Tuesday, February 21, 2012


I should have taken a picture. At some point last year - maybe about this time - my boss had a message to us all on her communication board "This is the week we give up recreational whining." I laughed. And blushed. And took it, at least temporarily, to heart. 

Lent is not something I grew up with; it is something I only came to understand so I could write a paper in my last year of university that would get me invited as an undergrad to a grad student conference in Baton Rouge during Mardi Gras week. I attended the conference just long enough to present my paper on the upside-down world of the carnivalesque, then jumped in a rental car with three recent strangers and headed to New Orleans. We laughed, we drank, we ate and ate, we watched, we swung from lamp-posts shouting "STELLA" and we thoroughly enjoyed that very unique spectacle of Mardi Gras N'Orlins style. 

I've thought often since then of the ritual of lent. The decadence that precedes it, and the suffering of Christ it mimics. As STG wisely and somewhat laughingly (we were eating burgers, fries and cake, after all) pointed out tonight, "Jesus suffered so we don't have to" ... and yet ... there's something to giving up one-self for something better. And honestly, how much of a sacrifice would it be? There's so much of myself I'd happily give up that would only make life easier, more pleasant. 

Binge eating. 
Whining (again). 
Feeling slighted/ignored/misunderstood at every turn. 
Being quick to anger and sadness.

I don't think I'm any worse than anyone else. Or any better. We all have parts of ourselves - physically and psychically - that we'd probably be happy to let go. And for 40 days feel free of the burden of being us for a while. Maybe we'd even like it so much we'd keep going after Good Friday. 

Or maybe, just now and then, perhaps on a Tuesday in February, we can also throw it all aside, eat a pancake or a King cake or a slice of flourless torte and laugh and chant with the jesters, laissez le bon temps rouler. Despite all the doubt and worry, despite the sugar highs and the emotional lows. Just let those good times roll. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

catching fire: review

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I often find in trilogies that book 2 is mainly something to get you from book 1 to book 3, and that's the case here with Suzanne Collins' Catching Fire. The story definitely moves on, it's inventive and taut, but there's nothing really new here after the masterfully crafted world Collins created in book 1, The Hunger Games.

The twists are less twisty, somehow, and more than once a bit clunky. There are some smooth and powerful moments - the whole story pivots on a 3 word sentence at one point - you can actually feel it balance on the page. But in general this novel feels like a means to an end. 

While the plot moves unrelentingly on, the time spent developing the characters in book 1 goes nowhere in Catching Fire. In short, this book is all plot and no story. Granted, my weakness as a writer is plot movement - I could write an entire story of characters sitting in a room revealing themselves - so maybe I value it less. But plot alone can't carry a novel any more than character development can carry a novel. And Collins has sacrificed the former in preference of the latter

It's not that there's no character development - several characters that were less vital in The Hunger Games are clearly being set up for a major role in the final installment of the trilogy. Haymitch, the town drunk, has more to offer than it seemed at first glance. And some new characters will be with us for a while and play key roles. But again, characters need to be more than just plot tools, which they are dangerously close to here. And Katniss and Peeta, the star-crossed lovers - remain the emotionally cold girl and the love-struck boy with bread that were introduced early early in the series. Their relationship grows, but we get little more insight into their psyches. 

Don't get me wrong - this was a fun read. I skipped riding bikes with the family today to finish it. But about half way through it became less about the book I was reading and more about getting to book 3. Which I'm off to do right now. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

half-blood blues: review

Unlike the book I reviewed yesterday, Esi Edugyan's Half-Blood Blues was a langorous read of a langorous story spread out over lives and countries and eras. There's a reason this book was nominated for nearly every prestigious English language book award, short-listed for the Booker, and the winner of the Giller prize - it is lovely, powerful, insightful, graceful and moving. 

I love books about race - the American Civil War, the American Civil Rights Movement, Jim Crow, Jewish persecution and the holocaust. I do not love these books because of the ugliness of man that they show, but because they tend to balance that ugliness with beauty. Balance like that, in itself, is beautiful. I love an over-comer story. I love when right wins out, as it tends to in these stories. 

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What is unique about Half-Blood Blues is that none of the major players - bad guys or otherwise - are racially different. All of the main characters are of African descent, though in variations of colour. There is no white saviour coming to their aid as there is in The Help or Schindler's Ark. There is not even a higher power - except perhaps the music itself.  Yes, they are in Nazi Germany for much of the story, and then in occupied Paris, in a setting of persecution and fear and violence. Yes, the American musicians have come to Europe to escape the Jim Crow laws in place in 1930s America. But that setting - those environments - are only an external actor inside which the characters play out their own dramas. 

Race is inescapably relevant and crucial to this story, but it the bass line of this jazz song that keeps it moving in a united way - the melody, the harmonies, the riffs and codas and chorus are broader issues. Love, friendship, history, economy, talent, insecurity. And like all good stories, failure and redemption. 

It's a lot to handle, and Esi Edugyan is a masterful band leader. Her words are lyrical without seeming manipulated. The jazz world sings in a completely uncontrived way. The characters dance through life with emotion and depth and completeness. 

I'm proud to know that the author lives in my small city. They she wrote this novel largely in a downtown coffee shop. That she's a young mom at the beginning of what I hope will be a long career. I look forward to reading her previous novel, and will follow her for ones that follow. 

Friday, February 17, 2012

the hunger games: review

I'm breathless. Amazed. Eager to head out and buy book 2. Only it's 11 pm and no book sellers are open at this time. I have just - for the first time in I don't know how long - eagerly devoured a book in one day (less than a day, actually) and if I thought I could find the second one tonight, I would. 

