May 31, 2010

Angst Through the Years

Yesterday was the fourth (and for me, final) installment of our fledgling writers' group. Our theme this time around was teen angst. Instead of writing something fresh, I took the lazy (and yet courageous) path of reading poetry I wrote at the tender age of 15. I was literally rolling on the floor laughing at my young self. The most overly dramatic of the poems, I had someone else read. I couldn't get through my heavy metaphors and expansive generalizations of things I (still) know nothing about.

We all agreed that although we are all far from being teenagers (I am the youngest of the group, at the ripe old age of a quarter century), the roots of our teen angst still exist. They just manifest in more subtle ways.

Anyway. This week's inspirational selection was from Six Degrees of Separation, a play by John Guare. The line from the Catcher in the Rye based soliloquy that stood out to me was:

"To face ourselves, that's the hardest thing. The imagination, that's God's gift to make the act of self-examination bearable."

And I wrote.

External blame for internal angst
Internal blame for external angst.

The problem with self examination
is that it spirals endlessly.
Like a perpetual motion machine.
First one way
Then the other.
Angst and blame.
Blame and angst.
Muddling the two
Spinning so rapidly
That the blue and the red
Are made invisible
And what remains is dark.

A reverse paralysis,
The inability to stop,
To shut off,
And see clearly
Where lines can be drawn
and boxes outlined
and a checkmark placed neatly
beside the line that reads
"Self-examination complete."

I have to say, as I'm thinking about it, that this little group has been an unexpected and easy blessing in my life. Friendships have formed faster than I expected, and encouragement has come in unlikely ways. Something similar will be a part of my life in Toronto, I hope.

May 30, 2010


This has been a roller-coaster of a weekend. Great joy, and great amounts of tears.

This is kind of exactly how I'm feeling right now.

I am both too busy and too overwhelmed to blog, but I'm sure that in the next few weeks many of my thoughts will make their way to cyberspace.

So stay tuned.

And in the meantime, I will note that I acquired 3 new necklaces this weekend. Two were gifts from friends, and one a gift from myself. I am wearing one and making plans to sport the other two as soon as possible.

May 26, 2010

Much Farther To Go

The genius of iTunes Genius mixes is that it plays songs I have long forgotten about...

Like this one. Beautiful and melancholy. Rosie Thomas & Sufjan Stevens.

It's a great song to play while packing up your life. Just saying.

Breathing is Good for Babies

Tonight I held a baby who stopped breathing.

While I was holding him.

But you know what? That's how he rolls.

At 3 months old, he has graduated from being ventilated 100% of the time to breathing on his own while he's awake. Mostly.

Even though I knew that his little breath-holding escapade wasn't uncommon, that his parents are well-equipped to deal with this, that the beeping of the monitor warned us with plenty of time to spare, AND that there was a nurse in the room, it was still frightening for that split second.

His parents are more good people that I will miss from Vancouver. If you're curious to hear more, they're blogging about their little bundle of fun and how every breath is a gift.

We also ate delicious Indian food and wasted time on websites like the one that gives us this beauty:

image courtesy of

That's right. An entire website devoted to awkward family photos. My life is complete.

Goodbyes & Rocky Spines

Today I said goodbye to one of the first people I met in Vancouver, my massage therapist.

When I first arrived here, I was in the market for someone to help fix my neck/shoulder/back pain (for the record, I am convinced these are connected to my scoliosis*, mild as it is, and despite the doctor telling me I shouldn't have any pain/problems from it). She worked a 5 minute walk from the house. And I have been faithful ever since, even when she moved locations. Twenty minutes on the bus is a small price to pay for someone to fix your aches and pains (regular exercise & stretching also play key roles in my fight against muscle pain).

I've thought a fair bit about the fact that my massage therapist and I have a unique relationship. Specifically, she has a unique relationship with my body. She touches me more than anyone else in my life. She is able to fix and affect my body in ways that I am not able to. She notices changes in my body and can feel when I am stressed.

