7.17.2019

why it is interesting and significant that i own a piano

When we were negotiating for this house, through realtors, the former owners asked if we were interested in keeping their piano. I had noticed the old upright as soon as we walked in, and I immediately said an enthusiastic yes. (They also had a beautiful grandfather clock, but they weren't interested in leaving that!)

A friend asked if either of us play. I said, short answer, I used to. Here's the full answer.

Piano of childhood

I grew up with a beautiful baby grand, a gorgeous instrument that had been my grandmother's, and was then my mother's.

My mother played Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes, and classical music, and some random things like Cole Porter and the easier Gershwin tunes. I loved to sit beside her on the piano bench and turn the pages, and sing along to the show tunes. South Pacific and Oklahoma were favourites. Her big Rodgers and Hammerstein song book had an image from the movies for each song. I can easily see them in my mind.

My siblings and I each took piano lessons as children, then at a certain age, we were allowed to decide whether or not to continue.

I started lessons at age 6. In my school, you could play an instrument in the school band or orchestra in 5th grade -- with the exception of violin, which you could play in the 4th grade. I opted for that, but I didn't enjoy it. The teacher was an idiot, and even worse, I discovered there was a stigma in school about playing the violin. (No idea why, but carrying a violin case in school made you subject to ridicule.) When I started violin, I quit piano. So after quitting violin, I was done.

Piano of teenage years

In high school, I hung out with musicians, and a friend of mine would always play when he was at my house. He wanted me to play, too, but I wouldn't. He told me about his piano teacher, who he said was super cool, and was really helping him develop musically. I decided to take lessons on my own.

This was a Big Thing. I had a job -- something my father was vehemently opposed to and tried (but failed) to prevent. Which meant I had my own money. Which meant I had a measure of independence. Which is why my hyper-controlling father didn't want me working.

I was also depressed. I didn't care about school, and although I was already political, I hadn't yet become an activist. I had friends, but was lonely. I was adrift, or that's how it felt.

I saw piano lessons as a chance to focus. Something to do that was only mine. A gift I would give myself.

The beginning of my junior year of high school, I started lessons with my friend's teacher, Beth. I had forgotten how to read music, but it came back pretty quickly. Beth wasn't into tedious scales and insipid beginning songs. She turned me on to Chopin and Mozart right away. (My mother listened to a lot of classical music, so I had some familiarity.) I worked hard, and I really enjoyed it. I was never more than passable, but that was hardly the point. It felt good. It revived me a bit. (An interesting note: I was not allowed to practice if my father was home. He literally forbid it.)

With the exception of my friend Chris and I, Beth's other students were all little kids. That made us special. Beth had an annual event where she took all her students to see The Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. Chris and I attended and helped Beth with the kiddles. We were all dressed up, and we were kind of adults. It was so much fun.

Chris and I confessed to each other that we had crushes on Beth. She was beautiful and seemed so poised and elegant. I have no idea what she looked like in any objective sense. But our lessons were often the best part of my week.

I played for two years, through junior and then senior year. I stopped my lessons after I graduated high school. I had some vague idea that I would continue playing in university, but I never did. As it turned out, I never played piano again.

The piano that was mine

It was always understood that I would inherit the piano. I was the one in the family who appreciated it the most and who was most attached to it. Over the years, I thought about it now and again -- how we would transport it when the time came, if we'd have a place big enough to accommodate it -- but since it was going to be an inheritance, I didn't like to think about it too much, and I was in no rush to claim it.

Then my mother, at 84 years old, after living in the New York-New Jersey metro area her entire life, decided to move to Oregon!

My brother and sister-in-law had pulled up stakes and relocated from New Jersey to 50+ acres of land in southern Oregon, much closer to their adult children. And when the first child of the next generation was born, and my mother became a great-grandmother, she decided to join them. She moved to an amazing retirement community, very near all her west coast family.

And she gave me the piano. Not physically, but she told me now was the time. She said it was mine either to sell or to keep.

One of my nephews is a musician, and I decided to give the piano to him.

I knew he would appreciate it the most, and he would play it with his daughter, my grand-niece. The piano could move west with my mother's belongings, it could stay in the family, it could stay loved and appreciated. Allan and I would be able to make our life decisions without having to consider the expense and logistics of moving a baby grand.

Just like moving to Canada, and going to library school, and moving to the west coast, as soon as I made this decision, I knew it was the right thing to do. Everyone was very surprised. My nephew was stunned, and it took my mother a bit to get used to the idea. The decision made me a bit sad, a bit wistful, and my nephew was concerned that I would regret it. But just because something makes you a little sad doesn't mean it's a bad decision or the wrong choice.

The end, or not

So that was the end of my piano story. Or so I thought.

Now in a life full of improbability -- I'm a librarian, we live in a tiny town on Vancouver Island, we own a home -- I once again own a piano.

The former owners left a slim book of sheet music for us. I can't read it at all. I awkwardly played a C scale, but I can't remember any other scales, and I can't play left and right hands at the same time. A total beginner again! But I'm going to try.

