Friday, September 03, 2010

She's dead of course

You know that song about the old lady who swallowed a fly? It starts with the fly, and then she progressively swallows bigger and bigger animals to catch the fly, or the next animal she's swallowed, until she works her way up to a horse, at which point the song ends with "She's dead of course!"
Well, this song was one of my stand bys for entertaining the little angels this summer at various points. We must have sung it a hundred times and the kids absolutely loved it... The real fun, would begin when the kids made up their own versions, deciding what else the old lady swallowed.
Some highlights:
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a mouse
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a car
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a shirt
  • The was an old lady who swallowed a house
  • There was an old lady who swallowed a frog

Of course, when kids make something up to an existing pattern, that's when you realize how much of the pattern they truly understood. Dubai Angela seemed to get that the object had to be big to result in the final "she's dead of course"... What she didn't understand, was the phrase "of course". Apparently, Dubai Angela had been mishearing me all this time and heard "she's dead of horse", in reference to the horse that the old lady swallowed. As in 'the old lady had died of horse-related causes'...

So, in her version the song often ended "there was an old lady who swallowed a car - she's dead of car!", or "she's dead of house!" spoken with a very serious, dramatic voice, to demonstrate the tragedy. Needless to say, I had a hard time keeping a straight face, but am now looking for excuses to incorporate this new phrasing into all my conversations.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

About this summer...

The post I'm writing right now was meant for July. That's the kind of summer it's been. My internationally-residing sisters and their munchkins were here for the summer, and by here I mean Ottawa, and my younger sister and I took every opportunity to get down there and see them. It was glorious - the joys of extended family - because, let's face it, our nuclear family, with all the kids and the husbands and the in-laws, really has become an extended family - were so so so apparent. I don't know how to describe how I felt, the complete and total enjoyment of being together, the first night my sisters and I were all in the same room again and within 5 minutes of all arriving were acting like teenage girls (but only in the "we're so inhibited and we have so much fun" way, NOT in the "we can be super annoying" way). It helped, of course, that the kids were sleeping that first night, that we were able to regress to our silliness unobserved by curious 5 year-old eyes and get it all out of our systems before they had a chance to see us in the morning.
Ah, the kids... they are growing: My Cali Angela is 7. 7! Her little brothers are 6 and 3. Dubai Angela (who will need to be renamed since her family is relocating to Abu Dhabi) will be 5 in a couple of months. Her little brother is 3 and then there's the Baby Angel, who's been on the seen for less than two months... Remember him? The quiet one? His voice is still very soft :)
And of course, there is Montreal Angela - she who will soon be 1... Montreal Angela is no longer the baby of the family. Of course, don't try to tell her that... And this summer, she was old enough to play and be played with. The other kids, particularly Dubai Angel, adore her. And she adores being adored...
Cali Angela and Dubai Angela do everything together. They even draw pictures for each other and send them in the mail. They remind me of my relationship growing up with my cousins in Egypt, how we missed each other all year but for a few weeks each summer, were bound together, given endless days to play and run and talk and get covered in dust and grime... how those precious weeks sustained our entire relationship, how our sense of family grew defined by that time... The kids are still little but they're growing. They ask new questions every day. Harder questions, ones I have to think about before answering.
And this summer is officially over now in our family... The last "crazy/busy" trip to Ottawa was last week... Now we start the countdown to next summer, sustain ourselves with the phone and the internet for a year, and that's ok, because we're good at it, because if you're close enough, distance is hard, but ultimately, irrelevant...

Friday, July 30, 2010

Baby Angel Arrival Bulletin

Extra! Extra! Read all about it here!
Auntie Noha is now an Aunt times 7!
His Tiny-ness arrived last Sunday, 9 days overdue, in Ottawa, and will be continuing to grace us with his presence until his Mama and older siblings (Dubai Angel and Angela, respectively) head back to the UAE in early September...
He is the first baby in our family that I can remember who seems to have a fairly quiet cry - ha! I'm not sure it'll last, but right now, even at his most cranky, his "waaah, waaaah", isn't a "WAAAAAAAAH, WAAAAAAAAAAH!". I say enjoy it while you can, Mama Angel!
His older brother and sister are taking their new arrival very well, and are happy to help Mama and Baba hold baby, dress baby, feed baby (mind you, they don't really do these things, but they are extremely supportive, and they frequently get their parents whatever baby-item they need from across the room or downstairs :))
Dubai Angela also has plans to put on a puppet show for his Tiny-ness. I'm not sure how she'll manage that, as his eyes are frequently closed, but I wish her the best of luck!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Harry Potter!

