Sunday, 18 November 2012

On a poem I spent a month of my life crafting for a contest it never won

This one's for you Mom.  I spent a month crafting it for a contest it never won.  But was that a wasted month?  I don't think so.  I enjoyed the challenge of telling Margaret's story in the ballad form.  And thought there are some clunkers left in these lines there is a story here worth telling.

The Ballad of Margaret Rose   

People trek to the north
for reasons strange to me;
some run toward what’s better,
and some just have to flee.
Margaret Rose left her home
because her story went unhailed;
though she told it many times
it’s the gossip that prevailed.

 She was born in the Kootenays in ‘46.
She learned early to beat off backwoods hicks.
There wasn’t much love; boys ran the show;
girls and their dreams had nowhere to grow.

 Margaret Rose had a crush on her big brother’s friend;
His invitation out is where her troubles stemmed.
On the day of the date she drove into a ditch;
her face hit the steering wheel, her lip needed stitches.

She determined to go out, painkillers on hand,
 to be with the dream boy, injuries be damned.
she passed out in the car and without her cognition
that man took from her what she would have given.

 Upset with the lies and terrible advice;
she drove her Chevy North until the road turned to ice.
The engine sputtered at a hill in old Whitehorse town,
so she shifted into neutral and coasted the two miles  down.

 She was twenty-one and pregnant under the midnight sun
and folks back home did judge the things they thought she’d done.
But they were far away and she loved all that she could see.
She had no home, no friends, no lovers, but found a job at KFC.

 Nineteen Sixty-Eight was hard for a woman alone,
carrying a child a man wouldn‘t own;
but Margaret Rose wasn’t blue,
she had too much work and preparing to do.

 She wrote a letter to a man she used to know;
He flew up and the baby set his heart aglow.
He and Margaret Rose built a log house with muscle and sweat
that was soon filled with anger and too much regret.

Margaret Rose worked hard after her marriage died,
Night shifts as janitor helped her provide.
She cleaned the train station, a restaurant, and the disco bar,
her three children helped clean ashtrays and more.

 She and her friends drank the Sour Toe.
She fished the rivers and lakes and saw UFOs.
She had many boyfriends, but none of them lasted,
She strived to get rich but instead got shafted.

 You might wonder about this woman who ran away, 
but if she could tell you, this is what she’d say:

 When I finished with a mop and broom, 
I watched the northern lights from my living room.
I made my coffee bitter just the way I liked
before I shovelled the snow sent down in the night .

 But it was on Tuesday evenings, down at the ’98,
where there was a family of sorts with whom I could relate;
Joe played the fiddle, and Merv strummed the strings
And I, keeping time to the music, felt my heart had wings.


Thursday, 20 September 2012

Letter to the Select Committee on the Revision of the Official Languages Act

When I moved here two years ago I was excited to be moving to Canada’s only bilingual province. My son would hear French and English being spoken in his daily life, and would be immersed in French at school. He would grow up with a second language, an option that was not available to me during my elementary school years, where core French classes did not begin until grade five or later.

When I began looking into the opportunities for this French immersion I imagined, I discovered that at the Elementary school across the street French education would not begin until grade three. That was a shock, because research suggests a child’s ability to absorb the sounds and nuances other languages begins immediately and peaks by age seven, which is the time Canada’s only bilingual province begins its French education.

So I turned to the French school. Perhaps my son could learn French there.  However, I was told my four year old son would need to pass a French comprehension test in order to attend the French school. I could send my son to a French preschool, I was told, to help him pass this test. Unfortunately, all the French preschools I called didn’t have room for him. So in Canada’s only bilingual province, my son was not able to start his French education in kindergarten, and in fact would have to wait until grade three.

It is interesting to note that in Alberta, the province I left, early immersion programming begins in Kindergarten. In fact, Yukon Territory, where I was born, now offers early French immersion, as does British Columbia and Saskatchewan among others.

