"at your library" in the north island eagle: computer help in port alice, woss... and everywhere

These days, basic computer skills are as essential as knowing how to boil water. Whether it's sending an email, using Skype to chat with a grandchild, or taking care of banking, computers have great potential to make our lives easier. Sometimes, computer use is a necessity. When the residents of Port Alice learned that their bank branch was closing, many people realized they should learn how to bank online.

But how are we expected to acquire these skills? Despite what you may hear, no one is born knowing how to use a computer. If you're already an adult, finished with school, and perhaps retired, who is going to teach you?

The public library, that's who.

The Port Alice branch of the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) is offering a special opportunity for computer education. Working with the Mt. Waddington Health Network, Mt. Waddington Community Futures, and the Village of Port Alice, the Library is holding free computer learning sessions for adults.

Adults who register in advance will work on either a desktop or laptop computer, or a tablet, and get hands-on instruction from our Community Support Technician. We'll focus on whatever that individual wants to learn. For some people, that will mean setting up an email account to stay in touch with family. For others, online banking is the most pressing concern. Someone else may want to write a letter using a basic word-processing program.

Each person will set their own goals and learn at their own pace. Learning can be stressful, but we try to make it as stress-free and fun as possible. Remember, at the Library, there are no stupid questions. Ask, ask, ask.

These computer learning sessions take place in the Port Alice Community Centre. The Village of Port Alice has generously allowed us to use the space at no cost. We're using the Community Centre's computers, plus more laptops and tablets supplied by VIRL. The good folks at Community Futures are handling the registration. And thanks to the Health Network, we're all moving together in the same direction.

If you live in Port Alice and feel that you would benefit from some computer learning, get in touch! The Port Alice Library can give you all the information. We're beginning a similar program in Woss, too, at the town's Community Hall. Ask at the library and we'll get you started.

If you already have some computer skills and you want to learn more – or you can't make it to any of the classes -- the Library can help in two different ways.

First: books. Some people learn best by reading. VIRL has dozens of titles that can help you learn more about using a computer. There's even a whole series of books written specifically for seniors. Check out the catalog at virl.bc.ca > learn > learn computers or ask any of our friendly and knowledgeable staff.

If you're more of a visual learner, try Lynda.com. Lynda contains hundreds of instructional videos taught by professionals and experts. You can work at your own pace and build up to more advanced skills as you go along. Like everything in our Library, it's free to use with your library card. You find it in the same place: virl.bc.ca > learn > learn computers, then scroll down for Lynda.com.

Have fun and good luck!


listening to joni: #10: mingus

Mingus, 1979

Mingus is unique in Joni's work, in that she wrote lyrics to someone else's instrumental music. Four of the six tracks on Mingus were written collaboratively by Joni and Charles Mingus.

Charles Mingus was a jazz composer and band leader. He was enormously influential, and anyone following contemporary jazz music would have known his work. But it's doubtful whether in 1979 most Joni Mitchell fans even knew his name, let alone recognized his music.

In the late 1970s, Mingus had ALS and was failing physically. He reached out to Joni, and they began a long-distance friendship. After about a year, he asked Joni to write lyrics to a group of songs he had composed.

The full story of how the collaboration began is more complex, but it wasn't known at the time. Mingus died before the album was finished, although he did hear finished versions of most of the songs.

Mingus is another step on the jazz path Joni began with Court and Spark, and which became a greater part of her music with each album since. It turned out to be Joni's last jazz album.

Mingus will never be my favourite Joni album, but I do like it, and of course I admire Joni's willingness to follow her musical star wherever it led her. When I listen to this album, I find myself focusing almost exclusively on Joni's voice and the lyrics, and almost not hearing the other instruments, keeping them well in the background.

The music behind the lyrics is abstract and challenging. There's a wash of soft sounds, over-buzzy echoing bass lines, and Joni's own guitar, unmistakable, but more restrained and minimalist than we've ever heard her before. I listen to a lot of jazz, but this kind of abstract fusion is not my thing.

