Monday, June 30, 2008

Like Herding Cats

On Sunday I had planned a date with my mom, to help her along with her computer skills. I arrived at 3:30 in the afternoon, raring to go for a good three solid hours of hacking before dinnertime.

My mom was waiting for me out on the porch steps. She had one hand pressed down on the back of The Dude (one of her two young, male cats), who was crouching beside her.

"What's he doing out here?" I asked.

My mom's last set of cats (a pair of females) were both allowed outside. They had the run of the neighbourhood, and frequently pissed off the neighbours by killing birds, pooping in flowerbeds and/or vegetable gardens, and otherwise making pests of themselves. When my mom brought The Boys home, she was determined that they would be indoor cats.

The problem with keeping a couple of energetic young cats cooped up is: they will destroy your home. They're bored. They're restless. They need a challenge. Instead of stalking squirrels and discovering secret shortcuts across the rooftops, The Boys are literally chewing the furniture, clawing holes in the beds, pulling kitchen cupboard doors off their hinges, knocking over potted plants, and generally getting into every kind of mischief you can imagine.

On Sunday afternoon, The Dude was "mewing piteously" (a direct quote from my mom) by the screen door, so she decided to bring him outside. Not on a leash, not in her arms, just... outside. I could see already where this was going.

Of course, as I watched, The Dude wiggled free from her grasp and chased a flying bug out into the middle of the driveway. Then he stopped and realized where he was: FREE! He started mewing and dashing around in excitement. In a flash he was off and running down the driveway to the backyard. I chased behind him. I knew that my mom would have a nervous fit if The Dude vanished and she didn't know where he was, so I was determined to keep up with him.

I caught up just as he was nosing his way into the next-door neighbour's backyard, scooped him up, and brought him back to the front porch. I thought my mom might want to bring him straight back inside, but I guess she didn't have the heart to imprison him again so quickly. As soon as his paws touched the ground, he was on the move again, this time into the dense foliage of the front garden.

Quick as a wink, he vanished under the porch.

Here we go, I thought. We'll spend all afternoon trying to get him out now.

"Under The Porch" is a bad place. Generations of local cats and raccoons have used it as a litterbox. It's full of bugs, mould, rotting leaves, and possibly one or two minor demons and a golem. There is no access for humans. It's like an exclusive, sexy, dangerous nightclub, feline style.

My mom and I each took up a different position - her from the front, me from the side - peering into the gloom. It was impossible to see anything except the occasional flash of The Dude's eyes as he roamed around his new territory. He disappeared and reappeared in the shadows so quietly and randomly that it seemed like he was warping around in some alternate universe.

Now, cats that are used to being outside learn to come when their name is called. They want to get in from the cold; they want to be fed; they have to learn the signal for "the door is open, come NOW!" I don't know if The Dude even knows his own name. We called him, clucked, psst-psst-ed, all in vain. Finally my mom brought out his dry cat food and rattled the bag. No sale.

We were stuck. My mom wasn't willing to "go all the way" by leaving him unsupervised, and he wasn't willing to come out. It was a stalemate. We couldn't even go up and sit on the porch chairs because he might scoot out and disappear while we weren't looking. So we milled around uselessly in the front garden and driveway, ducking frequently to peer under the porch, and doubtlessly looking completely insane to any neighbours that might be watching.

Finally, after a long wait, The Dude stuck his head out between two wooden slats to sniff at the cat food my mom had left out. Mom was quick - she grabbed his neck with one hand like she was about to wring it. His eyes bugged out a bit as she hauled him into the open, but no harm done. She was as gentle as she could be, all things considered.

Of course The Dude was Like, Totally Psyched, Man! after his crazy adventure. We got him inside (and the cat food, and the various toys that had failed as cat-fishing lures), where he promptly sat down inside the screen door and resumed mewing piteously. Hey, it worked once before! We ignored him.

Finally we sat down at the computer together. Within a short time I noticed the mewing had stopped. I went to check the status quo. The Dude was passed out on the carpet, exhausted, and fast asleep.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Down by the water

This Saturday was the first day in a long time that I didn't have to be anywhere by a certain time, or do any particularly onerous chores. It was SO AMAZING not to be on a schedule.

I woke up at 6:18 am when a thunderstorm came crashing down outside my window. I rolled up my blinds and watched the downpour for half an hour or so. Thunder sounds different here, in my neighbourhood of looming condo towers. The echos ricochet from building to building before dying away.

When the KABOOM!s had turned into rumbles, and the monsoon was reduced to a gentle summer rain, I rolled the blinds back down and slept again.

Much later, Ken and I ventured out into the city, armed with a big umbrella. The weather forecast called for thunderstorms all day, but we had to get out. So far this year, since the snow finally melted, every weekend has been either chilly or stormy, and I've been suffering from cabin fever. It's time to get outside at any price!