When my body doesn't do what I want it to or think it should, I often marvel that I am disconnected from the very thing I am most intimately connected with. As able-bodied as I am, I am dependent on another person for optimal functionality .

Think about that: it is my body, but someone else is required to make it function properly.

I am going to miss her. Not just for what she did for me, but for our conversations and the way that you grow to trust someone in that sort of professional and vulnerable relationship. It's almost a friendship.

*for some reason, most likely the title, I associate this song with scoliosis.

I am kicking myself for losing this album. I need to get it back.

May 24, 2010

Sundays are Fundays: Eating Out

I am ramping up for a fast-paced last week in Vancouver. Yesterday, I didn't eat a single meal at home. Let's recount.

- running late to church. Didn't have time, grabbed a juice box in the lobby. Great gathering, sat way up front, which is strange for me.

- I have been looking forward to eating at The Naam with a university friend for 3.5 years (since I first moved here and discovered this hippy/veggie joint). Today was the day. Forgetting the reality of restaurants in Vancouver at noon on a Sunday, we arrived shortly after noon...waited half an hour for a table. Ordered. Got our hot drinks. Texted a friend we were going to meet up with later. Chatted. Waited. Noticed a table who came in after us getting their food...

I said, "If that table (pointing at another table seated after us) gets their food before we do, I'm going to say something to the waiter."

They got their food. I caught the waiter's eye. Before I could say anything, he said, "You guys should have your food. I will check on that right away. I'm sorry." I said, "Thanks."

He came back. "They lost the bill, so I've put it in as a rush. And it'll be on the house. I'm really sorry about that." We are appeased. Our food comes. In great quantities. My friend insists on finishing every morsel on her plate. I give up and leave one potato and a toast crust. We wonder out loud if "on the house" will include our drinks. We decide we don't mind paying for drinks, and when the waiter comes by, ask the drink bill. He tells us the whole deal is on the house and apologizes again.

We leave a tip and then we leave. Happy, full, and late to meet our friends at The Regional Assembly of Text. I love introducing people to Regional Assembly of Text. It is the store I will miss most as I leave the city. I almost buy a shirt with birds on a wire. I don't know why, but I love birds on wires. Especially when made up to look like musical notes. If I were going to get a third tattoo, I would consider getting this. (I do not have any tattoos. And have two ideas that rank ahead of this one, if I were to ever get a tattoo.)

The four of us head downtown. Two hours after brunch, it is time to eat again.

Salt Tasting Room. Visit #1 for all four of us. It is quite empty, which surprises me, even though it is an odd time for eating (4pm). But it is fantastic and deliciously fun to share a meat tasting plate and a cheese tasting plate. I have a glass of white wine that is a great compliment to the smoked pork, spicy fennel deli meat, and another meat with figs. For cheese, there is a cheddar, a camembert, and something else...clearly, I was too busy enjoying to worry about taking note of what it is I'm eating & drinking. Oops.

I like these girls and we laugh a lot. Here is the tasting tray I shared with one friend, and here she is looking very happy with her smoked pork:
Her face says it all. If you haven't been, you should go. Unless you dislike meat, cheese, wine, and dessert.

I was tempted to get the Rhubarb Trio for dessert, but wait! I have one more meal-date to come...

Dessert: It is my last chance to hang out with Sarah and JHau. They are good friends, great people, and former coworkers. We tend to laugh a lot together. I find them easy to talk to, even if JHau's facial expression never changes. I like watching them interact as a married couple.

Tonight, we meet at Breka, a 24-hour bakery (what a brilliant idea! It's a good thing it is far away from me). We eat our desserts and talk, and I am fully distracted by someone who eats twice as much dessert as the three of us ate combined. I enjoy a white hot chocolate. I don't like white chocolate, but I do like white hot chocolate. Hm.

They drop me off, and we say the goodbyes of friends who are okay with change. We know we will see each other again. Someday. Sarah lets me say hello to the Little Beans (aka, the unborn twins). I am the first (and possibly last) person to touch her pregnant belly. Now that is friendship.

I arrive home feeling glad for my friends, full, and ready for bed...

