Urban poetry

Around the time that I went back to work, someone wrote a few lines with tape on the West sidewalk of Burrard Street, in front of Saint-Paul’s Hospital. It was written from South to North so that people going North could read the poem:

Have you heard
Do you know
Life is awesome
Tap the flow

I have no clue who did this, but I like it. It’s short and catchy. After a few days I knew it by heart, but I read it a few hundred more times. Not I really have it committed to memory. Which is good, because the letters are quickly fading. After six months and most of a winter, the tape is almost gone.

But I wanted to write those few lines down to make sure I would remember them. Because it’s true. Even though life sometimes sucks, it’s still better than the other possibility – death. Life can really be awesome, even if we all forget about it sometimes.

So thanks to whoever share their thoughts with the thousands of people who walk by this spot every morning and every night. It has become a part of my day and I will miss it when it’s completely gone.

Unless it is replaced by something else…

Winding down…

After four years, I am thinking of abandoning this blog.

When we created it at the end of July 2007, it was meant to be a common project for Zak and I. Trying to research green options before the birth of our son, we wanted a forum to talk about the choices we made, help people make more informed decisions and talk about remaining close to nature despite living in a city. The truth is, we lost sight of those goals pretty soon.

First, it quickly became obvious that blogging was my thing, not Zak’s. Out of 413 published posts, Zak has authored 7. Either he’s really too busy or he would just prefer to do something else with his spare time, I’m not sure. But I’m the one who posts, even though it’s not regular. And I found that what I talk about the most is my life and my kids. Not being wild in the city.

Which brings me to my second point: we haven’t remained very wild. Especially since the birth of our daughter, we haven’t been hiking much. We will go back to it now that she’s a bit older, but the truth is we’ve been somewhat overwhelmed and in survival mode for a bit. There is always someone who’s sick. We never sit down on the couch thinking we have finished all of our daily chores: we always leave something for the next day because there are just 24 hours in a day.

So although I have prioritize posting once in a while, Zak hasn’t. I wrote mostly in English so that Zak, his family and our English friends could read the blog. I wanted friends from afar to be able to keep in touch. But these days, judging by the few comments I get, the main readers of my blog speak French anyway. I know of only one person who reads the blog regularly and doesn’t speak French. So I sometimes feel silly to write in English for French-speaking people.

The main reason behind my change of heart, though, is simple: I miss writing in French. I recently participated in Radio-Canada’s short story contest, and although I have absolutely no illusions about anything coming out of it (since I wrote my story in an evening and never had time to edit it much after that), it made me want to write again. I wish I could write a novel, but I know it won’t happen. Not when the laundry basket is full, the dishes are piling up and my son just wet the bed again. What I know I can write in these conditions is blog posts. It’s not much, but I like it. And I want to do it in French.

So I will post here the link to my new blog when the time comes, and I will probably come back once in a while if there are subjects that just work better in English. But it might not happen, because I’m lazy. If I manage to update one blog it will already be a pretty good effort, let alone two. Or I might find that it’s too hard to talk about my daily life (which happens mostly in English) in French, and come back here. Only time will tell.

But I feel like it, so I’ll do it. And I’ll talk about whatever I please. Because it’s my space and it’s my pastime and that’s how I want it. There.

I have the nagging feeling that this is how my daughter would sound if she could express her thoughts…

That lady I don’t know

Ever since I’ve gone back to work, every single morning on my way there, I have been crossing path with a lady I don’t know. It took a while before I started noticing this familiar face every morning. One day that I left later than usual, I saw her waiting at the door of a store close to my home, so I figured she works there. Most days I would cross path with here further up the street, and I could almost judge of how early or late I was depending on where I would see her. She was always on time.

I don’t know her. She probably never noticed me – but then again, maybe she has. I never smiled to her or tried to show that I recognized her, so maybe she did just the same.

Monday on my way back from work, I noticed signs on the windows of the store she works at. They moved to a different location. The building is going to be torn down to make room for more condos (’cause there ain’t enough in the downtown core).

I haven’t seen her since. I most likely won’t see her again. And strangely, it makes me sad. Even if I never talked to her or even acknowledged her existence. She was a familiar face I saw every morning. She wasn’t particularly pretty, neither young nor old, quite ordinary, really. Probably in her 40s. I imagine her as an old maid for some reason, but maybe she has a few children. A husband – or wife. Or a dog – I could definitely picture her with a dog.

I will never know, though. She’s just one of the thousands of people who crossed my path at one time or another in my life but who are not part of my circle. To me, she’s a face who disappeared, but she actually has a whole life of her own, a circle of her own. And there are billions of people like her who live their life without me knowing anything about them.  And after this post I will forget about her and never think again of the lady that I don’t know who is living her life somewhere else with other people I don’t know.

But I will miss her in the morning.