The most unusual piece on the album is one of the two that Joni composed: "The Wolf That Lives In Lindsey". On a blog called "Ethan's Greats," I found this wonderful description. (The blogger misspells the name of the song.)
"The Wolf That Lives in Lindsay" is a battle between furious plucks of a bass, playing at a different tune of the acoustic guitar that plays high and low at once, and the hand drums that beat, well, to their own drum, appropriately. Mitchell, though past the age in which a listener could tell her voice was going, soars to old vocal heights – "Of the darkness in men's minds/ what can you say/ that wasn't marked by history," she ponders and sort of tells a story of the men and their darknesses, wandering the streets, as well as of Lindsey, who finds her own darkness expressed within. There is one more instrument combining here as well – howls of wolves, used as a composition that actually complements all the desultory elements. "The Wolf" isn't the sort of song that you can pull out of a jazz record and turn into a standard, but it is one that takes hold reflecting the uncertainty and mystery of the world and wanders gorgeously with its consciousness into the dark. The guitar, the howls, the voice, the deep pluck of that bass awaken something – fear and sadness living simultaneously with sensuality.
For me, the most memorable song on Mingus is a jazz standard, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," written by Charles Mingus in 1959, about the late, great Lester Young. In her lyrics, written 20 years after Young's death, Joni doesn't pretend she knew Lester Young. She doesn't try to write his eulogy. She boldly states her perspective in the opening line.
When Charlie speaks of Lester...
That line says so much. Joni has only recently become part of the jazz scene. She's not presuming or pretending. She's telling you about a Lester Young that she knows through Charles Mingus.

Back Cover
The song is about racism – the racism Young faced as a musician, and about the anger he encountered when he married a white woman.

Sue Graham Mingus, Charles Mingus' wife, was also white. Joni herself was harshly criticized – and accused of racism – for following her musical journey into supposedly Black territory.
...When the bandstands had a thousand ways
Of refusing a black man admission
Black musician
In those days they put him in an
Underdog position
Cellars and chitlins'

When Lester took him a wife
Arm and arm went black and white
And some saw red
And drove them from their hotel bed
Love is never easy
It's short of the hope we have for happiness
Bright and sweet
Love is never easy street!
The song also includes this beautiful New York City moment.
We came up from the subway
On the music midnight makes
To Charlie's bass and Lester's saxophone
In taxi horns and brakes
In "Sweet Sucker Dance," Joni revisits a familiar theme in yet another new way. She wonders if she can let herself do the "sweet sucker dance" – fall in love – again. She admits she "almost closed the door" because "the shadows had their way".
Inside Cover
They'd turn my heart against you
Since I was fool enough
To find romance
I'm trying to convince myself
This is just a dance

We move in measures
Through loves' changing faces
Needy and nonchalant
Greedy and gracious
Through petty dismissals
And grand embraces
Like it was only a dance

We are survivors
Some get broken
Some get mended
Some can't surrender
They're too well defended
Some get lucky
Some are blessed
And some pretend
This is only a dance

We're dancing fools
You and me
Tonight it's a dance of insecurity
It's my solo
While you're away
And shadows have the saddest thing to say
Joni asks, "Am I a sucker to love you?" The song answers the question Joni-style. While it may be sad to think that falling in love is a "sucker dance," it's also sweet, and it's inevitable, and it's part of life, because sometimes the shadows have had their way.

Another song on Mingus that I like is "The Dry Cleaner from Des Moines". The singer meets the Iowa man in a casino, where he is cleaning up.
He got three oranges
Three lemons
Three cherries
Three plums
I'm losing my taste for fruit! ...

Des Moines was stacking the chips
Raking off the tables
Ringing the bandit's bells
This is a story that's a drag to tell
(In some ways)
Since I lost every dime
I laid on the line
But the cleaner from Des Moines
Could put a coin
In the door of a John
And get twenty for one
It's just luck!
I read this as a lighthearted take on the random chance of everything. Perhaps Mingus, dying while possessing the full force of his talent, was feeling the random chance of the universe particularly sharply just then.

Mingus also includes interludes that the album cover calls "raps" – five short sound clips of Charles Mingus talking and joking around with the session musicians. These can be unnecessary distractions or amusing insider views, depending on how you're listening. They were not planned. Sue Mingus made the session tapes available to Joni and she decided to pull out clips for the album. They are the last recordings Charles Mingus made.

