Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tweeting books - 1book140

If book clubs make you think of a bunch of middle-aged ladies sitting around gossiping, drinking wine and perhaps tossing out a few comments on a book like The Help, then try this one on for size - a very small size, but on a global scale.

1book140 is a monthly book club whose defining characteristic is that it takes place exclusively on Twitter (hashtag #1book140).

This virtual book club is the follow-up to a 2010 project called ‘One Book, One Twitter’ – an initiative of Jeff Howe, author and journalism prof. In 2010 project, reportedly 12,000 people from around the world elected and then read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Though obviously anglo-centric, apparently countries such as India and Malaysia were quite well represented in the discussion.

This year, again through a democratic twitter process, Canada’s own Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin will be the first book discussed on 1book140. To avoid spoilers, tweets will be divided into discussion by chapter – i.e. #1b140_1, #1b140_2, etc.

Now, I was an undergrad English major at university, and I know that there can be a lot more that 140-character’s worth to say about a good novel, or even a bad novel for that matter. But apparently Howe intends this to be more of a conversation than a sophomore essay. Think haiku, not epic.

So I’m curious enough about this already 4000-member twitter book club to follow along next month. I have a bit of an advantage in having already read The Blind Assassin, although it’s been awhile. From what I recall, I didn’t particularly enjoy it. Perhaps it'll improve with a second read. And it could be interesting to follow the discussion – although the English major in me will likely feel confined by the 140 character limit should I choose to join the fray.

I’ve had a few experiences of using/viewing twitter simultaneously with real-life events. Nothing on the scale of the Arab Spring, but I had twitter open as the last election results came in and it certainly added a whole new dimension, especially for someone sitting at home on a basement couch. So now to see what Twitter and 1book140 will add to the experience of reading.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Postal strike would still be a loss

“Electronic media, writ large, is slowly but surely and steadily killing off the post office.”

This statement comes from Ian Lee, a Carleton professor who did his PhD thesis on the origin and evolution of Canada’s post office. Not surprisingly, he said the service has been in slow decline for decades.

Today Canadian postal workers moved into strike position; they are prepared to walk off the job at midnight on Thursday.

The Montreal Gazette asks: “What if they called a postal strike and nobody noticed?”

The argument made by the Gazette and by others such as Lee is that the postal system is being usurped by the Internet. Most people, especially those with broadband access, conduct much of their communication and business activities on-line, from paying bills to keeping in touch with friends and relatives. The ease and the cost make electronic communication a preferred option for many.

But while I use email daily for work and social networking, bank on-line and even shop on-line, I am still a big fan of snail mail. Sure, a friendly email is nice to receive, but how many people actually think it’s nicer than getting a card or hand-written letter in the mail?

I’m not just a fan of getting personal mail (which sadly makes up a small portion of the letters that are delivered to our home), but I like sending it too. I am a sucker for nice stationary and have a drawer full of different cards, letter-paper, and envelopes.

I think I can also speak for my daughter who would likely take a stand of support for Canada Post, if she understood the concept of strikes and all. What she does understand is getting cards and packages in the mail (thank-you Grandma!) and making cards and packages to send.

Though we were late in sending it off, Miya and I had a lot of fun filling an envelope to send to my mum for Mother’s Day filled with a card and works of art – and I know it’s fun for mum to receive.

So if postal workers do strike this week, let me just say for the record, it will be noticed and lamented here.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Holding heaven in my arms

In our house it isn’t uncommon to be woken in the middle of the night by cries. Though we may try to figure out why, we don’t usually know what makes our 2 year-old daughter wake up and start crying. It’s just how it is. But I do know that she often needs either my husband or I to come in and comfort her before she will fall back asleep.

Often all this takes is a little rub on her back, a hand soothed across her forehead, a tucking-in of penguin against her little body. She is asleep again before we leave the room.

Other times she is thirsty and we bring her a sippy cup. She takes some long pulls, then rolls over, throws her arm around penguin and is asleep before we leave the room.

But there are some nights where she wakes suddenly and her cries have a distinct desperation and urgency. These are the times when I will find her reaching up for me in the dark or even standing against the rails of her crib, wailing into the emptiness of her room.

And I will pick her up, cradle her against my body and slowly rock from side to side. Her head will fall against my shoulder and I will lean my cheek against it. Her arms will wrap loosely around mine, as mine are wrapped snugly around her. As we sway together, I feel her sobs subside and her breathing deepen, her breath soft and warm on my neck. Her head lies a little heavier; her arms may slide down to hang limply.

I’ll close my eyes and rest my head on hers. This is a moment I treasure – it’s worth the broken nights. Just to hold her in my arms so peacefully. During the day she is generous with hugs, but in toddler-fashion, these are mostly taken on the fly before she darts off to play. But in the still of the night, she sinks into my arms and I sink into my love for her.

If I had the strength of a mountain, I would stand there all night, for I am holding heaven in my arms.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Uncovered poetry: Ocean floor, steeper

It’s been a day spent nursing a head cold that’s plugging my sinuses and pounding my head. Now, when I come to blog, there is little to say. And so I revert to a poem I once wrote.

Ocean floor, steeper

You walk with undetermined notion
of what footsteps fall
and who is behind, who before the emotion.
When you come to the ocean you know you have to swim,
but the water is bitter and coarse on your skin.
With black clammy fingers it drags you to the shore
where is littered those before
who were like leaves, breaking with the smallest breeze,
who could not stand, who could not bend, who did not know the fold of knees.

You did not choose,
this journey forced upon you by a greater wisdom calling ‘ho,
to the other side of the ocean go’.
It presents you no solution to ferry you across,
but offers you an arrow, a kettle and a cross.
And it becomes your decision, it becomes your troubled path
that has melted into ice, absolved into water, broken into glass.

When you find yourself later in the middle of the sea,
and the waves are taller than you expected, the decision just to be
here in the water walking like Jesus but ever sinking
and who knew you could keep going just because he said come.
And though you weren’t listening, and said you don’t believe,
still you find yourself walking, holding onto his sleeve.
And your fingers are ashes, your wet body on fire freezing speech freezing cries
and doubts before your eyes
but your footsteps keep falling, wet prints upon the glass and the terror is deeper
than the ocean floor, steeper
than the mountain you see rising from the belly of a whale.

No, rising from the crashing of waves upon the sand
and you realize what this is, you realize this is land.
You’ve made it ‘cross the ocean, you’ve made it to the shore,
and you know now you’ve got further, further still to go.
But at least now you’ll be walking, not on a stranger’s sleeve,
and the mountain’s a welcome refuge, the climbing a reprieve.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Short story: Water

She’d been two months in the mountains and when she came down her hair was matted and her smile was peaceful. But the roar of traffic seemed louder than before, the air more difficult to breathe.

