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Tim: a fond farewell November 14, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in family, life, world.
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Tim imitating the discus statue at the Auckland Museum.

Tim died yesterday, a few weeks into his 81st year. Tim was an original.  Tim was my uncle.

tim-2My father’s eldest brother, Tim was a confirmed bachelor. He invited Janet (Lavenderbay) and me to Hawaii when he was helping to cheer on his athletic brother in the Ironman. We shared a lovely condo, with a “lanai” overlooking the sea. This was the first time I had a chance to get to know my uncle, because he lived in New Zealand. We spent a day visiting Volcano National Park, and Tim was up for every adventure.

When we finally made the long trip to New Zealand a few years ago, Tim paid for our airline tickets. He was there to entertain us on our last day in Auckland, driving us around and telling us convoluted and fascinating stories of everything under the sun.tim-3

So, in honour of the eccentric and delightful Tim, here are a few traits to treasure:

  • He loved his root vegetables. In Hawaii, his favourite meal for any time of the day (when we weren’t cooking) was onion, potato, edoes, and whatever else was handy — along with lots of fresh ginger and garlic — all cooked together. And, to top it off he drank the cooking liquid.
  • He drove a mauve-coloured car, standard, in a somewhat (how do I say) distracted manner.
  • He strongly supported Amnesty International, and read voraciously all the news of the world.
  • He had visited Papua New Guinea several times, and tramped through wilderness and up mountains in New Zealand and further afield, until his knee gave out.
  • He loved to laugh and have long conversations, and would even sing if asked. At his 80th birthday party, he sang his school song.

Sing on, Tim. Sing on.


A place to call home July 20, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in Canada, change, family, history, journey, learn, life.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

A photo from the family archives: I’m in the red snowflake hat.

“Where’s your home?” It seems a simple question. I first heard it from a man who lived in a L’Arche community.

I’ve had lots of homes. I grew up in my parents’ home, built just before I was born. I lived there for 21 years (not including time away at university). They are still living there, although my two brothers and I have moved away.

Then I moved. Three apartments in Saint John, one in Woodstock, then Oshawa, Newcastle and Orono. A house in Port Britain, then an apartment in Cobourg. We are now on our third apartment in Toronto, the best place yet.


Our current home in Toronto.

“Where’s your home?” It’s where my heart is, where my partner is, where my stuff, my memorabilia, my computer… where I can be myself. But that’s not a place so much as an idea. It’s wherever I happen to be living at the moment.

If there was one place I could call home, one place that I’m rooted in, no matter where I roam, I would have to say Saint John, where I grew up. I’ve lived in Ontario for nearly 20 years, but it’s not really my home. When people ask, I tell them I live in Toronto, but I almost always add: I’m not from here; I’m a Maritimer. Some part of my heart will always be in that rocky sea-and-forest landscape that I associate with my childhood.

Saint John 1

Saint John from the air.

One of the Maritime themes is that of people leaving — for Toronto, Calgary, other places — in order to find better jobs, better opportunities, a better life. Yet there’s a second half to that story: a lot of Maritimers come home again, or at least they yearn to return.

I left that “home” a long time ago. I’ve heard people say “you can’t go home again”. But is it true? Or is it just that everything changes, that home is never the same again?

The people I grew up with have moved away or moved on with their lives. The paths I used to walk, the stores I used to visit are gone, overgrown or redeveloped. What I think of as “home” is a place in time, so in that sense, I can’t go home. I can’t go back.

And the fact is, I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to be an awkward teenager again, or return to that stage of my life when I was just beginning to discover my interests and develop a sense of myself. I like who I’ve become, my work and friends, being able to make my own way in the world.

Yet there’s something else, some part of me that feels cut off, adrift. I felt that most keenly during my most recent visit, when my parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. I was surprised to see how many people I recognized, and how many people knew me and greeted me, not as a former acquaintance, but as family. Until then, I had only thought of home as geography, a mix of woods and houses, the cool blanket of fog drifting in off the coast, the steep road we bicycled to reach the blueberry patch under the power lines…

So where is my home? Is it really a place full of memories, the childhood I’ve left behind?

I wonder if there’s more to that place than I had counted on, as if there’s a future as well as a past. How would it feel for me, the confident grown-up me, to return to this place that still pulls at my heart? Maybe all these years I’ve been living in exile, and it’s time to go home.

Where’s your home?

empty benches

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Strong roles, no rules July 15, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, family, journey, learn, life, women.
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in Eden

Janet (Lavenderbay) took this photo of me getting close to… nature.

