Saturday, July 27, 2013

Summer Reading

Nothing much is going on except two dozen very important and highly confidential work things that I can't tell you about.  Yes I write under a pseudonym, but more careful people than me have been unmasked online, and frankly there is just too much at stake to risk unburdening myself here.

Therefore.  Instead of hearing about all the things that are breaking my heart (in both the good and bad way, depending on the day and time) and all the dramatic triumphs and defeats, you are going to get a (hopefully) entertaining prĂ©cis of my reading so far this summer.

Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee: A novel starring a narcissistic English professor who is hateful to those around him and is hated in return.  The English major in me is impressed by how Coetzee explores the murky depths of human motivation and demonstrates how there is often not a clear line between Good Guys and Bad Guys.  The escapist reader in me found it a total downer.  Unless you feel like meditating on death, selfishness, violence, and humanity's lack of self-awareness, maybe skip this one.

Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala:  A charming tale of romance and young fools, set in India.  Coetzee, take a lesson from Jhabvala.  It is possible to delve into the dark depths of the human heart without getting completely lost in that darkness.

The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar by Stein and Lang.  A non-fiction account of how Canada got sucked into the war in Afghanistan.  It's one of those books that wasn't easy to read, but I'm glad that I read it.  I learned quite a bit about Canadian politics, a topic I find difficult to study without falling asleep.  The main thing I learned is that at the Federal level our government spends a lot of time wringing its hands and asking itself "But what will the U.S. think?"  And then their guesses regarding what the U.S. cares about turn out to be wrong.

The Voice of the Infinite in the Small (Re-Visioning the Insect-Human Connection) by J.E. Lauck.  It's officially non-fiction, but if you know anything about the publisher, Shambhala Publications, you'll understand when I say there's a lot of speculation in there.  The author looks at humans' relationship with bugs (basically summed up as "Ew! Bugs!  Kill them!") and reminds us that we should appreciate bugs' role in the overall planetary ecosystem.  I agree with this point.  I am a little less convinced by her argument that we should see mosquito stings as spiritual lessons.  I'm all for loving bugs, and would much rather escort a fly outside than kill it, so in that sense she's preaching to the choir.  I guess I just get put off by too large a helping of New Agey jibber-jabber all in one sitting.  I'm skipping the sections that I don't like and homing in on the weird stories of people who believe that they can communicate with bees.  I mean, neat!  Who wouldn't want to talk with bees?

There have been a couple of other books too, but this post is long enough now.  Excuse me, I'm going to go practice my waggle dance.

Sunday, July 21, 2013


I'm not sure how, but I managed to survive this week's heat wave.  My brain feels a little overcooked.  I do believe I'll recover.

Things at work are hairy as usual.  The nasty legal proceedings I alluded to previously are still an ongoing concern.  Every time we think that we're nearing a resolution, one of the players throws a monkey wrench into the works.  I don't know the details, I only know that my boss has been telling me it'll all be sorted out in a week or two for a year now.

Here's my pet peeve of the week: people not reading their e-mails.  Specifically the ones from me.  I know that the people I work with are busy, so I take great care to pare my messages down to the bare essentials.  I can't even tell you how many times my colleagues have claimed they weren't informed of one thing or another despite my having e-mailed them about it.  I don't know what's worse, when they don't notice the message at all, or when they only bother to read the subject line and come to me for a face-to-face question session about all the rest.  Look, the reason why I sent an e-mail to that distribution list of 18 people is because I don't have time to speak to everyone individually about this stuff.  Read your damn e-mail, people!


Moving on...  My frustrations were made up for by a great workplace kitchen conversation with a couple of my more sensible co-workers.  They both had some eyebrow-raising paranormal stories to share.  I can't remember how we got onto the subject, but one had lived in a haunted house where windows flew open and closed by themselves and a cross jumped off a wall and across the room with no visible motivation.  The other had had visitations from her long-passed Uncle Howard.  She didn't see him, but her nieces (who were born after he died) did, and described him as wearing the clothes that he was buried in.  So that was pretty fascinating.

Since the temperature finally dropped below a raging broil today, I went for a walk.  I passed this giant robot, but I wasn't scared because he was in a cage.

I find these "No Pooping" signs in my area quite funny.  The dog looks so nervous and guilty.  "Oh no!  I pooped in a no pooping zone!  I'm gonna get in so much trouble..."

