Just peace: my 2017 in review

Posted on January 1, 2018 at 3:41 PM Comments comments (109)
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.

Eye of the Optimist-Screaming City (poem)

Posted on March 3, 2017 at 3:18 PM Comments comments (4)
Vancouver is among many communities across Canada experiencing an opioid crisis at present. Illicit hard drugs and pharmaceutical drugs contain opioid substances that are fatal in small doses, and many users including addicts of prescribed pharmaceuticals and illegal drugs are succumbing to killers such as fentynol, either accidentally or with knowledge that their ingested substance contains it. Bodies are dropping and expiring throughout the population and in many urban centres. This situation has reached such a crisis that the number of deaths due to such drugs has skyrocketed. Emergency services are consumed with handling frequent calls to rescue victims, often to no avail.

Signs of this crisis were quite noticeable to me upon my return to Vancouver, the place of my birth. The screams of emergency vehicles dashing hither and thither day and night were striking; never before have I heard so many and so frequently. Processing this experience, I wrote a reflection in the form of a poem today.

As it so happens, the Prime Minister is in Vancouver today to meet with health care providers and emergency service personnel to discuss this dire issue.

Reflecting on this situation, I had to consider causes beyond the availability of the culprit harmful substances to acknowledge the over-reliance of the medical system on chemicals as well as the state of humanity that is eager for quick extreme pleasure, or is so deeply unhappy that relief in the form of drugs is sought. I also pondered on the problem of addiction. It is baffling and complex.

Screaming City

Cries in the night
And by day
Cries of agony
Cries of pain
Wailing heard
Throughout the city
At all hours
"Something must be done!"
Is yet another high-pitched call
"What can be done?"
Is a question that
Augments the despair
Emergency services--
I hear them howling right now--
Screaming urgency
Can't you hear?
Material evidence
Of crisis
Why? Why? Why?
Do the city streets
Scream so much?
How did this situation
Poison fed to the unsuspecting
The hopeful
Poison upon poison
Crimes upon crimes
Why don't you suspect by now?
Oh, the perplexity
The complexity
Of addiction!
The lure of promised joy
They make me want to scream, too
The pain infects
The epidemics of agony
And desire
The cure cannot be simple
Scream in frustration!
Scream for action!
Screams demanding attention
Amid partakers of parties
Fine meals
And pleasant pastimes
In beautiful surroundings
Meanwhile, the city sobs
Rains pour
Dissatisfaction weeps
Tragedy overflows
Predicament of humanity
Fact of residence
Mournful soul
That desires
Wants more, more
Or becomes trapped 
In downward spiral motion
Life cycles turn
Despite the wailing
Life itself a wail
Wailing in the pain
Of living
The city screams
Torment claws and rips
Corruption ensues
In the normal course 
Of daily business
Habits catch on
Desires brew
City teeters on the edge
Screaming out danger
Screaming for relief

March 3, 2017
Vancouver, BC

Transition-Recollections (poem)

Posted on January 15, 2017 at 1:39 PM Comments comments (34)
(recollections of my life in Korea)

Recollections: 152 memes of Korean experience




Price upped
World cupped
Group supped

Much libation









War plane
Not plain
Blood stain

Yo, Bro!
Hair bow
Oh, no!
Too slow

Get there!
No chair
Bad air

January 13, 2017

Transition-Hanguk memories (poem)

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 11:44 PM Comments comments (3)
(more memories of life in South Korea)

Hanguk Street Jamboree

Hawkers howl
So do cats
Bongos prowl
So do rats
Scooters roar
Up and down roads
Hagglers score
Bearing big loads
On rough cobblestone
Drunkards trip
Ears stuck to hand phone
Chatterers quip
Jays scream
From above
Crows stream
Scare off dove

City beat
Piggy meat
Plying drink
Sewage stink
Coffee shop cackle
Plastic wrap crackle
Signs gaudy
Clients bawdy
Bread that goes, "pop!"
Buses that don't stop
Rice and corn puffs
Restaurant buffs
Music too loud
Impatient crowd
Shove and push
Pee behind bush
Odor of fish
Take-out dish

Vendor calls
Illegal stalls
Packed shopping malls

Vehicular roar
Slamming door
Parking war

Traders holler
Exchange for the dollar
Elders in squalor

Ajumas scold
Hot and cold
Tall tales told

Humid heat
Frozen feet
Stormy day
Fierce sun-ray
Damned mogki
Piles of gogki
Smokers' cough
Witness' scoff
Doggies in jacket
Urban racket
Fruit sellers
Neighborhood dwellers
Shuffling flip-flop
Patrolling kid cop
Trash scrapers
Children's capers
Hakseng-i giggle
Contentious higgle
Pedestrian dance
Umbrella lance
Body swings
Commerce sings

Every day a jamboree
Full of grief, ire and glee
Perpetual street party
Bubbling life lived hearty

January 13, 2017

Transitions-Departure (poem)

