Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.


I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Saturday, September 30, 2006


Last week in church, our pastor told children's story, and it was about this old guy who thoroughly confused his wife by leaving little messages all over the house that said "SHMILY." SHMILY turns out to be an acronym for: See How Much I Love You.

Since that story, SHMILY has been turning up all over the house. The kids have been leaving random SHMILY notes around for Jason and I to find; I put little SHMILYs in their lunchboxes earlier in the week. It's cute.

This morning, Christopher and I had a rough morning. Actually we had a rough day, but it all began this morning when I confiscated his piggy bank to get money for church offering. We give the kids $10 allowance each week which is enough to pay for the only expenses they ever incur: milk every day at lunch and recess; ice cream one day a week; pizza on Fridays; offering in church on Sabbath. If there's a dollar or so left at the end of the week, they can put it into the piggy bank to save up for a toy or something. It's supposed to be a little lesson in financial management, right?

So this Tuesday, Chris brought $2 to school, a dollar for milk and a dollar for ice cream. Only he apparently decided not to order ice cream, yet failed to bring back the extra dollar. I pointed out that he'd basically thrown a dollar away and he said he didn't care.

Cut to this morning, when there's not enough change left in his allowance thingie to bring offering to church. I explained that offering is a regular part of what he has to pay for each week, and that if he's careless with his money and comes up short, I have to take the difference out of his savings -- thus slashing his hoarded savings from $13.80 to $12.80.

The screams! The howls! The wails and protests of injustice!! Suddenly he cared very much about that lost dollar -- except it wasn't his fault for losing money at school, it was my fault for ruthlessly robbing his piggy bank.

Somehow we got past it (well, we stopped talking about it -- I don't think he ever actually got past it) and got ready to go to church, Chris still very grumpy. Jason and Emma were already out in the van while I was trying to get Chris through the entire getting-ready process, which included not only shoe-tying and jacket-locating, but also running around at the last minute collecting paper and pens he wanted to bring to church. And, since he can't touch paper and pen without stopping to draw something, Mommy going insane telling Chris to stop drawing and get ready for church right now!! ("Get ready for church so we can go worship Jesus even if it kills us!!!" is always the unspoken Sabbath morning subtext).

I sat on the bottom step as Christopher came sauntering out of the living room, shoeless, trailing paper from one hand and an assortment of pens from another. "I just wrote something with the invisible pen, and now you have to go over it with the decoder pen to decode the message," he said.

"No, you have to put on your shoes so we can get out to the van," I countered.

He laid the paper and pens on my lap and reached for a shoe. "Just do it! Just decode the message."

I rolled my eyes. I was about to refuse. I thought better of it and picked up the decoder pen to rub across the apparently blank paper.

Slowly the letters appeared ... S ... H ... M ... I ... L ... Y.

It's the thing that gets me every time about parenting -- especially with my son, who is the more combative and less demonstrative of my two children. We can be staring each other down, me thinking, "How did I give birth to someone so absolutely impossible? Do the gypsies still take children??" and him no doubt thinking, "Why is this huge and powerful being conspiring to destroy my life, take away all my fun and rob my piggy bank?!?!" And in the middle of it all, on both sides, there's this huge force of love that's still there, like a tap waiting to be turned on. Anytime, all the time.

They drive me crazy. I drive them crazy. But at any moment, it's right there, waiting for either of us to reach for the faucet and turn it on. See how much I love you?

Friday, September 29, 2006

House, etc.

I watched the first two episodes of House, season 1 on DVD last night.

I don't normally watch medical shows. I remember my parents being really into St. Elsewhere back in the day, and I do recognize that a hospital is a great setting for a workplace drama, and the highs and lows of saving (or losing) lives make for great TV. There's just this little problem. I am a bit ... how you say? ... er, squeamish. Sissyfied. Apparently as a small child I cut myself and refused to look at the wound, screaming, "There is no blood!!!" This is still my preferred way of dealing with illness and injury.

A few years back, when ER was all the rage, I used to occasionally catch a bit of it when flipping around channels. Every time I clicked on to it -- without exception -- I was treated to a shot of someone's chest cavity opened and bared to my view. Well, maybe sometimes it was the abdominal cavity. Whatever. It wasn't what I needed to see before bed.

More recently, people whose taste I trust have highly recommended both House and Grey's Anatomy. But really, why go there? As long as West Wing was on I had all I needed of smart, beautiful people speaking great dialogue, wrestling with huge issues and also making me laugh. Best part? Nobody's chest cavity was ever opened.

But in the post-WW wasteland in which I now live, I've been casting about for new TV ("new" meaning, to me, something that came out long enough ago that I can get it on DVD). I was briefly tempted by high-octane reviews of Lost from a variety of friends, but staring at the box I found the premise simply too off-putting. On the other hand I was intrigued by descriptions of the bitter, misanthropic doctor played by Hugh Laurie (who's suddenly American!) in House. On discovering that Blockbuster had House Season 1 on DVD, I decided to give it a try.

Only, Blockbuster doesn't actually have it on DVD. They have the cases out on the shelf, but the actual DVD has been bought by a customer, so they are just keeping the case out there to tantalize me.

Don't get me started on video stores. I know Blockbuster is a big evil mega-corporation that's choking smaller local businesses to death. We really only have one independent video store left in St. John's that's doing at all well, and that's because they've got a niche market in quirky hard-to-find movies for quirky hard-to-please people. We go there once in awhile, but mostly we go to Blockbuster because, Big Evil Corp or not, Blockbuster understands customer service. Particularly with the extended rentals and the no late fees.

So if the video place that has the best grasp of customer service in town is keeping empty DVD cases on the shelves for DVDs they don't actually have, you know things are looking pretty dire. I popped into Jumbo to look for something else that wasn't in stock at Blockbuster, and I rented Season 1, disc 1 of House. Which is where I really felt the pain for it not being Blockbuster, because Jumbo gave me a one-night rental for a disc with FOUR one-hour episodes on it. Do they think people have nothing better to do on a Thursday evening than watch four back-to-back episodes of House??

As it turned out, I had nothing better to do than watch two back-to-back episodes. Sure enough, the show was great and all the characters -- especially House, but the supporting cast as well -- pulled me into it right from the beginning. I was even able to handle it when the camera zoomed up the patient's nostril and right through her nasal passages into her vivdly realized CGI brain. "It's just CGI, it's just CGI," I chanted to myself over and over, looking at the scene through my half-closed eyes till the cranial animation ended.

Then they had to perform a tracheotomy on the patient. Uh-oh. Apparently it's not enough to show the scalpel lowering menacingly over her pretty white throat -- we have to actually see it cutting into her pretty white throat, and blood spurting out. This was the point at which I turned the TV off. House or no House, I could not pretend there was no blood.

I wandered away for a few minutes but curiosity drew me back. I really wanted to see the rest of the show, but not with gruesome blood and all. I decided a judicious use of the fast forward button would get me safely through the episode, which contained lots more CGI brain stuff, but no more cutting-into-live-bodies stuff.

Jason watched the second episode with me, upstairs in bed where we do not have the luxury of a remote control. Every time it looked like something surgical was about to happen, Jason had to leap from the bed to hit FF on the computer, while I buried my head under the covers.

Yet, incredibly, the brilliance of the show actually made all this hassle worthwhile. I would not have believed it, but I think I may be hooked on House. (Thank heaven my fondness for twisted, bitter, unhappy men is pretty much confined to books, movies and TV. Oh, and my students.). Now I just have to figure out how to get the rest of the episodes without paying ridiculous late fees!