We considered going to check out the Lesbian and Gay Pride Week celebrations, but decided against it. It's always an eye-popping adventure, but neither of us was feeling in the mood to deal with rowdy crowds. Saturday is always the Dyke March, and the big Pride Parade is Sunday. The city shuts down a whole section of the downtown to accommodate the celebrations.

I've always been impressed by the female impersonators. I tell you, some of them are more womanly than I'll ever be. With their elaborate wigs, gowns, and fluttering false eyelashes, they're like a rainbow of exotic butterflies. They also manage to keep their makeup flawless in the summer heat, which is more than I've ever managed to do.

Pride Week is the place to go if you want to experience a goodly amount of public nudity. Men and women go topless. There are always plenty of buttocks hanging out of short-shorts. And some go straight-up nude. Let's just say that not all nudity is equally appealing, and leave it there. Anyway, the free-spirited, let-it-all-hang-out atmosphere is fun and contagious. There are as many tourists there as there are participants, but no one's really counting and it's just one big party.

I guess we'll catch this year's highlights on the news later.

Instead, Ken and I opted to head down to the lakeside, due south of the city's centre. It's always a few degrees cooler there. Even on the hottest days there's usually a breeze coming off the lake. We hung out on the boardwalk, watching people stroll by. There was a constant stream of folks: old; young; dressed in shorts and a T-shirt; dressed formally for a wedding reception; walking dogs; just learning to walk; skateboarding; licking ice-cream; holding hands.

There was a free concert nearby; music floated to us across the water. We stopped at the international food tent for samosas and tandoori chicken. I relaxed and didn't once look at my watch to mind the time. And guess what? It didn't rain one single drop all day.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Big Deal

Not long ago I was talking with someone I know about my exploration of Christianity (I hesitate to call it a conversion at this point), and she put to me the following question:

"You explored Buddhism and New Age spirituality without feeling uncomfortable. What is it in Christianity that's so different? Why are you so uncomfortable with this option? What's the big deal?"

In what follows, I attempt to unpack a coherent answer to this question. It's not easy, but I feel it's important to put this out in the public realm.

All my life I've been sheltered from anti-semitism. I've never experienced direct discrimination on account of my cultural background. Maybe a little insensitivity here and there, but nothing serious compared to how things used to be, in the not-so-distant past.

My grandfather remembers going to the Toronto beaches, where signs were posted that read: No Dogs and No Jews Allowed. A great-aunt was fired from her job because her father wouldn't let her work on the Sabbath. Just a few generations back it was difficult to get jobs, or get into certain schools and clubs, based on one's Jewish background. But that's ancient history! It has no bearing whatsoever on my life today!

Or does it?

All through my childhood and young-adulthood, the memories of anti-semitism that my relatives experienced were repeated to me over and over, until they were indelibly carved on my memory. My mother tried to prepare me for any discrimination I might be exposed to by warning me about all the anti-semites "out there" and conjuring up things they might say or do to hurt me. I was always made aware of any news item noting that a synagogue had been defaced, or gravestones tipped over in a Jewish cemetary. You could say that some of my relatives live on high alert for signs of trouble.

The reason for this is understandable. The Holocaust was not so long ago, and directly affected my family . I have heard it said that it takes seven generations to heal such a grievous wound, and as the daughter of a Holocaust survivor I can attest that this seems like a reasonable estimate.

I can never let my passport expire. I was told over and over by my mother that you have to be ready to flee at any time, because you never know when Nazis are going to show up and start killing Jews again. They could be amassing in underground cells as I write this, drafting plans for computer-controlled killing chambers and ever more efficient means of tracking who has a trace of Jewish DNA in their genes. I know that this isn't realistic, but still. I don't like letting my hand hang over the edge of the mattress at night even though I don't officially believe in monsters under the bed, and I will always keep my passport up to date, just in case.

Of course I could continue to go further back in history and never find an end to the tales of Jewish hardship. My great-grandparents came to Canada to escape the pogroms in Eastern Europe, for example. You get the point.

What it all adds up to for me is a small and quiet but determined paranoia. Overtly secular situations don't bug me, and that's where I've spent the majority of my time, so no problem. However, anytime I'm in a designated Christian environment, I've felt that I don't belong and that I might be forcefully rejected if anyone finds out that I'm a Jew.

(Also, if I find myself in an officially Jewish environment outside of my family circle, I feel that I might be forcefully rejected if anyone finds out how unfaithful I've been to the Jewish religion. I can't win!)

What it adds up to for a large part of my family is a fierce feeling of indebtedness to Jewish traditions. "We" (meaning people who lived and died before I was born) FOUGHT for our traditions. Millions of Jews died for these traditions. (That's the thinking, even though many of the Jews who died in the Holocaust were completely secular and assimilated.) There's a feeling that we must honour the memory of the dead, and justify the sufferings of the past, by keeping Jewish culture alive. If not, we're as guilty of killing our culture as the Nazis were.

Wow. That's some heavy guilt, isn't it?

