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Monday, November 21, 2011

Mindful Sundays


When I was a kid, my poor father complained about never getting enough sports.  The three women in his family would whine "Do we have to watch this?" unless the University of Michigan was playing in the Rose Bowl.  Now I love football Sundays.  Bill, who retains his loyalty to the Blue Bombers from his Winnipeg days, wanted to spend the afternoon watching the two semi-final games for the Grey Cup.  Now of course he's in a great mood, thinking about how Winnipeg is going to "whup" BC next weekend, though he's also a little nervous about the home team advantage.

But what I love about football Sundays is the opportunity to go guiltlessly to my workroom and spend time reading and working on quilts.  Today I was trying to get the blocks for the bluegreygreen quilt into rows that I could then "marry," as my mother used to call it, before I created a border of blocks turned on point.  I'm about half done.  As I pieced, I watched the sun move across the floor.  Sheba, who has her spot at the narrow end of the ironing board, supervised while Twig slept on the end of the bed.  I'd take breaks reading Frances Itani's Requiem or practicing the guitar.  Time stretched like a lazy cat in the meditative space I created.

Matching up those tiny triangles at the corner of the blocks kept my fingers busy, allowing my mind to drift over my thoughts about Requiem:  about how I'd have liked the narrator's voice to be less formal and more visual, but how important and touching the story is.  Bin Okuma seems to lose everything three times over:  first when his family is rounded up and interned in the interior of British Columbia.  Not only is their house and fishing boat taken, but the family is charged for towing the boat to the Navy yard.  The community they belong to on the Fraser River finds ways to house themselves and earn money growing tomatoes and keeping gardens.  While the outhouses continue to be terrifying for Bin, the community does manage to create bath houses and root cellars.  His second loss occurs on the happiest day of his life, a day when his father has put aside his characteristic anger about Bin's dreaminess.  We learn this is only because Bin is being given away to an elderly widower who has no children.  Though growing up in Okuma-san's household is much more peaceful, although his new father manages to find paper so he can draw, Bin's anger at being given away coexists right beside his gratitutde for Okuma-san's generosity and patience, for the introduction to art and music that he experiences in his home.  Finally, the loss that precipitates the "road trip" story that holds the novel together is the death of his wife Lena.  Requiem is a story that repays thought while you fingers feel the seams to make sure they're meeting in just the right way:  a story about loss, about the redemption of art anbd music, about the difficulty of letting go, about home and the various kinds of homelessness, about what our culture does to those who are different.

Perhaps it's ironic, but I also spent quite a lot of that time thinking about the future of the Occupy movement.  What could be more representative of home, besides bread or soup, than a quilt?  And what could be more "un-home-like" than living out of a tent in a public space and asking whether our society really does what it  can to make everyone feel at home?  And what could make them feel less like an integral part of the fabric of society than to have the police move in and put eviction notices on their tents--when they weren't taking them down and putting them in the trash?

I'm hopeful that the Occupyers will find other ways to help their ideas remain visible; some groups seem to already have spent time thinking about how they'll cope with this expected outcome.  Yet in this time of tweets and sound bites, our attention span is ridiculously short:  if the media doesn't keep its ear to the ground about what this group is thinking, the momentum will be lost, and I'm afraid the media doesn't care a lot about what's not in our face.  But at the same time, this idea that can't be evicted tells us that we have to change our way of thinking.  Even if they continued to live in their tents, the change has to be supported by those of us who vote.

First, we have to stop thinking about taxes as a dirty word.  They are, rather, the cost of our collective well-being.  Some of the most highly-taxed societies in the world, like Norway, also have the greatest sense of well-being, which is another way of suggesting that individual wealth and success shouldn't perhaps be the most important item on our agendas.

We have to stop thinking of leadership as what you do or don't do in order to get re-elected four years from now.  Leadership requires long-term thinking and a willingness to take some risks for the collective good.  Yet we continue to elect governments based on immediate promises (often for no new taxes) rather than long-term vision.

While capitalism seems to be the best system human beings have created, it's far from perfect, particularly in the current form that emphasizes the individual's success and the individual's needs and desires.  So we're really going to need to re-think the relationship between individual desires and society's well-being.  Interestingly, Requiem has some sense of what that might be like: a group of sixty families in shacks backed up against a mountain managed to have enough to eat and continued the education of their children even under very difficult circumstances.  Minimalism helps you figure out your priorities, whether you're in an Occupy camp or unjustly interned in the middle of nowhere. 



On another note altogether, people have been asking whether there will be something akin to a Ken Probert Scholarship.  To answer that question, I'm simply going to paste in an email from the English Department Head, Nick Ruddick:

Before his death, Ken Probert gave $10,000 to the U of R towards a new English Dept. scholarship. This gift will now be used to create the Dr. Ken Probert Memorial Scholarship, with the English Dept. itself to decide the scholarship criteria. The current fundraising target for this scholarship is $5,000. This amount, added to Ken’s gift and with all funds then matched by the University, will generate a scholarship of $1,200 per year.

Further information about how we might help achieve the fundraising goal is now available in the Dept’s main office. Please do pass on the news about the scholarship to Ken’s former colleagues and students.


The Department's phone number is 585-4320.

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