Monday, January 31, 2011

Top 10 Places: Amsterdam

It isn’t a city I know well, but it certainly is one of the more interesting places I’ve been to.

I went to Amsterdam in 2007 for a conference and extended my stay a little in order to explore it. It was a fascinating place to walk around in. Unlike most cities which are dominated by cars, Amsterdam has several alternate modes of transportation, especially bikes. Despite the bumpy roads it is a cyclist’s heaven with its many designated bike paths. Although apparently you don’t want to invest too much into your ride since theft is common – so most cyclists use old-fashioned three-speed bikes that are easily replaceable.

The canals also serve as thoroughfares through the city, especially on the weekend where it seemed that cruising on the water with a boatload of friends was a popular way to spend the afternoon. Certainly looked very enjoyable, even if there were some traffic jams to get under narrow bridges.

The canals are lined with the unique, picturesque narrow buildings – including the home that Anne Frank and her family lived in. I also loved looking at all the houseboats and daydreaming about living in one.

Bikes and canals aside, Amsterdam is most famous for its libertine reputation – especially the coffeeshops and brothels. The red light district seemed to be some sort of mecca for young men who roamed the streets in drunken, stoned packs, ogling the girls who display themselves in neon-lit windows. I found it hard not to stare at the girls myself. Not because I was shocked, but because I was curious. Were they happy? Were they there by choice? Most of them just seemed bored, especially those working during the day who had few customers to pass the time.

But I didn’t just explore the streets of the city. There are several museums and I enjoyed spending some time in looking at Van Gogh’s bold paintings. I can’t say I found any restaurants to write home about, but the beer was good and the coffeeshops were an interesting experience.

All in all, it’s the kind of place I would love to go back to – although not necessarily as a family vacation with young children.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Inspiring yarn geniuses

We interrupt this series to bring you some breaking news from the world of creative knitters and urban yarn graffiti.

The first is the Beardo – a toque which has a knitted beard attached to it by Velcro (thanks for the tip, Doug). Not surprisingly, this creation is from a Canadian: Jeff Phillips, although apparently he’s not the knitter, just the creator.

Phillips is quoted as explaining that, “Some people wear the Beardo so they can experience the joy of facial hair.” Maybe I should get one for my husband who complains because I won’t let him grow a beard. With a Beardo he could “experience the joy of facial hair”, but take it off before he kisses me. And be extra warm in the winter too. Brilliant.

I was trying to think of a woman’s equivalent for the Beardo – not to say that women can’t wear the Beardo of course; more power to those who embrace their furry side. Perhaps a toque with long braids or a lush ponytail? I was going to try to make one before doing this post, but realized that would just delay this indefinitely.

The other important news is this stunning urban yarn graffiti I read about in yesterday’s Globe and Mail. Olek is a Polish-born crochet artist. She takes yarn graffiti to a whole other level – such as covering the Wall Street bull in New York. She crochets complete rooms, costumes, walls, floors.

She is currently doing an artist’s residency in New York where she “can be found ... with a pile of movies to watch, and a bottle of spiced Polish vodka, aggressively re-weaving the world as she sees fit!” She truly amazes me – although I can’t say I’m too fond of the title of her current exhibit – “Knitting is for Pus****”.

Olek likens her crocheting to madness. I’ve always thought of knitting as my yoga or a pseudo mediation. But then again, I’m not a prolific, internationally recognized artist. Maybe I should let my knitting become my madness, abandon child, husband and work for the pursuit of knitted inspiration...

Or maybe I’ll just stick to my placid little knitting and admire the mad geniuses from afar. Chapeau!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Top 10 Places: Santiago de Compostela

To many, Santiago de Compostela is a simple, unremarkable Spanish town. But for the thousands of pilgrims who arrive each day on its doorstep, it is the momentous completion of a journey – for some of days, others of months.

I arrived in Santiago twice – the first time after walking 1,600 kilometres, the second after a mere 600. My affection for this place would obviously not be what it is if it were not for the journeys which led me there - but to write about the whole pilgrimage would take far more than 365 words (in fact it’s more along the lines of 105,461 words).

Santiago is, on its outskirts, a drab, non-descript city. But its heart is a maze of narrow cobblestone streets which converge into asymmetrical plazas then jut off at odd angles to squeeze between rows of tightly-packed three and four storey buildings. If you know where to look, you can find little metal plates in these streets, each one marked with a scallop shell. Follow them and you arrive at the grand plaza and the majestic cathedral of St. James.

For pilgrims arriving in Santiago, there are celebrations, music and laughter in the streets, reunions of old friends. And one of the most beautiful parts of this celebration is the pilgrims’ mass each day at noon. At the end of the service, a giant incense censer is brought out. More than a metre in height and weighing as much as eight men, it is attached to a thick rope that reaches the rooftops, filled with incense and lit by the priest. Eight men grip onto the rope’s opposite end and together give rhythmic pulls which sends the censer ever higher, trailing a stream of sweet smoke. Organ music surges from innumerable pipes, a nun joins in a clear, high song. Above faces upturned in awe, the huge censer swings higher and higher, almost touching the lofty ceiling; a plume of sparks and smoke fills the cathedral with a sweet aroma. I returned each day I was in Santiago, and each time my eyes teared up and my heart leapt.

At the end of a long journey, Santiago is a beautiful reward.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Top 10 Places: Montreal

I should have at least one Canadian city in my top ten – and of my favourites it’s a toss-up between Vancouver and Montreal....

Vancouver is the city I was born in, a city I do not know well but one which strikes me with its postcard-perfect beauty whenever I visit. And last time I was there I took part in a demonstration for affordable housing, which seemed quite fitting.

But for many of the reasons I love Paris, I also love Montreal - the cafés, the arts, the culture – that certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ that gives Montreal its unique style and appeal.

I lived there for only a year – but I loved my little apartment with sunshine-yellow walls, the curving staircase on the outside, a small balcony from which I could see the giant cross on Mont Royal hill. This stay directly preceded my years of living and traveling in Europe and was a perfect transition. I got a taste of the café culture, meals worth lingering over, of urban parks and captivating streets.

It was in Montreal that I began my habit of urban roaming. I would wander the streets for hours on end, sometimes heading toward the mountain and not stopping until I reached the peak. I explored the café and boutique-lined streets of the Plateau district I lived in, the fascinating Rue Ste Catherine - which leads through the gay village, the seedy stripper bars and the city’s downtown shopping hub.

