September 23, 2017

Let Me Tell You Something

Writing, for me, is an astoundingly personal thing. It is not only thoughts put into words, but my thoughts, my words, borrowed from my experiences and filtered through my fractured lens. "How do I know what I think until I see what I say?" or something like that. The fact is, I choose to post my thoughts on this blog for two reasons: 1) Writing for a potential audience is a good practice. I like talking to people and this way I can try to organize my thoughts into something cohesive with a beginning, middle and an end. So often, real conversations get interrupted or sidetracked, which is fine and fun most of the time, but can be unsatisfying for someone who likes to finish her stories. 2) I like feedback, even if most of the time it's only from family members and friends who support me as as person. I am not an introvert as so many writers tend to be, only a people person who needs some regular time and space to herself to sort out her thoughts.

As I sit at my desk this Saturday morning, later than I planned due to half an hour waiting for someone to answer my call at the Royal Bank of Canada VISA headquarters, I begin the plunge, yet again, into sharing my thoughts with 'the world'. Yet, I feel shy about sharing those thoughts sometimes, this morning included. Why should anyone care what I think? Really! The world is in constant turmoil and I tend to write about little, everyday matters which feel so inadequate in this current climate of fear and upheaval, not to mention flooding, fires and pestilence. My posts don't solve anything or help anyone in any concrete way - except perhaps, me. The act of typing words strung together as sentences and forming paragraphs is therapeutic and creative. Each time I blog I have built something, a sort of structure which I can add to the others of my building, and that process is, in itself, satisfying. Clicking the 'publish' button is like locking up my building once the windows are in. I know it isn't perfect and there is still much more work to do in my painfully slow progress as a writer, but my structure has at least reached a stage where I can look at it and say, 'There. I made that. I finished that."

I am a person who needs to contribute, but I am struggling to figure out how my contributions will be shaped in the future. For thirteen years I was on the board of the community arts council of my former town. Six of those years I spent as President. Then, I got a paying job. My job is not anything spectacular. It's a humble, three days per week position as kitchen staff at a cafe-bistro, but I enjoy the creative nature of my work making food for people (anyone who knows me should be aware of my passion for food), the tips are good, and it helps pay the bills. We also moved to the mid-sized city where my daughter's busy theater life happens. I had to let the arts council go and now I've stepped away I see what a huge role it played in my life. I maintained a sense of personal value and purpose in my volunteer role with the council, a role which also happened to be a huge amount of work. Stepping away allowed me the time to pick up my blog again after a two year hiatus, and I find some renewed sense of value and purpose in writing my posts. For now, my blog has to be my contribution to my community. I know in comparison to my other roles in life its impact is tiny. I know I am mostly just talking to myself and a few others, (thank you, family and those few friends), but sometimes the things we do for and from ourselves end up creating a positive, albeit diminutive, ripple.

Growing up when women were the product of the 1970's 'You've come a long way, baby' brand of Feminism, I entered motherhood with the sense I may be an anacronism. I had dropped out of university after deciding against becoming a teacher (yes, there is huge regret there) and had no visible career. I wanted to be at home with my beautiful kids and was lucky my husband was ambitious and career minded enough to earn a good living for the both of us. Yet, I craved more. I loved stories and reading, so I tried to write books as a way to glory and meaning within my family and friend circle of strong, capable, well educated women, but my books were failures. My books were failures mainly because they were deeply flawed in structure and I didn't know how to fix them. I survived those failures and learned the truth about myself. Writing is important to me, but it is not my ticket to another portal "outta here". It is the ticket to my inner life, my heart, my often wavering sense of self in this crazy world, and I will keep doing it even if people stop reading it. Honestly, though? I hope they don't stop reading it.

*The photo is a snowshoe hare changing its colours for a new season.

September 9, 2017

A Library Tale

I was on Facebook the other day when I came across yet another news post about the high cost of living in my province of British Columbia. Ever interested in the topic I began to read some of the comments below the article, something I don't often do because some people say such ignorant things on social media platforms. Reading those comments is one sure way to lower my hope for humanity. Anyway, a woman had posted about her family's struggles to make ends meet even with both she and her husband working. In fact, with the overwhelming costs of daycare, food and rent the family was going into debt. She asked for any suggestions on how to make do with less. I attempted to help her by sharing some of my own experiences from my days as a stay-at-home mom of four. Among other cost-saving measures I mentioned how I used the local library a lot, as a place to borrow videos, books and as an outing that did not cost a dime (unless our books were late, of course). I ended the comment by commiserating about the cost of groceries and wished her the very best of luck.