Click to view on Amazon
When I first heard about Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games last summer it was from STG, who had just picked up a copy The Boy left at his house. They had both really enjoyed the story, but they both have very different tastes than I. And, it's a young adult novel - surely beneath my snobbish reading tastes. HA!

But I kept hearing about it. It kept making suggested reading lists. Other voracious readers consumed it. And, I knew I had to read it before the movie comes out next month. So I picked it up in Vancouver yesterday, thinking I'd begin it on today's ferry ride home. 

Wow. Did I mention wow? Fantasy, but in a restrained, recognizable world. Some of the most intriguing, complex, human characters I've ever met. An unrelenting edge-of-your-seat plot. Freedom from hyperbole. Blood you can taste. Fear you can hear. Feelings as confusing as any teen - or adult for that matter - can experience.

When I get up tomorrow. I will be getting book 2 of this trilogy. And if you don't hear from me for the rest of the weekend, it's because I've also found book 3. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

the passion test

I registered this morning for a leadership training workshop next week called "The Passion Test." Another registrant mentioned that there's an online pre-test that one can do to get a sense of the workshop, and I thought "what the heck, why not check it out?"

I had trouble reading the results because they all hit so close to home:
You are at a turning point. This is your chance to permanently shift your life in the direction of joy and fulfillment. All it requires is making the commitment to change. 
There is no need to be any way other than the way you are. Breathe deeply and feel the feelings that come up. When those feelings settle down, do those things which allow you to feel more expanded, more open. Listen to music, go for a walk, work out, dance or read a good book. 
You feel pretty confused about life. You'd like to change your life, but you don't know how. Most of the time you feel pretty beat up and don't know which way to turn. 
You have felt bound and constricted by the commitments you've made and the expectations of others. You may even have thought sometimes that it was just too much to continue.

It's time to make a decision. You know how good it feels to be doing what you love, surrounded by people you love. The only thing that prevents you from having that wonderful experience every day, all day long, are beliefs that it's not possible to have joy all the time.
Eventually I got to the end of the results ... the sledge hammer:
You are unique. You have special gifts. No one else can give the world the gifts you have to share. It's your time, now.
The other night STG asked me when I'm going to start singing again. I sort of blew him off, and he said "it's important to me." So I said I'd start. 

Why should my boyfriend have to convince me to do something I've loved all my life? 

Why do I resist doing what I love just for me? 

Throwing out what I love to do and what fulfills me to make room for what I "should" do is an old old habit ... and not one that really works. 

I'm really looking forward to this workshop. Maybe I'll find my passion at last.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

streams of sweat and consciousness

I unfurl my mat in that familiar funky room and a tumbleweed of cat hair and dust skitters away from it. The cat has been gone 6 months; the mat has sat waiting even longer.

I sit in that hot humid air, wondering if I'm up for this and knowing that the only way to get 'up for it' is to be there. My yoga mat admonishes me to 'breathe,' and I remind myself to keep coming back to that for the next 90 minutes.

A man walks past in inappropriate shorts. His 'half-mast' status loud and clear and understandable in a room of nubile, half-clad mostly women. Just breathe. 

I think of Freckles, who bought me this hot pink hot top 2 Christmases ago. I think of Mrs. Lady who got me back into this hot room, and of Waggner who made it work closer to home. I think of The Dish - a friend I haven't seen in too long who greeted me in the studio foyer - her hug warm and sweaty and oh so welcome. 

I struggle, and I breathe. I bend, and I breathe. But the air doesn't seem to be working. 

Second half of class at last arrives, and I crumble to the mat in a sweaty heaving savasana. The first few poses are wonderful. And eventually the teacher's words fight their way past my constant mental noise. She says "go immediately to your stillness" but I hear 

Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am God.

Light and melodic and connecting me to all of my family and to my faith and to all that I'm afraid to let go of trying to control. Something shifts, and I no longer know if the wetness on my face is sweat or tears. I lay there for most of the rest of class, no longer hearing. And knowing only my grief, and the gratitude for being here. 

dangerous and noble things

I keep bumping up against this poem this week - in particular the final 5 and a half lines - and whenever that happens - whenever a message comes at me from several directions, I try to pay enough attention to get it. 
... I want 
to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbably beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.
The thing is, I've just been plain old tuckered out. I keep meaning to just suck it up and get back on track, but ... I'm tuckered out. 

I tried painting this week and ended up throwing out the canvas. I sat a the piano and didn't know where to place my fingers. I've started 4 blog posts, but the words evaporate. 

It was a good week. A big week. My birthday. Our anniversary. Accomplishments at work. And I'm tuckered out. 

I want to think again of dangerous and noble things. I might just need to slay a dragon or two first. Or maybe just stretch my wings.

Starlings in Winter

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard.  I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbably beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Thursday, February 2, 2012

happy anniversary, my love

When an earthquake hits, the first to arrive on the scene, even before the aftershocks have stopped, is the Red Cross. They don't know what they'll find when they arrive, or know, necessarily, what they are getting into, but they arrive on the scene prepared to deal with whatever eventualities happen, and they stick it out.

Last January 31 an earthquake shook my life. And two days later STG showed up. One look at him and I breathed again. And smiled, and laughed, and stood up straight. There were aftershocks happening. We still live and love in a bit of a quake zone, and one year later I look at him and I breathe, and smile, and laugh and stand up straight.

Thank you, STG, for a year of being my rescuer, my strong tower, my soft place to fall, my bouncy castle, my hero and my best friend. Thank you for being my everything.

And in this crazy life, and through these crazy times
It's you, it's you, You make me sing.
You're every line, you're every word, you're everything.
You're every song, and I sing along.
'Cause you're my everything.

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