I know I'm REAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLY late on the bandwagon, but I have to tell this story so that others don't make the mistake I did...

I never got on the Harry Potter bandwagon; figured it was silly; figured I wouldn't really like it. And despite the fact that everyone who read it told me it was brilliant, way more than a kids' fantasy book, so so so amazing, I just thought "meh". So much so that no matter how many times M suggested I read it, I just told him I probably would - someday. As in, 10 years from now...
So when the sixth movie came out on DVD, and M was going to watch it, I said I'd watch with him. "Are you sure?" he asked. "It gives a lot of stuff away. What if you decide to read the books"... But I insisted. By the time I got to the books, I'd have forgotten anything important, surely. So I watched the movie a few months ago, and that was that. And I still had no plans to read the book...
And then this summer I had several book "misses" - picking books up that had received GLOWING reviews and finding them just not that good. Sometimes not even getting through the whole thing. Disappointed. Always looking for the next good one... and there was M, sitting on the couch, partway through the last book, seeming to really enjoy it and I finally decided "why not? I can't find anything good to read anyway"... And I picked up the first one, and basically didn't look up for 3 weeks, until I was done the last one. So good. So unbelievably amazing.
I want to be J K Rowling. Short of that, I want to be her best friend. I want some of her genius to rub off on me. Best sustained series of writing I've ever read. No character is a stock character; no back story is left unexamined. You care about EVERYONE. For 7 books, for thousands of pages of writing. And when it ends you want it to keep going but at the same time it ends so perfectly that you can't imagine what would come next. I cried.
Except I'd watched the sixth movie and something REALLY huge happens at the end of the sixth movie, and all through the series, I couldn't forget about this detail I knew that I shouldn't know, and I was so upset with myself that I already knew this, and that it coloured my whole perspective, and that I read certain things that should have been read one way except I knew, I knew! so it wasn't the same....
So, read Harry Potter if you haven't already for goodness sakes. The movies are NOTHING compared to the book. Not even close... and if you haven't already seen the movies, wait! and if you have, it's ok, read the books anyway. You'll still love them. You can't not love them. Trust me.
and then you'll want to be JK Rowling's best friend too...

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Remind me that I wrote this when I whine in the winter

I don't like any temperature over 25 degrees Celsius... I've started resenting and avoiding the sun. We've had a heat wave on and off since basically the beginning of July and it got me thinking "maybe I wouldn't be able to handle living in California after all".
You know how snowbirds go down to Florida in the winter to avoid the cold? Maybe I'd be the lone Canadian living in California who hiked it up on home to Canada in the summer to avoid the heat! Yes, I could do that...
But really, I'm also wondering how I would have survived had my parents never immigrated to Canada... Me. In Egypt. In the summer....
I have become completely useless. Beyond sitting on the couch, my activities range to shifting on the couch because the spot I'm on is too hot, slinking down to the floor, and sitting on the chair. Also, adjusting the AC or the fan... And dreaming about lemonade. Or ice cream...
Every night, I check the forecast for the next day and cry silently in my head if the high is over 27, or if there's humidity... I can't wait for fall. Yes, I am definitely abnormal.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Pure Joy!

If you know me, you know I'm someone who takes joy in the simple things in life, and that little makes me happier than a good joke or some wordplay... Well, today I was randomly reminded of that genius, Gary Larson, and his incomparable comic strip, The Far Side... I spent some time perusing google images, flipping through some old favourites, and I just had to share my joy with everyone else... (M can attest to the fact that I was really, insanely happy, gleeful even, as I made him look at one comic after another...)
Do yourself a favour and go buy the set (I know I will!) but in the meantime, enjoy this one, on me:

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Generation A

I'm reading this book by Douglas Coupland right now, and it's been a bit of a disappointed. Years ago, either at the end of high school or in early university, I read Microserfs and really really enjoyed it. So I suppose I expected Generation A to live up to the same hype... And maybe it has, and maybe that's the problem.
The book title is a reference to Kurt Vonnegut's statement, made in a commencement address in 1994 to graduating students at Syracuse University:

"Now you young twerps want a new name for your generation? Probably not, you just want jobs, right? Well, the media do us all such tremendous favors when they call you Generation X, right? Two clicks from the very end of the alphabet. I hereby declare you Generation A, as much at the beginning of a series of astonishing triumphs and failures as Adam and Eve were so long ago."