She became trapped under the harsh lights of an all-night convenience store. Caught between cans of soup and boxes of cookies, she spotted them – clear bottles of water lined up like cattle in stalls, like prisoners in cells behind the glass walls. Stamped with logos evoking streams and her mountain freedom, they were a mockery of that purity she’d known. Tears welled in her eyes, making shimmering reflections of steel shelves and imprisoned water.

As if moving in her sleep, she reached forward and slid aside the thick glass door. Grasping a clear bottle in her hand she pulled it toward her and with a quick twist of her wrist she released the cap. She turned the bottle upside-down in her hands. Water jumped out, splashing on her pant leg in its eager descent to the floor. The coolness spurred her on and she began reaching into the shelves and grabbing bottles, twisting off caps and flinging them to the ground. Water ran confusedly between her feet, down the candy bar aisles and past the auto magazines. She tossed the empty bottles aside, not waiting from them to finish releasing before she grabbed the next one.

The pimply-faced boy behind the counter watched her in frozen fear, his face twisting in anxiety. His mouth flapped open and closed, like a fish hungry for this running water. He cried out, in a shrill, childish scream. “Stop doing that!”

She froze instantly, then turned and saw the boy in his bright orange shirt, backed by rows of cigarettes. She did not meet his frightened eyes, but looked to the floor and saw bottles lolling listlessly side to side, strewn like corpses at a train wreck. Water flowed aimlessly across linoleum, already dulled by dirt and spilled coffee.

She gave a cry, more animal than human, and crumpled to the floor between the empty bottles. The water, uncertain in its liberation, ran toward her and clung to her clothes like hungry children.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bringing back chain gangs

Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak is adding a new twist to right-wing tough on crime policies, he’s aiming to get tough on ‘criminals’ by bringing back the chain gang.

He’s proposing that inmates perform a mandatory 40 hours of manual labour in order to receive credits for such things as purchasing coffee or the right to watch TV.

“If you want do things you get for free under Dalton McGuinty, like playing cards, watching high def TV, taking freeing the spirit zen yoga classes,” he said, “you need to do an honest day’s work just like every hard working family out there.”

The Ontario Liberals have responded by calling this a “reckless proposal” and claiming it would put Canadians in danger to have “these individuals” in their neighbourhoods and parks – as if inmates would just be turned outdoors, told to pick up some trash and come back at dinner time.

There are currently 8,488 inmates in Ontario. That number is going to balloon once the Federal Conservatives push through their crime omnibus bill which will see more people sent to jail and add to the number of people on remand – those who have not been convicted of anything but are sitting in provincial jails, typically in maximum security cells, awaiting trial.

The John Howard Society, a charity working to develop and promote just, humane and effective responses to crime and its causes, paints quite a different picture of Ontario prisons from that described by Mr. Hudak. They describe the prison environment as “dirty, degrading and dangerous”. For example, due to prison over-crowding, there can be 3 people to a 4 metre by 2.5 metre cell originally designed for one person, confined together for 12-14 hours a day or more. Health problems such as TB are rampant.

Since they lack regular access to fresh air and even showers, I can see that the chance to work outdoors, outside the prison walls, would be eagerly welcomed by some. I can also imagine that an opportunity do physical labour could be rewarding and therapeutic. But something tells me that’s the welfare of inmates is not what is driving this proposal. I’m going to look into this some more.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Random memories of Cuba

Sitting on the fifth floor balcony at night, looking down on the broad treetops and northwest to the sea where the sun set in a descending ball of reddish gold. We’re sipping on drinks of pinapple juice and rum. Occasional shouts from the street reach up to us, along with the grating, sputtering roar of dirty old engines. Birds chatter from the trees. On most balconies people can be seen, though sometimes only as silhouettes against their apartment lights. A young girl on a fourth floor balcony begins to play a violin. She plays with no lights on, pacing around the balcony as she repeats phrases of her song, her dark head cocked over the strings.

The Malecón Avenue runs along the sea, bordered by the sparkling blue waves which stretch between Cuba and the United States. A wall runs beside the street, built as protection against high tides and pounding waves. People stroll and lounge along the length of the wall, or find ways down to the pockets of dirty sand nestled among the sharp rocks below. Children play upon these rocks and dive with acrobatic grace into pools filled by the rising tide.

A little boy, with holes in his cut-off denim shorts and no t-shirt on his boney back, squats on the edge of the wall, looking down at a shallow ditch of water roughly 12 feet below him which is littered with bottles and pop cans. He wants to jump. Perhaps those are his friends down there, jumping into a square pool of water. He happens to look at me and I shake my head, but I don’t know how to say in Spanish that it would be dangerous to jump, that the water may not be deep enough to cushion his landing, that he might cut himself on something on the sand. He looks away from me, back to the other children playing on the rocks, before glancing back at my worried face. Rapidly crossing himself, he leaps, his little body falling and landing with a splash. If he hurt himself, he doesn’t show it; for in seconds he is out of the water and running to join his friends.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sun & sunscreen

Summer hasn’t yet officially started and my daughter already has a bit of a farmer’s tan. Ah the shame of being such a negligent parent that I allow sun to damage my daughter’s young skin.

Problem is, I’ve read enough about the damage that sunscreen can cause in terms of hormone disruption, free radical damage, etc. to be wary about slathering it on – especially on my daughter whose skin is more sensitive to chemicals than my own.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG)— a U.S. non-profit environmental research and advocacy organization — has put out some highly critical reports on sunscreens. They recommend only about 8% of sunscreens on the U.S. market this year. Unfortunately, it’s hard to find most of their recommended products here.

EWG claims that there is no assurance that high SPF values are actually truthful or even more effective, that ingredients like oxybenzone common in many sunscreens is one of the worst culprits for absorption damage, and that sunscreens can damage DNA and skin cells.

Discouragingly, information about this stuff is rather hard to find. Health Canada, in their guidelines on sunscreen, doesn’t even mention that chemical sunscreens can have negative effects.

As it is, I’m being cautious about what I buy, or buy into.

With Miya, and myself, I tend to avoid putting on sunscreen unless I know there will be extended sun-exposure. I try to keep us out of direct sunlight and avoid un-shaded parks and playgrounds, as well as mid-day sun. I also look for lightweight clothing that can keep her covered but still cool – and get her used to wearing a hat at all times.