As a teenager, I had an ongoing argument with my mom about my identity. I didn't want to identify as Jewish. She continually told me that I had no choice. My argument was that I don't practice the religion, and I don't believe there's a measurable genetic distinction between Jews and non-Jews, so if I don't want to call myself a Jew, I don't have to. Her argument was that the Nazis would have called me a Jew, because of my ancestry, and therefore I didn't have a choice but to accept that label.

Notice how she wanted to let the Nazis determine my identity. They do keep popping up to scare us, just like the monsters under the bed.

Back to my point: it's no small thing for me to face the question of my spiritual and/or religious and/or cultural identity. I don't believe I'll ever be able to untangle the question of how much I identify as Jewish. And it's not a light matter to switch my identity to Christian. I was raised in a pervasive atmosphere of keeping one's guard up around gentiles, because they can turn on you at any time. Gentiles are/were/can be The Enemy. Am I going to become one of Them?

(I'm not saying that this is rational. I only had one Jewish friend, growing up and presently. All the rest identified as Christian, or at least they celebrated Christmas. They certainly weren't The Enemy. I never promised that this would make sense.)

In Orthodox Judaism, if a member of the family leaves the Jewish faith, the rest of the family mourns for them as if they were dead, and then never speaks of them again. The convert has died, in the eyes of their family. My extended family wouldn't go that far, but it would be very bad if they knew.

All my parents (step and bio) know, and my sister, but I don't intend to tell anyone else, for now. Maybe not ever. I just don't know if it would be worth the hurt and confusion it would cause.

So there you have it. It's a very big deal, and no wonder I'm having an identity crisis. Do people from other backgrounds have similar conundrums? I'm curious to know how much you can relate.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Mixing it up

In the comments to Testimony, the following was feedback from Karen.

And for me, someone who was raised Catholic, I find it amazing that you would find Jesus as a source of comfort or relief from what my religion considers a "pagan" sort of spirituality...

...Basically, Catholics are taught that psychic spirituality is bad and exploration in to that world is a form of false worship. You have found a way to mesh Jesus with the psychic portion of yourself - or Jesus has found a way to do that through you.

Food for thought, that. Because after I gave up on Buddhism, the next stop on my seeker's journey was the wild and whacky world of New Age spiritualism. The practices and theories I explored included everything from traditional paganism to idea that aliens have been pivotal in human evolution and are watching us even now.

(For the record, I was never a convert to the alien theory. However, it did make for some very interesting reading.)

I gravitated towards New Age people and books because they were the only resource I had to help me define and describe the psychic experiences that sometimes took over my life. Before New Age gave me a language to describe these occurrences, I felt like I imagine Helen Keller might have felt before her teacher taught her to communicate. I kept bumping up against these inscrutable experiences and emotions, which sometimes felt good, but more often bruised me, and I had no idea what they were, or how to cope with them. New Age at least got me started along the path to understanding.

I enrolled in a school for "psychospiritual development". I started out with just a couple of evening courses: meditation 101, and energy healing. I soon signed on for a whole raft of courses, including a 2-year part-time psychotherapy course.

Freaky things happened at that school. One thing I learned is that if you focus on psychic experiences, if you go looking for them and invite them, they will happen more often. I could give a dozen examples, but this one stands out:

We did an exercise in which the class was split into two halves. Half the students put on blindfolds. The blindfolded students each sat down in a chair facing another, empty chair. The other half of the class was asked to wander the room until a signal from the teacher, and then they each sat in the closest empty chair, in an approximation of random partner selection.

Only the blindfolded people were to speak in this exercise. The sighted partner was to give their hand to the blindfolded partner, and then the blind partner was to attempt a verbal description of the sighted person's life, based only on the psychic impressions they got from that person's hand. This was on the 6th evening of the course, so none of us knew each other very well, and even if we had, it's surprising how hard it is to identify someone from just their hand if you haven't been studying everyone's hands ahead of time.

I was blindfolded first. I got a random hand to hold, and literally had no idea who was sitting across from me. I couldn't even determine the gender. I felt like an idiot. I was supposed to say something. So I just let my mind wander and started talking. I described a house that I saw in my mind's eye. It was pretty specific. A living room with big windows and a skylight, with a pass-through opening onto a kitchen. There was no ceiling per se - both rooms opened up to a peaked roof made of wooden beams. The kitchen had sliding glass doors opening onto a wooden deck and then a forest behind that. (Keep in mind that most people in the class were from Toronto. No forests here! I figured I must just be daydreaming.)

I kept on going, blah blah, describing a dog, a spouse, hobbies. At one point I felt the hand start to shake slightly. The minutes ticked by. I was like, damn, this is foolish! I'm making an ass of myself. Finally the teacher said we could stop and take the blindfolds off.