A friend of mine recently moved to Toronto. At first she was worried about finding childcare for her baby. However, down the street she found a woman who speaks three languages who takes care of children during the day. On her door this woman has the work “welcome” in French, English, and Spanish. When she speaks to the children, she uses words from these three languages. The children she is nurturing are exposed to these sounds and tones. There is no official languages act posted in her home; no English, French, and Spanish administrators haggling over which words, and how many she must use; no overhead costs to duplicate the names of the cookies and muffins she bakes into all three languages; and yet she is able to provide a better education in languages than Canada’s only official bilingual province. The model only demands a person who speaks multiple languages willing to share her knowledge with a sense of fun and good humour.

At my son’s school across the street, he can choose various enrichment activities. He can join the choir, make science experiments, read or write, join recycling, guidance, or technology, but he cannot learn French in Canada’s only bilingual province.

As an English-only speaker and writer, why do I care about French education for my son? Well, it is not the reason most New Brunswickers put their children in French immersion, which as I understand it is so they can qualify for a government job. Depressing is it not? The result of the current languages act is to create a system whereby students are motivated to learn French not because French language and culture has a rich history in New Brunswick, or because it can enrich English lives with music and food and dance as I believe, but because it might land a job in government. Wouldn’t you rather have policies that foster cooperation, sharing, joy, and culture between languages, not just a certification for a government job?

What is currently in place here in New Brunswick is systemic segregation, much like Apartheid. English school, French school, English hospital, French hospital. Why not go the distance and have French seating and English seating on city buses? Or French only washrooms, and English only washrooms? What you have created is not that much different.

The system you need to build needs to foster an atmosphere of learning and sharing, of collaboration and cooperation. What L’ecole St. Anne is doing in their cafeteria is amazing, and I am jealous that the French school has access to a chef creating healthy fresh meals, while my son, if he were to eat at the cafeteria, only has access to processed crap that is not the least bit healthy. The French school has an idea worth emulating, so copy it. We need sharing, not segregation. We need cooperation, not separation. It really is as simple as creating a system that lets the good ideas flourish and spread.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

People, Place, Purpose

I have been in Fredericton since September 2010, so just two months short of two years.  Much to my surprise, being someone who has moved a lot and who is kind of good at it, it has taken a long time to find my people, my place here. It was a trial and error process: I love to garden, so joined a community garden my first summer. I hooked up with my old hockey team. I tried to make friends in church basements with other mothers. I initiated contact with old professors, went out for coffee with some, didn't connect with others. I talked to my neighbours.  It has been a struggle to connect with and stay connected with many of these people.

But I think I might have found my place here.  Tonight I participated in a discussion about transition towns, and how Fredericton can move forward keeping in mind the reality of peak oil, and our current unsustainable lifestyles.  In the room were friends from my book club, people I've met through the community gardens, and through my volunteering.  There were people I've seen at protests against shale gas, and others I met when my husband campaigned for city council.  There was also my best writer friend who I met within weeks of moving, bless her soul.  And as a result of my participation I will now lead others as we move to have more edible plants on municipal land.  I have people, I have place, I have purpose. 

Monday, 16 July 2012

School Year Retrospective

So a year of after school care has come and gone.  I can tell you that I am not much richer.  As a matter of fact I've been supplementing our living costs with savings in order to continue to look after my son, and two or three others - give or take a few - afterschool.  There have been days when I want to buy something, or we need something and just can't afford it that I start trolling the classifieds looking for something more lucrative.  A few opportunities completely matching my experience and expertise have come to my attention.  But I don't apply. Why? 

Well, there is the time alone every weekday morning while my son is in school until he comes home with his friends when I read, or write, or walk, or do whatever moves me. There is the time I spend volunteering two mornings a week helping the Fredericton Food Bank transition into greenhouses, community gardens, a teaching kitchen, along with providing emergency food and clothing to over 2500 people each month. There is the time I spend with children playing, singing, dancing, teaching them how to speak directly to each other, and how to self-direct their play. There is the time to plan and prepare meals, to work in my garden, to do dishes and clean floors. The fact is that my life is so much richer in time, in energy, in community involvement than it was when I worked 9-5 and made a pile of money.  So I'm going to provide after school care again next year. I'm going to be poor but happy for another year.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Poems to Send Out - for Marija

