Thursday, April 23, 2009

Root Collections

I'm down in Boston this week, visiting the bubs. Ten days ago there were still little piles of snow in my backyard in Quebec, and a sizeable mound of the hardened, dirt-encrusted stuff still perching on the front lawn. It's all gone now (yay!) but what a strange thing, to go, in a matter of days, from brisk, chilling winds and biting frost to almost 80-degree weather, daffodils and cherry blossoms everywhere, and luscious green grass.

Lots of people in town last weekend for the Bruins/Canadiens game and the Boston Marathon on Monday. It's been raining, off and on, for three days. I've not yet had a chance to revisit some of the neighborhoods here that hold a store of memories of my time here for so many years. It's always strange, walking past a house we'd once lived in, seeing the changes (or that it has remained EXACTLY the same), unable to imagine myself, today, still living there. Times change, situations change--people change. But those memories hold a special place, they come flooding back, in waves of little nostalgic nudgings, evoking surprising turns of reflection.

The word "roots" always signified to me the place of one's birth. But then you leave home and go out in the world and set down new roots somewhere else. You can live in a place 20 years, happily re-rooted and comfortably acclimated, then one day discover a place you immediately fall in love with, feel completely at home in, and dream about living there forever. Not just as a tourist daydreamily musing "I'd LOVE to live here" but something deeper--a great, sincere longing to really always BE there, as in "I BELONG there."

It sometimes happens that you land in a place not by choice but by circumstance, fully intending it to be temporary, definitely not a place you normally would have chosen--in fact, you might at first really hate it. But in time you become accustomed, what was once strange is now familiar; you find, much to your surprise, when you're away from it, that you actually start missing it. You've put down new roots again. It is that way for me now, with T-R.

Home is not a place. It's what I take with me, wherever I go. The memories of past places, the dreams of future places, the nowness of my present place.

Yesterday at the park I overheard a father pushing his little boy on the swings, speaking to him in French. I asked him where they were from and he said, "Senegal." We had a mini-conversation, en francais, and I realized, somewhat to my surprise, that even though it'd only been four or five days that I've been here, I miss hearing French.

Tomorrow I'm going to visit old friends, some of whom I haven't seen for many years. And breakfast in my favorite kitchen in the whole world--S's kitchen--with the domed Turkish ceiling and from whose plant-lined windows one can watch squirrels traversing the limbs of adjacent trees; the smell of warm toast, hot coffee and the hum of a lively conversation, news to catch up on, projects to discuss. I love his house, nestled in a hidden cul-de-sac, the booklined walls, book-filled (from floor to ceiling) hallways, subterranean study, the thousands and thousands of books--everywhere and everywhere; paintings, artifacts from journeys abroad, my most favorite house in all of Cambridge, in all of Massachusetts! Then a train ride out to Concord, Thoreau's old stomping grounds, then back to Cambridge and drop in at the Tibetan store (can a place be an "old friend" too?).

I am unable to post any Boston pictures to the blog until I return because my camera is one of those ancient digital ones that uses floppy disks, and the computer here doesn't have a drive to support them. Pictures to remember a former life, a present-day visit, a thread in a continuing journey.

It was Earth Day yesterday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Anyone Got a Vowel?

Strč prst skrz krk is a Czech and Slovak tongue-twister meaning "stick your finger down your throat." It is sometimes used to judge whether or not a particular person is drunk.[1]

Wearing a T-shirt displaying a script in a "foreign" language is definitely an attention getter. People will come up to you and ask: "What language is that? How do you pronounce it? What does it mean?"

Assuming the person wearing the shirt knows and gives you an explanation, you may pass along and never again encounter another instance of that particular language in print, but some part of you will probably make a mental note of the diacritically marked letters and remember the sounds they're connected to. For example, with this t-shirt message pictured at the right, the letter "c" with a little check mark at the top (called a háček) is pronounced "ch" (as in "chomp")--as opposed to, say, the "c" that has a little tail underneath
(the cedilla) in the French language, that's pronounced as a soft "s" (as in "cedar").

This T-shirt can be ordered from Typotheque, a graphic design studio/type foundry located in the Netherlands.

Commenting on the fact that the number of native English speakers is less than the number of native Hindi and Arabic speakers, Typotheque founder Peter Biľak,, suggests that "we should pay as much attention to Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, Armenian or Devanagari scripts as we pay to Latin."[2] He has acted on that belief, in founding a company that specializes in creating custom type solutions for a variety of applications and languages.