One of my favourite discoveries was the Sunday tradition of tam tams drummers congregating around a tall angel statue on Mont Royal. Often there would be a group of exceptional drummers and musicians – playing simply for the pleasure of sound. People would be dancing, tanning, playing hacky sack, chatting, flirting, smoking... I could easily spend hours just listening and watching.

As I love Paris for being the home and haunt of Satre, Beauvoir and Beckett, I love that Montreal has produced some of my favourite Canadian artists – Leonard Cohen, Oscar Peterson and Mordecai Richler. But I love Montreal most for being the first city to captivate me. And I return to visit old haunts like one dropping in on old friends.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Top 10 Places: Paris, je t'aime

It seems cliché to say Paris is one of my favourite places. But I can’t help it. It just is.

I think I liked Paris long before I went there (not counting a short stay there as a child). I liked the idea of Paris, the dream of something chic, romantic, French.

I went to France as an au-pair in 1997 and my initial encounter with Paris was rather chaotic. I missed the train which left from the station near the airport and had to make a frantic rush through the metro maze while feeling completely disoriented and clueless.

I didn’t return for several months, but this was the beginning of when I fell in love. I’d been working as an underpaid, over-worked nanny. Being on holiday in Paris, free to spend my days roaming the city, lingering in cafés and indulging in wine, felt like heaven. I discovered Sacré Coeur, a beautiful white cathedral which is perched high above the vast, grey sprawl of Paris. I walked along the Seine, looking at old books in the little wooden stalls which line the sidewalk.

In the years that followed, Paris became my stopping-off point when arriving and leaving Europe. I had some close friends I would visit and stay with for a week or so at a time. During each visit, I fell a little deeper in love –exploring the Left Bank and historic places such as Shakespeare and Co., a little bookstore frequented by authors such as Ernest Hemingway, or Café de Flore where Satre and Beauvoir spent much of their days, writing side by side.

It was always my dream to live and write in Paris and in the summer of 2004, I briefly did. I rented a room in a 6-storey walk-up and staying for several weeks to work on a manuscript and spent my days reading and writing at a small table in a room whose walls were bare but for the few photos I pinned up. I slept in a sleeping bag and had little material comforts. My life was simple but full – full of words running through my mind and of a city I would never tire of discovering.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Top 10 Places: Timbuktu

Coming up with daily content is quite a challenge when the routine of my life is not exactly news-worthy. So I’ve decided to do some topical series - this one will be of ten of the most interesting places I have been lucky enough to visit, in no particular order.

I’ll begin with Timbuktu – or Tombouctou as it is locally known – which I visited in February 2004 while doing an internship in Mali.

Called 'la ville mysterieuse’, Timbuktu was founded more than 1,000 years ago. During the 14th century, when the Malian Empire stretched from the Atlantic Ocean to present day Nigeria, it was a cosmopolitan centre of culture and commerce. Camel caravans made the long and difficult journey across the Sahara desert, bringing salt from the north and exchanging it for its weight in southern gold.

During the 15th century the town became a rich, highly acclaimed centre of Islamic education. Doctors, judges, priests and scholars all lived on the generous tab of the Malian Empire King and mosques that still stand today served as universities for both religious and secular fields. While there, I saw treaties on Islamic law, politics and medicine, as well as copies of the Koran and beautiful prayer books, dated as far back as 1204 AD.

These days there are still caravans of camels carrying salt through the city. But the city is, for the most part, a poor, dusty shell of its former glory. For seven months of the year there are no fresh fruit or vegetables. There is little economic activity, and despite the dozens of international NGOs that have set up office there, employment and opportunities are scarce.

Yet at the same time, mystery of this ancient city could still be glimpsed in the labyrinth of winding streets no wider than sidewalks. It was felt walking across the desert under a bright crescent moon, listening to musicians plucking bowl-like guitars and softly padding their animal-hide drums. It was in the stories and poetry that have been passed on and created here, in the silent procession of camels and the way the borders of the city just seemed to dissolve into an endless horizon of sand.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Robbie Burns Day

Well, it’s Robbie Burns day. No, we did not have haggis, nor any other part of a sheep’s intestine for dinner. Nor have we any Scotch whiskey to drink (the closest we have is some malt whiskey from Bangalore which tastes vaguely of mangoes to me). We had take-out from our favourite Thai bistro instead. I’m not even Scottish.

But I like that the life of a poet and folk song writer is celebrated around the world today, that there is an evening at which his poems (albeit one which is an address to sheep guts) are read aloud.

Years ago I went to a pub for Robbie Burns night, where there were poems and pipes and lots of beer. I wish it was more a part of our culture to celebrate poets and literature.

When I was in Africa I happened to be in Timbuktu for their annual poetry festival. During this week-long event, poets from across Africa came to recite poetry on a stage set on sand dunes. I’ve been to writers’ festivals, poetry slams, poetry readings, etc in Canada – but nothing can compare to the magic of sitting under the star-filled desert sky, listening to Timbuktu’s poetry.
But it wasn’t just the location that made it so exceptional – it was that children were crowded around the stage, listening with rapt interest, that people of all ages filled the grounds, laughing, clapping and responding with obvious pleasure and appreciation. One old poet, who spoke in a local dialect I could not understand, was such a hit with the crowd that people were continually coming up on stage to stuff money into his clothes.

In Mali there were also poets/singers who were hired to come to weddings and compose off-the-cuff lyrics about the couple getting married and the guests in attendance.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the written word. I love curling up with a good book or reading poetry. But I also love it when poems, stories and lyrics come alive through performances and readings.

So an evening which celebrates a poet, an evening at which poems are read and songs are sung – now that is certainly worth raising a glass to.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Indirect communication

In the front page of an Iris Murdoch book I got from library is a little list, written in cramped cursive.
brush teeth/floss
wash face
ear drop

I find this quite funny. And when I was listening to the CBC on Sunday, I heard a suggestion on why this may be so.

Apparently, we are hard wired to put more weight in things we overhear than in things we are told directly. I didn’t catch much of the interview in which this was discussed, but it was talked about in the context of gossip and Twitter – such that we get great pleasure out of listening in on others. We also tend to take more seriously things we overhear said about ourselves than the things people say to our faces.

Surely the mass appeal of Facebook must be based on this same principle. Because really, why should I care what an old high school friend writes on the wall of someone I don’t even know? Why should it matter what my friends say to each other or what comments they attach to their profiles?

Well, the success of Facebook proves that to most of us, these things do matter in some way – or at least we pay a significant level of interest in them.

