Friday, July 20, 2012

Koala Watch

It's our second morning in Oz and I was up and out for a run by 7:30 am! So I'm off to a good start. It was fairly easy, motivated as I was by the promise of a beautiful Aussie dawn and the possibility I could see Ozzy, the aptly named baby koala that now makes Mum and Dad's farm his home. The dawn was a misty wonder but unfortunately my suburban eyes failed me and I didn't spot the koala. 

Is it strange that I woke up thinking about him? It's just that last night it felt oddly as though we were releasing a fuzzy baby into a tree to spend his night alone in the pitch black. The people who rescued him mentioned that sometimes if he got thirsty he had been known to come scratching at their back door. I thought, if Mum and Dad get a koala calling at their house all our Canadian friends' misconceptions about Aussie wildlife - that kangaroos just bound around the streets and everyone has a pet koala - will be complete. If you have those notions and now I'm adding to it, know that it is not a common occurrence to have someone drop off a koala at your home! Contrary to what this might suggest, Australians do NOT keep pet koalas!

Today we are off to Gumeracha. I blogged about it when we went last year here. Due to being mentally scarred for life by that last trip, I have been assured my brother-in-law will take my kids up that infernal rocking horse and that I may stay safely with my little two and a half year old nephew on the lower portion. Hopefully just looking at it will not have me breaking out into a sweat. Don't be fooled by its benign looking smile. That horse is evil. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Where Do We Keep This Now

Hubby likes to play a game with me I like to refer to as: Where Do We Keep This Now? 

On today’s episode we played: Where do we keep the sugar bowl now? It was in the cupboard two down from where we last kept it. Not that challenging. 

Previous challenges have included: 

Where do we keep the keys now? 

Where do we keep the salt now? 

Where do we keep the vacuum now? 

In the all time biggest challenge I had to consider: Where do we keep the cantaloupe now? 

Answer: In the microwave. 

He likes to keep me on my toes.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is That So?

Something crappy happened at work recently. Not life alteringly bad, no one died, just something to be filed under the title Sometimes Life Sucks.

When I got finished whining about it – which admittedly took a very long time – I calmed down and was able to reflect. Trying to remember that I am voluntarily attempting to always be a student of that University called Life, I asked myself, what is it I am supposed to be learning from this? As I contemplated, this Zen koan that Eckhart Tolle mentions in A New Earth came to mind:

The Zen master Hakuin was praised by his neighbours as one living a pure life.
A beautiful Japanese girl whose parents owned a food store lived near him. Suddenly, without any warning, her parents discovered she was with child.
This made her parents angry. She would not confess who the man was, but after much harassment at last named Hakuin.

In great anger the parent went to the master. "Is that so?" was all he would say.
After the child was born it was brought to Hakuin. By this time he had lost his reputation, which did not trouble him, but he took very good care of the child. He obtained milk from his neighbours and everything else he needed.

A year later the girl-mother could stand it no longer. She told her parents the truth - the real father of the child was a young man who worked in the fishmarket.
The mother and father of the girl at once went to Hakuin to ask forgiveness, to apologize at length, and to get the child back.

Hakuin was willing. In yielding the child, all he said was: "Is that so?"

Sometimes you can be going along, doing everything right, and life hands you a big ball of crap. Or, you know, a baby you didn’t father. When this happens it’s not always necessary to get up on your high horse or your soap box or whatever you need to get up on since you’re only five feet tall, and shout from the roof tops that you’ve been wronged. It’s likely no one wants to hear or will pay attention anyway. Sometimes all you need to have is a little patience, a little perspective, an ability to sit back and say, Is that so? And believe that the power of the universe is so strong it will eventually right itself.

So today all I’m saying from my soap box is, Is that so?

Is that so?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Art is in the Eye of the Beholder

I’m considering getting a cleaning service. Again. I’ve had them before. It hasn’t gone well.

Two problems. One: something expensive went missing. And it’s not that I know for sure that someone took this item. To be honest, stuff goes missing around our house all the time, cleaning service or no. So it’s more that I will be suspicious if something goes missing again and I don’t like thinking that of someone.

Two: Stuff was never cleaned to my satisfaction. And trust me, I don’t have a high standard of cleanliness! If it looks clean, generally I’m happy. But I kept running into cobwebs right in my line of sight!