Monday, September 25, 2006

My Whirlwind Tour of Halifax

Yesterday was a bizarrely long day. I was awake by 4:30 in order to shower and get ready to be at the airport for my 6:35 flight to Halifax. I decided my one-day trip to Halifax to read at Word on the Street was going to be my practice run for if I ever get to be a Truly Important Author who gets send jet-setting around the world on a book tour.

It was a flying visit, but actually longer than it needed to be, since WOTS only ran from 11:00 - 5:00 and I was actually going to be in Halifax from about 8:00 in the morning till 9:00 in the evening (those were the best flight times I could get). I had all kinds of plans about being adventurous and seeing a bit of the city in addition to attending WOTS. When I got up at 4:30, one of those plans was to visit a church in Halifax in the morning -- I love visiting churches, and what better thing to do when you have Sunday morning to kill in a strange city? (Well, Halifax is not all that strange as I've been there several times, but it's not home).

By the time I woke from my brief and uncomfortable nap on the plane at about 7:00, I realized how tired and hungry I was. The option of sitting through a church service had lost all appeal and I decided instead that I would worship at the Temple of Brunch. I planned to go downtown to Cora's, get a raisin bread French toast with "mound of fresh fruit," and continue on to WOTS from there. This plan kept me buoyed up throughout the rest of the flight.

But when I actually got to the airport and checked the bus times,
I realized it would be hard to do that and still get to WOTS on time, and I did want to take in the whole festival. So I reconciled myself to an egg and cheese crossainwich at Burger King -- quite a few steps down from Cora's! -- and caught the airport bus downtown. I was the only passenger and the driver was extremely chatty. Mostly, he wanted to talk a lot about the drug trade and how people always seemed to be getting busted for it, but kept growing and selling marijuana anyway. He seemed like a very clean-cut older guy (61, retired trucker), but I'm not sure what he would have said if I'd showed a livelier interest in the subject of marijuana growing -- I mostly just kept shaking and nodding my head and making "oh, that's interesting," kinda noises till we arrived at Pier 23 just as the festival was beginning.

It was a great day with lots of excellent readings. I had the chance to hear and talk with many writers, some I already knew and some who were new to me. Janet McNaughton, Ami McKay, Maura Hanrahan, Carrie Mac, Natale Ghent, Nellie Strowbridge and many others showcased some of the best Canada, especially Eastern Canada, has to offer. There were also great sale tables by the Halifax bookstores and I'm afraid the money I saved by not staying overnight was at least partly swallowed up in book purchases!

As for my own reading, I had about a dozen people there, which was a decent turn-out by the standards of what I'd seen all day, and especially gratifying as none of them were related to me! (Not that I don't love my relatives turning out to readings ... I rely on relatives and friends, but occasionally it's nice to read to someone who doesn't already own the book!) Only two people bought the book at my signing, although my hope is that a bunch more were intrigued enough to maybe follow it up later, because the audience did seem to really enjoy my reading (with all the sales on, I didn't buy any of the full-price books by the authors who were reading, so I hope others were thinking the same way and will remember my book next time they're book-shopping!) I had a lot of fun with the reading; it's the one part of shameless self-promotion that I really do enjoy, since I have no stage fright and actually enjoy being in front of a microphone. It's a bit like acting but not as risky.

As to whether it was worth the trip, from a book-promotion point of view, I'm not sure -- it would be hard to justify the cost of even a one-day trip to Halifax on the strength of selling two books, but as I said I have to hope that things like this have a long-term effect in terms of word of mouth and networking.

I enjoyed the day, but was glad to get home at 11:30 p.m., very tired and pleased to have survived two plane flights in less than eighteen hours.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Adventure du Jour

Today's Sabbath afternoon adventure was a hike we've never taken with the kids before -- the trail from the top of Signal Hill down to the Battery. We decided today was the ideal day to do it because, as my parents are out of town, we have access to their van. Being briefly a two-vehicle family, we were able to park one car at the bottom of the trail and then take the other up to the Cabot Tower parking lot. We didn't think the kids would be up for walking the whole trail and then climbing up Signal Hill Road to get back to the van (a good call, as it turned out).

As we drove up Signal Hill we discovered that we had chosen to go up there at the same time as a huge crowd of people doing the
"RealTime Cancer Climb" in matching T-shirts. They all looked very young, happy and energetic and it was great to see such a crowd of teens and young adults gathered for a good cause.

Our own walk was more low-key but quite successful. The kids enjoyed the trail, and for an ongoing novelty we got to try out our new
hydration backpack (a gift rather than something we bought for ourselves). I'm not sure it's actually anymore convenient than throwing a couple of bottles of water in a backpack, but it certainly kept everyone fascinated -- and stopping frequently for water breaks (the picture at right shows Chris wearing the backpack and Emma getting a drink from the built-in straw).

I remembered the walk, even in one direction and downhill, as long and tiring, but I think that may have been because I remember doing it on a hot summer day -- today was sunny and breezy, but cool when the sun went behind a cloud, which kept us from getting too warm. Also, the pace of hiking with children -- lots of rest stops! -- made it a very easy walk indeed. It's one more step in our long-term plan to become avid hikers and raise the children to be the same. I guess getting some decent shoes or boots should figure into that plan somewhere too!

Anyway, that was our family excursion for today. Tomorrow I'm off on an excursion of my own -- a one-day trip to Halifax to read at Word on the Street. If anyone reading this is in Halifax, please come down and see me at 3:30! I'm flying out early in the morning and flying back late at night, so I won't see much of Halifax, but I hope I see a few people at my reading. There are going to be lots of good readings to go to and writers to meet, so it'll be an enjoyable day no matter what happens.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Wearing Masks

First up, thank you all for being so patient with my whining the other day. I am quite over that now, and not only did I get some nice comments, I discovered a couple of entirely new people who apparently read my blog, which is so cool. Seeing "10 comments" at the foot of a post just makes me want to go all, "You like me! You really like me!!" I think it's a measure of my own insecurities that when I heard about Sally Field's infamous Oscar acceptance speech all those years ago, my reaction was: "Well yeah ... what else would you say??"

Of course, if you have issues with insecurity and needing approval, acting is a terrific career choice, since you get to hide behind your onstage characters. Writing also works well -- put your fictional people out there and let people deal with them instead of with you. You can even re-invent yourself as a fictional character in your apparently factual memoir (yes, I still love you, James Frey, in spite of everything).

If you don't have the creative talent to do any of those things, you can go online and just invent yourself as an internet persona.

Jason has long referred to my online friends as "your imaginary friends," even when I
met up with a bunch of them in England. While I have found lots of fun, information and support in online communities, I've always held back that little bit of suspicion (some might say paranoia) because I realize how easy it is for people to misrepresent themselves in an online environment.

This week the online community where I spend the most time,
Ship of Fools, has been hit big-time by an internet scammer posing as a number of different people. The story first broke on the separated-but-related website St. Pixels; subsequent discussion of the hoax at Ship of Fools revealed that the hoax identities there went back several months, involving the heart-rending story of a woman with cancer who "died" not long after registering on the Ship, and her heartbroken partner who, unable to carry on, killed himself shortly afterwards.

I hadn't had a great deal of interaction with any of these made-up characters (who turned out to all be the product of a single brain), but some people had really gone all-out giving prayers, support, sending e-mails, cards and flowers, etc. Their sense of outrage and betrayal is understandable.

While this kind of scamming behavior is completely reprehensible, I have to say I understand something about the impulse that drives it. Maybe it comes with having a novelist's imagination, but I can see the appeal of creating a fictional character and then seeing your character interact with real people who actually believe he/she exists. It's pushing what a novelist does one step further.

In fact -- true confession time -- once, in the days long before the Internet, I perpetrated my own, very tiny, identity hoax. Perhaps that experience has left me with a lifelong fascination about this kind of thing.