Cool t-shirt!! One day I'm going to get one!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Is Anyone Listening?

This month is National Poetry Month, and I would like to contribute my small part by bringing certain poems here to share with whoever stops by.

Sometimes you stumble upon an arresting image, a compelling metaphor, a memorable phrase, a well-written story (or even--a REALLY interesting word), and make note of it. Sometimes it's good to share these finds with others--you never know when even the most random reference might, for someone, turn out to be particularly meaningful.

In that vein, I would like to highlight a poem I found yesterday morning, written by Charmaine Cadeau, a Canadian poet currently living in Albany, NY. (The word cadeau, in French, means "gift." Merci, Charmaine, for the permission to post your poem here.)


If I could fling
open windows painted
shut or charm your second-hand
jeans into forgetting
the shape of someone
else’s body, I would.
Leeward, the northshore, our street’s
melting, park oaks
curved through icycle glass, always
springtime. We’re surrounded by
cloudacrylic, bare
picture hooks.
The apartment floor’s camber:
breastbone, wishbone. Aerial,
corridors are drenched with burnt
toast, furred thuds of mice
somersaulting from pipes
behind plaster walls.
Air pockets caught in the radiators
cry like small-throated birds room to room.
Living here, we rely on gravity and that backstair
force that leads the body to sleep,
draws smugness,
out of love as though it’s venom.
Toys left overnight on the lawn,
next door, ragstrewn, tumbledown,
but at least a yard. Blocks
away, the laundromat and no one makes
eye contact. Before all the neighbors, before
cycles of yelling and silence, we believed
absolution wasn’t meant to be
bittersweet. Our building’s nocturnal,
gargoyled. I sleep in late. Overcast
days, mud-gray mirrors, we shut ourselves
in like a toy that when
spun opens its fists, is all bright tin petals.
For the hooks, I should paint what a boxer
sees when he’s down, spindrift, hard
riversmooth shapes.[1]

-- Charmaine Cadeau

Ms. Cadeau has stated that her book What You Used to Wear is underscored with the question, "Is anyone listening?" [2]

To which I would answer: Yes. Definitely.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Daniel Hudon's Life of Dreams

One day, a dream had a dream.
It split off from the collection and went to speak to a man.
It wanted to make the man a deal:
if the man would let the dream inhabit his life,
then the dream would become real.
In return, the man could live the life of a dream .

Now and then, some dreamers dreamed of such exquisite delights,
and so vividly, that they knew they were dreaming.
They even said so to themselves, "I must be dreaming."
Each time, in this lucid state,
the dreams repeated their offer to the dreamers.
But the dreamers couldn't be convinced to take it seriously.
They awoke saying to themselves, to their loved ones,
to anyone who would listen,
"I had the strangest dream last night ...

One night a poet dreamed that he went to heaven
and saw a strange and beautiful flower.

He was dazzled by its color and intoxicated by its perfume.

The poet loved the flower with all his heart and plucked it.

And when he awoke,
he held the flower in his hand.

-- Daniel Hudon

Excerpted from "The Life of Dreams", a short story that first appeared in the Avatar Review (Summer 2008, Issue 10), reformatted and reprinted with the kind permission of the author. Daniel Hudon is a Canadian, now living in Boston, where he teaches science.

Dreams that can dream, what an interesting concept. Dreams, not as a random collection of images and abstractions divorced from reality,
streaming forth like a rambling, unedited film while we sleep but as a conscious entity seeking enactment. Here the dream chooses the dreamer, not the other way around. (Not that we really "choose" our dreams; it's more like we go into the movie theater of dreamhood without a script and exit surprised, baffled, delighted or horrified, depending on what transpired in the dream.)

A lovely story, from an interesting writer! It really got me thinking. (And dreaming...) Thank you, Daniel.

But really, you should read the story in its entirety! Also check out his new book just out this month, The Bluffer's Guide to the Cosmos.

[If you are interested in reading more of Daniel Hudon's writings, you can find them listed on his web page here.]

*Artwork by krystiedawn

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Farewell old tree

Our neighbors had their tree cut down today.

"Do trees feel pain?"

Some random responses collected from the Internet:

The "No" Group:
-- Absolutely not. Trees do not feel pain.
-- No central nervous system means no pain as we know it.
-- We cannot anthropomorphize trees; they are not humans! Humans contemplate death, trees do not. [Source: I teach Botany and have a master's degree in Biology]
-- No, trees can't feel anything.