It’s all quite strange when you think about this with regard to the relationship mantras of always communicating openly and directly with people we care about. Perhaps we’ve been doing it all wrong. It seems that if I tell you directly either the good (I love you, I value you, I respect you) – or the bad (I feel neglected, betrayed, hurt), these things are less likely to be heard than if you ‘accidentally’ overhear me telling someone else that I feel these things about you.

So maybe what we should be doing is allowing others to overhear us talk about them. To talk a little too loud on the phone or forget to close the computer after drafting a tell-all email to a friend.

This could utterly turn relationship counselling on its head.

Maybe I’ll start a new school – the indirect communicators – beginning with a list in a library book.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Cold snap

I’ve been in Ottawa for ten winters now and have grown a little spoiled by the mild winters – well certainly, mild in comparison to Saskatchewan where it got so cold my eyelashes would freeze on my walks to school. When I moved to Ottawa, I couldn’t understand why people complained of the cold. But it’s a damp cold, they’d say. Well, it may be a dry cold out West, but it’s a dry cold that drops below -50˚. And you can’t tell me that kinda cold ain’t cold.

But today, with a low of -30˚ and a wind chill of -39˚, I am reassessing how mild Ottawa winters really are. We went for a walk this afternoon – with Miya bundled up “snug as a bug in a rug” in her fleece wool-lined stroller and cozy blanket, but with both V and I freezing. We came back to find that the locks on our doors had frozen shut. Now that’s a first, even for a girl from the prairies.

Luckily the neighbours were home, so Miya and I took shelter next door. I suggested to V that he go to CanTire and get some lock de-icer, but by sheer strength and persistence he managed to get the lock unstuck and let us back into our home.

But despite everything, I actually don’t mind the cold – when I’m dressed for it, that is. I was in the military while living in Saskatchewan and we used to go on exercises in the middle of winter – which involved living and sleeping outdoors. I loved it. We had fantastic gear – albeit very heavy for hauling around in sleds – like triple-layered, down-filled, fleece-lined sleeping bags, complete with a hood. We had huge parkas, immense mittens and thick boots. It was great fun romping around on snowshoes, pitching tents, mucking trails. I discovered a whole new appreciation for winter.

And here in Ottawa, I love the winter snow – deeper and fluffier than we ever had on the dry prairies. While V might curse it while shovelling the driveway, I love the thick blankets of snow on the ground, on houses, on trees. It may be cold outside, but it sure is beautiful.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Big Love

Just watched the Season 5 opener of Big Love – a show about a modern polygamist family in Utah. V and I have been watching it faithfully (in the PVR sense) since the start, but I can’t say always with complete enjoyment. The actors and premise make this a compelling show, but the narrative can get quite soapy at times. For example, if you ever have a character saying, “And I still have to go tell [my second wife] that my brother killed her father,” you know the plot has become a touch too melodramatic.

Much of last season revolved around the patriarch of the family, Bill Hendrickson, pursuing ownership of a casino and a seat in the Senate. But there were far too many subplots swirling around and the narrative became so bogged down at times that even the actors seemed exhausted.

Nevertheless, for me this show worth is watching for the strong performances of the three wives and the relationship dynamics between them, their children, and their shared husband. The Los Angeles Times critic, Robert Lloyd, comments that “All of the wives are more interesting than their husband. [Bill] Paxton’s [the lead] character remains a problem for me and, as the pole on which this tent depends, a crucial one.” I fully agree.

While I find the show interesting for all its relationship dramas, I’ve never managed to really sympathize or identify with the central character. His bull-headed pursuit of his own objectives and constant tendency to stir up trouble and controversy gets tiresome – like a friend who is always complaining of problems of their own making, after awhile my sympathy runs thin.

In this way, watching Big Love gets me thinking about who I feel sympathy towards, and for what reasons. From experience, I know that I don’t just sympathize with those whom I agree with – and yet, how do I decide where my sympathies lie? What exactly does sympathy, or empathy, mean? How easy is it to feel – and not just to intend – sympathy and compassion towards those who differ from us? Where does it stop? Where does it begin?

So for all its faults, at least this show gets me thinking.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Looking back - being an au-pair

I pulled up some old diaries from the basement tonight. I used to pour my heart out in them, write pages almost daily and recount everything with purposeful honesty. My journal entries now are sporadic, often months apart. With so much space between entries sometimes I don’t even know where to start. But when I read these old diaries, forgotten memories come back to me – tinted perhaps with humour or sadness through these lenses of time.

In an old black diary I rediscover that 13 years ago I was working as an au-pair in Bordeaux, France, completely overwhelmed by caring for two toddlers.

In my January 22, 1998 entry I write: “Tonight was absolutely horrible with the kids. As soon as I walked in Vincent [the older boy, around 2 ½ years] started screaming “vilian, vilian” and carried on for about 45 minutes – with both him and Camille [his younger sister, 16 months] screaming if I tried to do anything with them.” I even go on to complain that supper was a plate of cold tuna and corn salad – which apparently brought me close to tears.

It’s interesting to read how I struggled with the two kids, especially now that I am a mother. I knew almost nothing about childcare when I became an au-pair. I was thrown into a broken home with two children only about a year apart in age. The first few months were hell.
Of course, I learnt a ton. In caring for Miya I find myself still recalling things I learned there - like ways to keep on top of the day, to distract from and anticipate problems, to soothe and amuse little volatile beings.

It’s interesting also to see how much of what I wrote was about relationships - relationships which are now for the most part only a distant memory – or in some cases, completely forgotten. And yet, for a certain period of my life, I was absorbed in how I felt about them, wondering how they felt about me. “To be completely known and completely loved – is it too much to ask?” my 23-year old self asked so long ago. How would I answer her today?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The time goes by

I’m cutting this pretty close. It’s around11 p.m. and I still haven’t blogged. I haven’t meditated either. Where does the time go?

Much of it was spent, as most of my days are, with my daughter. I never considered myself a real routine-type person and yet M and I fall into rhythms and patterns which seem to suit us both.

This morning however there was a slight deviation in the routine since it was her daddy, not mommy, who took her to playgroup. (Daddy is becoming more exposed to the world of kiddy crafts and circle time since our nanny quit.)

I dressed up and headed in to the office where I had the pleasure of working at a computer that kept restarting every 7 minutes. Each restart labouriously reloaded my personal settings. Two minutes after I’d be working again, I’d get another 5 minute warning. No option to postpone. I’d frantically try to finish what I was doing before it would shut down, then I’d wait for it to reboot, for my settings to load... only to get another 5 minute warning. After a few rounds of this I used the 5 minutes to forward everything I needed to my own email, left the office and went to the coffee shop where I was able to get everything done much more quickly on my own computer.

