Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Bush League

More and more, Stephen Harper seems to be doing his best to align us alongside George Bush.

The latest has seen him deciding (yet another of his apparent one-man proclamations) that the press may not provide images of the flag-draped coffins of Canadian soldiers coming home to be laid to rest.

Hard on the heels of the recent decision to no longer lower flags on Parliament Hill to half-mast, this smacks of more let's-be-like-GWB tactics.

To date, since 2002, there have been 15 Canadian soldiers and one diplomat killed in Afghanistan. Many more have been injured, many seriously.

Retracting the flag-lowering policy seems to be more than the usual spite-fostered anti-Liberal sentiment. It seems an indication that we are to expect many more deaths, in yet another conflict we probably have no business in.

While he's at it with these hide-the-war-under-the-carpet tactics, Harper continues to close his speeches with the hard-to-believe 'God Bless Canada' platitude. What I'd like to know is whose God? Whose Canada?

About the only integrity I can see from Harper's party is that at least they dropped the word 'Progressive' from their name.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Stepping 'Off the Page'

These happy faces have just had a big dose of poetry. They're students at the Invergarry Learning Centre in Surrey, BC.

That grey-haired one in the middle is me. And I'm the lucky one who got to provide the dose of poems.

Because I'm a member of the Federation of BC Writers, I'm able to participate in a program called 'Off the Page' -- an initiative that pays writers to bring their work to BC classrooms.

Anyway, look at the faces of those students. Not a frown among them. But really, weren't they just subjected to an hour of poetry?!

I’m convinced that the key to their happy faces is that their teacher, Pat Corder, did such a fantastic job of preparing them for my visit.

Pat got a copy of my book, Rattlesnake Plantain. She read it, then asked me for permission to photocopy a few poems, so the students could read them. I emailed her back, suggesting several titles she might like to use. Beyond that, I left the rest up to her.

When I arrived at the school library, I was happy to see a full-colour notice announcing my reading, encouraging students from other classes to attend the session (some did). Pat (and her colleague, David) greeted me – and even gave me lunch. Lucky for me, I’d arrived during their annual thank-you event for library volunteers.

While we ate, Pat told me some of the prep she’d done with her students. Not only had she reproduced all four of the poems I’d suggested she might choose from, she had gone much further.

The first section of my book is a suite of poems headed by brief descriptions of wildflowers. Pat had downloaded information on a buttercup-like plant, had purchased a potted sample of it, and challenged her students to write poems based on it as a prompt. She let me read a few of the students’ poems (only four – nothing overwhelming, just a nice taste). She also told me that during the previous day’s class, they had talked about my poems, and generated a few questions they wanted to ask me.

Then Pat went on ahead to her portable, to begin her class. After a few minutes, David guided me out through the maze of what looked like an army base to help me find the right portable. (If he hadn’t, I might still be wandering, I am sure.) Pat introduced me, and off we went.

At first the students were fairly shy, but I’ll admit, I probably scared them some – I know I can be pretty loud and fast-talking, and that I tend to jump all over the place when I’m keen on something (like poetry!). Still, they laughed in the right places, were thoughtful when the piece asked for that, and gradually started warming up with a willingness to ask.

We ended up having a good discussion about writing. We talked about how useful it can be to find a friend (or better yet, a group) who wants to write too. I even saw some scribbling as I spoke about guidelines for workshopping: ways to focus on improving the work; ways to ensure you’re critiquing the work, not the writer.

Much of this discussion took place over a post-reading tea. Pat had asked the students to bring some little treat from home. Once again, she’s such a star to think of giving them this ‘ownership’ of thanking me for coming. There were tarts, brownies and cookies (one of the young women explained that her husband had baked the cookies the night before).

But the expressions of thanks went on: I received an interesting book of poetry (which, to my delight, I learned had been gleaned from a library book sale) and copies of some of the poems based on the little yellow wildflower. I was even presented with the potted plant that had served as the prompt for the poems – something to take home for my own garden.

Not only will I be receiving my fee for this reading (thank you, O gods of the grants!), but I will have a growing reminder in my yard of this very special event. I am also taking away a new appreciation for the amazing work that teachers like Pat Corder do.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Call the Olympics Police -- and while you're at it, the security monitors...

