Wednesday, December 10, 2008

political opinions

I've been hesitant to blog about the latest political flurry that has swelled around Ottawa for the past couple of weeks. Not because I don't have opinions. But there is certainly no dearth of political opinions these days on the Internet, in newspapers, on the radio...

For anyone not living in Canada or with little interest in politics, our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, who was elected in October of this year with about 38% of the popular vote, essentially lost the confidence of the House of Parliament. Two opposition parties, with the support of the third, formed a coalition which threatened to bring down the government. Harper appealed to our Governor General (the Queen's representative) to prorogue government until January 26. To the relief of some, the dismay of others, she granted his request.

Like many others, I have been caught up in this political drama - one awash with discussions of constitutional rights, democratic ethics, and a revival of rhetoric of Quebec separatism. But what I'm realizing is that what makes my blood boil, makes others rejoice. What I celebrate, others scorn. Where I may be indifferent, others are up in arms. Unlike during any election campaign, I am becoming very aware of all of our differences.

Facebook, usually my source for light-hearted updates from friends far and wide, has revealed itself as another platform for political expression. I read friends expressing political opinions completely contradictory to my own and, I admit, I find this a little disconcerting. It's easy to say, 'let's just agree to disagree', but now that you know where I stand, and I know where you stand, will it be awkward next time we meet?

I rarely try to change people's opinions, and certainly not when it is against their will. I love debating with people of differing views when everyone honestly seeks to understand an issue and all are willing to put aside previously held views if a better option can be proved. But such debates rarely happen, especially not during heated moments such as the current political crisis.

This leaves me in a bit of a quandary. I believe in political expression - and have been ready to take to the streets - but I don't think my expressions will change anyone's entrenched opinions. But perhaps that isn't the point. Perhaps by expressing our views we hope to urge those who have not formed an opinion to do so (albeit preferably on 'our side') and more importantly, we want to tell our government that we are watching, and we do care.

If this is what democracy looks like, I guess it's pretty messy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Nation builders?

Continuing on the theme of my last blog... this Saturday the Globe and Mail ran an editorial about nation builders. Apparently each year the paper solicits nominations of "those among us who have made a special contribution to Canada as a nation".

Past nominees seem to be rather in line with the Globe's reader demographics - i.e. banker philanthropist Don Johnson, politician Ed Broadbent and Mike Lazaridis, the blackberry guy. Others are people known for their bravery or courage under fire, the likes of Maher Arar, paraolympian Chantal Petitclerc and an Armed Forces sergeant.

But what is a nation builder? One could argue that a man who invented a device that has changed the speed at which business and politics are conducted, a device that seems a necessity for anybody who's anybody in Ottawa, has certainly influenced Canada or least Canadian way of life. But does that make him a nation builder?

This has got me wondering about what makes a national hero, or even a personal one. The people who I have admired and who inspire me are rarely public figures. They are friends or acquaintances who have touched me with their generosity and wisdom. They have qualities I admire and they have inspired me to give back, slow down or reach out... But I do not know if I would call any one of them my 'hero'.

I read once that one should seek out heroes. But that has always seemed like somewhat of a romantic notion. No one is perfect and I believe it is dangerous to put anyone on a pedestal. They higher we raise them, the farther they have to fall when we realize they, like all of us, are fallible.

So do I really want a hero? I'm not so sure. I still would like to see a political figure like Obama here in Canada - a person who inspires, challenges and raises people out of their apathy and political disillusionment. And I think it is good to recognize people who have made significant contributions to communities and nations, just as it is a good reminder to me to acknowledge the people in my own life who have taught and inspired me.

So while I can't say I agree with all of the Globe's nominated 'nation builders', I applaud the initiative. As a global recession looms and the papers are full of doom and predictions of failure, it was nice to read something which got me thinking about something a bit more positive.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

We need a Canadian Obama

We stayed up last night to watch Barack Obama's acceptance speech. Now I couldn't vote in that election and I don't live in the United States, but his speech, his monumental victory, brought tears to my eyes.

It may be hard to believe what politicians say, but Obama's rallying cry for change, for racial harmony and cooperation goes beyond politics. As the camera panned people's faces, you can see how is message is touching them, resonating with them, inspiring them.

In fact, watching the crowd of over 100,000 people in Chicago cheer and wave at their president-elect, I couldn't help thinking back to our recent Canadian election. The contrast between what was happening last night south of our border and what happened here last month is depressing.