The "No ... But" Group:
--I'd have to guess that trees don't feel pain. But somehow they ARE aware of their environment.

The "Yes" Group:
--Pain, not as you understand it. All life responds more to our intent rather than our actions.
-- Yes. If you hurt them, they cry.
-- Yes, and they bleed, too. The sap is their blood.
-- Yes, they also talk to God. They are living beings.
-- Trees do bleed, their sap weeps out when they are cut, so to seal a wound they have sap. It is probably buried right at their core because you always count the rings on inside of their trunks to find out how old the tree was before it was cut down. So maybe their brains are attached to their roots.
--Just because a tree cannot talk does not mean it cannot feel.
-- If I put a cut on the stem of a tree, it will perceive it, as a physiological disturbance or distortion ... then it will try to heal itself. Think about it. If the tree never "knew" or "felt" that it was cut at some place, how would it heal itself?
--Well, once a teacher told me that every time we pull a leaf out of a tree we should pull out a hair of our head, so yes I believe they feel pain.
--If you're pagan or Christian there are spirits in trees that may be able to feel pain.
--I believe that everything that grows must feel some sort of pain.
--Of course they do, but their bark is worse than their bite, so just leaf them alone.

The "Not Sure" Group:

--Well they don't have any nerve cells, so probably not. But then again ... we may never know.-- Strictly speaking, since they have no means of communication with humans, and to paraphrase Wittgenstein, 'if a plant could talk we would not understand it,' we cannot definitively say whether they do or do not feel pain.

The "Define Pain" Group:

--Firstly, you have to think about what our definition of "pain" is. Really, it's just a perception by our brain of an electrical signal sent through our nervous system.
--Pain is very subjective. The only way we can guage pain is to ask the subject, "How much pain do you feel?" This fact pretty much limits pain research to humans.
--The value and deep meaning of pain, emotions, pleasure, etc. are nothing more than the creation of an active human imagination. The reality is that they are simple chemical reactions to stimuli.
--There might be a completely alien concept of pain that applies to trees and plants, but it would probably be outside human understanding.

Comments from a tree cutter:
I've realized something when it comes to cutting down trees:
1. Trees are bigger than they look.
2. Chainsaws are very hard to start.
3. When the neighbor kids come out and see you with a chainsaw and fallen tree and say "Holy [expletive]", it's quite possible you've impressed them.
(Oh and before any tree huggers freak out and email me about killing a tree, it had to go because its roots were growing into the foundation of the house.)

That was not the case with the tree they cut down in my neighbors' lot this morning. It was not too near the house. It was also not diseased, as far as I know. Nor, despite what it looks like in the photographs, was it interfering with the electricity or telephone lines; it stood a good 5 feet behind them. My guess is, they simply wanted the land the tree occupied--for parking or to add to their garage. It appears to be a case of eviction, pure and simple. Terminal eviction.

If a tree fell in the forest, and nobody was there to hear it ... would it make a sound? Philosophers have been arguing this for centuries.

(Does a tree, being chainsawed down and pulverized into a wood shredder, silently scream? NO! (they say), it cannot "feel" anything like pain, much less communicate, silent or otherwise. Sentience, sapience, qualia--all I know is, this tree did not scream. But a passerby almost did, judging from the expression in her eyes on witnessing the chopdown. Me, I just felt sad. It was a nice tree. Definitely dignified, and the home of many feathered creatures.)

I don't know if our little tree out front--"Maurice"--is "aware" or not. We certainly do our best to protect him till he gets a little bigger and stronger, make sure to dig him out of the snowbank in March so he can breathe, etc. The neighbor dog pees on his trunk, the bugs chomp his leaves, his tiny branches are too fragile yet to support the birds, but every year he gets taller and more interesting. I know, I know--I'm anthropomorphizing, but since I planted him (I mean "it") and have been watching, from twigdom on, I feel kind of like his mom. (I mean its.)


Old trees whacked and mulched; baby trees waving in the breeze ... they come, they go. Just like us. The sea isn't "aware" either. The clouds can't talk. (They spit rain, though.) As for the poor old tree (former tree) across the street -- I know the birds, for sure, are going to miss it.

As will I.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Goodbye Snow

It's going .... slowly. Two days of rain and by next week there'll be only small piles of it left, sinking into the mud, making way for spring grass.

