EDWISE 

EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT

What is not communal?

Here I help define the communal with what are not features of a communal arrangement. A communal arrangement would be one where there is a large degree of equality among the participants, even children, elders and persons with disabilities. It would be democratic. No one person would have reigning authority. That means collective decision making, which entails group discussion.


Taking those points into consideration, a polygamous enclave would not be communal. Neither would a private school, where there would be authoritative oversight, central decision-making and planning and subordination of students. Neither would a typical religious center, as it would typically centralized authority, planning and decision-making.


However, it is possible for a religious center to be organized communally, if the congregation had the power and discussed and decided everything together. I don't know of any such religious commune. Some spiritual associations and retreats have had the appearance of being communal, but there always seems to be a central power of some sort, often (notoriously) a charismatic personality with a silken tongue who is usually a man. There may be sharing of labour and turns at speaking or leading activities, but there is usually a committee or single person behind the scenes pulling strings and staging it all, unfortunately.


Geography is not a determinant, as rural locality, agrarian or otherwise, does not a commune make.



Hostel Culture

In 1892, a holidaying society in Slovenia planned trips for youths setting up a system of hosts making spare rooms available. Hosteling began in Germany in 1909 when a school teacher was planning a trip for his students. After making use of his school to shelter the youth, that man, Schirrmann, opened the first hostel building in Altena in 1912 and founded the first Hosteling Association in 1919. The International Youth Hostel Federation, with members in many European countries, was established in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, in 1932.


Both those years, 1919 and 1932, would have featured conditions that triggered the desire to create hostels. Many Europeans, especially young men, would have been displaced and impoverished by the end of World War One in 1918. Similarly, the conditions of the Great Depression would have resulted in mass migration as people were displaced by loss of jobs and businesses and searching for new ways and places to eke out a living. 


Conditions of great strife also bring about motivation for people in need to share resources. Hosteling is based on cooperation and sharing space and daily supplies to economise and address shortages of products. No doubt a particular culture arose because the same people were using hostels regularly and the hostels became became known as safe, clean and affordable places to stay. The inevitable socializing would lead to friendships and connect people wishing to travel or take on projects together.


Hosteling grew and became popular by the 1960s, once air travel became more common and the burgeoning middle class of the industrialized countries were raising young persons critical of their own societies, keen on exploring others with the time and means to do so. I guess the communal principles of hostel life expanded and took root at this time.


I recently had to travel to a Canadian city on a low budget, so I booked a bed in a hostel room. Because I have been writing about communalism, I took greater notice of the hostel environment this time. 


Hostels are fully blossomed communal sites. Users share sleeping quarters, bathrooms, kitchens, libraries, work spaces and games rooms entailing a high degree of cooperation. The specific rules are spelled out, though frequent users understand the norms and know what to expect. They know they must be tidy and clean up their tables and dishes. They need to return books and utilize minimal storage space. It's always been a nice experience for me. Everyone is courteous and considerate. They behave responsibly and peacefully. At the same time, users chat with each other and often exchange tips with or offer aid to one another about visiting the locale or traveling, and such. Exchanges of material things such as books and maps and even hats or umbrellas or shirts occur. Hostels usually offer some activities, such as guided tours, games, occasional communal meals, movie nights and the like.


These days all sorts of people check into hostels, young or old, students or professionals, workers or business people. Most want to keep travel expenses low, while some just prefer hostel life to hotel rooms because they love the communalism they find there.

The Cooperative Way

The cooperative movement encourages and assists the formation of worker co-ops. Advocates and their organizations lobby for legislation to require companies to first offer their employees to buy their firms before they invite other interests to do it. Such legislation exists in some states such as the UK and some within the United States of America. Some employers prefer to do this, for they respect their workers and their work and do not want to cause them harm. They may believe that their businesses would be in better hands were the employees to take them over rather than strangers and people who are not so familiar with them. 


Where there are allowances for workers to take over the ownership of enterprises, rules and a lending system are in place. The government provides low interest loans and a framework and training for workers' collectives to be able to run companies themselves. In some cases, workers can make arrangements and find funds on their own. There are organizations within the cooperative movement who can educate and facilitate such takeovers.


The cooperative movement does not challenge or object to trade unions; there need not be a conflict. Some unions support workers' co-ops, for they see them as allies and the co-ops, if unions are friendly, see the unions as allies. Collective agreements can offer ideas for the terms of a cooperative arrangement that guarantees and protects the workers rights and safe and reasonable working conditions. However, a worker-owned business would not need a union. Worker's unions are established as a defense against exploitation by owners as all owners of private enterprises profit from the labour of their workers and they do so by keeping wages down and trimming overhead costs by withholding resources and measures that would make workplaces safer, healthier and more comfortable. Private owners certainly do not want to give over the decision-making to workers--no way! They have management to impose restrictions such as time limits and methods. Workers are always pushing back to improve their earnings and conditions.


A cooperative is far more democratic. Workers within it, whether it is a fast food enterprise or a factory, meet and have an equal say in how the work is done. This arrangement is far different from the typical employment where the owner and his representatives command the workers, dictating everything they do at work, from when and how long to use the toilets and take meals to procedures and reporting. Contemporary workplaces may adopt a friendlier management style that shows signs of more respect and appears to consult employees, but you know that the employees' say doesn't count for much; it is still dangerous for them to say anything as their words can be used against them in the end. While there can be all sorts of personalities and ideas present in a cooperative workplace, the relationship of the employees to it and their work is fundamentally different. People simply cannot be abused much since their is no owner exploiting them and everyone who works there has an equal status. True, there can be variations in salary levels considering varying education or training and experience levels, and a bonus system can be implemented as an incentive or reward. 


The cooperative workplace has potential to develop a communal environment wherein workers get to know each other, socialize and assist each other with the problems and demands of life even outside work. In fact, there is a societal vision and philosophy around the worker-owned-and-run cooperative enterprise. It is a vision of a cooperative and caring society with a profound democracy. It is a new kind of communism, a society empowering the people at the base without a government functioning as a centralized decision-making order overseeing and commanding the society. Government has a role in providing services and resources and setting regulations and laws. However, it is one with proper representation of the people, not business owners that dominate and drive and bribe the government to do their bidding to make life richer and more comfortable for them alone. No, it would be a government with proportional representation, perhaps with regional and national election candidates coming from councils filled with nominated and elected workers from the cooperatives and other mass organizations.


There is also a vision of new kind of international relations based on cooperation and aimed at avoiding and settling conflicts through negotiations that would not allow war to break out. the United Nations Organizations would have to be rebuilt and refitted to serve these aims.


An model of a cooperative world has been drawn up by the "All things Cooperative" division of "Democracy @ Work". Here is a link to a video about it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u-T0XOA5hI0





Life Without Community

Without the communal experiences that common people set up for themselves, life is harder and colder. Without the social and recreational organizations, ceremonial practices, neighbourhoods in action, nonprofit organizations and various associations in which relationships  and support networks, what is there? 


