The Lighthouse

the lighthouse

29 September 2011

Of suffrage and lawn signs

I just read a book which takes place during the time of the women's suffrage movement in England. It's actually a story about coffee, so I would like the chance to talk to the author about how one theme led him to another.

Sadly, I don't know very much about the history of the cause. I say sadly because as a woman of the 21st century I reap the fruit of what those women sowed, and I should know what it took to change a long standing social custom - so that I never take it for granted. I had always imagined it was a peaceful process of reasoned debate, petitions to government, and good intentions. This book painted a very different picture of oppressed women, ridicule, violence, and hunger strikes.

The privilege of voting is on my mind just at the moment because of an upcoming provincial election. Voting is an important ingredient in the democratic process, but Canadians tend to be rather apathetic about exercising their privilege. Statistics indicate that only 60% of registered voters cast a ballot in our federal elections, while a mere 56% do so in the Ontario provincials.

In the run-up to election day it can be quite interesting to walk through the neighbourhood, observing rival lawn signs and imagining the respective home owners gruffly nodding at each other as they leave for work in the morning. Do they have a hard time being civil, remembering that only a month ago they shared BBQ ribs and cold beer, now they are confronted with evidence of each other's political obtuseness?  How does a supporter of The Natural Law Party (they believe in yogic flying) end up on the same street as someone who will vote for the Family Coalition Party of Ontario?  That's the interesting thing, isn't it?  Especially in this day and age where discussing one's political views is taboo in public circles - it's not until the lawn signs go up that you really know who your neighbours are.

28 September 2011

Heavenly stacks

Reader, I am in heaven.

My job takes me to libraries from one end of SOHOE to another, and let me tell you, there are some interesting interpretations of 'library' out there.  I've been to one that arranged the books from right to left on the shelves and right to left along the banks of shelves.  I've seen one that arranged the books on shelves the full length of the library wall before dropping down to the next row.  I know of one or two that specialize the groupings of books so finely that if you want a blue picture book you browse in this particular cubby, and if you are looking for a teal picture book they are kept in that cubby over there.

These little complaints of mine may leave you shrugging your shoulders and wondering to yourself, "Umm... Tess, what's the big deal?  Nobody notices these things but librarians, and they're just oddly anal about such things anyway."  Well, these things matter because they settle like a tick beneath the skin of us anal library folk. A library ought to run like a well-oiled machine my friend, and if it does, nobody will notice the work that goes into keeping it that way.

Today's assignment brought me to such a well-oiled machine, and it made me happy as soon as I walked through its door.  It was spacious with well-stocked - but not overly crowded - shelves. Every item was precisely where it logically belonged with easy to follow signage.  The procedures were clearly written and the staff and students were very well trained. There is a day book where everything is documented. Every work surface was clean and clear of clutter, drawers and cupboards were well organized, and - oh joy - there was a sink and kettle! And get this, dear reader: each book cover is wiped with a sani-wipe before it is reshelved.  Isn't that one of the ick factors about borrowing library books - other people's germs?  Not a problem here.

Even better than the happiness of having been in library heaven today, is being there again tomorrow.  My librarian's heart is going pitter-pat in a joyful rhythm.

23 September 2011

To everything, turn turn turn

The winds of change are blowing once again.  The time has come for me to strike out on my own once more, after three years of fun and fury with the Peanuts. How I've loved being up close and personal to see them grow!  We never expected, when I first arrived on their doorstep, depositing my worldly goods in their basement, that I would be a fixture in their lives for this length of time.  The months turned into years so quickly that it feels as though the calendar is lying when it reveals itself to be three years further on.

And so I have begun The Great Job Search. The challenge in this time for me, is to trust that God knows what is needed.  He knows what I am capable of, what my requirements are, and what I need in order to flourish.  He can sort it out much better than I can, so I must do my part - looking and applying - and leaving the details to Him.  No amount of fretting or worrying is going to bring about the perfect solution.  After three years of feeling incapable of looking after myself, I find that I am really looking forward to having a little home of my own, and exploring as yet unknown possibilities.  It's exciting!

If you are a praying sort of person, please offer one or two for me - job and home.  Thank you, and bless you!

22 September 2011

More words

The book of too many words (North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell) has come to a long and winding, drawn-out end. The conclusion, while over-due and slow in arriving, was ultimately satisfactory - the lady and the gentleman declared their true affection for each other and the reader is free to imagine their unending happiness.