It was 1982 and I sat in a university Intro to Calculus course, as bored as I've ever been before or since. I was doodling on my desktop with a pencil when, for no particular reason, I wrote the name "Terry O'Leary" in fancy script. It wasn't the name of a real person: I just liked the euhponious sound of the two syllables.

Imagine my surprise when I came back the next day and found, in very girly handwriting underneath, "Hi Terry!"

I couldn't help myself. I wrote "Hi," and in those two simple letters, Terry O'Leary moved from a scrawl on a desktop to being -- what? My
sockpuppet, we'd say in these online days, but that term didn't exist then. A mask behind which I hid, a character I created. A girl called Vicki believed that a guy called Terry was writing messages on a desk in a Math classroom, and I played along.

Vicki and "Terry" exchanged flirtatious notes for about two weeks (apparently they didn't clean the desks very often in that room). She described herself, and I described "Terry" (in fact, I described a male friend of mine, thinking I might get him to play along with the hoax). Eventually, of course, Vicki wanted to meet Terry, and I went so far as to agree to a meeting. I tried to convince my friend to go meet her under the "Terry O'Leary" identity, but he wisely declined. Vicki went to the Science cafe and got stood up; I confessed later that day on the desktop. Vicki never replied; I felt awful about deceiving her, and later that week someone finally cleaned the desks. My career as a hoaxer was over.

The Terry O'Leary experience left me both with an understanding of the thrill and power trip behind creating a false identity and deceiving people with it -- and also a keen awareness of how badly that kind of activity can hurt people. It was a bad thing to do. But I was 17, and stuck in calculus -- cut me some slack here. I'm pretty sure Vicki has moved on, and I learned a lifelong lesson.

I've also been on the receiving end of a much more dramatic real-life scam. When I taught at a boarding school in the late 80s, a girl came to school with a tragic story. She had cancer, and her heartless parents had kicked their sick daughter out of the house. She had no family and a host of medical problems, and the staff and students of that school took her into their arms and into their hearts. They -- we -- were good people, and we responded to her terrible situation. We made allowances when she disappeared for days at a time to go into the hospital. We sent cards and flowers, and were flexible about her classwork. Kids even got blood tests to find out if they were the right type to be blood donors for her.

It took about four months before the whole thing fell apart. She had never had cancer, although I suppose she might have had
Munchausen's Syndrome. She had faked everything, including letters from doctors on genuine doctor letterhead. Even the school nurse had been taken in. She was about the same age I'd been when I perpetrated the "Terry O'Leary" scam, but hers was breathtakingly complex and daring. Everyone at school felt hurt, betrayed, outraged -- just like the people on Ship of Fools are feeling right now. I felt -- detached, I guess. As I do now. Part of me is repelled and part of me is fascinated.

I'm a writer. I create characters. In my mind, they walk, talk and breathe. They're real to me, and if I do my job well enough they'll do the same for my readers. But the writer or actor has an implied contract with the audience: You understand, of course, that this is all fiction. None of it will intrude into your real-life.

Hiding your own identity behind a mask -- whether in a "fictionalized" memoir, or in an online persona -- blurs a boundary. I'm teaching Lord of the Flies to my English 2201 class right now, and today I read aloud to my students the scene where Jack first paints his face and feels "liberated from shame and self-consciousness." Most of us seek that liberating experience at some time or another, even if we don't go to the extent of inventing sockpuppets to scam people. It's easy to wear different masks in different situations -- in my own life, Church Lady Trudy is definitely distinct from Artsy Trudy, who hangs around with a different crowd and talks about different things. How deep do those differences have to go before they compromise our integrity, our authenticity?

I think a lot about these questions. (As so some of my friends -- read Jamie's blog for an interesting parable along the same lines). On some level I do understand the urge that drives scammers and hoaxers, the urge to create an masked identity who'll do the things I can't or won't do. That's one of the reasons I always use my real name and real-life identity online, both on my blog and on boards where I post. I don't necessarily think everyone should do this -- I understand people's concerns about privacy, and I understand that people are looking for different things from their online experience, so anonymity may be the way to go for some. But for me, as soon as I create a fictitious username I feel I am, to some extent, creating a character. And that can become a mask behind which I can hide.

My goal, I guess, is to wear as few -- and as transparent -- masks as possible. To be, as much as I can, the same person in every environment, real-life and online. So that if you like me -- if you really like me -- you'll like the "real" me, not just my mask.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Struggling Back to Blogland

I have a confession to make. It's hugely ironic coming at a time when apparently there is quite a bit of debate going on about the "politics of blogging" and the role of popularity (as measured by site hits, comments, etc.) in the blogworld ... (a debate which might well have passed my completely as I'm so out of the loop about such things, except for one link which led me to another and another) ...

But it's time to confess.

I was kinda crushed that I didn't get more comments on my carefully written and (I figured) thoughtful last post on the Montreal school shooting. For once, I blog on something topical and possibly even debateworthy ... and there is near-silence. Mind you, seven comments is quite good for my little corner of the blogosphere, but when you consider that one was kind of irrevelant, one was me replying to someone, and THREE were from my best friend (bless her!) who posted three times ... that's basically three people who commented on what I said. I don't know, I was just hoping for a little more feedback. I really do try not to measure my self-worth by my blog-comments (especially given how often I read other people's blogs, think "That's really interesting!" and then don't comment). But I do like to get feedback and know what other people are thinking about the things that interest me. Thanks to those who did comment.

I am getting over the pain and getting back to blogging. Oh, speaking of pain, did I tell you about the SIX PEOPLE who came to my reading on Sunday? Thank you, I love you all, you are gods and goddesses ... still it would have been nice to see a few more faces there. Wow, there's nothing like being a writer for boosting one's self-esteem is there?

Is it possible I'm just feeling a teensy bit underappreciated right now? It's apparently not enough for me to have a book published ... or to have a blog ... what I really need (apparently) is people to line the streets chanting my name and showering me with rose petals.


What better to cheer me up than pictures of my children? Here's one of Emma that raises an interesting (perhaps comment-worthy? I can only dare hope!) point in and of itself. Because I am one of those moms who strictly rations TV and video and computer time, and I will fight to the death for my belief that watching TV stifles creativity. And yet ... when I put on a video for the kids Sunday morning while Jason was still in bed upstairs, and I went out for a walk ... this is the scene I came home to a little later:

Yes, the TV is still on over in the corner somewhere, outside the frame of the picture. Kinda makes me scared about how creative (and messy) she could get if I didn't have a video on. OK, I'm not going to go into any deep thoughts about kids, TV and creativity ... a picture is worth 1000 anyway.

So for my next 1000 words, here's Christopher playing the violin:

Note how, with the superhero mural in the background, it kind of looks like The Thing is sneaking up from behind to attack Christohper while he's playing? If you've ever had an eight-year-old violin student practicing in your house you may feel some sympathy with The Thing at this point ... poor guy probably just wants some peace and quiet. However, getting Chris to practice is such a struggle that whenever he plays anything at all, it's music to my ears.

Oh, for anyone who's keeping track? My foot got completely better, all on its own. So, that's a good thing.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Power of the Dark Side

I'm not the kind of blogger who blogs a lot about current events and issues in the news ... a little too frivolous for that ... but some reflections from last week's shooting at Dawson College in Montreal have been nibbling at the edges of my brain for the last few days. Coupled with the fact that I'm currently reading Martha O'Connor's disturbing novel about three self-destructive teenage girls, The Bitch Posse, I can feel a blog coming on about the dark side of youth culture, and how we "grownups" relate to it.