Posted on January 12, 2017 at 8:01 AM Comments comments (5)
Departure Jigae

I'm leaving it all behind

Shiny ties
Averted eyes
Customary lies
Macho guys

Lurching bus
Market fuss

Taxi racing
Progress outpacing
Production replacing
Economy unlacing

Plenty of spice
Too much white rice
Haggle for a price
Life can be a slice
Yet abundance not suffice

Traffic comes and goes
Promise forgets then knows
Beautiful rose
Edited nose
Absurdly painted toes

Manic exuberance
Drunken fool dance
Label pants
Furtive glance
Cornucopia of chance
Classroom adherance
English class trance

Fem style exaggerated
Nation's story underrated
Political will understated
Some foods and places overrated
Performance ever evaluated
Appearances often inflated
Confidence at times deflated
Self sometimes incinerated

Leaps of history
So much mystery

Too much pride
Tradition in backslide
Treks along mountainside
Philosophies collide
Fears rise and subside
Lovers on the side
Cars and trains they ride
Pleasures by the seaside



Rising sun
So much fun
So much done
So many a gun
War unwon

Constant confusion
Wonderful delusion
Sorrowful disillusion
Americanish diffusion
Yin-yang fusion

From ecstasy
To complacency
To heresy
To plasticity

Long, long hair
Funny underwear
Peddlers that blare
Strangers that care
Crazies that dare
Yellers who swear

What is that place?
It's hard to say,
Though I lived it every day
For years--
Whatever it was,
I'll miss the buzz
I was there and lived it;
It became dear
So I'm shedding a tear
As I leave it all behind.

January 12, 2017

Eye of the Optimist-The Illusion of Boredom (poem)

Posted on March 20, 2016 at 5:03 AM Comments comments (1)
The Illusion of Boredom
Hundreds of billions of galaxies
A hundred billion in ours
And you say you’re bored?
The means you may lack
But you could imagine
If you let loose your power
Into the universe
To fly and explore,
If only via the mind
The power that the universe provides
That created your home, your life
You could at least read about it
To get better informed
See pictures
And maybe a spark of excitement
Will ignite out of your smoldering soul
The life deep within you
See what it took
For you to be here?
And what marvels transpired?
And what evolved so far?
What lays ahead?
You could think about that
Ponder our options
Our fate and probabilities
That would keep you busy, too
Perhaps stir up a little excitement
Scientist of today are going inward though
To the innermost reaches of matter
Arriving at ever smaller particles
For which it is getting harder
To remember their jargon
In reverse process of inquiry
A great quest into the other side
Into the alter state,
The opposite of what is
Into the alter-existence.
That, too, seems to be a never ending story
Or at least a question without an answer
Right, your scratch on the Earth
May be imperceptible
And escape review and examination
Unless there is a Judge on a Judgment Day.
We are so small on the scale of things
Particles that cannot be seen
Without powerfully focused lenses
Way out there from the Space Center
And there are billions of us
And trillions and trillions
Of the things we have created
One hundred an ninety-six countries
Most with several cultures
There are 6,500 languages spoken
Nearly eight million species
Including some 300,000 plants
All this, and you don’t have enough?
All this, and you feel apathetic?
All this, and you can’t keep busy enough?
You say you have not enough
By which to keep yourself amused?
Woe be the petty-bourgeois spirit!
Oh, the angst it produces!
How much it frets!
The petty thoughts
Detached from human circumstances,
Impervious to what’s happening.
“Sigh, but I’ve been to France.”
“Oh, yeah, I’ve been to Bali.”
“Yeah, we had jumbo prawns last week.”
“I know. It was okay.”
“Not that again!”
“I have access to 350 television stations
But there’s nothing on TV.”
“I have too many clothes but I’ve nothing to wear.”
“What to do?”
“Ho-hum. Shopping again!”
“I am never satisfied.”
“Our neighbours have that,
So should we.”
“Our neighbours are different
There’s something wrong.”
“I had my face fixed,
But it doesn’t look right.”
“They said that diet would work
But this body…ugh!”
“I exercise, and it’s not right.”
“I don’t like my body. Exercise?!
Importance is confined to narrow terms
The borders of your universe
Do not appear to cover much.
Who are you in all this?
What do you amount to?
You could despair.
You could give up.
That is not necessary, either.
As a feature of the wondrous universe
You have power.
Also, you have a lot to choose,
And way more to lose.
You can choose to see, or not.
You can choose not to take the effort of choice
Then complain, anyway
You can choose to think, or not
You can choose to measure less
And reduce  value, or not.
You can choose to live
Or just hover around
Until expiration.
You can choose to let the world
Excite, inform and engage you,
And you can give back, be involved, do
Else, be bored,
Spirit like putty
Vision impaired
And mind like cardboard.
Yeah, if I was like that,
I would feel flat, too
I’d say my world
Had little to offer
But actually my world thrives
It is multi-dimensional
And full of color
And exciting every day
I am not bored
If the day is slow
Be glad, enjoy
Observe and feel
Our construct of time
Has limits
You are just here for a little while
After all.
Make the most of it.
Do not complain.
Revel. Marvel. Be part of it.

