Thursday, December 27, 2007

fog and frost

Yesterday, we were up early, driving from the in-laws to the folks'. If there is one road that I know like the back of my hand, it's the route from Waterloo to Walkerton - I've driven it countless times in my life, so that the scenery is pretty much background. Maybe if your front door opens onto some kind of spectacular mountain range or the sun sets over the ocean during your commute home, this doesn't happen, but I think it's pretty common to get fairly indifferent to the beauty of home. For me, the farms of Waterloo, Wellington, Huron, Bruce counties are usually just what's there - the trip is time to be put in from point A to point B. Yesterday, though, I was kicked with an amazing show - the kind of beauty that explains why, as mentioned in my last post, I've been able to sense God more in creation than in anything else. When we left Waterloo, it was fairly foggy, but we could see that there was hoar frost on the trees. It was pretty cool, and as we transitioned from suburbs to farmland, it changed from kinda neat to truly magical. As we were driving, the fog burnt off, and we were suddenly in a world of bright blue sky with the full moon hanging over the horizon and every tree an amazing white wonder. I know that I often grumble through my life and my surroundings, and I really feel like this experience was grace - a blessing that I didn't deserve, but received nonetheless.

Monday, December 24, 2007

season of wonder(ing)

Christmas Eve is here and I feel nothing. I don’t like feeling like this – Christmas is supposed to be a pinnacle of spiritual experience for Christians – a time to reflect on the miracle and wonder of God coming to earth in the form of Jesus. I don’t feel that. No reverence. No awe.

I guess, throughout all of the stages of my faith, it’s always been like this. I have always felt more connected to God the creator than to Jesus. Christmas has been a time for all of the secular things that people go on about – family and tradition and giving and such, but I’ve never felt a deep connection with the story of the baby Jesus. To be honest, I feel more of a spiritual stirring from the tradition of lighting lights to drive away the long dark nights at this time of year.

This whole lack of connect might be partly because it’s become such a cliché in our culture –perhaps the telling of the story in children’s pageants and the singing of sacred songs on the radio have stripped it of any ring of personal relationship for me. Knowing that the Christmas story becomes more fleshed out as the Gospels are further from the actual life of Jesus doesn’t help either, though. Generally I wouldn’t say that I don’t believe in miracles, but I don’t really believe that the miracles in the story actually historically happened.

When I actually admit things like this, I wonder if I am, somehow, a pagan who thinks she’s a Christian. I sometimes wonder how I can claim the faith for my own when I don’t agree with fundamental tenets – PJ says I’m just not a fundamentalist, but I still wonder, at times like this, what I’m doing here.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

you just gotta laugh

There's a part in Garden State where Natalie Portman says "you just have to laugh sometimes, or else you'll cry." That came to mind this morning, while we were leaving a day late for our Christmas vacation, with the fans running to hopefully dry out the water that has been seeping into our house from the roof since yesterday. It's been a stressful couple of weeks for PJ and I (deadlines, meetings, the promise of more deadlines in the New Year, emotionally intense experiences with people we care about), and the water yesterday morning was the icing on the cake. So last night, we decided to stay in town, and in between running the towels through the dryer, we ordered pizza, cracked a couple of beers, and watched the Princess Bride. Sometimes, you just gotta laugh . . .

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

all I want for Christmas . . . is everything

In today’s Globe & Mail , there was an article about the extent that parents in Toronto are going to to get their children tickets to a “Hannah Montana” concert. Apparently, these tickets can cost up to $1200, and the article was featuring a father who was considering taking a second job so he could get these tickets for his daughters, and another mother who was offering 2 days of her husband’s plumbing services in exchange for tickets so she could take her 7-year-old daughter.

For once, I have to say that I whole-heartedly agree with the posters in the Globe’s online discussion, who all suggested that these parents were insane to be even considering spending that kind of money to take their children to a concert, and that their children would get over the disappointment eventually.

There was another article a few weeks ago in which a “mother of two grown children” was asking for advice – her daughter had requested no presents for her family, her son was upset about this, and the commentators were weighing in on how even if the parents didn’t want gifts, the children shouldn’t be deprived.

Somewhere between nothing and $1200 concert tickets, there has to be a happy medium. We want to get gifts for our nephew, because he’s excited about presents under the tree (last year, when he was almost 4, if you asked him what he wanted for Christmas, he just said “presents” – not games or toys or books . . . it was the excitement of something mysterious and just for him that mattered). He’s (for one more Christmas only) an only child, grandchild, and nephew – meaning there’s a lot of people to provide those presents.

I feel like I am slipping on the responsible gift-giving front this year. I don’t have a lot of ideas for crafts (or time, for the few ideas I have, or for shopping further afield). We haven’t even got to the little guy yet, and I know I’ll have the same quandary I always have – it doesn’t make sense to give a gift that someone doesn’t want – but there is a large gap between want and need, and the Hannah Montana tickets reveal that it may not be good to give someone everything they want either . . .

Friday, November 30, 2007

Oh seasonal Tree

Wheat Sheaf recently wrote about the Dutch Santa Claus tradition, in which Sinterklaas and Zwart Piet go around giving toys to good children, and coal to bad children (and, apparently stuffing REALLY bad children in a sack). He was examining the Dutch attempt to come to terms with multiculturalism and the suitability of a character such as Zwart Piet (potentially colonized servant/slave of white St. Nick) in modern Christmas celebrations.

Well, I don’t have an easy answer for WS, but his post did get me thinking of other Christmas symbols. At work, we’re starting to decorate for the holidays –something to take our minds off the fact it’s getting dark at freakin’ 4pm, as we head into the final month of the year. I overheard a (non-Christian) co-worker reminding the organizer of this initiative that the decorations should be non-denominational – which is only appropriate, in my view.

It got me thinking, though, about what would be acceptable in this context. Obviously, the crèche is out, and probably angels too. But what about Christmas trees? Christians notoriously borrowed a wide variety of fertility and solstice symbols from other traditions as the faith spread throughout Europe back in the day. The tree is a prime example of that – associated with Christmas, but having its roots in pagan beliefs (and I use that in the sense of revering the earth and its inherent power, rather than in any pejorative way), and today the epicentre of the secularized commercial face of Christmas – where all the gifts come to rest. What about lights and candles – also appropriated by the Christian faith to symbolize the star of Bethlehem, or the light of God entering the world in the form of Christ – but originally designed to take peoples’ minds off the fact that it’s getting dark at freakin’ 4pm.

To me, these symbols are completely secularized, and actually can detract from a Christian’s interaction with the spiritual element of the season. However, I know that I am speaking from a position of privilege as a member of the Christian (or nominally Christian, at least . . .) majority. Maybe the fact that they’ve been appropriated by Christianity is enough to make others feel like they’re having the faith pushed on them, and we should be respectful of that. But I do feel like we could all use a little light and green at this time of year, and hope that these symbols can continue to evolve as the culture does, and belong to everyone.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


I have been blogging for a year now. I am not as prolific as Wheat Sheaf, who hit his 100th post last week, after only blogging for 4 months, but it's still a milestone. I can also be proud that I inspried Wheat Sheaf. My blogging inspiration, Constant Traveller, killed her blog after a few months.

Blogging is an interesting phenomena. In exploring blogs, I have discovered that most people use them either as a way of sharing what they've been up to, or they seem to have blogs that centre around specific passions. I don't really do either. I am a bit reticent about being too autobiographical in the broad forum of the internet, and I am much too flaky to keep a whole blog going on one subject. A friend of Wheat Sheaf's was teasing us about blogging once - saying that nobody wanted to read that I biked over to his place for a bbq and ate a delicious salad. Well, many people do blog that kind of thing, and I have to say it's strangely compelling - and maybe my friends who are all over the world WOULD be interested to know that . . . That's not why I blog, though, I do it to force myself to develop my thoughts, and to put them out there in a coherent enough form that I am not embarassed to have other people read them.

It's been interesting to look back and see what topics I revisit. My blog is a record of what I have been thinking about, or what's got me agitated. Seeing the themes laid out over a year has been revealing - I don't think that I realized I was so fixated, for example, on possessions and clutter. It's also affirmed what MB noticed once - I've become quite a feminist in my old age.

Sometimes I have a lot of time to read the paper and be aware of what is going on in the world. Sometimes (like this week), my days are full of work (which would be much to dull to keep a blog going, even if it wasn't privileged), and my evenings are full of working out, laundry, and personal stuff (which is also either too dull or too privileged to post to the world at large). During these times, it is good to have my blog, to challenge myself to have at least one coherent interesting thought a week . . .