In buying sunscreen, I look for those which have been approved by groups like EWG. But one of the down-sides with these safety-approved sunscreens is that they aren’t easy to apply or very appealing to wear. These mineral sunscreens – those containing zinc and titanium – are deemed safer since they do not disrupt the body’s hormones, are stable in sunlight and do not appear to penetrate the skin. Unfortunately, they tend to be thick and pasty, leaving the wearer looking rather corpse-like.

So while we love the summer sun, we’ll still stick to the shade.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Gotta get a bike

Starting this Sunday and going until Labour Day, Ottawa will be closing roads around the city each week from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Many of the designated bike roads border the canal or the Ottawa river – ideal locations for a Sunday morning ride.

Sounds lovely. I should really get a bike. For Mother’s Day V even offered to buy me one, but I still haven’t actually gone and picked one out. Wondering, if I don’t have time to shop for a bike, will I really have time ride it?

Cycling has always been for me one of those things I heartily support and believe in, but don’t actually enjoy doing. It’s almost embarrassing to admit, especially since my circle of friends includes many who are carless bike advocates and I admire them greatly.

Yes, I am concerned about pollution and carbon emissions – not to mention rising gas prices. I often think about getting rid of our car all together – but then I need to do a bunch of errands, or make it to a meeting on time, or take M across town and I am sheepishly grateful as I get into my car and drive off.

I do attempt to be conscientious about how much we use the car. One of the reasons we chose our house and neighbourhood is that shopping and activities are all within easy walking distance. We dropped from two cars to one and often keep ours parked. V is admirably diligent about biking to work and I usually walk to my local café office.

See that’s the other thing – I love walking. Between cycling and walking, walking wins for me every time. I like walking so much that I have walked across countries and intend to walk across some more. I love walking through my world, observing it, being grounded in it. When I’m on a bike I feel like things are going by just a little too fast for me – it’s not as easy to stop and smell the flowers – as I literally often do.

But I am going to take V up on his offer and get a bike. And I will learn to enjoy riding it.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Going to the fair

When I was a teenager I used to work at the fairgrounds each summer. Over 10 days I could earn more than I could in months of babysitting or doing odd jobs. The days were long and the atmosphere a little bizarre, but it was cool to land a job at the ‘Ex’ and my eyes were certainly opened to a whole other way of living.

I think I was only 14 the first summer my sister and I worked at the fair. Out of sheer luck and ignorance we managed to land jobs with a concession stand selling corn dogs, “crab leg-on-a-peg”, cotton candy and sno-cones. My hands were covered in burns from the hot oil and my manager couldn’t spell ‘buns’ on his order form, but I had enough fun that I came back for 4 more summers – two of which were spent working in an ‘old fashioned photo-studio’ where my job was to put old-fashioned clothes on people so they could get black and white photos taken, Western style. This often involved taking women into small dressing rooms, telling them to take off all their clothes but their panties, and lacing up their skirts and corsets. Not quite the conventional summer job.

The carnies – folk who travel with the fair from town to town setting up and operating rides and the booths – were like modern-day gypsies to me. A little exotic, a little odd. When big men with giant bellies and bushy beards picked me up for bear hugs, or small little guys with skinny legs and yellowish skin bought me teddy bears and monkeys holding ‘I love you’ hearts, I took this all as part of the gig. Fun to dabble in – but it was without hesitation that I’d turn down offers to go on the road with them.

All this and more was running through my head today when we took Miya to her first little fair. We took her up on the Ferris wheel and for a couple of rides on the merry-go-round. Fun to see the wonder in her eyes, and to see something with its own history and meaning for me, be fresh and new for her.

The days are getting warmer

As spring moves toward summer the days get warmer and Miya spends as much time as possible outside. Waking up from a nap, "Go outside!" is usually one of the first things she says.

So many things to do outside - climb and slide on the play structure, play with water in a little water table, help daddy pull dandelions or watch him mow the lawn, find worms with mommy and carry weeds to the green bin...

Now that the yard looks so nice, it's time to have friends over for a picnic. (The best thing about these picnic is that pants are optional.)

And it's always fun to get dressed up as a dandelion princess.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Community worth fighting for

This morning at our local park families from around the neighbourhood got together to celebrate spring with a flower-planting party. Flowers and planters were provided; some people brought baked goods and fruit. One of the dads showed little girls how to run with kites; one of the moms did some elaborate face painting.

Also this morning there was a rally at the Byron Linear pathway as the community continues to express frustration with the development project that ignores local interests for private gain. Some people from the neighbourhood also set up tables to collect signatures and raise funds for the community appeal before the Ontario Municipal Board.

These two events, though organized separately, show not only that this community willing to fight, but what we are fighting for.

We are fighting to keep our green space – and to oppose changes to city by-laws that could see other parks cut up to make room for development and private laneways – because we use and value this space. Our kids play in the parks every day. On the Byron path, young ones learn to scoot and bike and parents walk their kids to school and back. We don’t just value our green space as some NIMBY excuse, we value our green space because it is important to the quality of our lives.

We are not celebrating yet, but it does seem that the proposal to cut through the Byron pathway is off the table – at least for now. Our councillor has reversed her position and it seems the November 2010 ruling – which said access across the Byron pathway would not be allowed – still stands.

Unfortunately, our councillor is publically suggesting that the community sold out the residents of Shannon Street by rejecting this proposal. A local community association responded with an open letter asking that she not misrepresent our position and that residents not be pitted against one another when there are alternatives which “are respectful of local residents and of the Community Design Plans that citizens and the City have invested so heavily in developing”.

The politics are discouraging and what is at stake is more than a few metres of pathway – its our quality of life.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Walking home at night

When I headed out this evening to meet a friend for drinks, the edges of a storm were hovering over the city. Bursts of rain had cooled the air. The sun had set but the sky was still light – although dark clouds were still filling the southern sky.

My friend and I sat on a patio sipping white wine and catching up. It was one of those delicious early summer evenings – cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough to be sitting outside. Perfect for good conversation with a good friend.

I walked home after 11 p.m. It’s not often that I am out this late and I was acutely aware of my surroundings. This neighbourhood is so familiar to me during the day, but I do not often see it at night.

It’s a commercial strip, but with almost a residential feel. Many of the storefronts were dark or dimly lit, the streets were quiet and few people were walking around. In a café I could see two people sitting at the bar, talking with the bartender. Other restaurants were closed, chairs set upon the tables and blinds half drawn.

A garbage truck lumbered along the street with a young man dangling off the back. A city bus passed quickly, weightless without passengers. Construction has stalled; a crane poised motionless in the dark sky. A young couple approached the 24-hour grocery store.

The air was fresh, the smell of spring blossoms drifting down from the trees in full bloom; the sidewalk was scattered with petals shaken down by the rain.