It's horrific that the phrase "another school shooting" can exist in English or any language, but there it is: there was another school shooting this week. What really drew my attention with the Dawson College story, though, were the
revelations about gunman Kimveer Gill's disturbing blog posts on a goth website.

"Likes: Crushing my enemies' skulls." Images of himself in a trenchcoat holding a semiautomatic rifle with the caption: "You will come to know him as the Angel of Death." An image of his own name on a tombstone, captioned: "Lived fast died young. Left a mangled corpse."

I'd like to say this stuff shocks me, but honestly? I've taught high school for twelve years; I have a degree in counselling; I work in an adult-ed program for "at risk" youth. Nothing shocking here. Out of the 600,000 users on this particular goth website, I'll bet at least 555,000 of them have similar statements and images in their blogs. And that's not intended as an indictment of goth culture specifically -- that's a statement about youth. There's always been a dark side to youth culture. The internet has made it a little more public, perhaps, but it was there when I was a teenager and it's very much there in the lives of my students.

600,000 internet-using alienated goth young people on that one website -- and only one of them took a gun into a school and shot twenty-one people, killing two: Anastasia DeSousa ... and himself.

Why? What's the tipping point here?

You might think that now that I work with a particular population -- young people who have had trouble finishing school -- I'm more likely to be exposed to this kind of thing, and less shocked by it. Yes, there's probably a higher proportion of depression, pre-occupation with death and violence, suicidal ideation, etc etc etc, among my students now than among the more "mainstream" students I taught in public high school, or at a private Christian school. But the dark side was definitely there in those places as well. Maybe a math teacher or a science teacher could miss seeing it, but anyone who teaches English and Creative Writing is bound to get smacked in the face, sooner or later, by the dark side of the adolescent mind.

My first job was at a Christian boarding school populated almost exclusively by middle-class kids from churchgoing families. It was there that a girl in my writing class read a story she'd written about a girl very much like herself -- the description was clearly a self-portrait -- who dresses up in trampy clothes and goes out at night to hook up with random guys in a city park ... and murders them. With great pleasure.

Was I shocked, as a naive young teacher, when I read that story? A bit, yeah. (I was also impressed with the quality of the writing). Did I rush to the principal and the guidance counsellor and say that I thought little Suzie was at risk for committing violent crimes? No. Should I have? I'm still not sure, but I don't think so. I took the story as a piece of creative fiction, that girl's way of exploring her own "dark side" on paper, which I think everyone has a right to do. Maybe if it had been part of a larger pattern of behavior I would have worried more. Twenty years have passed and I'm pretty sure that girl has not gone on to murder anyone. In those years I have only once recommended a student get counselling on the basis of concerns raised by the writing he produced. And I've read a lot of dark, disturbing stuff.

Kimveer Gill apparently wrote "Life sucks, work sucks, school sucks," on the same website where he posted his disturbing pictures and captions. This, too, is now being quoted as evidence of what a disturbed young man he was. Heck, I had a Grade 8 student who wrote "Life sucks, school sucks" as his journal entry over and over every day for a semester. The kid's dad had died over the summer and I personally thought he was writing the most honest journal entry he could manage to write during those months. And he grew up to be a fine, upstanding, non-gun-toting member of society, by the way.

Exploring your darker feelings in words, art, music -- that's a valid part of growing up. Even I, who had the most normal and well-adjusted childhood and adolescence you could imagine, could show you a pile of moody teenage poems about how lonely I was and how nobody understood me ... I doubt there's a writer alive who couldn't produce a similar sheaf of early works. Obviously some people go much farther, and to a much darker place, in both their writing and their lives. That exploration of the dark side isn't limited to teenagers -- many kids who grow up to become artists and writers continue to mine the darker vein of human experience. (Look at Stephen King. Look at nineteenth-century Romanticism. Look at the Psalms!) It's so easy to second-guess, to look back and say, "Why didn't somebody raise a red flag when Kimveer Gill was posting dark, destructive messages on the Web?" Hindsight is 20/20, and all that -- I'm not sure sounding the alarm every time we see images of death and destruction in a young person's writing is the answer.

Is there an answer? I guess before I work that one out, I have to figure out exactly what the question is. As I tease through the jumble of thoughts I have on this issue, five questions emerge:

1) What moves a "normal" teenage exploration of negative feelings, etc., across the boundary into something much darker and scarier?
2) For those who cross that boundary, what's the catalyst that pushes someone from destructive thoughts and imagery, into destructive acts?
3) How concerned should we be about young people's writing, art, websites, etc., that explore destructive and self-destructive subjects?

4) What can I do as a teacher and counsellor, as an adult living in the same world with young people, to help kids who are walking on the dark side, to draw them back from crossing that boundary?
5) Most important, what can I do as a parent to help my own kids as they approach adolescence -- to keep them "in the light" as much as possible?

I don't have answers, of course. But I do have some thoughts on each of those questions.

1) I really don't know what causes anyone to cross the boundary from "normal kid adjusting to growing up, with a few bumps" to "troubled kid." It's easy to look at family dysfunction as the key element, and there's certainly a lot of that going around. But I can tell you that I have met an awful lot of "troubled kids" with loving, involved parents who seemed to all appearances to be doing their level best ... just like I'm doing with my kids. Certainly what happens at home is important -- but well-intentioned parenting is no guarantee of safety; I've seen enough to know that. It's horrible to think of, but behind almost every atrocity committed by a young person is a parent as puzzled as Kimveer Gill's mother.

2) I don't know this one either. Very few kids end up murdering people, no matter how disturbed they get. But we lose far, far too many young people by the wayside -- kids who go into the dark side and never come out. They may not become murderers but they may get lost in a life of pettier crime, or lost to addictions, or suicide, or a lifetime of poorly treated mental illness that leaves them unable to function. I don't believe many people are inherently evil. I believe a lot of bright, creative, potentially strong and beautiful young people get lost and the blame for that rests at least partly with society.

3) As a society, then, how do we respond when we see evidence of the dark side of youth culture? Should teachers blow the whistle every time a student writes a poem suggesting life's not worth living, or a story in which someone carries out a violent act? I think there's a fine balance here -- it's better to err on the side of caution, of course, than to ignore red flags. But there's also a danger in being too alarmist, in stifling free expression. Parents are beginning to be horrified by what they find on their children's MySpace pages -- sometimes with good reason. But I wonder if "horrified" is the most useful reaction?

I caught the tail-end of an interview with writer David Grossman today on the radio. I didn't hear the context in which he was making the statement, but I heard him say that people are afraid of darkness, especially of the darkness in their own children. Of course we're afraid of it. My kids are six and eight, hopefully many years away from writing depressing poems about how nobody understands them. But if they do write those poems (and I pray that's the worst they ever do), I will feel scared, because those poems will suggest that my children are in danger and that I have somehow failed them. If I can get past that fear long enough to stand beside my children -- not in condemnation over them, but beside them -- and look into the darkness with them, talk with them about what they see there ... well, I would be acknowledging, as an adult, that the world is a dark and scary place and sometimes you feel alone, and it's OK to express that. And that would be a good time to remind them that I'll always love them.

I didn't blow any whistles on that girl who wrote the violent short story 20 years ago, and maybe the fact that I accepted her, and her story, was a positive thing. But I could have done so much more for her, if I'd been willing to take the risk to really get to know her, to learn about the darkness inside her world out of which that story grew. "At-risk youth" don't need adults shaking their heads over the shocking content of their blogs; maybe they need someone who can help them stare down the darkness.

