Tuesday, December 27, 2005


The past two years I was not at home with family to celebrate Christmas. Last year I sat on a basement couch with the hairy beast of a dog I was sitting, watching While You were Sleeping and downing cheap red wine. The year before I was in Africa, toasting the holidays with a multi-national crowd - temporary friends brought together more by circumstance than choice.

This year I went home to Saskatchewan - but instead of traditions seeming more important for having been missed, they seemed less so. Perhaps it was the recent passing of my grandpa; it's as if the trunk of the tree has been felled and its branches are scattering - though I have always been the branch that grew long quickly and stretched away from the others. I go back now, acknowledging our common roots, yet still feeling the distance of space between us. I am hesitant to get tangled in the thicket of the other inter-twining branches.

So I didn't go home expecting or even wanting large festivities. I did not have any illusions that a date on a calendar would magically mend family rifts. And over the years presents under the tree have dwindled in number and size, so I did not fantasize about what Santa would bring me. I simply hoped to have some lazy time to build puzzles, introduce V to some old haunts, sleep-in each morning...

I've learned that the best way to avoid disappointment is by keeping my expectations low.

Yet my low expectations were exceeded in many ways. I was surprised and blessed by the comfort of simple pleasure. By old friends and open doors. By supporting arms and moments of grace. Santa may not have been so generous - but others were surprisingly so.

In other ways my low expectations were justified and, by not wishing for more, I was able to see how little there really is. I know more clearly now what I am fortunate to have, as well as what I do not need to chase after. This is freeing.

So this Christmas I am so very grateful for those who have blessed my life with their love, support, encouragement and friendship. I truly am blessed. Thank you.

Merry Christmas each and everyone.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

election study, part II

Casting myself as an average voter, I naively assumed I would be the target of campaign information, vote solicitation, blitzing... whatever.

I get nada.

Last night, on one of the busiest party nights of the year, was the leaders debate in English. I was already double-booked. So no, I didn't tune in. (Neither did I make the party where my curling team was awarded league championship.) If strategists wanted to find the best night to hold a debate when no one would actually tune in, Dec 16 was probably the choice just behind Christmas day or eve - and those two would have been too obvious.

I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that the politicians running for government don't actually want me to know their platforms or policies. They want me, the average voter, to make my decision based on headlines and 30-second news clips.

Last time I blogged about this I thought I would keep a tally on how each party seeks to win my vote. Obviously I have nothing new to report. At least I now know the name of my NDP Ottawa-Centre candidate: Paul Dewar because my landlords had his sign on the lawn for a day. Then it was down. Paul, what did you do to offend so quickly? I'm a little suspicious of him myself since his web page begins with "Wow!" Golly gee! Do I really get to run for government? Gee, thanks guys. This is so cool.

Well, maybe I should be more pro-active in my approach... If I want to vote intelligently in the next election, I will have to take it on myself to become informed. I follow the NDP links to ask for their policy info - but when I click submit, I get an error message, web page not found. Hmm...

Try the Green Party web site. The home page for Ottawa Centre hasn't been updated since the last federal election. Something happening on Aug 29, 2004 is listed under upcoming events.


The Liberal Party web site. Looking better. This guy must have some funding. Blog-stlye update posted Dec 15. Mahoney sounds keen - and a bit too big on strategy. "When I go canvassing, I'm accompanied by a team of volunteers who help me move from conversation to conversation as efficiently as possible." Feeling the love.

Take a look at the Conservative page. Last update on Aug 2005. Pre-election. And I still have no idea who their candidate is for my riding. Their last news release is from Jan 2004.

Now I really am convinced my candidates don't want me to be informed.

In a comment to my previous election blog, Charles J offered a CBC link where you can take a quiz to find out which party leaders you agree with most. I took the quiz and there were no surprises (Layton won by a long-shot) - but I kept thinking how I really didn't know enough about the issues - gun control, agriculture, economics, reform, etc. - to accurately judge which sentence best reflected my view.

It's going to be a lot harder than I thought to become an informed voter. Is there not something wrong with the system if it's this difficult?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

stalled in indecision

I can pick a paint for my walls in less than 5 minutes, can move to a new city/country without hesitation. I have perfected the shopping technique of a 10 minute dash-in, try-on, purchase, and leave. But there is one decision I just can't seem to make. I go 'round and 'round in circles and yet always end up at the same point of indecision.

A few years ago I made a big, scary decision to quit my job as a communications manager for a national arts organization and dedicate myself to writing. It took awhile to make that choice, but once I had, I didn't expect to have to make again. And again. And again.

Virginia Woolf is remembered for having written that a woman needs a room of her own in which to write. But she also said she needs an income of her own. This is the constant struggle of being a writer. I have a room of my own, but I continually lack the means to sustain myself in this room. I need to work to earn enough to keep body and soul together - and here comes the choice again and again. Do I go back to the kind of office work that would provide me with a decent living, yet deprive me of the time and energy to write. Or do I continue to scrape together a living on jobs that offer me the time to write, but leave me short at the end of the month.

