words are foreplay for the soul
January 2nd, 2010

Vancouver redux

Late last year (snort. I crack myself up) I went to The Land Up Over, also known as Canada. The Great White Something-or-other. (NOTE: There was no snow. None. Also no polar bears or igloos. Damn.) I hadn’t been there in FIVE MONTHS, which is odd considering its ridiculous proximity to me, something like 30 minutes. From my house. To the border station, where I get (politely, because this is Canada, after all) invited inside to discuss my “situation.”

This time, I was helped by a 5-foot tall guy with a French accent, who shrugged Gallically at me when I said I might be staying there 10 days or so. Ten days? What is zees ten days? You not like our charming contree? No? Okay, zhen I stamp zhis. Be on your way. And he stamped my paper and I handed it to the guys outside watching a drug dog sniff the inside of a car’s engine and was on my way. Of course, this was Christmas Eve, but it was a far cry from the last time when my car was searched THREE FREAKING TIMES and my papers were copied and I was yelled at by a woman in a strawberry blonde ponytail wearing a bulletproof vest.

I was really really really looking forward to the won ton. There’s a place on Broadway just east of Main that has the best won ton IN THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE. I am not kidding. It has scratched white Formica tables and exactly zero ambience. Decorations do not exist here. Two surly Chinese women truculently wait tables of serious lunchtime eaters. They set big bowls of broth down on the tables, each bowl containing exactly five of the most delectable won ton ever to exist, filled with fat prawns and tasting like what I always knew perfect won ton taste like. I was so looking forward to going there once, or even twice, in those ten days.

The place BURNED DOWN.

The roof was charred across the entire building that housed a pizza joint and who knows what else (I only had eyes for won ton), and a chain link fence kept passers by from getting too close. A tiny woman walked past us as we stood in the street, staring unbelievingly at the charred remains of won ton perfection. She turned to me. Her black eyes were tiny, like buttons. “Monday last,” she said in an eastern European accent. “In the morning.”

“I hope no one was hurt,” I thought to say. That was beyond her language capabilities. Hurt. She shrugged. “Monday. In the morning.

Last year at Christmastime it snowed buckets, feet upon feet of whiteness. We threw snow and each other, shaking it off branches into the backs of one another’s coats, melting snow dripping down our backs. Someone made a real live igloo (SEE???) at the park down the street and we crawled inside it, grinning.

This year, no snow. Christmas Day was relatively warm and unsesonably sunny, so we hiked up and down some back trails at Lighthouse Park. A tree had cracked in the middle, leaving shards standing sharply upward from what was left of the trunk. Someone had come with a chain saw to move the tree off the trail, and had made a little bench from one end of the fallen log. Nearer the lighthouse, and on huge rocks jutting into the northern part of the harbor, the rest of Vancouver gathered, a chaotic chorus of languages, no one bothering to speak in the hushed tones that such a place of beauty cries out for.

It turns out that I am sensitive to noise. I have said before that I can hear a cat’s soft footfalls on carpet from several rooms away, so the plumbing sounds overhead at all hours of the night kept me from sleeping. Year before last, when the place was my home for awhile, I would get up in the night and read downstairs, away from the gurgling and clicking and toilet lid dropping.

I forgot to go to Lush and restock my dwindled supply of Karma soap.

I now have a huge handful of Canadian change, because I keep forgetting that the big ones are worth $2 and the other big ones are worth $1 and you can use this for money. To buy things with. So now I have like $20 worth of change.

We won’t talk about the price of gas. But it’s in liters, which is a trick of some sort.

I have still not been to a Tim Horton’s. I know, I know, hard to believe.

I do, however, now own a toque*. And I really like it.

*There appears to be some debate, even among Canadians, about the proper way to spell the word pronounced “tewk”, which is actually a hat. But I’m sticking with “toque”. And at last I understand what Bob and Doug McKenzie were singing. Five golden TOQUES.



December 30th, 2009

2009 in the rear-view mirror

A year ago I had just moved from a country that didn’t want me to a bare echoey white place hidden under a stifling canopy of tall dark trees. I adore trees, and loved lying in bed looking at green branches, but the bare echoey place had an inner emptiness that rang loudly in my ears.

Plus it had weird carpet.

In the spring I discovered forested trails and alternate universes. I sat, motionless, sometimes for hours, staring out through a skylight and eventually emerging into a giddy, childlike state, a person who thought lakes were oceans and wondered whether she should be driving real cars.

