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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Cycling in Circles

Miia's at 37 weeks today, which means baby is now 'term,' and could healthily and happily come out any time between now and five weeks from now. One week of work left for her, and we're enjoying this anticipation.
Btw, click on the bike picture for my latest column.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Is it Time Yet??

It looks exhausting to me, but she's hanging tough like NKOTB.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Autumn Imagery

Hi folks, here are some random recent images from our neighbourhood, baby showers (one with mostly family and one with mostly friends) and the resulting homemade baby toys, Thanksgiving dinner, cats (of course), fall colours and critters:

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Paint City Hall Green

Three days ahead of HRM's municipal elections, here is my rant on the lack of mayoral leadership on environment. Click the picture for the story.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Here's to Vince

I just learned that my friend Vince Chew was hit by a car and killed in Germany, where he's been living and working for a national sports council. I went to business school with Vince. We graduated over ten years ago now and he organized the reunion. He was one of those hyper-involved people.

He spent much of his career working abroad in music and sports, his two great passions. He was one of those gifted people who managed to marry his passions with his work and as a result he loved life, maybe more than most. Vince really seemed to know how to live, and he had a great and constant sense of humour. Had he known what was coming, I doubt he would have had much to regret, other than his great life's brevity. He wasn't a close friend, we hadn't kept in touch much, but seeing him at the reunion reminded me of how much I really, sincerely liked Vince, and actually admired him and the choices he made. He lived an incredible amount of life in only 32 years, and I was deeply saddened to hear that he's gone. There just aren't enough people like him.

He was also kind and giving. At the time of the reunion I had only just returned to Halifax and was trying to make my way as a writer here. At no prompting from me Vince said he knew the editor at The Coast and offered to put me in touch with him. Many months later when I won the competition for the Sustainable Columnist job I emailed Vince to let him know of my good fortune and he gave me an enthusiastic congratulations, said he was stoked for me.

So with Vince and his connections to The Coast in mind, here are my two latest stories, one about a surfer-musician (I think Vince would have enjoyed that topic) and one about some political hopefuls. Click on the pictures to see them. And here's to Vince!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

best novel

I st-stammered in a couple spots but here is my acceptance of the novel award at the Atlantic Writing Competition gala, and my reading. Below the video is the text in case you want to read along:

The fantastic voyage began on a sandy blue paradise for fishermen and their children renting snorkelling equipment to drive-by tourists in 1973. This is where and when Bumi was born, his face all small and crinkly, brown and wide-eyed wonder at the implausibility of being plucked from his mother’s womb while she lay bleeding on a dirt floor silently and stubbornly refusing to cry out at the pain of birth. He was the Bugis boy with a Javanese name, chosen by his Javanese mother. She had, for the most part, let her own traditions slip away as the years and the island colluded to make her their own. Rilaka became her new motherland, its Buginese language her lingua franca. Her firstborn’s name was a tribute to that natal part of her, and because it meant ‘earth’ in her faraway mother-tongue, it honoured the place of his birth in a multicultural chorus.

From the beginning Bumi’s eyes pierced harder than any other, glowering while his father forced him to try football, glowing brightly at the chance to help the man count market money from mainland fish sales. By age three he’d humbled his father by becoming a faster and more accurate bookkeeper, who also spoke better Indonesian, a skill his father exploited for price negotiations with mainlanders. By age five he bored of accounting and took to engineering, devising a cheap and effective net floatation device out of two-litre pop bottles washed up along the shore.

Bumi’s father, a wiry man with surprising strength and audaciously self-granted authority, went looking for the boy late one evening after Bumi failed to come home for supper. On their tiny island of a hundred people, any lost child not found in five minutes was assumed drowned. Bumi’s father, Yusupu, was not worried. Bumi was no likely drowning victim, the first four-year-old potentially smarter than the sea.
Yusupu found Bumi on the far sloping side of the island where no one had ever bothered to build or settle. It was simply too far away from the others. In recent years it had become a place where the women gathered to make clothing when they wanted to get away from the tourists.

Bumi was there cursing a foul black streak the likes of which Yusupu hadn’t heard in all his years on boats, not from his father or grandfather, nor any other man he’d known.

