Monday, May 29, 2006


It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err. - Mahatma Gandhi

I read the above quote on Moto’s discussion forum and couldn't agree more.

Somebody once told me he thought I was wise. I don’t want to be called wise. It’s too much responsibility. I don’t want people to think I have all the answers. I don’t want people to think that just because I write down my beliefs on this blog that I think I’m wise. If anything, my constant introspection and sharing of experiences reminds me of some of my greatest follies. All I have are life experiences that I’m willing to share with whomever might want to listen.

I think my grandfather was wise -- though he likely would have disputed it. He lived into his nineties – a long and varied life; immigrating to Canada at the age of eighteen, teaching himself to read and write English, living through the BC gold rush, the building of the BC railroad, two world wars, riots against the “yellow peril”, fires, the depression, bankruptcy, defrauding by a business partner, two wives and raising of six children. Through all of this, he remained a gentle, quiet man. He never raised his voice, never struck back at those who mistreated him – believing that to do so would be to lower himself to their standards. He lived the Golden Rule of “treating others as you wish to be treated”.

I always think of him as a gentleman and a scholar. I remember that he read constantly. Every evening, he’d be in his room hunched over the desk with a gooseneck lamp reading English and Chinese newspapers, his worn, tattered story books, and the encyclopaedia. If he wasn’t reading, he’d be doing calligraphy – gnarled hands around the bamboo brush; delicately dipping into the ink, wrist twisting and turning like an orchestra conductor in miniature to achieve the perfect point, before letting loose with swift strokes down a tissue-paper page, soft, bold, dark, light. Some of the characters I recognized, some I didn’t, but he made it all look effortless and beautiful. He tried teaching me, but I was impatient and all I can remember is my name and too few words to make a coherent sentence.

He believed also in sharing his experiences. He liked telling stories; both his own and the folk tales he learned as a child. It’s how he ultimately passed on his values and beliefs. I see them in myself and even my youngest brother, who doesn’t really remember him – but learning one generation removed via our father.

Maybe it’s why I seem to have this compulsion to tell my stories and share my experiences for the benefit of my sons. I’d like to think they’ll carry some of my values with them through life, but of course there’s no guarantee. They’re strong-willed, independent souls who’ll figure it out in their own time. I do, however, smile silently to myself when I hear them repeat something I told them long ago, as if it were their own idea. Yet, in a way, it is “theirs”. They chose to internalize it.

As usual, I’ve rambled on and ended up somewhere I didn’t intend. But as my son keeps telling me, “Not to worry. It’s all good.”

An homage to my favourite bloggers

I often feel in awe of the wonderful bloggers out there. The clarity, honesty and excellence of their words make me feel totally inadequate. I think, how did she do that; how did she make me laugh so hard, cry, get angry, rethink my position?

So here are just a few thoughts about some of my favourite blog writers. I won’t name names, so you can all imagine that I’m talking about you – because I am:

- A's individual blogs are precise photo captions. You wonder how she can capture the essence of how you feel in her words. Each picture-phrase is a vivid snapshot. It’s like watching a kaleidoscopic slideshow, never knowing what’s coming next, but with the assurance that it’s going to be insightful or funny – and definitely wonderful.

- B's words flow in an unending stream of colourful descriptors and run-on sentences. The funny thing is that her run-on sentences don’t seem run-on at all. Phrases and descriptions ripple along, sometimes gently, sometimes caught in an eddy of overlapping ideas as if deciding whether to pool and expand there, eventually overflowing and pushed on by the relentless pressure of new ideas. Sometimes the stream is more like a torrent - words tumbling over each other, burbling and bubbling, rushing to some invisible gush of an ending. Her writing makes me smile.

- C's writing is self-assured. The ideas complex, yet clear. No shilly-shallying about where she stands on issues. It’s easy to heed her rally cry. She’s smart enough not to take herself too seriously.

- D is both ingenious and ingenuous. You never know what you’re going to get - staccato angry delivery or heartfelt musings. I sometimes imagine meeting her in person and know she’ll be exactly as she portrays herself in her words.