Workers do not have control over their workplaces, so communal experiences cannot be counted on there. Except for recognitions of birthdays, the Christmas party and occasional lunches together, if the they are lucky, employees must perform prescribed tasks on a given schedule and be subject to monitoring. Atmospheres and management styles can vary, but generally employees grab what chance they can to enjoy the coworker relationships but beat it home, happier to escape the confines of oversight and regime in an enterprise directed by others who reap the most rewards. 


School does not always provide relief, either. Private schools are generally business or religious settings run according to a corporate model with its quantifiable assessments and goals. In many countries, public school is an institution regulated and prescribed by government, and are often large. From upper elementary ("middle school" to some) through secondary school, the ambiance cools down and the focus on scores is sobering. After years of neoliberal austerity measures, too, there is nothing much in the budget to provide extra-curricular and cultural experiences. Even if there are student clubs and a student council, the object is career driven, with the ambitious eager to scratch notches on their resumes. Teachers and concerned observers complain how schools, reformed and relaxed somewhat in the 60s, have become like factories. 


At least any school is a place where friendships are made. The local elementary school might be the only locus of communal activity. The degree of communalism depends on the location of the schools. Some school boards that ascribe to a more humanist approach, especially as concerns the youngest of the student populations. Parents are involved. There could be exchanges and special days. Teachers can assess a student's wellbeing, family life and outlook and try to intervene with one sort of support or another. Volunteers from the community could be in the classrooms and hallways. Also, the school can be used for community meetings such as political campaigning and election polling. There may be continuing education classes run in the evenings and on weekends. 


Without much else in the way of community networks and activities, children and parents rely a lot on the school for social nourishment and growth. this could be why it is reported that many youngsters and teens suffered a lot during COVID lockdowns. Most people were cut off from communal experiences and community life. If both parents were absent from the home to earn their livelihoods or very preoccupied earning money from the home, even family life was inadequate. Families with more resources, of course, could manage better. It was the poorest who suffered most.


Without other communal offerings, people hang around shopping malls and parks. They may get to know others who work at or otherwise frequent those places. They may make and meet friends there. However, there is not much in the way program and structure. It's every person for her/himself. 


People who either start associations and get something going or pay membership dues and join some existing thing are much better off. Their lives are richer and more fulfilling. They should support people's associations and organize them to build society in a positive way.

Recreational Clubs

Recreational clubs are communal to one degree or another. I belong to several, as I like casual sports for fitness, culture, interest and social activity. They are all communal in that they are groups that share space to do things together using common resources. 

     For example, my ukulele club meets in a regular club house and plays together following a leading musician. We participants donate a few bucks at each session to support this leader. Members get to the session on his/her own means. We drink and chat together as well. There are no other meetings of this group other than practice/ play times. 

     My hiking club is another example of a common group experience. It is a couple of degrees more communal than the uke club. We have to register, pay a nominal membership fee each year and follow designated hike leaders who plan each hike. There is a publicly accessible website that bears a calendar, information on each scheduled hike,  and reports on past hikes. Our annual fees pay for it and liability insurance, nothing else. There is a car pooling system for transportation to each location of hikes; passengers pay a set amount to the driver to cover fuel each time they are driven to a hike. The trip leader ensures that there are a few photos taken of the location and participants of each hike, which will be posted along with that leader's brief report on the hike. While hiking, we get to know one another. We bring our own lunches, though. There is only one social event each year: the annual barbecue at a favorite lakeside place. Someone lends a barbecue or two and everyone who goes is supposed to bring a little food to share. However, the picnickers bring their own items to barbecue. There is minimal cost to participants and no cost to the club for this event. The province regulates and oversees all organized sports in the province, so this club must follow the provincial regulations and the insurer's stipulations. The city carries information on the club and provides a few gifts to distribute to club members on the day of the annual social.

     The most communal of all the recreational and cultural clubs I belong to is the lawn bowling club. This is a traditional English sport that traditionally serves older people. A whole community thus revolves around the local lawn bowling club. Although the provincial government sets the standards, the city provides a subsidy and the property including the equipment shed and clubhouse. Therefore, city staff clean the washrooms inside the clubhouse and manage the flower beds inside compound regularly. However, members do everything else themselves; it is a member-run organization, with members paying an annual fee to cover insurance, maintenance, outdoor equipment and kitchen and game room supplies. Besides the annual membership fee, we each pay a couple of dollars each time we play a game so that we provide additional funds for snacks, the maintenance of the green and seasonal prizes. Members can drop in any time to present themselves for games on bowling game nights three times a week and one bowling morning session once a week. There are competitions against nearby clubs at least twice a bowling season. The club also runs a croquet evening. There is always social time after games, which volunteers from among the membership organize to set up tables, prepare and serve food and clean up. Volunteers take care of grounds and run the games. In fact, this club is a full-fledged nonprofit society with an executive body. There is one official coach to train members and apply the rules. We follow international rules and techniques established ages ago in England. Though the club keeps some spare equipment, members have to acquire their bowling kits each containing four uniquely marked bowls and paraphernalia. 

      As such a developed tradition, community lawn bowling clubs provide vital opportunities for socializing. Seniors benefit tremendously and enjoy it for the outdoor setting, the company, the mild activity and thrill of the game. Older people can play this despite some physical restrictions and weaknesses as they age. People join as of their late 40s; they typically are people who enjoy sports but who have had some kind of long term injury or ailment, or are just looking for another way to relax outdoors on spare evenings. Many are longtime members who play until they are no longer able at a very advanced age. In fact, club archives with photos are kept and memorial plaques for the most active members are displayed.

      The social schedule of the season offers a lot, from the monthly barbecues to the holiday bowling lunches and the season opening and closing banquets. Participants bring their own lunches to the holiday games and salads and such to share at barbecues, when individuals bring their own items to cook on the grill. The opening and closing events are ticketed meals, but surplus club wealth is used to provide gifts beyond the raffles tickets that are offered at each banquet. 

     The bowling season is only three-and-a-half months long, but the club remains open all year round. There is one card, one darts and one carpet bowling session each week so that members can stay active and engaged with this community. Surplus funds from the summer season provide small snacks. People can buy beverages at each season; a volunteer keeps it stocked up.

    The games organizers keep stats of everyone's performance in all the clubs games, from bowling to darts, so that the persons with the highest scores and most wins can be identified and rewarded a little monetarily from time to time. 

    You can see that the lawn bowling is a full communal experience. It grows a community who do many activities, physical and social, together regularly in a communal space. Lasting friendships form. The membership develops to a more intimate level than other types of recreational clubs. Things are planned to be fair and inclusive.


Humans Helping Humans

I am reflecting on the memorial banquet I just attended. Friends, family and extended family came to share memories and catch up. Now I'm thinking how much such an event is a communal experience. First I consider who and what makes up a family. Then I consider how people rally around someone in need.

