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October 30, 2011

My Version of Salt Spring Under Review

It's interesting to examine the mood of a goodbye. Sometimes it's sad. You really don't want to go. Other times you can't wait to leave. If you're lucky, anticipation drapes itself around the choice. More often than not, it's just time and you know it. If I was to examine the mood of my leaving Salt Spring, which I'm about to do, I would say that finally there is no ambivalence left about my choice to return to the city. It has been 3 years to the month since I moved here.

Yes, it's a beautiful place with amazingly creative people who really care about, well, almost everything and anything. I feel like I've experienced what has mattered to me on this little island and now I'm ready for the next chapter. Looking back,  it would seem I did actually pack quite a few experiences into my time here albeit much more so when I first arrived.
When I first moved here, people used to repeat these weird ideas. They'd say Salt Spring will draw you in and when it's done with you it will spit you out. Well, I'm thinking I'm being spit out. They'd say people come here to heal. I've never felt like that's why I was here. Those of you who know me well will know that I spent a very long time working on healing in Vancouver. Coming here, for me, seemed to be more about grasping for a new experience completely different from the way I'd lived and examining my creativity in a more direct way.
I've written for the Driftwood newspaper and Aqua magazine and loved the privilege of meeting so many talented artists and cultural creatives. Thank you to the editor Gail Sjuberg who gave me writing work when I first arrived. It helped make ends meet the first few months.  I am very grateful that she did that and it has been nice to get to know her as a friend as well. The fact that she could remain editor in this community for as long as she has, given the nature of bold and loudly stated fractious opinion, is a credit to her moral fortitude and often, I expect, her diplomacy and wisdom to know when to keep her mouth shut.

For me, reporting/writing eased the transition and thrust me into the community as a result of conducting the requisite interviews. Most recently, I've been the undercover Tweeter for Bruce Wood of Bruce's Kitchen, the Harbour House Hotel and EcoDivaNomi. That's been fun. I loved being able to wander around the Harbour House Farm garden, looking at all the wonderful veggies and admiring staff's hard work, taking photos and then posting them on Twitter/Facebook.  It's an amazing garden and I really loved that experience. It was also fun to go behind the scenes in the restaurant kitchen; a place that is totally foreign to me but the chefs there make it look so easy. God, how I love Twitter. NEVER in a million years did I ever think I'd say such a thing.

Working in the CARE Employment Centre within two months of arriving here was, I truly feel, the real reason I came here even though I had no idea I would do that before my arrival. When I left my last Communications' role in Vancouver it was because of a nagging feeling that I wanted to work one-to-one with people in a way that felt like it mattered. In an almost unbelievable way, working at the employment job felt like the absolute representation of the intent I had been mulling over in my mind.  I worked there four days per week, four hours a day for 2 years and three months. And, all thanks to  a head's up by Karen McDiarmid in Vancouver (all employment roads lead to Karen) who spotted the ad when I had no idea the job was even posted.
It was another Karin (Marita Jones) who actually gave me the confidence to take the risk and come here. I wrote a story on her journey as a metal artist for Aqua magazine prior to my living here and about a month later she called me to ask if I'd like to come back and look after her cat, Tin Tin. We traded houses for a week and when I arrived back on island, she mentioned that acquaintances were looking for someone to sublet a cottage. I still find it unbelievable that I ended up living in the only studio I had ever visited on the Salt Spring Studio Tour years earlier. A woman named Lorna Cammaert used to live there and she makes baskets and used it as her studio. My first year at Moongate Cottage on Broadwell was a very happy time. (Flashback to hot tubbing looking up at the stars under the Fir and Arbutus trees).
I learned so much about myself as a result of the interactions I had with the people who walked through the employment centre doors and from watching my co-worker, Suzanne, communicate with clients. The work was interesting and annoying, frustrating and sometimes depressing. Often, it was a lot of fun thanks to clients who had great hearts or humour and personalities and  individuality that is calling out to be part of a screenplay.

