30 April, 2008

What, Why, and How

Two days after helping Nomad Son tortuously finish up writing a six-page philosophy essay assignment, I came upon this video. Oh, how I wish I had seen it about a week before.


I'm presently working on a poem/slideshow using this method. Here is the "map" of the poem. I actually scribbled down something on paper (ahem, during a meeting where there was so much blahblah going on), but it was illegible.
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The gods willing, I might even be able to post the poem/slideshow in the next days.

I'm off early tomorrow morning heading over to Toronto. Please keep those thoughts of yours coming for a safe and pleasant journey.

28 April, 2008

Fickle Friends

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Summer barged in like a bully,
Into our quiet conversation,
Over at the shaded corner
Of our favourite playground.
Spring turned her face away,
And slunk off in a, yes, in a sulk.
A rather silly pout, which
We girls chose to ignore, which
Is not fair, but who cares; we
Lean towards the warm embrace
Of our new friend, Summer.

26 April, 2008

Chapel in the Woods

trees

In my life, I’ve had the pleasure to visit a chapels built in woods. The chapel was simply built, but splendid for being embraced by trees and light.

I’ve just spent the last hour listening to Wangari Maathal speak with Krista Tippett about spiritually and trees. It has been an enriching experience: like sitting in that chapel of my childhood.

24 April, 2008

Sharing Your Stories

Yogamum recently wrote a post about how friends and family are sharing all sorts of stories about her father with her since he died a few weeks ago. She is delighted and touched by the richness of these stories. She wants us all to share these stories while our loved ones are alive and not wait until the other person is no longer present.

I am not so sure this is possible. For, in my experience, it is the storytelling, the remembering, and the overt sentimental reminiscing after a loved one dies, which makes the grieving bearable. It is those stories that act as a salve to our tender hearts.

Sometimes it seems to me that those stories, told by friends and family, are a device of the dead letting us know they are not truly gone. It is one of the first devices, of many, from the beyond, showing us how love and affection is eternal.

A university friend of mine, K., lost his parents to cancer when he was in his late teens. K. was, sadly, a very troubled person, for having lived a very troubled childhood. Both his parents were alcoholics. His mother was an over-bearing, bitter, complaining, controlling, angry woman. His father cowered under the shadow of her force. K’s father died first, and strangely, his mother a few months later.

The year after his parents died, K. went to work for a summer job at the airport his father worked. He told me a few years later that not one day went by that summer without some colleague of his father dropping by and telling K. some story about his father. Through the eyes of his father’s colleagues, K. met someone who was always willing to help one of his pals out of a fix, never one to complain, never shirked his duties, a funny great lad to have around.

These stories, at first, broke K’s heart. These men had known a man K. had never known. He didn’t recognise the pal they were talking about, as the same person as his father. The father he’d know was weak, silent, and drunk. But as the weeks went by, K. started to welcome the stories. Once he got over the strangeness of hearing how his father was a funny and extroverted fellow, he began to rejoice that he obviously had lived a happier life outside of his miserable marriage and disappointing family life.

The stories his father’s colleagues told helped K. to heal old wounds and conflicts. They were a blessing in their own way.

Even though our relationships with our parents or other family members are not always so troubled, there are few relationships that do not experience some unresolved conflicts. For this reason, let stories of long ago be told at the time of a loved one’s death. May they serve us well to connect to those who are gone and so missed.

23 April, 2008

Tempo, Timing, Timeless

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These last weeks have been ridiculously busy. New work contracts. A slew of social engagements. Instead of slowing down, things seem to be picking up. My question is whether it is at all possible to capture a sense of timelessness within this chaos?

It looks like I will be in Toronto at the end of next week. Do any of you live in or near Toronto? Can anyone recommend a nice cafe or a place to sit quietly and work/read in and around the Sunnybrook Hospital. I will be visiting my beloved uncle.

21 April, 2008

The Lightness Of Being

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Have any of you seen a large sea turtle sun bathing? It is a delightful experience. It is time turned back. It is decades of quietude. A blessing to you all.

20 April, 2008

Humpty Dumpty

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"Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall,
All the King's horses and all the King's men,
Couldn't put Humpty together again."

The Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme is a mystery to me. The way that I see it, Humpty Dumpty must have been royalty of sort. I suspect he was the brilliant spoilt youngest son of a very pompous sovereign. The problem with the Humpty Dumpty’s rhyme is that the lesson takes place before he climbs up onto that wall. The moral of the story is not about falling or how useless the kinsmen are. No, the story is about how Humpty Dumpty got up on the wall in the first place.