I went to an all-candidates debate in my community. I watched our party leaders point fingers and snipe at each other on national television. I can't say I was ever inspired or moved even remotely close to tears. I can't remember if I stayed up to watch Harper's acceptance speech. If I did, it was obviously not that memorable.

When was the last time a Canadian politician, or even a widely-known public figure, inspired this nation? (Someone told me this morning that Pierre Trudeau had done that. I wish I'd been around to see it - but that was 40 years ago).

I know that Canadians don't tend to blow their own horns or shout out our patriotic pride. But perhaps it is time for a leader who does it for us. A leader who reminds us of our heroes and their legacies, great men like Lester B. Pearson, Tommy Douglas and Terry Fox.

Today I am celebrating with Americans and with people all around the world - celebrating an historic moment and what will hopefully be a catalyst for real change. But I am also hoping that we, as Canadians, will be inspired to consider ways that we can change as a nation and ways that we can find pride in our country, in each other and in our history. That we will ask of our politicians to do more than stick to the party line and argue about tax cuts or municipal infrastructure. Like Obama has done for Americans throughout this campaign, I wish that our politicians would remind us of what it means to rally the power of democracy, to build upon the legacy of what we are most proud of, and to believe that together, real change is possible.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

in for the long stretch

So I heard back from Guinness regarding the current record for the longest scarf knitted by one person. It's worse than I'd thought.

"The longest knitted scarf is 3,463.73 m (11,363 ft 11 in; 2.15 miles) long and was completed after 23 years of knitting by Helge Johansen (Norway), in Oslo, Norway, on 10 November 2006."

23 years!!! I gotta hand it to Helge. I am impressed - and not a little daunted.

Also discouraging is that I have to start over - there are very few requirements for this record, but they do specify the size of the needle (4mm) - I was using 5 - and the number of stitches per row (66!) - I was using 33. Oddly, 66 stitches on a 4mm needles gave Helga a width of 7 inches - whereas I get 13. Not only will this scarf be ridiculously long, it is also unwearably wide. (I was hitting 7 inches width with my 33 stitches.)

So does anyone want a 30 foot scarf? As V and his sister demonstrate, it comfortably fits 2. Three if you want to be cozy.

I've started world longest scarf, take two. Annoying, each row takes take twice as long as it did with the previous model. Also - a lot of yarn I have already bought at Value Village is too bulky for this size of needles. Sigh.

I was keeping a log book of my knitting - but they don't seem to require anything like that. I don't even have to knit this continuously since they specify how lengths are to be sewn together. At least that solves the problem of portability - based on previous calculations, this 2+ mile scarf could weigh over 200 kgs!

Anyway you look at, this project just gets crazier as I go. In 23 years I will be 56 years old - either vaguely remembering that I once had a foolish ambition to knit the world's longest scarf, or perhaps measuring out my annual length and adding it up to see if I have yet beat Helge's record - this is of course assuming that in the meantime some other knitting maniac hasn't wasted her record - Guinness encourages me to check back in.

So I will be posting regular updates, charting my slow but hopefully steady process from a scarf that is now only a few inches over 2 feet to what will eventually be several feet over 2 miles.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

knitting update

I'm 3 months in to the monster scarf project. Just a quick update on my progress.

I seem to have established my average pace - which isn't as speedy as I would like. Did 49.5 inches this week - bringing me in at just over 17 feet.

It was suggested that I try stretching the scarf, which is a good idea and will likely give me a few more feet. It will mess up my log though - hopefully that won't matter in the long run.

I'm still waiting to get the official word from Guinness re: the record to beat and evidence to acquire. It would really suck if everything I've done to date doesn't count!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

the knitting continues

Even I have to laugh at myself for how ridiculous this project is - my ambitious ambition to make the world's longest scarf. And as you can see in the photo - V keeps rolling his eyes about it all. But he's a good sport - posing here to show that I have at least a scarf for 1 person.

After 2 weeks I have just over 13 feet of this multi-coloured scarf. I usually switch colours each time I pick it up since I am keeping a knitting log and this makes it easier to measure how much I did in each sitting. Sadly, my pace has actually slowed this week.

One reason is that I've got my nose to the grindstone with my master's thesis. Ever one for setting deadlines and targets, I've drafted up a tight timeline to get it done by Dec 15. It's doable, but just. Unfortunately I can't knit my arguments and lit reviews.