I finally laid eyes on my grinning partner, a 30-something woman. I asked her how I did, and asked her why I had felt her hand shaking. Her reply:

"I was laughing because you were so bang-on that it was ridiculous. It's like you've been to my house. You also described my marriage and my dog. The only thing that you didn't get exactly right was that I don't knit - I do embroidery." She lived outside the city, which I hadn't known, and drove over an hour to get to the school each week. We re-hashed the reading, and she confirmed almost every detail that had come out of my mouth. I was completely unnerved by this result, but there it was.

I learned a lot about myself at that school. The interpersonal skills I got from the psychotherapy course come in handy just about every day of my life. And it was good to be able to discuss my psychic happenings with people who could relate. But I never felt that it was enough, in and of itself, to make that all-important connection to a truly loving and supportive higher power.

There were times when we created rituals, bringing symbolic objects from our lives and acting out the gestures of letting go, or accepting, or opening to new possibilities. We also invited in the spirit of this or the goddess of that, asking for help or guidance. I gave these things an honest effort, as much as I've ever given to anything. And while I did feel that I received some otherworldly guidance now and then, I never attained that feeling of being contained and filled by love that I so longed for.

What I've come to believe is that while clairvoyance and God are both roughly categorized as "spiritual" in the sense that both are intangibles, obviously there are many magnitudes of difference between the two. If God is a diamond, psychic experiences are clay. In my experience, Jesus and ESP are not mutually exclusive, nor necessarily working at cross purposes.

Phenomena of the human energy field and beyond are just one little step up from the material world. I'm betting that someday we'll be able to measure these fields, and they will become as un-mysterious as magnetic forces and gravity. In themselves, these phenomena do not constitute a complete spiritual picture. Every seeker must go further, to find whatever key fits the lock on their soul. Some people may be able to make a connection with the Powers That Be through Wicca or Druid practices, but not I.

For whatever odd reasons which may or may not ever be revealed to me, Jesus is my key.

And that is my clumsy attempt at articulating how this confusing mess of concepts all fits together in my head. It's not an airtight construction, and is ever flexible to accommodate new information and experiences as they arrive. If I get any more epiphanies, I promise I'll let you know.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Peanut Butter and the Buddha

The only other time I seriously considered converting, it was to Buddhism.

For six months, I went to study with a Japanese Buddhist monk every Sunday. He lived in a small house which doubled as a temple. The living room and dining room areas had been converted into a simple space for meditation and services.

The sub-type of Buddhism was "Nichiren". There are many types of Buddhism, from Zen, which is more of a philosophy than a religion, to types that worship the Buddha as a god. The Nichiren that I learned was mostly focused on clearing one's mind, however there was a large Buddha statue on the alter and we made offerings to him every day.

First, the monk would lead me in chanting and meditation. I was his only new student at the time. I was not yet allowed in the regular services, in case I screwed up the rituals, so I ended up having one-on-one lessons. Yup, just me and the monk. Sometimes it got intense.

I always had a hard time meditating. I tended to drop off to sleep, and then wake with a start as I started to fall over sideways. The monk had his eyes closed, so I don't think he noticed. Lucky for me I wasn't in Japan, where the teachers march between rows of students with a stick, whacking anyone who's looking dozy.

After we completed our practice, we would retire to the kitchen. He made green tea for us and always put out a plate of adorable little Japanese cakes. Before we ate, we had to offer one to the Buddha, by placing it on his plate on the alter. One time I brought some peanut-butter cookies that my mom had baked. I was especially pleased to offer a peanut-butter cookie to the Buddha on behalf of my mom. I told her about it later and she approved.

Funny things stick with me from those lessons, eight years ago. For example, I know you had to remove your shoes and then enter the temple area with the correct foot first, but I can't recall if it's the left or the right.

The monk always offered me a verbal lesson as we drank tea in the kitchen, but all I remember is my shock when I found out he used to be a professional mountain climber/climbing guide in the Himalayas before becoming a monk in Canada. He pronounced it "Himalayers". I gained a new respect for him that day.

I remember the units of cosmic time measurement referred to in the Nichiren teachings. Wikipedia offers an alternate definition , but this is how I was taught to define a kalpa . If you built a castle a hundred miles long, a hundred miles wide, and a hundred miles high; filled it to the brim with poppy seeds; and then removed one poppy seed every hundred thousand years; a kalpa is the length of time it would take to empty the castle.

Buddhism was interesting, and I genuinely desired to attain enlightenment, but somehow it just didn't click for me. I was a rotten meditator, always falling asleep or getting distracted. I found the philosophy gave me a helpful perspective on life, but there wasn't enough of a focus on love to suit my personal taste.

As I got to know the monk, I increasingly saw how he worked to maintain an aura of mystery, but he was really just a regular guy. Once, when the clocks changed for daylight savings time, I showed up an hour early and he answered the door in a grey track suit instead of his usual imposing, black kimono. Another time he bragged to me about how harshly he'd berated one of his advanced students for a supposed disrespect. My perception was that he was just stroking his own ego. I wouldn't have minded him being just a regular guy - it was his efforts to fake me out and impress me that made me cynical.