What sort life did he live that he came up against the wall? Why was the wall there? Was he a dreamer? A gambler? Did he chase after women? Did he run away from stifling sovereignly duties?

I knew a Humpty Dumpty in my childhood. He was an architect, possessed with grand visions about the importance of architecture and his own brilliance. He possessed a fine appreciation for art and nature. He was the first person I met, who felt there was absolutely no separation between the two. Art was nature. Nature art.

His family and mine were befriended from the time of my birth. Life was fascinating when he was around. For example, he’d take us children out digging for Arawak and Carib Indian artifacts. We’d be out under the hot afternoon sun, getting mud under our nails, fire ant bites on our legs, all the while trying to pry the pottery shards from the grips of the earth. He would transport us back hundred of years to the time when the Arawak and Carib Indians populated the island.

Then he’d reprimand us severely, if we whined about heat or thirst or hunger. We were explorers, archaeologists, and not sissies. He could get very angry about things we couldn’t comprehend.

In the evening, having changed into more formal attire, he’d charm a room full of dinner guests. He’d talk art, history, and politics. It didn’t matter what the topic of interest was, he knew everything there was to know. Or, at least so it seemed to me as a child and young adult.

Eventually, I began to see the wall on the horizon of his life. His furious intelligence turned to fury. His magnificent visions became hallucination. He started to climb his wall built with bricks of egotism, self-centeredness, megalomania, dementia, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer. Tragically, all the King’s horses and all the king’s men, we couldn’t put him back together again.

19 April, 2008

Refreshingly Funny

It’s Friday. It’s late afternoon. I really just want to go home for the weekend, instead I’m in a tone studio at the television and radio school down by the harbour in Luebeck. We’re making a film that has to be synchronised in German and English. The professional actor we’ve hired to speak the texts arrives late for our appointment. The way he saunters into the studio and the light smirk on his face shows a complete absence of contriteness.

Irritated, I hand him the script and ask him whether he needs some time to practice. Flippantly, he says, “No, we can start recording right away.” I don’t know if he is being facetious or not. Surely he can’t just speak the text without one or two run throughs.

“How are you going to speak the text?” I ask him. “However you want me to”, is his answer. Noticing the puzzled expression on my face, he proceeds to read the text out loud. After each sentence, he changes his voice. Each voice is the voice of some cartoon character: Mickey Mouse, Scooby Doo, Tweety, Mr. Mago, etc. As each sentence comes to an end, he places his finger on his right nostril and presses down. His nose clicks and a new cartoon voice comes out.

I begin to shake with laughter. All of my irritation disappears. He is so refreshingly funny. I’m laughing so much that I wake out of my sleep.

What a wonderful thing it is to waken with laughter. Something that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

18 April, 2008

Fair Pay

The Angry Black Bitch blog recently wrote that today is “Blog for Fair Pay for Women” day. Bloggers are asked to write a post entry about pay inequality. A discrepancy exists, continues to persist.

In our household we have an untypical balance of unfairness. With an engineering degree under my belt, I have benefited by practicing in this predominately male profession. My husband, a translator, has financially suffered the indignities of practicing a female profession. We both studied equally as long. We both have a long history of working conscientiously, responsibly, independently, as well as in teams, with heart and soul.
elder
I would like to dedicate this post to all the women of past generations who worked hard and long to support themselves and their families in a world where “fair pay” was not yet conceived of. This also goes for women working in countries today that do not recognise this injustice. I wish to acknowledge their efforts. Thank you.

17 April, 2008

NYC Trip Story

(Our taxi driver told the following story to me on the way to the airport during our recent trip to NYC.)

We moved my mother into a senior citizen’s home two years ago. She just couldn’t look after herself any more. She was so forgetful. She no longer washed. People from social services came in daily, but things were just not right.

First, she slipped in the shower and spent the night lying nude in the bathtub. Then she locked herself out of her home when she brought out her dog for a late night pee and they slept in the toolshed. So, we children had to make the decision to put her in a home. It wasn’t easy.

The hardest part was her dog. We had to find a good home for it. My mother was very attached to it. After all, they’d spent twelve years together. The dog was just too lively. Really lively.

Fortunately, we found out about old couple that lived in the countryside who were willing to take the dog. It wouldn’t have been good to bring it to an animal shelter, or give it to a young person. No, all in all, it couldn’t have worked out better. We brought my mother went out to visit the dog in its new home. The house had a big garden.

Dogs need a garden to run around in. That dog wasn’t a quiet dog. No siree, it sure was lively. The fact is, it pushed me mother down the stairs by jumping between her legs when she was going down the stairs. She broke her thighbone. A year later, the dog pulled her along the garden pathway and she fell again. She was in the hospital a long time after that accident. The dog was just too lively.