March 19, 2016

Eye of the Optimist-Change (poem)

Posted on March 19, 2016 at 3:07 AM Comments comments (2)
Change is what happens;
Something always happens.
Things move and, therefore,
Are transformed.
We can’t help it.
We can’t always make it happen, either,
Though sometimes we can.
We may not notice it,
Though right before our eyes.
It may be insidious.
Else, it may be humungous and obvious,
Volcanic or stormy,
If not stealthily velvet or
Murky, like deceit.
While, at times, we are astonished,
Thrilled yet scared, and shaken by change,
We may feel false peace, for
We may not notice the movement,
The way we don’t feel the spinning of the Earth
And the rocks burning
Right under our feet.
We may believe that that breeze blowing
Is just the passign of the day, and nothing more.
Yet, the day itself is weighty;
It carries quite a load,
Considering all the people and things,
And the particular can arise, all the while.
We can be fooled into thinking what is
Is not, or
Into thinking that what is not is.
Some politicians, of course,
Say what has not changed has,
Or what has changed has not.
They often make promises,
Either devious or oblivious,
Which nature, never mind person, may not keep.
The scientists must carry out
Meticulous observation
And dedicated discussion,
Based on careful measurements
Of precise calculation
And persistently persistently take note and report.
In fact, they need supporters, for their word
Many do not heed.
Beware. Look.
You can count on change,
Even if you don’t know who
Or what exactly it is,
But not on your dreams,
Not even on your plans,
For change likes surprise
Or simply has set its own course,
Despite what people think or do.
If you do as scientists do,
Are honest and take note,
It is best to go with the flow,
Don’t fight change,
But fight for it.
Follow the truth.
Facilitate and speak for it.
You cannot fight nature,
In the end, but
You can fight with it
And for it.
Do right.
March 19, 2016

Eye of the Optimist-Free Writing

Posted on February 27, 2016 at 2:54 AM Comments comments (7)
The value of free writing may be more than just loosening up the mind and shaking out some images and ideas so that you have a clearer idea of what to write and how to say it. It may help you become more creative. It may help enhance your understanding of you and your situation.

I've copied a blog entry from the Writing Forward website. This is a blog by Melissa Donavon and posted last September.

Creative Writing Practices: Free Writing
Posted by Melissa Donovan on September 24, 2015 ·
Free writing is not your train of thought.
One of the most valuable writing practices I learned in college was free writing.
When you sit down with a pen and paper and let words flow freely, amazing things can happen.
At first, free writing is a bit of a struggle, but if you stick with it, you’ll produce some gems. The trick is to get out of the way, and let your subconscious take over. Most writing exercises ask you to think. This one requires you do anything but that.
Free writing is not like other writing practices; it allows you to generate written material for a variety of projects. It can also help you clear your head or tap into your deeper thoughts.

Train of Thought

The first few times I tried free writing, I botched it. I would describe everything I’d done that day or jot down my thoughts on a particular subject in a random, messy way. Finally, in one of my creative writing classes, I got to hear some examples of free writing and something clicked. Free writing is not about train of thought; it’s about stream of consciousness, and there’s a big difference.
Here is an example of one of my early attempts at free writing:
I set the microwave timer for thirty minutes so that I wouldn’t write for too long, although I’m sure it wouldn’t hurt if I did. Usually I do free-writes in a journal. I have a tendency to reflect on the current events of my personal life during a free-write.
Yes, I was actually writing about how I was writing.
Train-of-thought writing is coherent. For the most part, the text makes sense, as you can see in the example above. The technique involves writing on a particular subject in a clear manner. This can be useful in many ways, but it won’t tap into your deeper creativity the way free writing will.
I use train-of-thought writing for clearing my mind or to prepare for writing a nonfiction piece as a brainstorming method to churn out all the information I have stored in my head. But when I’m looking for poetic images or vivid characters, free writing does a much better job.

Writing Exercises and Stream of Consciousness
After hearing another student’s free writing read aloud, I had a much better grasp on it. Here’s a sample of what I wrote once I better understood what free writing was all about:
in moonshine eyelet lace a rhapsody of liquors dancing off light reflected in the cut glass spoons stirring iced candy meltdown of hopes washed out memories of faded photographs and standing in line at a supermarket eyeing the magazines their eyes watching you like cats high up in trees crying for freedom but afraid to come down
The key to stream-of-consciousness writing is to relax your thinking mind and let the images of your subconscious take over. For some people, it takes a little practice, but once you get it down, it becomes a fun and creative practice. So what can you do with it?

