Monday, February 26, 2007

A few idle ramblings from a Sunday afternoon; jotted down before, after, between, and during the hockey game, the Oscars, and Heroes:

A rebuttal for the next time an angst-ridden teen whines, “It’s not fair - I didn’t ask to be born!” What if we did ask to be born?

What if there's a universe full of souls with no corporeal existence.

What if these souls float around observing other universes, but can’t participate? -- Kind of like Nicholas Cage in City of Angels before he decides to become mortal so he can touch Meg Ryan; except these souls don’t even have an angel body like Nicholas Cage; which was invisible to people on earth, but a real body to his fellow angels; which is why you know it is Nicholas Cage, in the first place.

Okay. So what if these souls get bored just floating around observing , thinking, not really doing anything; and since they don’t have bodies and all, there’s nothing to wear out, so they last forever; and with the prospect of their lives stretching out for untold millennia; at some point, they start questioning their existence. How did we get here? Is this all there is? What’s it all about, Alfie?

Various theories are proposed, philosophies developed, groups of like-minded souls gather to discuss (not in the talking sense, mind you – more like thought waves or telepathy, I guess) the meaning of life. Some think it’s silly to believe anything beyond their current existence. Others think that, surely, there’s something beyond their wavery existence. Every soul has heard rumours of those who’ve gone to the “beyond”, never to return. It’s never been proven, of course, because they all wander so far and for so long that there are lots of souls who’ve never passed the same slipstream, let alone met each other. How would a soul know if another one was missing? The debate goes on forever.

When, lo and behold! What’s this? Three souls stumble upon a universe with rather interesting creatures on one of the planets. Something unique. The creatures move around, albeit clumsily, on their little planet; but more impressively, every day is different for them. How refreshing, think the three souls. If only we could experience what they’re experiencing.

Millennia pass. The planet becomes a closely guarded secret of the first three. They collectively develop a soul-shield to block others from accidentally finding it. They don’t want just any old soul wandering in, making stupid observations and spoiling it for them.

One day or month or year later, one of the souls (let’s call him Soul-zero or Soul-0 for short) gets a little too close to a four-legged creature just as it gives birth. Suddenly, Soul-0 has four legs and a tail. Intense sensations and experiences flash through its consciousness - so quickly, they barely register. Then it’s over. Wow, what a rush!

Over the next while there is much discussion about this phenomenon. Soul-0 thinks it’s a sign from something Other. Maybe a sign from the Outer Limits. They decide to experiment with other creatures on the planet. They soon discover that the longest, most intense experiences occur with the two-legged ones. The souls even retain some memories of their trips inside these creatures; memories of sensations they can't recreate back in their bodiless selves. They all agree it’s a life-altering experience.

Soul-0 thinks it proves there is meaning outside their usual existence; that it's their destiny to look after this planet and its creatures; that the soul-shield must stay up and keep unworthy souls out. However, Soul-0’s soulfriends think it’s unethical for them not to share this with other souls. After much debate, they decide they can’t keep it to themselves any longer. It must be shared, but they must develop a way to control the comings and goings of other souls.

To make a long story short, they develop a lottery system for other souls from their universe to be re-born and experience life on planet Earth in a corporeal body. A win could be anything from a brief tsetse fly blink; to a life of sloth as a sloth; or the Big Win: a short to long, bad-good life as a human being.

That's how one asks to be born.

So how was your Sunday?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Don't Go Away

(This blog was prompted by reading Wenda's post today.)

It seems that we (the royal we of the "bloggers-who-like-to-write" variety) all have moments of self-doubt about the validity of our endeavours. Many of my favourite bloggers have gone through periods of: Is this interesting; is this boring; is this just too stupid to post, am I wasting my time, and who cares anyway? Sometimes, they delete their blog. Sometimes, they say good-bye and tell you why. Sometimes, they just stop posting.

I'm a nosy and curious person – always have been – probably borne of living in multiple families and households at a young age. I learned to be a good listener; and by way of listening, learned a lot about human nature and about how people tick. It's stood me in good stead in the things I've done in my life. I've found that blogs are the closest thing to eavesdropping and getting inside the hearts and minds of thousands of people you'd never get to meet in the flesh. I love it.

Trouble is, I get attached to certain blogs and the personalities attached to them. So when a favourite blogger stops or just fades away with fewer and fewer posts, I want to say, "Don't go! I'm interested in what you have to say. I like hearing your thoughts. I want to know about your favourite books and restaurants; what pissed you off; made you happy; frustrated you; brought you to tears of joy or sorrow. I want to keep reading your perfect torrent of words and luscious imagery. Please come back."

I know it's unrealistic to expect people to blog indefinitely. Maybe their interests change; or they've said all they want to say; or it's no longer fun; or any number of other equally valid reasons – but doggone it, I'll still miss them when they're gone.

