at the bottom of some cliff we never saw, amidst all that enchantment. For so long I thought that love would be what I met in those fields. One who would chase me, and run along with me. One who would make me feel like I owned all that rye. One who would lift me up to see beyond the field to gently curved horizons.
When the cliff came, I realized that maybe love is in the catching.
(And I hope that was the real cliff and not a practice round.)
Monday, April 10, 2006
I could have walked for hours today. There was nothing but the present. Nothing but the black iron twisting above us and the spilled coffee like milk-brown rivulets beneath our chairs.
Nothing but the sounds of other worlds where there is no time at all. Timelessness is always a character on such days. Or, the feeling of there somehow being no time within Time, if that is at all possible. I walked, with you beside me, through the molasses air, carried on wet woolen feet. What if I had been alone then?
We had talked about Escher and then around the corner and there he was. We all have stories like these. Someone mentions something and your world suddenly seems filled with that thing. What greater power parades in these these coincidences, chance or that wider one, awareness? It would have been there anyway. It would have been there, but we would not have seen.
The car was covered with cherry blossoms when we left. I showed you the For Lease buildings and the cobblestone where every step was framed. I told you that I would teach you everything you know. We laughed. There were many times my tongue slipped, as if escaping for water. I remember something about the stars being God's daisy chain, and us being robots; of words sounding like echoes and feeling like cool stones in the mouth. There were many things I saw for the first time, like doors pushed open into alleys and hiddencouryards. "That was another country," she sings.
I had a very social weekend. There were gelato in flavours I never imagined (aloe vera, rice, lavendar, guiness, balsamic, garlic, pesto, chai), talking to a very good friend, salsa dancing and new friends, and a long afternoon meander around some of the city's most (in)famous locales. A meander that led long into the evening...
I haven't been writing much lately. But somehow I ended up with words on my arm. Did I say something worth remembering? Speech is ducking beneath thoughts, faster than a blade. It's nice when sound takes over the ephemeral for a moment. When these voices triumph and for a moment fill the blackness all our grasping leaves behind.
Wednesday, April 05, 2006
I wanted to share this painting, given to me by my friend Christyn Hall. She is a Vancouver-based artist who paints with make-up; nailpolish, mascara, eyeshadow, you name it. This piece is entitled (In)Dependent.
Because it's Lent I've been thinking a lot about materiality. All of my attempts at renunciation failed miserably, not so much for lack of intent as for lack of discipline. I've realized what dedication is required not only to acquire things (such as knowledge), but also to shed them as well. It is interesting that this time in the Christian calendar, this time of scarity and leanness, is the time where the natural world begins to swell and overflow with colour and abundance. As if the earth is mirroring the resurrection that is to come, in the Christian year. The cherry blossom-infused spring air gets into my skin. It crawls into my mouth and nostrils, filling my body, turning my blood pink.
The way God (or Spirit or Wholeness or Being or Mystery or whatever we choose to call Him/Her) chose to come to earth, via the body of a regular joe-carpenter, reveals some important things about this God. Ours is not purely a religion of spirit. Jesus was not blinked into existence. He worked wood and had cousins, he had a belly button, ate and drank, cut his feet on broken glass, and felt tears clear the dust from his face. Christ teaches us, among other moral and spiritual things, that our bodies matter. Our desires, our pain, and our ecstasy are the hands and breath and skin of God [him]self. We were made in the Image of an Invisible God. Look around you, God walks in the litter-strewn rocky paths of strangers. When we feed a stranger, we feed God. Maybe today God would've come as a dishwasher or construction worker. Perhaps, perhaps.
I think that Christians often let themselves get too weighed down with "spiritual" matters. "How's your relationship with God?" "Do you pray every day?" "How are you doing spiritually?" This is important of course, as we are so much more than just bodies. However, I tend to think that if we could learn to balance the spiritual with the material a little more, our planet and our time on this earth would be a whole lot more just. When we take the bread and the wine, we are reminded that God is substance, too. Church isn't just about blessings and prayers, it is about touching others, and about giving and receiving the physical nourishment of the substance of God. St. Paul said "In Him we live and move and have our Being." Our relationship with the Divine isn't (entirely) like our earthly relationships. It isn't simply a matter of "spending more time" with God. It is, I tend to think, as Annie Dillard writes, "all a matter of keeping our eyes open." And that can be hard enough.
One of my favourite novels, the Victorian Utopia, News from Nowhere, contains this quote:
"The spirit of our days was to delight in the life of the world; in an intense and overweening love of the very skin and surface of the earth on which man dwells." I want to learn to love the earth like this.
and a poem of mine:
I am etched on a thousand walls.
Memory, like cave-paintings, hieroglyphs,
flicker across oak thresholds and stuccoed ceilings.
Beauty is the soul's materialism;
silvering the edges around us.