- The warm, earnest sharing of E's journey through life makes me feel a bit like a voyeur. The honesty is startling and inspiring at the same time.

- F's stories about her family are gentle, whimsical and funny. Reading her blogs, make me feel like I’m sitting at her kitchen table having a chat over a cup of coffee.

- G comes across as someone you’d never like to get angry. His words are sharp, big-city, no-holds-barred scathing rants at the less than worthy. Not necessarily someone I’d like to meet, but his writing is brilliant.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Expect the unexpected (a semi-rant and musings)

At eighteen, I thought I had things figured out. In reality, I was clueless.

My plan was to go to university, graduate with a degree in nursing, then spend the next few years working on the S.S. HOPE, a peacetime hospital ship that brought healthcare and education programs to countries around the world. Little did I know it would make its last voyage the year I graduated. It ends up it didn't really matter. I met my husband-to-be while in university and we married the year I graduated. Since then, my life has taken all sorts of twists and turns.

I’m a romantic idealist at heart, but I’m pragmatic when it comes to everyday life. I tend to carry on, no matter what happens. I figure, there’s not much choice – sit and mope - or live life. Yet, it would’ve been helpful to know at a younger age that there’s no such thing as life going according to “plan”. Life is messy.

I think it’s a disservice to young people (to me, young is anyone under 30) when we give them the illusion they can plan out their future at the age of eighteen; that a university degree insures success and the lack of a degree dooms them to failure. I hate - yes, hate - hearing adults tell teenagers they MUST get a university degree, choose a major and a career before they even know who they are. I’ve known far too many people get university degrees, follow a proscribed career path because it was expected of them, then end up miserable. If everyone needs a university degree to insure success, then what about all the workers and trades people who don’t have degrees. Are they all failures? Of course not.

It bothers me when I see people feeling trapped and pulled along a life path where they don’t think they have a choice except to continue what they’re doing no matter how dreary, unhappy or desperate they feel. They have a choice. It just might not be an easy one. I think it’s often fear of the unknown and leaving their comfort zone that traps people – not the actual circumstances in which they find themselves. (The people who really don’t have choices are those caught in situations beyond their control – in wars, or third-world poverty – but that’s another blog.)

A few personal observations I’ve learned along the way (or stuff I wish someone had told me earlier):

  • University graduates aren’t always the most intelligent people
  • The most intelligent people aren’t always university graduates
  • Sometimes a job is just a job. It puts money in your pocket, pays the bills and puts food on the table. It’s not necessary to love your job. It would be nice to, but not necessary. As long as it’s tolerable and doesn’t go against your own ethical standards (which, to me would be a biggie), what’s wrong with viewing it pragmatically - a means to an end. Which brings me to . . .
  • There’s more to life than job or career. Friends, family, hobbies, life passions (whether they be art, literature, social causes, . . .) make for a more satisfying life journey.
  • It’s not a race. Who says you MUST graduate with a degree by age xy? Who says you MUST own a home by xx? Everyone gets to where they’re going regardless of the timetable. Or as someone told me once, we all end up where we end up when we get there.
  • Happiness is not a goal. You’re either happy or unhappy because of what’s going on in your life. Anyone who says they’re happy all the time are either lying or blissed out on some kind of pharmaceutical.
  • Money ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Money does not equal success. Success does not equal money. Money is necessary and it’s better to have it than not, but it shouldn’t be the end goal. Seems obvious, but hard to truly believe when we’re inundated with advertising that encourages a gluttony of consumerism that only money can satiate.
  • Everyone makes mistakes. It’s okay to make mistakes and admit it. It’s even okay to fail sometimes. But you can’t live the rest of your life beating up on yourself for past mistakes. Learn. Move on.
  • Don’t let people take away your ideals. I’ve been told I’m too idealistic. But without ideals, what’s the point?
  • Plans have a nasty habit of going awry. It’s better to be flexible than to have set-in-stone plans.
  • There’s always something more to learn. Just when you think you’ve got it figured out, life proves you wrong.

When I began today’s blog, I wasn’t sure exactly where I was going except that I wanted to address the pressure we put on our young people to make choices and be successful - as if it were some precise road or path that can be planned. Instead, I see that I’ve rambled on more about my life philosophy than anything else.