I got my step-dad a shirt for his upcoming birthday.  It's a pretty ordinary golf shirt.  Not so the gift bag that I found for him.  He's going to love it!

It's kittens!  And the handle is furry!  And there are rainbows!  Isn't that the best?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Did you hear? Toronto got some rain.

On Monday afternoon before 4:30 pm, the rain started coming down.  The sky got very dark and then a heavy, pounding rainstorm hit.  I could hear it drumming on the roof over my head.  It was the type of storm that usually passes within a few minutes.  I was expecting the sky to be clear by going-home time.  But it wasn't.

The pouring rain carried on at maximum gush for almost two hours.  After 6:15 or so it lightened up from "downpour" to "normal everyday rain", but continued to fall well into the night.  Here are some photos of what happened in Toronto on Monday evening.

I didn't realize what was going on outside my workplace until the power went out.  That got my attention.  Then I left to catch a bus, and found traffic barely crawling along the streets because none of the traffic lights were working.

Only once I was on the bus did I realize, from the chatting of people around me, that the entire Greater Toronto Area was affected by major flooding and power outages.  I called Ken to let him know that I was OK and on my slow way home.

Most of the intersections were a mess.  At a major one, the only one I had to cross on foot, a good Samaritan was energetically directing traffic, bless him.  Stores were closed.  Gas station pumps were out of service.

When I got home, Ken was merrily barbequing dinner.  He was wearing a headlamp like a miner, which he switched on when he came inside.  He's a bit of a survivalist, so he always has disaster preparedness essentials on hand.  We have more flashlights than we need, and heaps of spare batteries.  He had the laptop set up playing music off battery power.  Sometimes I think that he enjoys these opportunities to make use of all his gear.

I read by flashlight until 9:30 pm, and then went to bed.  With no AC it was warm and humid inside and out.  I lay awake by my open window, listening to the endless rain.

We were fortunate to get our electricity turned back on later that night.  Some areas in Toronto, as of this morning, did not yet have power, and others were being subjected to rotating blackouts.  Our lives are just not designed to work without electricity.  My home seemed less like my home and more like a well-appointed cave, until lights came back on.

Friday, July 5, 2013


I used to argue with my mother about my identity.  Her:  "You're Jewish!"  Me:  "No I'm not."  Her: "It's not something that you can choose not to be.  You just are."

I was confused because I look white.  My family looks white.  As in, I can pass for a descendent of the U.K.  In the neighbourhood where I grew up, almost everyone with white skin had British ancestry.  The way I saw it, the only difference between me and the other kids was that my family had weird, different holidays.  I figured that if I wasn't a believer in the Jewish religion, I could opt out of being a Jew.

I understand now that Ashkenazi Jews are a true ethnic group, with an identifiable genetic signature.  I am 100% descended from this group (to the best of my knowledge), therefore my mother was correct: I can't escape my Jewish ethnicity.  And yet I still don't fully embrace it.  If anything, I'd say I feel like I'm half-Jewish.

I recently read (apologies - I can't recall the source) that a child's peer group socializes them as much as, if not more than, their family.  When immigrants move to a new country and then have children, the next generation does not adopt their parents' accent.  They speak like their friends.  My mother chose to raise me in a white-bread W.A.S.P. neighbourhood.  She didn't send me to Hebrew school. I couldn't have put it into words back then, but I was aware that I didn't really belong to the culture I was being raised in.  I had one foot in each culture and wasn't fully comfortable in either of them.

Some people tell me that I look Jewish, others exclaim that I don't at all and they never would have guessed.  I wasn't aware of looking particularly Jewish until one day when I got on the Bathurst bus just when one of the private Hebrew schools let out for the day.  A dozen uniformed little girls got on the bus, and they all looked like variations on the theme of me.  It was super-weird.  It was only when I observed the whole group of them at once, with their milky-pale skin; light blue, green, or grey eyes; and thick, wavy/frizzy brown "Jewish hair" (as my younger cousin hatefully refers to her own hair); that it hit me.  Of course there are dozens of different types of Jews in every shape, size and colour, but indeed there is a sub-type under which I can be readily identified.

I still have trouble getting my mind around the concept that "ethnic" is not a synonym for "brown".  And that it defines me.