Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!

Wishing everyone a happy, safe and Merry Christmas. I hope all your Christmas wishes have come true, and thank you for reading all year long!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Neurotic Notekeeping

A writer’s best friend is a notebook. And not the laptop version, but an ACTUAL paper notebook with an ACTUAL pen. One of the countless pieces of advice for any writer is to always carry a notebook; always have one close at hand. Keeping pen and paper handy is essential for getting down observations that might make their way into a piece of writing, or for immortalizing that perfect sentence.

And the lucky girl I am receives notebooks as gifts. Nothing is more thrilling than receiving a brand spanking new notebook, encased in a gorgeous cover, waiting for my wandering words.

Not only do I receive them as gifts, but I buy them as well, stocking up as though readying for winter. They are stacked in my office on shelves, bookcases and in cabinets. I guess you could say I am totally stacked.

But I am a bit obsessive about them. Despite having stacks upon stacks of pristine, beautifully covered books at my fingertips, I ‘save’ most of them. Meaning, I save the really nice ones, just in case, and use the plainer ones. What am I saving them for? I don’t know. I have even gone so far as to buy plain old books when I need one, so as not to ruin my beautiful notebooks with every day wear and tear.

So like a good writer, I have one in my tote bag, and one in my purse. There is one beside the couch where I sit at night watching TV (I write in the mornings, so night time TV is my guilty pleasure). There is one beside my bed which, sadly, is a tad dust-covered (I am too exhausted when I go to bed), but on the rare occasion has come in handy - once I scrape off the dust with my nails.

I have notebooks and little pads of paper in the kitchen for when I am cooking, making lunches, washing dishes, cooking, making lunches, washing dishes, cooking – never mind, you get it. So when a brilliant idea comes to me, I can quickly jot down a few lines through the billowing steam. The notes written in the kitchen are usually wrinkled from sudsy wet hands or almost transparent from grease splatters.

So you would think having all these notebooks around I would be using them, right?


Instead, something will come to me at the most obscure time or place, and I will grab any piece of paper to jot down my magnificent thought.

I desperately guard my notes with my life, checking and rechecking where I have stashed them – in my purse, in my office, by my laptop, in my pocket – comforting myself with the knowledge that they are safe and sound.

But then sometimes I lose them, and the whole world must stop - now.

The greatest sentence, word, thought, phrase, idea is lost, and I simply cannot continue existing. I tear apart everything. I go through my purse five to ten times, practically destroy my office, and lie in bed at night replaying where I could have possibly put that tiny piece of paper.

Common sense would dictate I just keep everything in one book. I DO have books that have everything written down all in the same, compact area. But there are urgent times when any old piece of paper will have to do before I lose my thought/idea/masterpiece.

And even after I have made a poor excuse of recreating what I barely remember writing down, I can’t stop thinking about that piece of paper. It consumes me, lurking in the back of my mind as I race around the house straightening and cleaning.

So with the new year approaching, I must make one of my goals to give up the loose paper habit, to use the beautiful notebooks I already have, and to stop obsessing.

But I hope Santa brings me a few more notebooks for Christmas - just in case.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Thanks for the Memories, Santa

The children were nestled all snug in their beds. The lights were twinkling and the trees were decorated to the hilt with everything sparkly. Early morning folks huddled around their coffees in….the food court of the mall. My friend calls this time of year ‘the craze fest we North Americans call Christmas,’ and I suspect those early morning coffee drinkers were savouring some peace before it started that day.

I was waiting for the stores to open, and as I found myself also savouring the moment of peace and tranquility, I realized a shift in my own household’s Christmas activities. Where I used to be waiting for my kids to go to sleep in order to buy and wrap presents, now I get out while they sleep-in (what a foreign concept to me).

As I rounded the corner and dodged a few vigorous mall-walkers making their rounds, I came upon something brimming with memories – and somewhat now foreign to me.

Santa’s photo booth.

True, Christmas is not just one day of Santa, presents, lights, and stale-dated eggnog - it’s a season. And even though memories are created year-round, for someone like me who has kids created memories are at their peak at this time of year.

And Santa’s photo booth starts many of them.