I compared this book rather unfavourably to the practically perfect work of Jane Austen.  Poor Mrs Gaskell, she cannot respond in her own defence but must be mute against my harsh judgement. I enjoyed the story despite the endurance factor in the reading of it, and would like to sample another of her novels.

Are you a regular patron of your library? How do you approach selecting your reading material? Do you go in with a preselected list of book you want to read, or do you troll the shelves, trusting that chance will provide intriguing material?

Chance recently led me to the books of Laurie Viera Rigler: Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict; and, The Rude Awakening of a Jane Austen Addict.  How could I resist?  Would you be able to pass them up?  In the first, a 21st century woman from LA wakes one morning in Regency England - Jane Austen's time period. The second title deals with the reverse: a Regency woman in modern Los Angeles.  LVR clearly is a Jane Austen aficiando and strikes an authentic tone - the language is nearly pitch perfect.  If the reader is able to swallow the 'how' of people exchanging places with each other 200 years apart, the stories are fun frolics that toy with Austen themes, borrow Austen dialogue, and quite overtly admit to Austen fandom.

One negative I would mention is that the author here addresses certain details that we tend to speculate about when we consider life in another time - such as hygiene.  Some things are best left to speculation. Another negative is that the two stories are nearly mirror images of each other.  Having read one, we know what to expect from the other, and there are no surprises.

If you are an admirer of Austen and have dabbled in fan-fiction, give at least one of these a go.  They're perfect for a lazy afternoon of reading with a pot of tea... and will hopefully inspire you to pull the real thing off your bookshelf.

16 September 2011

It's the hair, Al

How do you decide whether you will watch a movie, or give it a miss?  Is it a movie you will make every effort to see in the theatre, are you content to wait till it hits Netflix, or will you one day have it on as background noise while you iron your tea towels to get an idea of what all the fuss was about?

Aside from boy-humour and horror, my movie watching parameters are pretty broad.  There are a few factors, however, which if present, almost guarantee a bad experience.  If either Al Pacino or William Hurt are in it, don't watch it.  Al has very bad hair, and just can not act. In fact, in certain circles, he is known as Hairpacino, and is used as a marker for how bad a movie was, as in: it was a Hairpacino kind of movie. William (I don't imagine anyone calls him Billy) breathes very loudly.  He can't help it, poor fellow, but it's very distracting.  

If the film is touted as being "this year's...."  give it a miss.  It wont just be a bad movie, it will be a bad knock-off movie that leaves you making endless comparisons about how last year's version was better.

Through experience, I have learned that references to Hitchcock do not bode well.  Any film described as being Hitchcockian - whether French Hitchcockian or Hitchcock for the post 9/11 audience - is bound to be a bad movie with an icy blonde actress.

I'm glad to share this hard-earned knowledge with you, with the hope that it will save you from making bad movie-watching choices.   The rest is up to you.

15 September 2011

Too many words

There is a brilliant line in the movie 'Amadeus' which has the king telling Wolfie (Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart) that the piece of music he composed has "too many notes".  Naturally, being king qualifies him to know about such things, and of course there is a mathematical formula for how many notes a musical composition should have.

The book I am reading has too many words. I'm not a king - err Queen.  I'm not even a minor, non-royal duke (make that Duchess) but as I have experience with reading, I feel qualified to offer  critique from a reader's point of view.

There are writers who indulge in four pages of very small type to describe the lace edge of a handkerchief (don't try to hide, Edith Wharton)  There is a nation of authors who delight in taking an entire novel to enumerate the endless sufferings and bad judgements of their characters (da, Russians, you do) Even Charles Dickens does go on a bit, but I suppose he was providing an important service for his time as there was no reality tv and people needed something to while away the evening hours - serialized fiction printed in the newspaper was just the ticket.  Dickens would not have done well with Twitter.

My word heroine is Jane Austen. She demonstrates the Italian philosophy of quanto basta which means 'just enough' or 'as much as you want - no more, no less' which is exactly what you want from a book, right? For example, from a novel about deep-sea fishing quanto basta would be roughly 2.5 pages. On the other hand, a wonderful story about time travel spanning two hundred years, three countries, and two revolutions, would need eight books to provide quanto basta.  Austen isn't stingy with her words, but she isn't self-indulgent with them, either. It's so good to be left satisfied, yet feeling as though you could have handled just a little bit more.