When I turned off the main street into the residential area, a rabbit hopped ahead of me along the sidewalk then joined another on a lawn. The storm had passed and when I tipped my head back I could see stars peaking through the parting clouds.

There is something about walking in the evening that both calms and invigorates me. I love the coolness of the night on my skin, the clearness of the night air. I like being alone on streets that are usually busy and bustling. There is a sense of intimacy, of belonging – a relationship carried into secrecy of the night.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Community vs. Goliath, again

I have written before about the development planned for the old convent site across the street from our house. The community’s struggle against the developers has been a series of disappointments and losses as city staffers, committees and councillors repeatedly capitulate to the demands of Ashcroft, the private company developing the site.

Once again we find the interests of the community being threatened by the developer’s plans.

On Tuesday, May 24, the City of Ottawa Planning Committee will meet to discuss the proposed “Vehicular Access through the Byron Avenue Linear Park to the Proposed Development at 90 Richmond Road, 114 Richmond Road and 380 Leighton Terrace”. In other words – that despite being told all along that they would not be allowed to cut through the public green space and pedestrian/bike path on the south side of the property, Ashcroft wants to do just that. And it looks like the city is prepared to let them.

Cutting across Byron’s bike path is proposed as being “the only way to preserve the row of mature maple trees and the integrity of the overall public accessible landscaped area”. The report also claims it will “minimize the direct impact” on the five homes siding or facing a small road (Shannon Street) that may be the alternate point of entry to the development site.

I fully sympathize with Shannon Street residents. They are looking at the possibility of having their narrow, dead-end street widened and having the traffic on their street significantly increased. It is not fair to them, especially since they were told at the beginning that their street would not be used. But as we’ve seen with Ashcroft and the city, promises and plans can easily be disregarded.

Reading over the report regarding this proposal, it’s interesting that they argue that the impact to Byron’s path would be “minimal” since the parking on site is capped at 65 spaces. But when they defend not using Shannon street, they point out that access to this street will include garbage trucks and site visitors.

If the city had held Ashcroft to the density restrictions mandated in the community plan for this area we would not be in this position now.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


V is suggesting that for my May gift he’ll dig up something for me from the garage.

Part of the new year’s resolution to write a 365-word blog each day was his promise that for each month I made good on the deal, he’d give me a gift. So far I have received an ipod touch, a spa gift certificate, a book and a c.d. But he’s taking exception to my recent posts – the 12-part series of the short story Balance.

Now I admit, Balance is a story I wrote years ago and one night, when I was desperately trying to think up something to blog about, I was trolling though old files and came across some stories I’ve written over the years – and I decided to use Balance as a series.

Is this cheating? Is this an example of letter of the law vs. spirit of the law?

In my defence, turning a short story into a blog series is not as simple as cut and paste – esp since I have my precise 365-word target. I tried to find places within the story where a break could be inserted, and then either had to cut or expand the text to reach my target count. It was actually a very interesting way to edit and revisit old writing. I had to think more about what was essential to the story and shave away unnecessary words – or in other cases delve back into the characters to expand a conversation or incident.

Taking time to write each day is not that hard. Sure there are days when I am sick or tired for a long day at work and the last thing I want to do is turn on my computer and blog – but generally once I start writing I find the process enjoyable. The hard part is coming up with a topic. I don’t think my readers have any desire to read a laundry list of my daily tasks – or, to use another laundry metaphor, do I wish to air all that is dirty.

So forgive me if at times I revert to series of topics and previous writings. Would that my life were more interesting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Short story: Balance (last segment)

Michael watched his cousin pull apart her croissant. She was still so guarded with him. They had spent months living on opposite sides of the world, but it was now that he felt farthest away from her.

“Claudia,” he said, then paused. “You and I, well, we’ve sort of gone in different directions since we left Canada.”

Claudia bristled, hearing his words first as a criticism. But she looked up to see his eyes smiling kindly at her. “I don’t think whatever you’re doing is bad,” he added. “If anything, I feel intimidated because you’re not afraid to be doing all sorts of things that I’ve never tried.”

“I guess I thought you were criticizing me,” Claudia said quietly, staring at the cup between her hands.

“Well, you criticized what I was doing in Thailand.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Claudia mumbled. “I didn’t really mean what I said.”

They were both silent for a moment; then Michael spoke carefully, cautiously. “Look, we’re both changing. And we’ve kind of being doing it at opposite ends of the scale.”

Claudia was reminded of the two of them as kids, riding on the teeter-totter. Stronger and heavier than her, Michael used to get her stuck in the air, kicking and protesting. Then, when she wasn’t expecting it, he’d suddenly push off with his legs so her end would come crashing down. If she didn’t stop herself in time, her seat would hit the ground with a heavy bump and he would cackle with laughter. ‘Use your legs, Claude,’ he’d call out as she’d vainly try to bounce him back.

Light from the skylight lit the table between them, a patch of lesser grey in the hazy half-light. Claudia smiled at her memory. With Michael facing her across the table, she could almost imagine him sitting on the opposite end of teeter-totter, only now instead of trying to bump each other, they were attempting a wobbly, uncertain stasis. Claudia held her breath, poised in mid-air. She looked at her cousin and was surprised to realize he was doing the same. They both let their breath out with a laugh and the light seemed to waver, but the balance held.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Short story: Balance (part xi)

The next morning Michael was sitting at the kitchen table when Claudia slouched in. She was still wearing the same clothes she’d had on since he first saw her at the airport and they were rumpled and disheveled; her black pants were dull with cigarette ash and spilled wine.

“Don’t you ever change your clothes?” Michael asked, meaning to joke. But Claudia glowered at him from her red, smudged eyes. “I’m kidding, Claude,” he said softly, but she remained tense, hanging in the doorway. After a suspended moment, she took a step backward.

“I’m going to have a shower.”

When Claudia came back to the kitchen twenty minutes later, her dark hair was damp, ruffled by a towel. She had changed her clothes, put on an old pair of jeans, a light blue sweater and soft scarf. Her face, though still tired, looked young and bare without make-up. Michael smiled when he saw her, as if recognizing her for the first time. She smiled back uncomfortably and ran her hand through her hair.

Michael pushed a warm, paper bag toward her. Inside were two fresh croissants. From the burner he poured thick, steaming coffee into a chipped mug.

“Thanks,” she said, reaching for a croissant. “You didn’t have to do this, Michael.”

“I know.”

He sat down at the far end of the table and they faced each other, weighing the words that needed to be said.

“Did you have a good time last night?” he asked, his voice even.

“Yes, and no.”

He nodded and the reciprocal, unspoken question hung between them till he pushed it aside.