But this book's actually about the generation after Generation X, my generation. We've been labeled everything under the sun - sometimes Generation Y, sometimes Generation D (for "Digital"). And we've been called a lot of things: lazy, self-centred, convinced that we're the smartest and best at everything, and that we deserve raises and promotions just for showing up to work.

So why don't I like the book? Well, while there's a lot of cleverness and wit, and while the author manages, with some irreverence, to capture the ridiculous materialism and media obsession of modern-time, there's almost too much of it, and the characters are pretty vapid and superficial. I have a hard time caring about vapid characters, and I need to like characters to enjoy a book. But maybe the book gets it just right and this is the problem. Maybe by being such an accurate description of Generation A, by portraying my generation as the shallow, materialistic people we are, Coupland's lost my interest. Are we all actually like this? I don't think so, but I think there's an alarming number of us who are (as evidenced by the characters (who are unfortunately real people) on shows like Jersey Shore and The Hills) to scare me about our future... How many of us, relative to past generations, read books? How many of us follow politics, or business, or something other than movies and tv shows? How many of us know what happens in countries other than our own?
I'll finish the book, but only because I'm so close to the end. Maybe it's frustrating me because it shows such a bleak and meaningless future. That's not the future I want.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Angels are Coming!

Yes, it's true. A couple of weeks ago, I got the fantastic news. After several months of bracing myself that my various international little angels would not be visiting this summer, a twist of wind blew fate the other way and both (both!) of my out-of-country sisters will be coming to visit.
What does this mean? Well, first of all, it means that my Dubai Angela and Angel will soon be meeting Baby Angela (our beautiful latest addition who arrived last September) for the first time, and I'm sure they'll be doing their best to "babysit" her from day 1. My younger sister tells me the story of speaking on the phone with Dubai Angela, who announced to her last fall, "Auntie, when we come in the summer, I'll be four and a half, so you can leave baby with me and take a nap or go for a walk!" (oh, to be four and a half again and think that four and a half is old!).
The California Angels will arrive shortly after, in June, and then the party will truly begin. Luckily, they'd met Baby Angela this winter when she and her mommy took a little trip south, and they took turns "babysitting" too. Ah, the fun.
What else does it mean? It means that Ottawa will be loud, filled with that gorgeous, ear-splitting decibel of children everywhere, in the back yard running through the sprinkler, in the kitchen asking for peanut butter and honey sandwiches, under your arm momentarily when you manage to scoop them up for kisses before they run past you to go fight over a toy or finish a game of tag or tea.
There is nothing I love more than watching my parents with their grandchildren, the conversations that take place between a child who still stares at the world with wonder and a parent whose wisdom and lifetime of experience has shown him its reality. Last summer, a couple of days before Dubai Angela went home, she and Grandma had the most beautiful conversation on the carpet in the living room after night prayer. The rest of us listened as Angela asked Grandma why she couldn't go back with them to Dubai, as she painstakingly explained where everyone would sleep, how there was enough room for everyone there around the supper table, convinced that if she solved this one little problem Grandma and Grandpa could get on the plane and come back with them... My mother evaded, pointing out that she hadn't bought a plane ticket, that maybe there would be none left, and finally saying to Little Angela, "but I can't live in Dubai - Ottawa's my home"... It was beautiful and sweet and funny and sad all at once, and you could see three and a half year old Angela growing up with the realization that sometimes you have to be apart from the people you love, sometimes it's not as simple as getting a plane ticket...
I don't think I'll ever forget that conversation. It reminded me of one I had with my Grandfather, long ago, on his veranda in Alexandria, the moment between my mother's father and I, his kind, knowing smile, my young mind struggling to understand. I used to cry each summer we would visit Egypt, when we'd get in the car to leave Alexandria for Cairo, and again, when we'd get in the car to drive through Cairo one last time for the airport. I'd look behind me at the waving hands and cry and cry, and ask why they couldn't all just live in Canada with me. I remember learning Little Angela's lesson and growing older with that knowledge. I remember, when I was little, it not being enough that I would see all those loved ones soon. And now it is enough. And now I'm grateful.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Sports-fan Vengeance