May 21, 2010

The Rest of Cuba: AVOID DAZZLE!!

(When driving in Cuba, it is important that you Avoid dazzle.)

There isn't a whole lot more to say about my vacation. 70% of my waking hours were spent reading or lying with a book not open and listening to the waves. The other 30% contained these moments:

  • Nightly games of Scrabble. Usually on our balcony. We're kind of like a nerdy old couple, but we embrace our inner nerd with much joy.
  • Fighting the current to ride the waves. A great resistance workout, with the added bonus of floating your way back to shore.
  • Bread. Sweet bread. Cuban food isn't great. But dang, do they do their bread well. It was the highlight of every meal for me.
  • Daytrip into Havana with our rented car and new British friends. Adventure and laughter, sweat and sightseeing. No disasters.
  • Movies on HBO and CTV Edmonton news. From 9-11pm, we knew we'd watch something entertaining, if awful. And for some strange reason, Cuba has decided that Edmonton is the best locale from which to sample Canadian television...
  • People-watching. Oh, the things that you see! I might write an entire entry on the tattoos that I saw and how my desire for one has decreased as a result.
I have put a couple more photos up on my flickr stream, although I'm not really thrilled with them. I just took my point & shoot, and I'm increasingly dissatisfied with it. I want a Canon that fits in my pocket, so sleek and sweet...

Also, top 4 industries in Cuba. See if you can arrange them in the appropriate order:
  • Tobacco/Alcohol exports
  • Medical services (ie, foreigners who come to Cuba for medical purposes)
  • Tourism
  • Mining

May 20, 2010

The Myth of the Soul Mate

Yesterday, this conversation began on Facebook.

You can read the article here.

I started to respond, but then it was getting too long for a Facebook post. And I wanted to bring you all into the conversation. So here are my thoughts:

a. Jessica... (I shake my head)

b. I pretty much agree that our generation expects deep and meaningful relationships to happen spontaneously/up front/without the hard work. Despite dating a super cute rock star, I don't think there is such a thing as a "soul mate" - or that there is only ONE "soul mate," the ONLY person to marry.

My current philosophy on dating/marriage (subject to change without notice) is that the four crucial ingredients are:
  1. a growing relationship with Jesus (applicable for Christians - the non-religious equivalent would be a common worldview, I think)
  2. mutual commitment (you have to both want this and be willing to work at it)
  3. chemistry (this includes a base of friendship & that ineffable quality of attraction that can't be forced or feigned, no matter how hard you try)
  4. clear communication (if you're not able to be honest with each other, I think you're doomed)
Beyond these things, the rest are details. Obviously that's a slight generalization. What I mean is perhaps that this is the foundation from which you work out all the other things.

So. Am I crazy? What's your philosophy on dating/marriage/soul mates?

May 19, 2010

Beach Books

(The best way to spend a morning. Or an afternoon. Heck, the whole day!)

Before I left, I told you what books I was taking with me on my holiday. This is what I ended up reading, in chronological order, and with thoughts:

A Suitable Boy - by Vikram Seth
A great and rolling novel that I am proud to have finished months after starting. I may have skimmed some sections, as my interest in Indian politics in 1951 is limited, and some of the story/commentary didn't really affect my appreciation or enjoyment of the bigger picture. But I do want to visit India. And I did care who Lata ended up with. I also cared about the rest of the Mehra & Kapoor families. I will say no more, lest you decide to pick up this behemoth of a book.

At one point, Lata (our protaganist, who is in the process of being married off to A Suitable Boy) quotes a poet named Clough. Her fragment intrigued me enough to look up the full poem, which I have not yet read, but is available here. The section she refers to reads:

There are two different kinds, I believe, of human attraction:
One which simply disturbs, unsettles, and makes you uneasy,
And another that poises, retains, and fixes and holds you.
I have no doubt, for myself, in giving my voice for the latter.
I do not wish to be moved, but growing where I was growing,
There more truly to grow, to live where as yet I had languished.

Mmhmm. Well said, Hugh Arthur.