7.14.2019

indigenous designs are all around us: more thoughts on accusations of cultural appropriation

Coast Salish Orca
In 2017, I wrote this post: accusations of cultural appropriation are a form of bullying -- and don't reduce racism, and a follow-up: postscript: some clarifications and addenda to my recent post on cultural appropriation.

For a less-lengthy refresher, scroll down to "The current climate of accusation is misguided and harmful. Some thoughts.". I respectfully ask you not to comment without reading the second post.

Now, two years later, I live in an area with a significant Indigenous population. I engage with Indigenous people every day -- library users, service providers, community partners. Although I treat all customers with respect, I understand the special sensitivities involved here, and try always to "walk the path of reconciliation," as an Indigenous person said to me recently.

When I moved here, I noticed that many people -- Indigenous and non-Indigenous -- wear and use gear with Coast Salish, Kwakiutl, or Haida designs. These designs are displayed on jackets, backpacks, hoodies, and all manner of household goods. These are sold at schools, cultural centres, museum gift shops, and similar places. They are sold by Indigenous people for the usual reasons -- to display culture and to generate income.

It is not considered impolite or racist -- and certainly not genocidal! -- for non-Indigenous people to wear and use these objects. Undoubtedly some were purchased from more authentic sources than others, but there's no way to tell.

Would it be inappropriate for a white person to "dress up" in Kwakiutl ceremonial robes for Halloween? Of course!

Is it inappropriate for the local high school that serves both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students to use an Indigenous design as their logo? No. It's considered respectful and appropriate.

So I've had my own perspective reinforced. Not only are these accusations of cultural appropriation bullying and based on assumptions -- they are often complete bullshit.

This short column in The Guardian expresses it well.
What the row exposes is that such controversies are less about equity and opposition to racism than about cultural gatekeeping – self-appointed guardians licensing themselves as arbiters of the correct forms of cultural borrowing. Such policing is deeply problematic, both artistically and politically.

It’s true that cultural engagement does not take place on a level playing field but is shaped by racism and inequality. Confronting that requires us, however, to challenge racism, not police cultures. It’s difficult to see how creating gated cultures, and fragmenting struggles, helps promote social justice or who it empowers beyond the gatekeepers.

7.10.2019

three thoughts arising from a focus on the housing crisis

Today I attended a working meeting that included almost all the service providers in the region. These service providers were brought together by the Mount Waddington Health Network to build a coalition that will deal with the housing crisis.

I was there mainly to stay informed and to network, and to keep the library visible -- and because so many groups that I will work with were also there.

Three thoughts.

* * * *

These organizations are doing amazing work by working together rather than in silos -- more efficient (no duplication of effort), more strategic (not competing for the same funds), and stronger (speaking in one voice). This process -- a multi-year plan -- has seen real results in several places, and I expect it will in the North Island, too.

The people are great -- sharp, committed, experienced, inclusive, taking a holistic view. I was so impressed.

But. But I can't help thinking, all this would be unnecessary if housing were a human right in our society, and if this most basic of all human needs were not subject to the so-called free market.

* * * *

There was a presentation on Ambrose Place, a managed alcohol residency program in Edmonton, Alberta. This is a form of harm reduction, similar to needle exchange, that saves both lives and tax dollars. But this program is based in an Indigenous worldview. It employs natural medicines, ceremonies, rituals, and other Indigenous ways of knowing to restore mind, body, and spirit.

It meets people where they are, with compassion and love and a minimum of rules, because change, in this worldview, is only meaningful if it is chosen. A certain number of places are reserved for people with disabilities, and a certain number for palliative care.

For those who care only about their tax dollars, the numbers are staggering: over a period of two years, costs plummeted. Emergency room visits, EMS calls, inpatient visits, inpatient mental health -- all markedly down. Inpatient mental health and addiction costs went from $2,715,000 to $171,400! Other numbers were similarly impressive.

The non-monetary gains can hardly be counted -- the lives restored, the violence prevented, the relationships healed.

There is a world beyond "just say no" and surrendering to a higher power.

I want to see this happen in our region.

* * * *

The presenter was a social worker with the Salvation Army.

I have read and seen much about the Salvation Army, about both homophobia and Christian proselytizing. I've also read that those incidents were localized (individual rather than institutional) and in the past. I don't know what's true of the organization as a whole. But in Port Hardy and the north Vancouver Island, the Salvation Army does amazing -- and inclusive -- work.

The organization's role in the area is similar to the United Way's role in southern Ontario. They are an umbrella provider of social services -- women's shelters, group homes for street-involved youth, rehab, mental health, and more. In addition, they work with Indigenous communities in the respectful and inclusive way that is expected here. And they celebrate Pride.

Maybe they've learned something? Maybe they're different here? I have no idea. But I know I don't have to avoid them, and I can work with them as community partners with a clear conscience.

* * * *

A final word about the Mount Waddington Health Network. When it comes to health, they take the broadest view. They talk about the social determinants of health. Imagine a health network that wants to work with the library on digital literacy for seniors! More about this as it happens.

7.07.2019

pictures of our new house are one (extra) click away

Allan took some photos of our house while it was still empty. If you are so inclined, you can see the pics here: Our House.

