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Relationships in the virtual world: Connections or friends

July 13, 2011

I am in Vancouver this week, and just in from lunch with a newspaper editor who I have been working with since 2006. It was the first time we’d met face-to-face.

I’m here in the city for exactly this reason: to get some face-time with people who I interact with mainly, or in some cases exclusively, online. My trip was timed to coincide with the summer session of UBC’s Optional-Residency MFA program in Creative Writing (which I am most of the way through now), so I could meet up with many of my fellow students as well as some of the profs. But I am also taking advantage of being based here, downtown Vancouver, for the opportunity to have lunches and coffees with people who I don’t normally get a chance to see.

And all of that has made me think about this business of “friends” versus “connections,” and online relationships versus “real” relationships. I’ve managed to avoid Read more…


Looking at the big picture

June 29, 2011

Do you make your decisions, or form your opinions, by looking at the bigger picture and coming up with an idea of what you think is best, or right? Or do you simply look at how the issue will affect you?

There’s this land-sharing cooperative that I’m a member of, up the coast. A few times, an email has circulated around the group because a recent clearcut* is visible from our lots. That bothers some property owners.

Whereas for me, that one clearcut does not bother me any more than the many other recent clearcuts in Clayoquot Sound (UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve – and please note, there is no “P” on reserve). To me, cutting ancient forest down is not an issue of aesthetics; it is an issue about processes. Whether or not I ever lay eyes on any one specific clearcut, I understand what Read more…

Rise up, Canada! But not over a hockey game.

June 22, 2011

Little over a month ago, as my fellow Canadians re-elected a federal government that had defended a minister who had altered government documents after their signing (and then lied about it), and that then, for unrelated reasons, had been found to be in contempt of parliament, I wondered:

What would it take to make Canadians rise up and demonstrate?

I know that much has been written this past week about the hockey riots in Vancouver, and I think that anyone who has paid any attention to them has experienced a range of emotions.

My initial feelings – as I watched the riots live on streaming internet – were of shame and disgust. But by the following day, my disgust was tinged with irony. I’ve wanted to see my fellow Canadians take to the streets, to demonstrate make a stand – for the environment, or against a federal government that protects lying cabinet ministers, for anything that matters.

But when they finally do, it is over a hockey game.

It’s been a year of protest around the world. Demonstrations that Read more…

Rice and beans around the world!

June 15, 2011

I had this post on my list of things to write about for some time in the future. But last week I received an email from my old friend Lucy, in Australia, saying:

Not sure if you will get this in time but I have a hankering for that bean and rice dish we had while you were here, but I can’t remember the details.

Even though Lucy and I are not in regular contact, we are those kinds of old friends who can pick up the thread of conversation as if we only saw one another yesterday – even if it has actually been a year or more since we were last in touch. She was one of my first room-mates when I moved to Australia in the late 1980s. My last visit that she is remembering was back in 2008.

But I’d already been thinking about that rice and beans dish, and how intertwined it is with many of my friends around the world. I first learned the recipe back in 2005 or so, when I was staying with a friend of a friend in San José, Costa Rica.

Gallo pinto (which literally means something like “painted rooster” or “speckled hen,” in reference to the speckled nature of the black beans mixed with the white rice) is standard breakfast food in Costa Rica. Rice and beans are served with most dinners there. In the morning, Read more…

What I am made of

June 8, 2011

I’ve always loved gardening. But it is only in the last few years that I have realized why. Gardening, especially vegetable gardening, is much more than a “hobby.” The act of gardening is a connection.

<–[my spinach]

The sun is beaming in my office window here and, when I finish writing this post, I am going to head outside and plunge my hands into the earth. I have eggplants that I want to plant today. And I expect that the beans that I sowed last week will just be curling up from under the earth. I need to go out to protect them from the blue jays, who love to pull them up just as they emerge.

[my first little broccoli of the year]–>

Gardening – producing my own food, is a way of connecting myself to this planet: by the direct connection of my hands in the soil, and also by the food that I eat. (It’s barely June – but in the last week I have harvested asparagus, spinach, arugula, lettuce, bok choy, and more… the earth in my yard literally becomes me!)

Gardening is also a connection to the seasons, this perpetual cycle of change that repeats as a result of our planet whirling about the sun. I’ve been growing veggies since Read more…

On knowledge versus action

June 1, 2011

This week, an article in The Guardian (referring to unpublished data from the International Energy Agency) indicated that our greenhouse gas emissions in 2010 were the highest on record – ever. This, in spite of the fact that we all “know” that human-caused global warming is real, that we should “do” something about it, and that many countries have set official targets that they are not taking appropriate steps to meet. (I am not going to address the climate-change deniers here. They ignore the data yet get far too much media attention – but I’ll talk about that in a future post).

This disconnect, between our knowledge and our actions, is really difficult for me to understand. To my way of thinking, when you see something that can go wrong in the future, you act to prevent it.

I finished my PhD in 1992, nearly 20 years ago. That same year, a group of 1700 of the world’s leading scientists published a letter warning humanity that we must change how we live if we are to avert disaster. That letter began: Read more…

Breaking a connection: Goodbye, Tofino

May 25, 2011

Photograph: Aerial view of Tofino, Vancouver Island

I’m sad that my first post on “Connections,” after my long hiatus from blogging, is actually about breaking a connection: My connection with my community, Tofino.

Tofino is a funny town. There is a reason that it was, and still is, known as “Tough City.” It’s a paradise for tourists – but it is tough to live in. It has a core community of about 1650 “residents” – and you’d think that that would give it a really nice small-town feel and sense of community.

But Tough City is tough in a number of ways. We receive about one million tourists per year. That is great for bringing jobs into the town – but it means that most of those jobs are low-paying and seasonal (waiting on tables, cleaning hotel rooms, tour-guiding), and also that the town has become very expensive to live in. It is not the kind of town that most people can make their career in. Rather, it is a place where people come to work for a few years: earn some money; enjoy the natural beauty and outdoor activities that Tofino has to offer; and then move on.

This creates what I call Read more…