My memories blur between my own Santa visits as a kid, to those of watching my sisters having a meltdown at the first sight of the big guy, to those of my own children crying hysterically. Then there were the line-ups, the other frazzled mothers, and the waiting, excitement and fear all rolled into one. But they are all cherished memories.

Our Santa visiting days are over, as I knew they eventually would be. My wee lads are as tall, if not taller, than me and they live in fear that I will MAKE them ‘go see Santa.’ Yes, I have the power to MAKE them do whatever I want – but I am nice and won’t embarrass them. Maybe in a few years when those embarrassed-to-be-seen-with-family days are gone, I might be able to convince them to go for a picture with Santa. But eventually their own Santa-visiting time will come ‘round - with their own kids. I hope they invite me to come along.

As I looked around the empty Santa booth, I took in the camera and flash, the chair, the candy canes waiting for sticky hands to hold them, and the mail box. Countless letters have been penned and responded to in my house, and they are tucked safely away – just like my memories.

The last two Christmases had me sadly realizing those times were fading away. But this particular day where I had the whole place to myself, it gave me time to reflect (without the mall muzak system blaring). So what if the memories are not always exactly the same as last year, or the year before, or the year before that? All memories are special, and as I approach a new phase in my life with my ever-growing kids, new memories will always be created – and always cherished.

It was bittersweet standing there in the (near) empty mall, the Santa booth empty and waiting for the next generation. But it’s time to move on and create new memories while holding on to the ones I so fortunately have.

I am one lucky girl. Thanks for the memories, Santa.

(Author’s note - Three days after I wrote this, my secret wish came true. I guess Santa must have read this and cast a spell over my kids, as I now have a Santa photo featuring both kids. It was an unexpected surprise when we stumbled upon him ‘posing’ in an inconspicuous place – somewhere other than the mall. I won’t post the photo, as they would never let me live it down. Thanks again, Santa.)

Thursday, December 8, 2011

World Photographer

I live in a city that thrives on tourism and I, being the nice girl I am, feel it’s my duty to act as ambassador. I often stop to assist tourists who seem lost, but it’s those with cameras who really draw me.

There are those who visit Victoria, British Columbia, who squish their faces together with one outstretched arm holding the camera, only to get a distorted picture of themselves with half the Empress Hotel in the background. Then there are those who opt to use the camera timer and quickly stumble to their pre-set position in the group. The result is a photo with smiles forced from waiting too long for the timer to go off – and it’s lucky the photographer didn’t trip on his/her way to the group.

But heck, at least they have a photo of themselves - so that’s something.

But for those who are fumbling to get the greatest, memorable photo of all time, I can’t just walk by and NOT help them in some way.

So on behalf of Tourism British Columbia, I offer to take their picture for them. (Disclaimer: no one asks me to do this, I don’t get paid by the tourism folks – I’m just being nice.)

I have done this for a while now, meeting folks from all parts of the world, and am often met with varying degrees of acceptance; the resulting experiences, memorable.

One nice couple, surprised by the outpouring of Canadian generosity (I think they were from some far-off continent), declined politely at first, as if they were putting ME out. Um, I offered. Noting their hesitancy as they weighed the situation, it was clear they wanted to take me up on the offer. I urged the issue: “Are you sure? I don’t mind?” So, man, wife, and toddler grinned widely as I snapped a photo of them on the front lawn of the Empress Hotel. They were most, most appreciative, and somewhere in the world (in some far-off continent), is their touristy family photo - without my name credit.

Some folks wholeheartedly take me up on my offer, profusely thanking me for this divine opportunity. It’s always the man missing from the photo. The joy he exudes at the concept that he finally gets to be in a photo has him skipping over to stand beside his wife. His sandals, black socks, Hawaiian shirt (?), windblown comb-over, and sunglasses are forever photographically preserved.

I often have folks ask me to take their picture on the ferry between Vancouver and Victoria. I must exude welcoming Canadian pheromones, or something. I got to chatting with one couple after taking their picture, and their down-unda accents gave them away. As newlyweds, they were exploring Caaanada and all its’ glory, so I was happy to be part of their honeymoon - sort of. And nothing says Canada like a ferry smelling of White Spot burgers dripping with Triple O sauce - my personal fave. But heck, it’s all in the name of tourism and ambassadorship.