Thursday, November 15, 2007

one of those days

It’s one of those days. It’s one of those days that follows one of those nights (those nights when you try to go to sleep and then go downstairs and huddle under a blanket reading until you are too tired for your scattered thoughts to bombard you). It’s one of those days when people you know and care about are dealing with big crappy issues, and it’s all part of life, and you realize you’re grown up and it’s going to become more frequent, not less, that people you love will face big crappy issues, and you’ll be looked at for a source of strength. And sometimes you’ll give too little too late, and you’ll have to live with that. And sometimes you’ll be the one who needs the support. It’s one of those days when Pakistan is disintegrating and children are dying in Sudan and being sold in Cambodia, and the malls are already playing bad Christmas music. It’s one of those days when it’s unseasonably warm, and you know that more people are glad than freaked out that the natural order is off. Yup, it’s one of those days.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

community of strangers

At Ecclesiax, we want to be a community. We don't want to be a church that people come to on Sundays, kinda get some kind of spiritual fix, and then leave until the next week, without getting into each others' lives. However, it seems that for many people we are a church that people come to on Sundays, get some kind of spiritual fix (I hope . . .), and then leave until the next week, without getting into each others' lives. And, I don't know know what to do about that. It seems that we need to have things going outside of Sunday, where people can get to know each in a smaller setting or through having a more hands-on shared experience. We need small groups and events, but to have small groups and events, we need people to lead them, and we need people to come to them. We've tried some things over the past few years where there's been pretty dismal turn-out. Even the craft workshops (which, by the way, are great) have more non-members than members. So, how do we get people coming? And do we get to throw up our hands if they don't come to what we offer, but then complain that they don't feel connected? How much of creating a community is the responsibility of the church leadership, and how much is the responsibility of the people who want to plug into it?

I am tired today, so I don't have many answers to this, or even the ability to flesh out the issues completely, but it's something that's been on my mind this week.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

the road to hell

I saw my first glimpse of the Chadian orphan debacle was on the TV at the gym – it was when the story was first breaking, and all I saw were the allegations that these people were trafficking the children into sex slavery/ black market adoptions. Since then, the news has suggested that the French “traffickers” were trying to rescue orphans from Darfur and bring them to France. The idea (I think) was that the children would be hosted by French families, and could claim refugee status. I think they thought that the appearance of these helpless orphans on French soil would arouse a groundswell of support for their cause, and the cause of Darfur in general.

Contrary to the first report I saw, it seems that these people aren’t slave traders, but it seems they’re still not quite the saviours they want to be – the latest allegations have included the fact that most of the children were Chadian, rather than Sudanese, and actually had parents or close family members who could look after them. All in all, it seems like a very misguided mission – as a French official said in one of the articles I was reading – the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And the road to hell can be seen in this whole confusing story . . . Republic of Congo has already cancelled all international adoptions, keeping bona fide orphans from finding a new home in a western country. Children ranging in age from 1 to 8 have been away from their families for over a month. NGOs that have tried to work with the local people are under suspicion.

As someone who can understand the urge to DO SOMETHING about the horrible things happening in the world, I have a certain amount of sympathy for these fools riding their chartered jet straight into the gates of hell. Furthermore, this whole thing has left me wondering when I have been responsible for misplaced good intentions. I think that it happens whenever we go galloping into a situation, determined to help, without stopping to get to know, or to actually listen to, the people we are aiming to help.

While I was at law school, the Christian Legal Fellowship did Operation Christmas Child every year. I would marvel at some of the items that would come in the boxes that people had assembled to send overseas – stuffed snowmen and other Christmas kitsch, candy and bath gel, despite the instructions to avoid things that could leak or melt . . . the people who send these gifts mean well for these children, but have not stopped to consider the context these kids are living in. Now, I wonder if the idea I’ve been batting around to send toys to Cree kids is any different. In my defence, the idea came from someone who has spent time in a Cree community, but still . . . do these kids really need teddy bears? And do they need teddy bears from me? Ecclesiax has worked with some people in the area, but this gift could still be perceived as a bunch of useless crap from whites in the south . . . should I send it unless I know that this will not be the message?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

monsters on the inside

For my entire life, I have loved dressing up – when I was a kid I would start planning my Halloween costume for the next year somewhere around November 10, the candy not yet eaten from the previous event. This year, despite Halloween falling on a Wednesday (a prime positioning for 2 weekends of activities), I don’t have a single costume event lined up – nor have I looked that hard. There are various people in various levels of fancy-dress walking around work today, but I didn’t give any serious thought to joining the ranks when I stood in my closet in my bathrobe this morning.

I had been clinically observing my own detachment from the festivities, thinking “heh, that’s strange . . .” until I came across an article in today’s Globe about sexy Halloween costumes. I, for the record, have never dressed up as a naughty nurse or a French maid for Halloween. However, there always was that pressure to look somewhat sexy or cute (while not wanting to be over sexualized).

At this moment in time, I am not feeling awesome about my body – the body monsters that tell me my butt is too big have been buzzing in my brain, so that every day dressing in normal clothing can be enough of a challenge for the psyche . . . who would want to add the pressure of a costume for an occasion in which most women (while eating candy and other such junky treats) show off their ass(ets)? So this Halloween, I’ll go and listen to scary stories with my sweetie, while the monsters are on the inside, and there’s no need to dress up to bring them out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007


Today, when I should have been doing other things, I was thinking about an idea for an Ecclesiax project. The other week, our Sunday service focused on annual work trips that members of our community take to a Cree community in northern Quebec. As we were talking about the poverty that affects many first nations people, one of the girls who had been up north suggested that maybe we could dovetail with our sustainable gift workshops and make toys for Cree children for Christmas. I was kinda thinking about that, and then today Sen Smith sent an e-mail around to the board on the subject of the Good Samaritan (inspired by my favourite Christian book – Unexpected News by Robert McAfee Brown) – he had found a sermon that talked about how being a neighbour was an active pursuit – and that the Samaritan is a neighbour because he puts caring into action. So, this swung me back to the thoughts of doing something – and a toy bee.

All of the above is background to explain how I stumbled upon "One Red Robin" . This crafter’s blog (which has a doll pattern that I think would be easy to amend into a teddy bear if the toy-making actually happens) is stunning. This woman, who is a mother of 2 and works fulltime, makes amazing things which she has photographed beautifully on her site.

I am totally inspired, and just want to go home and sew and knit and collage and quilt! I have been trying to figure out what this fall’s baby quilt #3 will look like (and I’m not even done #2 yet!), and this is giving me some ideas . . . we’ll see what it turns into. This inspiration also has me thinking of how awesome it is that women (and some men too!) continue to work in textiles, making beautiful things, just like women have for generations. Another pipe dream of mine is an exhibit of “women’s work” in the Ecclesiax gallery – all modern textile art. . . .

Monday, October 29, 2007

Parents and other Saints

As many of you will know, we are not too sure about this parenting thing – we don’t know if having children (or adopting children, or any other form of building a family that involves children) is going to be in our future. Many of our friends, on the other hand, have taken the parental plunge in the past few years, and are bravely raising amazing young individuals from baby to toddler and beyond.

I’ve been thinking of parenthood, because I think that raising children is one of the bravest and scariest things you can do. I guess this week’s entry is an ode to the young parents in my life – you are all amazing and I am so proud of you.

I talked to Beek yesterday. Her 2nd child (just born last June) is going to have surgery on his skull this Wednesday. Naturally, she’s terrified. But in the meantime, she’s continuing to be a wonderful mother to her older boy – to try to think about his needs in the back and forth to the hospital and the general disruption of their lives. She is so philosophical – she has tried to be very intentional in her parenting, and to incorporate her ideals about how she should interact with the planet and people into raising her children, but is managing to give herself the grace to make the compromises necessary to get through the day during this crisis.

Meanwhile, Sen Smith and wife have just had kid #3 – their first girl. The Senator, who is definitely a guys guy, is nervous about having a daughter – he feels like he could relate to his boys, but isn’t sure how he’s going to relate to a girl, and is worried about a whole world of new problems. But I know he’ll be a great dad to his daughter, because he’s a great dad to his boys, and he’s going to love this little girl just as much. I am sure that when #1 was born, he was nervous about being a father at all . . . and he’s done great.

I used to go to weddings and think of how brave those people were – making the decision that they were going to spend the rest of their lives with one partner, and publicly committing to form a new family. Well, many of those people are growing those families, and I guess what is on my mind this week is that I am still so proud of them and all they’ve accomplished.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mini-Skirts Need Not Pray

I've read "Infidel" and, as anticipated, it was a bit more thought-provoking than your average Tom Clancy. There were a pile of themes, and I might unpack more of them in subseqent blogs (we'll see where the conversation goes when we have our book club). Not knowing much about Islam, I found that I read the book through my Christian experience - drawing parallels between Christian and Muslim fundamentalism.

One of the things that caught my attention is the focus in the devout end of both religions with controlling sexuality. Ali, the author of Infidel, grew up honestly believing that the trains would all crash and the country would descend into chaos if women showed their necks (until she left Somalia for the Netherlands, and realized that the transit system was quite effective, tube-tops notwithstanding . . . .). Earlier this week, I was reading the homesite of "Ladies against Feminism," a right-wing Christian organization, and there was an online forum on the question of whether it was sinful for a woman to marry if she didn't want children (the general consensus being that it was).

Another common thread is the belief that women are responsible for the sexual purity of the community - that men cannot control their sexuality, and women are responsible to not tempt them. I have always found that to be an interesting argument, considering that it is generally advanced by people who also believe that women are the weaker sex in every other area of life, and must be protected by men.

I am not a hedonist - I believe that there is sexual morality and immorality. However, this is only one aspect of morality, and I think that it is a shame that it has become such a focus of two of the world's largest religions. It does not seem that monitoring sexuality has generally helped people to be kinder, more loving, individuals.