Inside Cover
Bad critic comment of the album

I had remembered this album being very badly received, and some bizarre accusations being hurled at Joni. When I look for that now, however, I find very little of it. Most of the reviews and features collected here on the jonimitchell.com are very positive.

I don't know if those stories just aren't online, or if I'm misremembering or unknowingly exaggerating what I read at the time.

What I remember is Joni accused of what is now called cultural appropriation: Joni was "trying to be black". She was trashed for being a jazz novice and dilettante – a kind of "how dare she" collaborate with a Jazz Great like Mingus.

These are just about the stupidest things you can say about a musician – about any artist – and even stupider when we consider that Mingus reached out to Joni, and not the other way around. (Although if she had reached out to him, or any other musician, there would be absolutely nothing wrong with that.)

There are many tributes to this album online, celebrating both its music and its lyrics. Cameron Crowe did this wonderful interview in Rolling Stone (I remember reading it in real time) (really, I do), and a few months later, the album was panned in the same venue.

The most idiotic critic comment I found was in a university newspaper. I normally don't trash novice writers, but the evidence here is too good to pass up. I'm also including it because it's typical of what I remember reading at the time.
I've nothing against an established artist trying to break away from the stuff they've already done so that they might "advance their art," but I protest against artsy experiments in areas where a particular artist has no business being.
Yep, a guy in college is passing judgment on where Joni Mitchell "has business being".
Though the music and lyrics jell [sic] better this time than on her previous Don Juan's Reckless Daughter (a bottomless pit of amorphous atonalism and free-associative lyrics that expressed the forgettable in terms of the incomprehensible)...
You just know he was dying to get this line in, something he thought of for the previous album and didn't get a chance to publish. I'll be generous and assume he would now find that line embarrassing.

The album cover

If you like Joni's painting, the Mingus cover art is a treat – four pieces on this one album.

On the front cover, there's an abstract expressionist painting, and if you look closely, you'll see a figure in a wheelchair (from behind), and a long-legged, female figure, sitting, possibly at a piano, her arm raised, hand on head. Interestingly, the painting is not the full cover. The painting is in the centre of the cover, framed by white space, with the album and artist's names above and below. This serves to make the cover more minimalist – which is what you'll find inside, music that is abstract and minimal.

Inside, there's an expressionist portrait of Mingus as big, clumsy, immobile, possibly paralyzed. But he also seems deified, like some of kind of ancient god descending from the heavens.

Also inside, there's another slightly abstract, slightly cubist portrait of Mingus, with Joni beside and behind him, smiling, but unseeing. It's a painted version of a lovely photo that you can see here.

On the back cover, Joni has painted Charles Mingus in his wheelchair, from behind, on a front porch or veranda with a sweeping view. It might be a sad and lonely picture, or perhaps just contemplative.

Cacti or stockings?

Naturally there are no cactus or stockings in this album, as the lyrics are not about Joni. I wonder, is the age of cacti and stockings behind us? Does she do that on any of the later albums? We shall see.

Now it can be told

David Yaffe, in Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell, revealed the genesis of the Mingus-Mitchell collaboration. This excerpt, published in Jazz Times, credits Sue Graham Mingus – Mingus's wife, a record producer, band manager, and former editor – with the idea. She was casting around for a fitting final project for Mingus, an outsize talent who was dying. It seems more marketing decision than a musician's desire to connect.

This bit has stayed with me.
When she first met Mingus, he was already in a wheelchair, facing the Hudson River. He had not yet lost his ability to provoke. "That song 'Paprika Plains,'" he told her. "The strings are out of tune." Mingus was testing Joni, but she adored him immediately and, of course, agreed with him about the strings on "Paprika Plains." She wished someone else had noticed. Illness had made Mingus vulnerable. He was sweet, but she saw the devil in him, too. Joni takes pride in her jive detector, and she knew she was in the presence of the real thing.
Other musicians on this album

For the "other musicians" section on this album, I'm using Joni's own liner notes.
The first time I saw his face it shone up at me with a joyous mischief. I liked him immediately I had come to New York to hear six new songs he had written for me. I was honored! I was curious! It was as if I had been standing by a river – one toe in the water – feeling it out – and Charlie came by and pushed me in – "sink or swim" – him laughing at me dog paddling around in the currents of black classical music.