4) How do we, as adults, do that for young people? What does caring for youth look like in real life? In response to the Montreal shootings, controversial Montreal clergyman Reverend Darryl Gray said, "We're not passionate about saving these kids. We're really not, to be honest....Maybe Anastasia's death was a wake-up call, that we have to start paying more attention to these kids." (I could get into a whole tangent here about labelling -- there's something very dismissive about saying "these kids," and even the term "at-risk youth," which I use myself, tells only part of the truth about a very complex group of individuals. But I'm going to try not to get too off-track here).

If there's one thing in life I am passionate about, it is "saving these kids." I agree society as a whole needs to do more for marginalized young people, but from where I stand, and work, I see whole communities of adults who are giving their lives to helping young people. There are such deeply committed teachers, counsellors, social workers, etc etc, out there doing their best. There are fantastic people developing programs to get marginalized kids into sports, music and theatre programs. And I do see them -- us -- making a difference, often in small ways.

It's still not enough. Kimveer Gill's blog demonstrated hatred and contempt for all authority figures. In Martha O'Connor's The Bitch Posse, the failures of teachers, counsellors and psychiatrists are central to the characters' downward spiral. Despite the best intentions of the best adults in the world, kids are going to the dark side and not finding their way through it to the other side.

I used to be younger and more naive. I used to believe I could "save these kids." Teachers and counsellors who believe that burn out fast. I now believe that out of the dozens of teachers, coaches, counsellors and other authority figures my students will encounter in their lives, I can be one of the good ones. I can be one voice of hope, encouragement, support, standing against the many negative voices they've heard. I can listen honestly to their stories (and poems, and blogs) of the darkness they live in, and say, "I've heard you say this, and I want you to know I think you're a valuable person -- and if you want, maybe I can suggest a few things that might help you deal with this darkness."

If enough of us -- not just those in direct "helping" professions but also neighbours, employers, friends -- believe this, maybe the chorus of voices telling kids "Yes" will grow a little louder than the chorus of voices telling them "NO!"

5) I am, indeed, passionate about my students -- but that's only a fragment of how passionate I am about my own children. Who are still small, who still have their innocence almost completely intact. I don't mind telling you I am terrified about adolescence, about releasing them into the wild of junior high, and though that's a few years down the road I see how time is flying and I know it will be upon us all too soon.

I know that no matter what Jason and I do, sometime during those years our children will yell that they hate us and want us to leave them alone forever. That they will feel we don't understand and don't care, that they will struggle to distance themselves from us and our values. That will hurt, but it's normal; it's what they're supposed to be doing during those years, and if a little bad poetry gets produced as a result, no lasting damage will be done. But how to prevent them from crossing over into darkness completely -- into the world I've seen so many young people inhabit, where they're alienated from family and school and society and from all the good in themselves -- no, I don't know how to protect them from that.

I know we are doing everything right that we can, right now. Giving them a loving home with parents who care about them unconditionally. Giving them discipline and boundaries. Giving them a foundation of faith that I hope is firm without being harsh or narrow. Letting them know they can talk to us about anything that happens to them. Giving them a wide variety of experiences and building their senses of self-esteem and self-efficacy. Making sure they eat vegetables and don't watch too much TV.

And hoping, and praying. Trusting that when they have to move away from us a little to establish their own sense of self, they will bump into other adults who are caring, and responsible, and trustworthy. I've tried to be one of those adults for other people's kids all my life, so I hope some will be out there when my kids need them. Until then, we'll all keep doing the best we can, never knowing whether it's enough.

R.I.P. Anastasia deSousa, 1988-2006.
R.I.P. Kimveer Gill, 1981-2006.

Afterthought: Two hours after I first posted this entry, I'm still debating whether it was right to post Anastasia deSousa's and Kimveer Gill's names there togther. I'm not suggesting that the murderer and his victim are equally victims, or that Gill is not to blame for deSousa's horrible death. In some ways I agree with the sentiments of the blogger who wrote that Kimveer Gill is no victim and I don't mean anything I said to be taken as diminishing individual responsibility for crime. But I do think the kids and young adults who turn to violent crime are to be pitied, and I do think that in many cases -- I obviously don't know if Gill was one such -- the right kind of intervention, somewhere along the line, could have prevented a tragedy. So I do see these two deaths as two tragedies -- one the death of an innocent victim, one the death of a person who made terribly wrong choices and hurt others along the way. I'm leaving both names up. There's a link to a lovely memoriam page for Antastasia deSousa; there's no such page for Kimveer Gill. That, to me, seems to fairly sum up the difference in their fates.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Of Feet and Fame

It's not always easy to know how to dress in Newfoundland in September. On Wednesday, while we were lashed with wind and rain in the tail-end of Tropical Storm Florence (by the time it gets here it's all storm and no tropical), I was trying to tidy up the mountain of shoes in our front porch and I thought, "Well, I can put away all these sandals -- clearly we won't be needing them again!" Today it was sunny and 20 degrees and as I stopped by the house after work to change before doing some errands, what do you think I was tearing around looking for? My sandals, of course!

The question of footwear is very pertinent today because there is something wrong with the middle two toes on my left foot. They are hurting. An obvious explanation, given how accident-prone I am, would be that I hit them off something, but I have racked my brain and don't recall doing so. They seem to have just spontaneously combusted into pain. The most creative explanation so far comes from my student Ellie who suggests that it may be meningitis -- of the feet. Aaaannnd ... now we know why Ellie's the only one of her friends not planning to study medicine.

I think it's getting a little better -- this started about two days ago -- but this morning when I got up early enough to take Max for a walk, I hobbled to the bathroom and realized there would be NO morning walk for Max. Instead I went down and rode the exercise bike, which didn't hurt my foot at all. I amused myself while cycling by listening to some choral music I downloaded onto the iPod after my ear-opening experience with Spem in Alium on Wednesday night. Since I loved that piece so unexpectedly much I went online and asked the knowledgeable choir-type folks at Ship of Fools for recommendations and now I have a nice little beginner's list of choral music (which I am also listening to as I type this). Of course, as I drove along Prince Philip Drive this afternoon with the windows down and the radio blasting, "She Ain't Pretty She Just Looks That Way" as I sang along, I realized I will probably never be a true classical music afficianado -- at least it will never replace my love of 80s pop music -- but hey, I can broaden my horizons a little, right?

It occurs to me that Wednesday night, when I went to The Rooms and heard the Forty-Part Motet of Spem in Alium, was also the night my foot started to hurt. Coincidence? I think so!

A much more likely cause than choral music or meningitis is that I need new shoes. I am the absolute polar opposite of every cliche you've ever heard about women loving shoes. I couldn't care less what's on my feet and hate shopping for them. I wear sneakers -- basic cross-trainers -- about 95% of the time, I walk a fair bit, and I don't update nearly as often as I should. In fact, half the time what I have on my feet is hand-me-downs from my mother. My mother apparently has oddly-shaped, hard-to-fit feet, a fact from which I have benefited immensely. The sandals I'm wearing in the pic above are the most comfortable I've ever owned, and my mom gave them to me because they were so uncomfortable.

A couple of years ago I was wearing a pair of old sneakers that my mom had handed down to me, to tide me over till I bought new ones. Predictably, instead of buying new sneakers, I wore those ones till they were shabby. One day I was at a Life Skills meeting with some participants at Choices, a local charity that works with homeless youth. I looked around the room at all the feet and thought, "I'm in a roomful of homeless youth and I have by FAR the worst shoes in the room." I went out that week and bought myself new sneakers.

But that was, as I said, a couple of years ago, and now those sneakers are old and tired, and I have acquired another pair of hand-me-downs from my mom which I have been trying to get used to. However, I think this pair may actually be flawed, since wearing them seems to have coincided with the onset of the foot-meningitis. Time to go shoe-shopping -- why isn't it ever as fun as it seems to be for girls in movies?