Not that I’m feeling nostalgic or anything, but yesterday I found a fascinating quiz thanks to a post on Feminist Philosophers. The quiz is based on a Marital Scale which “draws on the opinions of over 600 couples in the 1930s and what they most frequently voiced as flaws and virtues in their spouses”.

Yes, this test is loaded with 1930s’ expectations of how husbands and wives should look, act, and talk. You are rated on whether you leave your socks on the floor or squeeze the toothpaste from the top of the tube, whether you praise your partner in front of friends, or boast about your bachelor days.

Mme LiberteBut the 1930s were not that long ago. My parents grew up in that era, and if you are younger than me, you may still have been brought up to meet 1930s’ standards.

Although I’m contrary by nature, I believe my nurture instilled in me certain ideas that are sealed into my psyche. These ideas were based not only on my parents’ roles and relationship, but also on what I saw in the wider world. We had policemen and firemen, and the church minister and the mayor were male. Although there were some strong female models — the principal of my elementary school was a woman, and I grew up reading girls’ adventure stories — by and large, I didn’t imagine myself in a strong role. Until I reached university, I never really expected to be anything other than a housewife and mother.

crucified womanIn university, my world turned upside down. I fell in love… with a woman. From that point on, I’ve consciously tried to resist any expectation of women in a secondary role. I now work for a women’s organization, so this doesn’t happen as often as it used to, but I have challenged more than a few men who’ve left a mess in the kitchen at work. Sure, I can make coffee and put the mugs in the dishwasher afterwards, and I’m glad to do it, but you’d better take your turn, too!

But figuring out how to split up our roles at home is more complex. Should we take turns at all tasks, or split them between us? Somebody has to keep the apartment clean and change lightbulbs, somebody has to make supper and pay the bills. But the fact is that neither of us likes housework, although we have a different level of tolerance for dirt and clutter. We both enjoy cooking, but not all the time. It would be much nicer to sit in the computer/television/reading chair all day while someone else takes care of us, but that’s not going to happen. So stuff gets done by whoever has the energy and the inclination at the time, or is most bothered by the dirty dishes/clothes/bathroom/etc. So much for roles.

St. BrigidIronically, the only people who seem to be talking about roles for husbands and wives these days are religious conservatives and academics. But whatever your partnership, surely there are some roles that need to be worked out. What do you see as appropriate roles for women and men? Do you have to constantly negotiate the roles in your relationships?

The public art illustrating this post celebrates strong roles for women, but think about all the art you’ve seen which depicts women as property or decoration, innocent victim or evil seductress. How do you think this has influenced your (or others’) expectations? Although I’m writing here about women’s roles, I’m interested in knowing whether you think men’s roles have changed, too.

Now here’s a challenge: take the test as a wife and as a husband… you might be surprised which role you fit best!

Oh, so how did I score? I make an average wife, but a superior husband. Go figure. For more on this, check out the interesting discussion on Boing Boing or look at the scans of the original test here.
Classical styleAboriginal woman

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Related Links
“Women’s Roles in the Late 19th Century” by Dorothy Hartman
Montreal Gazette: “The volunteer who visits you is probably a woman – and here’s why”
New York Times: “A breadwinner rethinks gender roles”
The Independent: “Where have all the strong women gone?
Suicide Bomber Barbie – irony, or not?

A fine balance May 18, 2008

Posted by eyegillian in change, diversity, energy, family, journey, learn, life.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

all is calm

“Work-life balance” has become one of those catch-phrases which seems to sum up a modern conundrum: the clash between personal and professional satisfaction. But, after reading various work/life advice sites on the internet, I find their solutions unsatisfying. And that, I realize, is because work and life don’t split neatly into two halves; the struggle for balance is not two-sided, but multiple-sided.

And I have been struggling for balance. Work is a given — from approx. 9 to 5 every day, I’m committed elsewhere — and work stresses do have an effect on my life. But enough about work. My main concern is how I spend the rest of my time, because that’s where the balancing act is the most difficult for me. (My partner is having similar difficulties: check out her litany here.)

After all, there’s a new puppy, which has meant less sleep, more interruptions in the rhythm of the day, and definitely a lot more mopping up. (Of course, there’s lots of benefits too… more on that at another time.)

There’s family time, catching up on my partner’s day and actually having a conversation from time to time. There’s eating and sleeping and trimming my toenails — all the aspects of personal care. And, yes, that should include exercise… my balanceball and weights are languishing in the cupboard, but at least I’m bicycling to and from work nearly every day so I can take the puppy out for his lunchtime pee break.