“Claude, do you remember asking me if I was nervous about going back to Canada?”

She nodded.

“I am. I just didn’t want to admit it. You were right that we’ve both changed. Sometimes I think I’ve completely lost touch. I’ve spent 10 months living in rural Thailand, most of my co-workers were twice my age. Do you know that the movie on the flight here was the first Hollywood film I’d seen since I left? I didn’t recognize anyone in it.”

Claudia nodded absently, his kind tone made her feel even worse about the night before.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Short story: Balance (part x)

For a short time Claudia was able to forget about her cousin. The conversation was lively and she threw herself into it. She accepted another glass of wine and soon began to feel a welcome lightness in her head, a tingling in her thighs. But when there was a lull in the conversation she turned to see Michael’s pained face.

Claudia finished her glass and put her hand on Margrite’s knee. “I should go. Michael’s miserable.”

“Stay,” Margrite said. “Don’t worry so much about your cousin. He’s a grown man.”

Claudia smiled uncertainly and went over to her cousin.

“How’re you doing?” she asked.

“Fine,” he replied.

“Do you want to go back?”

“Whatever.” His face was like stone.

“Why do you have to be such a prick?” Claudia exploded. “Why can’t you just get off your high horse for once? You just sit there and judge me. What am I doing that’s so terrible? What?”

Michael said nothing, his mouth tight.

“This?” demanded Claudia, waving her cigarette in his face. “This?” she said, gesturing wildly to the wine on the table, nearly knocking over a glass.

“I never said you were terrible. Maybe that’s your own conscious talking.”

Claudia felt her face grow hot and tears filled her eyes. “Yeah, well I didn’t feel like this till you got here.”

Michael looked at her, his eyes smoky grey in the half light. “You’re drunk,” he said.

“I haven’t even started,” Claudia shot back. “If you don’t want to be here, go! Take my keys. I’ll see you tomorrow.” She tossed her keys onto the table in front of him and spun around, but her foot caught a chair leg and she lost her balance. Unable to catch herself she fell into Jean-Luc, who caught her with a laugh.

“What, drunk so soon?” he asked, steadying her. “Allez, debout.” He laughed and Claudia felt her face burn like a cigarette tip.

Her ankle smarted where it had caught the chair, but she refused to limp as she walked back to Margrite. She heard Michael’s apologetic good-bye to the people around him but pretended to be engaged in a conversation and didn’t turn to wave good-bye.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Short story: Balance (part ix)

The bar to which Claudia and Margrite led Michael was on a narrow street lined with small cafés and family-run restaurants. The inside was crowded and dark. The walls were covered with large abstract paintings and colored neon lights. Cigarette smoke thickly hung in the air.

“Come Michael, I’ll introduce you to my friends,” Claudia said as they threaded their way between tables. There was a large group clustered around some tables near the back and, upon reaching it, Claudia and Margrite began to circle the group, giving everyone a kiss on each cheek. Michael awkwardly followed suit. A waitress came by, Claudia and Margrite both asked for wine; in stilted French Michael said, “un verre d’eau, s’il vous plait.”

Watching him squeeze self-consciously into one of the chairs around the table, Claudia regretted brining her cousin along. She felt like she was 16 again and he was her chaperone, checking to make sure she didn’t drink too much or go home with someone. The longer she watched him, the more annoyed she felt.

When her glass of wine arrived she downed half of it at once and plucked a cigarette from Margrite’s pack. “I’ll give you one of mine tomorrow,” she said and kissed her full on the lips. Through the corner of her eye she saw Michael look, then turn away. “Do you want one?” she sang out to him, but he kept his head turned. Claudia sighed and leaned over so Margrite could light her cigarette. “He wouldn’t even want to know,” she said.

Blowing smoke into the hanging cloud above the table, she stared at her cousin with heavy eyes. He wasn't talking to anyone and was sitting as he had at the café with her the other day – facing away from the table and staring blindly into the room. She sensed his guardedness and even his discomfort, but at the moment she wasn't feeling very charitable. He didn’t have to come here, she told herself.

Finishing her wine she went to the bar and ordered another. She could feel Michael’s eyes as she came back to the table, but when she turned to meet them, he had already turned away.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Short story: Balance (part viii)

Michael woke with a start. It was dark outside and he was cramped and uncomfortable. He had fallen asleep reading and woke to find his books squashed between his slumped body and the wall. The spine was bent; the cover was folded back upon itself. Michael’s stomach felt uneasy and his head felt light; he got slowly to his feet and opened the door into the kitchen.

Claudia and Margrite were sitting at the table, a red light was burning above the sink and candles were lit on the table. Wet photos hung around them like oversized leaves of an exotic plant. Michael hesitated for a moment, then cleared his throat.

Claudia spun her head and he thought he saw her blush, but he couldn’t be sure in the red light. Her kohl rimmed eyes seemed smudged, as if someone had taken an eraser and started to rub out the edges. “Oh, Michael,” she said and threw a quick glance at Margrite. She stood to turn off the red light above the sink and flicked on the bare white ceiling bulb. They all blinked and lowered their eyes against its sudden harshness.

“I thought you were out for the night,” Claudia said.

“What time is it?” Michael stood awkwardly, his six-foot frame filling the doorway.

“It’s after nine. Margrite and I were just talking about going to meet some of our friends, but I wasn’t sure if you were really asleep or if you were going to wake up.” She was studying him, trying to size up her obligations, her feelings. “Are you hungry,” she asked, not unsympathetically.

Michael shook his head. He hadn’t eaten much all day, but he still wasn’t adjusted to the time change and new diet. He felt vaguely hungry but had no desire to eat.

“If you want to go out, that’s fine,” he said. “Don’t worry about me.”

“Do you want to come?” Claudia asked. They both knew it was a gesture of politeness and the question hung for a moment between the two of them.

“Sure,” Michael said, attempting a casual tone; but the word came out tight and clipped.

“Great,” said Claudia without a hint of enthusiasm.

Short story: Balance (part vii)

When they reached the apartment, Claudia was relieved to see Margrite in the hallway.

“I have to do a roll,” she said, holding up the film. “Wanna help?”

Margrite could see the desperation in Claudia’s eyes and the tension between the two cousins who stood stiffly in the hall, so she nodded and followed Claudia into the kitchen. Michael went into the bedroom and closed the door firmly. He was exhausted and longed to sleep, but he was aware of his cousin in the next room and of her anxious voice seeping through the walls like water stains.

In the kitchen, Claudia and Margrite covered the window and the cracks of light around the door. Claudia switched on the red light near the sink and pulled a bottle of wine from the cupboard. “I need a drink,” she said and poured for each of them.