I should work for the U.N.

Sometimes, however, I am met with scepticism when making this generous offer. They hug their cameras and bags closer to them, frantically looking for someone resembling police. I suspect they fear I will either take their camera and run, or mug them for their Rogers' Chocolates bag (very tempting). Well if you saw me - knew me - you would know I am not the mugging type. Not that there is a ‘type’ for that sort of thing, but…

And then, sadly, there are those who, after a brief, calculating assessment of my person, brush me off as quickly as they can. Avoiding as much conversation as possible, they turn and head in the opposite direction from where they were going, making me want to yell: “But Emily Carr’s house is that way!” I have come to the conclusion they are not so much afraid of being left camera-less, but are fearful I will demand a tip for their photograph - or for saying ‘hi,’ being nice, or turning their map right-side up.

But this doesn't stop me from exuding Canadian hospitality. So I have learned to avoid a collision of countries and approach my global interactions accordingly. I don’t want to ruin my country's good name.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Non-Yogi Writer

I didn’t know it, but I do yoga, sortof....for my health and my writing.

Growing up, I was surrounded by notions of everything black and white; meat and potatoes. Anything else was just wrong - and weird. Girls took dance lessons for exercise and boys played football (we were a house of three girls), and anything other than that was considered ‘woo woo’ – especially yoga.

My own ways of thinking and opinions blossomed with adulthood, my eyes opened to the world around me - or so I thought. I still kinda thought yoga was…’woo woo.’

In the wee hours of 4:30 am, I go for walks/jogs for overall health, sanity, energy and focus. I stretch before and after, waking my body, my mind, and my limbs, readying me for another day – another workout. The early morning brisk exercise helps me sort out my thoughts, and very often gives me ideas or direction for my writing. My post-exercise stretch helps me center my breathing, relaxing and easing my muscles after a vigorous workout. I then get to the laptop and write. Both these happen whether rain or shine, tired or cranky, or sore or blank.

At the grocery store one night, I dashed by the magazine stand and the bright pink cover of the latest issue of Yoga Journal Magazine (December 2011) caught my eye. Procrastinating going home and continuing laundry, and given that I had already flipped through most other magazines the previous nights (I go to the store A LOT), I learned that not only could I use a few stretches shown – some specific for a bad back, like mine – but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that….I had a lot to learn.

When I disregarded everything advertised on the pages – the wispy yoga clothes, the ‘different’ yet healthy food, the free-spirited hair-do’s, the tropical yoga resorts in other time zones – I realized I had been doing yoga all along, but in my own way. Exercising in the fresh air gives me mental clarity, erasing negativity, while stretching before and after settles my mind fostering creativity. And, sometimes, I eat healthier - except for all the chocolate.

And when I finally crawl into bed at the end of the day, my mind still sometimes racing, I think about my walk the next morning. I visualize one of my various routes; each curve of the road, each house, hill and landmark – kind of like meditating.

In an article titled ‘Chair Pose’ in the Basics section of the magazine, author Annie Carpenter writes:

In Sanskrit the word for dedicated practice is abhyasa. It is the act of making an effort to reach a goal, wholeheartedly and consistently over time. In yoga, this implies discipline, but it is also a movement towards effortlessness. ‘Practice’ means staying aware of the present moment. This awareness is quickly lost if you get too interested in achieving a pose. Effortlessness arises when you let go of the outcome of practice. You have to make yourself show up, which is hard, but if you stay interested in the practice itself rather that the goal, effortlessness will come.

For a writer, how true this is! Yes, the goals are important, but the act of even showing up – of doing it – and practicing, will make the journey towards the goal effortless. This mindset has helped me not only in keeping up with my exercise regime, but also with my continual writing.

Does this mean I have been following the yoga Sanskirt abhyasa all along? Had I been doing ‘woo woo’ yoga all this time and didn’t even know it?

Yoga isn’t about the wispy clothes or hair, or the fancy resorts. My living room floor is my mat; my neighbourhood my tropical resort. My yoga is what is practiced and meditated every morning as I lie on the floor, clock the miles, and write the words - rain or shine. Who cares what it’s called. And I’ll do the upward facing dog pose my own way, thank you very much.