Still, every now and then it's nice to take a break from the computer and sit down with my knitting for a bit. My two favourite ways to clear my head and focus my thoughts are walking and knitting. I find that my mind often gets so busy and restless, I need to step back and sort my thoughts out. Walking, knitting or doing puzzles seems to occupy that restless or superficial part of my mind - giving me better access to the deeper levels. If I could ever master meditation I suppose I'd be able to transcend all levels of my mind, not just the superficial part. But for now, as I try to keep my mind clear for my thesis, knitting is my fix, my meditation. It's just because I'm a little crazy that I have to turn my meditation into a Guinness world record.

Monday, August 18, 2008

crazy ambition

I had a crazy idea last week. Watching the Olympics got me thinking about world records and I've always thought I'd like to try and make a Guinness World Record. I can't run, row or swim to make the kind of records being set now in Beijing. But there has to be something I can do.

I browsed around on GWR site and decided I would not beat the largest stamp mosaic (50.8 m²) or the 9.6 m tall sandcastle. I don't think I'll have the longest appendix removed - 26 cm or pull 187 tonnes of aircraft.

Then I got it - I can knit. I can knit the world's longest scarf.

GWR doesn't have this record on their site (I guess they want me to buy the book) but the internet tells me the world's longest scarf is 33.74 miles!! Um, maybe I need to rethink my project. But wait - this scarf, made as a benefit for Feed the Children, was stitched together from the knitting of over 2000 knitters. There has to be a different standard for a scarf knit by one person.

I can't be sure since I have not got official word on the record to beat - but one site had the world's longest scarf by one person, continuously knit at slightly over 1 kilometre - which is still crazy long, but doesn't seem impossible.

I began the process of applying to break a world record. First I had to register on the site, stating what record I would like to break. A few days later they sent me a detailed agreement and a claim number. I have to sign this agreement and fax it back to them. Within a couple of months I should hear back with details regarding the current record and what kind of evidence I will need to produce to claim to have beaten this.

I am a bit worried by all the talk of witnesses that is in the agreement. World records have to be witnessed by people with 'standing' in the community - such as police officers, judges, mayors or town councillors. But the man who may have the current world record took more than 4 years to do knit his scarf. I think it would be hard to find a justice of the peace to sit and watch me knit for 4 years.

I'm hoping they will accept some other proof that I was the one who knit this (pictures as I go?) - and that witnesses will only need to be brought in for the final measurement.

Even though I haven't got the official go-ahead from GWR, I cast on last Monday. This morning I measured my progress so far and have roughly 2.5 metres. If I was to simply meet his record, going at this pace it will take me about 400 weeks! If I want to significantly beat it (which of course I do) it will likely take a lot longer. I'm well off his pace (I'm looking at more than 7 years at this rate) - so I'm going to need to pick it up a bit. Good thing the Olympics are on - I knit faster when I'm watching a race. (The Amazing Race is a great show to knit to - I'm super speedy).

Once I have official confirmation, and I've knitted about to 500 metres, I will contact a local charity - the Ottawa Snowsuit Fund - and let them know that I will be doing this to raise money for them. I'm hoping I'll get some donated yarn and maybe even sponsorship as I go - and then after it is measured and witnessed, I will break it up into regular length scarves to sell as a fundraiser.

V keeps telling me I have no idea how long 1000 metres is. He may be right. I may be crazy. But as Confucius would say, "It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop."

Monday, August 11, 2008

summer gardens

I'm still fairly new to this whole gardening thing - seems it's either feast or famine with me. Flower beds overflow the borders as plants crowd each other out - or the plants struggle to fill their allotted space, looking spindly and forlorn.

But not one for admitting defeat, this spring, instead of just planting flowers, I put in a vegetable garden as well. And it will be a feast of tomatoes, zucchini and squash - while a famine in carrots, onions, peas and peppers.

Well, I'm learning as I go. Learning that 3 zucchini plants is more than enough - I now greet my neighbours with 'hello, would you like some zucchini?'

V and I are learning what to do with this feast of zuccs - yesterday he made a moist, dense zucc spice cake. We've also had grilled zuccs, zucc frittata, zuccs in tomato sauce, zuccs with couscous, zuccs in curry... and that was probably just last week.