And so, I gave up going to the temple. I don't regret the experience.

I find there are a lot of valuable truths in the areas where Eastern and Western religions meet and overlap. I've been reading books by Christian authors who express sentiments that would be equally at home in the tradition of Zen Buddhism. It's neat to see how it all fits together.

Monday, June 16, 2008


Until now, I had resisted writing about my spiritual experiences for fear of losing my beloved readers. Any of you who missed my last post would be well advised to check it out and read through the comments to see how I've come to be writing about it now.

This post will probably be the one that separates the leavers from the stayers. Because this is where you can either decide that I'm crazy, deluded, and even straight-up lying, or you can take my word for it that some really nutty stuff has happened to me and I'm giving you my honest truth.

A long time ago, I wrote a post about my tendency to pick up other peoples' repressed emotions. Here's how it seems to work, based on my admittedly unscientific experiences over the course of my lifetime.

If someone is feeling an emotion, and expressing it outwardly, that's a no-brainer. Everyone can see what they're feeling.

Second scenario: someone is feeling an emotion without expressing it outwardly, but they are aware of the feeling. They allow the feeling and don't judge themselves for it. For example, you missed your bus, you're frustrated, and you know you're frustrated. You accept your reaction without judging yourself. You allow the feeling to exist in your consciousness until it naturally dissipates. In New-Age speak they call this "owning your emotions". If you own your emotions, I won't feel them. You will.

However, if someone is feeling an emotion and is either not really aware of it or is aware but judging themselves for it, that's when things get messy. For example, you miss your bus and you're frustrated. But instead of just stewing for a few minutes, you tell yourself immediately that everything is fine and go back to reading the morning paper. You press your lips together, tap your food, and refuse to admit that missing the bus really bugged you, because you think you should be above that feeling. You have disowned your emotion.

Another reason why people inadvertently disown their feelings is that they're too busy to pay attention to themselves. If your baby is crying and you're also feeling upset, you'll probably attend to the baby and push your own feelings down as much as you're able to.

Picture your emotions as a bowl of pudding. Say you want to repress them. Picture your options for repression as a hand. Each finger represents one dimension in which you are trying to push down your emotions. You aren't expressing the feeling physically; you're not thinking about it; you're pushing it out of your heart; and you're not expressing it in words.

You push your hand down onto the pudding. But the pudding (emotion) is real and it doesn't just disappear. It has to go somewhere. What happens is the pudding will surge out between your fingers. The spaces between your fingers represent the dimension of yourself that you're not in control of. If you're like the vast majority of people, you're not conscious of and/or cannot control your aura. That's where the emotion will find expression.

Once the emotion is in your aura, if you and I are in close enough proximity for our auras to overlap, there's a chance that I'll pick up on it.

Has anyone decided that I'm crazy yet? I'm trying to lay this out as logically as possible...

Personally I believe that many people pick up on energetic traces from others, but they're not aware of it. If you're an introvert, this could be one reason why people exhaust you. I happen to be sensitive enough that I couldn't maintain my ignorance, but it took a lot to convince me that this was what was happening.

If you're with me this far, let's go to the next step. What types of feelings do people usually repress? All the shadow stuff. Anger, Sadness, Fear, and all their myriad variations. Some really uptight people also repress their joy, but mostly what gets squished out into our shared public places is a lot of horrible crap. And I am vulnerable to picking it up and feeling it, like a psychic version of Sponge Bob Square Pants.

All my life I've struggled with the burden of feeling other peoples' crap. It was MUCH worse when I didn't realize what was happening.

Once I gained awareness, I had the advantage of understanding what was occurring, but I couldn't find a way of protecting myself from the effects. Being around people was constantly draining and exhausting. Sometimes the stuff I picked up made me feel physically ill. Even standing next to someone on the subway, if their aura overlapped with mine, was enough for me to feel their anxiety churn in the pit of my stomach, or their frustration could turn me into an angerball for the rest of the day.

I tried to protect myself. I tried crystals and Buddhist meditation. I tried psychotherapy and drumming and yoga. I tried visualizing white light, blue light, gold light, and grounding rods. I tried Reiki, which actually made things worse by increasing my sensitivity without adding any protective measures. I tried mantras. I tried prayer to "the powers that be", even though I wasn't sure who that might be. Nothing worked.

Honestly, it was like having an invisible disability. Everyday life was always hard, unless I was completely alone, and I didn't want to have to be alone so much.

One day, at work, just a few months ago, I had a confrontation with a customer. He was trying to be polite, but I wished that he would straight-up yell at me because I was getting all his desperation and feeling it sink right in through my abdomen. By the time I got back to my office I was feeling too overwhelmed to focus on my work. Again. In desperation, and I can't tell you where the impulse came from, I prayed to Jesus for help.