So go do that now, then come back, OK?

You're back?

Not shown:

As you walk in the front door, to your right is a room that adjoins the kitchen, which we'll probably use as a dining area. To the left, a very large room that will contain our shared bookshelves (more books live in our offices), a puzzle table, and a futon that is also the guest bed.

The two front rooms don't have doors, just entranceways, so we'll want to have get a door made for the guest bedroom.

There are three bathrooms -- a large ensuite (mine) with a shower, a full bathroom upstairs (Allan's), and a small bathroom downstairs near the laundry room, also with a shower. Plus a gigantic garage.

Thanks for indulging me. I think I'm now done posting house photos on wmtc. If I'm moved to post updates as move-in and decorating go along, I'll do it on Facebook.

7.06.2019

concentration camp resistance scrapbook

Resistance to the migrant concentration camps in the US seems to be growing. Or maybe I'm just seizing on anything that looks like hope.

I wanted to collect all the examples I've seen so far, then I'll post more in real time.

June 2018: No Kids In Cages marches

July 2, 2019: #CloseTheCamps protests in advance of the July 4th holiday.

July 12, 2019: Lights for Liberty. Americans: GO.

Direct action to free people: post their bail!

Indianapolis church puts creche scene in a cage

Kansas kids' lemonade stand raising funds to help "kids at the border"

Never Again Is Now: Boston protest shuts down the city. Similar protests happened in many US cities. I love that these Jewish activists are claiming the streets.

Law firm offers pro bono representation to any ICE worker who resists participating in family separation.

This photo circulated with a story on a protest in Boston,
but was taken at a protest in San Francisco.
Workers at Wayfair walk off jobs, protesting company selling beds to concentration camps. Damn, I wish I hadn't spent so much money at Wayfair!

ItsGoingDown.org has a resistance timeline.

Microsoft workers protest company's role in ICE concentration camps.



#NoKidsInCages
In New York City, RAICES commissioned artists for some hard-hitting guerrilla art. Cops removed the ten installations, but images circulated widely. At the link above, Forbes calls the images "disturbing".

RAICES does amazing work. If you are looking to donate, your money will go a long way here.

Outside United Nations headquarters in Geneva, protesting teenagers put themselves in cages.
Plenty of room for more. Which ones will be effective, we will never know. All hands on the wall.

thank you megan rapinoe!

I have a list of topics I want to write about, and I'm not finding any time when my brain is working to write. So on this topic I'm taking the easy and totally lame way out and posting a Facebook share. And that's fine, because no matter how much time I had and no matter how my foggy brain is functioning, I couldn't say this any better than one Omari Newtown, whose withering sarcasm is both hilarious and dead literate.





I never follow people I don't know on Facebook, but for this guy, I'll make an exception. I don't want to miss a word!

7.05.2019

in which we are officially homeowners


It's official! We are homeowners!


The former owners left us a plant and a card! Is that amazing? The card says they hope we are as happy in this house as they have been.

Our plans to go over on Allan's dinner break with a bottle of champagne didn't work out, but the pups had their first run in their new yard. We left the bubbly in the fridge for tomorrow night. Here are some pics of the deck and the yard -- both were big selling points for us.



The porch is covered! Very useful in this climate.


Raised beds, and trellises! I may be forced to garden.




What we paid for this house wouldn't buy a one-bedroom condo with tiny rooms and shoddy construction in Mississauga. Of course, not everyone wants to live in a tiny town in the middle of a rainforest. But we sure do!

I feel so at peace here. I just want to make the most of my library work, enjoy the beauty of the coast, hike in the quiet woods, relax on my deck, love my family. Read, make jigsaw puzzles. Advocate for my union sisters and brothers. And just soak up the quiet. It's the quiet that makes this life so wonderful -- not just the sound of birdsong, but the visual quiet, the quiet of simplicity. 

7.02.2019

in which cookie gets hold of a fish head, is attacked by an eagle, and almost makes me cry

This weekend we took Kai and Cookie to the beach both days. The beach was Diego's favourite place in all the world, so it was sad to be there without him. But the Littles are so entertaining; they keep us in the moment.

Yesterday, however, Cookie put on a show that was anything but entertaining.

The dogs were running and playing when, much further down the beach, a woman, a child, and an older dog appeared, walking to the water. The woman had a bucket. 

There are houses right near this beach -- for some people, the beach is directly across the street. We didn't know that people fish, clean their catch, and bring the refuse to the water to feed the birds. 

Both our dogs took off down the beach, likely to greet the old dog. Eagles and ravens appeared. Our dogs were not far behind.

Before I even got close, Cookie splashed into the water, and in a flash was running past me with the head of a salmon in her mouth. I could see the bright red flesh of the fish, the open mouth, the staring eye. 

I called out, "Oh that's not good!" 

The woman called out, "Don't worry, it's fresh!" 

Allan was petting the old dog. 

Cookie left me in her dust.