Now, two years after she moved into the home, my mother says she is happy there. What more could one want? My mother is happy. Her dog is happy.

(Comment: the way the taxi driver told the tale it wasn’t so clear whether the dog was just a little bit crazy.)

16 April, 2008

Today’s Reasons For Loving Luebeck

doorknob19
Luebeck is a relatively small city in northern Germany. It is an UNESCO city, and like most UNESCO cities, particularly picturesque and filled to the gills with historical significance. It also happens to be, in my opinion, one of the nicest places to live and raise a family.

Here follows a lists of items that make living in Luebeck today a delight:

  1. The sun is shinning and thus the city skyline is spectacular.
  2. My postwoman waves at me with a big smile on her face from across the way. She has been delivering mail in our neighbourhood for nearly ten years now. I like the fact that she stopped dieing her hair jet black and has returned to her natural silver grey. For those of you who live in Germany, that means you Charlotte, you know what a radical statement this is. Especially, because the postwoman is young (maybe mid-forties).
  3. The German postwomen and postmen deliver the mail on foot, pushing trolleys from door-to-door. The trolleys are of manageable size and need constant refilling. The postwomen and postmen pick up bundles of mail along their routes at various drop-off points. These drop-off points are not locked up containers belonging to the postal company, but publicly accessible areas at doctor’s offices, or kindergartens, or museums. This honour system still seems to work.
  4. Our ever efficient tax advisor asked the tax department to reconsider their decision to not return us a certain sum of money after auditing us on our 2005 tax return. The tax department agreed to look over the documentation again, and came to the conclusion they did owe us the money, and promptly paid us back without any ado. All of this happened in the ten days we were in NYC; without any necessary action on our part.
  5. Luebeck has a simple, efficient, foolproof public transport system. Each bus stop has a post with name printed on it. There are bus schedules mounted on the posts telling when each bus is arriving and what route they are taking. In the buses, loudspeakers and various LED screens announce what stop is coming up next.
  6. Walking by the church around the corner from our place, I hear the Bach Choir and organ rehearsing for their next concert. I slip into the church through the side door and sit quietly in a shadowed corner listening the music. It pours over the empty pews and, like a heavy ether, slowly fills the air with its purity.
  7. The city is small enough that it is possible, for most of us, to ride our bicycles to work.

Speaking of which, I’m off…

14 April, 2008

Orators

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of attending a dear friend’s 50th birthday. Besides delightful company and excellent food, there were speeches made, as is customary at most important fetes. Before coming to Germany, the speeches I heard at weddings were so lacklustre they were embarrassing at best.

I don’t know where Germans learn how to make intelligent, funny and touching speeches about their daughter’s escapades in life, or write poems to honour a silver wedding anniversary, or write ditties about a colleagues working career, but they do it with a flair.

12 April, 2008

In a Wrinkle of Calm

A busy weekend. So much socializing. It almost makes me dizzy. Thus this collage.
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Then, this afternoon, in a wrinkle of calm between various dates, this collage came to be. It was fun experimenting with some of the same components.
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Normally, I wouldn’t post both in one post. I’m really relieved when I have a post or a collage in reserve. Having something in reserve makes all the difference in keeping my writing moving. It is like a gentle measure of momentum to keep this blog going.

11 April, 2008

Helping Hands

hands

Well, I am back from the first four hour session at the occupational therapy school. Went there as a bundle of nerves. Came back filled with energy. The students were good sports about diving in head first into this new course.

Young group of students. Surprising how many of them do not use the computer at all in their day-to-day life. This is not meant as criticism, just strange for me to wrap my head around. I've been using computers since the computers filled up rooms from wall to wall and we had to feed in stacks of punched cards into the computer. I just assumed everyone uses computers; only to different degrees.

This reminds me of my reaction to asking my new boyfriend (now husband) if he could envision going off sailing for a few weeks while visiting my parents in Grenada. His stunned expression and puzzlement (Where would we sleep?) was followed by a flat refusal. I was raised as a child in a sailing family. As far as I knew up to then, there were people who loved to sail and those who liked to sail. That there were people on the face of this planet who never sailed, didn't want to sail, or even hated sailing, threw me for a loop.

Good thing for my husband (and for me) that we had already fallen in love with each other by that time. It didn't make giving up sailing easy, but it did make it romantically noble (or, so I tried to convince myself).

10 April, 2008

Catching My Breath

It’s been ten days since we returned from NYC, and, as silly as it may sound, I’m just catching my breath again. There were physical symptoms to overcome, but even more, there were intellectual and emotional ones. I was revisiting, or was stuck, in certain conversations and experiences; spending time reflecting on the sense of things.

