Post # 3064: Continuity

A few months ago, a struggling friend asked his facebook contacts for general advice on how to get through a difficult time. One of my friends responded to him thusly:

Build another thing. Think about who will use it when you are gone.

This line has come back to me almost weekly since – a piece of spontaneous poetry that speaks the human condition so plainly. The drive to create, to make new, to build – and the fact that we have so little time in which to do it before we turn it into the hands of those who follow. As someone who is a builder of things (textile things), I understand entirely, the continuity that making engenders – the connection to the past and the future which is made in the moment of throwing the shuttle or placing the stitch. And of course, I am highly aware that there may be no one to pass these things along to because we do not live in a world where we think too hard about who is coming next and what will be their inheritance. So many of the made “things” of this world do not even last a single lifetime, plastics becoming the stomach lining of birds and whales instead, houses even – built only for the use of a single family one time before they are plowed under for the next incarnation. This is the breaking of the line between then, now and the future – the refuse that piles up and doesn’t break down into anything reusable.

The chair above this post is about 150 years old. I purchased it on Craigslist for $75 and spent a ridiculous sum of money having it reupholstered because I loved its shape and the hand carved wood. When we peeled back the upholstery at the refinishing place, it was clear that it had been redone at least twice since the original fabric when onto it – making this the fourth recovering in its lifetime. I expect it won’t need to be done for another 40 or 50 years given the wear that a chair like this gets – which means the next time it gets a new coat I will likely have passed on. The chair is really sturdy, though perhaps it will need to be glued at some point to keep its joints together – but still, someone is using it long after the maker’s death, and will be using it beyond my own temporary hold. Though I am not the builder, I am a caretaker of this thing that will be used by another when I am gone.

If we could hold this perspective on our world with each purchase, with each thing we build – how different this all would be. What is this thing I am making? Will it last? Does it have use beyond this moment? Who will use it and how? When we are done with its use, can it be returned to the ground with little impact?

And so, this little poem to help us remember:

another thing.
Think about


will use it when
you are gone.


Post #3025: When the dead come calling

This past weekend, we held our housewarming party on Gabriola – and a fine time was had by all (more on that in a future post), but there was one incident that occurred on Saturday morning that has stayed with me and that I want to relay here before any of the details elude me (as memories fade almost as quickly as we make them).

Our housewarming party started on Friday afternoon and went straight through the weekend until Monday morning – with many old friends from my Victoria crew coming together and staying together the entire time. Of course this involved late nights and some staying up drinking. On the very first night, one of my guests left our downstairs cordless phone outside which drained its battery while we slept.

In the morning I saw the phone and brought it into the house, putting it on the kitchen counter with the intention of returning it to its cradle. I left it for a moment while I went upstairs to use the washroom, and a group of friends were standing around  the kitchen chatting. When I came back down, one of my friends said “your phone rang while you were upstairs” – something I hadn’t heard, because the upstairs phone hadn’t run (which in any normal circumstance it would have). Curious about who it was, I took the phone off the counter to see who had called. The first thing I noticed (before I saw the name) was that the phone looked as though it had been answered and the speaker setting was switched on (as indicated by the light). Odd, but dying batteries do weird things…… But even stranger was the fact that the call display showed a name only, no phone number, and it clearly read “Bronwyn Charman” –  the name of our friend who died just over two months ago in Berlin.

You might imagine, I was agog with the discovery, barely able to speak and so I turned the phone display towards three of my friends and said “Look at this – do you see what I see?” Two of them (Mel and Marika) immediately confirmed that they saw the same name on the call display (the other didn’t have his glasses) – but we noted afterwards that I did not prime any of them by telling them what I saw first – I asked them to verify the name cold, without prompting (not out of any design either, I couldn’t speak what I was seeing).

At this point the phone was still active and I was totally confused, so I ran upstairs to the other cordless phone which was sitting in its cradle. On that phone’s display was indicated “Line in Use” as though the line was activated. I sat on the edge of the bed then and said “Hello” into the phone a few times, but the line sounded dead. I picked up the other phone from its cradle and engaged it, and said hello again. After a few tries (I could hear my voice coming through the phone to the dead phone), both phones clicked off.