Cleaners cost money so I feel the need to justify my want of help around the house. I could tell you that now that I’m working again I don’t have time to clean. But that would be a lie. I could have time. I could forgo a bunch of pastimes that may seem trivial and unnecessary to many more mature people than I am. Things like reading, watching movies, playing Wii Just Dance with the kids (and, if we’re being honest, also without), surfing the Net, blogging, daydreaming, etc. etc. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve decided I want those things in my life and I will no longer feel guilty about it. The problem is, I also want clean toilets.

I had this conversation with myself about it the other day:

I’m cleaning the toilet. I really hate housework. But then I think, what would Eckhart Tolle say? Eckhart would remind me to do things in one of three mindsets: acceptance, enjoyment, bliss. And I agree with this. Some things must be done. Why do them and grumble? It doesn’t change the fact that they need to be done or that they are being done. So why invest negative energy?

In theory. And yet one hard to evoke while cleaning the toilet. Some people enjoy cleaning. My mother, for example. I think she said she finds it calming. In me, though, it provokes feelings of grandeur. Certainly I was put on this earth to do more than clean another person’s shit off of porcelain! I write! I am an artiste! Says who? Who says one task is better than the other? When I am done my task, there is a story! When my mother is done, there is a clean toilet. Mine is art. Art? Art is in the eye of the beholder. Some would call a clean toilet art. Some might compare what I spent 15 minutes writing with, well, shit.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Tao of Pooh

I am reading the Tao of Pooh.

I know, right? The atheist is reading a religious book. Is Taoism a religion? I’m not sure. What is Taoism? I can’t tell you. If I tell you, I have to kill you. No, I’m just joking! I can’t tell you because, such is the nature of the Tao. You can only try and point it out, catch glimpses of it. But as soon as you try and pin it down with a definition, it flutters away like a butterfly, or like this kite that is taking Pooh with it.

I understand it in the same way I understand existentialism. And that is, just barely. I was introduced to existentialism through reading Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot in grade ten English with Mrs. Kress. I caught glimpses of what it was then. And since, I have tried to understand it better. Or have tried pretending that I understand it better than I do in order to appear smarter than I am.

As I’m reading the Tao of Pooh I’m beginning to realize, I’m not an atheist! I’m a Taoist… whatever that is. And aren’t we all whatever we are, regardless of what we choose to call ourselves? Why are we calling ourselves anything? See? That’s a glimpse of the Tao right there for ya! I think…

God seems to be like this too. In the past few months I keep catching glimpses of what I think God is. Here are some examples:

When I thought I’d try something different and then received a fortune cookie that said “Your curious nature will take you somewhere special.”

When I stopped being head strong and decided to listen to hubby and therefore realized what he was saying was absolutely right. And then watched the light in his eyes shine when he saw that I Value His Opinion.

When I was wondering what book to read next and then this little red Tao of Pooh book came floating right in front of me. If I had read it four months ago I wouldn’t have heard it. But maybe four months ago it wouldn’t have called to me.

The Five Most Difficult Library Patrons

Library patrons! Please do not misunderstand this list. Please do not go away from this thinking that your library staff doesn’t love you. We do! We are at your service and we do what we do (most of us, anyway) because we believe in the concept of shared knowledge, that information should be accessible to all, that media that sparks creativity is not a luxury but a necessity to make life worthwhile, indeed to make living in this crazy, mixed up world make sense.


As in all relationships, sometimes you do things that annoy us. We understand. We’re not perfect either. But let me put you on alert: if you want your friendly neighbourhood library clerk to continue helping you out with a smile on her face, please steer away from doing any of the following…

1. Child in car. This is a parent, mom or dad, who rushes in and wants library staff to do something, whether it is checking him out at the desk instead of waiting in line to use the self check, waiving his fine, unlock his DVDs for him, anything like this but to just do it and do it faster, because he has left his child in the car. He doesn’t have time for your explanations. He doesn’t want to hear about how under normal circumstances he should be doing these things himself. He can’t discuss whether or not he brought back that express movie on time, he just knows he definitely did and he shouldn’t have that huge fine on his account. He wants library staff to cut him some slack because, aren’t we worried about his child he left in the car?? Here’s a tip: NEVER LEAVE YOUR YOUNG CHILD UNATTENDED IN A CAR!!! If you do so, you should go back and get her! She is your responsibility, not ours. As is unlocking your DVDs.