Back home to baby and hubby. Hubby off to his office and baby and I back to our routine – although today with an added difference of going to check out a home daycare. This, of course, is followed by the circles of thought, the weighing of pros and cons, the anxiety about the lack of certainty. When I hire a nanny I can tell her: this is what I want you to do in caring for my child. When I visit a daycare, they tell me how they care for children and I have to figure out how that fits for me.

And this evening was the first of my knitting circles for the year. A small group, but good conversation and some delicious cookies – a very pleasant evening.

Squeeze in a blog and off to bed.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


I went tonight to an intro to meditation open house at the Shambala Centre in town. Have been reminded of so many things that I tend to lose in the clutter of my life, the clutter of my mind.

It’s been almost 10 years that I have practiced meditation on and off (with much, much more off than on). How is it that I can find something that is so good and yet so hard to integrate into my life? The instructor tonight relayed a comment he’d heard – if you don’t have time to meditate for half an hour every day, then you really need to start meditating. Too true.

Tonight we only meditated for 10 minutes – which really isn’t very long. Yet I found it so difficult to keep my attention on my breathing. I’d think about the others in the room, my day, my stresses, even about this blog – and then I’d think about thinking! I’d try to bring my attention back to my breathing and yet, before I knew it, my mind would be veering off somewhere else.

But for all the challenges of tonight, I realized something that now seems so obvious, and yet struck me like a revelation: although I have tried meditating for years, I have never managed to stay fully focused on my breathing to the extent of removing all other thoughts from my mind, except when I was in labour.

Before going in to labour I had read a lot about natural childbirth and the importance of relaxing and allowing the body to simply do what it needed to do and to try set aside all judgement and fear. As my labour began to get intense, I found myself focusing simply on my breathing and the word ‘relax’ – even saying the word softly out loud as I exhaled.

Tonight, as the instructor was talking about the focus on breathing, about mediation being used to overcome physical and emotional pain, I realized that I had actually mediated my way through labour – a labour that was amazingly positive and quick.

So if it got me through childbirth, I think it can probably help me cope with my day-to-day stress.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Soup recipe

It’s quite difficult to find something to blog about every day. My life is not very exciting.

So instead of describing my day, today I will describe how I make soup – because I’d like to think I make a pretty fine soup. And in my defense, a good friend once asked me for the recipe. And so, for you M, and for anyone else who is interested, here is my soup recipe. Completely informal. Varies every time. Gets better with practice – and usually tastes better the second day too.

Because I like to cook quickly, this recipe is designed so you can, for the most part, prep as you go. No need to chop everything up before hand – there is time to chop while other ingredients start cooking.

1. Raid the fridge and cupboards for vegetables: carrots, peppers, celery, zucchini, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes, etc. Some things like squash and sweet potatoes are best roasted, so I might throw them in the oven to roast during the afternoon or the night before.

2. Chop up an onion, a stick of celery and one or two cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a big pot and throw these things in. Chop up a pepper and toss it in. When onions are translucent, add a shaking of chilli peppers and some salt.

3. While onions et al. are cooking, chop up other veggies in order of cooking time needed. Throw them is as they are ready or depending on how long you want them to cook. (I usually start with the carrots.)

4. When you are ready to add liquid (i.e. when veggies are starting to get soft) toss in about ½ or 1 cup of ready-made tomato sauce, about 6 cups of water (more if using a lot of veggies) and a stock cube or two. Suggested spices to add: basil, cumin, oregano, bay leaf, parsley.

5. Simmer until veggies are soft. If adding pre-roasted veggies such as squash or sweet potatoes, those can usually go in at the last minute.

6. Blend everything together with a hand-held blender.

7. Spruce it up with a dollop of butter or cream.

8. Serve and enjoy.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Today two nannies failed to show up for work, leaving two mothers of 20-month old girls in the lurch.

In our case, our nanny not only used a text message to let us know she wouldn’t be able to come in today, but also that she would no longer be able to be our nanny. So much for contracts that stipulate 3-weeks notice. In my friend’s case, her nanny called in sick while both she and her husband had important work obligations.

So instead of having a day to go in to the office and get errands done, I ended up looking after two toddlers. At nap time this involved sitting on a mattress on the floor, rubbing the tummy of one sleepy child while my own fell asleep on my shoulder. I was then pinned for the next hour between two sleeping girls. It was tender, beautiful and boring.

And now I’m back in the position of frantically seeking childcare.

Before having a child, I had never anticipated how difficult childcare would be. In theory it’s shouldn’t be so hard to find a responsible, loving adult to look after your child while you do other work. But as I have discovered with so many parenting issues, theory and practice are miles apart.

Everyone parents their child a little differently, tweaking our own style to the temperaments of ourselves and our children, our expectations, our beliefs, our ideologies. When it comes to finding someone to parent in our absence, we want that person to take on all of these theories and practices. But of course, no one will ever parent quite like we do. The best we can hope for is some sort of compromise, someone who at least agrees with our core values.

And so it is that finding child care becomes a process not only of screening and interviewing, but also of assessing our values – what is non-negotiable? On what can we be flexible? And then there are the practical details that can weigh in just as much – how many days? How many hours? At what rate? Shared care or private care? It can easily be quite overwhelming.

And here we go again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Football coverage

I’m sitting on the couch, watching the Patriots take on the Jets in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs. Ten years ago, I never would have imagined this.

One of my funniest memories from my journalism studies in Montreal was my very incompetent ‘coverage’ of a CFL practice. Our assignment was to get a quote in a media scrum but I hadn’t found a scrum to join, so at the last minute I called a classmate who said he was going to the Alouettes practice - there were scrums on the side of the field afterwards.

I knew practically nothing about the Alouettes or the CFL playoffs that year, but I was desperate so I decided to join in. I thought I could hang back, wait for a scrum to form, stick my mic in, get a quote and leave.

When I showed up, I was the only girl among the reporters waiting at the side of the field. They chatted stats and strategy while I tried to eavesdrop without being too obvious. When the practice ended, a coach came over to say we were allowed on the field. I was trying to be inconspicuous, waiting to see what the other guys would do, waiting for them to ask the questions, to start some scrums.