When M and I were engaged, I constantly told him that he was a nicer, more discipline version of me. Being so nice, he of course protested and denied my point, but after 2+ years of marriage, I am convinced that I'm more right than ever.
Exhibit A: we went on a little trip to Boston over Easter - and the city is gorgeous! Beautiful architecture, gorgeous nature, nice people, incredible history. The only thing I couldn't appreciate was their hockey team - the Boston Bruins. Now, the Bruins are major rivals to my boys, the Montreal Canadiens, and we were there in the thick of the play-off race, so when Boston lost one of the games they had that weekend (to Toronto, no less!) I was smugly satisfied. "But why?" M asked, "why do you want them to do badly?"
"Because they're our rivals - I have to hate them. I DO hate them." and I meant it. Not the individual players or people - I have nothing against those, but the team, the Bruins as an entity: I can't want them to do well. What kind of a Habs fan would that make me?
Exhibit B: My beloved Canadiens have pulled off a miraculous upset in round 1 of this year's play-offs, beating the unbeatable Washington Capitals, a team with Ovechkin, Backstrom, Semin, Knuble, and a defenseman named Mike Green who's been nominated for the Norris trophy this year. I'm listing all these guys so you realize who GOOD washington was. And we beat them. And on the night of their elimination, as we were leading the score 2-0 with 5 minutes left, the TV panned across the Washington audience and showed us their desolate faces. M felt sorry for them. I laughed at them. I may have said "Nana nana boo-boo". Mature. I know. But the point is, I felt pure and total glee at their frustration. Again, my bewildered husband asked "Why?" - and I truly can't remember what I answered, but I justified my behaviour. Now, to put it in more articulate words, I think this is the reason: this is the joy in being a fan. You laugh at the other team because if they weren't losing you'd be losing. Victory and defeat in sports are mutually exclusive. Victory only goes to one side. So I'm laughing at them not so much because they're losing, but because the fact that they're losing means I'm winning. In life, this is different. In life, you can make yourself a winner and help other people be winners at the same time. I would never allow myself to laugh at another's misfortune in life. But in sports, I more than allow it, I enjoy it. M still thinks this is unreasonable, and that's all the proof I need that's he's nicer. Waaaaaaaay nicer. I'm lucky my husband is so awesome.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go get my hate on for the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is gonna be more difficult. Crosby was Canada's golden boy 2 months ago, and now he must become an enemy. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Because it's almost graduation time...

I have a confession to make: I've never read Harry Potter. I just didn't do it early enough (tried one time with the first book and lost interest) and now it seems weird to pick it up. I can't commit to 7 books, not when there are so many others I want to read and so little time to begin with. Not now. That said, I'll probably do it some day - maybe in 2 months, maybe in 30 years, who knows? Also, despite having never read it, I really do like JK Rowling, and I was in Boston last weekend for a visit and toured Harvard (or Hahvahd - as the locals say) so when I read JK Rowling's graduation address to the Harvard class of 2008, I wanted to share. It's a beautiful read, full of wisdom and good ideas, and above all, compassion. Enjoy:

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates.
The first thing I would like to say is ‘thank you.’ Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honour, but the weeks of fear and nausea I have endured at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and convince myself that I am at the world’s largest Gryffindor reunion.
Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can’t remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, the law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.
You see? If all you remember in years to come is the ‘gay wizard’ joke, I’ve come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step to self improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that have expired between that day and this.
I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called ‘real life’, I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.
These may seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.
Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.
I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that would never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension. I know that the irony strikes with the force of a cartoon anvil, now.
So they hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents’ car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.
I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all the subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.
I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticise my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticised only by fools.
What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.
At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.
I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.
However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person’s idea of success, so high have you already flown.
Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears that my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.
Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea then how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.
So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had been realised, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.
You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.
Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above the price of rubies.
The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more than any qualification I ever earned.
So given a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone’s total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.
Now you might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I personally will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathise with humans whose experiences we have never shared.
One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working at the African research department at Amnesty International’s headquarters in London.
There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.
Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to speak against their governments. Visitors to our offices included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had left behind.
I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him back to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.
And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just had to give him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country’s regime, his mother had been seized and executed.
Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.
Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard, and read.
And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.
Amnesty mobilises thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.
Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people’s places.
Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathise.
And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.
I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces leads to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the wilfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.
What is more, those who choose not to empathise enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.
That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people’s lives simply by existing.
But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people’s lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world’s only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.
If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped change. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.
I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children’s godparents, the people to whom I’ve been able to turn in times of trouble, people who have been kind enough not to sue me when I took their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.
So today, I wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:
As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.
I wish you all very good lives.
Thank you very much.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Because I like to relive the golden moments...