In the case of this gathering, close friends and extended family were quite a mix and acquainted in a variety of interesting ways. Of course, there was immediate biological relatives and relatives by marriage. In addition, there were several cases of close friends and family established by volunteer child raising. Here is an example. One man had been in a relationship with a drug addict who continued to help to raise her child well after breaking up with the girlfriend. That child is now a young man who attended the honouring of his quasi-uncle with his wife. Another man brought his biological daughter and grandchildren, as well as a teen-age adopted daughter whom he and his late wife met as foster parents when she was an infant; they looked after that girl for a few years and opted to adopt her after the natural mother, another drug addicted, passed away.             There was a young child at the dinner; she was there under the informal guardianship of her mother's friends, the mother being absent and unable to take care of her. These are all examples of stretching the perimeters of family to

take care of people where there is no obligation by birth or law; people help because they care.

     After the meal and the planned proceedings, informal chat gave rise to a few exchanges about different types of services and individual preferences. One issue is notification of the passing. One person may have a larger or different sort of network than another. How and who to notify? What is the responsibility? I got to thinking that various people well acquainted with the deceased through work or other organized activities and by proximity. If any of them learn of the passing, chances are that someone among them will respond on their own initiative and hold some sort of event to acknowledge it. Take community and leftist social and grassroots political activists, for example. It is normal for fellow activists, perhaps organization leaders or volunteers, to arrange something apart from what the immediate family or close friends do; the activity could be a letter to the family, a public message, a small gathering or a larger service. Work or recreational/ social club mates might react similarly.

     Then I got to thinking that there are a lot of situations of people helping people. Disasters are obvious examples. People will open their doors, provide food and supplies, donate money, etc. On the other hand, there is a lot of talk about how the population will respond to severe economic conditions as stagflation strangles economic life and a deep recession unfolds in the USA and Canada. I hear many expressions of fear. The gun promoters and survivalist convey great fear about their neighbours who they surmise will run rampage thieving and killing to stay alive ,so stocking up on guns, ammo and necessities and preparing to defend themselves or perish is recommended. I, though, believe in human kindness and concern. I think that many able people will organize to take care of each other and try to repair the crisis.

     Think about it. Who runs shelters, kitchens, mobile street services, and outreach and counseling? Who sets up charities and nonprofit or self-help organizations? Average people step forward to work hard finding resources, making public appeals, researching and sharing information, obtaining qualifications, getting funds, and so forth, and they are often volunteers.

COMMUNAL LIVING


Sorry for the lengthy absence. I do not like this blog format and input process, for one thing. For another, I did not have another theme except peace; I cover peace at my Just Peace Committee page on Facebook and my justpeace.blog (Wordpress) as well as in an internal newsletter for the International League of Peoples Struggles (peoplesstruggles.org), which is the Commission 4 publication called "Peace 4 the People". I also write statements for ILPS Commission 4 and Just Peace Committee, internationally and locally, respectively.

     In my activism for peace, we confront imperialism (domination, exploitation and plunder to make astronomical wealth for the few) that is the main source of various forms of violence and oppression. The long term goal is to build an alternative to monopoly capitalist imperialism, which concerned people involved generally call socialism. There are different types of socialism which are mainly state control of land and production and state laws and programs to provide social benefits and protection to the masses. Communist parties have been able to rule and institute vast state socialism through revolution and through electoral campaigns and reforms. We can think of Cuba and Venezuela as examples of one and the other. From the 1930s through the 1970s, US and Europe-based capitalism made compromises to socialize some industry, provide social programs, build infrastructure for working people, and so on. Capitalism's weaknesses, though, could not be avoided: wars, periodic slowdowns, debt and currency crises. The neoliberal approach of the 1980s to 2020 ruined that project by dismantling it and privatizing and deregulating everything. Politically aware intellectuals and working folk are talking about socialism again and decrying "the imperialist system" and all its violence and ills.

     Therefore, I have been thinking about socialism. Capitalism is not working out; it is in total crisis, at least US-based monopoly capitalism is. The crisis is economic (stagflation, approaching recession, debt), social (rising suicide, alienation, displacement, bigotry, disruptive and dysfunctional family life), education (rising illiteracy, lack of supports), health (insufficient public care for all, rising mortality and morbidity, mental health and opioids), unemployment or underemployment, housing (quality and affordability with rising homelessness). I don't have to tell you.

     If more people continue to get politically active and join protests, they can only be effective when they join forces, share info and materials and ideas, collaborate and make demands for change together. All the movements have to come together as one to confront imperialism. It has to have a grassroots, worker and poor people base.

     What alternative and how can we get there? Through collective action and discussion, forms of organization come into being: cooperative enterprises, committees, shelters and workspaces, bartering and sharing arrangements, social and recreational clubs, nonprofit enterprises and charities, popular non-corporate media, art projects, education and skills training programs, worker-owned factories and so on. Oh, you have heard of at least some of these? Yes! They already exist. You probably realise that they are each a product of local struggle. You probably know that they could not be accomplished by a single person, but rather had to be by a collective. When victorious, such endeavours result in people/ worker/ community-run, autonomous collectives that serve the people somehow. The struggle may have required and won state funding and legislation, so that many such collectives are state supported. It is this collective, popular action and organization that interests me, for I see it as the foundation for a whole new society that cares about and operates for and by the people. I envision a governance of representatives from among the communities and collectives that does not own and control projects and enterprises and programs but is designed to facilitate and support them.

     The socialism built in the Soviet Union and elsewhere has largely been systems of state ownership, control and direction of production and community life. I am not knocking what has been achieved. Clearly, the people fought and worked hard for it and benefited from it for a few decades. It is the top-heavy, top-down system that is vulnerable to corruption. Economic critics of capitalism have also reviewed former socialist states and come to accept that, to date, they adopted a capitalist production and distribution model, though wealth and production was not in private hands. State-owned enterprises used the monetary, price and wage system and accumulated wealth, which was to be redistributed into investments in infrastructure, homes, services, culture, and factories aimed at continuous expansion. In other words, they borrowed the capitalist model and changed some of the language. True, there were local committees and trade union and party locals from among whom representatives to the massive regional and state assemblies were regularly and properly elected. However, democracy was at risk and the state vulnerable to corruption as long as the economy and management were centralized. Too much power in too few hands.

     Today, new models of socialism are being discussed. Many prize communal life and governance. I want to think about this approach.

The next steps will be to look at examples of communal life around me. You probably have not held communism high, but that ideal is alive and well around the world as people continue to form and run various types of collectives. You likely belong to one or support one. I will discuss how much each case is "communal".

Communal living is my new thread to be discussed in the next few weeks, if not months. Stay tuned.

Blog

Just Peace-Review of 2018

Posted on January 1, 2019 at 3:24 PM Comments comments (33)
Time to sum up the year, I guess. I did review my short- and long-term goals in the fall, finding myself mostly on track and arriving at the decisions I had wanted to make by then. I have made some adjustments to the goals regarding financial planning.

I am feeling good—refreshed after a break and very positive from assessing my present situation.

Christmas Holiday

First, let me talk about my holiday. I took the plunge, splurged and did a Mayan Riviera resort stay. My first time in Mexico and on an all-inclusive holiday package at a big resort. It was wonderful and worth it, even though I traveled solo. Just shy of a week away, it was a nice break that did the trick however short. I swam every day, lazed around by the beach or snoozed in my room, enjoyed the food and hospitality. I watched the live shows a couple of evenings and worked out at the spa gym a couple of times.