But maybe it’s all connected: Being flexible, not believing there’s only one path through life or to success, always learning and going with what life gives you rather than expecting life to unfold in a particular way. These are things I wish I’d known back in high school when guidance counsellors made everyone believe you could choose your life’s career by answering a few interest inventory questions.

From time to time, I like reading the following quote about success. It helps me keep things in perspective:

To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

This blog is dedicated to my sons, nieces and nephews.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I wanna dance

For our recent vacation, my husband and I took a cruise. You can do as little or as much as you like and it's one of the most relaxing types of vacations I've been on - a great place for a people-watcher like me. I love dancing and watching others dance – all forms of dance - ballet, jazz, ballroom, it doesn’t matter. As long as there’s music and movement, I’ll watch. So while on this vacation, I mostly watched the sixty-plus crowd dance. Why this age group? Because they can really dance.

Almost every night and on every special occasion, they’d be the first on the dance floor. They did it all: foxtrot, cha-cha, rumba, salsa, waltz, jive. They did it with verve, enthusiasm and energy – especially the jive. I was in awe. All these grey-haired seniors dancing and boogying as if they were still in high school. Then it occurred to me – they’re probably the last generation who really learned “how” to dance as a matter of course when they were young.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties. The music of the times ranged from Patti Page, the Mills Brothers and Doris Day to the beginnings of rock ‘n roll with Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Elvis, then The Everly Brothers and Roy Orbison, eventually segueing into The Beachboys, Beatles, and the psychedelia of love ‘n peace and hippies. Other than the early rock ‘n roll years, the music of my youth was not very conducive to couples or touch dancing.

Admittedly, the fifties music I listened to was a result of living with much older teen cousins. They had frequent rumpus room parties and after school get-togethers listening to 45s. It was during the parties (where I lurked behind doors and around corners, well past my bedtime) that I’d marvel at the crinolines, ponytails and couples jiving. They slow-danced, too, but I thought it was pretty yucky at the time. It was the jive I loved. One of my cousins even tried to teach me. It didn’t stick.

At about the same time, I started watching Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies. I loved them. I was a sucker for the romance, the tentative meeting, the falling in love, the “I’m-mad-at-you, never-see-you-again” misunderstanding and the eventual reconciliation by way of a glorious dance number. No Gene Kelly for me. No sir. He always danced by himself except for those Cyd Charisse-type numbers from American in Paris. Too tough and athletic, not at all romantic. I wanted to dance like Fred and Ginger. I imagined myself as Ginger - floating feathers and trailing sequins in my wake.

By the time my own teen years arrived, it was the sixties and the jive had given way to everyone for themselves, no-touch, freeform dancing. There were no “steps” to speak of, just a self-involved flailing of limbs and a movin’ to the groove style of dance.

At school, we had so-called dance lessons in gym class to learn the waltz, foxtrot and square dancing. I suppose the teachers thought it would be good for our social development. But for the life of me, I still can’t figure out why they taught square dancing (when was the last time you did a “dosey doh” or “swing your partner” at a wedding or party?). Maybe they were caught in a time warp of their grandparents’ barn dances and hoedowns.

For my part, I thought it would be cool to learn ballroom dancing (visions of F & G still beckoned). But I was in the minority. At that age, few were interested. It was more of an embarrassment and ordeal to endure. For the girls, the main objective was not to get stuck with a truly obnoxious, sweaty-handed, smelly boy who had to count under his breath in order to keep time. I’m sure the boys had other objectives. Did anyone learn to dance? No.

By the time university rolled around, I had reconciled myself to a life of non-ballroom dancing. Then, along came Sam. He could really dance! He knew how to do a proper waltz, cha-cha and jive. He was patient enough to teach me. Alas, our relationship didn’t last (though in retrospect, I probably stayed with him longer than I might have if he couldn’t dance) and I never dated another guy who could dance as well as Sam.