I don't know why sexuality has become such a huge focus of religion - on the one hand, I could argue that religions, as hierarchical power structures, can only allow a certain number of people at the top, and by conveniently dismissing half of the population as defiled, the number of people vying for power is severely reduced. This answer, though, only gives a reason for why women are subjugated - it doesn't answer the general issue of rejection of sex, which is ultimately unhealthy for both men and women. Maybe it's because sex is about bodily pleasure, and in religion, ecstasy is supposed to be spiritual? I don't know . . . but these threads run deep, and they're troubling.

Friday, October 12, 2007

In Praise of Frivolous Books

After much back-and-forthing, I finally ordered "Infidel" from Chapters. It’s our next book club book, and I am looking forward to it. It’s the story of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who is a refugee from Somalia who became a member of Parliament in the Netherlands. She is, from what I’ve heard of the book, and read about her in other places, pretty harsh towards Islam and its treatment of women. I am looking forward to reading this book and engaging with her controversial take on multiculturalism.

But in the meantime, I have about 100 pages left to get through “Clear and Present Danger”. Generally, I go for John le Carré or Robert Ludlum for my spy lit, but I picked this up at a book sale at some point, and figured I might as well read it. Tom Clancy is not exactly high literature (I’m not picky, but I prefer books where the language either a) enhances the story or b) doesn’t get in the way of the story – Clancy, like Dan Brown, tends to stray into category c)).

Despite the language, though, this book has been interesting. Written in 1989, it’s about the “war against drugs,” the idea being that the President of the United States decided that cocaine being shipped into the United States is a “clear and present danger” to the people of his country, and therefore wages a covert war against a Colombian drug cartel. And so, it’s all about the issue of waging a “war on drugs,” and the soldiers and intelligence agents who go through the moral quandary of what they are doing – how to define an enemy, when the ends justify the means, etc etc.. I never understood the basis for the “war on drugs” rhetoric, and while I still think that it’s dangerous to go around waging “wars” on amorphous enemies, I at least now understand how it could possibly be characterized as a war.

Generally, I find spy books fascinating because they always reflect the paranoia of the age in which they are written. If you read through le Carré’s career, for example, you’ll start with the cold war, and move through state-sponsored terrorism, drugs, and finally multi-nationals as the bad guy of choice. These books, as much as a memoir like Infidel, can reveal things about the world we live in. Another recent thriller I read was “the Odessa File” by Frederick Forsyth. Under the cat-and-mouse Nazi-hunting plot was a fascinating theme of the German population’s inability to deal with the collective guilt of the Holocaust. Even the only Danielle Steele book I’ve ever read gave me a solid introduction to tsarist Russia.

So, I am looking forward to sinking my teeth into the weighty issues in Infidel, but I don’t think that it’s been a waste of my time to read Clear and Present Danger – if we read with our brains turned on, even escapist literature can challenge and teach.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thank God I'm a Country Girl

Today someone at work said he was surprised I was from a small town, because I seem like I would be from a big city. Funny, because just yesterday I was ordering merchandise from the Ontario Cattlemen's Association and telling another friend all about the glory of Big Bruce .

On Sunday, we will be doing our annual Thanksgiving dinner. I am excited about it, and I am glad to not be driving 8 hours this weekend, but I do miss Walkerton at this time of year. Thankgiving was always the time for walking out at the lake, taking fun pictures among the hay bales. Every year at church, Rev. O. gave the same sermon about "thanksliving", and there were usually corn stalks on the altar brought in by one of the farmers in the congregation.

I really don't think I will ever live in Walkerton, or any small town, again, but it is still home. Even if I don't seem like I am from the country to the casual observer, I know that my rural upbringing has affected the way I see the world. Back before Walkerton was infamous, it was the place that I couldn't wait to leave, but it was also the place I lived for 19 years. There are opportunities that I didn't have when I was growing up, but overall I think that having lived in a small town, and then moving to a city, has enriched my life. Not many people do it in the opposite direction, so it's given me a diversity of experiences that city folk (strangely, in more multi-cultural settings) don't experience.

So, it's Thanksliving this weekend, and I will spend it in the city (we still don't have a car, so can't even escape to the Gatineaus tomorrow) before flying off to Washington on Monday night - but if you're wondering what I'm thankful for - I thank God I'm a country girl.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Who's your daddy?

This week’s Globe & Mail offerings: coverage of a 32-year-old mother who died after liposuction, revelation that it’s predicted that women will eventually fill the wage gap (and subsequent comment that women shouldn’t be expected to make as much as men, since they choose to have children and shoulder the burden of child-care), and an opinion piece on why a woman should keep her own name (and subsequent comment by man with very Anglo-Saxon name that all of this whining and navel-gazing about “identity” is ridiculous).

And so I maintain that my statement made earlier this week, in discussion with the Ecclesiax Board on another issue, is true: the patriarchy is alive and well. I think that it is appropriate to use that term when referring to any traditionally male-dominated status quo that controls people’s lives, whether they are male or female – but I don’t even need to get into that definition, because all of these examples pertain to the narrower concept of patriarchy as oppressor of women.

Story #1 – obviously there is a whole issue of the safety of cosmetic surgery in this tragic story, which is beside what has struck me about it. From all accounts, this woman (who had opted for liposuction over a tummy tuck because she thought it was safer and less invasive) was not a big risk-taker in the name of beauty. However, she still felt strongly enough about the belly fat that had become a regular part of her post-pregnancy body that she was willing to undergo an invasive procedure. She was not overweight, from the look of her picture, but she apparently looked like she’d had a baby, and she felt that was bad – that she shouldn’t carry the marks of motherhood on her body. The fat that covered her previously rock-hard abs was sufficiently offensive and ugly to her that she was willing to undergo surgery to make it go away. And, of course, the choice is not an isolated one, only the tragic consequences are. I only hope that out of these consequences will come a dialogue that doesn’t just examine the safety of the procedure, but examines why women go through the procedure at all.

Story #2 – as is often the case, it’s the comments, more than the article, that I have found revealing. The article is about a study that predicts the gender gap will finally close on wages in the next decade or so. The responses were rife with comments about how women choose to have children and can’t expect companies to compensate them for taking off time when their kids are sick. A few lone voices suggested that maybe we should view child-rearing and pregnancy as valuable contributions to society, but were quickly blocked out by a man saying that, all things being equal, he would always pick a man over a woman in hiring, because the man was going to be more productive. There was very little discussion about the role that fathers could (and, increasingly, want to) play in parenting. And there was, also, the usual snide remark about how it was unfair that there would be no affirmative action for men when women passed them in earning power – no historical context considered.

Story #3 – basically, the author was advocating that the only reasonable choice for a woman to make when getting married was to keep her own name – largely because it makes things easier when the divorce rolls around. The comments were, I thought, largely pretty reasonable. I liked that someone pointed out that the author argued that keeping one’s name was about identity, without any acknowledgement that with personal identity comes personal choice (I know very intelligent women who chose to take their husband’s names, while fully aware of the historical significance – it just worked best for them). The other good comment was on the fact that the author felt the need to make it clear “I’m not a feminist,” while feminists had made such choice possible in the first place. However, the comment that best illustrates my thesis of today – that the patriarchy is alive and well – was by a man (with, as I mentioned in my intro, a very Anglo-Saxon sounding name) saying that all of this thought and discussion about personal identity is self-serving and ridiculous. I can’t believe that anyone who has ever experienced being a minority would dismiss the importance of identity so quickly. Some men seem to want their wives to take on their names, and take it as a personal affront if a wife objects, who would never consider changing their own name. Why should they? It’s their NAME, after all . . . passed on from father to son. A woman, though . . . well, it’s only the natural progression.

And so, in two days of flipping through the paper online, I see women who are willing to undergo the knife to erase any evidence of pregnancy from their bodies, and who carefully separate themselves from feminists, while claiming a choice that feminists fought for us to have. And I see men who don’t understand that a woman might want to have a job and a family, like men have had for centuries, but that her biological role in the whole family-production process makes it a bit harder, and who can’t even fathom why one would feel the need to assert one’s identity. And I have to conclude that the patriarchy is alive and well, and coming soon to a neighbourhood near you.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Book Learnin'

Here in Ontario, the provincial elections are swiftly approaching, and the talk has been pretty much high-jacked by one issue – the funding of faith-based schools. Launched onto the agenda as a Conservative draw for their constituency, the issue is close to all I’ve heard in my limited exposure to the election build-up (based largely on listening to Ottawa morning on CBC while getting ready for work). A few weeks ago, Wheat Sheaf asked me what I thought of the issue, and I wasn’t quite sure. So, I’ve been thinking and discussing with people since then, and this is what I’ve come up with.

For starters – I was raised in the public school system, and I believe in the public school system. I believe in the democratic process of kids from all walks of life interacting with each other at school (I guess that my small town experience reflects that more than it would be in cities, where neighbourhood divisions lead to school divisions along economic lines). So, I would love to see our education money going to fund one strong education system. A system in which all kids have the opportunity to take arts and sports, and also have the opportunity to learn about all different religions in a respectful manner.

