Saturday, April 29, 2006

and behind every tree was another goodbye

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

a message to the future

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

a new blog for the masses

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

Simply beautiful

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

deliver us from bad lighting

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

Cliffs and catchers

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

Sweetness follows

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;
innocent, honestly
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.
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