Leonard Cohen

As a young child, I listened to my mother’s CDs, often sliding one out at random from the stuffed CD cupboard beside the stereo in our living room. It was in one of these searches that I first began to listen to Leonard Cohen. He was not, however, ever one of my favourites and never earned a home on my personal bottom shelf. It was only this year that I began to listen to him regularly.

By the end of guitar class last semester, the first stanza of Hallelujah was drilled into my mind. Leaning against the fold out tables in the cafeteria, I watched Alex (the girl I spent most of my classes with) pick out the notes with agile fingers and let her voice rise to meet the song. “Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord that David played, and it pleased the Lord, but you don’t really care for music, do you?” Day after day, I found this line circulating through my mind and so finally, one afternoon, I found the Leonard Cohen CD in the CD cupboard and inserted it into the computer.

His words pull me through the songs, drawing pictures in metaphors and twists of language. “And she shows you where to look among the garbage and the flowers. There are heroes in the seaweed, there are children in the morning.” These lyrics that ring with the imagery of poetry and the cadence of music bring me to press play again and again. And I can find myself in their words, sort myself out in between their lines as I lie in bed and search for sleep. This is why I chose Leonard Cohen as my poet.

The last stanza from Suzanne:

Now Suzanne takes your hand

And she leads you to the river

She is wearing rags and feathers

From Salvation Army counters

And the sun pours down like honey

On our lady of the harbour

And she shows you where to look

Among the garbage and the flowers

There are heroes in the seaweed

There are children in the morning

They are leaning out for love

And they will lean that way forever

While Suzanne holds the mirror

And you want to travel with her

And you want to travel blind

And you know that you can trust her

For she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.

Education is the key, for all of us

Please add lots of edits/comments. Also, I’m not sure this is enough like an op-ed.

When I was in grade five, my class studied the Haida. I remember slouching in my desk sketching diagrams of tools and reading about fish-drying methods. Yet what was most exciting was the culminating project. Each student was assigned a role and we put together a play of a potlatch. I helped “row” our cardboard canoe down the hallway and sat in a circle around another classmate as he whacked a drum and danced around our fake fire. My costume, a scratchy “cedar” skirt and a shawl painted with Haida designs, is still stuffed in my overflowing dress-up box downstairs. Not once during the unit, however, did my teacher mention that potlatches were banned by the Canadian government for 66 years: from 1885 until 1951. My mother was aghast at the time and now, looking back, so am I.

Schools, especially in the younger grades, generally shy away from controversial topics such as horizons_sNative issues. Certainly, the textbooks of all levels are painfully lacking in information on the true impact of the Canadian government. While my Socials 10 textbook does cover land treaties and the whiskey trade among other topics, it brushes over the most glaringly discriminatory policies with a few sentences. For instance, the fact that in Manitoba Natives were banned from using farm machinery, only hand tools, is not mentioned. Neither does it emphasize the permit system (which forced the Natives to have special permission to sell crops) or the pass system (which prevented them from leaving the reserve unauthorized). This leaves students without the information to understand why the Natives are where they are and form a reasonable opinion on Native issues.

It does not stop them from making judgments however, and this is where the true harm comes in. The Native stereotypes are common knowledge right from elementary school. I know the image of the drunk, lazy Native living off of government funds very well. Many of my peers argue contemptuously, demanding why their families should have to pay taxes to support Natives when those people should just go get a job. While there are legitimate arguments within, I think many of these opinions are not based on sturdy ground. And many schools are not doing their job to educate people so that they can make balanced opinions.

I think more classes need to do what my class had been doing these past few weeks: spend some time to sit down and tear apart the issues of Native rights with real information, not skewed stereotypes and a random assortment of facts. If I were a Native, I would find it hard to live with many of the widespread stereotypes. But I have noticed several of my classmates adjust their views over the course of these past weeks’ unit to a softened stance. From an early age (not just half-way through high school), these topics should be tackles as part of units on Natives. Then maybe more of a culture of understanding and respect will be built. That is something sorely needed to move on and find solutions to tackle the issues of improving conditions for Natives.