Fast-forward to my current husband. He dances – sort of – in the late sixties, shuffle your feet in time to music kind of style. He tries, really, he does. He even went to ballroom dance classes at the community centre with me – twice. But like the jive of my childhood, it didn’t take. He’s promised to take private dance lessons with me after he retires. He figures all he needs is some individual attention. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, I live my dance fantasies vicariously by watching others. On the formal nights of our cruise, if I squinted hard enough, the grey-haired gentlemen with their lovely wives could pass for Fred and Ginger. Really.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Well it's been over a month since I last posted a blog! I didn't think I'd be away this long.

I was on the verge of posting a few times. One of them started out like this:

I'm not in a good mood. I'm tired –- Drop-off-the-face-of-the-earth and sleep 72 hours tired. I'm tired of reading/hearing opinions of overly pompous literary critics, self-professed, angst-ridden neurotic artistes and egotistical, pseudo-intellectual blowhards who think others are stupid just because they don't agree with their enlightened opinions . . .

You can see why I decided not to post for awhile.

I was tired from working 12 to 14 hour days for 15 days straight. It was the kind of tired that makes me very, very irritable – a can't see the end of it, what's the fricking use kind of tired; a don't you dare walk in my shadow, can't you see I'm tired, get out of my way or I'll rip your head off and feed it to the garbage disposal kind of tired.

Soooo, I thought it best to save you all from this kind of drivel and keep the vexation and self-pity wallowing in my handwritten personal journal.

Now, I'm back from a relaxing two week vacation and feel much better. I've spent the last couple of days trying to catch up on various forums and blogs, but wanted to touch base with the few of you who emailed and wondered what happened to me.

One of my favourite parts of vacationing is meeting different people and observing behaviour. I seem to have the kind of face that encourages people to talk to me and coupled with my innate curiosity, I can't help but start conversations with fellow travellers. The best conversations are those that go beyond, where are you from, what do you do. I like to find out about how people got to their current stage in life, what they think about world affairs, politics, and religion.

I've learned a fascinating thing about the people I've met in this way: the most reticent to start, often turn out to be the most interesting; and the most vocal and opinionated are the least interesting. My theory is that people who have a simplistic view of the world tend to state things categorically with no ifs ands or buts. They "know" they're right, so the discussion ends. There is no give and take of ideas, no sense of a conversation. Others, seemingly quiet at first, feel out the situation and see if you're really interested in their opinion before saying anything in depth.

Along the same lines, appearances are often deceiving. My dh and I met one of the most interesting couples at dinner one night. They sat at the next table. The tables being only 6 inches apart, out of courtesy we all exchanged brief hellos, isn't this lovely and where are you froms while ordering. We then continued on to have dinner in the usual "I know you're there and you know we're here, but we'll pretend we can't hear each other chew and swallow" attempt at privacy.

I had formed a mental image of them as a conservative, retired couple from Florida with nothing in common with us. I was wrong. After dinner, knowing we were from Canada, the husband made tentative enquiries about what we thought about the president. Hubby and I looked at each other and didn't answer immediately. The husband from Florida said, "Your response tells me everything I need to know." We proceeded to have one the most pleasant and stimulating after-dinner conversations of our trip. It turns out they had retired to Florida, but were originally from New York and are unaffiliated, small D democrats who had worked on fundraising and civil rights initiatives in the 60s. They were the complete opposite of what I'd imagined.

A few others we met: A couple from South Africa who had immigrated to a small west coast Canadian fishing village. They'd fled S Africa during the unrest and violence of the 80s to the UK, but when they applied to Canada for immigrant status, they and one child were accepted, but the oldest teen (at 19) wasn't. It took them a number of years before they were reunited; A couple living in Mexico – she is Mexican, he is American but commutes back and forth for work. They have sons who are applying for Canadian citizenship because (grandfather was Canadian) and they think it might be a good idea for them to have an alternate citizenship for travel; A gay couple living in Palm Springs, originally from San Francisco, but won't go back to visit anymore (a long story); and many more. All in all, an intriguing mix.

BTW, I should mention that I tend to forget (ignore) the complainers and whiners along the way, figuring they're not worth ruining my vacation time over, so I come back with a fairly rose-coloured experience. VBG

I've rambled long enough for today. I still have more catching up to do on my favourite blogs.