This video (with basically no video but lots of sound in so many languages) made me smile... It's a perfect example of how sports can be a shared moment.
The Iggy Heard Around the World:

Friday, March 19, 2010

Too awesome to keep to myself

I tend to come across hilarious youtube videos every so often, and when I like them enough I like to share, because spreading the joy should be part of everyone's mission in life....
Apparently, this video was a wedding invitation. I have NO idea how they actually did it, technically. Strings I assume? Maybe... And I wish they'd tell us at youtube in the info section for the video, but it's not there... Still, too clever. And very very creative.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Closing thoughts

I was going to write a long, after-the-fact post about the Olympics, but the fact that I wanted to make it long was putting it off, so I've decided to ramble a little instead, and include what I felt were a few links to other articles/media that gave me the warm and fuzzies inside.
General thoughts are:
  • I love this country. It's huge and generous and physically cold but emotionally warm and inviting. We smile at each other. We generally mean well. We have a lot of wonderful things that some of the bigger, more powerful countries around us do not (hello healthcare!) and I'm perfectly happy with out humble approach to patriotism. I don't see it as essential to have a flag on hand every time we finish well in an event just so we can wave it. It's enough to be wearing our colours, to be smiling, to be us. I also didn't truly care whether we "owned the podium" or not. Long after the rest of these Olympics are forgotten, the two Canadian moments most of us will remember are Alexandre Bilodeau hugging his brother Frederic, and Joannie Rochette, going out there and giving the skate of her life while still grieving her mother's sudden death. Sports are a symbol of what we love and who we aspire to be, not the real thing.
  • The men's hockey final was awesome, but I think for many, the game that really made us feel it was the quarter-finals against Russia. I, for one, came into this game with dread and fear and foreboding in the worst possible way. I always always always feel my team (no matter who) is going to lose, and last Wednesday was no exception. But we won. In fact, not only did we win, we KILLED. We were very, very good. At one point, around the time that the score was 4-1 or 5-1, one of the Canadian commentators said, "we came into this game talking about the Russians' skill, but what about the Canadians' skill..." and you know what? He was right? I think of our guys as hard working, I think of them as tough and honest, and taken individually, each as a star with his NHL team, I would trade the entire Habs roster to have any one of them come play in Montreal, but altogether, as I was comparing teams, did I think of them as skilled? No. And why is that? Is it our humility taken to an unproductive level? I think so, and it begs the question, could we stand to feel a bit more pride not just in our work ethic and tenacity, but in our competence, in our skill? Again, I think so.
  • That said, I like our humility... I like our ability to laugh at ourselves, as we did during the tongue-in-cheek closing ceremonies (apologizing athletes? William Shatner? giant flying moose and beavers? It may just be that I have a corny sense of humour, but I LOVED). So, I suppose it's a balance of confidence and humility together.
  • You know I love hockey, and you know my little sister hates it, but even she was moved when she saw the men's team win gold on Sunday. And hockey does something to most of us as Canadians, seeps into us and becomes part of who we are as people, even if we aren't huge fans or don't know the stats. This fantastic article by Michael Grange really captured the spirit of hockey's effect on our identities, and I had to share.
  • And now, because Stephen Brunt said it so much better than I can, here's a great photo essay about how I, and many others, felt about the games.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Only Gold That Matters

The Winter Olympics are upon us - and Canada has finally broken the hosting-gold medal curse. In fact, we have two gold medals already, but the REAL tournament starts tonight: Men's Hockey.
That's right - we Canadians wouldn't really mind if we didn't win a single other medal, but this one, this one is a matter of pride, it's a matter of national identity. We do hockey. That's what we do.
Tonight: Norway. With all due respect, this should be a cakewalk. Should be, but I'm nervous because I get nervous. I worry about my hockey team. I'm used to cheering for the Habs, and these days, a win for them is never easy, so I've become used to lowering my standards so as not to be crushed.
But we're the favourites, and though I logically know we're likely to defeat Norway, the pool is deep and getting the gold won't be easy. But this is the medal. This is the one every Canadian wants (unless of course you're my younger sister, who has a chip on her shoulder against hockey from years of my abandoning her to watch games on Saturday nights instead).
Mike Boone, my favourite hockey blogger, is going to be live-blogging all Team Canada games. Let's hope I can report back in a couple of weeks with the only gold that matters.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Book