It felt great to be able to have a holiday at Christmas and to experience Christmas in a different way.

Probably the most worthwhile thing I did on this holiday was to take a day-long, guided excursion inland to see Mayan ruins. I had always wanted to visit a Mayan pyramid. There I was under the sun on the day of Winter Solstice at the pyramid of Chichen Ixta witnessing a Mayan procession and soaking in the history, art and spirituality of the place.

En route, we stopped to marvel at some high-quality, local handicrafts. We also paused to view a Spanish church made from stones of the Mayan structures. I witnessed Mayan youths performing indigenous dances, games, songs and prayers. We also took time out to explore and swim in an underground lake (“cenote”). What’s more, I had the chance to chat with some travel companions and listen to their extraordinary stories along the way. In addition, I relished the unanticipated sights of wildlife around the resort—birds of prey, other birds such as magpies and pelicans, small mammals including coatis (“tercones”) and a raccoon, deer, lizards and butterflies.

It was super special to be there at the time of Winter Solstice. I am sure I felt the power and beauty of the occasion. At least, the view from the quiet beach under the clear sky lit by the light of the full moon over the Caribbean Sea was perfection itself. It felt exhilarating to be there. This is the moment when I felt my spirits lift and the tensions and worries built up over the past months dissipate. The exposure to the moonlight and the good waters of the region acted like a balm. I was re-energized. A great way to conclude a year.

Decisions this year.

This past fall, I had pledged to myself to make some decisions regarding financing, livelihood, living arrangements, retirement and more. Here are some reflections on most of these decisions.

-I concluded that it is best to continue renting at least for about three more years because of the housing benefits for seniors that I can now access. That means I have opted not to try to buy a place, for now. Therefore, I am making improvements to my apartment with enhanced décor and proper furniture to replace makeshift set-ups. I am reorganizing things and making use of storage space that has just come available. That is, I am settling in here for a long haul.

-As for my livelihood, I have decided to rely on teaching employment no longer. I am instead making more progress with self-employment: writing projects, private tutoring, official testing. More work seems to be coming to me. For instance, a private institute contacted me today to set up an interview. If we go through with the job, I’ll have two or three shifts (12-16 hours a week) tutoring children. Also, a prospective student contacted me directly, circumventing the tutoring agency, to schedule French lessons four hours a week. To add, I recently had a couple of short projects reviewing English translations. Finally, I am maintaining a role as an official speaking examiner for some hours of testing most weeks. The hourly rate for most of this work is fairly high. I have been getting some unemployment benefits due to my previous months of employment with the academic English programs. Perhaps I’ll have enough income from other sources to do without it in January. I am feeling relieved to have more self-employment. It was my plan to depend more on self-employment after returning from teaching in Korea two years ago, it is apparently panning out.

-Finances. What to do with the retirement savings so far accumulated? My nest egg was release from some investment programs this past fall. I was avoiding using that money for living and luxury/ leisure expenses until I decided about buying a home. Now that I have decided not to buy a home, I have decided to make some of it available for travel every year and for living comforts such as the furniture. I think I may end up arranging something like an annuity so that the savings can go towards what they were intended, which is supporting my retirement life. I am so relieved to have resolved this question, for I was beginning to feel very constrained practicing frugality and continuing to endure makeshift arrangements such as the sleeping mat I’ve used for a year and a half, the shabby lighting here, and the sagging work table that’s been in the dining alcove. My place is more comfortable and pleasant now.

Summing up the year.

My life progressed. It generally moved in a positive direction.

I received blows, of course. The worst was being thrown out summarily in the middle of a new sessional instructor contract. I blame it on the unreasonable fear and negative imagination of people in charge at least of the program I was working in, as well as poor institutional communication and management. That was hard to live through.

There was also the ongoing strain of unfair and erroneous federal tax assessments. The assessments have been demanding a large payment, including interest and penalties. It is difficult fighting this anonymous bureaucracy in the series of blunders and misunderstandings and oversights about my financial situation. Gradually, it is getting sorted out, after a ministerial inquiry, meetings with a bank financial advisor, and numerous letters. The strain is easing.
Despite these problems, I have been able to keep income flowing in. Self-employment activities are increasing, without me making huge efforts to solicit the business. Though recent experience has turned off the desire to rely mostly on employment in teaching, I still have teaching prospects. I am meeting a children’s after-school ESL institute later this week. I am also meeting a new private student this week. Finally, there is a new writing project. If I complete a book that another ghost writer started, and books are sold, I am to receive a percentage of the sales revenue. It is an important book connected to my just peace activism as it is based on research and experiences of an activist seeking reforms to nuclear power plants and nuclear accident evacuation procedures in the US.

Furthermore, I am settling into this rental apartment, having made a decision about planning my retirement and using my retirement funds. This is a relief, as I now feel grounded in a place and position in life. Though I am not yet declaring myself retired and applying for senior’s pension benefits, I am enjoying some other kinds of senior’s benefits, which offer some relief.
Finally, I ended the year with a warming, distracting and relaxing vacation outside the country, getting away from it all, and also fit in some celebrating with co-workers and relatives. There was a fine Christmas party paid by the English testing company in late December, and I hosted a nice dinner party for family yesterday. If I want, I can attend a friend’s house party to welcome in 2019 tonight.

Things are looking and feeling good for me just as 2019 is launched.

Just Peace-unjust employer

Posted on October 11, 2018 at 11:14 PM Comments comments (79)
Employer, a private, profit-making college selling courses to international students, told me to get out and never come back today. No reason given. No warnings prior to this day.

Sounds like an employer one should not work for, right?

Alexander College on Kingsway in Burnaby and W. Hastings in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.

I never felt good and this action on the part of the employer is a good show of its attitude. I was not planning on accepting any further contracts with them.

But to kick you to the curb just before midterms?---never heard of such a thing!

To begin with, very little support and acknowledgment. Some women in admin positions came across as hostile as well as snooty.

There is too much management and supervision of everything. "Feedback" was two impromptu meetings giving very negative comments, and not all very relevant never mind fair or reasonable in third week, leaving me bruised and cold. No positive feedback except they had no issue to make of my teaching. In fact one neophyte super said, super impertinently, you are a fabulous teacher and all the students really like you.

The gossip mill ran overtime. The feedback made shocking direct claims about my character and offensive innuendo--nothing about my work performance but attacks on my character. "We want a team player." What was my team? Apparently, I was to give all to a team to which I clearly did not belong.

I felt it. If they wonder why I wasn't smiling with them much and why I bristled a couple of times, they should know. I did not feel welcome or supported.

They ditched me in time to avoid paying me severance. This must be why they were doing feedback so early after I started. Once over the 3-month mark, harder to let someone go and more expensive.

Just Peace - tax letter

Posted on September 23, 2018 at 5:22 PM Comments comments (32)
Appalling assessment by Canadian tax authority trying to take a chunk of my retirement savings. I was not aware they could do this; in fact, a bank's personnel told me I could save money in Canada this way without taxation while I was an officially categorized resident abroad. I am a Canadian citizen and I went abroad to work specifically to save for retirement.