I walk after Cookie. There's zero chance of my catching her, but I want to at least keep her in my sights. She stops, gnaws and picks and tears at the fish head, and as I approach, grabs it and moves further away. When I look down the beach, Allan isn't even facing us. He appears to be taking pictures, probably of birds eating fish guts. (Later he told me he thought Cookie must have dropped the fish.) (Why would he think that?) 

Cookie draws me further and further down the beach, eating the fish head along the way. I speak sweetly to her, assure her she is a good girl, trying to calm her, but I never get within a foot of her collar. 

This went on for a long time.

Eventually Allan, from a distance, must have realized something was wrong, and started jogging towards us. Then the two of us did the Cookie Dance with Fish Head. 

Eagles appeared, and swooped down at Cookie! This is something to see. These eagles are huge. Their wingspans are easily eight feet, and their talons and beaks are weaponry -- and they came right at her. Cookie ducked and cringed -- but held on to her prize. I realized then that the eagles were our way out of this. But they flew off.

When the eagles left, Cookie was no longer playing. She was tired and unhappy. When we approached, she would growl. 

Allan tried a few things -- grabbing Cookie's tail (she's wet and slippery), giving me the camera and lunging for her (like we can possibly move faster than she can!), acting like we're leaving (she doesn't care). There's literally nothing we can do except stay close to her and wait for her to drop whatever's left.

This went on and on. 

The fish head is getting smaller. I can hear Cookie crunching on scales, see the hundreds of tiny bones sticking out. She will not let go. I keep thinking (and saying), eagles, where are you, we need you...

Finally two eagles came circling overhead, lower and lower. They seemed determined. Cookie was afraid of them now, cringing but looking up, salmon head clamped in her jaws. An eagle swooped within a foot of her face. Finally, worn down, Cookie dropped the fish and trotted a few steps away. While I grabbed her collar, the eagle swooped down and flew off with the salmon head.

Cookie was quiet and exhausted. So was I.

Note to self: if I ever see anyone at the beach carrying a bucket, grab the dogs and get them on-leash.

No, cancel that. 

Note to self: during fishing season, stick to the area of the beach far away from houses.

Postscript: so far there seem to be no ill effects, other than Cookie's face smelling like fish.

7.01.2019

indigenous canada: online course from university of alberta

This is a detail from artwork that
was used throughout the course.
Earlier this year, I studied and completed "Indigenous Canada", a 12-week MOOC offered by the University of Alberta. It's a general overview of Canadian history from an Indigenous perspective. It was a mostly good experience, along with some issues that were less than ideal.

What was good:

1. It's always eye-opening to study history from the perspective of the non-dominant and non-elite -- the conquered as opposed to the conquerors. This is the kind of history I've always read, from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States to all the feminist, labour, and civil rights books I've read, and histories of the Indigenous peoples of Mesoamerica and South America. But this was the first time I read a history specifically of my adopted country written from the Indigenous perspective. It's a great way to learn about Canada.

2. The module on the residential schools deepened my understanding of this horror. As bad as I thought it was, it was so much worse, in every respect.

Two huge takeaways for me relate to intergenerational trauma -- how it happens, why it continues.

One of the characteristics shared by almost all Indigenous cultures is an emphasis on family, usually extended family. In oral traditions, knowledge transmitted directly from generation to generation. Skills -- hunting, gardening, cooking, building, healing, everything you can think of -- are learned by observation and participation. Values, morals, and ethics -- all the guideposts of life -- are transmitted through storytelling and observation. From birth to death, every aspect of life is shared communally, and done for the benefit of the new generations, to build for the future.

Now imagine a culture such as this with no children. Villages where all the children have been stolen. The trauma and grief and shame left behind. The despair, the helplessness.

At the same time, imagine generations of children who have never been exposed to familial love, or at best that love was a distant memory. Generations of children who have been raised institutionally, with harsh discipline, meager food rations, minimal health care, forced lessons intended for wage-slavery, and of course, verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. Generations of children who have been forbidden to speak their own languages or learn anything about their cultures -- and who are indoctrinated to believe that their original cultures are dirty and shameful.

When these children become adults, how can they know how to raise families of their own? They have not seen normal parenting. They lack the supports of their culture and communities. They know only shame and abuse.

These entwined conditions are at the root of the intergenerational trauma that echoes through Indigenous communities in countless destructive ways. The wonder is how people and their cultures have survived at all -- a testament to the determination and resiliency of the human spirit.

3. The modules about resistance -- both historically and currently -- were great.

4. I learned a lot that challenges the dominant narrative of Canada as a force for good, or at the very least, a benign society. Canada doesn't do US-style chest-thumping, but we can certainly be smug about how wonderful we are -- but only if we don't include the original inhabitants of this land.

What wasn't so good:

Most of the negatives were related to the administration of the course.

1. The captioning on the videos was terrible. Anyone who relied solely on the written material would lose a lot of understanding.

2. The quizzes after each module were poor. In many modules, there were no good answers, or there was more than one good answer, reducing testing to guesswork. Worst of all, when you got a wrong answer, the quiz didn't identify the correct answer. That's an impediment to learning.