That night I slept poorly. The forest fire smoke hung over our city trapping in humidity and heat, and my back was bothering me. As I lay awake I thought about my comment on Facebook and hoped my suggestions had been friendly and helpful ones. One thought led to another and I began to think gratefully about all the times spent at libraries with my children. When my boys were very little we lived in a lovely little mountain town called Kimberley. I have always been a walker, and I went out with the boys every single day, no matter the weather. If the weather was decent I pushed them in the double stroller to the park down the road. We would play there to run off any potentially cranky energy (pushing the stroller down the hill had already eliminated mine) and then walk/ride back up the hill to the town center to make our usual rounds. The town of Kimberley is incredibly charming. The businesses border a central European-style plaza where a large cuckoo clock yodels the hours - at least it still did on our last visit there several years ago.  One of our stops, at least once a week, was the library. After choosing carefully and reading several, we could check out a large stack of books, which I would put in the undercarriage of the stroller along with everything else I had gathered on our travels that day - groceries for dinner, thrift store finds, interesting pine cones or rocks the boys found, etc. I believe I counted my lucky stars each time I left the library - I walked out of there with over a hundred dollars worth of books and I could keep them all for weeks, provided no one else had requested them. We were usually done with the books after a week and would take our stack back to the library along with any Mighty Machines or Little Bear videos we had borrowed in order to get an entirely new selection - for free! Oh, I know full well we all pay for libraries through our city taxes and such, but for a young family such as ours, I cannot thank The System enough.

When my husband was transferred to Vancouver Island we again sought out the local library. There we discovered more new books and authors to add to our growing list of favourites. I greatly appreciated the way in which the library staff would place a selection of books and videos on display. I have often found a new book or author for myself in these displays as well. With the kids in tow, I did not often have time to search for items for myself but if a cover called to me from the display racks I would throw it (gently) on the pile and take it home. On our annual trips to my hometown to visit family we would visit a favourite bookstore. Our kids would get to pick one book each as a present. The book would often be a shiny new copy of one they had come to love at the library.

When we moved to the Fraser Valley we lucked out completely. The small town, almost village in size, where we were to make our home for the next thirteen and a half years, was the proud owner of a brand new library. Not only was the library beautiful, open and brightly lit with natural light, it was, despite it being on the small side, part of a wonderful regional library system like our Island libraries. Any item in the vast and seemingly endless system was available to we small-towners at the touch of a keyboard. Our three older children were all school age, and our youngest was eighteen months when we moved to the Valley. Within three months of moving I found myself doing daycare for a couple of teachers from our elementary school. My method of child care involved much walking and playing at the park, but it also involved frequent visits to the library for outings, especially for Friday morning Storytime. Storytime at the library was looked forward to by many parents and caregivers in our town. The fifteen minute walk from our house was a good way to work out the ya-yas in my charges before they were to sit and listen to the head librarian entertain them with puppetry, fun stories, and activities. I personally loved our librarian because she spoke my language, so to speak. We both revelled in nonsense and word play, and mildly politically incorrect humour. She and her dry-witted Scottish workmate would also make delicious coffee for the adults and serve cookies for the kids. Those Friday morning cups of coffee, company and stories forever endeared me to those two amazing women.

I have not visited my new library branch much since moving to the city where we now make our home. I am too occupied by trying to make use of all the trading credit I amassed at a local second-hand bookstore when downsizing this past autumn. When I do make another visit to the library here I know I will smile at all the young families making use of the wonderful services there. I also know I will enjoy the immediate sense of community a library offers to all who enter its doors. A library is a rare place of equality. A wealthy person is treated the same as a low-income person, for they can each borrow the same amount regardless of income. Access to computers and internet, newspapers, magazines, audio-books, CD's and DVD's, reference books, not to mention author readings, seminars and workshops allow an extension to everyone's education. We only have to take advantage of them.

Long live the local library, truly one of the very best institutions in the world. I know full well my life as a young mother, and the lives of my children, would have suffered greatly without it.