Time never ticked so loudly for me as it did this last year. I wanted Charlie to witness the project's completion. He heard every song but one – GOD MUST BE A BOOGIE MAN. I know it would have given him a chuckle. Inspired by the first four pages of his autobiography – Beneath The Underdog – on the night of our first meeting – it was the last to actually take form – two days after his death.

This was a difficult but challenging project. I was trying to please Charlie and still be true to myself. I cut each song three or four times. I was after something personal – something mutual – something indescribable. During these experimental recording dates, I had the opportunity to play with some great musicians. I would like to thanks them here – they helped me to search.

Eddie Gomez - Bass
John Guerin - Drums
Phil Woods - Alto Sax
Gerry Mulligan - Baritone Sax
Danny Richmond - Narration
Tony Williams - Drums
John McLaughlin - Guitar
Jan Hammer - Mini Moog
Stanley Clark - Bass

I would especially like to thank Jeremy Lubbock for helping me to overcome inertia. And thank you Daniel Senatore for introducing my music to Charlie. Thanks to everyone who played on the final sessions. These versions satisfy me. They are audio paintings.

Sue Graham-Mingus graciously gave me access to the tapes I have interspersed throughout the album. For me they add a pertinent resonance. They preserve fragments of a large and colorful soul.

Charles Mingus, a musical mystic, died in Mexico, January 5, 1979 at the age of 56. He was cremated the next day. That same day, 56 sperm whales beached themselves on the Mexican coastline and were removed by fire. These are the coincidences that thrill my imagination.

Sue, at his request – carried his ashes to India and finding a place at the source of the Ganges River, where it ran turquoise and glinting with large gold carp, released him, with flowers and prayers at the break of a new day.

Sue and the holy river
Will send you to the saints of jazz –
To Duke and Bird and Fats –
And any other saints you have.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: ahoy there, matey! you can learn how to talk like a pirate – plus lots of fun facts about real pirates – through free apps from your library

Can you talk like a pirate?

September 19 is International Talk Like a Pirate Day, a bit of fun invented by two friends in 1995 and spread around the globe via the internet. Typical “pirate-speak” are growly phrases like Arrr Matey, Avast Ye Landlubbers, and the ever-popular Shiver Me Timbers.

What does this have to do with the Library, you ask? Good question! Pirate is one of 75 languages you can learn through Mango Languages, an amazing language-learning app. If you subscribed to Mango on your own, it would cost you $8/month for one language, or $18/month for access to all the languages – but it’s free with your library card.

There are several language learning programs online, but none compare to Mango Languages. On Mango, each language is taught by a native speaker. Lessons start very simple, and build gradually, so you can immediately see progress and gain confidence. There’s lots of repetition and review built in. There’s even a feature where you can compare your pronunciation to the teacher’s and see how it matches up.

I love Mango Languages because it’s designed for real life. There’s none of that “the pen of my aunt is on the table”. Mango knows the kinds of words and phrases that you need for traveling or living in another country, and helps you get there.

It even includes cultural tips. For example, in some Spanish-speaking countries, people will use the familiar – the tu – after they have been introduced and spoken a few times. In other countries, the familiar is reserved for family and close friends, and referring to people you have recently met as tu or ti is considered insulting. Mango will clue you in on these points of culture to help you succeed.

Mango includes English-language learning too, for speakers of more than 20 different languages. And you can use Mango Languages on a computer or any mobile device.

There’s more to pirates than Ahoy Matey. Kids who want to learn about real pirates will enjoy another free library app: National Geographic Kids. National Geographic Kids gives access to thousands reliable facts and fascinating concepts in science, nature, culture, archaeology, and space. The app contains every issue of National Geographic Kids magazine from 2009 to the present, plus searchable books, videos, and images.