I immediately scrolled back through the caller display to verify what had happened. The dead phone wouldn’t bring up call display at all (the low battery symbol was flashing) and the other phone that was charged showed no record of the call coming in at all. (Later after I had charged the first phone (that the call came into), I could find no record of the call on that phone either. It was as though no call had come in all morning.)

At this point I was confused, and a bit upset. A few of us started working through possible explanations, wondering how it could have happened in a scientific-rational world but none of the answers we came up with made any sense (see below for more detail on that). It was at that point that a couple of our friends came in from outside where a group of them had been sitting around the patio table (the door between them and us was closed, so they hadn’t heard the commotion inside). We told them what had happened, and Masha asked – how long ago was this? I said – 10-15 minutes….. To which she answered, “Well that makes sense. We were just outside having a conversation about all the people we’ve lost over the last couple of years and how we could invite them all to the party even though they had passed over. We even named them – Bronwyn, Brian, Jesse….. and invited them to join us.”

Yup. That’s right. My friends were outside invoking the dead when our phone rang with the name of our dead friend on call display.

Let’s review a few other facts about this so that it’s clear there is no simple explanation:

  • First off – the phone was pretty much dead and in that state wouldn’t have rung at all. The phone upstairs did not ring even though it was fully charged.
  • The phone had clearly turned itself on, and the speaker was engaged, even though no one had touched it when it rang.
  • Bronwyn died in Berlin just over two months ago, before Brian and I moved, and she never had our phone number on Gabriola Island so it wouldn’t have been programmed into a phone or her computer.
  • I have never received a call from Bronwyn where her name came up on call display – she often phoned from payphones or pay as you go cels, and her number would be all that would come up. Also, she mostly called my cel phone, not our old landline. All this is to say that the phone wouldn’t have had the “memory” of her name from some previous phone call.
  • Her name came up with no phone number. All other calls that have come into that phone in the last few months have come up name first (or Unknown) and then phone number. There was no number attached to this call.
  • The one person I thought might have had a cel phone that came out of her storage locker was on her way to our party also and swore that she didn’t have an old phone from our friend, nor had she called from it.
  • I do not believe that any of friends would pull a prank of this nature, and everyone present was deeply affected by what happened.

Once the initial shock wore off, Kyla said “we better make an offering then,” and she and I put offering items together on the mantle in our living room, and said Buddhist words of loving kindness after a couple minutes of silence during which we focused on her release. Throughout the next day and night, other items were added to the offering, but I don’t believe that she left then or later. I had another moment in the night when I was singing a song that she had sung when we were in our early twenties – and I thought I felt something pass through me, had a bodily experience of what might have been her presence. That – I know – can be chalked up to any number of psychological factors. But the phone call, can not. As much as I would like it to be explained away, I cannot find an answer to this riddle, and I have witnesses to its occurrence.

Phone calls from the dead are a bit of a cliche but there you go – we do not choose the forms that visitations take. If anyone out there has an explanation for how this could have happened (beyond the fact that my group of friends are witches and we carry powerful energies when together) – please suggest away. Otherwise I’m going to have to accept that the friend we are all still grieving has not found her way out of this world just quite yet.


The truest prayer I know.

“This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown, or to any man or number of men—go freely with powerful uneducated persons, and with the young, and with the mothers of families—re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of its lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes, and in every motion and joint of your body.” ~ Walt Whitman

Dahlia bloom.

In my union capacity I just met with someone who is terminally ill and may not live past December. Thinking about the delicate and impermanent state of being human — the illusion that our lives are somehow up to us in the first place — and that despite our fitness regimes, health foods, and moralizing none of us get to choose when or how we die. We can only hope it’s with dignity when we do.

Featuring: Atwater Ceramics

A little while back, our household received a remarkable gift in the mail which I have been meaning to share with you:

Incredible yes? And we think so too, which is why I wanted to let you all know about my friend Olia’s Etsy shop Atwater Ceramics.

I am the first to acknowledge that I don’t know much about the world of ceramic arts, but what I do know is urban and post-apocalyptic aesthetics which these pieces balance with beautiful finishing and unusual colour. My favourite recurring pattern in her autumn collection (which is where my bowl originated) is perhaps seen best in this photo of one of her platters:

This edge detail reminiscent of a city skyline, though cut and blurred, organic skyscrapers melting back into the base from which they appear to grow. Her work from this recent spring brings back this distinctive imagery:

But also adds other themes, colours and styles to the mix:

Olia is a new ceramic artist, but her work speaks of her much longer practice with creative work – specifically textile work. The fact that Olia brings a lot of attention to whatever she engages in shines through with the quality of her ceramics – these are solid pieces with strong glazing and good finishing throughout. All manner of her work – bowls, platters, planters, mugs, vases – make for distinctive gifts… And on top of that? Her prices are very reasonable, and her packaging for shipping is nearly indestructible.