Applications for Free Writing
Once you’ve built up a nice collection of free-writes, you have created a repository of images and lines, sentences, and paragraphs. You can now go through and harvest that material for your various writing projects. As you can imagine, the fruits of free writing lend themselves particularly well to poetry.
When I’m writing poetry, I often go through my free-writes with a highlighter, marking words and phrases that pop or strike me as especially meaningful or aesthetically pleasing. Then I pull these from the free-write and use them to compose a poem.
Free-writes can also be used to bring creative, colorful language into prose. Strong images and rich language generate work that is more literary in nature, and if done well, it’s a lot more fun to read. It will help you generate words that show rather than tell and make your story or essay come alive more easily in a reader’s mind.
Have you ever tried free writing? Do you tend toward train-of-thought or stream-of-consciousness writing? Are there any other writing exercises you recommend for creating more vivid prose or poetry?

Eye of the Optimist-the character of negativity

Posted on May 24, 2015 at 11:49 PM Comments comments (0)
You may be thinking that I have taken an unwarranted dark turn away from optimism if you have been reading my blogs lately. Not so. I think it is worthwhile to understand well what human negative thinking is, essentially, and where it can and does lead. We need to know what it is not, and how thinking positively is to oppose and be part of a larger opposition to anti-social and anti-life tendencies. If you do, then appreciating that positive thinking is not just a personal project of brightening up individual lives, or merely a benevolent health project for the sick. It is about rejecting what is sick, dangerous and lethal about modern thinking to come up with a fresh attitude and inspiration, energy and motivation for communities to reform and rebuild, and a new socially positive and developing way of life to be developed. There is a lot at stake, considering the shape that the world is in these days. Yes, individual thought and action matters for positive thinking can provide model, counsel and leadership, to change the course of groups of people.

Effective positive thinking builds connections and empathy for people, and it informs and builds understanding and community. With that approach, individuals can be successful at improving their own lives by enhancing the social environment in which they live. They can thus be a factor for peace and positive social change.

Here is a poem voicing concern of the state of the world and some dominant evil elements that seem to hold sway these days. They contaminate and corrupt lives from within society. The antidote is positive thinking and the faith, ideas and confidence it can foster. It is possible for enough positive thinking to overpower negativity, not to say that conscious planning, defense and action of various sorts must not be taken. We still need organized movements to fight the fight. The problem is how to approach it today, and what kind of new society and new person to aim towards since humanity has witnessed negative anti-social thought and persons take over different efforts built on some benevolence and aims of democracy to organize new societies. Well, we can get a grip on what it means to stand for life if we are aware of how life is under attack and who is attacking. We can sort out morality and rights in modern terms if we are aware of immoral behaviour and the damage it wreaks, and take up the right to defend life. 

(from the FOR A CHANGE compilation now in progress)
Knives and Drugs
Drugs and knives
Destroying lives
Crafty villains
Minds focused on the billions
The effect trickles down
To every community and town
Corroding morality and innocence
Breeding and cross-breeding pure decadence
The captains without remorse
Drive its relentless course
Ideas bubbling up from cesspools
To trick fools
Cross friends, force alliances
Assassinate resistances
It could be your family physician
Or some expert clinician
It might manifest an expert opinion
Or be a leader of religious dominion
It could be a teacher
Or self-styled preacher
It could take the form of business dude
Maybe is the guy who sells you “food”
Or morphed into sincere personna who’d
Save children, worship mothers, cure ills
Armed with fine documents, accolades and pills
Beware the devil in disguise
When you gaze into those charming eyes
Knives and drugs
Friendly thugs
Clean and courteous masters
Persuasive ignoble bastards
Infecting agents with the opiates
Of favours, promises, treats and laureates
Exciting thrills, dollar bills
Cherry pies, exceptional highs
They infiltrate to invent the news
Send in their scholars to confuse
Use science to back them up
Dope us with numbers, facts and muck
For the sake of illegitimate power
Hoping it’ll last at least an hour
They’ll regret for it is really quite perverse
In the framework of the vast universe
By its scope, movement and might
Its duration, disinterest and light
In that context, so meaningless is wealth
So irrelevant the self
There’s nothing to be won
By investing in shit, murder and gun
They’re infinitely small, so trite
Less than lint, virus and mite
So be wise to the game
Forget about fortune and fame
Reject the way of the drug and knife
Stay on the side of clean good life

May 25, 2015

Eye of the Optimist-short story (Housecleaning)

Posted on May 23, 2015 at 7:08 AM Comments comments (1)

She rounds the corner tentatively and surveys the scene that seems to have become frozen in time: two of her brothers sit, mouths open while her mother lays on the couch clutching a paperback romance novel, oblivious to all else. It is scary to her, the daughter. There ought to be talk, movement, a glance or some sign of life.