I also have what seems like 100 tomatoes almost ripe on the vines - we're having a string of cool days and even cooler nights, so they seem to hanging there, unchanged, taunting me. I know when they do start to ripen we're going to be overloaded. 'Hello neighbour, how about some tomatoes?'

The one squash plant I put in has also gone crazy. A couple weekends ago V built a 9 ft frame for it to climb on since it was reaching around and strangling everything it could get its tendrils on - tomato vines, day lillies, zucc stems, raspberry bushes... We leaned the frame against the garage and I tore up an old pillowcase to make strips to attach the squash vines. Already the plant is climbing up and over its frame. Seems we might be up on the garage roof to harvest this fall.

So for all my inexperience, I'm seeing how forgiving gardens are. I may not have put things in the best location, or foreseen how much room each plant would need, but they seem willing to make do with what they've got, rewarding at least my effort. And I'm learning from my mistakes, seeing what works and what doesn't. V has already dug up more ground for an expanded garden next summer... but now I have to go, the zucchini muffins are ready to come out of the oven.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

weddings in India

V and I just got back from a trip to Bangalore. His parents generously flew us out there to attend two weddings - one on each side of the family.

I discovered that by Indian standards our wedding was a very simple, short affair. These weddings are lavish, colourful and stretch for days. There are poojas (religious ceremonies), weddings, dinners, lunches...

I had taken two sarees with me, figuring that would be fine for at least the first occasion. But I discovered women are expected to have about 3 to 5 different outfits - each event provides a new opportunity to show off your finery. Luckily my mother-in-law was there to dress me. Gracefully wrapping metres of cloth around your body is not as easy as it might look. Thank goodness for safety pins!

Most of the clothes I brought to India didn't even get worn. When we weren't at we weren't at weddings we were often visiting my in-laws - and most of these visits involved gifts of sarees or other traditional Indian clothes - from us (V's parents, V and me) to our hosts, and from our hosts to us. And of course there was shopping.

I love wandering through the busy market areas - flower and fruit vendors, shops selling spices, textiles, jewelry, sarees... V bought some fabric for pants and a shirt. A tailor came to the shop and took his measurements. Two days later he had a custom-fit pair of pants and a shirt to match. Hard to beat that.

We found a great store - fabindia - stocked with great cottage industry products. I could have happily bought up half the store, but settled for a great, bright bedspread and some fun pillow covers.

We were able to do a little bit of sight seeing. V and I visited a few temples and gardens in the city and we went on a day trip to the nearby city of Mysore with his parents. Visiting something which has been standing for centuries certainly puts history in perspective.

Our trip to Mysore - stopping at a bird sanctuary, the temple shown in the photo, and a large palace - was the only really touristy thing we did. One of the few times I saw other white folk. For me, this holiday was a strange combination of the foreign and familiar - I had never been to Bangalore before, but in so many things there were reminders of my childhood in Nepal. Also, since much of the time was spent with V's parents and relatives, much of our time was spent visiting in living rooms.

All in all, it was quite interesting, but I'm glad to be back home. My back injury flared up during the trip - aggravated by the long flight out, the hours spent on plastic chairs for wedding events and the back seats of cars stuck in the permanent traffic-jams of Bangalore city streets. And as much as I enjoy the discovery of travel, I'm stubbornly independent enough to want to follow my own agenda. This trip was not about our agendas - it was about family. And that, as anyone knows, has both its blessings and its challenges.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

an evening with Leonard Cohen

There were a few hours last night where I couldn't imagine being any happier. I was sitting in the middle of more than 2,000 people at Kitchener Centre on the Square, soaking in the raspy, growly, sultry voice of Leonard Cohen.

I hadn't been quite sure what to expect for what was billed as 'An evening with Leonard Cohen'. The man is in his 70s and this tour seems to have been fueled more by financial necessity than artistic passion. But if I had been expecting a performance that showcased his talents as a musician, poet and artist, that was backed up by fabulous musicians, and whose poetic poignancy brought tears to my eyes - I wouldn't have been disappointed.

He didn't need anyone to warm up the stage for him. There was no opening act or long, instrumental introduction. As the musicians took the stage, a slim, spry, man jogged to the centre, swept his hat off his grey head and bowed to an audience that leapt to its collective feet.

