EDWISE 

EDITOR AND EDUCATION CONSULTANT

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Eye of the Optimist-short story (Housecleaning)

Posted on May 23, 2015 at 7:08 AM
Housecleaning

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. 

Categories: communication, living, positive thinking, new poetry, social justice and change

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8:44 AM on May 22, 2020 
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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

TEST

15 January 2020

THIS IS A TEST OF THE NEW PLATFORM FORMAT AND BLOG ENTRY SYSTEM.