Selected Poems - by William Carlos Williams
Speaking of poetry. I wasn't sure if I would find that WCW lived up to my hopes. But you know what? He did. Wow. WHAT. A. POET. I have so many favourites from this collection. I need to read the entirety of "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower" - its excerpts were phenomenal. For example:

I cannot say
that I have gone to hell
for your love
but often
found myself there
in your pursuit.
I do not like it
and wanted to be
in heaven. Hear me out.
Do not turn away.


I also loved "The Dance Russe" (hear him read it here!!!!) and "Queen-Anne's-Lace." I had to copy this excerpt from "Overture to a Dance of Locomotives" into my journal:

Covertly the hands of a great clock
go round and round! Were they to
move quickly and at once the whole
secret would be out and the shuffling
of all ants be done forever.

Think about that for a minute. And then another.

95 Poems - by e e cummings
e e cummings is something else. His poems are often difficult to read, because of their layout and strange delineation. This is my favourite example:




Others are not so difficult to read, but still amazingly stunning. Like this one:

when any mortal (even the most odd)

can justify the ways of man to God
i'll think it strange that normal mortals can
not justify the ways of God to man

or this one:

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

Poems (a pocket classic) - by Emily Dickinson
Seriously, you'd think by this point I'd be poem-ed out. But I'm not. I'm just continually delighted. The first poem in this collection begins:

A Day! Help! Help! Another Day!
Your prayers, oh Passer by!

It made me smile - we have all had those days. This one confused but intrigued me:

I started Early -- Took my Dog --
And visited the Sea --
The Mermaids in the Basement
Came out to look at me --

And Frigates -- in the Upper Floor
Extended Hempen Hands --
Presuming Me to be a Mouse --
Aground -- upon the Sands --

But no Man moved Me -- till the Tide
Went past my simple Shoe --
And past my Apron -- and my Belt --
And past my Bodice -- too --

And made as He would eat me up --
As wholly as a Dew
Upon a Dandelion's Sleeve --
And then -- I started -- too --

And He -- He followed -- close behind --
I felt his Silver Heel
Upon my Ankle -- Then my Shoes
Would overflow with Pearl --

Until We met the Solid Town --
No One He seemed to know --
And bowing -- with a Mighty look --
At me -- The Sea withdrew --

And this one rendered me speechless:

He fumbles at your Soul
As Players at the Keys
Before they drop full Music on—
He stuns you by degrees—
Prepares your brittle Nature
For the Ethereal Blow
By fainter Hammers—further heard—
Then nearer—Then so slow
Your Breath has time to straighten—
Your Brain—to bubble Cool—
That scalps your naked Soul—

When Winds take Forests in the Paws—
The Universe—is still—

Fugitive Pieces - by Anne Michaels
Having exhausted my poetry resources for the week, I turned to fiction. Unintentionally, about a poet. And about WWII - a topic that endlessly fascinates me. This is a beautiful and lyrically written story and I recommend it.

The Plague Journal - by Michael O'Brien
This was an unplanned way to kill the afternoon after we'd checked out of our room and before we headed to the airport. Fascinating dystopian novel set in interior BC in the mid-90s. Canada has drifted into a near-totalitarian leftist government. Themes include freedom of speech, parenting & education, the written word, and family. It was pretty good. Lots of political/philosophical content. Made me think about what kind of plans I'll have for child-rearing if I become a parent some day.

May 18, 2010

Summarized: One Sunny Vacation

(it was a rough way to end each day)

Where to start!? I did so little and yet have so much to say. I am back from my technological fast and warm sunny holiday. It is raining today, but I don't mind, because I almost forget what it feels like to be "cold."

I think I'll need to write two posts on all the details.
Post #1 - reading
Post #2 - the rest of the trip

I might add a third entry of thoughts I had while lying in the shade (I managed to avoid intense sunburn until my LAST full day. Sigh. I was so close).