For those of you on the cusp of self-doubt, wondering if it's worthwhile: Don't quit just because you think no one is interested. You'd be surprised. Write because you want to; because you have something you need to say; because it makes you happy or fullfilled or connected or just because . . .

I've thought about no longer blogging. One day, it'll happen. Maybe I'll write a good-bye blog; maybe I'll fade away; maybe I'll just delete the whole darn thing, leaving nothing but a broken link or forward to a site of pomegranate recipes. Till then, I'll keep posting my hodgepodge of words and keep reading others' blogs

Monday, February 19, 2007

Why Lydia?

For some reason, when I write flash fiction, Lydia jumps herself onto the page. I'm not even sure how I came up with the name. I finally did an internet search and found that Lydia was a kingdom in an area of what is now modern day Turkey -- not the name of a person at all. The closest thing to a person is Lydia of the "tattooed lady" fame. I'm pretty sure I didn't have that Lydia in mind, but she must be buried somewhere in my subconscious because she keeps popping into my stories, unbidden. My guess is that she's somehow become my alter ego.

At first, I wasn't going to bring Lydia to this blog, but what the heck; she seems an integral part of me whether I like it or not, so here's a bit of an experiment for me.

Please meet my friend, Lydia: (A version of this first piece was on First Drafts last year, so if it sounds familiar to some of you, not to worry):

When Lydia awoke, she was filled with a mix of anticipation and apprehension. Janie was coming – arriving on Air Canada 601 at 12:55 from Calgary.

They’d known each other since junior high – inseparable despite radically different personalities. Janie was a wild child – extroverted and opinionated; Lydia - quiet and prone to introspection. They were the unlikeliest of friends. From the outside, the only thing they had in common were their green eyes. What others didn’t realize was that they complemented and balanced each other. They could confide the deepest, most intimate secrets to each other and never fear ridicule or humiliation.

Their lives, not surprisingly, had taken different paths. Janie had moved to Toronto for university and Lydia had stayed in Vancouver. Not that they hadn’t tried keeping in touch. The first year, they wrote each other every month, then it gradually tapered off to a couple of times a year, then only a few lines on a Christmas card. They completely lost touch after each had moved several times in the intervening years.

Lydia had married her high school, football captain sweetheart. She’d started dating Jeff in grade ten after he gave her a ride home from a fundraiser jointly held by the football jocks and the choir. They were another unlikely pair. After the wedding, Jeff went on to dental school while she worked as a teacher’s aide. When Jeff graduated, he set up his dental practice and they moved into a two-level, three bedroom Tudor, complete with picket fence in the upscale suburb of Kerrisdale. Shortly afterwards they had two children – a boy and a girl. How corny was that?

Janie, on the other hand, had lived the bohemian lifestyle of a student while getting a degree in Fine Arts. At some point, she decided her degree wouldn’t get her a job that would pay enough to finance her love of art, travel and clothes. She went back to school and got a degree in business admin and marketing. Straight out of the U of Toronto, she got a job at a high-powered marketing firm in downtown TO. For four years, she climbed the corporate ladder - travel plans put on hold – as she lived the executive high life of expense accounts, fine dining and hobnobbing with Toronto society. It seemed she was being groomed for a shot at the firm’s partnership. That is, until she met, and shortly thereafter, married the CEO of one of their clients. She quit her job and settled into a four bedroom executive home in Oakville. When Lydia heard that Janie had settled in suburbia, she couldn’t believe it. No way would the old Janie she knew want a house, kids and “suburban hell” (as she would have not so delicately put it). Janie had assured her it was what she wanted.

Anyways, they hadn’t seen, spoken or heard from each other in fifteen years. It was only by a fortuitous coincidence, they connected again on the internet. They’d both started blogs - Lydia, calling herself, Deeyah - and Janie, calling herself Jane. Independently following links and comments on various blogs, they recognized similar references to their high school. It was Janie, who first asked, “what year did you graduate?” It didn’t take more than a few emails to fill in the rest.

They corresponded and chatted back and forth for several months, catching up on their lives. Both were divorced – Janie twice. Lydia had remained in and around Vancouver, while Janie had moved from Toronto to Montreal to New York, back to Toronto, then to Calgary, where she now lived. Both had two children – all of them grown, moved out and independent.

Today, they'd see each other again. What if they didn’t like each other anymore? What if they had nothing in common? What if this meeting was a big mistake? What if, what if, what if . . . . They’d both find out soon enough.

Waiting in the baggage claims area, Lydia scanned the arriving passengers. Janie said she’d be wearing a camel, mid-calf-length coat and a red scarf. Who knew if they’d recognize each other through the extra pounds, lines and years? Best to have something identifiable to avoid any embarrassing hugs with complete strangers. Lydia was wearing the West Coast uniform of jeans, T-shirt and jean jacket.