A year ago I had a job, a sort of a job, a full time gig for part time pay, plus a promise of a someday full time pay for the time I was putting in, so I wrote and I wrote and I edited and I wrote my little heart out. In February that world exploded and it limped along through May, and then I was done. No job, no pay.

I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane and found my way through a maze of fears. Later, a motorcycle fell on me.

In June I moved to a smaller place near the water and near the trails and across the street from a banyan tree and in a community. The Magic Bus drives up from time to time and takes people places. I look out my tiny window and see a slice of ocean. The place isn’t hidden, is sometimes a fishbowl with the world looking in, but it fits me better. I have an easel and paints, and I write. The sun shone on this place and now the rain falls gently on my sari-clad zen room and my bicycles smile through their gears.

In July my intentions caught up with the world.

In August I brought my heart-pieces closer and together we walked my world, now theirs. We ate 18 pounds of blueberries. We laughed. We parted with new paths woven between us.

I discovered a box.

Summer tumbled into autumn and soon the bright crunchy leaves became dank and moldering and slick underfoot. Outward turned inward. Not being a joiner — ever — I joined and joyed. I sang. I found a home, at least for now.

Now, inward, I sing. I joy. I raise silent lips in inner song, singing my heart into wholeness. I breathe and become one with my heartbeat, and with yours. I walk and feel aliveness in the dirt under my soles, in each sparkling raindrop on my face, in each leaf and sound and sigh. I touch hearts and they touch mine.

What do I wish for 2010? More. More of what comes next.

September 4th, 2009

What I really need is a good operatic soundtrack

Well! So I can write Poignant and Painful! Isn’t that just made of awesome? But! There’s more than one way to skin a cat, which means, well, ew. What do you do with a cat skin anyway? It’s far too small to make anything useful out of. A hat, maybe? A cat hat would be sort of cool. Here, pussy! As long as it’s not the skin of a cat you actually know. That would just be sort of wrong, except maybe as a tribute. You could keep your cat’s head on the skin and wear the hat so it looks like there’s your head, and then there’s your dead cat’s head perched right on top of yours. Freak. People. Out.

So, what people don’t know about me is that there’s a cartoon world inside me that’s been waiting a long time to come out. It surfaces at odd times. Like when Matthew and I were in Queen Elizabeth Park in Vancouver, walking over some stepping stones that were thoughtfully and artfully placed over a wee artful stream, dodging the Japanese tourists wanting to cross from the other side, and I burst out laughing at the thought of pushing the tourists in, one quick shove and there they go, cameras and all! I also think about knocking people’s canes out from under them. Or dropping water balloons on them from the 4th floor of a building. We even had a conversation about this.

I think it would be great to drop water balloons on people from tall buildings.

Water balloons? That would hurt.

No, no, not from the top of the building. The third or fourth floor.

Go with the fourth. Fourth is funnier. But getting hit from the fourth floor would still hurt.

Oh, no. I wouldn’t hit people directly. Just throw it near them. It would splat on their feet. And on hot days only. Otherwise it’s just mean.

Yeah, you wouldn’t want to be mean.

And this from a person who can’t bear to walk on someone’s grass instead of the sidewalk. After all! Someone’s grass! That’s like part of their person, their space. The sidewalk is safe and avoids breaking rules.

Oo, rules. That’s changing too, the rule thing.

The other day I bought something that had one of those little magnetic don’t-steal-me tags on the box. You know, the tags that set off an alarm when you walk out of the store with it, unless the cashier remembers to disarm it when you’re paying. I used a self-checkout, paid for the item, and walked out of the store. When I passed the you’re-stealing-something alarm monitor things at the exit, the alarm went off. WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! STEALING ALERT! STEALING ALERT!

Old me:  Stop! Dead in my tracks! I’m not stealing anything, see? Here, I’ll hold up my receipt to the hidden cameras so you can see I AM NOT STEALING ANYTHING. And then! Let me find someone with a red smock or whatever and a name badge with little stars glued onto it, and tell them! I am not stealing! See! My receipt! I am not stealing this! I AM A GOOD PERSON!

New me:  Keep walking. I know I paid for it, WTF. It’s their problem. If they want to send someone after me, fine. But no one even notices when the alarm goes off. So whatever. Keep walking.

I am pretty sure that 99.8% of the population thinks like this “new me,” and that it’s only .02% who are actually concerned with what other people think of them. So glad to have jumped groups, that other thing was exhausting.

October 6th, 2008

Red red rainboots

I took a walk in the rain today.