Stay Hungry, Stay foolish*

Steve Jobs is gone. That’s the talk of the town. It gave me an occasion to talk to my son about how before him, when I was his age, people didn’t have computers in their house. And I showed him what the first Macintosh looked like. I remember these days, of course, the days when people who had a Mac were teased because most people had what was knows as an IBM, or an IBM-compatible computer, now a Windows machine. When Zak had to buy his first Apple laptop for school, we were more than skeptical. But we haven’t bought anything else since. Because once you try it you understand why so many people are addicted to that brand. The simplicity, the ease of use, the design, etc. They are well-made machine, for the same reasons that make an iPod so much more than whatever other mp3 players are out there, the very reason we call them all iPods.

Was Steve Jobs perfect? Of course not! My knowledge of him is pretty limited, but I believe he was ruthless with competitors and he did some pretty nasty things. He also never did anything philanthropic, unlike Bill Gates for instance. But then, who knows, maybe he gave tons of money anonymously. I guess my point is, he wasn’t a perfect human being. And I’m sorry to ruin your American dream, but I don’t think we can all become Steve Jobs if we work hard enough: he was a genius, unlike most of us. But he did have some pretty great messages.

I remember once when I was worried about my future as a history major, thinking there was no work in my field, my dad said to me: “There’s always work for the best”. That stuck with me, one of the rare words of wisdom my dad imparted on me. He was right. When you’re the best at what you do, no matter what it is, you always find a way to make it work, to make a living out of it. As long as you have this other ingredient: a profound love for what you’re doing. I guess I’m lucky because I found something that I love and that pays me pretty good. But I always had very little patience for people who keep whining about their work. I always think: life is so short, if you hate your work that much, quit! Do something else! Find a solution! Pursue happiness, because it won’t just jump on your lap. You have to look for it.

So that’s what I will remember of Steve Jobs. He was extremely smart, sure, but he also loved what he did. He put everything into it. He gambled. And he could have failed. But he didn’t. And you know what, I would rather see my children fail (and then hopefully recover) while doing something they love than find a boring success at something they hate. Because if I died tomorrow, I would be glad I spent 9 years as a happy translator rather than as something more prestigious that I would have hated.

*The title is a quote from Steve Jobs.

The 5 best decisions of my adult life

I read this post yesterday and was touched and inspired. The author of that blog, which I just discovered, seems pretty awesome, given how much humor she displays despite all the tough things that life threw her way. But I liked the idea of her post, which she herself got from one of her friends. So here is my list of 5 best decisions of my adult life…

1. Following my (2nd) dream and becoming a translator: I always wanted to be a writer. Unfortunately, I also like eating 3 meals a day and I’m too attached to security (and insecure about my talent) to try. I didn’t know what else to do with my life until the day I dreamed (for real, at night, while sleeping) I was a translator. Which reminded me that I had once thought of choosing this career path. So I made it happen and never regretted it. I found a career that I’m good at. It pays my bills, sure, but it also makes me smile. Most days, I’m happy to go to work, which I find is a lot more than many people can say about their job. I feel competent doing it, and it’s just challenging enough while still remaining relatively easy for me. And it doesn’t keep me up worrying all night.

2. Taking a year off: After finishing my degree, I wanted a break. I had gone straight from high school to Cegep and then university. At 22, I had never done anything than go to school and work, never lived away from my parents, never traveled on my own. I wanted to breath and think about my future. From there, so many decisions shaped my future that I can’t list them all. I picked BC as my first choice for the government program I enrolled in. I decided to travel (by myself) to unknown places instead of remaining holed up at home. I decided to stay that extra day in Seattle on Easter weekend, which allowed me to meet Zak on the way back (if I had decided to go home one day earlier than planned, with the friends I had just met, I never would have met him on the bus ride home). I decided to give love a chance when I met him even though I didn’t want to live outside of Québec and he didn’t want to leave BC. All those decisions made it so I could meet the love of my life. The rest is history.

3. Moving into a Coop: When we moved to Vancouver, Zak and I looked at coops, but we were not ready for the commitment. I had just started working full time and I was always tired, I could not imagine adding committee meetings to the mix. Two years later, we took the plunge. Sure, coops carry their share of issues (politics, gossip, work, inefficiency, etc.), but in return, it gave us way more than the cheap rent and secure housing we were initially hoping for. It gave us friends. We now have a whole community of neighbors who help us raise our children. We help each other, watch each other’s kids, visit each other… a whole bunch of people who can lend me an egg or an ear when I need them. I could not imagine raising my children elsewhere while being away from family. I never would have thought it would bring that much good into my life.

4. Coming off the pill: At the age of 29, I had been on the pill for 10 years. Zak and I watched a documentary that linked the pill to breast cancer and it made me wonder if I should quit. We discussed it as a couple. I knew I wanted children, but Zak wasn’t as sure and I knew one thing: if I came off the pill and became pregnant, I would have that child. That was an important thing to factor in when making the decision, and we both had to be on board. I stopped taking the pill in April. And although we used other means of contraception, I was pregnant in November – within 6 months. The arrival of my son was unplanned, but it changed our lives for the better. It made us a real family. It made my husband a wonderful dad. And I love him even more for it.