I guess the point of faith-based education is that a given community’s faith framework has led to a set of values that they would like to impart to their children. On the CBC, they were interviewing people involved in a small Christian school somewhere south of Ottawa. Some of the differences in curriculum were to be expected – evolution taught with the caveat that it is a theory that is wrong, no sex education. Some were interesting – cursive hand-writing starting in grade 1, no computers. Some were, in my opinion, unfortunate – teaching Biblical history instead of modern Canadian history. It isn’t that Christian children shouldn’t know Biblical history, but modern Canadian history is important – these kids live in Canadian society, and we can only understand the nuances of where we are if we understand the nuances of where we came from. I mention all of this by way of illustration, and to get to the point that maybe parents need to take the responsibility for their children’s supplemental and value education. There are things that every Canadian should know about to function in our society, and there are things that are going to be specific to faith. Maybe school should only be in charge of the things every Canadian should know about, and should give kids the tools to explore the issues specific to faith and value systems.

So, my general feeling is that we would be in a better position if our education money went to building us one quality education system. However, we already have two education systems, one of which is faith-based. This, of course, is one of those times when understanding our history can explain our present. The Catholic school system is a remnant of a historical point in time when almost all Canadians were Protestant or Catholic, and the Catholic Church had a huge hold in the lives of its adherents. Today, Catholic school seems to be only nominally faith-based. I have several non-Catholic friends who went to Catholic school because it was the better school, or the only school with French. In Ottawa, the French Catholic school system is so under-utilized that they advertise on public transit to attract new students.

As is probably obvious from the tone of the paragraph above, I think that the 2 existing school systems in Ontario should be integrated. However, I am a pragmatist, and I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon. SO, in the meantime, despite all of the above ranting and raving, I have to say that if we are going to fund Catholic schools due to a historical deal that doesn’t reflect the reality of our demographics today, other faith-based schools should be funded too. I make this statement with the proviso that they should have to follow a standard curriculum to a certain point, but if we are going to fund Catholic schools, there is really no reason why Protestants, Jews, or Muslims who want to have their children educated within the faith shouldn’t also have the same opportunity to have public funding to do so.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Celebration Thursday

I haven't had much time to think this week, but one thing I have been thinking about is what there is to celebrate in my life. In 2 weeks, I am in charge of the service at Ecclesiax, and we're doing "celebration Sunday." The idea is that, instead of being the angst-ridden post-modern specimens that we usually are, we are going to celebrate the things in our lives that bring us joy, and thank God for our blessings. My vision is that people will share little things - a picture of a favourite place or person, a favourite poem, a song that makes them dance, etc. Afterwards, we are going to have a potluck, because every party needs food.

Since this was my idea, I've been feeling the pressure of trying to find the perfect thing to share. I can think of exceptional instances of overwhelming joy - climbing over a hill on the Isle of Skye and suddenly being faced with the sun setting on the sea and countless tiny islands; catching fjordmania with Simone, and getting sillier and sillier as the wind buffeted us on the deck of the boat; the first time Paul and I kissed, almost 10 years ago . . .

But, I think that I want to celebrate the normal things that bring me joy. These are the ways that I sense divinity in my normal life. And so, tonight, in the midst of the busy-ness, and despite my sore back, I sit in a candlelit room with soft music playing, and I celebrate:

Biking in big groups in the dark
Making a good meal with Paul
Sharing a bottle of wine with the girls
Homemade mittens
Red Sweaters and striped socks
Wildflowers in the city
The Rideau River, when it's calm as glass
Being stormstayed when I have nowhere to go
Red leaves
Soft music, candlelight, and a roof over my head.

It's bedtime,
el Maggie out

Thursday, September 6, 2007

rest in peace

Last week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail on the increased popularity of public acts of mourning. Setting the stage with the mounds of flowers placed at Buckingham Palace after Princess Di died, the article talked about the proliferation of roadside monuments and internet memorial sites. Then, in the latest Macleans (or one of the latest – as usual, I am a few weeks behind . . . . ), there was an opinion piece on the opulence of mourning. The author lamented the loss of reserve in obituaries, and the change in emphasis from “funeral” to “celebration of life.”

I found the first article interesting – the idea of grief for a stranger who has passed away and of the desire for a person who has lost a loved one to grieve in a public way are both fascinating. I’ve been a reading a book about Generation X and faith (“Virtual Faith”by Tom Beaudoin). Generally, it’s full of the kind of questionable textual over-analysis that made me decide not to continue studying English literature, but last night I hit upon something that rang true – he mentioned that because our generation is so saturated with media, we see our own experiences play out like a movie or TV show before our lives, rather than really living them. I have noticed this in life in general, and it makes sense that it would spill over into our grief. If we are taught to mourn through the media, it is not surprising that mourning has become more public – that there has been an increase in candlelight vigils, with press releases sent out ahead of time, and other mourning “events”.

In the second article, the author bemoaned the fact that funerals are too sugar-coated, and avoid the possibility of death. The author talked glowingly about funerals from days gone by, in which the homily was a reminder that all life is transient, and we’re all going on to something bigger. I thought the author missed a pretty major fact here – not everyone believes that we are going to something bigger. I have mourned with an agnostic family during the tragic and sudden death of their son/brother. This family didn’t know where they thought he had gone, and were working through those issues, while trying to figure out how to memorialize him. It was important for them to be surrounded in objects and photos that spoke of his short life. Playing a hymn wouldn’t have meant anything to them, or reflected their relationship to him, but some country music from the CD that was in his truck did. Serving “tradition” would have done nothing to help this family grieve.

While the author of the Macleans piece had some good insight into the lack of focus that some funerals seem to have, epitomized in eulogies that are really more about the speaker than the deceased, I think that he misses the point that mourning is a very personal thing. Every person’s mourning experience is going to be coloured by her relationship to the deceased, the circumstances of the death, and her spiritual beliefs. It seems to me that a celebration of life can be a very positive focus for a funeral. When we lose someone we love, we are going to be sad, so why shouldn’t we dress in bright colours and surround ourselves with people who care about us, and remember the good things about the person we’ve lost?

Friday, August 31, 2007

lingua franca

Canada, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a bilingual country. If you are an Anglophone in Ottawa, like myself, you are probably hyper-aware of this fact. Coming from a unilingual small town in Ontario, followed by attending a unilingual southwestern Ontario university (I am sure Francophones the world over shudder at the way we pronounce “Laurier”), I grew up in the world of dominant culture English-language privilege. In 1995, I didn’t understand why so many people in Quebec wanted to separate.

In 2000, when I lived in Scotland, many of my closest friends were French Canadian. We hung out with Australians and Southern Americans, and we all learned about each others’ cultures. It was the first time that I really appreciated that French Canadians weren’t just the same as us in another language – they really have a whole different culture. It was also the first time that the Francophones had a sense of being Canadian, and not just Quebecois. When they came to visit me back in Canada, I took them to Lake Huron, and Bru looked at the lake so big it’s a sea, and then turned to me and said “this is part of my country,” realizing it for the first time.

So, anyway, here I am in Ottawa – a wiser and more cosmopolitan (ha!) person than I was at the age of 22. In keeping with the bilingual mandate of the university, speeches given by Anglophones at law school and conferences were often begun by a short “bonjour, je suis très hier d’être ici aujourd’hui” – before switching into English. Sometimes, the accent of the person who says that, especially if it’s a visitor from America or parts more west in Canada, can be pretty hideous. I was talking recently with a Francophone friend, who finds this practice totally offensive – she would rather not have people try at all than to put in the token effort of their well-rehearsed 2 lines of French to get the language police off their backs.

Coming from the point of view of an Anglophone, I always thought it was good that people tried to speak French. Most of the people who open with the French one-liner would not be able to deliver their entire speech in French – so they are going as far as they can. Learning a language is a long and on-going process, and somewhere between the point of being unilingual and bilingual, you have to muddle through in your second language, or you’ll never get to point b.

The discussion on tokenism came up in response to a Anglo friend of ours who did one of those one-liners, and had a French-speaking colleague mutter “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English” – which completely crushed her after she’d made the effort to speak in her second language, being scared of getting it wrong and being perceived as stupid.

I, and many other unilingual Anglophones, have realized that to really succeed in this town we need to learn French. Suddenly those years of high school French (which I at least took all the way to grade 13) seem awfully far away. But this is what offends my friend – people who only learn French to pass their government language tests and “get by in this town” – but don’t really appreciate that it’s a whole language that embodies a way of thinking, as all languages do. But it seems to me that many people don’t even realize that about their own language. How many Anglophones have read great French poetry?, she asks. But how many Anglophones have read great English poetry?, I couldn’t help but respond.

I am in the linguistic majority. Not just in Canada, but in the world. Anglophones experience a great level of privilege by being able to expect that other people should learn and speak their language, rather than the other way around. I saw it in Ecuador, when people would apologize for their bad English, and I would always be amazed that I had to tell them that my Spanish was the problem – I don’t think most Anglo tourists that they encountered would have shared my sentiment. In Norway, people speak amazing English, but my Grandmother was still upset when not all of the museums were in our language. I think that it is generally bumping up against this privilege – the assumptions of entitlement – that make Francophones frustrated with token French phrases.

I am going to continue to learn French. I honestly don’t know if I will ever be able to read great French poetry, but I hope that I will be able to laugh when my Francophone friends make jokes. I am going to do this both because I need to for my job, but also because I live in a bilingual country, and I want to experience it fully. While I am learning, I will say things poorly when I get the courage to say them at all – and I hope that Francophone will appreciate the spirit in which the effort is given and encourage me, because I will never get their jokes if they don’t help me through the baby steps.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

the gift of stuff

It’s that time of year again – Ecclesiax craft workshop time. Last year, Sarah and I came up with this brilliant idea (if I do say so myself) to lead craft workshops that would empower people to make sustainable Christmas gifts (check my posts from last November for the neat little gift-giving guide we put together). We had fairly good feedback, so are trying to come up with a roster to run another session this year.