Copy of a letter of appeal for tax relief


I am again writing to seek tax relief from amounts owing on a series of TFSA Notice of Assessments received since August, 2018, but covering TFSA accounts contributions from mid-July 2011 to 2016. I was a self-declared non-resident of Canada for taxation purposes as I was living and working abroad during that time. I had no other income besides my foreign employment income from teaching English abroad. As I returned to live and work in Canada in January, 2017, I have declared myself as a resident of Canada for taxation purposes.

 

I have challenged the above-mentioned charges and all the penalties and interest added, which amounts to around $19,000, through a Ministerial Inquiry. That Inquiry found that the law allows the assessed amounts, however cruel the law may be.

 

The TFSA assessment authorities are demanding I pay more than I contributed to my TFSA savings account—a substantial chunk of my life savings. The main purpose of going abroad to work was to be able to save funds for the future, namely my retirement years, and now, despite all the self-discipline, work and hardship to save those funds, the Government of Canada wants to take it away.

 

Let me highlight the unfairness of the tax rate applied to the TFSA contributions: up to 12% of the total amounts held in such an account per year (1% a month). Nobody else but mobsters or kidnappers would demand so much from a victim.

 

I had no idea I could or would be taxed. I clearly told the bank financial officers that I was a non-resident when I started the Royal Bank TFSA, but they told me then and again later that I would not be taxed. I shall write to RBC to complain.

 

While abroad, my foreign employment earnings did not reach much more than 30,000CD per year. After my return to Canada in 2017, I have been working part-time. My taxable income for 2017 was …(low). On August 2, 2018, I was dismissed from the part-time job I had from November 2017 till then. I resumed steady but part-time employment (26 hours a week) only three weeks ago, on September 4. I have had to struggle to find a little additional income through self-employment to cover all living expenses. I hope I can resume saving money, as I am fast approaching the age of 62 and I must prepare for my years as an elder.

 
I am a single, self-supporting woman with no dependents. My rent was increased from $875 to $910 last July. I pay $163 a month for TV and internet,, $200 to $300 for groceries and household supplies. 

…(My rent is high enough and my monthly income low enough that I am applying for a government housing subsidy.)


As you could imagine from my profile, I have had to depend on the use of credit cards. I currently owe around $2,000 to credit card companies. I have not been able to avoid charging some expenses to these cards each month, so there is always somewhere from $500 to $1500 owing on each card for the value of purchases plus high interest.

 

Due to income constraints, I am lacking some common household and personal supplies. I will need to acquire more in the near future.

 

In the light of all these factors, I request full relief. Certainly, the late penalties and interest are unfounded.

 

Had CRA notified me of its earliest TFSA assessment right after the processing of the 2011 tax return, I would have an opportunity to pull funds out of the TFSA accounts and stop contributing to them. As things went, however, I had no knowledge that the contributions would be taxed. Who would imagine that a “tax-free” account is not tax-free, especially when bank officers suppose it is tax-free and the CRA does not make citizens aware that non-residents are taxed on TFSA contributions? It is not fair or appropriate that I should pay such large amounts in tax, penalties and interest.

 
END


Just Peace - letter to friends

Posted on September 16, 2018 at 11:50 PM Comments comments (14)
Tonight I am posting a copy of a letter I just wrote to overseas friends and colleagues. I taught English in Korea for 10 years, returning to Canada early last year.

Hello, you all!

This is Barbara from BUFS in Busan, Korea who returned to Canada after December, 2016. This is a long letter for any of you interested in catching up or curious.

I have been thinking about my time and friends in Korea a lot lately, so I am writing. I just went through all my Gmail addresses and used the ones I could remember. I guess some addresses are outdated and I don't know where all of you have gotten to, though I have chatted with a few of you in recent months.

I now live comfortably near the university where I graduated just outside Vancouver. I'm still working in English education. 

It was not a shock to return here, but it took some adjustment. It went well socially as I reconnected to family and friends. 

Employment was more difficult. At first, there was very little response to my job applications. I was doing some tutoring and substitute teaching, including work tutoring kids at a Reading Town in 2017. Then I had a regular teaching schedule at a new start-up program. There were so few students and such a limited program that it was super boring. Finally, it failed. I was happy to be dismissed. 

I thought I was going to need to rely on self-employment, so I searched for private students and started some ghost-writing projects, etc. Just today,  I finished some training for certification in conducting IELTS Speaking exams. The writing is a bit low-paid but interesting and kind of fun because we write on a wide range of topics--I added chapters to a booklet on starting a trucking business and I wrote a booklet on accelerated learning, for example. I'll take the IELTS Speaking Examiner certification test in a few days. That can give me a few hours of examinations a month, mainly on Saturdays.

In August, however, employers started paying me more attention and replying to my applications. I just got hired at a well established international college. Actually, I had offers at two of them and accepted the best one. I do not teach language, though; I teach study skills (English for Academic Purposes) as a university preparation program, but it is still part-time. My title is Sessional Instructor on a contract salary. I have 15 hours of classes, 3 hours 5 days a week. In addition, I am a tutor in the college's Writing and Learning Centre for 11 hours a week. 

Having been hired at the last moment, getting started and learning the ropes has been challenging. What's more, this institution is ridiculously bureaucratic and deeply committed to operating without teaching admin staff by means of every electronic management and communications system it can. I have passcodes for several online systems, locks and copiers, which are all hard to keep track of. We use two class management systems for grading and online communications with students, and the MS Office 365 program for internal communications and shared files. I feel scattered.

 I am a nomad because there is no instructors' office or department office. My base is a small student locker, except I am allowed a few hours at a shared tutoring desk. There is no lunch room, so I can be found munching on a sandwich in a corner like a rodent here and there before my mid-day class starts. Teachers get to share a few cramped desks in the photocopy rooms, where there is a tiny fridge and where the copiers are so overused that they are always breaking down. Also, I work at both of the College's campuses. I commute from one to the other each day, compelling me to commute 3 times a day every day for work.

One of the campuses is situated where I spend a lot of my childhood, stirring up lots of memories.

This college is growing; established in 2006, it now has 2500 students at both locations. Tomorrow I'll start teaching in a newly built classroom in a space that used to be a gay men's nightclub.  Most students are Chinese and Indian from the Punjab. The number of students from India is surging at present. We have a few Korean students. They come for the academic orientation and for key subject courses so they can transfer to universities, subjects including economics, sociology, English literature, math, etc. The first choice in Canada is Toronto where the numbers of international students are highest.

Korean restaurants are all around the Vancouver area; I can pop into a modern cafe and feel like I never left Korea! There are plenty of Korean students and business people around. I'm quickly losing the little Korean I had learned, though.

I am connected to the ex-expat English teacher community. My colleagues in my academic English section have all spent long years abroad teaching. So have all the classmates I met in the IELTS training course.  I feel quite at home among them. That's why I have been reminiscing about life in Korea. 

A lot of people here are concerned about peace in Korea. I have joined a group that takes a petition around the metro area to talk to people about supporting the peace process in Korea.