“Bumi! What’s wrong?” he shouted, half in anger and half in concern, a magical mix of fatherly emotion that keeps us from being a threat to ourselves from a young age.
“I can’t get it tied!” Bumi retorted, pointing in frustration at a small tangle of netting he’d somehow dragged across the village, and 30 empty plastic pop bottles. “My fingers’re too small!”

“Why do you want to tie them?” Yusupu asked. The sharpness in his voice was all but gone.

“You tie them at one end to make it float, then you can leave it and go play,” Bumi explained. “Then you come back and you have fish. So then you have more time to play with me, Daddy.”

Yusupu was not an exceptionally hard-working man, but he did spend six hours a day at sea – six hours Bumi felt would be better spent playing with him. While floatation nets have existed in many other fishing cultures for centuries, Rilaka’s more labour intensive methods were ingenious for keeping the men out of the women’s hair for six hours a day, and vice versa, and for making physically strong, hardy men for an island left naked in the exposure of rain and merciless sun.
Most human beings survive on tradition their whole lives, and Yusupu had much in common with most human beings, especially the men of Rilaka. His son Bumi was among the rare few whose novel ideas change the way a species like ours lives, and indirectly change the way all life lives or dies.

Like most human innovations Bumi’s idea had unforeseen impacts. The lighter workload and greater cash flow that came their way (once Yusupu caught on and got to tying what Bumi’s little fingers couldn’t coordinate) resulted not in more play-time with his father, but less. And the time he did spend with the man became much less pleasant.

Yusupu and the other Rilakan fishers had never before felt any need for alcohol, which was technically forbidden. Not being pious men, finding themselves with unprecedented time on their hands, and not being in any particular hurry to return to their families, they decided to stop into a little bar with a live musician near the seaport. The toxins in the liquor put the inexperienced drinkers in a collectively ill mood, and most of them disliked the numbing effect of too many drinks. Only Yusupu’s stubbornness pushed him forward until he had drunk more than his fill several nights in a row. His cohorts would keep him company and switch to coffee after just one glass of strong rum. For Yusupu, the new practice became his habit after the others had tired of alcohol.

It was a week into the experiment that Bumi learned what betrayal really felt like. He had heard many stories of betrayal from his Uncle Karsi, the world's greatest storyteller, and in them the dastardly deeds were swiftly repaid, vigilante style. From Karsi's words Bumi imagined that betrayal was merely a seed of desire for revenge. The first time Yusupu hit him forever changed his understanding of pain. There was no desire in it at all, just deep disappointment.

He had stayed up late, determined to see his father before dream-time. He had refused to come home, afraid that sleep would take him if he got too comfortable. Instead he stayed by the shore playing long after the tourists had returned to the mainland and the other children had gone to sleep. He drew pictures in the sand with a stick to pass the hours long past sunset, and even past midnight, bleary-eyed and obsessed with the single thought of his father. When the boats finally returned Bumi ran to them and watched open-mouthed as the other men helped his father over the gunwale. Yusupu retched and spit into the sea he'd always told Bumi was sacred.

"Daddy!" Bumi cried, thinking Yusupu was hurt. He ran to him and pushed through the other men to offer a hand.

Yusupu looked down at Bumi and sneered. "What are you doing up?" he demanded.
Bumi swallowed and looked up at Yusupu, who pulled back at his matted salt-and-pepper hair. Even hunched over Yusupu towered over the boy like a giant sea creature lurching onto the land. "Waiting for you," Bumi said.

The men laughed and one tussled Bumi’s hair. "He misses you," one of them told Yusupu, who smiled a shy bemused smile, took the boy up into his arms, and carried him home.

Yusupu kept smiling until he had crouched in through the door of their little house. Then he put Bumi down and took him by the arm, looked the boy in the eyes, and said, "Don't you ever embarrass me like that again."

He gave a half smile and slapped Bumi across the face. Bumi's lips quivered and a tear came to his eye. "Are you going to cry now, Son?" he asked. "Are you going to embarrass me further?"