Sometimes the existence in this place feels like the shadows where death lies taut waiting to snatch them. It might just shut down. Their bodies might dissipate and turn into some vapor to float out and be absorbed by the pollution of decay and dust of the winds of time. She even has dreams when she dreams she is awakened while laying in bed when some ominous force pulls her against her will out of her bed and along the floor out towards who knows what. It is scary, this life but mostly it feels sad when she wants to feel happy. It feels morose when life beyond the house (she never calls it “home”) beckons.
This young budding woman of 14 shudders. The scene is always disturbing and she must look away. She steps back and retreats in some vague hope of finding refuge from the oppressive and forlorn silence. There is nowhere else go outside of school except into her own mind, not that it is very fertile ground for it is starving. There has been nothing much to feed it, though she craves knowledge, light, love and life. Some days she just tries to push her mind to create some feeling and some light inside her, but often she just gets a headache. She wants to read, and walks miles to the city library to get books until she has read everything in the section for her age group and the librarian tells her she is not allowed to read other things. Same goes for the school librarian, whenever the young teen reaches for the over-age fourteen material. Well, a lot of these books are not as interesting as their celebration heralds. Like the pop songs she used to strain to hear to drink in all the allegedly important content, the experience is just as disappointing and baffling. Anyway, she thinks she thinks too much, in fact. Also, she has seen enough of human weakness and failure that she feels afraid to learn more of some aspects of life. She wants to live—to feel something. Yelling and protesting or arguing for the sake of excitement seems to be her only resort open, it appears sometimes. She causes a brief moment of panic and a response of consternation, but nothing much else. They soon crawl away and back into their caverns of silence and futility.

She can feel a pulse at school. There are things to do, and faces that open their mouths and release words of acknowledgement and some praise, though mostly blandness except when the opportunities to scorn, scoff and criticize present themselves to others, mostly girls and women, who resent her for her appearance or the rumours about her. She believes that she somehow gets less of the the latter than some students probably get, and that may be because her modus operendi is to get along and be polite, stifling her own anger and critical voice, withholding her true responses for the sake of getting by and getting along. The teachers—they are generally a hopeless and mindless lot, in her opinion. For one thing, they do not actually teach. Rather, they manage classrooms and attendance lists and ratings. They mostly frown at her if they pay her any attention at all. They not actually show much control, for they mostly give way to the mouthiest students and parents, and we know who they usually are: the richer ones of course, the ones with dentists and doctors and lawyers or petty community leaders as fathers. The teachers look away, or allow her to receive a benign smile once in a while, when they are not saying, “That’s good, but…” No, it is her peers, the ones she hangs out with at lunch time or plays sports with or visits in their homes (on rare occasions) who have something positive to say, like “You’re smart,” “You could be a beauty queen,” or “You know how to speak to the teachers.” We all want some advice, some tips on what we should do in life, and how navigate life, but it all seems to be a game wherein we must guess and figure it out on our own. It is like their tests and procedures. They could just explain, give examples and methods, coach us and, you know, lead and really teach us skills and useful information, and let us discuss things. The young teen comes to the conclusion that the adults, despite their assigned roles and titles, have not figured out much and are just muddling through. Her parents are further evidence of that, for they seem bewildered and unequipped for life, and waiting for someone to instruct them, waiting, year after year, waiting…Yet, the required school life activities make her feel alive. She does any sport they let her do just feel herself move. She just wants to run, use her body, feel the wind and her pounding heart to let her know that she still is alive, and has not slipped away into the other side only to observe life proceed without her.

At age 14, she is already dedicated to self-directed learning. She figures she will have to get a real education, and it would be best to start now instead of merely passing the time until graduation. She believes she is on her own, and that basically every human is to one degree or another, and that she will need to learn how to defend, support and make decisions for herself, so she is alert to any clue at her disposal to guide her way.

For her, the street is not an option. She feels too vulnerable and ill-equipped. She wants to graduate, rather than leave school early. She does not want to run away from home, for that does not seem like a viable option. Anyway, it is not really that she has anything she needs to escape from. Rather, she needs to bring things into her life, into her home that fill it with life.

In any case, she possesses some kind of insight, some understanding of the workings of the world and what kinds of people and situations are out there, an awareness that some of her peers marvel at. She does not know how she came to such “understanding”, which feel like hunches, so she prefers to call it her intuition, not realizing that intuition is a form of intelligence. Not there have not been clues. Though not fully cognisant of it yet, she has a foggy notion about mental illness that she has gotten from association with certain relatives and certain school mates with certain relatives. That is a real danger, and she feels that she is a candidate to be one of those minds that slip into an abyss, so she is determined to avoid that by all means. Also, she has observed strange men in the woods on her trips to and from school since grade five. While her chums appeared to be oblivious, she knew that the guy with his pants down standing at the gate to the park path should be avoided. On another occasion, she observed a boy with an odd smile on his face walking out of the brush with a man lurking in the trees behind him, and knew that someone could be lurking around some trees or a dark corner and want to grab her one day. She preferred to be cautious. She has heard of knife fights around town that end up bloody, and sometimes deadly. She knows there is a drug trade growing in and around her junior secondary school, and that it was a trap to be evaded. She knows that girls and woman can be used, abused and traded. She knows enough by now, and does not need to discover more details about such goings on herself, thank you very much. No, as sad and as boring as it was, the best thing was to keep to the straight and narrow, stay the course of a basically conventional life for now until she could find some security for herself. She is committed to going along with the program until she thinks she is strong enough to take to her own path in life.