I have tried to put it out of my mind but I can't forget the 6 months or so I spent as the overnight caregiver, four nights per week, for Margaret. Let me just say, there is absolutely no such thing as "free rent." However, I have some nice memories of breakfasts with Margaret and reading from my Rumi 365 Days a Year book. I think we both enjoyed those moments.
Rudy Hexter is another person who stands out for me. I loved visiting his Yurt-like structure to discuss spiritual things. In the spring the fire would be burning and the green tea would be bubbling.  I have nothing but admiration for his way of being and his discipline; a trait I'm sorely lacking it would seem. I still think he could be very rich if offered one to one retreats to city folks.
Of course, I owe Pauline McDonald a huge thank you for being a surrogate mother to me during my first year or so here. We had a lot of great conversations and laughs during that time and I will never forget the warmth of her little house, her storytelling abilities related to her construction dramas, her wonderful cooking and her one of a kind way of being. What a character.
Let's not forget beginner band. I was a lousy flute player. Mostly because I almost never practiced. But, one of my favourite memories when I was new to the island was the weekly Monday night practices in the restaurant that instructors Derrick and Wendy Milton owned. I loved sitting in El Zocalo with Wendy and Derrick remaining so diligent and professional in their approach to hopeless beginners and the catastrophe unfolding before them. Very impressive. Margaritas and a more social group would have made it even better.
I've thoroughly enjoyed selling my photos at the market as a vendor and getting to know some of the other vendors and having the privilege of talking to all those tourists and receiving their feedback has been a real ego stroke. Never in a million years when I came here as a tourist in the past did I ever think I'd be standing on the other side of one of those tables.
And, of course there's Tom and Linda James. We first met at the first market in 2009. I don't actually remember the day but Linda assures me that's when we first met. Since then, I have eaten way too much of their food and had the pleasure of a lot of conversation, laughs  and even a few disagreements around their generous table. I will always think warmly of them and Linda's sister, Sandra, as the two people who were most supportive during my time here and allowed me to stay sane when I felt like I was losing it. Thank you.
Finally, I expect I will have to figure out what to do about my online and blogging persona. The creative, exploring, wondering, yearning and sometimes tormented spirit of Salt Spring was in me long before I ever set foot on this island and I expect it will continue to be with me until I die, for better or worse.
I'm not going to lie. After my first idyllic year, I have not found it easy to live here. It has often been way too isolating and lonely. I have made a lot of connections - superficial ones it would seem - but not enough really intimate friendships in the way I have back in Vancouver. But, then again, it's not easy living on this island for a lot of people. I know that for a fact. Economically it has been quite a large trade-off. When the honeymoon ended, it became a trade-off that required serious soul searching about my priorities. I needed to figure out whether continuing to live here would support my priorities or detract from them. Let's just say, I finally figured it out.

Life is so very short and there are a lot of experiences to pack in and a lot more people to meet.

That's why I know that going is the only wise option and I'm more than ready for the next chapter.

I am, however, still very very glad that I took the risk to come in the first place.

October 25, 2011

Altered States and Human Connection

On Saturday, I went to this workshop related to communication and connection at the end of life. It was put on by Salt Spring Hospice and Greenwoods Foundation.

The two workshop facilitators, married to each other, were excellent and they shared amazing stories and examples of how they have used these techniques to communicate with people who were in altered states of consciousness or at the end of their lives and were having difficulty letting go. 

Now, let your judgement go when you first watch this video. It starts off a bit like Chevy Chase doing a Saturday Night Live intro but persevere and keep watching and be amazed at the stories that Arnie Mindell shares about his experience working with people in comas or during their last stages of life. 

It's on YouTube in three parts so watch all three parts. I think it will take about 20 minutes in total.
Part I
Part II
Part III

October 16, 2011

Salt Spring's Fernwood Dock as Rural Water Cooler

More often than not when I stroll down to the Fernwood Dock on the north end of Salt Spring Island where I live, I'll meet someone there to chat with.  I like to think of it as the water cooler of the North End, although that description is a stupendous stretch from the reality of what might take place around an office water cooler. To be honest, however, I don't recall ever really having a conversation around an office water cooler. Do you? The photocopier on the other hand, now that's a hotbed of social activity!

The weekend before, I met some new landed immigrants from Korea who were using chicken thighs as bait inside crab traps to catch small, bright red rock crabs that honestly, must have about as much meat in them as a sparrow's leg.

On  this beautiful Thanksgiving day, I met Elena Johnson and Joe Nagy from Vancouver. Initially they were talking to other Salt Spring residents also out for a stroll on a sparkling Thanksgiving Sunday. When the others moved on, I continued talking with them.

They were here from Vancouver and staying at The Harbour House Hotel. Elena is a poet. She relocated from a little village in New Brunswick of 222 people (221 when she left) when she was accepted into the MFA Creative Writing program at UBC a few years back.  Of course I was interested. She has had great personal success in the past couple of months getting her poems published in various literary journals in Canada including: the Literary Review of Canada; Dandelion; Arc; and This Magazine; as well as being included in RockSalt: An Anthology published from MotherTongue Publishing run by Mona Fertig here on island.

Joe has been in his chair for 13 years after a forestry accident and together they have this wonderful energy about them which I think comes through in the photo (above).

Tuesday, I dropped in at Bruce's Kitchen as I usually do to touch base and they showed up right behind me. We all had lunch together and we were speaking about writing programs and various other things about Salt Spring (which for the record they found to be really, really friendly) when a woman sitting next to us interrupted us and asked if we would like to hear one of her own poems. Of course, we agreed and she proceeded to recite this...

by Laura L. Lang

Lost in the moment
Fear rises to the surface
Like the head in your glass of beer...