I finished my book almost a year ago. It still is not published. The discouragement of rejection time and again has sapped my energy to begin another. I decided to concentrate on shorter works of fiction. But these have only served to add to my dejection as I get rejections for them as well.

The question that keeps me awake night after night: if I don't have what it takes to be a writer, should I really cling to this starving artist identity? Should I not just go out and get a real job, a job which utilizes and rewards my professional skills?

Sometimes I feel overwhelmed with desire to achieve more, to be more. Other times I feel overwhelmed by discouragement. How can I have such lofty aspirations and yet struggle just to get my feet off the ground?

It is becoming harder to find the discipline to write when deep down I doubt the value and worth of what I write.

There. I've said it. No rant today, just an honest piece of me and my uncertainty.

Monday, December 12, 2005

western victims = media coverage

The photo on the front page of Saturday's Globe and Mail showed a vigil for the two Canadian hostages being held in Iraq, whose fate is still unknown. Many Canadians are especially concerned about Torontonian Jim Loney who has been involved in negotiating peace at Burnt Church and Grassy Narrows. From all accounts he is an upstanding man who shows respect for other cultures and has a gift for soothing conflict.

But even while I share in this world-wide concern for their fate, this strikes me as yet another example of when Western victims receive such disproportionate media attention and global sympathy. From a BBC newscast 'Analysis: Iraq's forgotten hostages' : "
Meanwhile - virtually unreported by the international media - the kidnapping of Iraqis for ransom has become commonplace, particularly in Baghdad."

We see this kind of focus on Western victims almost any time there is an international disaster or crisis. After the Tsunami disaster a great deal of media space was given to Australian, European and North America victims - while the local ones become statistics, nameless faces in the crowd.

What makes the fate of Jim Loney, Harmeet Singh Sooden, Tom Fox and Norman Kember so much more important than the thousands of Iraqi victims - killed, kidnapped, left homeless and unemployed?

There is something about people identifying more strongly with people from their own culture. We relate better to people who speak our own language and use similar cultural references. So when waves wash out whole villages in Thailand, instead of profiling the numerous Thais who lost homes and loved ones, the media stirs us with big stories on stricken foreign tourists. Heroic attempts are made to rescue them - their fate takes priority and no one seems to challenge or question this.

I finally got up the courage to watch Hotel Rwanda the other night. There is a scene early in the movie when French troops are sent to evacuate all the foreigners - while Rwandans were left in the inferno of genocide. A genocide of over 800,000. Almost all the victims were African and the world was almost indifferent.

So when I read yet another story about the four hostages in Iraq, listen to yet another story about them on the radio, I wonder whose story we are not hearing. How many Iraqi's have died this month? How many families are grieving?

I wonder why our global perspective still remains so narrow.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

waiting and being waited for

Just south of Ottawa's trendy Glebe area is a tower of rooms where seniors with physical and mental disabilities spend their days waiting. They wait for their meals - which are always late and usually unappetizing. They wait for their pills, for coffee hour, for bingo on Saturdays... Many of them are just waiting to die.

I have seen indignity personified in an elderly woman sitting on the toilet, her back curved forward, her feet suspended a few inches from the ground, her pants and underwear bunched at her ankles. Sometimes she will be like this for half an hour, waiting for someone to come and help her get down. Waiting in helpless pain.

"Why doesn't God just let me die?" she has asked me the last two times I have visited her. "This isn't living."

She is 91-years old and was diagnosed with Parkinson's ten years ago. Some days she can stand on her own, other days she cannot keep her eyes open or speak on the telephone. She is at the mercy of nurses in an under-funded, under-staffed care centre. "I feel neglected," she has said numerous times. She tells me her frustrations with the poor care, the poor food that does little to tempt a stomach nauseated by medication. I find myself always at a loss for words. "That must be frustrating," I say.

"It is," she replies softly. Sometimes she is so frustrated she breaks down in tears.

One day when I came by, two other women from her floor were visiting with her in her room. I thought this was nice and told her so. Apparently they were talking about how they all just wished they could die.

It's hard to know what to say when she tells me she doesn't want to keep living. Death is too prevalent lately. I tell her that I enjoy her company, that she is like family to me. But I know that does not change her situation. I would not want to live as she lives. No one should have to live like this.

Often I feel helpless when I am with her. Helpless in the face of her pain, her despair. I know that being there I offer some comfort, but some days it feels like I am watering the desert with a bucket. I leave sometimes wanting to rant about under-funded public care and the indifference of our society that abandons its elderly to such towers of neglect. And yet visiting her has also brought me some subtle joys.