A Wondrous House

I visited my mentor Monday. The moment I stepped inside, the evidence that I had entered the house of an artist surrounded me. The paper mache bust of an African woman rose from the front entryway side-table with the sculpture’s hair wrapped in a perfectly shaped cloth. Her face was so realistic as to be watching my every move. A paper mache CD case was molded to the shape of the Taj Mahal and the kitchen walls were painted like a temple ruin. When I went into her washroom, I entered a jungle that faded into unadorned pencil lines at the corner. In her living room, she had constructed large light-shades out of driftwood and translucent white paper mache. A self-portrait, a Singapore market scene, and a rocky beach, among other paintings, hung from her walls.

It put me in awe just to look. Houses with art are something I have always appreciated. My grandmother, also an artist, has similarly clothed her house in paintings and sculptures, although of a very different selection. Whenever I visit, I stare and dream of all I would display on my own walls and surfaces, maybe someday. That would be my ultimate dream house: one filled with art. I thought of this as a looked around, but I soon had to drag myself away and head downstairs to my mentor’s studio.

A wide window let in the daylight and every wall was lined with tall shelves filled with supplies. Sitting around her worktable, my mentor suggested that a person would be a good challenge to pursue next.  So I spent the afternoon there, with the help of my mentor, building the base to my model. We chose it’s size and position, drew a to-scale figure on paper, bent a coil of wire to size, bulked out the form with tissue paper, and taped it in place. The model is going to be a seated woman with a long skirt (both the seated portion and skirt intended to simplify the project). I have yet to decide on an ethnicity and style of garb. Those I hope to choose soon, but do not need to be finalized until later.

From where I am writing this post, I can see my project on a nearby shelf and am very excited for it take shape. I will begin work on the paper mache in the coming two weeks. And soon I will have another piece to add to my future collection.

Room Rotation

My house when we first moved in

My house when we first moved in

Ever since my family moved into our new house – a three-story, moss-streaked white stucco building (now green hardyboard) – we have maintained a yearly bedroom cycle. There is one less bedroom than there are people so we three sisters rotate every year: two have to share and one gets to be alone.

On the first Friday of spring break, the calendar had made a full turn and I spent the day lugging my books, bags, clothes, nick-knacks and all manner of forgotten items downstairs. By dinnertime, finally finished, we were all exhausted. That first night I lay on the bottom of the bunk bed I now shared with my little sister, tracing my fingers against the plywood above me as I waited for sleep to descend. I felt sad to give up my bedroom, but not nearly as much as I had anticipated. And there, in the dark, I was brought back to the first year I lucked out on a bedroom to myself. Except, I didn’t really luck out.

The year that I was eleven, to start the rotation, my mother wrote each of our names on torn strips of lined paper and drew one out of the hat. I impatiently watched her unscrunch the chosen strip, crossing my fingers in fervent hope that it would be my name written in thick black sharpie. “Ariana” she read.  My face fell and I stared at my feet, at the hole in my red sock. But glancing back up, I viewed a mix of emotions travel across my sister’s features. She took a deep breath, turned towards me, and offered me the bedroom. It was a selfless act I will never forget and an offering of sympathy towards everything I was coming to terms with that year.

As I picked out the shadows of our furniture from my bed, I began to remember what happened in that bedroom. Last year, in French class, we read a composition about how the colours and decorations of a bedroom reflect the personality of its inhabitant. I did not re-paint my walls from their original sage green and spent little time organizing and displaying. My bedroom was not about presenting myself: it was about absorbing everything I couldn’t present. In that space which was just mine, I shut the door and let myself be, I dumped my emotions into its private confines, and for once I had total control of something.

Then this past year, my second turn served a different purpose. I think the bedroom to myself was more about retaining the space to chisel out everything that was trapped in that plaster and paint. I’ve done a lot of that in this past while. So last Friday, calling out my little sister’s name to the burrowed form above me and beginning a conversation, I realized that maybe now is a good time to switch bedrooms, to open everything up and share it. The two of us talked late into the night, our voices low as we drifted towards sleep, but it felt good. I’m hoping that this year I’ll get to know both my little sister and myself a bit better. Maybe sharing a bedroom won’t be so bad after all.

P.S. After finishing writing this, I realized that it was in fact quite similar in theme to the blog post I wrote titled Remembering. But actually, it works very well as a sequel to that one and I think reflects the transition I have undergone in this past while.