But then I saw that Tracy Ham, the 200lb Alouette quarterback, was making a bee-line straight for me. Maybe he wanted to talk to the only girl reporter, I don’t know and I didn’t want to find out. To put it bluntly, I ran. Well, I scurried sideways. He kept walking toward me. I scurried some more and hid behind a group of guys until Ham get held up by a pack of reporters.

In the end, I did what I went to do. I found my scrum and got my quote. But it was certainly not a shining moment as a fledgling journalist.

Fast-forward ten years and here I sit with my husband, watching the NFL. Sure, I find watching football a good excuse to knit, but I’ve also come to enjoy the game – although this still is the closest I will ever come to writing about football.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Blogging about blogs

For all my blogging, I don’t spend a lot of time reading other websites or other blogs. But seeing as I am now trying to blog on a daily basis and ideas are not always easy to come by, I have begun searching for other blogs of interest to follow.
Here, if anyone is interested, are some of the ones I have found which stand out for me.

- GlobalVoices, a site of bloggers and citizen media from around the world, is one of my new discoveries. Here, for example, I can read blogs and tweets from the current election in Southern Sudan where people are voting on a referendum on whether the South should remain part of Sudan. This is a story I’ve been following on CBC, but it’s neat to supplement this with perspectives and reports from random people on the ground in Sudan.

Head Down Eyes Open is a blog written by a guy in Switzerland who works with media for the International Red Cross. Posts about Haiti, Nepal, urban poverty... it’s the issues I not only research about, but also care about quite deeply. There is quite a scary/sobering entry about Kathmandu, my former home, topping the list of the world’s cities most at risk of being struck by an earthquake.

- Gazamom is written by a Palestinian journalist and mother from Gaza City, it is a blog “about the trials of raising my children between spaces and identities; displacement and occupation; and everything that entails from potty training to border crossings.” This certainly adds a different perspective to my own discovery of motherhood here in the suburbs of Ottawa.

- Scary Azeri is another mom-from-another-context blog (perhaps we sense a theme here). This is one of those sites I just stumbled upon yet return to because her writing is quite funny and again, it’s interesting to see issues of motherhood cast in another light, in another context.

I would certainly welcome any reading recommendations. If this is to be a year of blogging, I could use the inspiration of fellow bloggers. It’s also a reminder to keep my focus from fixing too narrowly on my own navel.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Earth wobble, zodiac kerfuffle

What? I’m a Libra???

Apparently the zodiac signs most of us associate with our birthdates are wrong. The moon may have wobbled. Or is it the earth? In any case, there has been some shift in the stars’ alignment by about a month. That, and you may be an Ophiuchus, although good luck finding that horoscope in the paper.

Now, I don’t seriously read my horoscope. I don’t think all other people born within the same few weeks as I share a closed set of characteristics and prescribed future. I also know that given general personality descriptives, people will tend to remember those which apply to them and forget those which do not.

All that said, I, among 2,824 other voters on CBC’s site think that my ‘old’ astrological sign is more like me (as opposed to those 358 who side with their new sign).

Take the following example: “Scorpios are fiercely independent. They are able to accomplish anything they put their mind to and they won't give up. They are perfectly suited to being on their own. They are not social butterflies”. Compare this with “Libras like to be around other people, they are all about partnerships and groups. They are happiest when other people are around and when other people are doing their work. They are lazy but like posh surrounding and nice decor.”

Have we met? How can you think I’m a Libra?? The earth would have to do more than a little wobbling to turn me from the introvert hermit I am into a social butterfly who would want other people doing my work!

Luckily for me, and any of the horoscope-faithful, “self proclaimed psychic and astrologer Walter Mercado confirmed that the traditional dates of the Zodiac ‘remain the same’.'' What a relief.

Seriously though. This is some story that broke in Minnesota. It’s made a bit of an internet viral buzz, as these things do. But my guess is that in a few weeks it will be forgotten about. Newspapers and tabloids will continue to print their horoscopes, citing the same dates they always have, and I can go back to being the uninformed, disengaged, independent Scorpio I’ve always been.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Waiting for Wii

My friend reports on Facebook that there is to be a Wii game based on Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for Godot”.

There is nothing to be done about such things.

I’m beginning to come around to the opinion that the Wii is everywhere and will capitalize on all. All my life I have been trying to avoid the Wii, saying to myself, Self, you must maintain the struggle.

So here I am again, struggling against Wii.

But am I?

I thought it might be gone forever. But I see that it is back.

Should I embrace it? Not now, not now.

One may inquire how I spend my time?

In a ditch. A ditch over there. A ditch where they cannot beat me with wiimotes.

I am beaten at tennis. I am beaten at Rock Band. I am beaten at yoga. All is futile. Zelda....

I am nothing more than a heap of dull bones. No doubt about it. It is too much for one woman.

On the other hand, what is the good of resisting Wii? I should have given in years ago, in my youth, in my metroid prime. Now it's too late. Now they won’t even let me play.

I want to play? What is the point? Perhaps I would be relieved... yes, relieved. Yet, at the same time.... appalled.

There is nothing to be done.

There is the story. The two men. They are plumbers. They go to the ends of the earth, the seas, the worlds, the clouds. (This is not boring you, I hope.) They seek a princess. She is never in the castle. Never. Always in another castle. So they can’t save her. They never can.

I can’t accept it. They perplex me. They leap on clouds.

I will sit under a tree. A better way to pass my time, I am sure.

But is it this tree? Is this actually a tree? Or is it a bush? It is winter. There are no leaves. How am I to tell? Shall I slash it with my sword? What are these items? Items of what?

It is useless. I should go. But no. I am waiting. Waiting for Wii.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Spam purchasing

I’ve never been one to follow a crowd. Usually I avoid them. And yet somehow I got sucked into the whole group-buying phenomenon. My inbox is now cluttered with daily deals from LivingSocial, as well the emails about “this great deal I just got!” from random friends and acquaintances.

I’m quite a newbie to group buying, as I think many of us are. Sure, Groupon has been around since 2008, but the whole group buying phenomenon exploded in 2010.

When I first heard about group buying, I thought it was the last thing I need. I am not an impulse buyer, and don’t intend to become one. I also don’t tend to make my purchases based on what most people are buying. And one of my criticism about “deals” is that they tend to make you buy something you weren’t already going to buy. Thus, instead of saving 50%, you are actually spending 50% that you would otherwise have not. I figured I didn’t want to be tempted into making purchases I didn’t need.

But then a parent sent out an group buying offer for a discounted annual membership to the Museum of Civilization (including the fantastic Children’s Museum and the War Museum which I still haven’t visited). I signed up and yes, I am guilty of sending out those “deal” email to friends (in my defence, I knew some of them visit these museums regularly).