This has led me to examine how successful we were last year – because just because it’s a craft doesn’t mean it’s sustainable. The overall goal of this gift-giving philosophy should be to make crafts that are using recycled materials, or in some other way leave less of an environmental footprint than buying stuff. If you are going to Michael’s and buying a plain picture frame or box to decorate, how’s that lighter on the earth than buying one that is pre-decorated?

As I’ve been trying to sort through this sustainable craft conundrum, I’ve been amassing stuff for the upcoming garage sale. I couldn’t help but notice that a large percentage of what we’re passing on was, at one point, a gift. So here’s the rub: I love gifts. I love giving gifts and I love receiving gifts. However, our culture of gift-giving ends up with people having more stuff in their lives than they possibly know what to do with. I have definitely been a giver who has either a) thought I was giving the perfect gift, but I was wrong; or b) was so right that it was perfect that the recipient already had one, and I was giving them a double.

I also struggle with imposing my tastes on other people – what’s the good of giving someone a homemade recycled whatever if it’s just going to sit there and they’re not going to use it? Wouldn’t it be better to give them a store-bought plastic whatever else that they really want? I also like practical gifts - but I know that some people don't want to receive a frying pan for Christmas.

So, I don't know what to do. I would like to give something that is homemade, useful, and that the person will love, but it doesn't always happen. So, I am trying to give less gifts, and think about what I am giving and the person I am giving it to - but let me warn you that your baby will receive a quilt from me whether it needs it or not . . . and you better like it.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

thou dost Protest too little (?)

Generally, I don’t go to protests, but a lot of people that I love and respect do. I have participated in one official protest, and one other “rally” in my life. The protest was against the Iraq war – a march from the Hill to the American Embassy and back. There were signs and cheers, and it was all very friendly. Canada didn’t join the war – so that was good. The other rally was in high school – the provincial government was going to close down our hospital, and our students’ council organized an event with all of the students in town (2 high schools, 3 elementary) to “hug the hospital” – we formed a big human chain around it. It was a standard “media event” – we created something for the news to capture, and then talked about why we were doing it - I was the spokesperson for our school, and had my 2 seconds of media fame. The hospital survived the cuts. So, I am 2 for 2 – you’d think I’d be a great believer in the power of protest. But I am not a protestor, though at the same time I am fascinated by protests, and the dialogue that surrounds them.

My reaction to protests, and particularly those in the amorphous anti-globalization vein, has had a profound effect on my life. When I was deciding if I was going to go to law school, the Quebec City summit was going on (G-8? I’m not even sure). People that I knew went to protest. They participated in alternate forums. They were radical cheerleaders. They took indie media videos. They got tear-gassed ad naseum. And back in Waterloo, we saw the news coverage. McDonalds was vandalized. Fences were pushed. The police responded. The people back home tsked at the hooligans, and the leaders inside of the fence did their thing, coming to the same conclusion as they would have if the people were not there facing rubber bullets on the other side. All of this left me deeply discouraged and feeling like if the system was going to be changed, it had to happen from the inside. So, off to law school I went.

Anyway, here I am on the inside, but I still can’t just write off protests. I believe that radical change, from the women's suffrage movement around the world to the civil rights movement in the United States and the anti-apartheid fight in South Africa wouldn't have happened if people hadn't got out and made some noise. And I am still fascinated by the noise they are making - when the G-8 met at Gleneagles, I combed the Guardian daily during the lead up and the event, and I’ve found myself doing the same thing with Montebello. But still, while I follow the dialogue closely, and while I respect many people who are out there marching, I have no desire to join them.

I think part of my antipathy comes from my experience that the “average person on the street,” as far as I have been able to discern, feels alienated from anti-globalization protestors. They don’t understand the cause, and they don’t feel like the protestors are speaking for them. I have experienced this reaction from people I know and have talked to, and it's evident in the comment stream on the CBC website today (which is a bit less abrasive than the average G&M comment stream). I guess this is my pragmatism talking – I don’t want to participate if I don’t see it working. But, as I noted above, there have been protest movements that have worked - so the question is - how can anti-globalization protestors get there?

I wrote in response to Wheat Sheaf’s blog that protestors have to be informed and creative. They have to be informed because, by choosing to participate in the protest, they have taken on a role as a public figurehead for the movement that they are out supporting. Anyone at a protest could have a news microphone shoved in their face, and their response will affect the way the movement is viewed. I’ve often noted in media coverage that there is a sense of confusion as to what the message of the protest actually is – this is partly because when a protest is against a multilateral summit, there is not going to be one grievance, or one cohesive message. However, at other times, it’s because the protestors don’t know, themselves, why they’re there. Protestors are painted poorly when they can't explain themselves coherently – they have to prove that they are not “uncivilized,” as the Chair of the Canadian Council of CEOs has suggested.

They have to be creative because the media is going to grab onto the most sensational thing that it can – and if that is window-breaking, a thousand peaceful protestors are going to get lost in the shuffle. Protestors also have to be creative because, even if their protest is completely peaceful, it’s one of a million news stories coming in - and it has to stick.

But somehow that creativity has to make sense too – when I was responding to Wheat Sheaf, I commented on Fathers 4 Justice. They dress up like superheros and climb government buildings, to bring attention to what they see as a mother-centred bias in custody cases. These guys feel passionate about their kids, which I respect. But, I don’t know if they are doing their cause any good – their mode of protest just seems somewhat random and disconnected from what they are fighting for. You have to hear an interview with one of them to understand why they’re doing the superhero thing (dads are like heros to their kids . . .). If you don’t hear the interview, they just don’t make sense.

I don't know if this opinion is in any way helpful, but I felt like I should throw something into the dialogue that I've been watching so closely.

Monday, August 20, 2007


I might add a comment to this in a bit, but I thought I'd post it. Asad sent it to me in response to an e-mail asking how he was adjusting to life in Canada after spending close to a year in Ethiopia.
How the World Shapes Up

Friday, August 17, 2007

A woman's place . . . .

The other day, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about the fact that female lawyers are killing themselves with stress. Women are literally hiding heart attacks from work because they don’t want to be perceived as weak. So, while we make up over half of the new lawyers in Canada, women are still leaving practice at over twice the rate that men are.

This is not news, though the extent still shocked me (actually hiding cancer and heart attacks . . . .). Throughout law school, we were aware of what it meant to be a woman n law. Women who were thinking of having children in the near future, or who already had children, had to decide how they were going to balance careers and family (men were thinking about these issues too, but not with the same urgency). I’ve held to the belief that, through the force of sheer numbers, we are eventually going to change the profession. If there is a need for lawyers (a debatable point, but we’ll let it stand for now), and more and more of them are women, the profession is going to eventually have to change to be a more woman-friendly environment. And, men are going to benefit from this as well – most men that I know would also like a challenging career, while at the same time having a life.

What surprised me, then, was not the content of the article, but the comments posted in the online discussion forum. I always make the mistake of reading the comments in Globe and Mail discussions, and I am always discouraged, so I shouldn’t have been surprised . . . but this was shocking. Ninety percent of the comments were full of venom – at lawyers, at women, and at female lawyers. People were actually saying things like “if you can’t handle the heat, get back in the kitchen,” and “these women have been whining for equality for years, but now they can’t hack it. Why should the system change just because they’re weak?”

This commentary was eye-opening to me. It shows (in case the McLeans “Lawyers are Rats” articles the other week hadn’t made it abundantly clear) how little regard the profession is held in by the public. That, I can deal with, for now. What I find most upsetting was the hatred directed towards female professionals – the delight in their downfall and disregard of their pain.

Something systemic is still very wrong. This reminded me of recent news stories about the shortage of women in China, since under the one-child policy, parents are aborting girls so their one child will be a son. It reminded me of the fact that there are fewer women in Canadian politics than there were in the 1990s. We’ve come a long way, baby, but we’re not there yet.

(PS – on a happier note – check out a new feminist law firm, being launched by some of my former classmates. Opting out of the established firm system is one way that young women are re-shaping the profession in their own image: ).

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Beauty beauty everywhere.

Sometimes I forget. But it's there, when I stop to look, quietly waiting to be noticed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Taking Duddy to the Mat

I was at a barbecue the other day, and somehow got into a conversation with a mathematician about Shakespeare. This guy was definitely no dummy, but he said that he found reading Shakespeare in high school English to be a very discouraging experience – that being thrown a text in language that was 400 years old was alienating, and felt like he was being asked to run before he could walk.

Then, I was talking to my folks last night, and mentioned that I was reading “The Favourite Game” by Leonard Cohen, which I had grabbed off of mom’s shelf a few years ago. I told them that I was glad I hadn’t tried to read it in high school or university when I loved Cohen’s poetry, but had no understanding of Montreal or Jewish culture, which both feature prominently in the book. It would have been like my first attempt at “The Edible Woman,” when I was so far removed from the context that I was just bored, and had to wait another 6 years or so to give it another try and understand why mom loved it when she was in her 20s.