P.P.S. I am also hoping to loosely tie this one in to challenge 3 of the student blogging challenge as writing about my bedroom is speaking to where I live in some ways.

ともだち (Friends)

Four of us met in Mundy Park’s gravel parking lot at 7:30 this morning to get in our Saturday run before heading to Silvercity’s encore of Carmen. We finished an hour later, our shoes dipped in brown and mud splattering up the backs of our legs and shirts. I’d organized a lift with Clare’s family, so, feeling satisfyingly tired, I piled into her van with my sister. As we headed to her house, her dad drove through the MacDonald drive-through to take advantage of the free coffee and, on the topic of morning beverages, we turned to tea. Then Taiwanese tea, which I had never tasted. He promised to fix that.

As soon as I finished my shower and slid into a seat at her table, her dad plugged in the kettle, removed a wooden tray from the cupboard, and carefully placed a set of tiny matching ceramic cups on it’s slotted surface. He explained each step in detail, naming the number of cups each teapot from his collection could steep, telling us to leave the water a few minutes after it boils to be extra hot, and warming the cups with a first round of hot water that he later dumped out.

As I smiled and sipped the tea, so very different from my traditional tea bag licorice-flavoured variety in a giant square mug, I thought back to the start of talons, to the start of my Asian experiences. I’d never considered using a rice cooker: I wasn’t even sure what one looked like exactly. I don’t think I’d ever eaten sushi before and I’d certainly never seen it rolled on bamboo mats and saran wrap. But it was more than that. I’d never had any solid contact with Asian culture or strong connections to it, never having had any good friends of Asian decent or any Asian heritage to speak of. This left me with but a passive interest in the culture. Now, that has all changed.

In Snow Falling on Cedars, I think this is the major problem that separates the Japanese and Caucasian islanders: friendship. They need solid friendships, not secret broken love affairs and torn childhood relationships, to unite the cultures. Once people begin to know each other, really know each other, they can understand and appreciate both their differences and parallels. And in friendship there is trust, a trust painfully lacking on San Piedro. Maybe with time, as the school children mix and traditions shift, friendships will appear and those hands will clasp together to bridge the divide.

So now I will give you the first Japanese word I learned this year: oyasumi. Goodnight.

Breaking walls (Student Blogging Challenge)

The alarm dragged me from my sleep at 7:00 yesterday morning, as it does every school day. I lay in bed for a few moments, savouring my relaxation and listening to the CBC’s morning news, then forced myself to slip on my clothes and plod into the kitchen. Mechanically, I heated up my milk in the microwave to make chai tea, eat a slice of bread with peanut butter, and put together my lunch in Ziplock bags.

Finishing a little bit early, I logged onto the computer and checked facebook. A chat window popped up a second or two later: “hey.” It was from Iman, a fourteen-year-old girl who lives in Niger. It was 4:30 in the afternoon for her. She had just come home from school.

I met Iman in California two years ago over the summer. Our grandparents are neighbors. I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor playing monopoly with her and her brother. Her long braided hair dangled to the floor and her angular features lit up white teeth against her dark skin when she smiled. We spent a week together. That was it. But we exchanged emails and when she returned to Niger and I to Canada, we continued corresponding every few weeks for almost a year.

We wrote about our lives in short paragraphs and sent each other pictures. She went to a k-12 school with only 80 students, she played the role of Silver in her school’s production of Treasure Island, she rode camels through the desert a few days after New Years, she performed at a piano concert, and she went to Burkina Faso for a soccer tournament. I found it fascinating, just to imagine her life so very different from mine and yet so much the same.

Smiling at my computer screen, I replied to her message: “Heyo, how are you?” We spoke briefly about the Olympics. She couldn’t watch them because she only received French TV and the available channels didn’t have the Olympics. I asked her about the recent military coup. Apparently there was firing in the streets and her school went into lock down for three hours. As it neared 7:45, I said goodbye and we parted ways, parted continents. I laced up my runners and headed out the door.

The rest of the day, I kept coming back to this conversation, kept turning it over again and again in my mind. I found it wondrous and almost absurd that I could sit in front of my computer and so casually talk to someone millions of kilometers away in real time. Technology is truly an amazing thing. So why then, does this not happen more often in school? Why don’t many teachers have their students connect with classes on opposite sides of the globe through gmail or facebook or email or even reading blogs? It would provide a world of possibility for learning about and understanding other cultures and perspectives in a much more effective and istantaneous way than elementary school pen pals.