Among the many fun places my compromised feet carried me in the hour between getting off work and picking up the kids this afternoon was the parking lot of Chapters, where I snapped this memorable photo:

OK, so this is how you know you're NOT a Genuinely Famous Person, because a GFP would either be so blase they wouldn't know or care there was a giant sign up with their name on it, or else they'd be incensed that the store couldn't (apparently) fit their whole name on there. I'm in the zone between excited, irritated and embarrassed -- probably equal parts all three, but not so blase that I didn't drive by and take a picture. And even without the "Cole" which is an integral part of my name, I have to say I like THAT side of the sign (westbound) much better than the eastbound sign:

Yes, the letter N -- also an integral part of my name, as it turns out.

Just to prove that I can do something useful in this life, other than obsess about my feet and signs with my name on them, I posted two new reviews on Compulsive Overreader today, so you should go read them. Having done that, I will close this blog by showing you pictures of the wonderful and enjoyable thing I did after the sandals, the errands, the sign and the singing along with the radio ... I took advantage of the good weather, picked up my beautiful children from school, and took them to the playground. And it doesn't get much better than that, even for a name-challenged writer with podiatric meningitis.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Little Culture, and some more SSP

Last night Jason and I went to The Rooms. Wednesday night is free night, so when we go it's always on a Wednesday. We took the kids last Wednesday night, and every time we go to The Rooms with the kids I always have to arrange to go back without them, because where they want to race through the exhibits and spend long hours hanging out with the video of the jellyfish, etc., I want to wander slowly through the art gallery and have time to actually take things in before being rushed on to the next event. So last night was our second trip in a week to The Rooms, this time kid-free.

One of the exhibits I wanted to linger over was "Intangible Evidence," featuring multimedia works by Michael Crummey, Andy Jones, and three other artists -- it was really the Andy Jones and the Michael Crummey pieces I wanted to see. Andy Jones' exhibit was inspired by the old house he owns in Caplin Cove, which once belonged to the Ellis family -- relatives of ours on my mom's side. The centrepiece of the exihibit is an essay written by Abby Ellis Whiffen, born 1926, about growing up in Caplin Cove; the essay is both projected on the wall with old photographs, and also hand-lettered and illustrated on a long wooden table somewhat in the style of an illuminated manuscript. I found the content interesting and the presentation absolutely beautiful.

Michael Crummey's exhibit also focuses on Newfoundland outport history -- it's a collection of old photographs and documents interspersed with poems Crummey has written as well as "found poetry" inspired by the pictures and documents themselves. Hard to describe but fascinating. The poems are wonderful, especially the "Watermark" poems accompanying images of Pentecostal baptisms in the ocean. Some of the old letters are also poems in themselves -- like the letter by the old lighthouse-keeper applying for a pension. He writes that if he doesn't get it he will "lie down and starve because no-one is going to feed me." You couldn't make this stuff up.

If you're in St. John's and haven't seen "Intangible Evidence" I highly recommend that you go visit it, especially the Jones and Crummey portions of the exhibit, because they are amazing.

The other thing I loved at The Rooms last night was a travelling installation called "Forty Part Motet" by Janet Cardiff. It's a recording of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir singing Tallis' Spem in Alium, with each individual voice being played through one of forty speakers mounted in a circle. You can walk the circle and listen to the individual voices, or sit in the middle and be surounded by the music. It was uplifting and inspiring as well as beautiful, and was enough to make me rethink my lifelong coolness towards choral music -- for the first time I found a choral piece truly moving. This installation is leaving St. John's this weekend but if you're ever in a place where it's on, I highly recommend going.

And while we're on the topic of culture, of course I have to get in more Shameless Self Promotion!! NOT ONLY am I reading at Chapters this Sunday, I"m also reading Saturday night as part of ARTFUSiON in Mount Pearl -- along with Tina Chaulk and Christine Hennebury. So if you're in the area, please come on out -- 7:45 Saturday night at Rosie O'Grady's in Mount Pearl, or 3:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon at Chapters on Kenmount Road. Because there really is nothing worse than a reading that nobody comes to!!

Monday, September 11, 2006

41 Things About Me, or, Shameless Birthday Promotion

Happy Birthday to me!
Happy Birthday to me!
Don't think about it being the 5th anniversary of 9/11 and get all depressed...
Happy Birthday to me!!

(it doesn't scan too well, does it? also, i really don't mean to belittle the tragedy of 9/11. it is a day that should be remembered for the lives that were lost. but i've always felt like the terrorists stole a little piece of me by doing that on my birthday so i have to make a gesture to reclaim my right to celebrate.)

Since the only thing more self-indulgent than a blog is one of those blog posts where you list a whole bunch of stuff about yourself, I will, in honour of my 41st birthday today, list 41 Things You May or May Not Know About Me.

1. I was born on Sept. 11, 1965 at 9:20 p.m.
2. I'm not sure exactly how long my mother was in labour but the number "17 hours" sticks in my head ... is that right Mom?
3. The hours leading up to my birth were most memorable (in family lore) for my mother remarking (I use the term loosely) to a nice Catholic lady also about to give birth in the next bed, "You got the beads, you pray!!"
4. I love celebrating my birthday and making a big deal of it.
5. I love celebrating virtually anything and making a big deal of it.
6. Yesterday I went on the waterslide at the Aquarena 10 times. I wanted to go 41 times in honour of my birthday but there wasn't time.
7. I love waterslides. I'm so happy Christopher is now old enough to enjoy them because for many years I felt awkward taking the kids to the family swim and being the only one who wanted to go on the waterslide. Since I'm figuring the window of opportunity when Chris will think it's cool to go on the waterslide with his mom will be pretty small, I'm planning to enjoy it to the fullest.
8. The most terrifying minute of my life was the minute after Christopher was born, because he wasn't breathing at first. This was fixed fairly quickly, but I will never forget those seconds.
9. The most joyful hour of my life was the hour after Emma was born. It was a quick, uncomplicated birth and she was handed to me, latched on perfectly and started to nurse, and wouldn't let go for a solid hour. I had to eat my lunch around her and it was in this manner that the doctor found us when he belatedly arrived to take charge. (There were nurses there for the delivery and they managed just fine).
10. I know all the words to "The Rocky Road to Dublin."
11. I know all the words to a lot of songs, probably hundreds, although most were easier to learn than "The Rocky Road to Dublin." I have a really good memory for song lyrics.
12. The above talent is absolutely useless because I cannot sing on-key to save my life.
13. This almost never stops me from singing. I don't sing solos in public (generally) but otherwise love to inflict my singing voice on people in any informal or group-singing setting.
14. If I could have one gift given me, it would be the ability to sing beautifully.
15. I have the best job I've ever had in my life and I love it so much I'd almost pay them to let me come to work.
16. OK, I really do love my job but I hope Tim didn't read #15, because I also enjoy getting paid, especially after 7 years as a stay-at-home mom.
17. If they ever make a movie of my life, I want Allison Janney to play me.
18. I married my husband because he made me laugh and he once carried a bag of my vomit to the garbage for me. Although he didn't make me laugh on that specific occasion.
19. I liked my twenties better than my teens, and my thirties better than my 20s. So far things are looking good for my 40s to be even better.
20. I have a really scarily good memory for some things (like song lyrics and phone numbers) and a horribly bad memory for other things (like errands I was supposed to do, and people's faces).
21. I am riddled with self-doubt about the quality of my writing, as is every writer I know.
22. It's now 6:37 a.m. and I had planned to be downstairs on the exercise bike RIGHT NOW, but instead I'm writing this blog.
23. I'm very, very easily distracted. Oh look, something shiny!
24. I spend way too much time online.
25. I'm a voracious reader. I read over 100 books every year. A lot of those used to be rereads, but in the last few years (since spending way too much time online) I get a lot more recommendations (online) for good new books, so now I'm reading mostly new books and not rereading so much.
26. I've always been a late night person who slept as late as possible in the morning, and I'm amazed and amused that this lifelong pattern seems to be changing in my 40s.
27. My husband is still a late night person so we are now slightly out of sync with bedtimes and such.
28. Knowing God is the most important thing in my life.
29. I'm the kind of person who has a really hard time writing sentences like #28 because it sounds "too religious," even though it's true.
30. I like labyrinths and once painted one on the floor of my old workplace (yes I had permission).
31. I like painting anything, anywhere, even though I have zero artistic talent and am also very messy and end up covered with paint.
32. My favourite novel in the whole wide world is probably The Diviners by Margaret Laurence.
33. My favourite song in the whole wide world is probably Hallelujah by Leonard Cohen, but sung by someone else ... maybe John Cale. Like #32, this is very hard to pick.
34. My favourite movie is The Princess Bride. That wasn't hard at all.
35. My favourite sound in the world is my children's laughter. Fortunately I get to hear it a lot.
36. When I think about listing my closest friends outside of my immediate family, three names come immediately to mind. Then I think of two more. Then I think of four or five more, and then I wonder, "How strictly are we defining 'close friend'?" All this just because I have so many good friends.
37. I'm well aware that I'm incredibly lucky because of #36.
38. In fact, I consider myself incredibly lucky in life generally.
39. Sometimes I worry about this, as if there's going to be a cosmic payback someday.
40. I absolutely, totally, completely love chocolate. Especially dark chocolate.
41. I can honestly say that on my 41st birthday I am happier, healthier, more energetic and more optimistic than I have ever been at any time in my life. And I hope to say the same on my 51st birthday!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday Round-up