You blow it away
Choosing not to drink it
Becoming part of the haze

VIctory for a moment
But fleeting it would seem
For fear that has not been dealt with
Will crawl back on its knees..

And when you think you've beaten it
Fear rises to the occassion
You've only second guessed it
Now it is part of the equation..

All you are and ever would be
Are lost in the the fears we refuse to see
In order for your dreams to take shape and form
You must face your fears, by riding out the storm.

You may or may not know that Chef Bruce Wood loves poetry. One of his favourite poems is by Pablo Neruda, it's called Your Feet.

Meanwhile, Elena is working on a book of poetry and it will be good to look for that when it gets published. Always nice to meet the visitors who are drawn to the island for some R&R.

October 13, 2011

Closure? No Such Thing But Inside of You

You don't really hear the word used all that much any more. It used to be that you couldn't turn around without someone spouting off emotionally about how they just needed closure. "I'm doing this because I really need closure," they'd say, referring to the belief that some process external to themselves or definitive interaction would give them the answers they are seeking, the peace they long for, and that they'd finally get to "the bottom of everything".

After enduring more than a few roller coaster rides of emotional chaos in my past, I can guarantee anyone in search of closure one absolute. Here it is. Are you listening? Repeat after me. The only person who can give you closure is yourself.
Now,  it's not that I'm saying there is no value in seeking answers or that healing can't be gained from interacting with an individual that you have unfinished business with, but as someone who has endured the suicide of a man I loved and launching a complaint against a "professional" counsellor, I'm not a big fan of the "I just need closure" sentiment any more. 

You need closure? Give yourself permission to grant it to yourself. Do whatever it takes, as long as it has nothing to do with self medication, addiction or violence in order to resolve the disappointment and ambiguous feelings, the disbelief, the shock, the anger, the fear and the grief. That's what therapy is for.

Sweat lodges. Marathon running. Silent meditation retreats. Yoga. Skydiving. Or, ideally, quiet and wondrous acceptance that life is short and every moment you spend embroiled in emotional chaos and pain is a moment that you're handing back to the past in lieu of the present and the future.

The last time I had the burning thought that I just couldn't move forward without some "closure" (and it was a burning and enduring thought at the time), I ended up in an arbitration that required lawyers, testimony, cross examination, the subpoena of my personal journals from 1993 and more soul searching than an astronomer on the verge of a Nobel prize discovery or a new solar system.

To be fair, it was a process that did bring closure and personal strength and the recognition that I had done everything I could to get an individual who in my heart I believed to be someone different than he must have been to explain how he could know better and do what he did. But, it also brought emotional exhaustion at that time and resignation, specifically as it pertains to men and love.

What it didn't do was give me any of the answers or the kind of face-to-face conversation I would have preferred to have with the individual I was seeking to get closure from. While I was seeking something more like what I imagine might happen in a restorative justice process, I got nothing of value except knowledge that my inner voice is the most important one; one that I most need to listen well to, hear and trust absolutely.

The reason this whole focus on closure for me has even surfaced is that the word, closure, has had a resurfacing of late. It has come up in interviews on radio and TV as the Missing Women Inquiry gets underway. It came up while being bombarded by the media circus around the 10th anniversary of 9/11. It comes up time and time again in listening to reports by victims of violence trying to find a way back from their anguish, to the life they used to know and will never know again in the same way. Think Air India.  And, painfully, it comes up every time a First Nations person looks at their shattered present and is stuck in the tragedy of their clouded childhood betrayals.

Closure. If some interaction has already happened, it's over. Give yourself the self-love you're seeking to create a better reality, anew.

