On the radio

October 20th, 2014

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy home entertainment system is a little silver plastic box. It runs on two double-A’s and works best on its back with the antenna pointed south-west. I used to get 3 channels before the recent round of CBC budget cuts, but Radio 2 no longer broadcasts through the old-skool airwaves so now I get two channels: CBC Radio 1 Victoria, and Cortes Community Radio. I don’t have wi-fi so my home entertainment is always fresh, weird, and live.

Romina has officially resigned from the CBC, she says it drives her nuts. She has unplugged her radio and put it on the high shelf. She’s all podcast now. And I know CBC is often no better than the rest. The faux-news, the cute animal stories, the general dumbness makes my eyes roll up into my head. But I can’t give it up. I need the Canadianness of it, the measured pace, the grounded vowels. I need Ideas, Jian Gomeshi, Between the Covers, DNTO. I live for the Long Dash. When I’m in the U.S. the tone of CBC radio comforts my ears like a healing balm, and protects me from the assault of American panic and paranoia. CBC is the umbilical cord that wires me to the bigger world that is still very much my own.

And then, there is Cortes Community Radio. Hard to believe it, but tiny Cortes Island, with a year-round population of 1,000 and falling, manages to support a 24-hour radio station. We have this. It is patchy, of course—lots of fumbles, plenty of dead air. But the dj’s can be surprisingly smooth, and the music rich and eccentric. I can learn how to say purple sea urchin in Klahoose, or get the lowdown on island politics from Noba, the island’s sorta-mayor. Sponsored by Quadra Building Supply, or the Cortes Recycling Centre, or the Whaletown Floating Dentist (“so if your teeth are swimming and there’s water under the bridge…”) —Cortes Radio is the bomb. Not many places you will hear Soweto jive and ’90′s techno and Loretta Lynn mixed back-to-back, but this is one, and it all sounds good on my tinny little box.

Outside it is damp and quiet and dark. I am alone. But here in my tiny green candle-lit home on the cliff I’ve got good company, and there’s a dance party going on.

Should i STAY or should i GO?

October 17th, 2014

sail awayShould i stay or should i go now, should i stay or should i go now…if i go there will be trouble … if i stay there will be double…so c’mon and let me know …  …  … should i STAY or should i GO?
– The Clash

STAY! like a well trained dog, I can hear the command. I stay, just long enough to suss out the situation. But then like a wild dog off i go—i run off the heel, fail to stay in step. Off i go again running after the next squirrel or car or thrown stick. I go, and there is always trouble—but always reward. There is the rush, the thrill of the chase, the wonder of new roads to run and strange new smells, sights and sounds. New challenges, new horizons, new possibilities. My life has felt like a dog running wild, running free. But at the end of the run there is weariness and the firm temptation to just ease off and STAY.

GO! said my good friend Frances, back in the day—just, go. Back when i could have stayed comfy in Toronto, borderline bohemian in my safe little life. I heard Frances’s words, and I put myself on a westbound Greyhound. I planted my feet lightly in the rich west coast soil, and there, I thrived. I grew comfortable. Too comfortable. After ten years I yanked up my roots and went off to Arcosanti in the Arizona high desert, the sound of my leaving like the ripping of cloth. I pulled myself free of my comfy working world  and plunged into the mystery. Arcosanti was insanity and over and over again i tried to leave, packed my bags, bought my plane tickets home. And again and again I stayed, until it all became one big ridiculous comedy. Had a meltdown and epiphany in a scabby Mexican hotel with my crusty jewish godmother, and in the end, in the end– i remained. To face my  confusion and my fear. To make madness into art I STAYED, and the one who left, was no longer me.

I washed up on Cortes Island one day, drifted under the prayer flags at Dorje Ling, threw all my reservations into the wind, and STAYED. I stayed for six months, until the my ears were freezing in my heatless gompa room. The following spring, I returned. I flew to New Mexico, into the utter mundane weirdness of Zen monastic life. Was kicked out of America and fought my way back in. And stayed. And returned. And went away. Without regrets, not ever, not any.

And now here i sit on this vast tiny island, seasons turn, leaves fall down. The ocean beats angry, sky is grey, silence roars in my ears.

There’s this old Chinese story, about a woman who sails off in the night to marry her true love. She leaves, and raises a family far away, but finally goes back to visit her village many years later. She returns to her family hut, only to find herself, still there, asleep in her bed.

Which is the real me, asks the koan—the one who left, or the one who stayed behind?

