Sunday, December 27, 2009

Nothing good ever comes of it…

The big P.

Putting It Off. Postponing. Procrastination.

I loved this habit, loved it so much I elevated to the status of demi-god in my life. I tithed to the library because I Put Off walking the books back on time. I sacrificed jobs because I Put Off filling out applications. But most important, I lost chances to talk to elderly relatives and show them that I cared, because I Put Off calling or writing a letter.

I had to break that old Pattern, so when I heard about an online course called Defeat Self-Defeating Behaviors, I signed up right away.

Well, you know, not right away.

Psychologist and teacher Margie Lawson offers the course every January (it starts on January 4 in 2010) and since I took it a few years ago, my Productivity has notched higher and ever higher. I waste much less time sifting through Piles of Paperwork, for example, because I simply Process the darn stuff and Put It Away. I’ve also written more than ever, Piling Up essays and novels and blogs and articles of all sorts.

And then, as happens in all the best stories, I Plowed Into a Wall. It wasn’t a big wall. It wasn’t even real. I just didn’t want to write what came next in my novel. I didn’t want to write anything else, either.

Normally I’m so busy being Productive that I can go for months without noticing dirty windows and dusty tables (thanks, Margie) but last Monday, when I Paused, I noticed that my keyboard was grubby. So I wiped fingerprints off the letters and shook out leaves and freed small animals that had been trapped in its labyrinth. There was still some dust down between the keys, though, and since I didn’t feel like schlepping to the office supply store the week before Christmas for a can o’ air, I retrieved my blowdryer from the bathroom, Plugged it in and happily released colonies of dust mites to rampage through my office.

I got even more cheerful when I realized that the screen over the air intake on the dryer was clogged with lint! How great is that! I scurried back to the bathroom to scrape it clear and the old brush I used was Perfect for the task and then, of course, I had to wash that.

The day just got better and better.

Then, since I was in the bathroom anyway, I decided I might as well have a shower, so I did and afterward I turned on that handy-dandy blowdryer to do its regular daytime job. An orange glare reflected in the mirror.

Odd, I thought, and peered into the maw of the small appliance, where a coil glowed like lava creeping toward the sea.

A highpitched hum and the smell of frying metal joined the Panoply of sensory details and I quickly Pulled the Plug.

I try to tell myself that it was coincidence, but deep inside I know that forcing the old hairdryer to deal with such an unaccustomed flood of air through its little engine is what killed it. If I’d left the lint intact, I wouldn’t have had to schlep to the shopping centre to buy a new one right before Christmas.

Which all goes to prove my point: Procrastination does not Pay.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Skirts, sails and spirits

On this shortest (and, to me, last) day of the solar year, I want to revisit some of the cool things I’ve learned lately:

The ti plant was introduced in Hawaii by the Polynesians, who were the first human settlers of the islands 2300 years ago. The starchy rhizomes can be eaten as food or medicine, or fermented and distilled into a liquor called okolehao; the leaves can be used to make clothing – including hula skirts – or roofs or to store food. The leaves have such great spiritual power that in the old days, only high priests and chiefs could wear them around their necks during certain rituals. 

And the DNA of this ti plant on Kauai exactly matches one at a famous sacred site on Moorea.

Paleolithic paintings and sculpture in deep caves, like the famous Lascaux and Chauvet caves in France, were probably intended as connections between the physical, surface, world and the deeper spiritual world.

The main mast on a schooner-rigged ship is aft, the foremast is shorter, and the sails run fore and aft rather than from side to side, although on a topsail schooner the topsail can go athwart.

Multi-tasking is counterproductive.

I love that the world is full of people who know this stuff – and share it with me!

What did you learn this year? 

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gone awry

Carl Linnaeus classified organisms; Jann Arden corrals emotions into lyrics.

Ordering chaos is a very human compulsion and when we succeed (or think we do) we have an equally strong urge to share. We call it communication.

On my way to visit a friend with a broken hip recently, signs and arrows guided me through the labyrinth of hospital hallways until I came upon this notice:

For a fraction of a second I thought it was both informative and welcoming.

The problem with communication, though, is that the message doesn’t exist in solitary, meaningful splendor.

First of all there’s the sender, who composes the message and chooses a medium to transmit it. Does she use words? Are they written, spoken, or sung? On paper or YouTube?

Or does she use a picture? Is it moving or still? A painting or photograph?

All the while, the sender’s history colours how she or he composes that message.

The recipient has at least as much baggage and it affects how he or she perceives the message when it arrives.

While I stood outside Nuclear Medicine, grinning and taking the lens cap off my camera (and I realize that says a lot about me, although I'm not even going to guess what), the first person who came along was a man wearing green hospital scrubs. He spotted the camera and quickly struck a campy pose beside the sign before striding away. Then came a couple more employees who stopped politely until I smiled and waved them past, then they were gone.

The last person to notice me was a woman wearing street clothes and a staff ID tag.

“What are you taking a picture of?” she asked, turning to look.

Before I could answer, she said, “Oh, the wall.” She looked at me like I was maybe a little crazy (okay, I know what the camera told her), then walked away.

All five of us had the same visual cues, but we all got different messages. At least, I was the only one laughing.

While my companions-of-the-corridor saw a camera, a wall or a sign, this is what I noticed:

And much as I appreciate the cheery invitation, I suspect it's not what the senders intended.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

It always comes back to food

As newlyweds in the Depression, my great-aunt Mary and her husband packed supplies along what is now the West Coast Trail to her new brother-in-law’s gold-mining claim, sleeping on fir and cedar boughs, wrapped in quilts.

During the Dirty Thirties, my grandfather used to load his truck with the produce of his fields and rumble around the Fraser River delta, visiting friends and relatives and dropping off sacks of vegetables at each stop.

I grew up listening to dozens of these tales as my elders reminisced over Nabob tea or Canadian Club and ginger ale. None of them were money-rich but they were loaded with stories, generosity and adventurous spirits.

Almost all of those old storytellers are gone now but we still nurture those roots, me and my cousins and their children and grandchildren. Every year (like salmon but without the imminent mortality), my family is drawn back to the delta. For a while our numbers were down, but they’ve crept back up again to seventy or eighty: there’s been a steady decade and a half of marriages and babies; people move away and others move closer; teenagers drift off for a while and reappear with new girlfriends – or without the old ones. And if we’re lucky, we hear about it over tea or rye, lasagne or ham.

Oh who am I kidding? Lasagne and ham.

I honed my all-too-tame tales and made Auntie Mary’s No-Cook Brownies as my contribution to the potluck meal this year. I do love a recipe that begins “Melt chocolate chips in cream…”

4 cups graham crumbs

1 cup half & half or light cream

1 cup chopped walnuts

½ cup icing sugar

2 cups chocolate chips

1 teaspoon vanilla

Melt chocolate chips in cream over low heat, stirring to blend. When melted, stir in vanilla. Reserve 2/3 cup of the mixture.

Mix remainder with crumbs, sugar and walnuts in a big bowl. Pat into an eight- or nine-inch square pan and frost with the reserved 2/3 cup.

Straightforward, travels well, and rich in all the right ways. Just like Auntie Mary.