In an instant, the bad feeling vanished like it was never there, and I felt totally calm and centered. This, to me, given all my years of suffering and helplessness, was nothing less than a miracle.

Since then, I have been praying to Jesus for help throughout each day. My life has changed, and I get the feeling I've only just begun on this path. I have much more energy, physically, mentally, and emotionally. I'm able to cope with people, even crowds, as long as I continually check in with my spiritual connection. I can support my mom without feeling drained. And I'm not limiting my social engagements so rigidly as I did when I had limited coping abilities.

My connection with the light of Jesus Christ's love is not a passing whim. It's not optional. It's essential for my survival. I didn't go looking for Him; He came to me, for which I am ever grateful. Every day I receive multiple proofs that He's got my back and is always there when I call for him. Sometimes I even get a warning that something intense is coming up, but that's another story for another day.

And that's how it all started.

The Beginning.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

An Unexpected Dilemma

Dear All of You,

If you had predicted this situation to me a year ago, I would have laughed in your face. But here it is. I am "getting religion", as they say. I'm having trouble believing it myself.

The story behind this starts last summer, proceeds in baby steps, and is complicated. Perhaps I'll tell it another time.

My dilemma at this point is: what am I going to do about this blog? The purpose I had in mind when I started it was to write about whatever I found interesting, funny, or moving in my own life in a way that would cause others to share my feelings and also be entertained into the bargain. If I wanted to write just for me, I'd still be writing in my journal.

Thing is, as time goes on my spiritual experiences are beginning to permeate every corner of my life. I pray many times throughout the day. When I wake up, my first conscious thoughts are directed to setting a spiritual intention for the rest of the day. My last thoughts before falling asleep are thanks and a recommitment for the day to come. Slowly but surely my perspective has changed so that I'm seeing everything through a new lens.

So, if I continued to write by the same criteria as before, i.e. whatever resonates with me most in a day is what I share, this would turn into a blog about my spiritual journey. Two points:

1) I'm not sure if my current audience is interested in hearing about this. It's very moving but not so much humorous. I'm less inclined to make Seinfeldian observations and more inclined to being touched emotionally. Remember the animated "Grinch Who Stole Christmas"? The part where his heart grows three sizes? That's me right now.

2) I'm not sure if I'm ready to share my experience so publicly, even from behind the shield of anonymity. I'm in the middle of navigating some vulnerable territory here, and I would be leaving myself open to being a target. There are strongly opinionated individuals from both camps who would not take kindly to the idea of a born Jew communing with the spirit of Jesus. I'm having enough trouble managing my own ambivalence without inviting strangers to add fuel to the fire.

On the other hand, I would very much miss the support of all my blog buddies if I stopped writing entirely. Maybe I just need to take a break? Maybe I should call this the last entry of this blog and start a new one when I'm ready?


I appeal to you for feedback and suggestions.

Lots of Love,

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Maybe not actually a genius after all

When it came time for my mom to buy a new computer, I talked her into buying an iMac because a) I thought it would be more user-friendly, less prone to crashing, and b) to prevent well-meaning meddlers from messing it up. So far, my strategy has been a dud on both counts.

As for the meddlers, thankfully they can't download viral software or questionable "upgrades" to the iMac, so that's good news. But they can get themselves in front of it and start changing preferences and generally messing with the set-up that I have so carefully coached my mom to be comfortable with. One of my relatives yelled at me for "setting up the mouse wrong". Despite the fact that I set the primary mouse buttons to mimic a PC, she complained of stuff popping up on the screen when she was operating the mouse.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the Mac mouse has two extra buttons on the side. Squeezing them makes the widgets dashboard pop up over whatever you were working on. My relative has a variety of tics, including hand spasms. She was squeezing the mouse, maybe without even being conscious of it. Although if she insists on yelling at me again about my faulty mouse set-up, I'm going to have to break the news to her. I promise I'll be gentle.

As for ease of use, well... I'm used to being a computer know-it-all. I taught computer basics and networking at a private post-secondary school. I was certified as a Novell network administrator and a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer. I worked in I.T. for years. But... that was pretty much all on Microsoft Windows platforms. I pick things up quickly on the Mac, but I don't know every little shortcut off the top of my head like I do for a PC.

As far as my mom knows, I advertised myself to her as a computer super-genius, but I've been earning a big old FAIL in some of the basic operations I'm supposed to be teaching her. For example, I'm not even going to tell you how much trouble I had figuring out how to format bold text in the iMac e-mail program. It's a no-brainer. Apparently I have less than no brain.

I'd like to think that part of it is the pressure of having my Mom right there, expecting an immediate answer. When she's looking over my shoulder, I lose my most basic problem-solving capabilities.

For example, someone sent her a file in .pdf format. She wanted to know if she could open the file in Word to edit it. I told that this was an impossibility, which is true. She asked me if her only choice would be to retype all the text into Word manually, and I told her Yes. At the time, I was firmly convinced that I was right.