The trip was so rich in experience; I gave into the temptation to linger. Family and friends here encouraged me to do so. “How was your trip?” “Tell me all that happened?” “What was your impression about…?” Part of me wanted to recount every little detail of the journey. The other part of me wanted me to jump right back into our fine, but humble, existence.

Today, the later part won out. My responses have become more and more truncated and so, it’s time to return both inwardly and outwardly to Luebeck. I’m sure stories of NY will find their way into blog postings in the future months, just not now.

There is much for me to do over the next weeks. In the foreground of my concerns is preparation for some lectures I’m holding at the University of Kiel, and, seeing through an ESL course for occupational therapy (OT) students. The ESL course starts tomorrow and continues the next three months.

I’m going out on a limb on this course. The previous ESL instructors used traditional teaching methods (frontal instruction form, worksheets, vocabulary lists, and blocks of scientific texts with fill-in-the-blank questions) to try and motivate the students to learn English OT terminology and understand English scientific literature.

This the goal of the course, since there is very little German OT literature available. The students, as professional occupational therapists will, in the future, have to rely on English literature to inform them about new developments in their work field. My method, if successful, will be to connect the students with the English-speaking OT community on the web. The students will use blogs, wikis, OT forums, online language training tools to negotiate some sort of position in the wide world out there.

I do not know if it is going to work. The method I’d like to follow requires that the students do all the work and I just offer guidance and structure. It also means they have to ask questions, make comments, seek advice in a language they are not necessarily proficient in. All in all, I am planing on putting them in a rather uncomfortable position.

What I am asking of the soon-to-be (occupational) therapists is that they become (language) patients over the next months. They have to learn to take baby-steps, work consistently on stretching their skills, and not lose their sense of humour along the way.

Wish me luck.

09 April, 2008

Sad Days

Two weeks ago a childhood father figure of mine, Beres, died after a longlong battle with Alzheimer and various other disorders. His wife, Agi, cared for him throughout the ten years or more that it took for the disease to take a vital, intelligent, larger-than-life architect and transform him into a part innocent child/ part savage he was at the end of his life.
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What I find inspirational was Agi’s ability to care for this, more or less, stranger. Beres did not recognise Agi for many years now. And certainly, the Beres of later years bore little or no resemblance to the person she married.

Yesterday, Mage’s friend, Duck, died. Duck had Alzheimer and was cared daily by George, Mage’s husband and Mage. So many of Mage’s stories on her blog were about Duck. I almost feel as if I knew him in some way.

It’s spring. I walk awash with sadness. Yet, knowing their spirits are finally set free, how can I. Safe journey. Fare-well.

08 April, 2008

Spiced Apples

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My grandmother used to make all forms of marvellous produce with the apples from their apple trees. She would use Spice Island spices from Grenada to transform those tart apples into perfumed wonders of tastiness.

My parents lived in Grenada for many years. (My mother continues to do so.) During, what was called, the Revolutionary Years, the only imported food produce to be regularly found in the shops besides local produce was butter and cheese from New Zealand and apples from Canada.

There was something nicely symmetrical about that fact.

07 April, 2008

Connection To Nature

This weekend, I had three interesting talks with friends about where is home and where we want to be in years to come. All four of us have visited and lived in many cities, countries, and even continents. We each have a home of the heart (in my case, Grenada) or a home from childhood. For one reason or another, none of us feel as though we will be returning to these homes when we grow old.
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We do not seem to have an alternative place in our minds as to where we want to “end up”. In the course of the discussions it appears that we are not comparing one city to another, nor even one country to another. Instead we are trying to question the benefits of living in a (semi-) rural setting to an urban one. We all feel drawn to nature, yet none of us wish to loose the amenities of our (small) city life.

My friend, I., is drawn to Berlin. She feels the cultural stimuli, the liveliness, of this city crosses not only cultures, but ages. My other two friends face moves into village life, with large gardens outside their terraces, and the wealth and restrictions of strong community traditions.

I think I am leaning towards living in a city, taking my mother-in-law’s case as an example to learn from. As many of you know, my mother-in-law (end of her 60s) moved in to an apartment across the corridor from our apartment. I’ve noticed a positive change to her person over the last months. She seems more at ease and more lively than she did while living in a high-rise apartment on the outskirts of the city.

While she was living there, she did not feel comfortable about leaving the apartment after dark. There were too many deserted parking lots and too many potential strangers for her to feel safe walking there on her own. Considering that it is sometimes dark in Luebeck at three-thirty in the afternoon in the wintertime, you can imagine how this could be stifling.