Bumi swallowed hard, sucking a head full of tension down his throat. His body was shaking, but he didn't cry. He shook his head solemnly 'no'. He would not embarrass his father any further.

"Good," Yusupu said. "Now get to sleep."

Monday, October 06, 2008

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Evening Beautiful

Posted some recent pictures (see below) of a trip to Cape Breton. Post-bachelor/ette parties the night before, we headed up w/ carpool buddies, stuck around for the pre-wedding bbq, music and bonfire, crashed on the pull-out couch of some folks we'd just met, and left early the next morning to drive back for Chris' award gala.

There is a splendidness in this landscape that borders on haunting. I often find myself thinking of the Mi'qmaq people - both pre-European and current - and a sense of belonging to this land which is still so foreign to me. A yearning to share a bond of blood and beauty with the landscape, the wood fire, the ocean.

Our new Greek-American friend who specializes in raspberry vinegar and loves to discuss etymology and philosophy during long car rides, commented this was the first vacation he's had in three years. As we sat around the fire, I wondered how sweet to have your first break be like this - good people, good food, good music.

En route home, my sweetness and I took turns driving and picking CDs. We talked about our relationship and our love and how easy it's been even when it's been hard. "Wedding Slow Songs" came up next in line on the CD list and a cascade of memories flooded us both. Life in Toronto, early relationship discoveries in different houses, music melting the margins. I couldn't help but weep at the majesty of it all.

Monday I took off work to catch my breath and decided to avoid all 'work', including housework. Instead I made a clay bowl, sewed scrap cotton for a wallet, tinkered with my bike. We had our visit to the new midwife and in the evening our second prenatal class. I felt centred and good for the first time in a while.

I've been giving a lot of thought to the baby birth and how we welcome her/him into this world. It's a lot of heady stuff - medical knowledge, lots of doctor and midwife visits, prenatal classes on safety and how to change a baby's diaper. Sometimes political stuff too as Nova Scotia moves to have midwifery covered under public health insurance and sometimes practical as in baby showers of stuff and kijiji hunts for cheap wooden cribs. As I think about feeling prepared, I realize what I'm longing for is a sense of the spiritual, the recognition of the amazing miracle that is on the doorstep.

How many places around the world recognize birth as a sacred event? And although to some extent, baptism is in our backgrounds, the dogma feels removed. So it is I want to pull together something that makes sense. We did it with our wedding so why not this? Rituals make sense but sometimes old ones don't.

So I've gone to our friendly local library and found books on rites and rituals. I came home with them in tow this evening and have been flipping through. Ronald Grimes writes:
"Birth narratives, especially in contemporary North America, rarely make the sacrality of birth a major theme. Even in home-birth narratives, in which spirituality might emerge without entering into obvious conflict with scientific medicine, ritual is seldom important to the kind of spirituality expressed in these stories."

I'm on a hunt now as well as a journey to try to discover what is going to make sense for me. In about 10 days will be the gathering of the women of the Benjamin and Shaw clans for another shower. Then a week later our friends, both male and female. I'm thinking now of what I'd like to introduce and ask of people at these. Some way to share wisdom, blessing, promise and insight.

While birth is a passage into life, the transition from adult to parent is a kind of rite of passage that we are taking on. We cloak ourselves in both the responsibility and joy of caring for a little one. Chris has said our house rules will only be three: respect, safety and fun. Respect for each other and for ourselves. Caring for our bodies and minds and those of others. And enjoying each other through laughter, adventure and crazyness. I like these three rules. Maybe they will also figure in whatever rite we come up with.

On the other fronts, things are also good. I've really been enjoying the vast capacity of our friends to be pretty terrific. I feel honoured that in a year's time our paths have crossed with such good people.

Work has been a bit crazy busy and sometimes painful as it tends to be when it involves youth in such precarious situations. A while ago I wrote a funding proposal and got $5k for a literacy program for youth who are parents themselves. Part of the program is for the parents to make books that they are going to share with their kids. They are astoundingly beautiful as a woman came in to do bookbinding with the parents. Then linoblock printing. And then the inscription one mother wrote: "To my daughter. I love you so very much." The earth moves.

- Mama

Nova Scotia Beautiful