Vancouver is one of the most expensive areas to live in all North America. Housing, gasoline, food and many services are over-priced. There are some improvements all the same. Transit is improving and it is cheaper now than 12 years ago because the fare system changed. Electricity is still relatively cheap. Prices of organic and some imported food are decreasing. Some commercial services are lower in price now, such as gym memberships. Internet and mobile phone services are in the high price range, though there are deals and some competitive options. There has been some relief regarding government services, in that medical plan premiums are lower and unemployment insurance and pension benefits are calculated differently and to the advantage of recipients. As well, there is so much public pressure on housing that more rentals and social housing are being built.

Apart from the high cost of living, I am very happy to be enjoying familiar territory in a vibrant and scenic environment with lots going on. Now I have a decent job, I would be able to afford getting out more, except that I don't have so much free time now!

It's nice to think that some of you may have made it this far into my letter. Feel free to send me a line here if you care to.

Ciao!

Just Peace - Fall Preview

Posted on August 25, 2018 at 12:21 AM Comments comments (8)
Until a few days, I was getting all psyched up to buckle down as a full-time, self-employed person as of September. I had and still have contracts set up to be doing a combination of jobs under the business name of Edwise Editor and Education Consultant--tutoring, ghost writing, testing and subbing. I was feeling good about being able to enjoy that status as an independent professional controlling my own hours and projects, and doing the kind of work I like more or less under my own terms. I signed up with a tutoring agency, enlisted to sub at a local EFL college, applied to be a contracted testing official, and agreed to working on call, online as a ghost writer. I had achieved a dream of being in a position to be able to make a regular, decent living that way.

Then--darn it!--the institution that contracted me to be a sub offered me full-time work. Although I intend to retain a little of self-employment on the side, I could not turn out the good hourly rate of pay doing what I am well qualified to do, 40 hours a week. The deal was to sit in their writing and study center standing by to assist students with their writing assignments, unless I was requested to substitute for one of their regular instructors. The terms were flexible: I could leave on the afternoons when I have appointment with my private students, and I could work regular part-time or full-time hours in the writing center. Sounded easy.

Within what seemed was a few seconds after I was processed as a new contracted sub, though, a director informed me that they were short one regular instructor. She offered me the position. It is 15 hours over five afternoons. We negotiated. I still get a complement of writing assistance time to make up a full-time schedule, and the coordinator of the writing and study center still offers flexible terms. I can thus keep my private student. Given the flexibility and the relatively high hourly rate for instructing, and the projected monthly income this arrangement would give me, I have said yes.

I find myself with decent, full-time work at a fine establishment with high-quality, professional staff and serious students in an arrangement that suits me well. I think I can manage it well, because hanging out at the writing center allows for an instructor to plan lessons and get some personal tasks done on the job, outside classroom teaching hours. On the less favourable side, it means working downtown every week day again, which means taking that monotonous and tiresome bus commute over and over again. Ughh! Actually, I will be working between two locations, downtown Vancouver and a nearby suburb, which means taking the bus three times a day, that (I hesitate to ponder the amount of time commuting, sigh!) is two to two-and-a-half hours a day. At least I'll have only one class and the same students for a full term to deal with, rather than managing multiple classes and different groups of students on a short rotation of a few weeks, as I have had to do before. Though I won't have my own office space, but will be using space shared with colleagues and students, at least the work to do outside class time will be easy and flexible. 

If I want, I can take on another student on Saturdays, or possibly be in charge of testing on Saturdays. I have an interview coming up with the testing organization in the second stage of their hiring process. The tests only take place on Saturdays, and it is well paid work that is not difficult. If they allow testers to work one or two Saturdays a week, I'll agree to it. Otherwise, the tutoring agency is sure to need tutors on Saturdays. 

The work will take a lot of time, leaving less time for the political activism and personal errands. I must get organized to fit it all in.


Just Peace - self-adjustment

Posted on August 3, 2018 at 9:22 PM Comments comments (21)
I am having to adjust to a bump in my career, which has naturally put a monkey wrench into my finances . Due to a lack of enrollments, I am no longer employed by the English-as-a-foreign language program where I have been working since last November. This is a start-up program initiated by people running a tutoring service and investors. Management has traveled extensively and carried out an elaborate marketing strategy without attracting participants. Yesterday was my last day of work there. I leave in good standing.

The job search is arduous. In the first place, employment in EFL/ESL tends to be precarious since it is usually irregular, most frequently providing merely part-time and contract positions. Secondly, competition in this field is fierce in this city. I can always get something because of my credentials, but weekly hours are usually inadequate or jobs temporary. As proof of that, I have had three English teaching jobs since last year. Thirdly, many Canadian employers in the field require Canadian certification and turn their nose up at international certification. That requirement constrains my eligibility and I do not want to invest the time and money to get Canadian certification.

Luckily, I received notice of dismissal in time to apply for autumn term positions. The first positive response I got to my renewed job search was occasional tutoring sessions. I have been applying to several institutes looking for instructors and education administrative support or coordinators. I can only keep trying and hope for the best.

Actually, I feel I won't miss the last job--only the paycheque. I was isolated being surrounded by Chinese speakers. With so few students, and the students being of low level and motivation, it was dull.  In fact, I had been searching on and off for something else before I received the dismissal notice. Of course, one prefers to have an offer somewhere else before leaving, but, other than the occasional tutoring contract, I did not get one for a proper job. One wants the income, after all. In the end, I left the boredom and demoralizing situation at work for the boredom and demoralizing situation of being stuck at home on weekday afternoons. 

I have the time, but little money. My options for keeping myself busy are limited because of the lack of pay. I am forced into very conservative spending, yet again. It has been necessary to apply for unemployment benefits.  (I do not want to use savings, though I'll have to dip into some.)

The circumstances call for a concentrated effort to keep the spirits and energy up. I have to get back to a focus on positive thinking.

It takes some effort especially since my predicament is an echo of my past life in Vancouver. I survived through years of precarious employment, constantly struggling to bring in income, swinging from studies to stabs at demeaning work. Constantly defending myself, fighting to scrape a living together while feeling more compelled to participate in mass struggle for a new way.

I returned to Canada after years of stable income, a solid career reference and a small nest egg. After a bit of shuffling to get resettled, for which I was prepared, I was fortunate to get into steady work and keep it for nearly one year. I guess I am used to more security than what I currently have as an unemployed person. That means I should be grateful for the privilege and advantages I have.

I should recall that I wanted to change jobs, anyway. I was hoping to get into something more interesting, and better paying. The failure of the program to provide students in the next term for me is an opportunity for me to keep growing. The prospects can be stimulating and heartening.

As an officially recognized "senior" citizen, I can enjoy some advantages. Just last week, actually, I was offered a small bachelor suite in a lower income complex for 55+, though I chose to refuse it for the time being because like the spacious and pleasant living arrangement I have at present. My name remains on the waiting list there. In the meantime, I am applying for a seniors' housing subsidy, as I now meet the eligibility criteria to receive one.