My palm on the wall beside the bed,
Tunnels imagined, escape
or just plaster and wire
Walls like skin, cracking
from exposure to light,
breathing the constant breath
of heat and cool.
Friday, March 31, 2006
Today I found a poet's words on the street. A poet I studied years ago, but today, whose words made more sense than ever. I give you these words from Alfred Lord Tennyson's In Memorium. Just lying there, abandoned and dirty around the edges, perhaps lost in a moment of hurried frenzy. Why was I the one to notice them, to stumble upon them? I give you these words, words that have, undoubtedly, brought comfort to many others. Is this not the soul of poetry?
I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope,
And gather dust and chaff, and call
To what I feel is Lord of all,
And faintly trust the larger hope...
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds...
That which we dare invoke to bless;
Our dearest faith; our ghastliest doubt;
He, They, One, All; within, without;
The Power in darkness whom we guess--
...No, like a child in doubt and fear;
But that blind clamour made me wise;
Then was I as a child that cries,
But, crying, knows his father near;
And what I am beheld again
What is, and no man understands;
And out of darkness came the hands
That reach through nature, molding men.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson In Memorium
Monday, March 27, 2006
Found this little game on a friend's blog. After having entered various versions of my name, this is the definition I liked best. Ha, the advantage of being human, being able to choose thine own definition. Poor words, they have to take whatever they're given...
Jennifer Anne Ward --
Like in nature to a kangaroo
'How will you be defined in the dictionary?' at QuizGalaxy.com
The title of this post is dedicated to none other than Mark Barber himself.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
I read on Al Daily tonight that someone has the opposite disorder as me, with my inveterate forgetfulness. A woman has been discovered who claims she can remember everything, in astonishing detail, down to the weather, day of the week, and events of random previous dates throughout history. I have often coveted this ability, or at least some scaled-down version of it. I begun to wonder what it would be like to live this way, neck-deep in the floods of past images, conversations and thoughts.
I am often frustrated at my lack of ability to recall learned data. I am sometimes left feeling like my education was a waste of time and money, yielding a vague set of proclivities and the rough sketch of character, but no actual, reliable, cold, hard facts. Why don't we come with instruction manuals? Fig. 1: How the memory card functions. For optimal performance . . . blah blah blah. Oh to hear a theory or notable historical figure referenced and not have to say "Yeah, I wrote a paper on that once." Which is to say: A previous me knew something substantial about that there thing. But if I've learned it, shouldn't it be in there somewhere? I just can't seem to get to know the little elf inside my head, the one with the the tag on his desk: RECALL DEPARTMENT. He runs around at will, dragging in things I thought I'd left stuck securely under my desk in grade four. He's a stubborn little bastard, refusing to comply when I want access to something of beauty or meaning, beckoning me from eight years ago . . .
But then I got to thinking, would I want to remember everything? My late grandfather had this compulsion for labelling. I think we still have a couple of those old labellers lying around our family cottage up in Gimil, with their thick orange-brown plastic and the companion letter puncher, leaving a white indent. He had everything labelled, from his clothing drawers, to every tool in the old shed, perfumed by the gas from the derelict mower. How was his memory, I wonder. But I do not remember anymore. I too have labelled my life, in meticulously-kept journals. (My beloved storage locker on Higgens Avenue can testify to this, bursting with words behind her plywood walls.) My years have been documented like my grandfather's things, and still, my memory suffers to find footholds. What makes us remember, what makes our memory serve us well?
Perhaps I should be more grateful for my selective memory. For the filter that keeps back the sludge of past hurts, old and stale regrets, dusty days and mangled intentions. But I think I could survive those, if only allowed past the NO TRESPASSING signs into all the good stuff, into the smell of the rolled-up slide show screen, and hot oil-popped popcorn on the stove.
I think I'd like to live one day with a case of this woman's hyperthymestic disorder.
Maybe I'd go crazy if I remembered everything. Maybe forgetfulness is a little fortress that's been built around my heart.
Friday, March 24, 2006
Some pictures I took last night at the Blarney Stone pub down on Carrall Street. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Madriatic Woods at their second only show ever. I was honored to witness an up-and-coming Vancouver band show off their stuff. Let me know what y'all think of my photo editing. The red-orange glow of the room just needed to be enhanced.
At the break, a few of us were standing outside the pub, when a street musician decided to grace our presence with his guitar and vocal stylings. He played "Whole Lotta Love" for us, his long black braids swaying around his face, contorted in an expression of pure passion, eyes closed, intent on creating something for us. It was like a downtown Eastside private concert, just him and us, standing there on one of the most long-abondoned corners in North America. His voice echoed longer than than Led Zep's own front man, and his soulful rendition was more moving than an old Negro spritual, sung as the backdrop to an escape from slavery, sung in protest of an alien, white version of Christianity.
Wherever that man ends up, I hope he keeps on singing.
The Madriatic Woods Back-up Divas
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
Sometimes I look back on previous versions of myself and pity those who knew them.