Notes from April 9th, YVR:

Walking to my gate for a flight to Toronto, I pass one of YVR's Inuit sculptures on display. Fashioned from bone, it's a wonderful piece of art.

But uh-oh -- smack at its centre, where the bone's been polished and etched, there's an image Vanoc might be interested in. Vancouver 2010's very own Olympic symbol, a stylized Inukshuk. The only thing that's missing is the colour. Brazen, eh. No doubt a serious infringement of copyright. Do you suppose the Inuit sculptor paid the fee to incorporate this trademarked logo?

As I'm jotting these notes, leaning against an upright recycling bin (which really makes a very good stand-up-at desk), I notice an out-of-place object sharing the surface with me. It's a fork, complete with four long, pointy tines. And no, it isn't plastic; it's metal.

What I'd like to know is how did it get here? After all those wand-waving metal detectors and x-ray experts peering into our carry-on bags . . . . And I wonder, if I touch it, will I be implicating myself -- fingerprints, y'know. Will I be considered an accomplice in some act of terrorism, even uncommitted?

I'm not even sure if I dare to report the fork. They might just suggest I was the one who brought it here. About all I can think is, so much for security -- or the show they put on to convince us that it means anything.

Finally, I decide I need to get rid of it. I use the edge of my notebook to flick it down into the bin. It lands in the midst of too many Globe and Mails with a silent thud, no doubt spoiling this lot of paper for the recycler. Paranoid? Of course, but you already knew that.

Besides, there'll be more to come on this. Toronto still beckons.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Passwords, other words, and (ultimately) paranoia

Someone drew my attention to the fact that all of us are accumulating way too many passwords and other items we're supposed to memorize. It used to be bad enough -- trying to keep track of your Social Insurance Number, your Driver's Licence number, your phone number, your bank account number -- heck, those were plenty!

Only now, all those bits of necessary information seem to have grown beyond anyone's expectations. It's sort of like Harriet Beecher Stowe's character, Topsy, who just 'growed.' Most people now have at least three telephone numbers: home, work, and cell.

I'll admit, I've finally started writing things down -- things I'm supposed to be keeping in my head. I've got just too many sign-in IDs, user names, and passwords to be able to carry them all around in my poor brain.

But here's where the paranoia comes in. Somebody steals into my room, finds the secret hiding place where I've got these weird little phrases stashed away. So what have I done to protect myself from the wrong set of eyes? Coded 'em, of course. Drawn a bunch of pictures that are supposed to trigger my brain -- so I (and only I) will know what kind of goofy licence plate mishmash I intended. Sound complicated? Ask me in a year. We'll see how many of those numbers and words I can retrieve. We'll see how many of those accounts I can still access. Ahem.

And speaking of words, I've got 10 new ones circling around in my head. They're this year's words from CV2's 48-Hour Poetry Contest. If you'd like to find out what the words are, and how this crazy contest works, take a peek here. But don't tell too many people. I'm working on a nutzoid piece of writing for it, and face it -- I don't want too much competition.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Starting to sound more and more like it oughta be Sorry

My name is Heidi and I'm a Surreyite. Yep, I live in that place that so long has been the butt of so many feeble jokes.

I used to live in White Rock, less than a klick from where I live now. The joke then used to be a parody of the adage from Love Story, 'Living in White Rock is never having to say you're Surrey.'

Today I had occasion to visit a part of Surrey I hadn't seen for a while. It's an older neighbourhood, one that's been settled for over a generation. I think of it as a place with ravines and tall trees.

But like so much of the rest of Surrey, even that area has lost much of its greenery.

Driving home, I passed many sites where trees were still in the process of being ripped out. Many of these had bark that was torn and hanging, as if some giant Godzilla had gnashed at them.

It's hard to imagine what this city is going to look like in even another two years. What was once perhaps known best as the butt of bad jokes is likely going to become Canada's answer to the worst of New Jersey.

What was once maybe a place for 'hicks' who lived in semi-rural bliss is fast becoming nothing more than a sea of pavement crammed with thousands of identical homes.

Character? Greenspace? Respect for the future?

Like I said, 'Sorry.'