On the Anniversary of my Mother’s Birth, After her Death

leaves have no need of birthdays

of marking the years

they unfurl perfectly minted

then wait and flit with wind

watch the caterpillars

at a certain time

falling down

their own silk slide

as they bounce

swing and spin mid-air

this is joy

leaves have no need of candles

 to perform the annual

rendezvous with reduction

in yellows and reds

they lose themselves beautifully

flutter down to brown

like ashes shook loose

from an urn

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Showing up

I hadn't realized it has been so long since my last post.  Though I haven't been blogging, I have doubled the word count on a short story, written and submitted a story for children, and revised three poems in the last two months.

I took a long walk in the springlike-sun with a great friend on Monday and we talked about this feeling of inertia I've had all winter:  I want to make changes to the yard, but don't know where to start; I need to find more work, but don't know where to look; I need to move more, but stay indoors instead.  I told her how in my late twenties I stopped trying to be perfect, and avoiding activities that I feared I wouldn't excel at.  And for a year I did just that.  I showed up at bike races I knew I might finish last in.  I went skiing and was the person who had to stop and apply wax while the others waited impatiently.  My goal that summer was simply to show up and do my best.  I feel like maybe I need to repeat this lesson.

My friend, bless her heart, suggested that maybe after a woman has children, she needs to relearn how to follow her inclinations while balancing feelings of obligation and responsibility to her family. Of course!  It isn't that I am repeating a  lesson already learned, but that now the context is different.  Now there are not just my reactions and feelings to navigate, but also my husband and son's.  So I've decided to forge ahead with the yard, one doable project at a time, and be all right with the mistakes I make, as we are not here to get everything right the first time, but to keep learning, and taking away new ways of doing and thinking as we go along.  And I will take my rolls and widening hips out to the trails, or to a 5 km run to get some exercise, even though I will be the one at the back with the red face and the sore feet. Sometimes, winning is just about showing up.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Birthday Party Goes Bust

So in a fit of optimism I decided to plan a party for my upcoming birthday.  I think it had something to do with feeling like I hadn’t properly acknowledged or welcomed the decade I currently find myself in.  So, I sent out a few invites right away, and received enough positive responses that it looked like the night would be full of drinks, dancing, and fun. 

Now I have a history here. My birthday comes at a bad time, soon after Christmas, so not only have I often been on the road to and from family Christmases on my birth date, but if I’m home, often no one else is, or everyone is too broke and tired after the holidays to remember, or make much of an effort, for my birthday.
 I can remember birthdays past – in my childhood - when if I wanted a cake, I baked it myself, coins wrapped in wax paper and all.  My Mom was a single parent and busy or not much into baking, my sister was likely mad at me, and my brother didn’t ever give much of a damn about anything that didn’t directly involve himself and his own well-being. 

There is a feeling here, when you make your own birthday cake that is still with me; a question maybe of wondering if you are worth all the fuss. After all if you were important, wouldn’t someone else take the time to bake you a cake, and put icing and candles on it?  I can’t ask my late mother why I ended up baking my own birthday cake.  I can recall her telling me about my birth however:  how she drove herself to the hospital, how the mean nurses left her alone in the delivery room, how the doctor never came by, how she ended up shaking and scared, in shock, all alone during the delivery, though I’m sure someone at the hospital showed up eventually to cut the umbilical cord and write down the numbers.
Which is what happened at my party:  some key people cancelled at the last minute, others arrived late and not at all.  In the end I did visit with one friend until two other new friends came in carrying Nanaimo bars, which really added to my enjoyment of the evening.  And two of us did do some dancing. But I was left with the feeling of trying too hard.  And of disappointment.

I guess I remember now why I had been keeping my birthdays low-key; enjoying cake and dinner with my in-laws if we were visiting them; being grateful for the cake my husband buys or bakes when we are home.  And what I have learned over and over on my birthday - and again this year – is not to have too many expectations.  Don't pay too much attention to who does or doesn't show up to the party, but to who is with you in the quiet hours before and after, who takes time for the little things you like, and who spends time with you throughout  the year.