Most times while looking at current ones I wish I could see them from the outside.
Oftentimes I just wish there were a better word for sorry. One slightly more poignant, a little heavier on the tongue, a little less emptied out of meaning.
Posted by The Hippie Triathlete at 3:29 PM
Listening: I do dig a certain girl -- Devendra Banhart
I love music writing. Whether it be a particularly good review in Exclaim or Pitchfork, an overheard conversation, or a friend who can put someone's sound into perfect, provocative prose, I reminded how music and writing go together, like celery and peanut butter. (Ok, I won't quit my night job!)
I remember discovering the University of Manitoba's radio station, (while robotically labelling millions of tax returns, back when I worked at Revenue Canada) and being truly amazed at some of the DJs' abilities to reference, to ramble, to make their writing resonate with the same magic of the music itself. They were gods of some underground religion of coolness. They were the ones who saved me through that monotony, the ones who made the fluorescent lights and Transcona trash-talk somewhat tolerable. They later became my friends. It was through this radio station and other less-tuned-into ones that I discovered good music. To them and to others who have mentored and recommended and dragged me out to unforgettable shows, I am forever thankful.
One of the best compliments I've ever received is as follows: "Jen you are a musical lexicon." Thanks, David. For some reason it is really important to me, like good coffee and black Uniball pens, to have a consistent dose of new and live music in my audial diet.
When I come across a description of music, or a name for a new and emerging genre that fits better than a pair of old jeans, I am truly pleased. These moments are memorable, like when I read a review of Sigur Ros that used the term glacial post-rock. I still can't shed that shimmering image of what a glacier should sound like if it decided to sing the Magnificat. So when a friend with very good taste introduced me to Joanna Newsome, pictured above, I immediately resorted to the tantalizing task of celebrating her voice with words. My friend won, saying she sounded simultaneously like a very young girl and an old woman. I haven't heard enough yet to form my own witty opinions, but I came across the BBC's Collective Magazine's review, wherein I discovered Journalist David Keenan's term for a new genre: The New Weird America. And I love it. Devendra Banhart, another one of my recent discoveries, fits into this cave carved out by some of our era's most skillful songsters. The term is a call-back to the stylings of Old Weird
Music is like literature. Does calling it American (or Canadian or British) mean anything, other than that the writer calls that particular nation home? Does it have anything to do with content, style, or in this case, sound?
Last Thursday I had the opportunity to see Spirit of the West live. Though I don't listen to them much anymore, SOTW were instrumental in my musical formation. They were one of the first bands I saw live. They were one of the first "not-specifically Christian" bands whose lyrics and melodies seemed more full of glory and grace than any packaged Christian pop group's ever did. They opened their Commodore Ballroom show with Canadian Skye, a building, soaring ode to
Sometimes going to see a show is a better investment for me than buying the album, if the choice comes to that. What do all of you connoisseurs out there think?
Tomorrow I am going to see a friend’s band play. The last time I saw him he described his music as “Dracula Folk.” We’ll see if my neck gets good and bitten this time around. I’d better bring some garlic.
So here’s to all those struggling artists, to those impassioned collectives of soul and raw ability to articulate our most profound disappointments and hopes.
Sunday, March 19, 2006
The pictures seemed to go over well last time (hooray for you faithful commentors!) so I decided to throw some more on. I've recently purchased a digital camera and can now share a bit more of my life with all of you! (It also helped that I had a resident photographer visiting.) So here's a peek at how I spend my days out on the West Coast...
"There used to be a bridge here!"
even bikes need some lovin'
gazing out over False Creek
the gardens at UBC
Catching a downtown sunset
sitting on the driftwood
Breathing in the cedars
Well how did this one sneak in! Ok I promise, no more cheesy pictures. I couldn't resist, the composition on the left side was just so exquisite...
Sometimes just the presence of another person can be a vacation in itself, a time of rest, a time for renewal and a break from the regular patterns of our life. Sometimes you don't need exotic foods or a plane ticket, for another soul is enough to grab you by the wrists--as if you were a child swinging between grown-ups on a warm summer night's walk--and throw you to the sky. Monday faces me with promise and the gift of chosen solitude; with words to be written and plans to be settled. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once said that Sunday is the golden clasp that binds together the volume of the week. Mondays would then be the first few pages, possessing the power to set you on your course for the week, to reel you in or turn you off, to push you with gusts of possibility forward into all those days not yet lived. Enjoy it folks.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
because what I like to do the most,
is walk round English Bay with Mark
just before the world grows dark,
then waking to a rare clear west coast noon,
and later ski beneath the moon.
So all my time's been taken up-- and more
by candle light moments by the shore
and bike rides through the cherry trees.
So please re-join me soon to find,
more posts of a slightly different kind,
for until then you'll find me glad
to spend my days with this here lad!
Cheesy poetry by Jen