This line of conversation led naturally to Mordecai Richler. I, like most kids in Ontario, read the Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz in high school, and I didn’t get it. I didn’t touch Richler again for over 10 years, until I picked up Barney’s Version, which I quite enjoyed. I commented to the folks that maybe it didn’t make sense to teach Duddy to a bunch of high school kids in Bruce County – I probably read more than any other student in my class, and I still found the book completely uninspiring.

And what about Shakespeare? I am a firm believer that Shakespeare’s work has universal themes that we can all relate to, and that he really was a master of word-play. But I didn’t learn these things from high school English class. Dare I say I learned them despite high school English class? I learned to appreciate Shakespeare from good film and live adaptations – Baz Lurhman’s Romeo and Juliet, lively Midsummer Night’s Dream in Shakespeare in the Park, and through literature and acting classes taken in university (and because I was a freak-child who got her mother to read Shakespeare to her when she was 8).

Mom countered my suggestion that Duddy should be shelved with the proposition that if kids didn’t get exposed to Richler (and Shakespeare, I assume) in high school, many of them would never get exposed to it. Most kids weren’t going to grow up like me to do a degree in English literature and continue to read as a major form of entertainment throughout their lives.

So here's the issue that these conversations have left me pondering – is it worth exposing high school students to good literature that isn’t going to speak to them if it will turn them off of reading altogether? Is it more important to ensure that everyone is exposed to a certain number of classics, both Canadian and otherwise, or should the schools strive first and foremost to engender a love of books as a place where we can explore truths and philosophies, and learn about the world around us, even if some of those books seem more "pop"? I think this strikes on some pretty deep issues of what education is for – is it for making sure we all come out of school with universal exposure to a number of texts, facts, etc., or is it there to make us think, and to give us the tools to continue to think throughout our lives? Or, is it somewhere in between?

And a final question – if you buy into my proposition that Duddy should be shelved, what books are good for high school English? And does Shakespeare get to stay just because he’s special, or should his ubiquitousness in the classroom be examined as well?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Environmental Anxiety

Yesterday I was reading about the record-breaking number of severe weather events in 2007. Today, I’ve been learning all about the bioaccumulative and neurotoxic nature of certain persistent organic pollutants. Anxiety is weighing on me like the air during a smog warning.

This environmental anxiety is not a new feeling for me. When I spent my summers researching environmental law, I found that it was more depressing that my studies on genocide and war crimes. The depression comes from the immensity of environmental problems, and the apathy of a large portion of the population. At least with genocide, there’s near-universal consensus that it shouldn’t be done.

When I told Paul yesterday that climate change was causing me anxiety, he said that he is cautiously optimistic that we’ll get ourselves out of this mess before we pass the point of no return. I am not as optimistic. I am not convinced that we haven’t already passed the point of no return, for one thing. And for another thing – I think that at this point in time, we are so far away from reversing the trend of destruction that if we haven’t reached that critical point, we’re not really doing much to ensure we don’t. I am constantly dismayed by how many educated and intelligent people don’t even recycle, if it’s going to mean walking a few extra steps. This is not the behaviour of a culture on the cusp of change.

The anxiety also arises from knowing that, even though I do more than most, I am still part of the problem more than I am part of the solution. I don’t buy wrapping paper or air-condition my house and I frequently bicycle, but I still eat meat, own a car (ok, not right now, but I did, and I will again soon), and buy cheap stuff that I don’t need at the mall. And I know that these behaviours are not sustainable, at least not at the rate we do them in North America, and people are beginning to do them in emerging economies around the world.

The sewers in Bangladesh are choked with plastic bags. There were tornados in Brooklyn yesterday. People up north are getting cancer from pesticides that were produced and used thousands of miles away. I re-use my coffee cup, but I know it’s not enough.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Zen and the Art of Closet Organization

A few of my friends have just moved, or are preparing to move. We are also in the stage of thinking to prepare to move – the plan is that sometime in the near future, we’ll get ourselves together and shop for a house with a yard.

All this packing and moving has got me thinking about STUFF. I touched on this last week a bit, when I was thinking about historical sites it led to reflections on artifacts and heirlooms. I am a person who acquires. I don’t shop too much (I don’t never shop, but it’s not a major form of recreation for me), but I shop enough, and I receive gifts, and I am a pack rat. And the stuff accumulates.

The first issue is gifts. I saw on facebook that Jazz’s birthday is coming up. Since she is a lovely girl, and a member of the extended family, I thought it’d be nice to give her a little something. We won’t be actually seeing her, but we’ll be seeing J and R, and they’ll be seeing her sometime soon, I presume. I like to mark birthdays. I have a bit of a “gift cupboard” of things that we have bought on sale or wherever to give as gifts when the moment seems right. There’s a very cute little picture frame in there that I thought would be perfect. So, I wrapped it up, and was writing a little card, when I paused. I think she’d like it, but I don’t know. And if we start giving them gifts for birthdays (something we haven’t done generally) then they might feel like they should give us gifts. Then this trend gets set, and everyone is trying to think of some token to buy every year, and we end up with more stuff. I think that I’ll just write her a card.

I try to be sensitive in my gift-giving. I have this internal war every year at Christmas between wanting to give something that I think is socially responsible or practical, and giving whatever the person actually asked for. I try to give what they asked for, because we have all received gifs that just aren’t on. There are gifts that are given with such good intent that you feel honoured to receive them, but don’t know when you’ll ever use this item. But then, there it is – and the intent is imbued in the gift, which makes it special, but it ends up being one more thing sitting on a shelf or in a drawer. So, how long do you keep it in the shelf or the drawer? When can you set the item free to someone else who might appreciate it more? I’ve been amazed by the response to some of our Freecycle posts – things that PJ received (people like to give him toys and novelty items) that he doesn’t quite know what to do with – but there are several people who are really excited about these things when we make an offer to pass them on.

The other reason I build up stuff is my pack-ratism. This comes from both an economic and an environmental conservation frame of mind. I want to keep old boxes and gift-wrap to use but somehow, without ever buying gift-wrap, I never manage to make a dent in the supply that I have. There is always more, and there is an overflowing box of it in the closet. I hate to get rid of yogourt tubs, but at the rate that we consume yogourt, we produce way more than we would ever need for a freezer full of leftovers! I don’t like to recycle paper that has a blank side and could still run through the printer – but the paper piles up. It seems like no matter how much I try to control the flow of disposable/reusable products into my house, they always come in at a greater level that I can actually reuse.
For all of these reasons, I have a lot of stuff. And I realize I’m talking about all this accumulation like it’s a bad thing, and I haven’t really explored why. I know that a lot of people think there isn’t really anything wrong with having a lot of stuff. I think that it’s good to keep the stuff under control for a variety of reasons. The first is the obvious – by bringing less stuff into our lives in the first place, we are using fewer resources and having a smaller impact on the environment. However, as I mentioned, a lot of the stuff that fills my house isn’t from us “consuming” in the usual sense of going out and buying things. Some of it is even from my desire to consume less – keep the wrapping paper so I don’t have to buy more.

Regardless of where it originates, I sometimes feel like I am buried in STUFF. I will be sitting at work, out of the house, and have the sense that a pile of papers and odds and ends is waiting to pounce on me when I go home. I really think that someone we are affected spiritually/ psychologically by being surrounded by too much clutter. I don’t know if it’s because a cluttered space leads to a cluttered mind, or what. But I do know there is a great satisfaction in doing the purge. My friends who are moving talk with glee about getting rid of all those class notes that they saved “just in case” and haven’t looked at for 5 years, and I’ve felt it in when I’ve handed off clothes, books, or CDs to someone who’s ready to put them to use.

I waver back and forth on the issue of the stuff. The “but it was a gift,” the “just in case” and the “it’d be a shame to waste it” impulses run deep in me. But then I get the urge to simplify, to declutter, and to downsize. I try to take advantages of these urges to purge, I try to actually use the things that I am carefully saving for just in case, and I try to control the amount of stuff that comes into my life. But there’s always more, and I worry that if we move to that house with a yard, we’ll just fill up the basement with gift-wrap and yogourt tubs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

out of the overflow of the heart (?)

I was looking at the “description” of my blog, right up there under the title, and I realized that the one thing that I said I was going to blog about, and haven’t, is God. This isn’t because I don’t have thoughts about God, but because I keep them somewhat guarded. My spiritual life is not something I like to talk about in polite company.

And then, sometimes, I wonder if I even have a spiritual life these days – which is why it’s weird that I’ve become a bit of a default pulpit supply at Ecclesiax . I do not regularly read the Bible, because I question its authority and have rarely found it speak to me. I do not regularly pray, because I feel like I am speaking to a wall. So, who am I to give spiritual instruction?

And yet – I do. I get up there, and I say things and they challenge people. I am the opposite of Moses, who had no words, but faith. I have the words, but the faith is sparse. And so I feel like I should use my gifts for the Church, but I feel weird, because I am so on the fringe of “the Church” and its beliefs.

I value honesty in my spiritual struggles, doubts, and beliefs (because I don’t struggle with all of my disbelief – some of it I am quite reconciled with), but I don’t want to trample the fresh faith of new believers with my cynicism and doubt. So, I speak, and I try to be honest, but sometimes I put on a doctrinal face that does not reflect my core. And I feel conflicted about that, but I keep on coming up with ideas when I am asked to cover a Sunday, because it is so easy for me to open my mouth.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Once again it's Thursday, and once again it's time to figure out if I've had any thoughts worth exploring. Well, thank goodness my thoughtful husband takes the time to comment on my blog - last week, Paul brought up historical restoration in his response to my comment on travel v. tourism. This topic seems to go hand in hand with what I was thinking about - and raises a question: what are artifacts for?