October 10, 2011

Stop time at Salt Spring Cottage Resort

I discovered a new find for me on the island. It's called Cottage Resort and it's about a 7 minute drive from Ganges to its location on the South end of St. Mary's Lake. For the past eight years, the nine cottages on the property  - Morning Glory, Snapdragon, Forget-Me-Not, Sunflower, Foxglove, Tiger Lily, Holllyhock, Gary Rose -  have been owned by Randy and Cathie Cunningham. She was an RN who moved into a variety of alternative healing modalities such as cranial sacral massage. He worked in international shipping before they took over the property. I met Cathie when she was looking at my photographs at the market and invited me to drop by to see the property.
 These immaculately maintained cottages lend a romantic air and are perfect for an individual looking to do a retreat (especially in the winter) or for family reunions, special workshops perhaps even a gathering for a small wedding. In total, the property can sleep about 35 people. During the off season, the peace of the location makes it perfect for knitters on retreat, writers, artists or anyone with a need to get away from it all while enjoying a comfy space. The perfect place to remind yourself that life's complexity doesn't have to be what runs yours days. I love the view (above) out this window at the Arbutus tree angling its way to the sky.
There are all sorts of tiny, old fashioned windows on the cottages that let the light stream through to make the rooms even more enchanting.
This cute little one bedroom is called Gary Rose. 
Hollyhock and Honeysuckle sleep 8
Time for breakfast? 
The view from the dock.
The beach house down by the small beach.
Loved the way these oars looked up in the beach house rafters
You have to spend time inside the cottages to notice the small touches.
Don't forget to visit the chickens.
Cathie is working on designing a labyrinth that are meant to be walked at times of transition.
Or you could just choose to sit by the shore with a good book.
On Thanksgiving Friday, the guests were just beginning to arrive. Families waiting for other members to descend from around the province and carloads full of books, board games and turkey, of course.
This place makes me happy.

October 06, 2011

The Wow and How of Steve Jobs

I regret to inform you that I have never owned an Apple product. And, I'm not proud of that fact.

It's not as if I don't recognize the brilliance of invention that was the spirit of the man who used computing to transform the way we live, but I've always owned a PC (silly me).

I am embarrassed to admit that I've never downloaded from iTunes. I have indeed watched ToyStory which of course was a Pixar-produced animation created after Steve Jobs purchased the Graphics group from Lucas Films Computer Graphics prior to it becoming Pixar as a result of co-producing, financing and distributing by Disney if Wikipedia has its facts right.

Still the news of this man's death made me a little sad. It was a strange sad. Afterall, he is a stranger. It was a mixture of genuine regret that a really smart guy who had revolutionized the way we communicate (with a lot of help from other really smart people) had to die of cancer so young. But, that's not new. In addition, there  was also quite a huge portion of envy at how he managed to do what so many of us have not; he got so many aspects of his life together. Then, add in a heaping dollop of wonder at how some individuals have everything it takes to do what they were sent here to do, and then they just do it, while most of us may just never figure it out.

It's not as if the world isn't peppered with an ever-diminishing cast of  individualists. But, so few of them manage to focus their creativity, entrepreneurial spirit and outright smarts at the right time and place, and then take a leap of faith to create something out of nothing that brings change that dominos throughout the world in a positive way. It takes a lot of incredible variables to come together to do what Steve Jobs did which is not to take away a single thing from his own brilliance as perhaps the biggest variable.

To think that Jobs then translated all of it into a challenging, passion-filled existence that resulted in a lot of money for himself and his family, and more importantly providing challenging employment for about 49,000 knowledge-based workers and countless others in the goal of birthing innovative and exceedingly user-friendly tech gadgets  is, well, breathtaking. Or so I see, when I look at everyone who is using an iPhone, iPod, iPad or a Mac. His entire life can be summed up in two words:  "Wow" and "How?"

The 88-year-old woman who owns the property I live on was given an iPad by one of her techie sons and she loves it. She uses it to do her crosswords. She was able to see a photo of her new great grandaughter born in a different part of BC and she stays up-to-date on world events.

She also has an iPod shuffle that enables her to walk around the house listening to CBC's Anna Maria Tremonti do her ever fascinating interviews or to Stuart McLean on Sunday mornings, the wee headphones snugly fitted into her hard-of-hearing ears.

When I listened to Jobs' 2005 commencement speech that, as we all know, has been plastered on every medium from radio to Twitter, my focus was on his focus on listening to one's inner voice. Every day he said, he'd look in the mirror and ask himself, "If I knew today was going to be my last, would I be happy doing what I'm doing?" THAT my friends is a sobering question. Especially, if you're not so sure or it's an outright No way. He said that if his answer was "No" for too many days in a row, he knew he needed to change things.  How you doing with your own answer to that?

Possibly, it's just the mid-life crisis thing in overdrive but lately I can't even figure out exactly where I want to live, let alone what I want to do for money. When you've had children, at least you might feel (which may or may not be accurate) that you've accomplished something. But, when you haven't had children, it leaves your entire life as the only canvas you have to work with, be responsible for, and face. For better or worse, as you know, all of our choices have led each of us to where we are in the present moment.

Which is why I found the insights Jobs shared in his 2005 Stanford commencement address so timely as I was driving around Vancouver this week, through every neighborhood, all possibilities open, trying to hear my own inner voice about where I might want to live. Towards the end of three days,  instead of asking where in the Lower Mainland, I began to ask whether moving back to Vancouver, at this time, is really even as smart an idea as I have been coveting for some time now.

I'm not sure. I think the answer is still yes. I'm just wondering about the timing. And timing, my friends, truly is everything!