This current book has surpassed 'just enough' and landed in quanto too-mucho.  The plot has promise, the characters are intriguing, but I can see what's coming from 400 pages away and the author is using too many words to get there.  She repeats, and says again, and reiterates to the point that I'm skimming paragraphs and skipping pages - I gave chapter 32 a complete miss. While the deja-read it is frustratingly unnecessary (I do remember that Margaret has dark hair, I don't need to be reminded every time she speaks) at times the excessive wordsomeness of the authors style comes across as stodgy, which is too bad as it weighs down a story with potential - at least for this modern reader's palate.

Mozart may have used a lot of notes, but he had a deft touch and a true ear - in the hands of a master, too many notes is quanto basta.

The book is North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell

13 September 2011

Quiet and tranquil

First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers,
petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone,
for kings and for all in authority,
that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life
in all devotion and dignity. 
This is good and pleasing to God our saviour,
who wills everyone to be saved
and to come to knowledge of the truth.
1 Tim 2: 1-8

That we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity.  St. Paul probably wasn’t thinking ahead to his  21st Century readers when he put pen to paper in this letter to Timothy, but these words ring out clear and true to this particular modern girl.

We’ve all heard the litany of the ills of our time, and probably each have a version of our own we can riff on with the smallest provocation.  Your litany would likely include some of these themes: stress, over-commitment, broken families, Godlessness, hopelessness, degraded culture, lowered standards, the noise, the expectations, the evening news.... Doesn’t it make you want to cry uncle?

It is no mistake that St. Paul links quiet and tranquility to devotion and dignity: the first two qualities are necessary for the latter to flourish.  Being prayerful, recollected people is difficult if we do not provide the conditions. St. Paul acknowledges this fact by directing us to supplicate, to pray, and petition that we be able to lead such lives no matter our role.

Perhaps because I am one of those people who frequently recites the litany of the ills of our time and prays for a radical change in how we live, I understand the last verse to mean what we read before is a requirement for this bit: to be saved and come to knowledge of the truth, we must lead a quiet and tranquil life in devotion and dignity. There is no other way. Paul is practically admonishing us to slow down, to chill out, to focus on First Things, and in doing so we will please God.

10 September 2011


While putting his Superman pyjamas on one night, Four was heard singing to the tune of Superman:
Puts on his clothes
Puts on his clothes
The girl helps him
The girl help him
Da da da da... da na na na

(The girl would be me)

Four has just begun kindergarten.  He's been longing to go on the school bus for years, and has all his life wanted to be the person going somewhere, saying goodbye to those left behind. There were no nerves, anxiety, doubts, or worries on his part - he was ready to conquer the world.  Each of the brothers, even Five, his inseparable companion till now, was pleased for him to finally be going on the school bus. The first day went off without a hitch - he was, in fact, blase about it.
On the second morning, I overheard this conversation between Four and Five:
"Five, I'm going to school again today."
"What??  Again?"
"Yes, Mommy says I go to school again today."
"But I wanted a turn!"

A few moments later, One was brushing Four's hair, asking him if he was excited to be going back to school again.
"Yes," he replied in a rather forlorn voice.  "But will I be going to school forever?"

09 September 2011

Abolish the word

We all have words that drive us right around the bend, either because they are incorrectly used or used to point of being drained of all meaning. Some words send shivers of revulsion to our bowels for personal reasons. I happen to dislike 'pus' because of how it sounds and because of what it names. Some set our teeth on edge because of their clunky, awkward, inept construction and usage, or their suspect origin.  For example, I deplore the current trend of turning nouns into verbs, such as 'agenda' as in "Let's agenda this for next week."  Is it too difficult to say 'schedule'?

Pus and agenda aside, my first offerings for this inaugural Abolish the Word post are:

Orientate/orientated.   Makes my toes curl every time I hear someone say "I am show-jumping orientated." or "When I got to the mall, I tried to get myself properly orientated."
Say it with me, folks: ORIENTED!

Guys.  This word is overused to such an extent that you might almost believe there is no other word to use for a group of people. Are there alternatives?  How about folks, gang, group, class, people, ladies & gentlemen...just as an off-the-top-of-my-head start.

Are there words that simply curdle your inner word critic?

04 September 2011

Nap attack

What is it about Sunday afternoons that are so drowsy?  Here it is, two in the afternoon and I can barely keep my eyes open.

Is it psychological?  Is it subliminal?  Or is it a genetic necessity of survival that human beings actually stop for one afternoon and snooze?