Well, a month of group buying later and we now have annual memberships to 5 museums/galleries in town. You could say this only proves my point that I have may have saved on discounted membership, but ended up buying a lot more than I would have otherwise. I would argue that you probably don’t have an energetic toddler and those memberships will quickly prove their worth, but this doesn’t mean I’ve been won over to the wonders of group buy.

It’s too much like an on-line Walmart to me. Sure the deals might be good, but there are a lot more things which influence how, and on what, I spend my money than simply the biggest bang for my buck. And seriously, don’t we all have enough spam already?

My 20-month old could draw that

The Ottawa arts community is abuzz with the recent opening of an exhibit of Miya Nagaraj's latest work.

These bold, colourful pieces - praised by critics as a striking combination of innocence and bravado - are set to move quickly.

The paintings are a mixed media of water-soluble paint and dish soap on paper.

The artist, famously reticent in talking about her art and influences, has simply titled them 'paintings'.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Naked people have little or no influence on society ~ Mark Twain

It is a nice thing to have fashionable friends.

It is an even better thing to have fashionable friends who are much the same size as you and who are generous in lending.

I have an interview on Thursday. I don’t have a good interview outfit and I hate clothes shopping.

Then my friend stepped in to rescue me. She invited me over this evening, offered a few options and before leaving I had a great outfit – and even accessories to go with. How lucky am I!

I remember getting a lot of hand-me-downs as a kid. But unlike when a friend steps in to provide a much needed smart, professional outfit, the clothes I got were simply outgrown by my cousins and older sister. And I don’t think I was ever very grateful. Begrudging acceptance was probably more like it.

I do wonder though how much the clothes I was handed down could have been passed on after me since I was a bit of a tom-boy and regularly wore holes in my clothes. Good thing I was the youngest.

Maybe it was growing up with these hand-me-downs, but on into high school, college and university I would have a few girlfriends with whom I would regularly swap clothes, or at least we would borrow freely from each others’ closets. When I lived in dorm we would organize clothes swap nights where everyone would put outside their room things they wanted to trade. It was a fantastic way to overhaul a wardrobe without spending a penny – although certainly CDs and other items were thrown in to sweeten deals.

I suppose it’s part of growing up - moving out of communal living into solitary or marital quarters. There aren’t the closets to raid close by, there aren’t the friends dropping by to borrow a sweater or try on your new pair of jeans. So perhaps my gratitude to my friend tonight is about more than simply having something professional and suitable to wear to my interview, it’s also about a nostalgia for those years of living and sharing with friends – sharing clothes, books, food. It’s nice to realize to realize I haven’t completely lost that.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The magical Roll O Puzz (or as Doug would call it, pimping a product)

This Christmas my husband gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Okay, unconditional love, a child... all that aside, I’m talking about the Roll O Puzz.

To quote from Lee Valley (and yes, I still get to count the words): “These ingenious holders solve the problem of partially completed jigsaw puzzles monopolizing table space.”

You start to build a puzzle on the felt fabric. Then when your child wakes, or it is time for dinner, or you need to leave the house and you just know that you cats will be on the table the minute the door is closed, you simply roll the felt around a tube and the pieces stay more-or-less in place till next time you are able to unroll the felt and puzzle away some more.

There are many people who see puzzles as a ridiculous waste of time. I can see their point. One spends hours putting tiny pieces together to form an image which you already can see simply by looking at the box. And then, having completed the image, you break up the pieces and put them back inside said box.

But for some people, this ridiculous piecing together is relaxing and thoroughly enjoyable. Ever since I was little I have loved building puzzles and as an adult a holiday doesn’t quite feel like a holiday if I haven’t had the chance to build one.

Of course this all changed when we had a child – a child whose change table is also the dining room table, which is also the only puzzle-able surface in the house. Puzzles were relegated to the basement where they sit and collect dust.

Until the Roll O Puzz. And now, my world has changed. New vistas have unfurled before me. Well, at least a new puzzle can unroll before when I have the time to build it.

V not only gave me the Roll O Puzz for Christmas, he also bought me a new puzzle. A puzzle which I have been able to build over the last few weeks, put away as needed, and return to when I have the chance. Oh the joy!

Temporarily sold out at Lee Valley.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

conversations with my daughter

Ever since Miya first started using words, I’ve been having little conversations with her.

At first, these conversations mostly consisted of a lot of word repetition. “Duck” she’d say, pointing at a duck in a picture book. “Duck,” I would repeat.

I would ask her to name things. “Miya, what’s this?” I’d say, pointing to a picture of a cow. For awhile cows were “boo.” “That’s right, moo,” I’d say. “It’s a cow and cows say moo.”

About a month ago I got pretty excited when I realized that Miya was actually starting to tell me things – albeit in response to some very leading questions. Usually at dinner time we talk about her day.
“Did you go to playgroup today,” I’d ask.
“Yeah!” she’d say. Then after a pause she might add something like “Beth”, the name of her facilitator.
“Did you see Beth?”
“Who else did you see? Did you see Zach?”
“Yeah!.... hand”
“Did you hold Zach’s hand?”

And so our conversation would go. She’d supply words which I would expand on and use to prompt her with more questions. What was neat was her offering new words like “hand” to tell me something I didn’t already know.

These days our conversations are still a lot of leading questions, with me filling in the blanks. But her memory is getting better, so now she refers to things that may have happened a few days or even weeks ago, making it harder sometimes to guess what she is talking about. Like when she came home today and said, “Pooping!” and I needed to remember that she is referring to seeing a cow poop a few days ago. Or when she says “Sheep sniff” it is in reference to a game we once played with puppet sheep at the library.

But sometimes I am a little stumped when it comes to filling in the blanks. Take, for example, a conversation we had tonight which went something like this:
“Daddy cooking,” Miya said.
“Is Daddy in the kitchen cooking? What is he cooking?”
“Um... what kind of baby is Daddy cooking?”

And then I just don’t know where to go with that.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

thesis abstract

Still laid up with the flu, so for today’s blog I’m shamelessly taking from my thesis abstract. So in case anyone is interested in what my thesis is on:

The prevalence of urban violence is seen as one of the most ominous threats to local, national and international development. There is a pressing need to better understand it in order to assist in the design and implementation of effective interventions.