Gray sky, gray day, Wayagamack pumping out its pluffy plumes, a barge groaning its way down le fleuve St. Laurent.

Spring in Cap-de-la-Madeleine.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Who's Who on Whohub

Hi, Awyn

We are contacting you because we have seen references about your work online.

We would like to include you in our directory of interviews with creative professionals and artists.

We invite you to take part in this interview. It is free.
You will also be able to include any web links to samples of your work on the internet.

To start the interview just go to this web address and start responding to questions:

Here, you can find some examples from other professionals:

Elsa Wide

Whohub is a directory of interviews with professionals in the fields of communication, arts, technology, and marketing.

I received the above email yesterday from Whohub. Last time I checked, my blog rank was number 12,532,802. Less than 15 people dropped in to read my postings this entire week. So how these people found me to invite me to be interviewed is a complete mystery.

Who the heck is Whohub and why do they want to interview me? I checked it out and basically what happens is, you actually interview yourself. You just pick a category that applies, choose the questions you want to answer, submit them--along with a photo--and they'll post it, in English, Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese, your choice.

Interesting to see what other writers say about creativity, fictional characters, manner of working, experience with publishing, self-discipline, etc. Some interviews show 14 "views"; others 200. Hmmm. Each time you click on your own interview (to see how many views you have accumulated), that will also count as a view. So conceivably you can work your total up to, say, 400-500 views--if you were so inclined--making it appear you are far more popular than you really are. I'm just saying ... :)

I am a little leery of the proliferation of these social networking blogs. I once joined a temporary blog set up for a specific human rights event and was delighted to see people from all over the world as concerned as I was about this particular issue. But then it got weirdly a little too ... myspacey. Other members immediately invited me to be a "Friend", which meant their photo would then appear on my page. Some members had dozens and dozens of these little photo-boxes attesting to their vast collection of "Friends". I started getting personal email messages having nothing to do with human rights. So-and-so sent me a cutesy card with a mushy poem declaring his affection, inviting me to be his "Special Friend." I began to get spam mail from another member EVERY SINGLE DAY exhorting me to "Check out these songs! Check out this movie! Check out my other web sites!!" and almost weekly from yet another to "Subscribe to my online lecture series". Sigh.

I tried to unmemberize myself, to no avail. "Hi awyn," the website proclaimed whenever I clicked on it, recognizing me immediately. It noticed that I had neglected to include a photograph of myself and reminded me I hadn't put anything into my Recent Activity section--and that I had yet to reply to Member X's invitation to be a Friend. Several months later--the event having long since passed--out of curiosity, I checked back. The website now had another theme--but my personal page was still there, as if set in stone, unremovable.

A whois of the Whohub site shows that it's registered to Jerni Web Development of Miami Beach, FL and so far, the site has collected over 10,000 interviews. Assuming at least half of those interviewed will definitely mention, in person or on-line: "Check out my interview on Whohub!", that'll send a steady stream of a potential 5,000 future Whohubbers to the site who will also want to get interviewed and included as well. (Note though: "Interviews without photos are ranked at the bottom of Whohub's list.")

Can one find kindred spirits on Whohub? Imagine my delight in finding that an Indian blogger at her blog "The Abyss of Non-Being" in listing some of the things that bring her happiness coincidently names the same kind of things I might have chosen if asked that question:

"The smell of burning logs on a cold wintry night"
"the soft rhythmic sound of wind chimes in my balcony"
"the rain soaked breeze entering my bedroom window"
"Smell of freshly sharpened pencils..."
"A deeply satisfying kiss!"
"Buying books, reading books, touching books, and smelling books.
Entering a bookshop ..."
"A loving glance, from the one I love"
"Hearing a child’s squeals of delight" [1]

Of the several biographies I read of Whohub interviewees, the most unusual and intriguing seemed to be that of a countess on the Italian Riviera ("of noble lineage, an author, child prodigy, composer, performer, entrepreneur, former model, head of marketing and PR for Gucci, former advisor to government of Mozambique, arranged more than 20 major Joint Ventures with China, knows 9 languages, visited more than 80 countries, produced movies for Fellini, hosted a radio show called 'Ciao Baby', knows Gore Vidal, writes 6-8 hours a day, has 5 blogs, teaches an Italian course on-line"-
[2]--Good grief, how does one top THAT eclectic set of experiences!).