What to do, then? Though there is not much to the art department, and she has hardly had any encouragement about art, she spends a lot of time sketching, so that she gets better and better at it. (After all, no one has encouraged her much about anything, and she has been evaluated as ordinary and middle-of-the-road without talent but most likely to marry soon after high school.) She sketches everything, the teapot, the telephone, and moving on to plants and the dog. She really likes doing faces, though. She fills pages of her sketch pad. At the house, no one remarks on this activity.

She opts for a drama class, although there is no drama to act in. The lessons are about body movement and control—doing the tree, playing dead, imagining and so on. Her grade is supposed to be part of a collaboration with grade 10, but it is only the grade tenners who are given parts to play. We are to observe, take note and learn from them. Yeah.

She is so desperate that she joins a local church choir. She loves singing, though a lot of the Christian hymns get her down. No one comments on her ability or shows gratitude for participating. She hangs in there, for she likes the sensation of singing, even if she does not believe in the words that she is supposed to sing. She has enough faith in music. Also, it is a safe enough place to go in the evening and on weekends. (Eventually, she will join a school choir, which acts as the chorus for a school musical, and the director will praise her voice but say she is too quiet, without trying to draw her out or instruct her how to project her voice. It is all so lame.)

By this time, there is an ancient piano in the house. It has been abandoned by a relative. Her father refuses to get it tuned, and there is inadequate space for it in the basement where it is stored. Her mother remains neutral about the matter, but then she remains neutral about nearly everything. She finds enough voice to get a piano teacher, mostly out of the relative’s insistence (her grandmother, the previous owner of the piano) and he is a nice university student who comes once a week and remains steadfastly polite about the state of the piano, never hinting to her mother that it should be tuned, to her knowledge. He’s not a bad teacher, and he is encouraging. He chooses pieces suited to her personality and ability, and is playing some parts of concertos after only a few months. Her mother seems totally dumbfounded when she tells her daughter that the teacher said she had some musicality. (It was just like the time when her aunt told her mother that her niece was strikingly beautiful.) The girl tells the teacher that she just wants to learn for pleasure.

Although she most certainly does not want to be involved in any sort of secretarial work, she takes speed typing, which she decides is one of the few useful skills that schools offer these days. It is a skill in demand, that may help her survive. (It turns out that it does, later on.)

She elects to take other subjects that may help her in the future: languages and “home economics.” She already has a knack for learning French, much unlike most other students and is rewarded by pleased French teachers time and again. She takes the cooking class, not because she dreams of finding refuge in a marriage; she enjoys it and knows she will always have to feed herself. (It’s true, she did all her life. Friends and neighbours came to marvel at her ability to whip up home meals, though the family members continued to refrain from dishing out compliments in return.) She learned some basics, and gained a repertoire of survival skills and nutritional knowledge (such as it was in that day and age—the five food groups, and all ad nauseum…).

In science class, she got interested in plants. She does an impressive little experiment in nurturing a plant.

As she knows she will need money, she wants to start earning it as soon as possible. She has already taken up babysitting (much to the relief of her stingy father, who would prefer to give his very hard earned money to strangers and wager it on dubious causes than use it to see help his family thrive). By the summer after her fourteenth birthday, she accepts a job. Her mother takes credit for the accomplishment, and does not seem to worry that her beautiful curvy daughter is exposed to the elements of a lumberyard and hardware store.
At the house, though, there is not much to do. The boys take over the TV and she usually can not watch something she liked, not that she wants to waste a lot of time in front of the noise box. She reads, but there is never enough to read. (She used to spend time reading dictionaries and pages in the encyclopedia, even her mothers’ discarded cheap paperbacks, in her desperate desire to learn. By 16, she resorts to reading the New Testament of the King James Bible, things get so bad.) She takes scraps from her mothers’ futile and abandoned sewing projects, and cuts them into shapes to be glued onto boxes and colored glass bottles, but that cannot amuse her much these days. She would sing along to the radio, if she ever got to select a station or play a record when her mother or her brothers were not, but she found most songs to be silly or completely irrelevant. She used to bring a friend from school over once in a while, but that had gotten way to embarrassing. The house can be deadly boring at times.

That is why her fourteenth year becomes her housekeeping year. She takes to scrubbing, pressing, sorting, sweeping, folding and vacuuming the place. After all, nobody else is doing it. It needs to be done. She can be useful, even if no-one appreciates it. It empowers her, gives her an occupation and role at home, for herself, anyway. It keeps her active and it keeps her from brooding. She endures her mother’s scorn and the ridicule from her father and brothers who label her “little mother.” She endures the disapproving looks and shaking of the heads of her neighbours who see her hanging up something to dry on the veranda, or sweeping the stairs, or shaking out a dust-mop. She does not care what others think. It is worth it to be in action. It is a defense against the doldrums of this family’s shipwrecked life. It is resistance to the passivity and ineptitude. She does not want to be swallowed up in neglect and debris. She does not want to be part of the backsliding. She wants to pick up the dust balls, sweep up the trash, iron out the wrinkles, and place things neatly in drawers and on shelves where they belong. It is better to at least maintain some order, stick to some ritual and routine, than to let everything slide. She is on the side of tidiness and cleanliness and not on the side of slovenly lassitude that leaves things jumbled and rumpled, scattered with no conscious care and placement. She is not going to let Them turn Her into That. 