Later, I heard that one of her friends showed her how to copy the text from the .pdf file into a blank .doc file. Now she can edit the text! Her friend is so smart! I got a marker and wrote FAIL on my forehead. I mean, honestly, that's not a foreign concept to me! I've been copying and pasting text since the early '90's.


Fortunately, my mom is patient. We'll get there eventually. If it means that we bumble through together rather than with me confidently leading the way, we'll still get there.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Cabbing it

Summertime! Finally here. I celebrated by spending the weekend out and about, on the sidewalks, in the malls, always on the move. My feet still ache from all the roaming.

I feel happy to be alive, not only in a generalized, existential sense, but in a specific, Thank-God-That-Was-A-Close-Call sense.

On Friday morning, I took a taxi to a work-related conference. At 8:00 am sharp I called the cab. By 8:07 it was at my door, its windows down to let the warm morning air flow in.

The cabbie motioned me to sit up front with him. It's a better view, he said. I thought, sure! Why not? The backseat has no particular appeal. I got in.

So, where are we going? asks the cabbie. I tell him the name of the hotel. He's not familiar with it. This is not encouraging. Fortunately, I wrote down all the directions. We go over them once together before pulling away from the curb. He drives around to the exit from the condo complex, and as he's pulling out into traffic he asks me again - right or left now?

Not encouraging.

We get out into traffic. The hot sun is blazing through the windshield even at this time of the morning. I do a Houdini-style escape from my cardigan, wiggling out of it without taking off my seatbelt. Things are moving slowly along the main street. I don't pay much attention at first, but as we proceed I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. He's driving right up the tailpipe of the car in front of us in stop-and-go traffic. It's not going to get us there any faster, but it might land us in a fender-bender.

The cabbie looks over at me and sees my face, which is completely transparent at all times, no matter how well I think I'm hiding my feelings. Don't worry! he tells me. You're in good hands! I get you there safe!

Sure. I'll believe that when the end of the day comes and I'm not wearing a neck brace.

Then he slams on the brakes and we lurch to a stop one inch from the side of a pool maintenance van that's turning left in front of us. Next turn-off: the highway.

Now we're on the 401. Traffic is heavy, and everyone's driving fast. I think back to the definition of a "safe following distance" as recommended by Young Drivers' of Canada. I can't remember it exactly, but I'm sure my cabbie isn't abiding by it. Nor the guidelines for safe lane changes. I'm thinking he must come from one of those countries where everyone drives like a maniac and it's considered normal. I feel a panic attack coming on. I begin to pray under my breath, and feel marginally better.

The sun is glaring right into my face. I pull down the eyeshade and two dozen crumpled paper napkins fall into my lap. I flick them off as the car weaves from lane to lane.

Finally we reach our exit. In the last few blocks before the hotel, the cabbie tries to jolly me up for a good tip by making friendly conversation. You don't drive? he asks me. Why not? It's good to drive. I teach you. I give you my number. I can teach you good.

Um. No thanks. Next time I think I'll get up an hour early and take the bus.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Seasons of Sparkland

What season is it in Sparkland? Spring? Well, yes, but mainly it's Family Season. Between Passover (mid-April) and mid-June is a series of holidays, birthdays, mother's days and father's days that results in my mom's side of my family getting together almost every weekend.

By June, we're all thoroughly sick of one another, except for my grandparents, who couldn't be more satisfied if you gave them a sack of gold.

All of us who descended directly from this side of the family are a bit off kilter mentally, due to some whacky genes. It manifests in all of us in different ways. My mom is extremely cautious. My older aunt is prone to being angry. My younger aunt is... complicated. Very complicated.

We are not laid-back people. None of us is good at compromise, and victory in any conflict goes to the most aggressive. Older aunt usually gets her way, because she's overtly aggressive, as opposed to her sisters, who prefer passive aggression.

Older aunt has some definite expections when it comes to family events. You know how it is in big families - sometimes there's one party with multiple celebrations. For example, you might have one big birthday party for everyone who was born in May, and maybe throw in Mother's Day for maximum efficiency. It can get a little crazy with various cakes, ad-libbed birthday songs, and a flurry of gift exchanges happening simultaneously, but the chaos can be fun. Don't you think? Older aunt doesn't agree. Every family event must be celebrated separately with an Official Party. It becomes exhausting.

I'm not sure why older aunt is so set on us getting together so frequently. She doesn't visibly enjoy herself much. She's the first to criticize if anything is not to her liking. And if she's hosting the gathering, get ready to duck. Don't you know how tired she is after spending all day in the kitchen cooking for us ingrates? It's stressful, hosting a party! Obviously that gives her carte blanche to be snippy, angry, and possibly even yell at us if the spirit moves her.

Do you know of anyone else who invites a bunch of people over for a party and then yells at them? I'm curious.