Now, when she leaves her apartment she knows the owners of all the small stores, bakeries, restaurants, that line our street on both sides. She says that she is slowly making a life of weekly rituals and responsibilities that is purely of her own choosing. That sounds perfect, doesn’t it?

05 April, 2008

Frozen Wilderness

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It has been a while since I mentioned my favourite poetry site.

I love to listen to poems and then putter at on my collages. The one above is inspired by Jean Sprackland’s, Ice on the Beach poem. Especially, the lines,

In its wash, the ice shelf
barely shivers.

But thirty miles south,
in another town, it creaks,
under the pier, when someone kneels,

staring down like a god
through a damaged sky, onto a wilderness
of ridges and blue shadows.”

Do any of you have other poetry sites or podcasts you could recommend?

04 April, 2008

03 April, 2008

Intrusive Talk

We’re sitting in “our” café near Houston and Perry street; enjoying the tea, fresh orange juice, and free WiFi. As far as we can see, the place is just called Café. At least that is what the sign out front states.

The people working behind the counter are very polite and efficient. They don’t get flustered. They are as cool as cucumbers even when the customers line-up is back up out onto the street. A lot of Spanish banter can be heard between the customers and the employees of the shop. This place is about as local as we could hope to find.

Unlike many of the other places we have been in, they don’t mind their customers spending a lot of time on computers or reading the full edition of the NYT. Actually, they seem to like us loiterers. There are shared winks, smiles and the occasional piece of conversation that includes us in its golden glow.

A woman in her mid-thirties enters. She’s dressed to the nines and dotting the newest bluetooth cell phone. She walks up to the counter, talking very loudly, intrusively so, to a colleague or friend on her phone. The woman behind the counter waits patiently while the bluetooth lady tells her friend to take a photo of the shoes and send it too her as an attachment. These must be some Very Important shoes, for she speaks about them with the same seriousness as others talk about what form of cancer treatments they are going to get.

In between this very earnest discussion about the possible merits of the shoes, the bluetooth lady places a complicated order for a cup of coffee. There are a lot of things that have to go in into the cup and a lot of other things that are not to go in the cup, it is, from a layperson’s point-of-view, almost indecipherable complicated procedure.

After, yet, fifteen minutes, the woman has her cup of coffee and has finished talking on the phone and leaves the café; already dialling the next person.

The woman next to me shakes her head and rolls her eyes. She tells us how another customer did the same thing last week. She was so pissed off being forced to listen to the fellow’s mundane conversation, that she started to read her newspaper article out loud in the same volume as the fellow on the cell phone.

I thought that this is quite an ingenious way to react. Maybe we should all carry around some higher form of literature which we whip out and read out loud whenever we are sitting on a train, or standing in a grocery line, or wherever and feeling put upon.

Would you have the guts to do this?

02 April, 2008

Mush Brain, Tender Heart, Inspired Mind

Been struggling to get my body and mind back into sync again with Luebeck time. Definitely battling with mush brain. One thing about getting older, either I’ve forgotten about experiencing jetlag difficulties during my twenties and thirties and forties, or, jumping back-and-forth over the pond is harder the older I get. Working on getting sleep is a high priority these days. It’s eluding me though.
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I’ve been spending the last day or two listening to beautiful, inspiring TED Talks (1, 2, and 3) and various interviews*/presentations.

I just love words: the spoken word: the ideas these words translate. I spent nearly twenty years of my adult life, more or less, only reading English, and not hearing it or speaking it with any regularity.

For this reason, my active command of the language sadly diminished. Reading my journal entries from twenty years ago attests to this process. Even though my command of English has shrunk, or because of it has shrunk, hearing people speaking articulately never fails to move and inspire me.

My dear husband arrived home from work this afternoon, to find me looking at my laptop with tears in my eyes. He asks me with concern if anything is wrong. I shake my head and croak out “TED Talks”. He shakes his head and goes to the kitchen and makes us both a hot cup of tea. It must be the tinge of Irish in my blood that makes me so.

* Thanks to Everyday Yogini for the recommendation.

01 April, 2008

Returning to Spring

In the ten days we were away, spring came to Luebeck. The magnolia trees in front of the city hall have blossomed. They are always the second trees to blossom. The first is a certain crab apple tree on a sunny bend of the canal down the street from where we live.

What I love about springtime in Germany is the long drawn out brilliance of it all. Coming from Montreal where spring sometimes occurs instantaneously between a late snow storm and the first heat wave, this slow progression of blossom over weeks and weeks, is precious.

Got to get my jetlag body off to work this morning. I think I'll take an extra long route through the community garden allotments and see whether that helps.