3. In the module on treaties, the questions were all dates and treaty numbers -- strictly rote memorization, as opposed to conceptual learning.

4. The quizzes were not very challenging. I understand this is a beginner's course, not intended for in-depth study. But the learning level seemed more like middle school or high school than college or university.

I'm very glad I had the opportunity to take this course, as part of my own professional development. My next course will be San'yas Cultural Safety Training. This is BC-specific, developed by Indigenous educators, and mandatory for health and social service providers in the province.

july 1: canada day and beyond

Happy Canada Day from the traditional and unceded territory of the Kwakiutl people, whose historical ties to this land date back from time immemorial and continue to this day.

Many Kwakiutl (pronounced kwa-gi-uth) people have welcomed me to my new home and I am grateful to walk the path of reconciliation with them. This and every Canada Day, we can reflect on what actions we personally can take to help make reconciliation meaningful.

One thing we can do is educate ourselves. This may help.

6.26.2019

diego

We said goodbye to our Diego yesterday.

We had surgery to repair a ruptured knee ligament (ACL) about six weeks ago. He recovered quickly and was doing really well. And then.

Two days ago, the other knee went. The repaired leg wasn't strong enough to hold his back end. He was not able to walk at all, or even stand.

We could have had the second knee repaired, but it was clear that Diego's repaired leg would not be strong enough to support him during that recovery. That meant he'd likely end up re-injuring the first knee. For two days, he was only able to walk when we used a towel to sling his whole rear end -- and then only for a few steps.

* * * *

Diego was the happiest dog I ever knew. He was a big goof who loved everyone. From the moment he got in our car and left Toronto Animal Services, he loved his life.

He especially loved the beach. We couldn't say the word beach around him, he'd go nuts thinking he was going. Then we couldn't say b-e-a. We would say to each other, "Should we go to the place of sand and water?" At the word speech or reach, his ears would pop up and he'd stare, hoping.

The drooling! Oh the drooling. I called him Mr Drooly-puss. Also Mr. Bighead. SeƱor Cabeza Grande. Head like a bowling ball.

Diego was enthusiastic. Not a subtle boy, our Diego. Everything he did, he did con mucho gusto. Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin.

We went through a huge re-training process with him, when we moved from a house into a high-rise building where he would encounter dozens of dogs. He was insanely food-motivated and came farther than I ever dreamt would be possible.

The change of food for that re-training process contributed to his developing inflammatory bowel disease. Suddenly our no-maintenance dog was a high-maintenance dog. Poor guy was a vegetarian in his older age.

He was terrified of thunder and fireworks -- and sneezes. The intake of breath before a sneeze or yawn would send him running. But he'd crash headlong into any new park, trail, or body of water without an eyeblink of caution.

He was Tala's best friend -- and Allan's.

Everyone who knew Diego, loved him.

We miss him so much. We will love him forever.

Diego, April 21, 2011 (adoption) - June 25, 2019


At Toronto Animal Services, on adoption day.


When Tala was rehabbing, he wouldn't leave her side.



Mr. Greenfeet











Allan posted more pics, including one of Diego getting some Cookie love.

6.22.2019

"we don’t actually know what will happen, but know we may be able to write it ourselves": rebecca solnit on hope and why it matters

I missed this when it ran in 2017, but I found it when I needed it. Rebecca Solnit writes in The Guardian:
Last month, Daniel Ellsberg and Edward Snowden had a public conversation about democracy, transparency, whistleblowing and more. In the course of it, Snowden – who was of course Skyping in from Moscow – said that without Ellsberg’s example he would not have done what he did to expose the extent to which the NSA was spying on millions of ordinary people. It was an extraordinary declaration. It meant that the consequences of Ellsberg’s release of the top-secret Pentagon Papers in 1971 were not limited to the impact on a presidency and a war in the 1970s. The consequences were not limited to people alive at that moment. His act was to have an impact on people decades later – Snowden was born 12 years after Ellsberg risked his future for the sake of his principles. Actions often ripple far beyond their immediate objective, and remembering this is reason to live by principle and act in hope that what you do matters, even when results are unlikely to be immediate or obvious.

The most important effects are often the most indirect. I sometimes wonder when I’m at a mass march like the Women’s March a month ago whether the reason it matters is because some unknown young person is going to find her purpose in life that will only be evident to the rest of us when she changes the world in 20 years, when she becomes a great liberator.

I began talking about hope in 2003, in the bleak days after the war in Iraq was launched. Fourteen years later, I use the term hope because it navigates a way forward between the false certainties of optimism and of pessimism, and the complacency or passivity that goes with both. Optimism assumes that all will go well without our effort; pessimism assumes it’s all irredeemable; both let us stay home and do nothing. Hope for me has meant a sense that the future is unpredictable, and that we don’t actually know what will happen, but know we may be able write it ourselves.