National Geographic Kids is part of the National Geographic Virtual Library, also free with your library card. The Nat Geo Virtual Library contains a complete archive of the famed Nat Geo magazine – every page of every issue! This is a treasure trove of information – articles, images, even the advertising is enlightening, an artifact of earlier eras. And there are pirates galore!

You can find Mango Languages and these National Geographic apps by going to virl.bc.ca > learn > all databases. If you need help getting started, call or stop by the library.

Since International Talk Like a Pirate Day is meant to be humorous, I’ll close this column with a riddle I heard from a library customer.

“What’s a pirate’s favourite letter?”

To which I replied, “That’s easy: Arrrr.”

She said, “Some might think it’s arrrr, but a pirate’s first love will always be the C.”

september 28: international safe abortion day

Today is International Safe Abortion Day. Because without access to safe, legal abortion, women can never be free.

In North America, you can help ensure that women are able to access safe abortions by donating to abortion funds. The National Network of Abortion Funds (N-NAF) can show you how.



picket lines, pupdates, and the 51st parallel: 10 things on my mind

It's been a while.

1. Mom went home.

My mom went home two weeks ago, after spending seven weeks here. I was sad to see her go! We had a great time, and it got better as we went along and settled into a routine. The dogs must especially miss her. They loved to hang out in her room, and she adored them.

2. I took union training.

I was in Nanaimo this week, participating in some training with my union, the BCGEU. I had three days of courses, plus a full day of travel each way, so I was gone for the whole work week.

My workplace has an interesting union model. All the frontline staff are members of CUPE, and the professional staff -- librarians, senior librarians, and library managers -- belong to the BCGEU. This means I'm the only BCGEU member in all five of my libraries.

However, there are BCGEU members in many other workplaces in my area. It's a very diverse union that represents social workers, administrative staff, BC Liquor and BC Cannabis workers, correctional officers, and many others. I'll be available to assist members who want a representative from outside of their workplace.

3. My union is amazing.

The courses I took were excellent, but the best part of the trip was spending time with other labour activists, and getting to know the culture of my new union.

I had heard good things about the BCGEU, but it was wonderful to see this for myself. I learned that Stephanie Smith, president of the union, came up through the rank-and-file, as a new activist. Her election (and re-election) as the union's first female president, and as a former frontline worker, transformed the union from an old-boys service model to a progressive, member-driven organizing model.

I'm pretty sure this was the best part of the training!

4. Loggers are on strike.

Forestry workers from USW Local 1-1937 are on strike against Western Forest Products, one of the largest employers on Vancouver Island. The strike is going into its fourth month, and there's no end in sight. Our North Island communities are severely impacted.

I was feeling really bad that I had done nothing to help these union brothers and their families. When the strike was called, we were closing on our house, then we were moving, then my mother was here... My focus was elsewhere, but every time we saw a picket site, I felt guilty.

Yesterday on my drive home from Nanaimo, I bought major quantities of snacks and some gas cards, and stopped at every line I passed. I also stopped into a USW office in Port McNeill: I figured a staff rep would know which families were most in need.

I visited seven lines, and should be able to hit two or three more this week. I admit much of this was to make myself feel better, but when you're on strike, picket support visits mean a lot. Presumably it wasn't an entirely selfish endeavour!

5. I wish Cookie would go on strike.

Image from Etsy
Our darling Cookie is driving us crazy. We're dealing with multiple issues: she's chewing stuff (not teething, just destroying), she's an escape artist, she has zero recall, and she seems to have developed separation anxiety.

Our friend Dharma Seeker has been consulting with us on training ideas, and suggested setting up a webcam. I learned how to make a webcam from two cell phones -- and we learned that Cookie does better when she's not crated. This was scary! The two young dogs alone in the house, not crated, could literally destroy everything. But it worked. Now they are confined to one room. We've dog-proofed the room as much as possible, and they seem calm and happy when we're gone.

This has resolved one issue. We have a long way to go.

6. We need a new fence.

We've learned the fence around our backyard is falling apart. Cookie has gotten out of at least four places.

Allan keeps working on it, but dog-fence whack-a-mole is a losing battle. We need to replace what's there with professional-grade stockade fencing. We're getting estimates, and it's not pretty. This is one reason we never wanted to own a home.