And here is an opportunity to do just that. So it is mostly for this that I am joining the student blogging challenge: to become a part of the global community, to make connections to students in far off countries, and to break the walls that confine us to our tiny cities and neighbourhoods.

Tossed Upon Cloudy Seas

I grew up with the sea, tasted its salty breezes and threw rocks into its seeweedy depths. A small dirt path concealed to all but those who knew of it led from the bottom of my cul-de-sac to a rocky outcropping where the tide washed in. Here, in the placid waters of my early childhood, I combed the beach for sea glass and pottery chips, swam to barnacled and grassy islets, and let the summer sun crust the salt to my legs.

The Islanders on San Pedro too lived by the sea. But their’s was a wild one. The sea washed through the pages of Snow Falling on Cedars. It soaked the story in storms and mystery and defined the rhythm of the islanders’ lives. San Piedro was an island of “damp souls” with a “rainy, wind-beaten sea village, downtrodden and mildewed.” The sea wind gusted through the town, “making its single traffic light flail from side to side” or causing “the town’s electrical power to flicker and stay out for days.” Yet the beaches glistened with “smooth stones and sea foam” and somehow it managed to retain a “brand of verdant beauty.”

The fishermen too were hard souls, like the sea they inhabited. They were a quiet lot and confined themselves to the strict gill-netter’s code. Solitude was admired: the men fished alone and never talked for the hell of it. The war left a dark mark on their lips. Instead, they spoke with the tides and the currents, searching the waves for the elusive silvers, trawling their nets just so to drag their prizes from the salty depths. Their lives were in a rough way elegant.

To me, the sea symbolized the fishermen’s lives, their war-torn memories dark and foreboding. It was their histories and thoughts. They knew its nooks and crannies as well as their own wind-weathered hands. On the sea, they prayed for good weather and clear skies, hoping to avoid the storms that were the war returning to their haunted eyes. And they worked to pull the silvers from the water like joy and hope.

But the death of Carl Heine brought “the fear of the sea that was always there, simmering beneath the surface of their lives, [to boil] up in their hearts again.” It churned the shell they built to shield themselves from the deep and brought back their painful histories. In Carl Heine’s death, they saw reflected the horrific deaths of every soldier they witnessed shot on the bloody battlefield. This elicited a storm to the island that ravaged the town throughout the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto.

Now, looking out across the shimmering inlet from my balcony, I know I’ve had my own share of choppy waters and only hope that my sea will stay calm and protected like the one I once knew.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,

The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,

The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,

And the highwayman came riding—

Riding—riding—

The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

– Alfred Noyes

Childhood Activities

Paper Mache Indepth Painted 002Thursday morning, as I jogged back down the crunch with a group of friends, we landed on the topic of childhood activities. What I remember most, aside from biking down colourfully chalked roads and traffic lights I drew on the pavement, are crafts. My mother set up craft after craft on our rickety kitchen table – finger painting, pastels, colouring pencils, potato stamps, play dough, salt dough, sculpey. Our basement closet was packed with almost every imaginable art supply. Through my early years of elementary school, she usually had some sort of activity prepared for me when I stepped off the school bus and trudged up the back driveway. The best of these first projects are preserved in a large brown folder downstairs. I suppose it is small wonder art is so much a part of my life.

I wonder sometimes just how much childhood activities have an effect on who we become. If I had been toted to piano classes and swimming lessons, who would I be now? But then again, my music cupboard, stacked with a glockenspiel, an accordion, a Celtic drum, a tin whistle, and recorders doesn’t seem to have made a dent in my musicality. I guess I’ll never really know what made the difference.

For now, I’m just glad that all I’ve had to do to work on my in-depth project these past two weeks was go downstairs and select paint from our three stuffed boxfuls.

Tips:

1. Dip your paintbrush in water before you start painting to stop the paint from piling up under the metal.

2. Add water to your paint (except if it is the liquefied stuff) to provide a smoother, more even application.

3. Mix different colours to provide natural variations in tones.

4. Experiment! Try different painting techniques and colour shades. Who knows, maybe it’ll turn out nicely and you can always repaint it.