Thinking and Doing It Positively

Household Treasures

11 January 2021

I heard an interviewee speaking over the radio talk about cherishing items in the home. It is one way to explore and enjoy surroundings without traveling, he said​I'll try it.

A lot of objects on display in my apartment are artifacts from my travels, ironically. They refresh my most poignant memories of precious and mind-opening explorations.

Sitting atop the filing cabinet next to my desk are to souvenirs from South Korea, where I worked and resided for 10 years. After such a lengthy stay, I have loads of memories prompted by numerous artifacts of my experiences in that country. These two are among the best reflections of cultural and historical particularities of South Korea. They are a framed photo of a hero central to the labour and national democratic struggles and an ornament from folk culture in the countryside of the southern part of South Korea.

Jun Tae-Il was a courageous student activist leading actions against the last dictatorship in his country. He represents the heart of the movement and the victory for democracy. He became a martyr when the police fatally shot him while he was demonstrating in the street in Seoul, the capitol. The ornament is an ceramic fertility fetish, an image of a penis from one of several such parks in the southern region where I used to live. This part of the country remained tribal longer than other parts, so folk traditions such as shamanism and superstitions have endured. Fertility monuments were erected (pun intended), of course, bring about more healthy children. The foreigner exploring such parks giggle at the sights. 

Next to the filing cabinet is a bookshelf. One of the most noticeable objects near the top of this piece of furniture is a tacky, plastic, white alarm clock. It is significant because I bought it to ensure I woke up on time on my last morning living in South Korea. I had an early flight. As a small travel alarm clock had recently failed, and I was not sure my phone alarm would wake me fully, I picked up a cheap clock at a local general store. I don't use it as its ticking is noisy, but I have not thought to give it away. It remains perched on the shelf, deprived of a battery, as a reminder of my departure from the ex-pat life and return to Canada. 

I also have items saved from two trips to Cuba, one in 2003 and one in 2019. Both trips were organized political events. The first took me there with a political choral group to meet Cuban choirs, learn some of their songs, perform with Cubans, attend the May 1st rally, meet labour associations and tour the island for two weeks. I am looking at a typical replication of a sketch of Che Gevarra which one can find easily in street markets. Our choir, supportive of the Cuban revolution, valued the Cuban revolutionary democracy, social arrangements and political principals which that image, the most famous in all the world, represents to millions of people. It inspires and gives hope. I remember strolling through the streets, visiting markets and restaurants, chatting with locals and attending all the meetings on our hectic schedule. I have other little treasures such as a ceramic, hand painted ashtray, photos of our Cuban comrades, and an African-Cuban, wooden statuette.

Above my desk hang a pair of water colour paintings in wood frames. They portray sites in southern Manitoba in the general area where my grandparents met, married and bore my mother. They feature two views of the banks of the Red River, a river highly important to Canadian history. There were battles against invading Americans launched there and a key struggle of the Métis nation. The city of Winnipeg lies nearby, which used to be the industrial hub of Canada until the Panama Canal opened up and undermined the Canadian railway system. I have only passed through Winnipeg by car. This area is not one I remember, for I have never visited it. 

On the floor near my desk lies a wicker hamper. I have mixed feelings about it, but it has been very useful, so I have kept it. You see, it belonged to my father's second wife. My father remarried this odd, older person rather quickly after my mother passed, which denied her children necessary time to adjust. I carried resentment about her, but chose to avoid them rather than say anything or show my negative feelings. As I said, it is a practical item for it holds linens and Christmas stuff and allows aeration through the woven stems.

I originally bought the filing cabinet to organize research, not academic information but information found in the course of activism and stabs at political journalism. It therefore stores records of several international and regional conferences. Though I purge it once in awhile, there are still clippings, leaflets and pamphlets. They cover issues such as Canadian mining firms abroad, human rights cases, privacy rights, student concerns and transportation. I have been replacing old articles and folders with my own writing pieces. Among them are also old, self-published newsletters addressing local and international issues, some of my published articles and unpublished poems. 

Conversational News

10 January 2021

It is so good to be able to express myself and have contact with readers through this blog again. The loss of the access to my blog along with other aspects of confinement and restrictions really affected me. There were added unsettling restrictions due to circumstances, even including access to my games when Adobe Flash Player was removed. I was feeling the mounting stress of rising COVID cases and the awareness of the damages inflicted by this disease as well as the damage inflicted by states that remain focused on helping profitable enterprises more than addressing the disease and health care and financial interventions fully and equitably. Most such as Canada are handing the responsibility of pandemic management to individuals. Very unjust!