Can I encourage you again to take a look at her work? It’s Atwater Ceramics on Etsy and I hope you find this as much of a pleasure to look at as I do!

Broken spoon, full heart.

I broke my spoon as darkness fell, clanging in the rainy streets of Vancouver with several hundred big-hearted folks. Smiles and whoops and cheers as we snaked our way past one intersection, into another and around. Around we go. ‘Twas the most fun I’ve had on a demonstration in ages, a celebration against corporate rule. In solidarity with Quebec, but even more so in solidarity with life. Across the country we ask ourselves – can we build on this?

A little politics in strange times.

The news is very strange this week. Body parts in the Ottawa mail. The sentencing of Charles Taylor. And that thing that happened in Florida earlier? It’s all a bit apocalyptic – stuff out of dark thrillers and horror movies – and the grey weather that is Vancouver’s May (not to mention the tornados and flooding in Montreal) underscore a world coming apart. It’s just one of the moments that feels like the end is nigh, and it seems fitting in that case to go out in the city tonight and make noise with a few hundred other people against the austerity measures in Quebec and (more importantly) at all levels in Canada.

A news poll earlier this week has shown a distinct shift to the left over the past year, which is welcome news after the beating we have all taken at the hands of governments attempting to siphon off decent wages and working conditions to ensure greater profits at the hands of the 1%. But still, the Tories proceed with outlawing the CP strike, ramming through the Ominbus bill containing dozens of anti-environmental and anti-social provisions, and generally showing us how much they hold Canada and its people in contempt. While it’s too far away from the next federal election to really know what might happen, three more years of heavy-handed rule can only hurt the Conservatives…. particularly if this leftward re-assertion continues.

Personally, I don’t care which parties win the provincial and federal elections over the next few years – because all parties lie in the end no matter their best intentions. But what I do hope for is a return to the kind of social democracy that Canada has enjoyed in the past – one which values a good pension plan, a clean-ish environment (we’ve never had a great record on that as a resource-extracting nation), the preservation of heritage and wild space, decent health care and social services, and a tax system which ensures it can all be paid for. I’m not sure why that seems so impossible these days when Canada has survived in that manner for decades – the balance being one of compromise on all sides instead of one side trying to crush the other. But it’s totally possible, of course. It’s totally possible to envision and fight for a better world, a fairer and more just place to grow old and raise our children. It’s just a question of shaking off our doubts and carrying on, against the backdrop of apocalypse perhaps, but towards something better that we create.

The system by which I clear out my psychic space.

It’s crazymaking – how much I want to cram everything in. Read every book, magazine, journal I come across – listen to music across genres and times – play music even, write. Make photographs and clothes. It feels like a sickness at times, and at others I am held aloft by the fact that there’s always something waiting at the periphery of my attention. The next discovery.

But the upshot is a collection of books for review that are collecting dust, a catalogue of music I haven’t found time to listen to, and some half-finished projects in the backyard that need doing before gardening season really gets going. The only way for me to reconcile these things is to consume or finish them and then write. It’s the writing the completes the act for me these days, the posting into the world my thoughts as if fixing them here makes something more done. Or more real.

So expect more reviews of things in the near future: books, music, garden projects, even sewing forays. I’ve got to clear the deck somehow – which just means plunging in and running everything through my internal system to export out again. Like a machine. Or a factory of endless opinions.

Oh. Canada……

I have to say – watching this Robocall scandal and the Conservatives response to it is like watching a case study from the PR handbook – that would be a case study in what *not* to do in the event of a crisis. Rather than staying on message about an Elections Canada investigation and a public inquiry, Harper and co have consistently swayed into territory that is not only insulting to the other political parties, but to any Canadian who cares about the democratic tradition. Today’s tactic? Calling everyone else “sore losers”. *Sigh* Oh, Canada – whatever is becoming of you?