He said a few words, but seemed eager to start playing and rolled into 'Coming Back to You' then upped the tempo with 'The Future'... and then for the next three hours - including several generous encores - he swept through his repertoire, bringing us old favourites like 'Closing Time' or 'Suzanne', less-familiar tunes like 'The Gypsy's Wife', and some of his recent collaborations with Sharon Robinson like 'Boogie Street' from Ten New Songs.

Here I should say something about his tour band - for he certainly kept drawing our attention to them, sharing the credit. I had the feeling each member of the band could have put on a stellar solo show - like flamenco-style, bandurria-playing Javier Mas, the eclectically talented Dino Soldo or the beautiful vocalists Robinson and, as Cohen said, "the sublime Webb sisters". All together, they created this wide, full sound that swelled around the old man's gravelly voice.

When he sang "I was born with the gift of a golden voice" (Tower of Song), the audience laughed and applauded loudly. 'Golden' isn't quite the adjective most people would use. But what he lacks in vocal range, he more than makes up for with words.

In fact, when he sang 'Hallelujah' - perhaps one of his most covered songs - I was reminded what he has that the other don't. Rufus Wainwright and k.d. lang may be able to make their voices soar when they sing these achingly beautiful lyrics, but ultimately those lyrics are his. And last night he sang another, last verse I've never heard and it was like pulling back the curtain to reveal the master puppeteer.

His words, his lyrics, have a power that was tangible last night. Sure, we loved the melodies, the instrumental accompaniment - but it's his words that really move us. He might be grey-haired and aged, but when he sang 'if you want a lover' (I'm your man), women screamed and cheered to let him know that given the chance, many of us would gladly take him for a ride, walk with him a mile, or let him examine every inch of us.

I could go on about this. I'm still going over it in my head. But perhaps it might be best to let him have the last words. These are the words of what is one of my most favourite songs, words I often ground myself with - and when he sang them last night I felt so incredibly blessed to hear him sing them live.

Ring the bells that still can ring
forget your perfect offering
there is a crack, a crack in everything
that's how the light gets in

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

City chicks

The masses of snow in our back and front yards are finally melting - revealing dirty grass and dead, broken plants. This is good incentive to start planning what we can do with our back yard this spring.

I imagine colourful blossoms, lush tomatoes and pots of fragrant herbs. My husband imagines chickens.

It isn't just him. Apparently urban chicken raising is a growing trend - if blogs and websites are any indication (i.e. The City Chicken, The Urban Chicken Underground, How to Keep Chickens in a City and Urban Chickens). These sites are full of advice - such as, under things you'll need for collecting eggs, 'a shield and a little self-confidence if you're scared of birds'.

Unfortunately, it is illegal in Ottawa to raise chickens in backyards. According to BY-LAW NO. 2003 - 77, Respecting Animal Care and Control, section 74 (1) "No person shall keep livestock in any area of the City unless the area is zoned for that purpose or is lawfully used for that purpose." And yes, livestock includes "any domestic fowl (including chickens, geese, ducks, turkeys, guinea fowl, etc.)". I wonder how hard it would be to convince our city councillor to zone our backyard as livestock-appropriate.

Or we could be chicken rebels and raise illegal birds; bribe our neighbours into complicity with fresh eggs. I admit I like the idea of fresh eggs - and when it comes to getting your food locally, it's hard to get much more local than our own backyard.

Still, I can't say I'm sold on the vision of our back yard becoming a hen house. It might ruffle a too many feathers in the neighbourhood and bring some problems home to roost.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

turning out the lights

Last night people around the world powered down in a symbolic gesture of support for the environment.

WWF claims that Canada had one of the highest participation rates in the world - 150 cities - an estimated 55,000 people - participated in Earth Hour by turning off the lights between 8 and 9 p.m.

Ottawa symbolically got on board, with the Parliament Hill turning off all exterior lights (except a spotlight on the flag) - although Prime Minister Harper kept his lights burning at 24 Sussex (how surprising). At least our Governor General had Rideau Hall in darkness, as did Stéphane Dion at Stornoway.

Ottawa Hydro noted a 4% drop in energy consumption, compared with the same period last week. So while that's not huge, it is notable.

What has surprised me with Earth Hour is the backlash. A Facebook group calling themselves 'Waste electricity for Earth Hour' were just some of the reactionaries. Critics accuse Earth Hour of being a gimmick with no significant impact. ("Go to the bathroom with the lights on, bike to work" read one comment on an Earth Hour news story).