I like that last explanation.  Sunday is called the day of rest, after all.  God commands that we do no work on this day so I will merely be obedient when, in the next five minutes, I curl myself around my pillow and surrender to slumber.

Please close the door quietly on your way out.

Of hope and trust

I’m a planner.  I like to be in control, to know what is going on now, and what is going to happen later. Fear and pride are at the heart of this of course, but the myth I tell myself is that only I can do it right.

I have been on a slow journey to a goal. I believe that God has made the pursuit of this goal possible. It has to be God, because too many diverse circumstances resulted in just the right situation at the perfect time, incorporating several people and events – far too complex for me to have orchestrated.

And yet.  And yet I still hold on tight to the reigns; I still fret and worry and wonder and scheme.  On top of that, I have noticed a disappointing tendency in myself: while I try to wrest control of my life away from God, I also expect Him to do most of the work, like the man who prays to the saints to help him win the lottery, but never buys a ticket.

I’d been expecting to hear positive news regarding the goal I mentioned earlier. In this particular instance, I had actually applied myself to the task and fully expected – full of smug virtue – that I would be rewarded.  I waited for months, never doubting a positive outcome. Finally the result came back and the news was not glorious. Refused.  Rejected. 

Deflated.  I had a moment (or two) of questioning the goal.  I was feeling self-indulgent for persisting, doubting my ability to achieve anything, thinking about giving it up.

As He so often does in my life, God broke through the moment.  The readings of that day spoke to me about being filled with the knowledge of God’s will; to live in a manner worthy of the Lord; that every good work bears fruit; asking for endurance, patience, joy; to give thanks to the Father. (Col. 1: 9-12)  The gospel reading had Jesus telling Simon to cast his net into the deep – though he had worked hard all night with no result. They catch enough fish to nearly sink two boats.  (Lk. 5: 1-11)

Those readings may not strike you as being meant to encourage someone who was doubting her path in life, but believe me, on that day when I read them, I knew God was in control of the timing.  Praying with the daily readings is part of my regular habit, though by no means do I do so every day.  I remember deliberating that morning whether I would, and feeling nudged to do so.

I immediately felt at peace.  Gone was the doubt, the resignation.  I was encouraged and reassured - and also challenged to surrender to God.  I am to ‘cast into the deep’ as He bids me, and trust that the work will bear good fruit.

03 September 2011

Who turned up the heat?

Whose idea was it to turn up the heat again?  We've had days and days of lovely - if slightly wet, thanks to Irene - weather, which is perfect because we're definitely in the mood for fall.  We're longing for socks and sweaters; brisk mornings and warm afternoons; and fresh, thick stacks of three-holed foolscap.  We thought we were over the last of summer's swelter, we were survivors.

You can bear anything if you know how long it will last: a needle, childbirth, a math exam, a really bad Al Pacino movie.  You brace yourself for that second, that day, that hour or two, because you know relief has an appointed arrival time.  Endurance becomes challenging when the difficult thing comes around again and again.  You think it's done with and congratulate yourself on having come through - but wait, here it is again.

So it is with the weather.  Granted, we don't have it so bad here, not like, say, Calgary, where they get 30 degree fluctuations in the space of a weekend, moving from three-foot snow drifts, to drinks on the terrace in shorts.  That said, I'm not looking forward to the projected high of 40 Celsius today.  I will make the progression from limp noodle to comatose steamed vegetable.  Ugh.

Whose idea was this?

01 September 2011

My eyes!

I'm getting old.  I know this because my arms are getting longer.

When I read something lately (I should say 'try' to read something), particularly when it is in a minuscule font, what I see is tiny blotches, like baby ants walked through fine dust before they danced lightly across the paper I'm holding out at arm's length. I'm sure it's actually letters of the alphabet arranged in groups to make up words, informing me I shouldn't use heavy machinery while under the influence of the medication contained in the bottle I'm squinting at.

I didn't used to have a problem seeing what was right in front of me - it was further along the road that I had a hard time deciphering. Now I have little trouble reading road signs in the next county, but I recently bought a "Canadian Berry Pie" and couldn't read what the berries were. In helpful larger font I was informed there were five varieties of Canadian berries, but the list of fruit was ever so small. Who doesn't like summer berries though, right? I went through a list of likely suspects in my mind: strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries... hmm.  What else?  I squinted, but couldn't make the words cooperate and grow larger. I brought the pie home anyway.

That experience has taught me two things:
1. I don't like cranberries in my pie.
2. Always bring the spectacles when shopping.