Then there’s my own particular (or peculiar) computer interests: besides my sometimes-near-addiction to computer games (also known as “the great escape”), I am halfway into a do-it-yourself Dreamweaver course, I have a slideshow project that I’ve committed to create for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary next month, and then there’s e-mail correspondence and co-op board information to keep up on. And besides this blog, I post photos and participate on Flickr, and I’ve recently started a new blog as well. So, I’m obviously having difficulty finding balance because I feel like I’m rushing from one thing to another.

A-ha! I hear you conclude: I obviously do it to myself. Why oh why would I take on so much stuff if I’m having trouble with balance? Hmm… good question. It might be the perfectionist side of me, or the workaholic, but to tell you the truth, I don’t think those aspects are very strong. You’d realize that if you saw what a messy packrat I am.

I think my own particular (peculiar) challenge is that I love a challenge. And, more specifically, I love starting a project, I love the thrill of learning and mastering something new. But… I’m not that good at continuing once the freshness has worn off.

Oh yes, speaking of freshness, let me say a few words about my new blog, which I’ve called “Wondering eye“. I was inspired by seeing the new photoblog design that WordPress announced recently, and thought I’d use it to showcase some of my favourite photos. And I discovered, as I thought about what to say that would harmonize with an attractively framed photo, I re-discovered a former interest of mine: poetry.

You may have noticed the “Haiku of the Day” from Shaw Malcolm (thanks, Shaw!) which I feature in my sidebar, and occasionally I’ll quote a line or two of poetry in my posts (I especially enjoy the poetry of Jan Zwicky). And I also owe thanks to faithful blog-friend Richard, who more than once has remarked that my writing is poetic. But I once wrote poetry — ok, I was in my teens, and it was pretty bad — and I’ve decided to give it another try.

Writing poetry is not at all like writing this blog; it needs time for reflection, carefully chewing over and choosing the best words, trimming, listening, and trimming again. The point is: it can’t be hurried. I have to wait with it, sit with the words and the feeling I’m trying to capture, until it seems right. So, I don’t know yet whether it’s any good, and maybe that doesn’t matter. What does matter is that, through writing poetry, I’ve found a way to stop hurrying through my life, and listen.

tall gillian leaningAnd when I listen, I can hear my body saying it needs more exercise, or less junk food. I remember how much fun it is to take photographs and start planning for an outdoor excursion. I find I have time to sit on the sunny lawn and watch the puppy romp and sniff the dandelions.

I haven’t found the perfect balance yet, not by a long shot. But I hope I can continue this new project, because I believe the contemplative listening involved in poetry will help.

So, maybe poetry doesn’t work for you, but what helps you keep your balance? I’m still looking for ideas and advice on this one.

And while you chew over that question, here’s a Life Balance Quiz I adapted from one I found online. There are several quizzes out there, but I think this style is more effective than the multiple choice version. See what you think:

Elements of Life

Think about your life today. What is most important to you? Take a moment to examine your priorities. Below are some of the important elements of your life you may try to balance every day. In Column A, circle the importance of each element of your life as you would like it to be (1=not important; 5=very important).

Elements of Life ………………. Column A …………………. Column B

Family ……………………………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………… 1 2 3 4 5
Personal Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Spiritual Life ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Volunteerism …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Education …………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Career …………………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………. 1 2 3 4 5
Physical health ………………….. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Emotional well-being …………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Relationships/Friends ………… 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Recreation ………………………. 1 2 3 4 5 …………………….. 1 2 3 4 5
Other ______________ …………. 1 2 3 4 5 ……………………… 1 2 3 4 5

How did you rate these parts of your life? There is no right “formula” but there should be a balance. Everything cannot be a “5”. That would set unrealistic expectations for life. You will probably feel more in balance if you have a variety of numbers circled. Take some time to think about what is right for you.

Now, in Column B, circle the number that most closely represents each element as it actually fits into your daily life. Cover up Column A while you do this, so you don’t subconsciously echo your previous answers.

When you are finished, compare the two lists. If Column A and Column B responses match, then you are giving proper attention to the areas that you feel are important. That’s great! You are probably better able to cope with the stresses in life that come your way.

If the Column A responses are very different from the Column B responses, then you are not providing enough attention to those areas that are important to you. Is it possible that this imbalance is hindering your ability to deal effectively with life’s changes? Think about what you can do to align what is important with your daily patterns.

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