Hope is a belief that what we do might matter, an understanding that the future is not yet written. It’s informed, astute open-mindedness about what can happen and what role we may play in it. Hope looks forward, but it draws its energies from the past, from knowing histories, including our victories, and their complexities and imperfections. It means not being the perfect that is the enemy of the good, not snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, not assuming you know what will happen when the future is unwritten, and part of what happens is up to us.
Lately I've been struggling with hope. I'm a lifelong activist, and I don't recall ever feeling this way before. I could never have put the time and energy into activism if I felt my actions -- our collective actions -- were useless. I know that the results of our actions are cumulative -- that no one action alone creates change -- and that, as the quote on the sidebar of this blog says, we may never know what actions will eventually lead to a result. Change is created by movements, and movements may be many generations long.

I knew all that in my head, but I couldn't feel it in my heart anymore. Instead I felt despair. And despair is the enemy of change.

Despair fuels for the other side -- the people who destroy our planet for profit, who make war for profit, who make hate, who divide and oppress, and enrich themselves at our expense.

This wall is part of The Wall.
Many years ago, a comrade from the Haven Coalition, the NYC abortion-access group I worked with, interviewed me for NPR's StoryCorps project. I shared with her my mental image of activism -- something I think of as "the wall".

The wall represents all the forces of oppression. The wall is war, torture, bigotry, hatred, othering. The wall is sexism and misogyny, racism and homophobia, the oppression of workers, the disregard for human rights, the disregard for democracy, the destruction of the environment.

The wall is huge -- so tall that, standing against it, we can't see the top, and so wide that it eclipses at the horizon.

But the wall is not impregnable.

All along the wall, there are groups of people, pushing against it with both their hands. One person alone, no matter how great their strength or how just their cause, can never break even one tiny fragment of the wall. But when enough people get together, and all push in the same area and in the same direction, one day that section of wall crumbles. And we break through. And change is created.

We've seen it happen. We know it can happen.

Does the wall ever disappear completely? No, of course not. The wall is part of human civilization -- the forces that maintain the status quo, because they profit from it in some way. The hands on the wall are part of society, too.

In that StoryCorps interview, my friend asked me, "When did you first realize you wanted to be someone with both hands on the wall?"

At that moment, a light went on in my head. I hadn't seen myself that way before. Yes, I wanted to have both hands on the wall -- and I wanted to help others find their courage and hope to do so, too.

I'm realizing now that I've temporarily lost my way. Now I can return with more empathy for how people lose hope, why activists give up.

It's easy to despair. There's a lot out there pushing us in that direction. It's easy to be cynical, and cynicism is only a half-step from apathy, or at least inertia. I've never been apathetic, but if I give in to despair -- if I forget that the future is unwritten -- I might as well be.

I must refuse. Right now, my act of resistance is to resist the forces of cynicism and despair.

* * * * *

You can read more excellent articles by Rebecca Solnit here at The Guardian website. Some other highlights: "Every protest shifts the world's balance and "Thank you, climate strikers. Your actions matter and your power will be felt".

"at your library" in the north island eagle: summer reading club is back

Summer Reading Club is back! Register your child today.

Can you believe it’s June already? The days are long, the kids are restless, and summer is in the air. Whether you’re cleaning out the camper, booking a cottage down island, or just wondering how you’re going to keep your children busy all summer, the library can be part of your plans. Books, movies, music, magazines – and free programs open to all – will help you fill hours and banish boredom. Even better, you’ll be helping your children succeed in school next year – when you sign them up for Summer Reading Club, and encourage them to read every day.

Summer Reading Club is happening all over Canada, and VIRL goes all out to promote this amazing program in all of our 39 branches. The reason is simple: kids who read during the summer do better in school in September. Think of reading as exercise for the brain. We want our children’s brains to stay in shape!

Summer Reading Club is all about making reading fun, and motivating kids to read. Kids track their reading, then visit the library to show they’ve been reading every day. Each week that they read every day, they are entered in a draw for prizes. Each week, one lucky child (at each branch) can choose a book to keep. Children who complete a reading record for the entire Summer Reading Club program win a medal. Kids also receive fun freebies, like bookmarks, stickers, and a Tales the Whale “book muncher”.

We’ll have special programs at all our libraries, too, including lots of “STEAM” programs – Minecraft, virtual reality, creative building kits, and more. (STEAM it stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math, and it encourages us to learn by hands-on problem solving. More about STEAM in a future At Your Library column!)

For older kids, VIRL presents Teen Summer Challenge. This year, teens can join Sherlock Moose and Fox Watson as they track down solutions to mysterious tasks. A series of silly and fun activities challenge teens to collect points while learning new skills.

For every five points they earn, teens get one entry in the prize draw. Prizes include books, Chapters gift cards, and Skullcandy earbuds. Teens can team up with friends to do the challenges together. Youth ages 12-18 can pick up a Teen Summer Challenge booklet at their local branch, or find the tasks at the VIRL website.

But if your teen would rather stick with Summer Reading Club, that’s fine with us. Teens reading? Yes, please!

Summer Reading Club and Teen Summer Challenge run from July 2 to August 20. You can register at your favourite branch, or online at virl.bc.ca/kids/summer-reading-club.

It’s free, it’s easy, it’s fun – and it’s important brain exercise! I hope you’ll put Summer Reading Club Registration on the top of your summer to-do list.

