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July 29, 2012

Creating a new Website a bit like Home Renos

It's hard to create your own website. I guess it's a lot like writing your own bio, doing your own resume, writing your own will and obituary. It's hard to be objective, to get to the truth, to represent what really matters and to tell your own story. I suppose it has a lot in common with home reno's that way.

My new site under my own name was done by Brenda Johima who lives in the Comox Valley. She went above and beyond when it came to removing my url off GoDaddy servers, communicating with the new host, HostPapa, doing the SEO and all that stuff in the back end that I really didn't want to spend the time to learn, hence my decision to hire her.

It feels good to finally have a WordPress site although at this point I'm not even sure what the focus of the blog on the new site will be.  Now, I know this is going to sound strange coming from someone who writes, but I don't really like writing about writing. What new information could I possibly provide? It's probably some sort of creative writing blasphemy to say this but I actually dislike writing about writing almost as much as I usually dislike attending readings. 

If you've been to  a lot of readings in your youth, that's usually good. Done. Enough. I heard Margaret Atwood read at UBC in the mid 1980s. She was wearing a long black cape on a winter evening. I was surprised at her monotone voice. Gail Anderson Dargatz is a very amusing reader. I saw her at the Sechelt Writer's Festival a long time ago. Maeve Binchy was fantastic at the Vancouver International Writer's Festival as well, ages ago,where she was on stage with her husband. The most memorable reading I've heard to date was by Tomson Highway, reading from his book Kiss of the Fur Queen. He was so funny. Funny matters to me. Not exclusively, but it matters. I liked to be entertained by readings. Call me crazy.

For me, everything about writing is in the act, not in the talking about the act. And, when I put it like that, writing and sex have that in common.

If you'd like to follow the other blog, that might be good.  No promises.

July 16, 2012

The Way of Tea via Donna-san

Wouldn't it be fantastic if you could walk through a backyard gate and arrive in another country? Imagine if every backyard on your street was the entryway to an exotic land. Sunday, I was invited by my friend Donna-san to walk into a North Vancouver backyard to experience a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Donna-san has been learning about "the way of tea" for 30 years.  Not something that too many Gaijan (white folks) can claim. A passion for the ritual and stubbornness has kept her motivated.
In this instance, Lynn Valley in North Vancouver became Kyoto in the backyard. There was no indication from the front of the house that the bamboo gate, complete with a sliding weight to keep it closed, lead into a peaceful, green Asian tranquility. There was a rock garden, Japanese lanterns, tatami rooms, a classic bamboo fountain and a private area with a thick wisteria trunk winding around its wooden sides. Benches surrounded a raised container full of hot coals in the middle and a silver tea pot hung from a wooden black fish, warmed by the coals.   

When we arrived,  two men, (one of them the owner's husband and the builder of the tea rooms in the garden and the house) were cooking Takoyaki. These were small round dumplings sizzling and solidifying into shape inside square black tins. When they deposited the exquisite dumplings onto our plates we sprinkled them with seaweed and squeezed a small circle of mayonnaise on top. Sushi, translucent pickled ginger slices, soy saunce and the beautiful avocado-coloured wasabi paste completed the condiments.
Before entering the house for our 2pm tea time, we deposited our shoes in the wooden box on the wall beside the back door and slipped on white socks. As Donna-san entered the tatami room inside the basement, she bowed in three areas of the room. We kneeled and were joined around the perimeters by four Japanese women, two older, two younger. A narrow scroll with Japanese lettering hung on the inner wall.  "There is something happy in every day." That was the loose translation of what the letters meant. A reminder that in every day there is something we can find that is new, novel, a good thing. Some days might just require better vision to see what that is, but there is always something.
We were there to partake in the ceremonial preparation of matcha, powdered green tea. Donna-san advised there is thick tea (formal) and thin tea (less formal).  As we sat down, a sweet treat of red bean paste was brought to us to eat. You must eat prior to the tea and not during it.
A young woman in a beautiful pink kimono was preparing the tea. She gracefully used the bamboo scoop to transfer the matcha from a wooden container shaped as an apple (purchased by the host) into a ceramic bowl. Each step seemed a detailed dance of hands, precision and timing between the scoop, the curvy-pronged tea whisk, and the smooth wooden apple (pictured in the photo bottom right) with the vibrant green matcha powder inside. Afterwards, we learned our tea maker had completed the Boston Marathon this year. So refined and contained in her pink kimono, it was impossible for me to picture her in shorts and Nikes, sweating and puffing for 26 miles.
A wooden box, that had originally hung with a rope into a well, contained the water. She carefully slid the wooden slats off the top of the box and scooped out the water to place in the kama (left below) to boil it. The bubbling sound is very soothing and is supposed to resemble the wind moving through the trees in the garden.
After she ladled the water into the ceramic bowl, she  used the bamboo scoop to measure in the green matcha then whisk it in a gentle, deliberate circular motion. Notice below how one side is smooth and the other is not. "That's perfect," said Donna-san.
Donna-san bowed and placed her left hand under the bowl and her right hand against the side before taking three and a half sips of the tea, slurping the last sip quietly. Each bowl has a face she said. The face is to be examined. When she was done, she turned the bowl back and used her fingers to wipe the edges before placing it down on the tatami mat. Then it was my turn. And so it went.