Remembering

Snow Falling on Cedars is haunted by death and pasts left festering unspoken. In the uncovering of San Piedro’s (the Island the story takes place on) history, I suppose my own past was unearthed as well. Last night, I was inspired to excavate my elementary school diary. It was stuffed in the bottom of my drawer under inflatable beach balls, Frisbees, purses, and magazine clippings. Though I had promised myself I would go to bed early, the hard red covers and forgotten secrets beckoned me and my hands dug it out of its sleep.

I forced the metal lock open. The front page read my name in carefully drawn pencil lines with the awkward lilt of an eight-year-old. As I read my first entry, December 25 2002, I remembered crouching beside the Christmas tree in my stripy pajamas fingering the package with excitement, guessing at its contents. I wrote that first entry an hour later, once the living room had been transformed into a graveyard of wrapping paper and ribbons.

Now, lying on my bed, the pages turned one after another, filled with brief descriptions of a new snowsuit, fighting over room clean-up, and learning “gramar.” It was only when I reached November 2 2003 that my fingers and my eyes paused.  This was the page I had half-subconsciously been waiting for all along: the day my father died. My lopsided writing overlapped lines. It was blunt. From that date onwards, the tone of my thoughts changed.

It is odd to look back. I don’t actually remember much from that year. I suppose I buried most of it. But through my nine-year-old words, memories resurfaced: the memorial packed into Belcarra town hall, neighbors bringing us baskets of food, the soccer team wearing red ribbons on their jersey, and more that I would never share.

I continued until I reached the last pencil mark. Closing my diary, I felt almost drained and somehow like an intruder. This was my writing and my life, but it was something I had consciously decided not to revisit. For years I have chosen not to remember, or only to remember in a surface, objective way. Yet reading the story my hands wrote, I could not ignore the harsh emotions and memories within.  When I turned off my lights and pulled up my covers, I stared at the black ceiling and took a very long time to fall asleep.

I think Snow Falling on Cedars explores this concept on a grandeur scale, how history can resurface years later and explode in a storm of emotion. How the past not dealt with returns in damaging proportions. In this book, after the death of fisherman Carl Heine, the community’s war wounds are exposed and mistrust is reborn between the Japanese and Islanders. This escalates with the trial of the accused, Japanese man Kabuo Myamoto. Maybe it is time to smash our protective boxes and be open about trying times. Or at least learn to let the pressure out bit by bit. That is what I started to do last night.

Ioco Townsite

Last week, I unlocked my bike from its months long hibernation in its tarped den against the back wall of our house and headed out for an afternoon ride. I peddled fast along the sidewalk, flanked by coming home traffic on one side and houses on the other. The fresh air in my lungs and the joy of physical exertion spurred me forward.

When I reached the old Ioco School, I almost headed home. But I wasn’t yet ready to trade the outdoors in favour of a computer screen and homework. Instead, I continued on past the lawn bowling field (now used primarily as a Frisbee throwing pitch for dogs) and into the old Imperial Oil refinery townsite.

The first building to greet me boasted a rotting wooden sign with “Ioco Groceteria” painted in bold, peeling letters. A blue tarp shielded the cedar-shingled roof. As I continued up the street, I peered at house after house with boarded-up windows and heritage notices warning against vandalism or removal of property.  Large yards now overrun with weeds and shoe-racks abandoned on front stoops spoke to a history long-gone.

Out of the thirty-odd homes, only two remained occupied. At the first, the polka dot curtains, drawn closed against the ghosts outside, let a sheen of yellow light escape through the thin fabric. The car parked in the driveway was old and slightly rusted in spots. The only other neighbors lived several doors down, with a camper van in the grass beside the house and a few potted plants still up-kept.

I thought of what it would be like to live there, the last thread to a previous generation, one foot in the past and one in the present. Which foot was more comfortable? The shadows I watched in the window were probably old folks who could still remember the days when they, or their parents, bought vegetables at the Ioco Groceteria and skipped rope on the streets. Taking one last glance before I turned my handlebars around and peddled home, I wondered what the world will look like in another eighty years, when a teenager biking past stares into my window at the old lady inside.