It's things like this that make me realize
how much you aren't with me
how much you're elsewhere even if
our brains are fused in some spiderweb way

things like
sitting in the Borders
my shoulders hunched over a book
about twins and thinking thoughts
from one brain into another
conversations happening
without words
in sequences that are not
not spacial
not dimensional
sequences that are not sequences at all
but souls woven together

and my shoulders shaking
my eyes dry then wet then weeping
tears on my chin
dribbling down to my skirt
other patrons looking

I mark pages
dog-ear ends of corners to read you
to tell you through the wireless
thoughts between us
the part where Bessi leaves Georgia
then Georgia leaves Bessi
we are neither one or the other
but bits of both
twins though older
and younger
though not quite identical on the outside
but not quite whole

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Because this says what I wanted to say, but better

So two posts ago, I was talking about wasting time on facebook, and then today one of facebook friends linked to a great article about modern procrastination. Ironic, then, that I found this article through one of the causes of my time-wasting.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


We are four sides to a square, each holding that precarious balance, their piece of our existence as a whole. We are a range of colours and shapes and emotions, an abstract painting done in some dream of light, a reflection through a foggy mirror, each of us swimming into the next, the distinction so clear and yet so blurry. We can be the same person if we swim far back enough, can reach that point where our hearts are still beating in one spot, are still fed directly from our mother, where our minds do not yet fully exist, where our worlds are warm and fuzzy and hold you so close, so protective, there is nothing to do but be held.
I am a different person with my sisters, different with each of them and yet exactly the same because it is not a secretive change, but a natural one. I am a clown with S, a writer with H, and a sweetheart with A. We fit into each other’s clothes, steal shoes and thoughts and old headscarves, steal ideas. We steal and are stolen from willingly, listen and talk silently, hug and cry when there is nothing else to be done. My sisters stretch before me like sign posts, they stretch after me like a trail of fans, following every step, waiting, breath held, to see what I will do next.
A is the oldest, and so sweet there is something beguiling in her smile. You can’t help but have some of it rub off on you when you’re with her – you start to think more kindly, to talk more earnestly, to ignore the things that drive you crazy. A tricked our parents into thinking all little girls were so angelic, so they went and had more of us, and for that we all owe her.
H is the witness, the one who chronicles our lives, all the joys and the heartbreaks – the graduations and marriages, the births, the reunions and separations. H will make you cry no matter how determined you may be to keep your eyes dry and your face stern. She will find that spot in you by telling, by reminding, by making you soar first and dive later, reach your humanity, your longing. When we are 80 and we want to remember, it is to H’s words that we will turn. When we are 80, she will still find ways to make us cry.
S is the baby and the joker. She is the opening line of a performance that started off as a simple phone call, and the comic relief at the end of any hardship. S has a knack for words and keeps it a secret, tucked away beneath a straight face, sparkling eyes deadpan, waiting for you to crack first. And though she’s the baby she’s been everywhere and done everything. She steamrolls right past you – not showy or obvious, but quietly doing her exceptional thing as though it was nothing, and blushing when you point out the accomplishments, wishing you would stop.
I do not know who I am without them – I am attempts at A’s kindness and gentleness, H’s intensity and lyricism, S’s wit and humility. I am attempts to emulate each of my sisters, falling short and hoping to some day catch up, happy in the meantime that I at least have the teachers to guide me.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Guilty as charged