As she got her developing equipment ready, she described her visit to the gallery and her cousin’s patronizing barbs. “It’s like he thinks he needs to be my father, always sizing me up, criticizing me. And what did he mean by when he said he’s not hiding anything. Was he implying that I am?”

“You are,” said Margrite. She had a soft, lilting accent influenced by the many languages she spoke. But the voice that usually soothed Claudia only grated her further.

“I’m not going to come out to him if that’s what you’re suggesting,” she said coldly as she flicked off the light and began unwinding the film from its spool. She heard Margrite sigh behind her.

“It’s not just that,” Claudia said slowly. Her words seemed heavier in this darkness. “It’s the fact that my French isn’t perfect, that I don’t play tennis, that I don’t know where I’m going to work once I’m done school. It’s like I suddenly have my parents here. In everything he says I hear them, hear what they would think if they saw me here, living in this tiny apartment, earning money under the table.”

Claudia turned the red light back on. “I wanted my cousin to see my life here – but now I don’t like the way he looks at it.”

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Short story: Balance (part vi)

After they left the café Claudia stopped to take photos of children chasing pigeons on a cobblestone street. “I sell pictures to tourist agencies,” she explained Michael as he watched her adjusting her lens. “They want conventional shots. Not the kind of stuff I really like, but they pay me and for now that’s what counts.”

“Is that how you support yourself?”

“That, and teaching some night classes to students wanting to learn English.”

“I thought you need a work visa for something like that.”

Claudia shrugged. “There are so many students who want to learn English that schools fill up quickly. It’s not hard to get work teaching if you have a university degree. Besides, it’s not a real job, it’s more like tutoring.”

Michael didn’t reply, just looked at her with knitted brow - an expression that made her think instantly of her father and she bristled.

“Look, living in Paris isn’t cheap. I have to pay tuition and rent, plus all the photo expenses. How am I supposed to pay for these things if I can’t work?”

“You should apply for a working visa.”

“Do you have any idea what a hassle that is? French administration is a nightmare.”

She turned the camera on him, attempting to distract the conversation, and he scowled at her. He had shaved his beard the night before and his white jaw contrasted with the dark, weathered skin of his cheeks and forehead. Through her lens, his childish scowl and raw skin reminded her of the boy she had been friends with years ago. She put down the camera and remained facing him.

“Are you nervous about going back to Canada?” she asked, purposefully softening her voice. He looked away and into the silence she volunteered, “I don’t know if I’d be ready to go back now.”
Michael sucked in a breath, bit his lower lip, then replied with a tight voice. “Why would I be nervous? I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Claudia turned away, annoyed that she suddenly felt ashamed of what she was hiding from her cousin, from those back home.

“We should get back,” she said. “I have to develop this roll for tomorrow.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Short story: Balance (part v)

Claudia took Michael to one of her favorite cafés near the Seine. She loved this place for the old photos filling every inch of wall space, for the well-worn tables and the clients lingering over small coffees and glasses of wine. But Michael seemed blind to all this and focused instead on the price of a small espresso and the drifts of cigarette smoke that irritated his lungs. He sat perpendicularly to the table, staring blankly across the room. Claudia sipped her espresso and studied her cousin’s profile. It was so familiar to her, and yet in this context it seemed foreign.

“Tell me about Thailand,” she asked, after waiting for him to break the heavy silence.

“We were developing irrigation systems in rural areas,” he replied with a tired voice.

“Is that what you did the whole time?”

“Well, I was part of a team. We were doing a variety of development and education projects.”

“Like what?” she pressed.

“Various irrigation projects for rice farmers, resources… that sort of thing,” he replied without looking at her.

Claudia was annoyed at his dismissive tone. “So who invited you to Thailand,” she challenged.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, did the villagers say, ‘Come, help us, teach us your great western knowledge?’”

Michael caught the sarcasm in her voice and his face darkened. “The government invited our organization. It’s part of international trade and third-world development.”

“Third-world,” Claudia sneered. “I love that. Like they’re third class people.”

“Claudia, you know I don’t think that.” Michael swung abruptly in his chair to face her. “International aid is complicated; even the best of motives are never pure. So don’t give me some cliché criticism. You’re a photographer, you should know that nothing is ever completely black or white.” He stood up quickly and went to the bar to pay.

Claudia sucked in her lip. She had wanted him to see that she could think for herself, that she was learning to challenge ideas she had previously held. Instead she knew she’d come across sounding stupid and trite. She reached in her bag for a cigarette and lit it quickly, anticipating the look of disapproval on her cousin’s face.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Short story: Balance (part iv)

As she rode the metro, Claudia felt anxious and unsettled. Thinking about Michael made her feel guilty and embarrassed. She had planned to get up early, get croissants from downstairs and give him a map of Paris, recommend galleries and sites, make sure he would be okay his first day in the city. She groaned as she realized that she had even forgotten to give him a key. She decided to skip her afternoon classes and come back early, try to make it up to him.

It was around noon when Claudia came home, carrying a fresh baguette and groceries for lunch. Michael looked up with annoyed surprise.

“I thought you had classes all day,” he said. “That’s what your friend Margrite told me.”

“I did,” Claudia replied. “But I felt bad about not leaving you with keys or anything to do, so I skipped them to hang out with you.”

“You shouldn’t have missed classes. Margrite told me she would leave the door open and I was getting ready to go out,” he said.


Claudia set down her groceries. The room seemed crowded with Michael at the table. “Well, are you hungry?”

“I already ate.”

There was a half-eaten baguette on the table and she set hers down beside it, noticing that hers was broken in two.

With forced cheerfulness, Claudia suggested they go to the Louvre. Michael agreed dully. Once inside, he spent half an hour inching his way through a thick crowd to get a close look at the Mona Lisa.

“I’ve never understood what’s so special about that painting,” Claudia huffed after waiting impatiently for him. “It’s so little and isolated behind that glass. I want art accessible, alive. The Mona Lisa is a small, dead painting - a pretty corpse on display.”

“It’s a classic,” he admonished, “one of the most beautiful paintings that exist.”

“Just because it’s a classic, doesn’t mean I have to like it,” she said. She was annoyed at her cousin for showing such interest in the painting. When she had shown him some of her photographs the night before, he had flipped through them quickly, indifferently. “So this is what you do,” he’d said.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Mother and daughter

I celebrated my second mothers’ day today, having been a mother for just a little over two years. The occasion sort of snuck up on me and I must admit that I was a little negligent in getting something to my own mother on time – which I trust will be understood as having everything to do with my busy week and overloaded brain and nothing to do with a lack of love and respect.