Again, here's one of those posts where I just clear out whatever foolishness happens to be hanging around my brain so I can start the week with a fresh, empty head. (Hmm...is that actually what I'm aiming for?)

First of all, gotta blog about Nissan's Bonavista commercial. This has been big news in the Newfoundland blogging community recently -- so big that it actually made it into the print media with a piece in today's Telegram. The commercial (which promotes the new "Bonavista" by showing a salesman with a Newfoundland accent so strong he requires subtitles) has been enjoyed by some and vilified by others. You can read about it (and in many cases watch the clip) at several blogs, including this much is true, Cove Blogger, Everyone's a Critic, John Gushue, and especially at Product of Newfoundland where a lively debate has been going on in the comments section.

We Newfoundlanders like to think of ourselves as funny people who are happy to laugh at ourselves but the fact is most of us can get a bit touchy about the stereotypical "Newfie" humour that makes us look "stunned," especially if we perceive it as people from away laughing AT us, rather than us laughing at ourselves. The problem is that we don't always agree which humour falls in the category of "Newfoundlanders laughing wittily at themselves" and which is "mainlanders making fun of us." The Nissan ads seem to have hit right on that divide, and on a raw nerve for many.

Personally? I found the ad funny. I like the kind of Newfoundland humour that says "We're cool in our own way, in fact, we're so cool you can't even understand how cool we are -- we've left you in the dust." That's what the commercial, particularly with the final "Lard Thunderin," subtitle, says to ME ... but that's just me. I agree with some that the salesman's acting and accent weren't entirely convincing and someone else might have done it better (
Townie Bastard suggested Buddy Wasisname might have been a better choice, and I personally would love to have seen Kevin Blackmore do this, but again the Buddy Wasisname's brand of humour is one that some Newfoundlanders find demeaning while others can't get enough of). I do understand the perspective of those who found the ad offensive, but it made me laugh and made me proud, rather than embarrassed, to be a Newfoundlander, so that's good enough for me.

And for my non-Newfoundland readers who can't keep up with what this is all about, a question: do American Southerners experience the same kind of angst and self-doubt over
Jeff Foxworthy? What about Jewish or African-American comedians who satirize their own subculture? Does this "what's funny, what's offensive" debate translate into other cultures at all?

And now, in other news ...

I missed posting on Friday that it was the 40th anniversary of the first-ever Star Trek broadcast, and I think you know what an important anniversary that's gotta be for a Big Huge Geek like me. I wish they'd started it a year earlier so I could be exactly the same age as Star Trek. Unlike many, I did not grow up on Star Trek and my first Trexposure was to the movies in the 80s. In later years, especially after I married I guy even geekier than I am, I went back and saw most of the various Trek incarnations in reruns or on DVD. While I am not on the level of people the people who own their own Vulcan ears and have translated the Bible into Klingon, I have been known to wear a Trek uniform at Hallowe'en (oh sure, I'll show you a picture, why not?) and I am more than happy to say "Happy Birthday, Star Trek!"

Speaking of birthdays...

Just over a year ago I helped throw a big par
ty for myself and two friends who were all turning 40 that week. (Oh sure, I'll show you another picture ... you twisted my arm!) Obviously, my two good friends have now both turned ... another big number ... just ahead of me, so I want to say happy birthday to Sarah and to Sherry, and every good wish for the year ahead. My own birthday is tomorrow, so as you click around the blogosphere you can take a break from all those sombre reflective posts about the 5th anniversary of 9/11, and enjoy a purely self-indulgent birthday post from me. But that's tomorrow.

One more thought on birthdays. Another friend of mine who's approaching that great midlife milestone is doing the Coolest Thing Ever to celebrate her birthday. Ami of
Muse Ink is trying to raise $40,000 for Heifer International through her gift registry. If you feel like making the world a better place, click on and donate. You don't even have to know Ami! For the first time ever, I gave someone two flocks of chickens for their birthday and felt completely good about it ... she's not even going to have to clean up after them.

The world is full of people who have a lot more to worry about than potentially offensive SUV ads and Star Trek anniversaries and where to party when they turn 40, so let's take a minute to do something good for someone less fortunate. Way to go Ami for having the idea, and happy birthday!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Back to School continued...

Here, as promised, are the obligatory and oh-so-cute back-to-school kid pics. Christopher was off to Grade Three and Emma to Grade One this morning. Both seemed to have had a good day, although Emma did not get the teacher she was hoping for (her last year's Kindergarten teacher is doing Gr. 1 this year and Emma naturally wanted to be in her class) nor is her best friend in her class -- however she is good friends with many of the girls who are in her group and seems to have adapted well already.

After school we met Grammy and Grampa at Moo Moo's for the traditional first-day-of-school ice cream and trip to Bannerman Park. It's a beautiful day, and it's been a very enjoyable one for us all, but I will confess to being completely wiped out. I always find the first few days of teaching to be really, really high energy as I am trying to kick off all the new classes and get to know the new students (while still keeping the old ones happy). I love every
minute of it and I have some great groups this year but it is very tiring, especially when combined with all the back-to-school parenting jobs.

So I'm very happy that today is Friday and that for once, I get to go to church tomorrow and do nothing except sit there and hope to be blessed -- I am not teaching the children's class, nor playing the piano, nor even preaching the sermon. And my parents have invited us up to their place for lunch. God bless them. By Monday I should be ready and even eager to throw myself into the fray again!!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Back to School (for some)

You're probably wondering why, as a card-carrying Mommy-blogger, I haven't yet given you the obligatory heartwarming post about my children's first day at school along with adorable pictures. There's a reason and it's not that my children are lacking in heartwarmth or adorability: it's that their school has a delayed opening this year due to renovations, and they don't go back till Friday. Watch this space, and all that.