That in itself is nothing spectacular:  this is Vancouver and it rains here a lot.  To avoid rain, one would have to stay inside from mid-September through April or May, and I’m unwilling to do that.  Luckily, most people here have a similar regard (or is it disregard?) for rain, and people can be seen out in it all the time.

I walked through the neighborhood I live in, enjoying the feel of the drops falling on my hooded head, and the quietness that rain brings.  Sure, people are out in it but from necessity, not joy.

I was walking in the rain for joy.

When I was five I had red rain boots.  They were a deep cherry red and boasted a single button at the top.  They may have been the type that go over the shoes, in which case they were really galoshes, but that seems an unwieldy word for the boots that gave me so much joy.

In those rain boots, I became huge.  Powerful.  I could step through puddles, no longer limited by walking around them.  I could even splash a little if no one was watching who might reprimand me for such frivolity.  I had freedom.  I could walk in that surreal wet world under my hooded raincoat and umbrella and forget the other things happening in my life, and just walk.  Rainy days became a magical world of escape.

In high school I took to walking around in the rain whenever I wanted to get out and think.  Walking through our neighborhood on a rainy Sunday afforded me more inner quiet than any other place I knew; everyone else was indoors and dry, enjoying blazing fireplaces and weekend TV football games while I haunted the wet streets, not caring how wet I became myself.

Just having the opportunity to walk again out in the rain seems rather huge right now.  Transformation is often measured in tiny moments.

I am so getting a pair of rain boots.  Red ones.

September 9th, 2008

Parking parallels

It makes me laugh when the ironies of my life are thrown in my face.

Since arriving here in Vancouver 6 or so weeks ago, I’ve been sensitive about my car.  For the first week I was illegally parked in a permit-only zone.  Then we paid $5 per week to obtain a blue card to stick in the dash for a few weeks while we thought of something else to do with the car situation.  There’s another car (uninsured; can’t park on the street) and an underground garage space (with one uninsured car presently occupying) but for now it’s my car collecting bird shit and tree sap at the curb, jockeying for position with the neighbors and their cars.  Cars that have a right to be here.

I can feel the eyes looking at me.

Pennsylvania.  When is she going to move that car?  Taking up space.  OUR space.  Canadian space.  Hmph.

The imagined indignant snorts are what get to me the most.

Whenever I drive, I find myself continually

  • getting in the wrong lane and inadvertantly cutting someone off
  • stopping too long at stop signs
  • not stopping long enough at stop signs
  • driving too slowly
  • driving too fast
  • parking awkwardly

And all the time I know they’re looking at the Pennsylvania plates and gritting their white Canadian teeth and wishing bricks would fall out of the sky onto my car, completely crushing me and my PA license plates.

I can feel the vibration of those teeth gritting at night when everything is quiet.  I can’t breathe because the weight of a million imagined bricks is piled on my chest.

I am in the wrong country.

I don’t belong here.

Once in awhile I have a moment when the breathtaking beauty of this city sends shards of glass from thousands of high-rise condo windows right into my heart.

I want this to be my city.

Tonight we went to a free talk at the library downtown and when we got back it was dark and the usual spaces at the curb were filled.  I drove around the block and found a space in the middle of the line of cars.  Parallel parking.  Ugh.

It would have been fine except for the couple standing taking outside her car.  His car?  One of them was going home, and one was staying.  I wished the ground would swallow them up rather than have them witness my awkward parking.

It didn’t.

I park and park and park.  Forward, back, forward, back.  I am too far from the curb, but her car is right behind mine and if I nudge it they will hate me and call the border guards, I know it.

Filthy American. I can hear them swearing under their polite Canadian breath.  Go home!  You suck!  You…don’t recycle!

Forward, back.  I gave up.  Still 20 feet away from the curb.  Whatever.  Now I will have to walk past this couple, their Canadian eyes of belonging on me while I hold my American head in shame.

“Are you from Pennsylvania?”

OMG.  It’s starting.  The jeering, the namecalling, the black looks, everything I have been imagining.  I clutch my imaginary passport a little more tightly.

I answer reluctantly.  “Yes.”  Dumbanswerdumbanswer.

“What’s the capitol city called?  We have a bet going.”

What?  WTF?  Where are the border guards?  The dogs?  The sneering?  Why, they’re … smiling.  Friendly!


“Harrisburg?  Thanks!”  They were still smiling..

Dumb Canuck.  Anybody knows that.* I swore slightly under my breath, gritting my American teeth.

* Not really.  Most Americans don’t know it unless they live in PA or south Jersey.  But that’s not saying much.

** Nor have I ever actually used the word “Canuck” until now.  It sort of makes my eyelids want to turn inside out.