2. Picking up someone else’s holds. This happens all the time. If it’s happened to you, don’t worry, it’s happened to me too, before I started working at the library. If you are unfamiliar, this is what I’m talking about: Your husband places some holds on his account. He’s busy at work so he asks you if you can go in and pick them up for him. You do, only to discover that, unless he’s given you his card, you can’t get them.

If you are not too ticked off at this point, library staff will explain to you that this rule is for your own protection. We might even tell you about the woman who put a bunch of books on divorce on hold for herself and then her husband, who didn’t know what she was planning, came in and found out what she was up to by picking up her holds. And then she sued the library. And won.

The difficult patron, though, will not want to hear any of this. She will just be incredulous and then quickly fly into a murderous rage over staff having wasted her time and gas money by not allowing her to pick up her husband’s holds. She will want staff to call her husband, right now, and ask him, go on, ask him, if she has the authority to pick up his holds. (We don’t do that, by the way.)

Please, don’t kill the messenger! We are not out to make your life miserable! We generally try to avoid that. But being unable to pick up somebody else’s holds without his card is the library rule and it’s there for a reason. We would not be doing our job if we didn’t follow it.

3. Nobody told me. This person is usually a teenager. But not always. You’d be surprised. She comes stalking up to the desk with the air of being egregiously wronged. A seasoned staff member will be able to detect the general gist of the ensuing conversation before she’s even opened her mouth. And it is this: she just got a notice in the mail. The library has sent a collection agency after her. How dare they! Nobody told her she had to bring those Express DVDs and Wii games back on time! This is the first she’s heard about it. Why didn’t anyone tell her before now that she had these fines. And besides, she doesn’t even think she had those things. She doesn’t even own a Wii player. She’s never heard of that movie.

When you sign up for a library card, you are accepting responsibility for all the material on the card, for knowing when it is due and for bringing it back on time. We do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for you to remember when things are due. We offer to print you a receipt. Now you can even have your receipt emailed to you. You can check your account online. You can call us and we’ll check. You can come in whenever we are open and ask us all about it. But ultimately it is up to you. You’re a big girl. Time to learn responsibility!

4. That’s your job. This has actually only happened to me once. But I’m relatively new! This lady lamented the declining service of the library thanks to self check outs. The staff used to check her out and unlock her DVDs. And in some ways, I agree with her. I actually like checking people out, seeing what people are watching, chatting with people about what books are good, which ones they’d recommend, recommending some of my own. Less interaction with our patrons means less fun conversations. Sometimes this means we are only speaking to certain patrons when they have fines – and that’s no fun for anyone! But the idea behind it is that, by having self checkout, it frees up our time to help you do what we do best, things like finding material for you, recommending your next read, telling you how to start a book club or helping you start to use the e-reader you just got for Christmas. This is where we really shine! So we leave checking out to you. And besides, using self check is fun!

But when I told this lady this, in so many words, she insisted that no, unlocking DVDs should be MY job, not hers. That’s what I’m paid for: to unlock DVDs. Is it wrong that I was rather insulted at her insistence that I spent four years at university only to have a large part of my job description include sliding a bit of plastic along a magnet?

5. Johnny come lately. This patron comes in to pick up his twenty-five holds… at 8:59 p.m. He calmly walks over to the self check and begins to methodically unwrap each one. After he checks them out, if they are DVDs, he hands them to his three year old to unlock. When she has trouble he says to her, hm, it’s not working, maybe try it the other way around. If staff is so impertinent as to remind him that the library is now closed and he has to hurry along, he will look down his nose at the implication that he should be rushed by a city employee who, really, he pays for with his tax dollars.

Once the library is closed, staff is no longer paid. So if you are hanging around browsing the Express movies and checking out past that time, know that staff is now only there out of the goodness of our hearts. And we do have goodness in our hearts! But it runs thin at closing time. See 1 through 4, above.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

From the Past

I wrote this article for the English Wakayama Newsletter the year I was living in Japan, 1995. If you find, like I do, parts vaguely racist or at least politically incorrect, or feel incredulous that I seem to be suggesting they should not have taken prayer out of the school curriculum, all I can say is that I'm chalking it up to being young and not yet very well informed. But I like the general sentiment behind it and think it's still a topic worth considering. Also, as I prepare to visit Scotland this month, I think it is interesting how I was thinking of Scotland so many years ago...