I'll also review the three albums I purchased just before leaving, although not yet - I didn't listen to them much, because I forgot my converter and my friend was sold the wrong plug by CAA (which I am hoping she blogs about soon, after she visits them and gets her money back). Anyway, iPod battery power was limited, so I only got twice through each album. But so far, they're killer summer tunes.

May 8, 2010

I Recommend...

... The Brothers Bloom. But NOT Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights.

Lat night was a double-header for movies in my living room.

My brother treated me to dinner, then we picked a movie to watch...a standard and fun sibling date. He'd already seen The Brothers Bloom and was pretty confident I'd like it. I did. You should watch it too.

It has twists and turns, romance, brotherly love, shooting, and a jazzy soundtrack. Pretty much a great combination of all the important movie parts.

He left, and my roommate suggested we watch Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights since
a) she loves Latin dancing
b) I'm going to Cuba
c) none of us had seen it before.

Bad idea. If you're really disappointed that I said so, just watch these two videos:

Now you know the story.

And this video will give you all the dance scenes you need.

Now go watch The Brothers Bloom instead.

May 6, 2010

Art, Politics, M.I.A. & Twitter

Last week, I watched M.I.A.'s new music video, because I love the Kala album. Its tunes get stuck in my head and I like the mix of cultural insight, fluff, and rhythm.

I was shocked by the video for her new single "Born Free" - a ten minute graphically violent genocide piece. It is supposed to be shocking, I am quite sure. As it has rolled around my head, and then as I discussed it briefly via Twitter with Matt & Nadine, I have been thinking:

  • this video is not really about the music - at points you can hardly even hear the song over the sounds of violence.
  • how much nudity/violence is TOO much? Yes, things like this happen. Yes, it is shocking and disturbing and we should be upset by it. So how far do we go in recreating the evil that exists in the world?
  • at what point does political art cease to be art and become propaganda?
  • what is this video trying to communicate? What is the point of this?
  • if art is going to make such strong statements, shouldn't it be tied to the opportunity for we, the viewers to do something? To act on the response elicited by the art?
I strongly dislike the video, but recognize its merit and power. Like when I read Lord of the Flies and hated it, but knew that I couldn't just chuck it out.

I'm not sure what to do with the video, but like most things, I'm excited for the conversation about it.

If you want to, you can watch the video here. But I warn you, it contains graphic nudity and violence. It is not an MTV video. You can't un-see it once you've watched it. If you want to just comment on any of these broader questions without watching it, feel free to do that too.

May 5, 2010

A List That Could Be Longer

Fact*. The following things have brought joy to my day:

1. Skype date with the lovely Nadine, my soon-to-be-roommate. I'm praying we get the apartment at Bloor W and Dundas...AC, utilities included, steps from the subway...happiness COULD BE OURS.

2. Texts from Miss Aban. I don't know anyone who embodies the word delightful as she does.

3. Packing for vacation. I know, I'm not leaving for days, but I have to figure out my laundry now that I've set aside everything I'm taking, I know what I can wear for the rest of this week.

4. Sunshine. There has been more sun than rain. This always makes me happy.

5. Dinner plans with a new(ish) friend who is also going to alter a dress for me to wear to an upcoming wedding! If all goes well, it will make an appearance at every wedding I attend this summer.

6. Seeing (from afar) how Francy is going out of his way to be a blessing to people in Nashville after the flood...he's driving down tonight and has filled his van with bottled water. It may be a small thing, but small thoughtfulness is a big thing.

*anytime I preface something with the word "Fact," I am alluding to this Office episode.

May 4, 2010

Conversations I'm Still Chuckling Over

Her: You guys are my most non-dorky friends. So here's my question. I need to come up with a 30 minute fun/get to know you activity. I don't want it to be gay or too youth group-esque and I'm wondering if you have any thoughts?

I recommend a drinking game version of truth or dare.