I had been handling the conditions of the pandemic fairly well, but emotions were catching up to me in December as I personally began to feel tired and stressed. I started to feel irritable and alarmed. I looked forward to two weekends at home over Christmas and New Years, but the employer wanted me to work on the Saturdays. Saturday being the heaviest work day for me with five hours straight teaching and two hours travel, I had been wanting relief to get a chance to rest and calm down. I ended up taking the Saturday following NY Day off, which certainly helped. I am much better now.

I did not carry through with my usual practice of personal assessment and planning in December as is my habit. I was too agitated. I did not want to reflect on this past year, actually. Not then.

Anyway, there is not any change in my goals. I generally carried through with financial, livelihood, social, family, health and growth goals. However, the social and family goals were frustrated by Covid-19 rules. However, there are elder relatives with multiple health problems whose mental health was being upset by the situation, so I have been visiting with them in cafes and such. They are better now. I have also been aiding an elderly neighbour whose health, already in decline this year, was getting worse partially because of Covid-related restraints. (Her degrading sight and hearing, as well as shaking and loss of balance, caused her to stop driving permanently, and skeletal issues caused her to stop regular exercise. She is worried she will be forced to consider entering a facility while many care homes are in crisis!) My exercise regime was also compromised. The local fitness center remains open but I perceive it as risky, so I do not go there. Aside from some hiking and walking to accomplish transit and errands, I haven't been exercising much until recently. Now I do some yoga, lunging, stretching and weighted arm raises sometimes. I am prevented this week because of an inflammation (hemorrhoid caused by lengthy sitting!).

 One big factor affecting stress and anxiety levels is news reportage. State and private corporate news services, like most enterprises today, try to streamline by relying more on tech and web browsing to find news topics. There are fewer reporters and there is less extended, investigative reporting. For the past decade at least, such services have resorted to "conversational journalism." It is an adjustment to distrust of news and official authorities during a trend of democratization, I feel. However, it tends to keep popularity and viewer or reader stats in mind. Topics can be sensationalized by rehashing events and speculation. Commentators are brought in to discuss as are senior reporters, but the discussion is not very productive in that it does not lead to increased knowledge. Rather, it keeps generating more questions. Conversations often entertain unanswerable questions, particularly because there can be no resolution. They just push the topic and stimulate possible answers to stir up controversy and alarm in order to improve ratings. Pertinent information might be omitted if it actually answers a question. Once audiences abandon a thread, they turn to some other topic and start over. It is really unconscionable because of the innuendo, speculation, rumour, omission, lack of investigation, assumptions and biases.

The COVID coverage is a clear case in point. Partial information is supplied, such as a medical official's announcement that is partly based in some truth. The announcement is questioned. Opponents are recruited to present the false arguments. Sideline topics are raised to create more friction. Proper sources are ignored. Questions are recycled and spin round and round with no conclusion. The affect is understandable: alarm, anxiety, fear, stress, accusations, complaints, etc.

I follow a couple of doctors who produce daily videos to update viewers on scientific developments and explore reasoning behind government and medical decisions regarding the pandemic. I rely on Dr. John Campble and Doctor Moran. Find them on Youtube. Campbell is the most digestable, for he uses plain English, which Moran is more technical. The latter seems to be addressing people in the medical field. By following Campbell, in particular, I can see the gaps in the regional and national news reporting. I can see that they are lagging behind the news by ignoring or failing to search for reliable information.

We're Back

07 January 2021

Apologies to my followers and viewers. You have been very supportive and encouraging for many years. I might have disappointed some of you who were looking for new entries from me. 

Let me explain. VISTAPRINT changed its platform last year. When they did that, the method for making blog entries changed. I had no information from them about what to do. It simply appeared that I know longer had any blogging service. 

However, I just spoke to a VISTAPRINT rep who guided me. I can now write blog entries, as you can see.

It was a strange year all the way around. Things seemed kind of more chaotic than usual. I felt agitated and stressed last month for no definite reason. I had trouble sleeping. I felt exhausted.

My general astrology reading asserted that the pulling away of Jupiter, one of my planets and a very powerful one, from Saturn would make Sagitarians feel exhausted by the end of December. Despite the restrictions imposed because of the pandemic, it does indeed feel like I worked and accomplished a lot (activism, teaching, writing). Things are supposed to get easier for us Sagges. 

There was added stress because of the effects of the pandemic. Not only that but worse, state aggression seemed to increased around the world, causing civilian mass responses. Though I had handled it pretty well until the end of 2020, I guess it finally got to me and I started soaking up some of the stress and anxiety emitting from my region and beyond.

2021 is starting out a bit weird, too. Just look at yesterday's events. U.S. Whitehouse invasion. Solar flare sending rays that caused several storms, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. More lockdowns. 

I wish all my readers well. I will resume entering focused pieces when I have more time. Please stick with me. Thank you for your comments to date.

Ed Wise


15 January 2020