It’s a privileged position to be able to celebrate today as both a mother and a daughter – even if the celebration with my mom is over a skype call and the promise of a package in the mail, and even if my daughter has no concept of the occasion. Just having both of them in my life makes me truly blessed.

I like looking at pictures of the two of them – the connection between them is apparent, as is the physical resemblance. A lot of people have told me my daughter looks like me, but I still don’t see it – what I do see is how much she takes after my mom, especially in profile and especially their noses!

I’ve also become aware as I watch my mom with Miya, of the many ways mom shaped me as a mother. The way my mom reads books to Miya, asks her questions, engages with her – it’s almost surreal to see because I know that I do the same things. And yet these are not things that I consciously learned from her – I doubt that I could even recall the memories of how she read to me when I was 2 – but in some part of my brain those must have been retained because I see myself in her mirror and the reflection is familiar and comforting.

So today on mothers’ day I haven’t been thinking so much about what it means to be a mother, or even, perhaps, as much as I should on all that is lovely about my own – instead I have been very aware of my position between the two - my arms stretching out to my roots and to my future, holding two precious relationships in my hands.

Spring in the capital

Now that the weather is turning warmer, Miya is outside soaking up the sunshine and making the most of Ottawa spring.

She joined in at the local Easter egg hunt - her face festively painted with a little bunny and was very equal opportunity for what was added to her bucket: eggs, grass, pebbles, sticks.

She attended the local tulip festival where she checked up on tulips large and small.

At the tulip festival she even shared her artistic talent by joining in on the kids mural - adding dabs and streaks of bright colours. Tulips and creativity are blossoming all around.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Marathon meetings part II

Thinking more about running marathon meetings - by which I mean the kind of meetings that run for days. I admit that I haven’t had opportunities to put these ideas into practice – and its always easy to be a critic. But I have had training in group facilitation and have sat through many meetings, good and bad and have been thinking quite a lot about what makes them so.

Continued from yesterday, here are few more ideas I’ve had. Your feedback is welcome.

6) Speaking of which, there should be multiple ways to provide feedback during marathon meetings. Meetings are typically characterized by the mind-numbing boredom of the same format for each session - often involving people presenting reports, in some cases reports that participants have already read, followed by verbal discussions dominated by the same few people. Break-out sessions can work, especially for brain-storming type work, and can help draw input from those who tend to be silent. There could be opportunities for written feedback, quick questionnaires, etc.

7) Shared creative activity can go a long way in fostering a positive atmosphere. While perhaps not as easy to plan as break-out sessions or questionnaires, finding a way to bring creative activities into a marathon meeting could be instrumental in improving morale and generating positive, creative ideas.

8) Be aware of the time of day during which different topics are introduced. I read a fascinating, but sobering, study done on the likelihood that a judge grants parole to applicants depending on at what time of day the application is brought forward. Essentially the study found that the odds of a prisoner receiving parole dropped dramatically the further the hearing was from the judge’s break. Meeting agendas should take into consideration the ebb and flow of energy levels – and make sure the most important things are addressed in prime periods.

Basically, I think what it comes down to for me is the need to focus more the people and relationships, and less on the items of an agenda. I recognize that there is work to be done, but surely a little creativity and attention to energy and mood could help get this work done more efficiently.

Friday, May 06, 2011

How to run a marathon... meeting

I’ve been thinking more about the benefits of nature stuff I wrote about yesterday – contrasted with the draining meetings I sat through for three days. Got me thinking that perhaps there are better ways to organize these type of marathon meetings most of us have to attend in the course of our careers.

For example:

1) If possible, hold the meetings somewhere outside of the city - and if you manage to get such a location, then purposefully, pointedly, make the most of it. Outdoor walks should be practically mandatory – blizzard conditions aside. Walking in the rain can be just as much, if not more, rejuvinating than walking under sunny skies.

2) Begin each day with something positive and not work related i.e. simple relaxation exercises or those silly ice-breaker games that everyone rolls their eyes at but which actually make people laugh and do, in the end, break the ice.

3) I learned from a great facilitator that one should never underestimate the positive impact of providing snacks and beverages. Coming into a meeting room where there is food laid out, coffee and tea served hot, immediately puts people at ease. But if the meetings are long and spread over days, I think it is in everyone’s best interests to make sure meals and snacks are healthy. Sitting in the same room all day with only sugary sweets and caffeine to get you through has even the most tolerant people on edge.

4) If possible, change rooms for different sessions – or at least make everyone get up, stretch and move around before sitting back down. Even making people change seating arrangements in the room can help stimulate new ideas and break the boredom.

5) I’ve sat through so many meetings for which the planners were so concerned about getting everything on the agenda addressed that the days were crammed, breaks were cut short, and sessions inevitably ran over. I think organizations would get more accomplished in the big scheme of things if they were willing to trim a little off the agendas and focus more on building a positive atmosphere for those items which really do need to be addressed.

I’m just getting started.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Nature nurture

As I was driving out into the Gatineau hills yesterday on my way to a retreat centre, I happened to be listening to a documentary on the CBC about how nature shapes our brains –and how its absence can undermine our health.

Even without the reports of stress invoked by the concrete jungle, I likely would have felt that familiar relief upon leaving the city and driving into a landscape of green forests and rolling hills. I think we all know instinctively that it is so much better for us to be out here, breathing in the clean air, walking on unpaved roads, listening to the sounds of nature.

The documentary reminded me of a similar report I read a few months ago that looked at how children benefit by spending time outdoors. Some schools are working to integrate gardening and extra outdoor playtime and have found this greatly improves things like concentration, mood, energy, and learning.

An article I read today referred to a study in which students were told to take a walk either on downtown streets or in an arboretum. They were then given a battery of tests and the downtown walkers were found to be in worse moods and with lower levels of attention and short-term memory. I’m not surprised.

The meeting I was in today were long – at times tense, at times boring. When we had a mid-morning break I left the building and saw a small footbridge not far away. I crossed onto it and stood looking down at the small stream flowing beneath. Then I continued on across, walking on damp mossy ground. Not far away was a smaller bridge and then the path began to climb into a forest.

Buds are just appearing on the trees and the forest floor was a mix of dead autumn leaves and new growth. Up ahead I saw a big old tree, its thick twisted branches silhouetted against the pale sky. I walked up to it and stood awhile, just resting my hand on its rough, gnarled trunk. Sounds corny, but I felt almost overwhelmed with gratitude.

What the science is starting to tell us, we already know in our hearts.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Short story: Balance (part iii)

Michael woke before dawn. He was disoriented, shivering under a damp chill. An unfamiliar grey half-light came in through the window; a siren on the street below was foreign and threatening. It took a few moments to remember he was in his cousin’s room in Paris. He tried to ease himself back to sleep, but he his body was stuck on Thai time. The bed was uncomfortable and cold.