There have been many times in the last few years when I had few people around who cared about me. Loneliness is a dark emotion. But I always knew that there was a woman in the Glebe who would be watching the clock on Sundays, waiting for me to come. Every time I visit her I feel appreciated. Every time I see her she thanks me for coming. Every time I enter her room she smiles.

It's both a responsibility and a humbling pleasure to be waited for.

Monday, December 05, 2005

election study, part I

I have never had my opinion solicited in a poll or been surveyed about which way I will cast my vote in the upcoming federal election. So I thought I would do a little study of my own.

Casting myself as an 'average citizen', I am going to keep track of how the different political parties seek to win my vote or inform me of their platforms. If I go out of my way to attend some political function I will not include it in my little study - I will simply keep track of how often, in going about my day-to-day activities, I run in to campaigners.

Well, the Liberals took an early lead. (They didn't see this coming, did they?) Richard Mahoney had a bi-lingual flyer in my mailbox a few short days after his party lost the confidence vote and the election was set. (Ed Broadbent, the NDP MP for my riding had dropped off a brochure about a month ago - but I won't count this since a) it was prior to the election and b)Broadbent won't be running this time.)

Riding the bus to work on Tuesday, I saw a David Chernushenko's (had to go his site to get the spelling of that one!) Green Party sign beside the road. But by the end of the week, Mahoney had red signs on several corners in downtown areas. So I don't know who wins there - I guess signs won't count unless someone directly approaches me about having one on my lawn.

Yesterday, walking down snowy Bank Street in the Glebe, V and I were offered blue candy canes by smiling Conservatives. I didn't take one, but they get a point for the effort.

So Liberals and Conservatives are tied at 1. Green Party is at least on the radar. NDP has yet to make a showing - I don't even know who will be campaigning in my riding.

Any other 'average citizens' out there are welcome to post comments with the run-ins they have with politicos in the coming weeks... Who's making the best effort to win your vote?

Sunday, December 04, 2005


So we went to the symphony on Friday. There were a lot of old people there. I got hungry and all I could think of was Soylent Green. You know what else is green... spinach. I could sure go for a spinach sandwich right now. A spinach sandwich? Crazy.

Friday, December 02, 2005

...and the poor get poorer

The city of Ottawa raised the bus fare yesterday - up 25 cents to $3.00. A group of angry transit-users, called the Under Pressure Collective, claims this gives Ottawa the highest bus fare in Canada. They took to the streets in protest yesterday morning and walked in the bus lane from Vanier to City Hall, snarling up rush hour traffic. I was still in bed when I heard about their protest, but if I'd known about it I would have been out there marching with them.

Raising bus fares is not the answer to traffic congestion and pollution - problems the city claims they are tackling. This hike will discourage people from taking public transport and punishes those who already do.

Often when I ride the bus I am struck by how people around me are those with the least amount of political power : immigrants, seniors, students and working poor. Sure, at rush hour the downtown buses have their share of suits and office workers - but get on just about any bus at 11 in the morning and tell me honestly if the riders look like they can afford another increase in their daily expenses. And this increase follows only 5 months after the last - marking a 10% jump in 2005.

The city claims that it has to raise fares to off-set fuel costs. Understandable. But I think bus fares should be subsidized by public coffers and if the city needs to raise funds, they shouldn't do so on the backs of those who can least afford it.

Why not target those who insist on commuting to work in single-occupancy cars? - which seems like the majority of the city's working population. Incentives should be given to take public transport to work, instead of the other way around.

Currently I take the bus downtown when I work a lunch shift at the restaurant. But parking in the little lot right by the restaurant would cost $6.00. Same as 2 bus fares. As winter sinks in, it's going to be increasingly tempting to drive in to work and avoid the cold wait for buses that always run late.

To make it more, not less attractive to use public transport there could be partnerships made with schools, universities and businesses to get discounts for bus use. In Sherbrooke, Quebec, students can ride local buses for free when they show their student id. A similar initiative in Vancouver saw a 13% ridership increase in UBC students. Or how about raising downtown parking rates? Making more bus lanes? Building more park-n-ride lots in the suburbs?...

But in the end, it comes down to changing people's attitudes and habits. Equiterre, a Quebec environmental group, has some good sustainable transport campaigns - but I can't help wondering if the people they attract are those who already share similar views. How can you make someone care about something they don't? I wish I knew. And I'm sure everyone who campaigns - whatever the issue: AIDS, poverty, cancer, MS, etc. - would love to know the answer too.

But while we ponder that one, I'm going to write a letter to Alex Cullen, the city councillor for my ward. I don't know if my squeak of protest will mean much - but I think if everyone in Ottawa who is concerned about this would write to their councillors, perhaps the city might reconsider who they treat the transit riders they claim to want to attract.

You can find your city councillor on the city web page... or add a comment to this blog if you want another way to voice your concerns.