Tuesday, February 23, 2010


When we were in Portugal a few years ago, I cringed whenever I spotted the many crazy fishermen, perched at the edge of the tallest cliffs, their great long fishing rods, bent and drooping to the crashing waves far below. They seemed quite comfortable there, on the edge of danger, but seeing them made my stomach flutter.

"Why do they do that?" I asked.

"It's where the best fish are," I was told. The turbulent, churning water at the base of the cliffs makes for prime feeding ground. So, these fishermen teeter at the edge, risking all for the best fish.

"Do they ever fall?" I asked.


I've found in recent weeks that there is some life wisdom in this. If we can manage the fear, the most tense, turbulent parts of our lives are where we find the best opportunities for growth.

But they are also the places where we encounter the highest risk.

So, it's up to us to decide...is the risk worth the gain?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Show me, don't tell me

A couple years ago, we realized my baby girl was becoming deaf. It started with a sensitivity to loud noises like thunder and chain saws, then we began to realize she was losing her hearing. We were very grateful that we'd taught her hand signals in addition to vocal commands when she was a puppy.

We rely on this now. But, of course, she has to be looking at us to 'hear'.

She is now a 12 year old golden with the spirit and energy of a puppy, but she hears nothing. She sleeps alot. And soundly.

What I've noticed is that we've begun to treat her differently. We ensure we wake her with a gentle touch, so we don't startle her. We show our love (or dismay) through action and facial expression, rather than words. I'm sure she can read my lips. Sometimes she stares at me endlessly, looking for what? Acknowledgement, contact, recognition?

In short, we are more demonstrative. We use body language, facial expression and touch.

And, curiously enough, our concern for her has made us more aware of each other. It has become more important to show than to tell. I began to see how far away from this we had grown in our complacency. And how much I had missed it without even realizing it.

Caring for an Other's needs makes us less self-absorbed and more outwardly aware.

What worries me, is this. With so much attention and focus and obsession with texting and social networking...with the bulk of our interaction taking place with an iPod or Blackberry, will our society begin to lose its ability to read body language? Facial expression? Are we going to become touch-deficit?

What if the coming generation loses the intuitive recognition of the Other's feelings or needs? What then?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Matter of Pride

As I watched the amazing opening ceremonies of the Olympics last night, I felt an incredible swelling of pride in my country and its people. It is truly a blessed thing to be a Canadian.

Last night's show was a mesmerizing flowing narrative of Canada's history with Cirque-du-Soleil-like illusions, lighting and special effects. Throughout, I was very moved that the organizers chose to celebrate the heritage of our First Nations peoples with such beauty and grace and respect. It is their strength and endurance that this country was built upon...they who came first.

Of course, my blurry photos taken of the TV (NOT a big screen..) are bare hints of what it was really like. Spirit Bear above.

Then, today, in an e-conversation with BluAmaryllis, I was reminded of a trip to Belgium in 2003 when I ran a marathon for the Arthritis Society.

I had gone there feeling untethered. I was disillusioned with my national heritage and the politics of the day; as an English Canadian, I felt I had no real claim to a vibrant cultural community. I knew quite a bit about my family history, but it gave me no sense of past struggle or achievement that I could cling to as a legacy. In short, I had no firm identity.

A few days before the marathon, we did a tour of Flanders Fields, commonwealth cemeteries museums and memorial sites. This real life education made real my country's involvement in World War I. Although my easy life of freedom left me without the resources comprehend the enormity of the death and destruction, a realization of the echos created from sacrifice crept in. As our team sang O Canada at the Menin Gate, and laid wreaths for those who died defending another country's right to freedom, I wept openly. I still do, when I think of it all.

But, on the night before the marathon, as our entire team moved down an oceanside promenade in Oostende, Belgium in our Canadian jackets, carrying our Canadian flag, a number of older gentlemen stopped their evening stroll to stand at attention, saluting us as we passed. More than 85 years had passed and yet, they remembered and honoured the Canadians' contribution.

I was moved beyond words by this show of respect and recognition.


Sometimes you have to see yourself in the eyes of another to know who you are. I was born in this country - have never known anything else - but it wasn't until that very moment, that I truly became Canadian in my soul.

This then, is the residual value of the honour and courage of those who died so many years ago. And those who are dying today for the people of Afghanistan. The respect for their sacrifice has given me strength and conviction. It has given me pride and a reason to stand tall for what I believe in. Because I am Canadian.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A matter of place

Just before Christmas, I saw an old friend from my childhood neighbourhood. She was in town for her mother's funeral. The last time we had connected, we were wrinkle- and worry-free teenagers. It seemed a lifetime had slipped by. As we shared highlights of the passing years, I mentioned how nice it would be to get together in a happier time. When would she be coming home again?

Her face fell. She didn't think she had a reason to come back, now that she had no family remaining here. She felt a little adrift, she said. Like she no longer had a home.

Her comments stirred a chord with me as I am an only child.

What will I be feeling when my parents are gone? Will this still be home? Or will a thread be broken? Will an unravelling begin?

I think the reason I enjoyed a The Good Earth so much is that it spoke to the part of me that has been exploring the idea of our connection to landscapes. Perhaps there is a part of me instinctively striving to find a firmer foundation, knowing that as the years pass, my family ties become more fragile and tenuous.

I am comfortable in my world beside the Bay of Fundy, like it whispers in a familiar voice from some time before my living memory and experience. I walk the forests unafraid, trace the coastline with curiosity, and feel a strange sense of pride - almost like ownership -when I discover something new and wondrous. I feel protective.

In the biographical book I just finished writing, a young Mary found herself alone, separated from family, home and possessions during the war. She survived, finding strength, solace and continuity in the natural world. So perhaps my interest is no coincidence...Perhaps her story is teaching me to do the same.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Good Earth

My book club has been reading 'The Good Earth' - a timeless classic written by Pearl S. Buck in 1931. It is one of those books that calls you to read sections over and over and then once more aloud for the lyrical beauty of the words.

It is a book about the life of Chinese peasants...about man's fundamental connection to place, to the earth -

"Wang Lung sat smoking, thinking of the silver as it had lain upon the table. It had come out of the earth, this silver, out of his earth that he ploughed and turned and spent himself upon. He took his life from this earth; drop by drop by his sweat he wrung food from it and from the food, silver."

I found myself quite literally wrapped into the story; Buck's simple descriptions bringing the grit of earth to my fingers and scent of it to my nose. It is a stunning book - not only by the simplicity and poetry of her writing, but the fact it was only her second novel (of dozens to come). I love how she pulled me along through images, the pace increasing until she said what she really wanted to say.

"Day by day, beneath the opulence of this city, Wang Lung lived in the foundations of poverty upon which it was laid. With the food spilling out of the markets, with the streets of the silk shops flying brilliant banners of black and red and orange silk to announce their wares, with rich men clothed in satin and in velvet, soft-fleshed rich men with their skin covered with garments of silk and their hands like flowers for softness and perfume and the beauty of idleness, with all of these for the regal beauty of the city, in that part where Wang Lung lived there was not food enough to feed savage hunger and no clothes enough to cover bones."

As I read, I marveled at the author's style and her skill in creating characters that evoked emotion. And how, with every turn, I found myself shaking my head...'no, don't go there Wang Lung...open your eyes....' And through it all, she showed how even very good people have a dark side - and that it is as much a part of who we are as the goodness.

As a writer, I think it is important to read such books, to dwell in them and to read them aloud so my ears can hear the music and rhythm of another's creativity.