Him: I would suggest everyone farting in jars and then everyone tries to guess:
1) what they ate in the last 24 hours
2) what part of (insert name of foreign country) this fart will smell the most like

conclusion: we're non-dorky AND we're non-helpful.

me: it is really windy here today.
and i am not getting the ONE item on my to-do-list done.

haha just ONE?

no, it's not!

cos...that would be amazing & timely

well, technically two. laundry was on the list. and it's almost finished.

the second one is "fold laundry", isn't it?
you oughta write "fraternize with ethnics" on that list so that I can be a part of your accomplishing things today.

conclusion: I'm allowed to laugh at that, because she said it, not me.

her: Maybe Beth could use it since she's heading to the beach next week.

Use what?

her #2*:
This magazine's butt firming guide.

Or she could use that cream stuff. Butt-firming cream.

Are you saying my butt is saggy?



still laughing I was just thinking about how you can use hemorrhoid cream for other things, like reducing swelling under your eyes...but I don't think it would work very well for butt-firming.

shakes head

her #2:
She's saying your butt looks like a hemorrhoid.

all of us:
much laughter

conclusion: I don't know why hemorrhoids entered this conversation at all.

*her #2 requested that she be footnoted. So Tora, there you are. Welcome to my blog.

Literature List

Originally uploaded by bethaf.
I have so many books*. I've been wondering how expensive it will be to ship them all back to Ontario. But I can't part ways with them. I just CAN'T. Well, maybe one or two. But not enough to make a significant weight change.

Anyway, I have a bunch of books set aside for next week's vacation. They are:
  • A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth (I'm finally halfway through this monster. Gotta finish it by the end of the month as it's not mine!)
  • Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals - Immanuel Kant (this has also been partially read for months & must be returned before I move away)
  • The Writing Life - Annie Dillard (a birthday gift from Laura, I've been saving it for some specific time...I think this time.)

And three anthologies of poetry. One by e. e. cummings, one by WCW (William Carlos Williams) and one by Emily Dickinson. All fantastic poets whose styles are reflected in my own writing, I think. And if I want to write good poetry, I should probably be reading good poetry.

The plan is to do all this reading, interspersed with some writing. We'll see if the shores of Cuba allow for creative inspiration, or if the luxury of a resort chokes my creative juices...

*the books in this photo do not belong to me. But someday I will own rows of classics like this.

May 3, 2010

All Onboard for All-Inclusive

I am not fully convinced of the ethics of all-inclusive resort vacations for a number of reasons. Nonetheless, and in keeping with the old adage, Don't knock it til you've tried it, which applies to most things, excluding illegal activity (drugs) and obviously immoral actions (killing cats, for starters), I have booked an all-inclusive vacation with a delightful friend.

In the wee hours of next Monday morning, we leave for a week of sun, sand, and Scrabble.

Yes, my plan is to lie on the beach with a stack of books, play afternoon-long games of Scrabble by the pool, and snub my nose at the nightly "disco," where I will not dance, drink to excess, or dally with the menfolk.

There is a part of me that feels the need to justify this trip. The time, the money, the extravagance... This is the part of me that fears making mistakes, being unwise or running out of money. The part of me that I'm working to silence. Or at least balance out.

Besides, it's too late. The trip is booked. There's no turning back, so I may as well say goodbye to groundless guilt. And hello to heat!

Next entry: the books I'm bringing.

(also, I apologize for all the alliteration. I can't control myself.)

May 2, 2010

Cure for the Common Pity Party

I have compiled a list of helpful ways to get yourself out of that self-focused rut we all fall into on occasion. Tried and tested by yours truly.

  1. Clean the house. Take out all those negative emotions on the floor, the bathroom, and the stack of dirty dishes. Then look at them sparkle and be glad again. I recommend listening to upbeat music.
  2. Ask someone how their day was - not so they'll return the favour and you can rant about your crappy life, but to genuinely listen to somebody else.
  3. Choose a person and bless them. Give something away, bake cookies, find someone on the street and give them a $5 bill.
  4. Go to the gym. Kind of like cleaning the house, except no shiny floors. Just sweat and some killer tunes dancing around your head.
  5. Watch a WWII movie. Or any genocide-based movie. All of a sudden, your life seems like a bed of roses. No one is killing your entire people group.
  6. Remind yourself of this verse, then do it. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:10)