Oxymoron: The Typical Canadian

About a month ago, in one of my English classes, the topic of my cultural background was brought into question. After a lengthy explanation, including several questionable drawings of my family tree by the JTE, one student piped up, "So your mother's Japanese and your father's Scottish?" (This was actually asked in Japanese, of course.)

"Yes," I replied.

"Well then you're not Canadian," he said accusingly, as if he had just realized that there was an imposter standing at the front of the class posing as a Canadian.

"Of course I am, I was born in Canada," I retorted, but the student looked skeptically back at me and remained unconvinced.

I felt rather defensive about this and mulled it over considerably afterward. I didn't have time in that class to explain to the students the history of Canada and how everybody in Canada, except perhaps the Native Indians, originated from somewhere else. However, I saw in the eyes of some of them that they were struggling to grasp the idea of who a Canadian is, to create an image of the typical Canadian in their minds. In an attempt to form this image, Japanese people occasionally ask questions like, "What is a typical Canadian dish?" or "Does everybody in Canada speak English and French?" I've had no simple answer to these questions, and so I've realized I also need to define "Canadian."

I have a vague recollection of learning about Canadian multiculturalism versus the United States' melting pot in junior high school. I don't remember any exact lessons but I know I came out with this general impression: Those evil, oppressive Americans force all their immigrants to give up their heritage and forget their traditions to become U.S. citizens, while we benign, forever accommodating Canadians allow each of our citizens to retain his own cultural identity hence forming a beautifu cultural mosaic... Yeah Canada! So yes, of course the Seikh RCMP can carry his kirpan and wear his turban as part of his uniform; and swearing on the bible is no longer necessary in a Canadian court; and naturally we shouldn't force all Canadian school children to say the Lord's prayer every morning in school - in fact, let's take those prayers out of the curriculum all together. Should we still sing the national anthem?

Of course I wouldn't be so morally arrogant as to claim to be able to determine whether these decisions on the part of the Canadian government were right or wrong. What I am asking is, with what kind of cultural identity is a Canadian left? It seems to me that the typical Canadian is someone who has an idea of the culture of her ancestors but who often has never been to the country where that culture originated and has no concrete culture of her own, being Canadian, to embrace.

Recall for a moment, Darren N's article in the October issue of WIN, "Welshmen - The Chosen Race." However arrogant and rampant with inaccurate generalizations this article may have been, one must recognize and admire one thing: The intense pride Mr. N has in Wales and being Welsh. He comes from a country with a distinct culture and long history. These are tangible facts to which he can refer to identify and define Wales.

Recently my father came to visit me here in Japan. The day he was leaving to go home we took the train together to Kansai Airport. On the way, we got on this topic of cultural identity and he began to talk about his home country, Scotland. He said to me, "Your Poppa used to say that in Scotland you can put your 'hond' down in any river and take a drink." I sat there with my father, whom I had never seen cry once in my life, and watched a tear come to his eye as he told me of his latest visit to Scotland. I tried to imagine him as he said he was, knelt down on the grassy banks of the misty Valley of Glencoe with his hand in the river, thinking of his father, and of Scotland, and of being Scottish. I looked out the window of the train over blue tiled rooves nestled among expanding mountains, and wondered if I would ever have emotions like that about anywhere in the world.

These days I'm making an effort to experience Japanese culture. I am attempting to learn the tea ceremony ("attempting" being the key word here). I am struggling with the Japanese language, and I am trying to find somewhere where I can learn "nichibu" (Japanese dancing). I realize now I do all of this in the desperate attempt to have something tangible to point to, to say, "This is me. This is who I am."

But the truth is clear. I am not Japanese, I can't even speak the language. I'm not Scottish, I couldn't point Edinburgh out to you on a map. I'm Canadian. I can sing you the entire Canadian national anthem, I can name all 10 provinces and 2 territories. But if asked about "The Typical Canadian," I'm afraid I'll still have no definitive answer.