Lydia spotted the red scarf first, then the unmistakable long-loped stride of her friend. Peering through the screen of people in front of her, it took Janie awhile longer to respond to Lydia’s frantic waving; but with a flash of recognition and the familiar gap-toothed Lauren Hutton grin, she strode straight over to engulf Lydia in a bear hug. They stood back, looked at each other and laughed. All the years melted away; the extra pounds didn’t matter; the extra lines didn’t matter; only the eyes mattered – they were exactly the same.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Book recommendations

It's always a bit of a crapshoot when you read a book recommended by someone else. I touched on this before in this post (Jan23-06) where a friend was reading a book by an author I recommended. I anxiously awaited his opinion – but – it never came. I was upset and annoyed. I've come to terms with it, but now I find myself in a similar situation.

For those who don't know me, I love reading. In the past, I'd read anything I could get my hands on; newspapers, magazines; fiction, non-fiction; even the backs of cereal boxes, in a pinch. I read everything from entertaining fluff to philosophy. There were very few books that I could say I absolutely hated. The optimistic side of me could always find something positive in what I read, even if it were a "been there, done that" and don't need to read him again.

As it turns out, I've become a little more selective in my old age. I've developed more interests and seem to have less time; and I get the horrible feeling that I'll never have enough time to read all the great books and authors I want to read; thus necessitating a more directed approach to choosing my reading material. I search out booklists and people's favourites – something I've always done – but now with an added determination. I'm also challenging myself with some authors and tomes that, heretofore, I've been reluctant to tackle.

One such challenge is Thomas Pynchon's, "Gravity's Rainbow". It was highly recommended by people I respect and after some warm-up runs with a few of his earlier works, I plunged in. I miscalculated the concentration needed and floundered, but I persevered. It took me three tries before I could get into it, but I now find myself almost half-way through and quite grateful for my never-give-up stubborn streak. It's been a wild ride through Pynchonland and will comment more when I finish it. But for now at least, I can honestly tell those who recommended this book to me that I'm reading it and like it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Roaming Rome

Snippets and images:

Everyone walks. It’s late at night and the streets are still clogged with pedestrians. Families out for an evening stroll; three generations strung along the narrow cobblestones; mom and dad pushing a stroller; toddler hanging onto mom’s coat; grandfather with black-scarved grandma on the crook of his arm, ambling along behind. Hordes of tourists – though not as many as in the summer, so I’m told – necks craning up, left, right. They can’t get enough (I can’t get enough); sights, sounds; one minute in a bright piazza, cameras flashing all round; next minute round the corner, a dark alley-like street with the only light coming from candles on the tables of the sidewalk cafes that seem to spring from every available doorway.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Narrow streets (what would be deemed alleys or laneways at home), alternate with wide-open piazzas centred by fountains, obelisks, statues or any combination thereof.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Sidewalk cafes are everywhere. It seems every restaurant is also a sidewalk café. Tiny ones tucked into six foot wide storefronts with only two tables outside; classy ones with a dozen white-clothed tables and black-suited waiters; family ones with mom and pop greeting, cooking and serving.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Spanish Steps
Everyone seems to end up at the Spanish Steps. Sitting on the stairs, watching the masses of people - locals and tourists alike - swarming up and down the stairs, congregating at the bottom, you can't help but wonder where all these people come from. Groups of local teens cruise up and down, doing what groups of teens everywhere seem to do. They exude a mixture of “too-cool-to-notice-others” and a peacock “look-at-me” flamboyance.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Night time Trevi Fountain:
You know you’re nearing the Trevi by the sound of shlooshing water, the buzz of voices; and the glow of lights and camera flashes. The nearer you get, the louder the sounds, until finally the dim, narrow side streets open onto the piazza.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Tourists, locals; families; lovers co-mingle and jostle for the best position to toss coins over their shoulders; while loved ones angle for unobstructed camera shots. Cameras flash; the calls of “Senora, senora! Per favore!” as a gypsy hawker tries to get your attention in order to show you the intricacies of a bendable monkey squish-toy.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

You fight your way out of the crowds to find a quiet bistro for a latenight glass of wine, and finally to bed.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


What I did on vacation

Well, as you may have guessed, I've been back for awhile and I’ve made several attempts at a vacation report. I just couldn’t get it right. No words seem to capture everything I experienced.

In a nutshell, I had an amazing, wonderful, eye-opening, splendid trip. Not enough time, of course, but that's always true when you're having a good time. In retrospect, I'm sorry it took me 'til this time in my life to get to the other side of the Atlantic. Perhaps it was meant to happen this way – I'm not sure I'd have had the same appreciation in my younger years.

But back to that report. I’ve been mulling it over in my head and thought I’d try something different. Stay tuned.