Further to that, I am fortunate in that I have over a year of employment in Canada behind me, and can qualify for unemployment benefits, which are calculated at 50 per cent of the previous employment income.

Also, some of my savings securities are maturing this fall, freeing up cash and giving me more options. I may be able to by an apartment in a rural town and rent it out for additional income.

Anyway, it is summer, a perfect season to have free time. I should be grateful and make the most of my free time in the summer weather. This is what I told myself last summer when I was getting anxious about the lack of employment security and substantial income. I let myself enjoy the summer season last year, and things worked out eventually, at least for a few months. I should relax. Something will work out again.

In fact, while writing this blog entry, I just got an invitation to a job interview. While it is only for subbing, it is a job interview. More than that, it is about a position in a program similar to the type I have been working in this year. Things are showing signs of success already.

I am fit again to get out a enjoy the outdoors. Though walking is not the best way to enjoy nature and warm weather because my knee still gets aggravated, I am in better physical condition now. I have completed 15 sessions with a personal trainer and achieved some benchmarks of individual fitness for a female my age. I can go on lengthy bike rides again. I went across town into Vancouver last week, and I rode from my place through two municipalities yesterday. Those trips were 20 and 35 km each, accomplishments for me.

Inside or outside, I must keep up my exercise one way or another. Now I have the time to keep up a few trips to the gym plus a bike ride here and there every week.

I can do useful projects in my free time. Planning bike rides is one kind of project. Another is planning for the tutoring prospects. I am looking for teaching materials. Today I went to a bookstore and a library. I bought a new appointment book. I'll continue the search tomorrow.




Just Peace -new things

Posted on June 29, 2018 at 11:58 AM Comments comments (4)
Again working on maintaining a positive outlook, I make an inventory of the new experiences I have had over the past year. It is the anniversary of my moving into this apartment, so I review the past year. Here is a list of things I had not experienced before the past 12 months.

-this apartment
-having a balcony with the apartment
-my current job
-editing novels
-starting a Just Peace Committee locally 
-starting this Just Peace blog
-joining a local ILPS committee of activists
-participating in a national assembly of activists in Canada
-joining a national committee of activists in Canada
-using a local car share service
-joining in protests against the Kinder Morgan pipeline expansion
-getting to know local indigenous leaders and visiting their protest camps
-learning new songs
-singing in concerts with community choirs I had not sung with before, one time at a venue that was new to me
-having a personal trainer
-learning new physical exercises
-developing and trying out in practice some new kinds of teaching activities
-working in an English for Academic Purposes programme
-seeing relatives I had not seen in person for a decade and a half
-using certain software programs and services for the first time
-sleeping on a Thai futon
-having a smart TV
-setting up hanging baskets
-setting up a hummingbird feeder
-seeing species of birds and flowers I hadn't seen before, and outside my place
-developing new friendships
-ordering food using my mobile device
-trying some new types of food
-getting groceries delivered to my door
-writing and distributing a newsletter to neighbours
-using health and beauty products I hadn't used before
-hiking to Port Moody from my home
-cycling in this area
-ordering groceries online

That is all I can think of, for the moment. I may have missed something, but the list is already long. The range and number of new experiences is a kind of wealth, in my opinion. This long list is thus a sign of my wealth and means that my life is thriving. I should be conscious of this truth and rest easy in this awareness, for I am living well and continuing to make the most of this life on Earth.


Just Peace - my progress

Posted on June 17, 2018 at 5:01 PM Comments comments (18)
This is the semi-annual check of my progress according to my own goals set at the start of the year. I am living up to them, generally, though my 5-year picture remains feint.

Health and fitness

I finally got a doctor to examine my problem knee. No treatment other than exercise is recommended. I therefore joined a local gym a month ago, and enlisted a personal trainer to work on specific exercises to strengthen my shoulder and knee joints. All the while, I have been taking a glucosamine compound daily, which is supposed to rebuild cartilage. After some weeks of both therapies, the joints, even the thumb joints, hurt less and my knee does not swell so much. These are costly remedies but well worth the investment, I feel, so that I can keep mobile and function normally.

Activism

I lead the founding of the Just Peace Committee in Vancouver and it is growing. We have made solidarity statements and attended solidarity functions, attended the national assembly of the International League of Peoples' Struggles as a full voting member, and planned a series of fora. I was nominated and elected as a member of the national coordinating committee of the ILPS. Also, I have kept involved in the Solidarity Notes Choir, and sung at major events recently. Finally, I have been active in the opposition to the Kinder Morgan pipeline and terminus expansion in this province, British Columbia.

Work

I have succeeded in getting work both in teaching English to young adults and writing and editing education and other materials. I have kept my job at the institute, though it is on a part-time (29 hours) schedule and still at the starting wage. I have been asking for a wage increase, and expect one especially since the employer was impressed with my writing and editing of textbook materials. I edited another novel; however, the author does not want to pay me fairly. Communications with him got unpleasant as he showed no appreciation for my labour and tried to rationalize paying me little. I must send him another notice. I may receive more academic work to review--possibly a book by a retired professor on women and French literature, and a journal article by a linguistic professor on the Vietnamese language.

Housing and finances

I am looking into selling a small investment property; unfortunately, the value has remained near the price I bought it for. I am starting a second year in this apartment and must pay a increase of $35. I am looking into my options later this year for some term savings accounts will mature in the fall. I should get a tax refund this summer, which will pay for the personal trainer and other bills.

Family and social life

I went to a birthday party for my uncle who turned 90. At this party, I got reconnected with cousins and had a nice visit with my brothers and sisters-in-law. I continue to visit and offer help to a disabled brother and his wife, and they are doing well. The sister-in-law's family is in closer contact with her, which is a relief to both of them. Furtnermore, I have deeper friendships with fellow singers and activists. 




Just peace: my 2017 in review

Posted on January 1, 2018 at 3:41 PM Comments comments (110)
Keeping in tune with positive thinking, I will review the past year of my life. (I have not come to any summary of the political world of 2017 yet.) In sum, it was a time of successful growth and more new experiences.

The biggest thing, of course, was packing up my life in Korea, moving to Canada and creating a new home. That was a major transition; hence, the theme of my blog in 2017, which started out, by the way, on my 60th birthday.  Well prepared and optimistic, I made a smooth transition. I carried through the steps of landing regular employment and settling into a long-term living arrangement.

I arrived with a temporary living arrangement set up in a friend's home and  was soon rooming in a kind of boarding house as I extended the employment search. Within a short period, I got a bit lucky when I was offered a lease with soft and affordable terms for a decent apartment. I got regular part-time teaching and full-time summer relief work, with a little editing on the side. Though I'd had to reach into my stashed resettlement funds, by November, I had begun teaching in a new institute with a timetable substantial enough to cover the monthly bills.

Living and livelihood basically taken care of, I was able to pay more attention to social groups, activism and family matters. I rejoined a singing group and the dragon boat club. They involve social activities and political causes in addition to their main foci. I thus reconnected with colleagues, friends and associates, making new friends and associations along the way. I returned to local boating competitions and choir performances. 