<<illustration borrowed from https://drawception.com/viewgame/hLw8E3Q9Fd/sailing-away/>>

Polygamy and the question of Bountiful

October 9th, 2014

5-10-16bountifulBountiful is in the news today. Again.

Bountiful is a ‘breakaway Mormon’ community near Creston, B.C. It has been an object of controversy and fascination for many years due to the tolerated practice of ‘polygamy’ under its leader,  Winston Blackmore. The whole thing has me totally stumped.

First, to get this perfectly clear: there is more going on at Bountiful than simply ‘polygamy’, and it’s not good. There are allegations of kidnapping, of smuggling yound women over the border as child brides, and of forced marriages. Read the rest of this entry »

Three great reads

October 5th, 2014

heliopolisI don’t know how long it has been since i dove into a fiction novel like a warm sunlit sea, looking forward all day to the moment of the dive, to hang weightless in a world of words. I had wondered if the internet had killed that pleasure in me but no, it is alive and strong, only needing the time and the space to thrive. This summer season I rediscovered novels. I read three great books, and I feel well nourished and grateful.

The first book is Howard Jacobsen’s The Finkler Question. I picked it up at the little self-serve book kiosk near the Whaletown ferry dock. “Man Booker Prize 2010 Winner”, puffed the jacket. There was a receipt  for 2 bucks from the Salvation Army store in Courtenay stuck into the book, on the back of which was scrawled A JUNK BOOK.  A difference of opinion. Well alright then. I accepted the challenge, put 75 cents in the cookie tin, and shoved the book into my pannier. Read the rest of this entry »

Bird party

October 4th, 2014

DSC06433 (1)robinThe robins started it all. I woke to mad fluttering and chirping, wingbeats too fast for my binoculars to find focus. The robins have stopped by on migration to fuel up on arbutus berries, their fat bellies perfectly color-matched to the orange fruits. Juncos and jays and flickers have joined the party. A pileated woodie creeps around the big fir tree. Kingfishers clatter through the air. The squirrels, irked to have pine-nut gathering interrupted, are doing pushups and shrieking hysterically. It is bird mayhem up here.

Photo by Benjamin Madison at http://victoriadailyphoto.blogspot.com/2013/10/arbutus-berries.html

Bliss is over-rated

September 18th, 2014

450_messy1_0805162When I don’t know where to start or what to do, I know exactly where to start and what I need to do.

I set my timer, sit my ass down, and go. Or really, I don’t go – I stop. What I am actually doing when i sit my ass down, is much less important than what I am not doing—which would otherwise be, letting my thoughts and emotions chase each other around my brain like a room full of enraged cats. Which would otherwise be: making a superhuman effort to ignore the pains in my body, the twist in my belly, the heaviness in my heart. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicklit my ass: an apology to Elizabeth Gilbert

September 5th, 2014

liz_03I just finished reading The Signature of All Things, the new novel by Elizabeth Gilbert. I polished off that huge whomping five-pound hardcover late last night. I had to, because it was due back to the library today. You know, there is a hold queue on that puppy six months long, and it can’t be renewed. So I just had to knuckle down to the deadline. I was even prepared to pay the 30-cent-a-day overdue fine if i had to, but nevermind. I made it, under the wire.

But before I go on about The Signature of All Things, I need to come clean about something.

In case you are truly clued out, Elizabeth Gilbert is a Very Famous Writer—listed, in fact (and according to her bio on the inside flap of the book) as one of the New York Times’ 100 Most Influential People in the World. Yes indeedy. She has written several[ novels and non-fiction books, but what hoisted her onto the Most Influential list was her 2006 memoir, Eat, Pray, Love. Read the rest of this entry »

Freedom and security

August 23rd, 2014

birds3Freedom and security are flip sides of the same coin. Both complete illusions. Both entirely within our grasp.

I struggle constantly with the idea of freedom. People see my wandering ways and they tell me they envy my freedom, but i wonder, would they trade what they think of as my ‘freedom’ for what they think of as their ‘security’? Would I trade mine for theirs?

My personal favourite flavour of dukkha is the usual first-world problem: too many choices. Its not that I fear that any of the myriad possibilities in my life will turn out regrettable or hellish – but which one to pick, which way to turn, that is my suffering. Storm-tossed i wish for some rock to cling to. Sometimes i feel completely exhausted by the options in this unfettered world and i swear i would trade my free-floating life in about half a moment for one big old anchor. For the feeling of purpose and place. For warmth in the night. Read the rest of this entry »

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