Meanwhile, you will have to be content with a picture from MY back-to-school day. No, not a shot of me with my backpack setting off for school, but finally a picture of the mural on the wall of my office/classroom at work. Jason drew the houses and I painted them, and the background (Jennifer helped a little with the housepainting). It's still incomplete because there's a lot of detail work to be done on it but that's going to be added over time, some of it by me but hopefully a lot of it by students, who will each get their own windows and doors to decorate eventually (the two windows already decorated were done by my own children).

Newfoundlanders will need no explanation of this mural but for those from "away," it depicts an imaginary but typical St. John's downtown street scene, with the "jellybean row" houses for which the city is famous. The school where I teach used to be located downtown but our new offices are in a different part of the city, so the mural is to console me when I miss having Water St. just outside my window. Plus it's bright and cheerful and has many opportunities for further development.

We had our students in for orientation today. It's hard to tell much about the new students until I've met them in class: they look as scared and optimistic as any bunch of young people entering an adult-ed program, sometimes years after they dropped out of high school. What was really cool was going back to my room after the assembly for new students and seeing Paul and Freddy and Heather and Amanda and Ellie all in there ... great to be back with some of the students from last year. Tomorrow we have our first day of classes so we'll see what adventures that brings!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Great Winds Across the Sky

So this was the weekend Jason and I belatedly celebrated our 11th anniversary. Every year we have this tradition where one of us plans a surprise for the other. This year it was my turn to plan something, so we went parasailing.

Until this summer, parasailing was something Newfoundlanders only did on vacation in Hawaii or Mexico or Florida. Which makes sense, when you think about it, because if you land in the water in Hawaii or Mexico or Florida, you're not so likely to die of exposure before the boat gets over to pick you up. But this year some enterprising local enterpreneur decided there was a market for parasailing in Newfoundland. After discovering that you launch from and land on the deck of the boat, with no contact with the water whatsoever, Jason and I were both curious about trying it.

I have always wanted to do something flight-like. Hang-gliding, parachute jumping, hot-air ballooning -- I'm just fascinated by non-motorized flight. Flying like we all fly in our dreams. The problem is that most of the means of achieving this goal are extremely expensive, rather risky, hard to arrange, and require a certain amount of skill.

Parasailing, on the other hand, is fairly low-risk as "extreme sports" go, and requires absolutely NO skill at all. Suddenly it arrived right at our doorstep -- and the price tag was affordable, for an anniversary treat. It was irresistible.

We had a perfect day -- warm, not too windy, sun sparkling on the waters of Conception Bay as the boat took us out between St. Phillips and Bell Island. Jason and I went up together in a double harness. The feeling as the sail lifted from the boat was pure exhilaration. Soon we were floating about 400 feet above the water, drifting through a cloudless blue sky. It was, without a doubt, one of the most wonderful and thrilling things I've ever done, and narrowly edges out tubing down a river in Tennessee for my favourite outdoor activity of all time. It was like every dream and fantasy I've ever had about flying come true. We stayed up about 15 minutes and I would happily have remained aloft all afternoon if we could!

One of the things that amazed me most was that although I'm very scared of heights, I didn't feel a trace of fear while parasailing. I think it's because, unlike rock climbing or even standing on a chair to change a light bulb, there was no question of keeping my balance or hanging on. There was nothing for me to do at all except sit back and enjoy the ride, trusting the boat and towline below, and the parasail above. Which, of course, led me to some Deep Thoughts about the appropriateness of doing this to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

I'm very fond of these lines, which I've seen variously described as an Ojibway proverb, a Chippewa poem, and an old Japanese saying:

Sometimes I go about pitying myself

When all the while I am being carried by great winds across the sky.

Whoever came up with that, I like it because it speaks to me about trust -- trusting God, trusting the people around you. I don't, actually, go about pitying myself much, but I am a bit of a control freak and I think the basis for that is a lack of trust -- I'm most comfortable in situations where I'm in charge. The thing that's always made me nervous about marriage (especially before I embarked on it) is that you can never be completely in control: there's this whole other person involved. I think sometimes I have been untrusting -- not so much of Jason, who is a very trustworthy person, but of the institution of marriage itself.

We've reached that stage in life now where, instead of getting invitations to friends' weddings and birth announcements for their babies, we hear news of friends' separations and divorces. It scares me how often two perfectly nice people with the very best of intentions just cannot seem to make marriage work, and to a mind like mine, that's disturbing. Because we are two very nice people with very good intentions, and what if that's not enough in the long haul?

The fact is, though, I am learning to trust. After eleven years of marriage, I am accepting that I cannot control every detail, and sometimes the ride is better when I just sit back and trust what's around me and beneath me and (especially) what's above me. God has been very good to Jason and me, and so far we've been very good to each other. And every day we laugh together, and I can't believe how much fun we're having. So this anniversary, as we soared through the air above the Atlantic Ocean, I was happy just to sit back, relax and enjoy every minute of this amazing and delightful ride.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Pack of Clean Fresh September

I love new school supplies. I mean, to a ridiculous degree. I am one of those academic geeks who gets sadly excited by a clean fresh pack of loose leaf or a box of new crayons with the tips not yet blunted or broken. September is the real New Year, no doubt about it, and bringing home the kids' school supplies the other day made me ridiculously happy and excited.

There's so much possibility and potential in a brand-new exercise book, a brand-new school year. I've been either a student or a teacher for most of the Septembers of my life and I can never quite shake that back-to-school excitement. I enjoyed a break from the rhythm of the academic calendar for several years while I stayed home with small children; I liked the fact that Labour Day had no special meaning and back-to-school fliers were something to ignore. But last year, with Emma off to Kindergarten, the combination of the right time in my life and the perfect job offer sent me back to school. This year, I'm as excited as Emma is (and far more excited than jaded third-grader Christopher) about the start of a new school year.

The last week before school starts is a busy time for both parents and teachers; an extra-busy time if you're both (even more so if you've somehow decided you need to paint a mural on your office wall before school starts, but that's a whole other thing). This past week has been a whirlwind of efficiency at our house. I am so pleased and self-satisfied it would make you sick to be around me. In the last week I have gutted both children's rooms down to the bone, throwing out pounds and pounds of clutter, consigning numerous toys and clothes to be passed on, given away or handed down, and relocating a number of toys to a basement toy box that Jason has taken to calling "Toygatory" (because it's the last stop before they're condemned to be given/thrown away). This has left their rooms much tidier and their closets stocked only with clothes that can be worn to school. On Thursday I made a run to the secondhand store with a vanload of giveaways (including things that had belonged to Jason's dad which needed to be cleared out, and lots of extraneous stuff from Jason's and my closets), and another run to the recycling depot to clear all the plastic water bottles and old cardboard boxes out of the basement. Every day this week has ended with me checking dozens of items off my to-do list. I am positively glowing with virtue. Don't get too close unless you want some of it to rub off.

To be fair, I must confess that I am a Bear of Very Little Brain, and if I'm going to have a week of such extreme efficiency and accomplishment, a certain number of things are going to have to drop out of my brain to make room. Thus, amidst all these wonderful works, I have also had moments of stunning forgetfulness, which have included:

1) Bringing Emma to her swimming lesson without her swimsuit.
2) Bringing Emma to her swimming lesson wearing her swimsuit, but without any underwear to change into afterwards (this was obviously on a different day from #1)
3) Forgetting to change the setting on the breadmaker so that one morning we woke up to a lovely fresh pan of ... warm dough.
4) Forgetting to let the dog back in the house during a torrential downfall, consigning him to four hours outside in the rain.

Despite these momentary lapses I am still a little sore from reaching around to pat myself on the back. If my energy and enthusiasm start to lapse, all I have to do is reach into the bags of school supplies, break open the loose leaf and take a good long whiff of that clean-paper smell ... and I'm good to go for a few more hours!