What's more, I rejoined a local activist circle with the national and international connections I've been immersed in for several years. That has meant staying connected with activists and causes abroad, and those in south western BC and central Canada. Coming from human rights activism at an early stage some 20 years ago, 35 years of anti-war activism in Canada and overseas, and as certain tensions and military actions intensify around the world, my part in progressive activism has evolved to my present focus on just peace.

What  positive and new experiences did I have in 2017? 

Technology: I downloaded mobile phone apps, started using cloud software at work, bought a new laptop and got tech support with it, and extended the content, appearance and tools on my website. I also acquired a wide-screen, smart TV. As well, my phone has a new service plan with features new to me. Oh, yes--I also tried online dating, a little.

Family: With birthday and Christmas events recently, my relations with siblings and adult nieces and a nephew have developed. We've had some very enjoyable times together, we're planning more.

Romance: Though the online dating has bombed, I got out and tried it. Anyway, I've been getting to know single, eligible men through mutual friends and hobbies.

Health: I manage to keep my weight under control. After dragon boating, basic yoga routine, biking and hiking in the summer months, I found some symptoms of pre-arthritis stages, so I cut down the sportsy activities, even day-to-day walking. However, I seem to be adjusting. I can alter physical activities and pace them appropriately to avoid the inflated knee and sore appendages. For example, I have changed the exercises at home, and returned to some moderate walking from day to day. As an example of the walking, I sometimes walk the distance a few bus stops to catch a bus farther away, and walk around to do errands near my workplaces. I recently tried a session of curling for the second time in my life. I want to do some short hikes and get back on the bike when the weather is more conducive to outdoors exercise. 

Writing: After editing another academic article, I reviewed a novel for the first time. I just started editing another novel last week. Obviously, I have kept up the blogging and moved into a new theme for the current year. As for my creative writing, I've only written a couple of poems. I started a new non-fiction project, which is on hold at the moment.

Activism: I attended an international conference to build an anti-imperialist movement against wars of aggression, state repression and militarization last summer. I then created the petition opposed to a military solution to Korea and other conflicts, getting a few hundred signatures all on my own. For the 10th anniversary of the Great October Revolution in Russia, I worked with the local committee and coordinated the planning of a special event, which turned out to be a well-attended and informative occasion. I presented on a dual theme of socialist women and a stance against imperialist war in a presentation on Rosa Luxemberg's contributions. After building a network out of these activities, I just recently proposed a new committee to establish the Just Peace Movement in Greater Vancouver. There has been some positive response from people interested in pursuing this movement.




Just Peace - peaceful day

Posted on December 24, 2017 at 4:17 PM Comments comments (4)
It's a peaceful day. Significant holidays can often feel peaceful, at least in one's own universe and despite the larger contradictions and points of trouble around the world. It is fulfilling to be able to rest; a holiday is a respite for many. The underpinnings of the global and local economies remain, and some machines are still grinding; not everyone gets a holiday or can afford to take a day off. Nevertheless, the underlying ideals of a religion- or/ and tradition- based day or season of remembrance, positive values, solidarity, and celebration make one pause, whatever their situation, to reflect and breathe.

This is my first Christmas as a resettled Canadian. I missed it for nine of the ten years away in Asia, in a land where there is some deep, sedate religious meaning for maybe 20 per cent of the population, where it was a national day off yet not a big time of general celebration. I missed some of the feeling and ritual, though I could see and hear a few low-key signs of Christmas in cafes and on the face of churches. In the university semester system in South Korea, we were not supposed to travel around Christmas--the semester and school year were wrapping up and there was usually some grading and paper work to complete. As well, winter programs were just starting. (I know one or two colleagues who secretly sneaked away to return to their homelands in time for Christmas, though.) The teachers in public schools still had to be at work, many preparing winter "camp" classes to be held in January. Teachers at the after-school academies for children sometimes got five days off between Christmas and New Year, which was not much time if one wanted to escape to the US, Oceania or Europe. While I was teaching kids, I did not get time off around Christmas. No, the traveling had to wait, and it often wasn't until around Lunar New Year that the opportunity would come--not a substitute for an occasion as significant as Christmas.

Today, however, I have recaptured some of the feeling. I have been participating in the seasonal socials, doing some related errands, saying "Merry Christmas" or "happy holidays" a lot, and indulging in some of the festive food and drink. It is especially gratifying and restful not to have any visiting or shopping to do today. There is some editing waiting, but it can wait some more. 

It is the day of Christmas Eve, which has fallen on a Sunday this year. I can enjoy the luxury of staying home and doing nothing in particular. No bus trip to get to the usual choir practice; the choir is taking a couple of weeks off. I have done housekeeping tasks, of course, and cooked up a batch of homemade pancakes and one of spaghetti sauce, tasks which do not seem like big chores but are rather relaxing to me. Anyway, it is only the noon-hour here and I can hold off from other chores today. 

I have been thinking about dropping by a local United Church because that can be a nice experience on Christmas Eve, even though I am not an active Christian and generally have doubts and reservations about formal religious institutions. If you have been following my blog, you'll realize that I am somewhat of a spiritual with some belief in a greater power of the universe and other dimensions of existence. I have an appreciation for the symbolism and some of the lessons of religion, and see merits in prayer and meditation. I have some appreciation of the texts, which I largely see as educational and semi-historical mythology, and problematic at the same time.

Interesting. I just paused and turned on the TV while on a break from blogging. I happened to catch the end of a documentary segment on the History Channel called, "Finding Jesus". Historians trace the real context and figures of the story of the Bible and try to render a more substantiated interpretation of the story of Jesus. Just when I turned it on, his segment of the series happened to be addressing the efforts to institutionalize Christianity, which was very controversial. Many followers of Jesus Christ did not want it. They were suspicious of the aims and politics and ownership that the new institution might take on. This portion of the documentary serious was concluding with a summary of the story of Judas. Portrayed as a complicated character tormented by inner conflict, the man who betrayed Jesus and got him captured, flogged and paraded as a public example by the Roman authorities. The viewer can infer the significance of Judas' story when historians claim that the book of Matthew describe how he ended up: regretting having betrayed Jesus but still lacking faith, he hanged himself. It is a lesson on the importance in and life-affirming force of having faith, perhaps faith in the values that Jesus taught and demonstrated, and faith in God, or some greater goodness.

I have been more mindful of having faith in recent years, and that is partly what this blogging project is about. Faith in what? Call it goodness, the power of life, positive energy--having faith can largely mean believing that improvement will happen, that goodness is there, that negative or life-threatening and defying energies or forces can be vanquished, that there is a higher (collective) consciousness trying to guide humanity to make wise choices and defend the good or life. Those are my interpretations, and I do waver or neglect allowing myself to work it all out in my mind. I do not think there is a final answer; rather, I think there are signs, there is a feeling, there is evidence of success in making positive change and happiness happen. That evidence, those signs make me calm or make me smile at time, whatever someone is saying to me or whatever local and world events are going on.

I holiday can be a good time to reflect and affirm one's belief in the positive, however it is construed. A holiday is a moment of solidarity in this general kind of belief.