This research contributes the assessment of such violence by developing the category of organized urban violence (OUV), defined as that which is generated by urban non-state organized armed groups (OAGs) who exert territorial and social control in urban areas. Through detailed examination of academic and policy literature, this thesis explores the types of non-state OAGs involved in urban violence – such as private security companies (PSCs), vigilantes, gangs, and organized crime groups – their characteristics and their impacts on urban environments.

The category of OUV is further developed through two case studies: Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Cape Town, South Africa – cities which have a proliferation of urban non-state OAGs and high levels of urban violence.

Urban non-state OAGs typically achieve social and territorial control in areas of the city that have been marginalized or neglected by the state. While their control of urban territory is often related to illicit economic goals (such as controlling drug markets), they use social control to establish themselves as authorities within the community, such as by enforcing codes of behavior and limiting the mobility of residents.

They also restrict access by state services (such as police) so as to maintain their position and protect their activities. Both territorial and social control are enforced through violence and the threat of violence, such as physical punishments for violations of behavioural codes and armed defence of territory from the threat of rival groups and the state.

The impacts of these groups extend beyond the territories which they control. Their presence and control contributes to territorial and social divisions of urban space, to high levels of crime and homicide, the normalization of violence and widespread fear. Their impact is particularly severe on young males who are disproportionately the actors in, and victims of, urban violence.

Friday, January 07, 2011

showing up

Ah. The flu has come to test my resolve. I heard most new year’s resolutions don’t make it past 6 months (I would have thought 1), but it seems I am being tested just after the first week.

Yesterday I started feeling a bit ill during the day and by evening I was huddled up in bed with a fever. Not helped by a night in which both V and I were up with our daughter from 4 to 5 a.m., I’ve spent the day in the fog of what seems to be some sort of stomach flu. It’s the kind of day when you’d really like to just stay in bed, dozing and reading, nibbling on crackers and drinking tea.

But these are not options one has when looking after a toddler. Even if I slump on the couch, Miya will start saying ‘wake-up! wake-up!’ and pull at my hands.

At least she ended up sleeping in a little, which meant we missed her first gymnastics class of the year. (I wasn’t quite sure I was up for it anyway.) We did make it to the seniors though (‘deniors’ my daughter calls them since she has trouble with words beginning in S). Every Friday we spend about an hour visiting with seniors with advanced dementia in a long-term care facility. It is pretty easy gig as far as volunteering goes, since all they ask is that we are there and that the seniors can watch Miya playing. That’s about all I can say for what I accomplished today – I showed up.

That’s the way it is. Some days we rise above. Some days we simply show up. Funny how just showing up sometimes takes as much effort as those days when we scale to the top.

And so, on this 7th blog of the year, I have simply shown up. I have made my 365 word count without writing much of value, creativity or interest – not to say that my other blogs are so fantastic, but at least I try to put a little thought into them. My apologies to anyone reading this. And now, if you don’t mind, I’m going back to bed.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Writing to size

When I trained as a journalist, one of the skills we had to develop was producing articles to specified length – usually provided as word-counts. As a freelancer, you may pitch a story and, if given a green light, you’ll be told how many words you can write. A typical news article is 300-400 words. At first it was very abstract, the idea of writing 400 words – but it didn’t take long to develop a feel for what could, and couldn’t be said in that space.

We also had to get over a common tendency to save some pithy quote or insight for the end. Instead of ending with a bang, journalists are essentially taught to let their stories peter out, filling in information of decreasing importance the further in you go. This is because the vast majority of readers only read the first few paragraphs of news stories. Also, if the editors need to make any cuts, it’s easier for them if they can just chop off the end to bring the article down to size.

It’s a strange way to write – working with the assumption that most people won’t read very far in to what you’ve written. You get everything important out right at the start. But then your article gets more boring and you’ve just offered incentive to stop reading...

I did my undergrad in English and philosophy, where we were rewarded for the use of big words, and complex sentences. Especially in philosophy, so much of the reading material was dense and convoluted.

To put it mildly, I had a steep learning curve when I started print journalism. My first assignments were handed back to me covered in red. I quickly had to learn to shorten my sentences, get rid of the clutter, the excess, the pretension. It wasn’t easy at the time but I came to appreciate clear, direct prose and realized that perhaps the most intelligent writers were not those who used the biggest words, but those who could communicate their ideas as succinctly as possible.

And so it is that I added this extra challenge of a precise 365 word count. It’s fun trying again to write to size.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011


I need to get this blogging done quickly since I am off to my favourite café to meet some women for knitting. This is one of two knitting circles I belong to – this one is once a month and was organized by a woman in my neighbourhood. The other is every two weeks, hosted by me here at home.

When I first sent out an email in August inviting women to a knitting circle, I wasn’t too sure what kind of response I would get. I invited those whom I knew knitted or enjoyed crafts, and whom I would enjoy spending an evening with.

I was pleasantly surprised when about 10 women expressed interest and our group began meeting in September. Our house is actually much too small for 10 women to comfortably sit together in the living room with elbow room to knit, but since everyone has busy lives (and most, like me, are mothers of young children) very few can make it to every circle. So each circle has been a different combination of women.

Some knitters arrive with a bottle of wine or a box of goodies; I usually put on a kettle for tea. And I’m proud to report that some women who accepted my invitation though admitting they could not knit, have now learned or are learning. Certainly knitting is not obligatory and sometimes women have come just to hang out and chat.

I’d heard about knit graffiti (also known as urban knitting) and in October I convinced a few other knitters from the group to join me a knit graffiti project of our own: we made up about 30 little knitted ‘Christmas lights’ and one of the knitters crocheted a chain to link them all together. Then two of us went out late one cold, snowy night for a stealth installation of our handiwork (strung with the aid of a broom and a step stool).

The lights hang outside my favourite café, the one I went to almost daily to work on my thesis, the one I will be going to tonight to knit some more – boring ol’ dish clothes tonight. Every time I walk by them I smile.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011


Christmas must be very strange to you when you are only 20 months old.

One day, you wake up from a nap and come into the living room. There is a tree. Not just any tree, but a tree with lights and little things hanging in the branches like snowmen, angels and stars.

And parents, children do not have an innate affection for hairy strangers dressed in red. In fact, these men with their bright outfits and jingling bells are terrifying. Why on earth would one want to sit on his lap and smile for a camera? Miya much preferred to keep a safe distance.

Then come the gifts. Everything that a child receives is gift. New clothes, new toys - they usually just appear. But for an inexplicable reason, on Dec 24 and 25 these things are wrapped up in paper or put in fancy bags. Although Miya soon got into the fun of ripping wrapping paper, not surprisingly the whole idea of gifts was lost on her.