6.16.2019

11 things I loved about "rolling thunder revue: a bob dylan story"

Allan and I have been greatly anticipating "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story", the new film by Martin Scorsese released this week on Netflix.

When "The Last Waltz" opened at Radio City Music Hall in 1978, I was a senior in high school. My friends and I skipped school and snuck into the city to see it. About 10 years later, Allan and I saw it together (he for the first time) and it became a touchstone of our relationship.

These days, rearranging work schedules to watch a movie is no longer an option, but we waited until we were both available and could watch this film together.

I loved it. The film is a joy from start to finish. I'm sure I will watch it again and again, and future viewing will reveal more to delight, enlighten, obscure, befuddle, and entertain. Here are some reasons why.

1. Dylan then. His stage persona is warm, forceful, and passionate. The songs he has chosen are socially engaged. His voice has never been better. He seems relaxed, happy, and in the moment. He connects with the audience. He seems to revel in the joy of music-making. What a rare and welcome view of this artist!

2. Dylan now. Talking, smiling, storytelling -- story-making. We have never been over-exposed to Dylan talking about his music. And when we have seen him, he has been argumentative, defensive, contrary, defiant, flippant, or barely suffering the fool who asks the question. The Dylan chatting with us in "Rolling Thunder Revue" is relaxed and friendly. Even in a fake interview, this is a delight.

3. Scarlet Rivera. The legendary violinist is resplendent, her wailing notes transforming the standard (although excellent) rootsy sound of guitars and bass into an emotional wildfire. I have loved Scarlet Rivera's violin and these arrangements since first hearing this music in 1976, and through the years my appreciation has only deepened.

4. Joni Mitchell. We are treated to a glimpse of songwriting in progress (pause and check out her hand-written lyrics!), and a behind-the-scenes rehearsal. This takes place supposedly in Gordon Lightfoot's Toronto flat, and includes Joni showing Dylan the chord changes. I'll take a loop of the whole Joni segment, please.

5. The playful mix of fact and fiction. For his fans, Dylan's life has always been a mix of fact and fiction -- and this echoes the melange of fact, legend, and rumour that all rock stars' lives were to us in the pre-internet era. Martin Scorsese's profound understanding of Bob Dylan, this music, and its place in our culture make him the perfect filmmaker for this material. His choice to break the documentary format is genius, and the results are very amusing and entertaining.

6. The songs. The set list is socially and politically powerful -- some songs overtly so, and others a bit more cryptic.

7. Joan Baez. Baez' voice -- like Rivera's violin -- is a soaring, sailing, wailing counterpoint to Dylan's gruff and forceful singing. I am not a member of the Joan-and-Bob cult, but their voices are perfect together and their chemistry onstage is irresistible.

8. Allen Ginsberg. Allen Ginsberg is like a shining thread that runs through so much that has meaning for me. In this film, we hear his poetry and his observations. We see him meditating. He seems happy. This also affords us a glimpse of Peter Orlovsky. I love Allen Ginsberg. I miss him.

9. Patti Smith! Oh god the magnificent Patti Smith being magnificent in 1975.

10. Sam Shepard! Rumour has it that Shepard was the inspiration behind Joni Mitchell's song "Coyote" (alluded to above). And they were on part of this tour together. Is it hot in here?

11. The music is brilliant. The performances are riveting.

6.15.2019

spectacular photos of bald eagles in port hardy

Check out these incredible photographs of bald eagles at Storey's Beach in Port Hardy, created by my friend sM. The story is here.

I wish sM would post more photos! There must be dozens of other great shots that don't meet her standards for public viewing. But these will give you the general idea.

6.13.2019

pupdate: running on the beach, jumping over the fence, and awesomely coming back to us

Things are going really well with the new pack of five. Having three dogs isn't that big a deal! Who knew? But I should qualify: it's not that big a deal with this particular mix, in our current, specific circumstances. I don't think we'll need to have three forever -- but we are really enjoying it right now.

Cookie is so affectionate -- not just to us, but to her canine packmates, too. She likes to squeeze in on a bed (or a crate!) that one of the other dogs is already using. This never fails to melt me.






We had another trip to the beach, the second time with all three dogs. Cookie's recall was much improved! We did the same thing as last time -- gave them 5 or 10 minutes of running mayhem at the nearby ballfield before heading to the beach itself.

This time Cookie never went off on her own. She and Kai ran and ran and ran -- sometimes quite far away, chasing birds -- but we would keep calling their names, and eventually they both circled back around to us (and treats).







Remember Kai-dini, the dog that could not be contained? We've been taking her in the backyard only on-leash and clipping her to a long tether. If we think, meh, it's only for a few minutes, and another dog walks by the house during those few minutes, she pops over the fence to say hi. We hustle inside the house and out the front door -- and there she is waiting for us! How's that for awesome? We are super lucky, as any escape can be a disaster.

Not to be outdone, Cookie realized that she, too, can sail over a fence. A little terrier was streaking across several lawns. He must have slipped his lead or escaped out a door, and he was running at full tilt. So Cookie popped out to join him.