Afterwards, we retreated to the garden for more sushi and another bowl of matcha. A few glistening raindrops shimmered on the green fronds surrounding the wooden pavilion in the garden.

Domo Arigatou Donna-san

July 11, 2012

Is all of Lotus Land Stoned All the Time?

When you live on Salt Spring Island, people who don't live there always joke about the same things: Hippies and pot smoking which proves nothing except that the branding of a place and the myths about it are really difficult to change even when they aren't really that accurate any more.

I'm not saying there aren't a lot of pot smokers, former hippies and wannabe hippies on Salt Spring but it's a really small part of the new Salt Spring reality which has more to do with wealth, young families, the retired, single moms, gay men, lesbian women and the most rugged individualists of all: single women. Then again, I"m a little biased. Yea to us!

But, New Westminster where I currently live, that's a whole other story. When I walk into my apartment which I chose to live in because it has really reasonable rent, a bigger space than I'd find in downtown Vancouver and a landlord who used to be a former prison guard (which means it's super quiet in here and I love that), it's like walking into a pot den. And so, now, it's not just second hand smoke but second hand pot smoke that comes wafting into my open windows daily. It also seeps through the walls of my bedroom and for the record, I hate it. I'm sick of it. If you're going to smoke pot every day, many times a day, I want you to smoke your joint in the park, not in your apartment which essentially means my apartment given the insidious nature of smoke's ability to seep through walls.

Last night, I was downtown in a hi-rise in the middle of the city and sure enough, that skunky smell began wafting into her apartment as well. "I thought it was funny at first," she said, "because it's so cliche." "But, now, it really bugs me because it's every single day." It's an epidemic! 

Ever since my new next door neighbor moved in, I wake up  feeling completely spaced out and today it dawned on me. I might be stoned off second hand pot smoke before I've even had my morning coffee. 

At least when I did live on Salt Spring, there was enough acreage that the pot smoke just wafted into the beautiful blue sky.
What about you? If you're not a pot smoker, do you find yourself inundated with pot in your own living room just because you live in a condo or an apartment in the Lower Mainland?  Does it bug you? 

July 05, 2012

A Day of Magical Thinking

I've just finished reading Joan Didion's book, The Year of Magical Thinking, which she wrote a few years after her husband died of a heart attack at the dinner table and her daughter was also experiencing horrendously serious health problems which she later died from as well. Given the serious topic of the book,  I found it odd that a rather insignificant line was the one that really resonated with me.

This one: "I was cleaning out a filing drawer lately and I came across a thick file labeled 'Planning'. The very fact that we made files labeled Planning suggested how little of it we did. We also had 'planning meetings' which consisted of sitting down with legal pads, stating the day's problem out loud and then with no further attempt to solve it, going out to lunch."  

I loved that. Maybe because I've never been very good at planning. It cuts into my dreaming. 

What Didion admitted to in that paragraph made me feel better because today was a very strange day. I found myself sitting in a courtyard with a notepad, trying to plan without much headway, and I'd been doing that only an hour or so before I read that line in her book. Maybe that's why it stuck with me. It seemed so serendipitous. 

I felt like I was in a dream state all day long and it began in the morning when I awoke with a really uneasy start, like I'd been prematurely yanked away from something I really didn't want to leave. Usually, I don't even remember my dreams. Each night it's as if I die into the blackness of sleep and then I have always been lucky enough to wake up again in the morning. 

But, today was different. I woke up with a start right in the middle of a dream where I was in a very crowded Museum or Art Gallery in a foreign country where everyone was speaking French. It seemed as if I was in Paris and I was in a panic. I was in the corridor of a very lavish gallery and I was feeling claustrophobic and my purse was missing. I was trying to find my purse and I was going from room to room, with people all around in animated conversation and the impact of how it made me feel was so strong that it stayed with me all day, made me feel uneasy, until I was able to come back into my body by this evening and now, once again, it's time to go to bed.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that it just made me feel better that even Joan Didion had days, even when things were good before 2003, when no amount of planning would have changed anything, including the deaths of her husband and daughter.