But Earth Hour organizers don't deny that this is symbolic. It is a gimmick, but market analysts agree that gimmicks are often effective to raise awareness. If anything, all the debate that Earth Hour has raised is a sign of it's success.

For my part, I don't think that our lights out for the night is enough to make us green - I'm more proud of our carbon-free Bullfrog powered home, our daily efforts to consciously tread softly on this earth. But I can thank the Earth Hour organizers for an excuse to have a cozy night in with my sweetie. I filled the living room with candles, cushions and flowers; V made a tasty dinner. We lounged in warm candlelight, talking and sipping wine long after the hour was up.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

stuck in bed

As of today, I've been three weeks in this bed. I can walk and stand for short periods, but am still unable to sit for more than a few minutes - although I think I managed about 20 on Saturday. I spend my days, evenings and nights on the bed, mostly lying on my belly since this relieves pressure on the herniated disc in my lower spine.

My world seems different when observed from bed. My possibilities for action are diminished - and yet I find myself plagued by the questions like, what kind of person am I? how will I be remembered? will I be remembered? am I contributing anything of significance to this world?

I'd prefer if the questions my mind came up with were more along the lines of - should I read another chapter or play a game of sudoko? I already have 5 books on the go, should I start a 6th? These are queries I can answer, or at least act upon.

To pass the time, I've been reading about Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Satre. V gave me a book of Beauvoir's letter's to Satre; from the library I borrowed Lettres au castor - his letters to her. To fill in the gaps in their correspondence, I'm reading Tête-à-tête, a biography of their relationship. Then I have Beauvoir's The Second Sex, which I've always meant to read and now have the time.

Perhaps it is reading about these two ambitious, driven individuals who were absolutely devoted to their careers as writers that has me wondering about my own posterity - although their relationship to each other and those around them is, while fascinating, is not exactly inspiring.

I like to read biographies and auto-biographies of people I respect - often writers and artists. What troubles me is that few of them have balanced or 'normal' lives. I used to want to be the troubled artist, writing in an attic hovel while smoking French cigarettes, chasing wine with strong, dark coffee. I flirted with that life for a few years, even realizing my dream of renting a room in Paris from which I huddled and wrote.

But that life never really worked for me. I was lonely. I was unpublished. I felt selfish and self-absorbed. And yet when I read about the lives of writers I feel that longing. When I am stuck in bed, that longing is compounded by a desire to do something, anything, more significant than reading about the exciting lives of others while watching my own drift by outside the bedroom door.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

injured. again.

It's 2 a.m. in the emergency ward at Ottawa's civic hospital. We've been waiting to see a doctor for almost 7 hours. The woman who was brought in with police escort, the woman who the ward had heard singing and shouting from behind the door of a private waiting room, has just pulled the fire alarm. The piercing blasts of an alarm designed to rouse the dead and heavily drugged is shrieking from and grid in the ceiling above my head.

Eventually the alarm is turned off. The firemen who appeared in full dress with equipment ready are sent back to their station. The regular noises of the urgent care ward can be heard again - patients being called, people coughing, staff chatting, phones ringing... I turn back to my book while trying to shield my eyes from the three bands of neon light which glare down at me.

V is a trooper. He's been with me all night. Has read a book cover to cover and is trying to get comfortable on the stiff plastic chair.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I'm injured again. I'm embarrassed to be back in a hospital, complaining of my pain to a busy and unimpressed doctor. What is it this time? In what new way is my body expressing its displeasure?

The doctor tells me brusquely that it's a herniated disc. As far as he's concerned these are a dime a dozen. Nothing new here; why are you wasting my time? He'll write me up an illegible prescription for anti-inflammatories and get a nurse to stick a needle in my arm to take the edge off. That at least is effective - within 10 minutes the place she jabbed me hurts more than my lower back.

So now, its the following evening and I'm lying in bed as I have been for the last five days. Half-propped up against the head rest, laptop on my stomach and thighs. I've managed to do some work this way. Can't let a little back pain stop me from researching a gender perspective on urban violence. Can't let the boredom creep up through the blankets and wrap around my shoulders, whisper in my ears. Can't let the anxiety steal in...

What really am I fighting?