5. Canceling our cable subscription: I struggled a bit with which decision to put last. I wanted to find something that represented our commitment to an alternative lifestyle. We don’t have a car, we use our bikes as much as we can, we don’t buy our kids branded toys, we ask people not to buy presents at birthday parties, we try to respect the environment as much as possible, and we have no TV. To me, that’s the key. If I had a TV, I’d watch it – and as savvy a consumer as I am, I bet I would want more stuff. Not watching TV gives me more time to play with my children and do all sorts of other, more important things. And it makes it so my son goes out and plays instead of asking to watch a show. Sure, some day it will most likely change, but for now I’m happy like this.

I’m sure this post would be very different in ten years. I should probably revisit it then. If blogging still exists…

10 years ago…

9/11 was my generation’s first real historical moment. People will always remember where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated, when Man walked on the Moon. I will always remember that day in 2001. I lived in Montreal with my now husband, then boyfriend, but I had a class in Quebec City on Monday morning. So I would go down to Quebec Sunday night, sleep at my sister’s, go to class on Monday and work there Monday and Tuesday at a research project at the university. Then on Tuesday afternoon I would go back to Montreal. It was complicated but it worked, I knew it was only for one semester and the job payed well.

That Tuesday morning, I was in that research room working at a computer. A professor burst into the room to tell the professor I was working with (conveniently, my dad) that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. My dad turned on the radio in his office, listened to it for a while and then left to go watch from home. I couldn’t leave because I had to work a pre-determined number of hours and I only had that day to do it. So I was trying to get to news organizations web sites to find out more about what happened, but everything was so busy you couldn’t load their pages. So I kept working until lunch time, as people brought me pieces of news here and there. Then I had lunch at one of those campus cafes that had a TV on. And that’s where I saw, for the first time, the towers collapsing. By then I had heard about it, but I couldn’t really believe it. It had to be a mistake. At lunch, I saw them with my own eyes, repeat after repeat, and I believed.

Zak was home in Montreal, he was not working, and he rarely had the TV on, yet for some unexplained reason, he turned it on that morning. We had not payed for more than basic cable, but they had not disconnected us from the previous tenant’s extended cable, so he watched CNN and saw the second tower get hit live. At that time, the wildest numbers were being thrown around. 10 000 people work there, they must all be dead. We thought nobody would have had time to run out. We were wrong, but of course, the number of victims was still very high. We also had this feeling that we were at war, that planes would hit everywhere, that they were probably coming for us, too. That night I went home, and for the next few days the TV stayed on and I go more and more discouraged. I cried, listening to stories of people losing loved ones, unborn children becoming orphans, and so on. But there were messages of hope, too. And I cried for those who gave their lives to save people that morning, the people who stayed behind with friends who were wheel-chair bound, the firefighters who went in and up as everyone else was leaving. I cried and I cried again.

But at some point life takes back its rights. We get used to those horrific images and without forgetting them, we stop thinking about them constantly. 10 years later, I am about to celebrate my daughter’s first birthday, another proof that life always wins. She will hopefully be here long after I am gone, maybe trying to make the world a better place. The unborn children who became orphans are 10 years old already, that would put them in grade 5. Time flies. And life wins. Always.

My thoughts today go to everyone whose life was personally affected by the events. Even though I’m sure their life will never be the same again, I hope they have found peace and love 10 years later. I hope they can be happy again.

A city in ruins

Last night we watched the Stanley Cup finals and then turned off the TV, mildly disappointed with the results. We then did our daily chores until I started noticing that the helicopters were still flying above us and that there was some screaming in the street. I checked the Internet. Oh my God! We then spent the next two hours watching live TV news feed. We couldn’t believe it. How can people riot over a hockey game? The answer, of course, if that they are not. It had nothing to do with hockey and everything to do with the presence of a big crowd of drunken people. We went to bed at 11:30, way too late, but I still couldn’t fall asleep. Only blocks from my house, people were burning cars and destroying and looting stores. I could hear helicopters, I could hear some shouting, I even heard some broken glass, which made me fear the worse, but luckily thugs didn’t make it here. Of course, my baby was then awake from 12:30 to 1:00 and my son woke me up at 2:30 before the baby was up for the day at 5:45, so I had a very short night.

In the morning, things had gotten better. We went for a walk in the downtown core, and it had actually been cleaned up pretty good. And that’s where my hope in humanity was partially restored. Thousands of volunteers spontaneously showed up as soon as the rioting ended with garbage bags and rubber gloves, and they cleaned up. By 10:00, when we were there, there was almost no broken glass left and people were scraping burnt plastic from the sidewalks. But there was still a lot to do inside the stores. So many broken windows! There were window repair and restoration trucks all over the place.

Then we arrived at The Bay, the scene of probably the worst looting. The windows were boarded up, and people were writing messages on the boards. Messages of hope: “Vancouver is better than this”, “We’re ashamed”, “We’re sorry”. I found it very emotional. It didn’t make up for last night, but people tried. I saw a photo of a lady in a wheelchair with her assistance dog, picking up garbage on the street. People tried to make things better. They showed their humanity. And that’s all we could do at this point.

I only wish people realized how easy we have it here and how useless it is to riot over nothing. Keep your energy for fighting the government. If the young people who did this used the same fervor to do something useful, the world would be a much, much better place.