I was scared. Cookie is fast. In the time it would take me to even get on the street, who knows where she would be? I ran through the house, calling "Oh my god, Cookie jumped the fence!" I grabbed a leash, and D grabbed Kai as she was heading out the door. I ran down the driveway calling "Cookie! Cookie!" as loud as I could. I had barely turned off the driveway to the street, when who comes tearing around the corner, towards me, at top speed?? She ran right past me and into the house!

I couldn't believe it. This was days ago and I'm still amazed and thrilled.

Unfortunately this means that neither of the Littles can be outside without being tethered. In the new house, though, the yard will be much more secure -- fully fenced, a higher fence, and not visible to the street -- removed from most temptations.

6.10.2019

"at your library" in the north island eagle: jobs and careers: we've got you covered

Jobs and Careers: We’ve Got You Covered

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a career fair hosted by the Kwakiutl First Nation. I wasn’t there to convince anyone to become a librarian – although it is an awesome profession! I was telling people about the resources our library has for researching careers and looking for jobs.

Whether you’re starting your first career or looking for something new – if you’re wondering what kind of job might be a good fit for you – if you’ve got interviews coming up and you need to prepare – and so many other career and job-search needs – we’ve got you covered.

Career Cruising is my go-to app for all things job-related. With Career Cruising, you can take a self-assessment test to see what careers might be a good fit for you. Then you can find out what education you’ll need, what a typical day might be like, what kind of career path you might have, and how much money you can expect to earn – all for a huge variety of careers.

Once you have some direction, or if you already know what you want to do, Career Cruising helps you with your resume, interviewing, even what will be expected of you after you start working.

To find Career Cruising, go to virl.bc.ca > learn > business/careers, then scroll down to Career Cruising. You’ll need a library card to create a free account.

Lynda.com is another great app that can help you succeed. Lynda has a huge collection of videos that teach all kinds of skills. This isn’t YouTube – you don’t have to search through hundreds of irrelevant or silly videos to find what you need. The videos at Lynda.com are all professionally made, and they’re organized so you can follow a learning path from total beginner all the way to advanced.

Lynda teaches a huge array of topics. Job searchers can learn about creating resumes and preparing for interviews, as well as basic tech skills that many employers require, such as using Outlook, Word, and Excel.

You can find Lynda.com through the Library website: virl.bc.ca > learn > business/careers, then look for Lynda. Use your library card to create a free account, and start learning.

Kanopy is best known for indie film and documentaries, but it offers education resources, too. Look for the word browse at the top of the screen, then click the pull-down arrow. You’ll see categories such as Business, Education, and Instructional Films and Lessons, to name a few.

You can use Career Cruising, Lynda, and Kanopy from home or in the library. The only things you need are a library card, a device, and an internet connection.

You can also go to virl.bc.ca > learn > all databases to see all the free apps the Library offers. It’s a long list.

And don’t forget books! The library has a huge selection of books on all these topics, too. We can help you find and request whatever you need.

If you don’t know where to start, or you’ve started but are stuck, come see us! We’re here to help.

6.02.2019

pupdate: first run on the beach, and puppies in love

We had been waiting to take Cookie for a run at the beach -- waiting until she was more bonded with us, until she had a bit of training, until she seemed to understand that we five are a family. There are no enclosed dog parks near us -- or, to my knowledge, anywhere north of Campbell River. There's a baseball field and a schoolyard nearby, but both too near the road for comfort. We knew that at some point, we'd have to make a leap and hope for the best. Today was that day.

First we let the dogs loose on a semi-enclosed field near the beach. It was the first time the Kai and Cookie have really had room to run at full speed together. It was a sight! They were flying. We practiced some recall, trying to give Cookie the idea, then we went over to the beach itself.




Diego does not appear to feel sad or left out. He also doesn't try to run after the littles or keep up at all. The beach is still his favourite place, and he's still super excited to go. He seems to enjoy it on his terms.

It breaks my heart a little bit to see Diego so slow and mellow. It wasn't long ago (was it?) he was running like a maniac at Cherry Beach. But I remind myself that every day with him healthy and walking is a gift. He's enjoying his life, and that's all we can ask.





It was a little scary, and I wondered if we would ever see Cookie again. Both Cookie and Kai ran and ran and ran, mostly circling back to us when we called them. Then at one point Kai circled back and Cookie continued trotting away. Allan went off to follow her, so far down the beach I really couldn't see her any more.

Unfortunately I had all three leashes -- and the treats! Allan took a long walk, but eventually he shepherded Cookie in the right direction.








Here's a random heron for you.




Back at home, we are reaping the payoff of the well-exercised dog: the quiet. How quiet? They actually went into the same crate! That's Kai's empty crate beside them. We have never seen this before.



I also think that Cookie is beginning to calm down. She's a young, very active dog, no doubt. But she must have been extra hyper from the stress of abandonment and rescue. Tala was the same way -- when she was stressed, she flipped to a higher speed. I think something just clicked inside Cookie. She knows she's safe and can relax.

There's still nearly constant playing and running and crazy. But we're beginning to see moments like this, too.