In Norway, we went to Haakon's Hall . It had been a medieval feast hall, which eventually was turned into a storehouse. At some point in the 1800s, the historical significance of the building was realized, and they set about restoring it. The "restoration" was a fanciful take on what a medieval feast hall would have been like, based more in the aesthetic and mood of the time than in actual reproduction. During WWII, the Hall was seriously damaged when a ship blew up in the harbour. So, in the 1960s, about 100 years after the original restoration it was once again restored. At that point in time, they had to decide - try to recreate what was just lost, or try to undo what was by then considered a vulgar artists rendering? The decision was for the latter, and Haakon's Hall today is supposed to look more like it did in its original form. Nobody considered giving it yet another facelift to match the thoughts and mores of the 1960s.

In the Orkneys, where there have been successive waves of civilization since the stone ago, strategic locations have been repeatedly built upon. As Paul mentioned, there was one site with 3 layers of fortification, and they were trying to figure out what to do - should they restore the first layer, or destroy the first layer to get to the older foundations? Should they just leave it as it is? Should they let tourists come and climb on the ruins, or should they cordon them off, like Stonehenge ?

In comparison to stonehenge, there are standing stones in the Orkneys ? that were mainly carried off to make fences. I look at that and i think it's a shame - but if I was a medieval farmer that wanted to keep my sheep from running off, and I didn't worship the sun, why would I leave that perfectly good builing material there? There's a fundamental tension in these questions between function and beauty, and between progress and preservation. Should we keep things because they meant something (i.e. religious symbology) to someone at some point, even if they don't mean that to us now?

This question extends beyond monuments to smaller possessions too. Should I not use the good dishes to eat off because they might break, and they were handed down from my grandparents? Do we really need to inherit a silver tea set from both sides of the family? If we did, should we use it? If we don't want to use it, should we hold onto it? As material consumption skyrockets, these questions will be more pressing for our generation than ever before. Families used to have only a few nice pieces to pass down. Paul and I already have a house full of nice stuff, and in 30 years, we could hypothetically have inherited another house or 2 worth. Are we beholden to these possessions because they belonged to someone else?

And back to buildings and sites - what is the point of restoring them? What are we trying to accomplish? To understand another way of life? To retain some aspects of that way of life in our modern world? Do these goals trump more pragmatic considerations? As we begin to realize that the level of consumption on our planet is unsustainable, should we be preserving buildings and momuments that have recyclable material, or could be adapted to a more relevant function?

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Traveller or Tourist?

I have put it upon myself to be disciplined and write at least once a week. After all – I must have at least one thought a week that is worthy of fleshing out in some form. But the week is slipping away from me, so I have to get down to work, and try to get something together before today is over.

Last week, there was an article in the Globe and Mail about how the “new seven wonders of the world” are being destroyed by over-tourism. It talked about the bind that developing countries are in to exploit their sites while wanting to preserve – tourism can often be the best way to preserve ancient sites (as opposed to, say, oil and gas development . . .), but it can also do them in in the end.

So this got me thinking about travel and tourism. To me the difference is that a tourist goes somewhere to consume and experience (check off the box in the travel guide, get the picture by the landmark), while a traveller goes somewhere to experience it (move a bit slower, get to know people, get out of your comfort zone a bit).

I have always tried to be a traveller, but of course have not always succeeded. When I lived in Scotland, I spent my weekend jaunts within the country, really getting to know it, rather than rushing off on an EasyJet special for a weekend in Venice. When I was in Ecuador, we didn’t go to the Galapagos. This was partly because it would have doubled the cost of the trip, but also because I didn’t think that it was fair to tread on an incredibly fragile ecosystem when I am not a huge animal person, and would be doing it just because it’s what you do in Ecuador.

But then there’s the side of me that wants to just see things that I have always heard about, like Angkor Wat in Cambodia (mentioned in the news article as one of the spots that is being worn down in tourists). Should I not go because I would be adding to its destruction? Or, since it’s something that particularly captured me (I remember reading about it in high school French, and thought it sounded amazing), is it more acceptable for me to go there, whereas for others who are fascinated by animals, it would be acceptable to go to the Galapagos?

And deeper into that urge to be a tourist is the truth that I also have the desire to consume experiences. Where does this urge come from? It is because we think that having these experiences, which have been talked about by other people and built up in books and movies and TV, will fill something in us? Is it rooted in a general dissatisfaction with our lives, that we always want to go somewhere else to find something that will change us (the latest issue of Geez is about “finding the wonder” and a lot of the articles are about slowing down and finding the wonder right where we are)?

One of the most prominent times when we had to face this tension between wanting to be tourists and wanting to be responsible travellers was in Brazil. A big part of the reality of Brazil is the favelas (slums). Growing up the side of hills, overshadowing the luxury of life in Ipanema and the other ritzy neighbourhoods, these neighbourhoods of shacks are hotbeds of poverty and crime, and examples of the huge divide between rich and poor in Rio. If you are in Rio, you get a sense that to really understand the city, you have to understand the slums. And so, there are favela tours. You can join a group in an SUV and view the slums. Meet people who live in them. For many of these companies, the proceeds of the tour goes directly to the community. So – we were torn. Would going on the tour be a way for us to gain compassion and understanding for these people, and to give them the means to pull themselves out of this situation? Or, would it be some kind of sick human zoo experience, like when rich Victorians used to go to Bedlam to view the crazies? In the end, we didn’t feel like we had enough time and information to make an informed decision, so erred on the side of caution and didn’t go on the tour.

Where does this leave us? I wanted to go on the favela tour, but didn’t know if I should. I want to go to Angkor Wat. Should I? I want to spend 4 months travelling around the Mediterranean. If I don’t have 4 months, should I go to Greece for a week, or not go at all? I guess in planning trips, we should examine our motivation. Why am I going? Am I going to consume an experience so I can write home about it, or am I going so that I can really EXPERIENCE an experience? If we are going to consume an experience, maybe we should stay home. Or, can even that mode of travel be saved? Should tourism continue, in the hope that every now and then, someone who just wanted to snap a few pictures will unexpectedly have their life changed by a real interaction with another culture, with nature, or with herself?

Another Globe Article on the subject today:Space Travel

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Beauty Myth

Submitted this for publication a while ago. Didn't get picked up. Going to post it now instead.

I’ve been biking to work, and I’ve been feeling good about that. It’s a bit longer than I used to ride to school, and I’m proud I’ve risen to the challenge. Every morning I walk into my office building in spandex shorts and a t-shirt. I was self-conscious at first about being seen in my bike gear, but I got over it. I’ve been feeling good about that too – feeling good about doing what’s right for my health and for the environment and not letting my paranoid perception that everyone is watching and judging me get in the way. I’ve been fighting the voices in my head that whisper the Beauty Myth, that tell me that my outside is more important than my inside and that a less-than-rock-hard butt and an asymmetrical face make me a less worthy human.

It gets harder to beat down the voices, though, when they are reinforced from the outside too. The other day, one of my friends had biked across town, and was doing some shopping, so she was walking down the street in her bike gear. A man roller-bladed past, and yelled “you better get a thong for that fat ass.” When I heard this story, I became self-conscious about my own spandex-clad butt, which rolls through downtown Ottawa daily. Then, I got sad and angry. I know that if I look at fashion magazines, or peer too closely at various lines on my face in the mirror, that I am inviting the voices in my head to start their nattering, but how are we supposed to fight the Beauty Myth when it attacks us, completely unprovoked? And where does this guy get off? We are in a supposedly post-feminist society, but some jerk still thinks it’s appropriate a) to yell something incredibly personal and degrading to a total stranger and b) to suggest that a woman should be wearing thong underwear with her exercise gear (with the implicit suggestion that the shorts are for him to look at, not for her to be comfortable while doing physical activity). The demons, clearly, are not all in my head.

So here I am – a modern feminist woman, and the Beauty Myth is the beast on my back, but worse, because it’s inside of me too. I want to be a dragon-slayer, but sometimes I have Stockholm Syndrome and succumb to its scaly embrace. When this happens, I need the help of people who love me to get back in the fight. I have been blessed with relationships with strong and intelligent women, each beautiful in a different way. I have men in my life who believe in me, who have never suggested I am limited in what I can achieve because I am a girl. We all stumble and get seduced by the Myth at times, but these relationships remind me of what’s important – of where my real worth and beauty come from. This is my community, these are the people who know my soul, and whose opinion I want to cherish – not some yelling drive-by creep.

When I am reminded that I am loved, it makes all the difference. I’ll continue to wear my spandex shorts. They’re good for riding, and riding makes me strong and leaves a light footprint upon the earth. I’m trying to make peace with my body, and then move beyond it. I’m made in the image of God, who is divine, and I’m called to follow Jesus, who saw to the heart of people. I want to do the same, starting with myself.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


So, today I was called to my profession. Between getting rear-ended on Elgin Street and having a posh lunch with family and friends, I donned the black robes and white tabs (and regulation black shoes and socks), walked across a stage, bowed a couple of times, and became a lawyer.