And then, one day, the tree disappears and all that remains are the new toys and some scattered pine needles.

Tree, part II

Days passed. Pines were taken and carried out of the fenced enclosure, but tree remained, waiting for what he did not know. Till one day a young woman came to where he stood and after a brief discussion with the man who worked in the enclosure, she chose him.

The woman picked him up, handed something to the man and carried tree to a car which was parked nearby. The man helped lift tree inside. Before long, tree found himself in a house. It was a bigger space than inside a truck, but unlike the fenced enclosure there was a roof over his head and he couldn’t see the sun or feel the snow. How strange.

There was some unpleasant manhandling as the woman screwed a plastic stand into his severed base and propped him in a stand. But then she filled the stand with water and tree had a long refreshing drink. And what a relief when she cut the strings that bound his branches!

With his branches free and full, tree was beginning to feel like his old self until to his surprise the woman began stringing little lights all around him. Then she began to hang ornaments here and there – stars, hearts, angels, snowmen, teddy bears and a funny looking elephant. She capped his top branch with a silver star. This was all quite amazing, though not a little disconcerting.

A little girl came in to the room where tree was standing in his new, shimmery outfit. “Wow!” she said and began walking around him, touching his branches and the ornaments hanging there. Maybe this wasn’t so bad after all.

Tree was soon enjoying his new home. There was a skirt around his feet on which a fat cat liked to sit. Colourful presents piled up underneath his branches and daily the little girl would admire and touch him. In the dusky mornings and the dark nights, his white lights sparkled and glowed. He even heard a song especially about him playing on the stereo. He may be a little uncomfortable, and sometimes he missed the fresh air, the earth, the sun, but he felt special. Tree had become a Christmas tree.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Tree, part I

There once was a little tree who grew up closely surrounded by many other pines like himself. He spent his summers growing taller, sprouting new needles that turned from bright to dark green and new branches that stretched out to his friends and up to the sun.

One day, when he had grown to about 7 feet tall, men came in among the trees and began trimming branches on him and the other trees around, making their silhouettes sleeker and chopping off any irregularities. At first surprised and taken aback by the sting of the cuts, he nevertheless thought the makeover suited him and his friends and was settling in to enjoy his new look when a horrible pain sliced his trunk close to the ground, severing him from his roots and sending him crashing to the ground. The world turned black.

He didn’t know how much time had passed, but he became aware that he was still alive, although weak and parched. He tried to move his branches but found they had been squashed together and tightly bound. He was again surrounded by many other pines, but this was not like before. They too were all severed and bound, strangers pressed painfully tight against each other.

Over the next few days, tree and the other pines where tossed onto a big truck, strapped in tightly and driven over miles of hard, grey ground. He choked on gas fumes and unfamiliar smells.

Tree ended up in a big parking lot, inside a fenced enclosure with over a hundred other pines propped against the fence and against each other. Tree was feeling weak and thirsty. He didn’t know how many days had passed since he had stood rooted in the earth, fed by the nutrients and water in the soil.

Standing inside this enclosure, tree soon noticed that people were coming in and walking among the bound pines. They would sometimes pull one pine to standing and turn it around, discuss it and perhaps put it back. Or, more surprisingly, they would wrap their arms around it and carry it away. Where were they being taken? tree wondered. Would someone take him too?

To be continued...

Sunday, January 02, 2011

A year in books

For over ten years I’ve been keeping track of the books I read, noting the total at the end of each year. My highest was 53 - the year I was in a book-reading contest with a friend. This last year was my absolute lowest: 6.

In my defence, I read many, many books last year. But because I only record a book if I read it cover-to-cover, few of them actually ‘count’. Many were for my thesis and I would read select chapters or skim through the pages. I also read endless journal articles, policy papers, reports, etc. So 6 doesn't really give the right impression.

Last night, for the first time in months, I finished a novel. It wasn't a particularly fantastic book -The Help by Kathryn Stockett about Black domestic servants in Mississippi during the 60s. But it was so nice to read a novel and let the words drift by casually without stopping to take notes. Like talking to a friend vs. listening to a lecture.

During the year of the reading competition our challenge was not only to read as many books as possible, but to read books from 40 different categories. I filled several by reading books by and about Jean-Paul Satre and Simone de Beauvoir – their correspondence, novels and plays as well as biographies and other books set during their lifetime. Each book offered insight to the others and this integrated method has since become one of my favourite ways to read.

Among the unfinished books of 2010 were several about Virginia Woolf – her diary, her letters, a biography and an early novel. But I never had time to finish most of these books before they were due back at the university library – and now that I am no longer a student I can’t take them out again. Oh well. While it was interesting reading about the development of such a keen and unique writer, I didn’t feel a real affinity with Virginia and so have decided to move on to another cluster topic: Iris Murdoch, a writer whose novels are deep and intricate and whom I look forward to learning much more about in the coming year.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

365 words each day, 365 days

This seems odd to say for someone who has just finished a 52,900-word thesis, but I miss writing. Well, I miss free-flowing and creative writing. Academic writing scratches a certain itch, but doesn't quite satisfy the desire.

I’m also a sucker for new year's resolutions - not the go the gym more or eat better kind - but something that gives me a focused challenge. So V helped me out and suggested that for each day of this year I post to this blog. He sweetened the deal by promising that for each month I make good on this resolution, he will give me some small gift. I was the one who suggested the 365 word-count total for each day, just to add that extra little challenge. And thus I have the perfect 2011 resolution - a motivation to write more + anticipated rewards.

Today is new year’s day. Ever since I was about 12 years-old I have been writing a letter to myself at the new year and opening it at midnight on Dec 31. It always gave me something to look forward to, no matter what else was, or was not, going on. Each letter was a mix of anticipation, reflection, and hope. Reading them always brought a sense of nostalgia, a recognition of who I was and still am. Things may have changed over the course of the year and yet I was the constant throughout.

I still have these letters. Often the envelopes would include other papers with such records as goals, significant events from the previous years, lists of friends and favourite things. When I was about 13 I wrote out the titles of the radio’s Top 20 hits. Later on I would list the boys I’d kissed. These letters sketch out the highs and lows, the dreams and regrets of more than 20 years.

My life in the last few months has revolved around thesis and Miya. Everything else has been tossed into cluttered piles. It is not surprising that I can’t find the letter to Anita of 2011. So I maybe should be adding another new year’s resolution – organize the clutter and find that letter before Dec 31.