I've got to admit I've been feeling pretty sorry for myself, been feeling pretty resentful toward this body of mine. Strange how our identity, our well-being is so tied up in something which sometimes seems to be so beyond our control. We may do our best to exercise, eat well, sleep right, listen... yet we can never fully control what happens in and to this flesh and blood. A car accident, an illness - or even nothing we can identify - and suddenly we don't seem to be in charge anymore. This thing, this being is calling the shots

I think of friends who have been injured far worse than I, who have illnesses that keep them in bed far longer than will a slipped disc. How does one learn to reconcile with the restrictions, the pain, the frustration of a body that is not what we think need it to be? What do I need my body to be?

My cat has climbed on to my chest. He at least seems to appreciate all this time I'm spending in bed. He's fallen asleep but there is still a faint purr to his breathing. His contented warmth is a reminder of something that needed remembering. I'm not in control of what happens around me - or what happens to me. What I can control is how much energy I spend it fighting and resenting it, or in accepting it. Accepting the burning in my back, the tingling in my feet - and warmth of this bed, the weight of my kitty and my body as teacher of humility and surrender.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

frustrated artist

If ever I've liked to imagine myself as an 'artist', it's been as a writer or poet. While I don't rate myself too highly as either, I've put most of my creative energy into writing. I've learned more or less what I can expect of myself, what I will be satisfied with, and how to make hard work pay off. But all this changed when I switched mediums.

Over the last couple of years my writing has been almost completely academic. I spend so much time at the computer writing papers and reports that even though I miss creative writing it's hard to want to spend a few more hours with the same tools. Perhaps this is why I've done so much knitting in the last few years - a frustration for lack of creative outlet. And while I consider knitting to be creative, it's hard to knit a masterpiece. There is some sense of satisfaction, but not quite the same pride.

Then for Christmas V gave me a choice of either cello or painting lessons. A new opportunity for a creative outlet. I chose painting and signed up for an intro class at the Ottawa School of Art. I wasn't expecting to become Van Gogh or Renoir, but I was looking forward to a new artistic medium.

Although the somewhat-deaf instructor is more interested reminiscing about painting holidays and talking about people who have admired his work, he does get us to paint things we might not have otherwise chosen - fake fruit, a snow-filled back yard, green glass bottles... and our selves.

When it came to the self-portrait, his only advice was 'get a mirror' (he's really not so big on instructing). So I got a book from the library and on the weekend sat down in front the mirror with the book, my canvas and paints, and struggled to put to canvas what was staring warily at me.

She and I squinted, frowned and grimaced at each other all weekend. I peered at the unevenness of her skin tone, the oddly long space between her nose and mouth... and could that be the beginning of jowls on her cheeks? Staring so closely at myself, and fighting with the paint, was more frustrating than creatively satisfying.

When I brought my painting to class the instructor said, "It looks like a battle has been fought." That was the most insightful thing I've heard him say yet.

In his opinion this 'battle' was successfully won. He thought the painting showed intelligence and diligence.

Maybe I just don't know how to take a compliment. Or maybe there is just a certain kind of compliment I want to hear: raw talent, artistic ability.

Diligence, skill in battle - those aren't exactly the characteristics of the artist I wish I was.

Monday, January 07, 2008

Winter in Ottawa

Growing up in Nepal, I imagined that winters in Canada meant deep blankets of fluffy white snow. When we moved to Saskatchewan in '86 I was disappointed by the dry, bare winter ground. Sure, there was snow, but never like I'd imagined.

'Til the winter of 2007 that is. This has been a record-breaking year for snowfall in Ottawa. The city has already spent millions clearing roads of the metre and a half of snow that has fallen in the last month. Often the snowplows just can't keep up and cars get stuck on residential streets and in parking lots. It's messy, but it's just like what I'd dreamed of as a kid. I'm loving it.

Of course, I'm not the one who has to clear it. Thanks (?) to my physio injury - the chronic pain in my shoulder - I can't do such things as shovel mounds of heavy snow. V keeps talking about buying a snowblower, esp. after he comes in from a two hour stint of shoveling our driveway and sidewalk.

But since I'm not the one battling the snow, I enjoy it all the more. Today I walked out to the little island between Ontario and Quebec that is just down the road. The fog that's hung over the city all day was so thick I could taste it. Everything seemed slightly mysterious, hidden beneath the deep snow and behind the mist. Dark, naked branches of trees cut stark silhouettes against the pale sky and snow. It was absolutely enchanting.