I can stand being yelled at, unpleasant though it may be. I won't lose sleep over it. What hurts is seeing older aunt criticizing my younger aunt, or dominating my mom. My mom gets very upset, as does her youngest sister, by these confrontations. I've offered to step in and stand up for them, but they always tell me the same thing: we have to pretend to get along for the sake of my grandparents. They wouldn't want me to interfere. My hands are tied.

In happier news, Nilsa at Somi very generously bestowed this award upon me.

Thank you, Nilsa! Now can you see why I said the love couldn't have come at a better time?

I need to have a think about who to pass it along to. Bestowings upon others will follow.

Thursday, June 5, 2008


For a long time, Ken and I have been meaning to get new window blinds. Our blinds are ten years old, tangled, bent, and dirty. When we first took possession, we tried to wash them, but they ended up looking more dented than before, and only marginally more clean. They belong in the trash.

Of course, they remained in our windows for almost two years, taunting us with their grubbiness and generally cramping our style. Finally, this past weekend, we went to order new blinds.

We had shopped around a bit, looking at our options. We concluded that all the window-dressing stores offer more or less the same merchandise. The fancy stores have higher prices with no justification other than the fanciness of the store itself. Being practical people, we went to the bargain-price store.

Our sales guy was very excited by the fact that we had decided ahead of time exactly what style and colour we wanted. Apparently the average customer wants him to show them every style of blinds in the store, in every colour, and if it's a couple shopping together they will then fight for several hours over which blinds to buy, right there in the store. If they're doing their whole house, he said, it could literally take 4 or 5 hours to finalize the order.

I found it difficult to imagine people voluntarily spending so much time in the bargain blinds store. Ken and I worked it out this way: we stopped by the store a month ago to do a walk-through and see what our options were. Then we went home and discussed the options at our leisure, on the couch, with our feet up. We had a few disagreements, but we worked them out in private.

A middle-aged couple entered the store. Another salesperson, a girl, started showing them around. Sure enough, within five minutes the husband and wife were fighting. Our sales guy took the sales girl aside to brag about us.

"These are my customers. They are the best customers I've had all week! They're so organized! They haven't argued once!"

We waved to the sales girl, who smiled uncertainly.

Then he volunteered a story about his weirdest customers ever. A couple came in requesting sheer blinds for their bathroom. They were exhibitionists, and they wanted their neighbours to be able to see them strip off for the shower. Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess. I'm glad that I don't have to deal with exhibitionists in my condo complex. I'd be tempted to drywall over my windows and call it a day. Can you imagine if you had impressionable kids who were getting an eyeful across the property line? Yeesh!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Dinner with the advisor

My mother decided that it would be a good idea for Ken and I to meet her financial advisor. She wants us to be in the loop so that we can give her second opinion on money matters. Past experience has left her almost phobic with regard to any type of investment. So she invited us over to share a dinner.

The advisor is an Israeli woman in her early 60's. She's not an orthodox Jew, but observant enough to keep strictly kosher, which results in a lot of dietary restrictions. One of the rules of kosher meat is that it may not have any blood on or in it, so don't expect your Jewish pals to order their steak rare.

At 7:00 pm sharp, my mom grunted as she heaved a roasting pan out of the oven. It contained a roast beef as big around as an ancient redwood trunk. She said, "I hope this is done! The butcher told me not to leave it in for more than two and a half hours or it would get tough."

I eyeballed the enormous roast. I'm no chef, but even a single chicken breast takes an hour to bake through at 350 degrees. There's no way that roast could be well done in two and a half. But I didn't say anything. Too late now, anyway.

My mom asked Ken to carve the meat while she put the finishing touches on some side dishes. Meanwhile, I sat at the table with our guest, making conversation. Later my mom told me what I'd missed back in the kitchen.

Ken cut into the roast, which was, of course, almost raw in the middle. My mom held her face in her hands and panicked. They had a quick, whispered strategy session. It was decided that Ken would carve the roast in concentric layers, like peeling an onion, rather than slicing the roast all the way through. That way the most cooked meat could be served and the rest would be sent back into the oven to finish the job.

Ken cut enough meat to fill the smallest serving platter in the kitchen. Even after his best efforts, much of the meat on the plate was quite rare. They set to dabbing at it with paper towels to blot up any traces of pinkish juice. Apparently by this time my mom was having giggling fits.

Finally the platter was brought out to the dining room. There were only two pieces of meat that were well done in any sense of the phrase, and these were the two very ends of the roast. I helped myself to pinkish meat, which I wouldn't ordinarily choose, in case our guest decided that she wanted to go back for seconds. In the end, the crisis was averted.

After my mom told me this story as I was washing the dishes, I asked her what possessed her to get such a big roast for just the four of us. "So that you could take home the leftovers!" she said, like, why else? My mom likes to feed me. Apparently I need several pounds of roast beef to get me through next week. Hey, I'm not complaining. I'm lucky to have my mom looking after me like she does.

So, does anyone want to come over for roast beef sandwiches? I have fancy mustard!