Cookie's latest chew toy: a rug we bought in Egypt.
7. I am swimming.

After ten years away from the pool, I've started to swim again. It's going to take a long time to get back my aerobic strength! But I have time.

8. I am not gardening.

I've discovered that I have little to no interest in gardening, which includes upkeep on the lovely landscaping that was already in place when we bought the house. If I didn't work full-time and if my joints didn't hurt, perhaps I would feel differently. But here in my real life, I just don't care.

Now I have a big backyard, a sizable front yard, and a whole mess of raised beds -- and I don't want to do anything with them. I'd love to find someone who loves to garden but who doesn't have one of their own. And doesn't mind dogs crashing through their work.

9. Summer is ending.*

Port Hardy is not far from the 51st parallel, the farthest north we've ever lived.** Summer days went on forever; at 10:30 pm it was still twilight. Now, of course, we're about to experience the other side. It will be interesting to see how our habits change in winter. But one thing we know: we won't be shoveling snow!

* I don't watch Game of Thrones and I was sick of hearing Winter Is Coming.

** The farthest north we've ever been is Denali National Park: 63rd parallel.

10. I love my job.

I can't believe how much I love my job. It's the perfect mix for me.

Many librarians, as their careers advance and become more managerial, lament no longer leading storytimes. I haven't done those in years (except in an emergency) and I've never missed them! Storytimes are skilled work and very valuable to the community, but I didn't get a Master's degree so I could read to kids. To me that's a poor use of my skills and a waste of taxpayer money.

For me, my job is a perfect mix of administrative work, community engagement, and hands-on librarianship. I really enjoy the admin work -- which is good, because there's a lot of it! But I still have lots of customer contact -- which is good, because I love it.


"at your library" in the north island eagle: dreaming of streaming... at the library

If you have internet access at home, you are in for a treat. The Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) has several high-quality streaming services. You can listen to audiobooks, watch movies and documentaries, learn skills – and learn about the world – by streaming or downloading on your own devices. And since you access these services through the library, they are all free.


This is the premiere Canadian streaming service. Kanopy offers an enormous variety of independent films, foreign films, classic movies, and documentaries. It's one of those apps that you can get completely lost in.

Kanopy also has educational videos about a wide variety of subjects, including Indigenous Studies, Health Studies, LGBTQ Stories, Photography, Journalism, and much more. Check out the series called The Great Courses. These are classes taught by experts in a field, such as history, philosophy, ancient civilizations, and earth studies – too many topics to possibly list here.

Each registered Kanopy user can play six videos per month – except for The Great Courses. You can watch those as much as you want, and they don't count towards your monthly allotment.

You can watch Kanopy through a variety of streaming devices: Apple TV, Roku, and Amazon Fire, along with iPads, iPhones, other tablets, and of course computers.

You’ve got to try it. You won’t be disappointed.


Hoopla, like Kanopy, was developed for public libraries. This app has something for everyone – movies, eBooks, eAudiobooks, comics, music, and TV for streaming or download on almost any device. Next time you're looking for something different to read, listen to or watch, give Hoopla a try.

RB Digital eBooks, eAudiobooks, Magazines & Videos

If you're a magazine reader, you'll want to get RB Digital on your phone or tablet. You can read online or download dozens of magazine titles, including back issues, with no limits. RB Digital also offers eBooks and eAudiobooks – all unlimited and always free. It works beautifully on all mobile devices. RB Digital also gives you access to two other streaming apps – IndieFlix and Acorn TV.


IndieFlix offers classic movies and TV shows, and films and documentaries from major film festivals such as Sundance, Tribeca, and Cannes. You can find interviews with actors and directors, and quirky short films that are both fun and thought-provoking.

Acorn TV

If you like British TV, Acorn is the app for you. Murdoch Mysteries, Foyle's War, Midsomer Murders, Poirot, Vera – they're all here, all unlimited, and all free.

To access all these great options, start with the VIRL website: virl.bc.ca. Click or tap on “Read, Watch, Listen” and check out all the choices.

If you're not sure how to use any of these apps, call us or come see us at the library. We're here to help.