This article is scary - apparently, since 2008, our use of social networking sites has increased 82%, and people in several countries (the US, Australia, UK, and several other European countries) spend about 5.5 hours a day, 7 days a week, on social networking sites. While Canada isn't listed here (ignored again, sigh...) I bet the numbers aren't all that different for us.
I got on Facebook a little over a year ago - giving in to the fact that it was one of the easier ways to stay in touch with friends I didn't see any more, friends who were still in Ottawa, or traveling elsewhere (like Japan, where one of my dearest friends is living and posting all her photos from her travels to Facebook). Since then, I have to say that I've gotten pretty hooked, more hooked than I'd like to admit - although I think I fall well shy of the 5.5 hours this survey claims people spend daily.
While I might be "logged in" to my account almost all the time, I'm rarely actually sitting at my computer browsing through ... I know this frustrates the heck out of a lot of my friends, who start a chat with me, only to discover that my status is misleading, and that I'm only "online" in theory.
Still, a number like this wakes you up. It's hard to say how much of my FB time is a waste, and how much I really get something out of. I feel a lot more connected with some of my friends than I have in years, and when we do get to chat, I catch up with people I really miss, but I also miss that old fashioned device - the telephone. More talk, less text, I say. Now let's see if I'm all talk.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

So *that's* why this is happening...

I should probably just rename this blog "the Scott Feschuk fan page". The guy is just so hilarious, and his columns in MacLeans magazine are too ridiculously funny not to share with the rest of the world. The newest MacLeans includes his explanation for our fabulous Prime Minister Harper's reasons for proroguing parliament (American friends, ignore this: your country may be mired in all sorts of other messes, but I'm pretty sure if your president ever tried to just "suspend" your houses of government for a few months, there would be a revolution. Unlike here, where we all politely complain about it and go on our merry ways shoveling our driveways and eating beavertails - what's that you say? No snow to shovel this winter? They're going to have to fake the snow in Whistler for the Olympic skiing and snowboarding events? Oh relax, I'm sure that has nothing to do with the ever changing climate and warming temperatures that our government so obviously didn't care about at the Copenhagen climate change summit a few months back! Now now, you're being too paranoid about this whole thing. Relax, enjoy the mild weather).
Oh yes, this was supposed to be a light post. I will leave you to Scott Feschuk's much more entertaining perspective on our country's messed-upedness.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good News Everybody! (She said with a sarcastic laugh)

Guess what! Canadians are fatter and less fit now than we were 20 years ago... I think we all already knew this, but now we have a study to back us up. The Stats Can Survey, which is the first one completed since 1981, shows that almost two-thirds of adults and one-quarter of children in Canada are overweight.
These are scary numbers people. Scary numbers that wouldn't happen in poorer countries because they have so much less to eat. But it makes me wonder. I watched this clip for a documentary called FoodMatters, and one of the guys in it said, "a quarter of what you eat keeps you alive and three-quarters of what you eat keeps your doctor alive". I really do think that as a society, we've lost sight of the reason we eat. We've made food more a social thing or an emotional thing, and so much less something we do to nourish our bodies. So far, I've been making good on my new year's resolutions about food and exercise: I just got back from the gym; I haven't put a single bite of anything made with processed sugar or flour in my mouth since Jan 3rd. My plan is to keep this up for at least a month and then revisit - but the crazy thing is that, even though it seemed like it would be impossible to eat this way before I started, it's really not that hard. Habits just need changing is all, and I think we as country need to make those changes. And soon.
p.s. I've bought Food Inc. Now I just need to find the time to watch it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Snuggie Temptation...

When I sit down to watch tv or a movie, I like a blanket to keep me warm, especially if I'm tired or sleep-deprived. So when the snuggie came out last year, I have to admit that I was very very tempted to get one.
Have you seen the commercials? Insanely corny and ridiculous:

Better yet, have you seen the spoofs:

They should be a total reason not to get the thing, right? But I actually want it even more now... I mean, a blanket with sleeves - how awesome is that? and I love tv or commercials that fall into the "so bad they're good" category. Don't get me wrong, if I buy the thing, I won't be out and about in public with it, or wear it on an airplane like in the commercial (sorry, too embarrassing), but something for the couch or the desk sounds good...
Thus far, I haven't caved, but the moment may come soon. I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Little Angel Bonding Time