He groped in the dark for a light switch, accidentally knocking a framed photo off the wall. After finding the light, he reached to pick it up. A crack snaked across the glass making a fissure between Claudia and another young woman. They were standing beside a fountain, arms around each other, their faces happy but over-exposed by a bright light.

Michael touched the rough line in the crack and his finger passed over Claudia’s face. ‘She’s changed,’ he thought. Last night she had seemed skittish, nervous. She rarely met his eyes. When they were growing up she had been like a little sister to him. He was worried about the edginess and unease he saw now.

In Margrite’s room, Claudia woke with a start. She checked her watch and realized she’d slept in. She tried to sneak out of bed quickly, but got caught on in the blankets.

‘Sorry,’ she whispered to Margrite, who groaned and rolled toward the wall.

Claudia dressed hastily in the clothes she had worn the day before and quietly closed the door behind her. Michael was reading on her bed when she came into the room, forgetting to knock. They both jumped.

‘Oh, sorry. I forgot you were here,’ Claudia said. ‘I’m late for school.’ She darted around her room, grabbing a notebook and pen and stuffing them into her black bag. ‘I’ve gotta run. I’ll be back at 4:00. Sorry, Michael.... Um, help yourself to whatever you need. There isn’t much to eat, but there’s a patisserie across the street. I’m sorry. Are you going to be okay all day?” Her words tumbled out her mouth and fell onto the cluttered floor.

‘Stop apologizing,’ Michael said. ‘Go. You’ll be late. I’m fine.’

‘Okay.... I’m sorry Michael. See you later.’

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

In honour of my mentor

I spent this evening at a celebration/retirement party for a woman I have come to greatly respect and admire over the last few months.

When I started my new job in February, I was told that I would be partly taking over from Lorraine – a long-time staff member retiring at the end of March. I quickly realized that I had very large shoes to fill.

Tonight there were testimonies from people who have known and worked with her for many years. She was described by a former colleague as “a courageous advocate and prophetic voice, speaking truth to power, challenging stereotypes and “the way we’ve always done it”, asking fundamental questions of governments and systems about the failure of the adversarial model, and witnessing to the conviction that we can do better if only we put people and their needs at the centre of the justice equation.”

Through this and other testimonies, a constant theme was Lorraine’s compassion, courage, faithfulness and wisdom. It was inspiring to listen to – not just because you hope that someday people might say lovely things about you, but because it showed that at the end of the day, what matters the most is not the number of hours logged in the office, the degrees and prizes acquired, the funds raised – what people remember is the way in which you engaged with those around you, the strength of character you displayed and the constancy of your faith.

It’s easy to get caught up in the drudgery of tasks, emails and reports. Tonight I was reminded of the vision behind all we do. And it’s when we lose sight of this vision that tasks become chores and not means to a greater end. I was also reminded that the how can be just as important as the what and the why.

Tonight I heard testimonies to Lorraine who, it seems, has not let the what of her vision and the infinite tasks required to put that vision into practice, obscure the importance of respecting the how and the why. This is something I know I still stand to learn. I am so grateful to have such a wise mentor to learn from.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Election night 2011

When you’re not cheering for the winning team, watching the game gets very depressing.

I usually don’t get emotionally involved watching sports. I might have a team I root for, but if they lose I tend to shrug it off and walk away feeling little more than a vague disappointment. I guess I never really saw the point in investing that much mental energy into something so completely beyond my control or removed from my personal life.

But the game I’ve been watching tonight is quite different – and it’s not a game at all. It’s directly related to my personal life, my community and my country. I’ve invested myself, my time and energy into it. I can’t just walk away from this with a shrug because the winners of this game are going to run my country for the next four year.

For the next four years our tax dollars will be poured into fighter jets and prison expansion. Our social programs – especially those addressing the needs of women and the poor – will continue to be slashed. Sure our federal deficit may be reduced – but at what cost to our communities?

Well, the media predicted that change was coming. It certainly has – although not the change that approximately 60% of Canadians were hoping for. Such a broken system we live with. I sat on the couch tonight, watching the numbers roll in. While thrilled to see the rise of the NDP, I am so discouraged by Harper’s majority.

Interesting to watch what Peter Mansbridge described as “the near destruction of one of Canada’s founding political parties.” Results showed how support for the Liberals bled into two very different parties – those right of centre Liberals voted Conservative in order to stop a Layton victory; those left of centre turned to the NDP as the party that could perhaps stop a Tory majority. In some cases, the vote just split between Liberals and NDP, parting the waters to the Tories could sail right on in.

But a chasm will open up on the floor in the House of Commons and swallow all hope of co-operation. A Conservative majority and social democratic opposition. The lines are clearly drawn.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Short story: Balance (part ii)

Claudia pushed open the door to her bedroom, a narrow room with a dirty window through which she could look over Paris’s hazy, grey skyline. Photographs covered the blue walls. A single bed with thin blankets was tucked against the wall, across from which was a small desk cluttered with prints and books.

“You can sleep here,” Claudia said to her cousin, who was standing uncertainly in the doorway.

“I’m going to crash with my flat-mate, Margrite.”

“I don’t want to kick you out of your room,” Michael protested.

“Well, would you rather sleep with Margrite?” she teased and a dark blush rose beneath his tan.

“It’s just... I could... well I could stay in a youth hostel or something,” he mumbled.

“Don’t worry about it. Hostels are ridiculously over priced and Margrite and I are fine. Really, she doesn’t mind at all.”

Claudia didn’t add that this would not be the first time she had shared her friend’s bed. There were topics and ambiguities she was not ready to discuss, not with him, not with anyone. But swallowing words made her feel heavy and she felt a prick of resentment towards him, as if he were responsible for her lack of honesty.

That night she lay down beside Margrite and nestled into the arms that encircled her. She could feel the heat of Margrite’s skin pressing against her back.

“I was really looking forward to Michael coming here,” she said as a hand began caressing her back. “But he just makes me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.”

Margrite didn’t say anything, but her warm hand traced lines on Claudia’s back, like she was writing in invisible ink.

“I wanted Michael to be happy for me here, but I find myself keeping things from him, lying to him, hiding my cigarettes, hiding you...” Claudia spoke in a low voice in case her cousin could hear through the thin walls.

“Why do you need to impress him so much?” Margrite asked gently. “What does it matter what he thinks?”

“You’re right,” said Claudia, rolling away from the caressing hand. “It shouldn’t matter what he thinks. This is my life and I have nothing to be ashamed of.”