[Ok . . . I started this post almost a month ago . . . and now I am determined to finish it. . . .]

The call to the bar was a mixture of archaic tradition and down to earth common sense. We wore the robes and bowed. We rose when the special session of the court was opened to admit us as solicitors. We were told to look after our health and our relationships (there's something ominous about being told at your graduation that you are in a high-risk group for addictions and suicide, but it's good to have it addressed . . .). We applauded our families for supporting us through this process. We were encouraged to give of our time, and to safeguard the reputation of justice.

I went to law school because I wanted to safeguard justice, to make justice happen. I came out of the process convinced that our profession DOES have that responsibility, but that we generally have failed to take it on. People need lawyers in the crises of their lives, but most people can't afford a lawyer. We are told to safeguard justice and to work tirelessly for people in need, but we pay sky-rocketing tuition that leaves many young lawyers in too much debt to consider a low-paying career. We are also groomed to be elite, from the wine and cheese parties that the firms throw to the etiquette seminars that are offered through career services. All of these conflicting messages can leave a young lawyer wondering if we can actually make a difference.

I am now a member of a profession that has earned itself a bad reputation, but I think it is salvageable, and I hope that my career will be an example of integrity within the profession.

Nationalism gets Ugly

So, in my last post, I asked if nationalism could exist without xenophobia. I guess this is part of where these thoughts were coming from - I've recently been doing a lot of research on some pretty terrible wars (yeah . . . as opposed to those lovely wars . . .). I have learned about atrocities that I am stunned and saddened that people committed, but I can see how it happened. The propaganda made them believe that they had to get rid of "the enemy" or their communities would be threatened. I can see how ordinary people would be led into this thought process. But then, there's the next level of atrocities - where they start wanting to get rid of the threatening "other," and then they end up engaging their basest instincts - I am particularly thinking of the ICTY case where Muslim teenagers were held as sex slaves. How did these men convince themselves that they could do that? Is this the natural place where fear of the other can lead? These crimes were done in the name of something that started out as nationalism - how does this fit into the dialogue on nationalism as I was noticing it in Quebec and Norway? Does it, or is it a completely different world?

Friday, June 1, 2007


I have been thinking about nationalism and national identity, but don’t quite know how to craft an entry on it. I guess it’s more that I’ve been noticing and observing than that I’ve been developing a thesis on the matter.

In Quebec City, we saw several exhibits about the people of Quebec, and francophones across North America, and their quest to be a “people” – one movie had a recent immigrant to Quebec talking about how the word “nationalism” conjures up images of Nazi Germany, but he felt that that Quebec had a different kind of nationalism. Obviously Quebec is not Nazi Germany – but if nationalism is about defining “us,” can it ever be truly free of discrimination?

Norway is a country that is both very old and very young. While the ancestors of modern Norwegians have lived there for hundreds (thousands?) of years, the country had been controlled by Denmark or Sweden for something like 400 years until 1905. When they got complete independence, one of the first things they did was bring in a Danish prince to be their king. Apparently this was a requisite element of statehood in turn-of-the-twentieth-century Europe.

Elements of Norway’s national pride shows up in various ways – in the massive turn-out on the streets of Oslo on Constitution Day (including otherwise painfully fashionable young women in traditional dress); in the mention that the clock on the Oslo City Hall is 4 cm bigger than Big Ben; and, like France and the Netherlands, in the narrative surrounding the resistance to German occupation during WWII.

All of these things I’ve observed speak to a community’s desire to define itself to both itself and outsiders. These characterizations are generally myth and sometimes caricature, but I think it’s a natural impulse. Is it good for a society? It is benign? Or is it harmful – can nationalism exist with xenophobia?

Thursday, April 5, 2007

pumping iron - chick style

I ended up in a discussion today with the guys at work about female-only gyms. They were arguing, partially to be devils’ advocates, but I don’t think entirely – that it was unfair there were female-only gyms, while a male-only gym would be considered discriminatory. I disagree. I think that women are more systemically affected by body image issues, and that physical fitness institutions are traditionally male-dominated spaces, such that many women would not work out at a co-ed gym. So then, the guys argued that men might be uncomfortable working out at a co-ed gym, and need a male-only space. It seems to me that men who are honestly feeling self-conscious would not feel any better in a muscle-head testosterone male-friendly environment. The argument was put forward that maybe men should be able to have a safe space where they could “be guys” (referring to a case about male-only golf course being found discriminatory, whereas a female-only gym wasn’t found to be). It seems to me that having a safe space to smoke cigars and be vulgar, which seems to be what they were referring to, isn’t quite as legitimate as having a safe space to work out and not be judged or be exposed to a situation that leads to self-judgement. Am I being a reverse-discriminatory uber-feminist here?

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lest We Forget

There was an article in the Globe today about how the Legion is upset with the Canadian War Museum because of a plaque that suggests that the bombing of Dresden etc. were controversial. Apparently, it makes WWII veterans feel bad, so they want it removed. Of course, the usual Globe and Mail online comments ensued: "historians are idiots"; "the right is idiots" etc (ok, to be fair, it was acutally more balanced and insightful than those online response forums often are . . .). I decided to babble in here instead of joining the fray (Yes, because I'm a chicken).

I want to respect WWII vets, because I think it's a good thing Hitler was stopped, and I appreciate that they did go and die, or lived through horrible horrible things so that he wouldn't take over all of Europe. But 600,000 civillians died in Dresden. When I went to the American Museum of History, I was shocked by the exhibit "in defence of freedom, Americans at war" - and found the coverage of Hiroshima in 1 small plaque that basically said "lots of people died, but it ended the war, and that was good . . ." to be pretty disturbing.

When I went to our own war museum, I was happy to have a more nuanced approach. So, here's the issue - is it possible to respect our vets and still look at the nuances of war? Is the Legion being unreasonable - or is it enough that these guys were sent over to rot in trenches, and they shouldn't be made to feel bad about it now?

In my study of war and war crimes, I am learning that war is always ugly, and it's never black and white. How should it be presented if we are going to have a museum of war (or should we even have one?)?

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Pursuit of Happiness

After our conversation yesterday, Heather sent me 2 articles about happiness. One (from Fast Company – – which appears to be a career magazine) was about jobs, and the author was interviewing a career specialist who seemed to think that choosing your job based on personal happiness was ridiculous, and that people should be doing what will improve their skills and advance their position, whether they like it or not. The other one (from Yoga Journal) was about how the expectation of happiness results in extra pressure on people who aren’t happy – so that if you are depressed you feel like a failure, and the cycle continues.

Today, there was an article in the Montreal Gazette about an upcoming forum that Canada and the United States are holding on mental health, which they’ve decided is necessary since a recent poll shows that 1 in 6 Canadian and American adults have been diagnosed with depression.

So here’s the questions? Number 1 – should we expect to be happy? And, number 2 – does our expectation of happiness actually lead to more depression?

So first – should we expect to be happy? In the article from Yoga Journal, the author notes that the concept of a right to be happy is a relatively recent thing, and that through most of human history, there was no such expectation. In the American Constitution, the “pursuit of happiness” is protected. But Americans, along with us here in Canada, are suffering from an alarming rate of depression (but that’s maybe getting into question #2). Should we expect to be happy? Well – of course I want to be happy, but I don’t know if it’s fair to expect it all the time. Awful devastating things happen in the world, and we should be able to engage with them when they happen to us, or people we care about, or even to complete strangers – and we shouldn’t be happy, because they are not happy things. It seems that if we selfishly pursued happiness at all costs, we could never truly love – because love involves compassion and empathy, and it can also involve sacrifice. I think that love is more important than happiness.

The next question – are we making ourselves unhappy through our pursuit of happiness? I don’t want to make any kind of blanket statement about this because, just like depression can be worsened by the feeling that have failed by being unhappy, it seems like blaming the depressed person for even wanting to be happy is equally unhelpful. So, with the caveat that I don’t want this to turn into some kind of victim-blaming session, I will proceed: yes, I think that we are making ourselves unhappy. First, I believe the idea that the expectation of happiness is stressful. It comes out in our worries about jobs – the idea that we have to find the most amazing fulfilling position right away, or we’re selling out – there’s all this stress, because of the feeling like we need to be fulfilled, as well as making money and developing skills.

I think that one of the fundamental problems, beyond the stress of unfulfilled expectations, that leads to our pursuit of happiness resulting in more depression is that we don’t even know how to pursue happiness. We get all these images of what happiness is supposed to be – whether it’s a perfect wedding followed by a white picket fence, or a backpack and the open road, or a hot tank-top and a club. And then we end up in these moments that we orchestrate, and feel like they’re supposed to be enough, and now we should be happy, but then we realize that they’re not enough, and we’re not happy, and don’t understand why the people in the movies seemed so ecstatic when they were in these situations. . . . enter the feeling of failure for not being happy, and the depression that you are trying to live the dream, and the dream is hollow.

And so here we are, the wealthiest and the most depressed continent in the world. It would seem like living the dream isn’t quite what it’s cracked up to be. . . but I don’t want to leave on such a bleak note. I think that we can reach beyond trying to blindly pursue happiness. We can pursue truth and love, and these things will lead to happiness some of the time. And some of the time they will lead to our hearts being broken, but we will be closer to being real and to being fulfilled than if we binge on soma (Brave New World? Anyone?) and just try to be happy all the time.