I have had the pleasure and joy of seeing Baby Angela two days in a row this week: last night, my sis and brother-in-law were over for dinner, and of course brought the tiny little bundle of adorability with them, which allowed for much cuddling time. Today, I babysat her for a couple of hours after work. Baby Angela is still only 3 and a half months old, so me describing to you in excruciating detail what she does is really not interesting unless you're one of her doting relatives, you kind of have to see it yourself. But let me just say that up close, this little girl is spunky and has a lot personality. When she's lying on her back on the ground, she raises her hands and legs in the air and circles her legs as though she's riding a bicycle. I think she's just inspired a new exercise method!
Also, the mohawk: Baby Angela has a mohawk right now. Not a real one, but an "I'm semi-bald and when my hat comes off the hair in the middle of my head makes a bee-line for the cieling" kind of mohawk. So cute. She rocks the look like the little punk that she is...
In other Little Angel news, a hilarious story from my Dubai Little Angel, who is turning three in a few months. Apparently, his mother took his teddy bear "Bobbo" from him one day in order to wash it a while back. She told him Bobbo was taking a bath and put him in the laundry.
A few days later, my other sister (Baby Angela's mom) reports over-hearing this conversation while on the phone with her:
Mother: "Little Angel, how many times have I told you, take your foot out of the washing machine".
Little Angel: "But I want to take a bath".
Ha! From the mouths of babes, indeed.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

World Juniors Craziness

In honour of tonight's finals between Canada and the US in the international Under 20 Hockey World Championships, here is a hilarious list of the golden rules of broadcasting for the World Juniors from Chris Selley at the National Post. My favourite:

Though this is easily the second-most compelling annual competition in the sport (after the Stanley Cup playoffs), the most important thing at any given moment in any given game is which NHL team drafted each player on the ice and what he might in future do for that team, or where undrafted players may go in forthcoming drafts. The eight Nashville Predators fans watching must be kept informed!
Despite the silliness, I probably will be following on TSN despite their ridiculous commentary. I love this tournament and it's been far too long since I watched - even if watching tonight actually means putting the laptop on the counter and glancing over while I cook. Enjoy the list. It's a Canadian tradition to get obnoxious when it comes to hockey. and enjoy the game. Go Boys!

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Years Resolutions

I write New Years Resolutions the way I dream, throwing in a variety of plans and hopes, from the immediate and practical to the out-there and wishful. So... let me try to write some things I can actually accomplish, just to keep myself from getting discouraged, and then let me write somethings that are less likely to keep it interesting and more motivating, and then - just for the heck of it - I'll add some thing(s) that are more 'Life Resolution' than 'New Years Resolution', just to remind me that I still want to get to them at some point.

  1. Read a Tariq Ramadan book or two. This man is a genius and I just heard him speak at a conference last week. He has such great ideas and is so good at articulating them that I'm constantly buying his books with the intention to read them, but I have a hard time with long non-fiction books (articles -good, books - not so good) and they're quite academic at the start that I can't get past that. But I must this year. Even if I start in the middle of one of the books to get over the dreaded "first chapter curse", I'll do it.
  2. Write more. My good friend Jen over at UticaAvenue and my sister and I have started a little "weekly writing circle" virtually, seeing as we're all in different locations. It's a start, but I need to dedicate more time to writing. I actually would like to start submitting writing to magazines and journals and see what happens. This is my realistic goal...
  3. My unrealistic one? Write a novel/novella... I've tried this before but it's never amounted to anything. I think I can do it, with more time and focus, neither of which I currently have. Still, I would love to walk into a store one day and see my name on something. Ultimate dream.
  4. Exercise more, eat better. This one is on-going and needs constant reminding. Working on it. This entire month is going to be an exercise in conscious, healthier eating. Will keep you posted.
  5. Stay in touch with family/friends who aren't living nearby. I am really really awful at this, as all my friends/family who aren't in Montreal know. Case in point: my friends in Ottawa thought we'd be seeing each other constantly the whole year and a half I was commuting and living there 2 nights a week. I saw a few of them once or twice. That was it.
  6. Join a community garden - another far-away one. there are so few gardens with so few spaces that even if I got on a waiting list now, it would take 3 or 4 years before I was actually allotted a spot, so next best thing....
  7. Start buying organic. This one IS doable, and I hope to be doing it soon. The more reading I do about this, the more convinced I am that our food system is so messed up, and so tied in with disease, not to mention water wastage, fossil fuels, carbon emissions, that it's worth changing my personal approach to it.
  8. Bike to work in the summer. If you live anywhere in Eastern Canada, you know that it's not very easy to bike in the winter. I could do it if I really tried, but it involves a LOT of risk with the way drivers in this city drive, along with the snow and ice and all. But now that I'm living so close to my office, it should be doable when the snow is gone.

and that's what I'd like to do, this month, this year, this life...