As interesting as they were, however, in the end it was not the authors' mini-bios and responses to the questions but their referenced writings that either maintained or completely squelched my initial interest. Interviews show personality, method, process, and motive. But if the writings themselves disappoint, or the words and/or images fail to resonate, the presentation and packaging, to me, are irrelevant.

Whohub, the Who's Who of webdom. Whohubbing with other Whohubbers in NetHubburbia.

Connection, connection, ...connection. (Or not. All depends on what you want out of the experience. If you've written a book and need to market it, being listed in the Whohub directory might gain additional Internet exposure. It could also put you in touch with other
writers who share the same habits, experience, or personal and professional dilemmas, struggle with the same questions, enjoy the same pleasures, admire the same writers, etc. What the creators of Whohub have recognized is that people generally like talking about what they do and what they love. So they've produced a public forum where anyone can tell everyone who cares to listen: "Hey, LOOK at me, look at who I am, what I do/create/write/produce/sell".

The Whohub interviews show you the "who". You have to follow their links and search a bit further for the "what"--their product. So there's something for everyone here: 10,000+ examples of the creative process in motion--first-hand reports detailing origins, influences, difficulties, successes, motive, process and outcome. A treasure trove of material for an inkling as to, for example, how writers write, or painters paint, or teachers teach, or marketers strategize; the thinking that goes behind their choices, the obstacles encountered, the rewards reaped, etc.

Who doesn't like talking about themselves?! Give someone an opportunity and off they go! Whohub has cleverly tapped into that desire by offering a public forum for people to say who they are and what they do and invite everyone to take a look. Their stated goal is to create a social network. One of the interviewees, in discussing the potential of social networks for marketing on line, mentions the advantage of creating backlinks from as many social networks as possible, to one's own site.
[3] And while Whohub enables interviewees to connect with one another and encourages their self-promotion, its own site also gets traffic sent to it every time an interviewee alerts anyone to "Go look at myinterview on Whohub!", in turn building Whohub's net presence. What does Whohub do with all the data collected from these thousands and thousands of Whohubbers? (It mentions Datacenters located in Chicago and in Maidenhead, Berkshire, UK.)

Unlike some social networks, you don't actually have to become a member to view the entries on Whohub. And if you're unemployed and looking for work, it's another venue to consider announcing your availability--for example, tweaking the questions and answers presented in such a way as to become your online resume for a particular position (in the event a hirer happens to be looking in). .

The downside is that the site could eventually become so Who-heavy that the urge to be listed as a Who's Who in Cyberland might seem less important than actually getting back to doing what it is you love to do. (The jury's still out, it seems to me, as to whether posting a personal self-interview will bring the type of connections or results one desires.)

Now, although the responses to some of the questions were interesting, few compelled me to actively follow all the links to their respective writings/blogs/web pages, etc., many of which turned out to be unimpressive, rather pedestrian word churnings (this was in the Writing category), or the interviewees themselves were downright off-putting (e.g., an unabashed, self-professed narcissist who plainly states he doesn't care about you, the reader of his Interview, or what you think, reminding you it's really all about HIM). And one interviewee, I noted, took as many as 35 paragraphs to answer a single question, confirming my observation that people really, REALLY like an opportunity to express their opinion about something!

That is not to say there weren't some others whose writings (or links) led me to fascinating places with even more interesting discoveries--they did, and in fact, I plan to revisit--but it occurred to me that this whole exercise (in showcasing people's little histories of themselves, what they think, how they work, who they feel they are) may be just another example of rampant (or inadvertent) ME-ism.

Not that self-promotion is a bad thing. It isn't. It's what some people are promoting that makes me pause. Generally, I suppose, one would go to the category that fits one's profile (although some overlapping is unavoidable here). In my case, I went to "Writing". Oddly (or perhaps not), I sometimes found information or suggestions of more compelling interest in a category I normally wouldn't frequent: for example, Programming (of which I know nothing--but techies advising you on how to protect your computer from viruses provided me a variety of solutions I hadn't before considered. So in that sense, these Interviews can be extremely helpful.)

Okay, so that's my General Impression of Whohub after a cursory glance and a bit of trekking among the postings. But as a programmer from India remarked "
Think before you dive in sea, it is not swimming pool."[4].

Also of note: When you try to post a message to any of the interviewees without joining and getting an account set up--a little box pops up with the message: You cannot send a message beacuse you are not a registered user or you are not logged in."

And so, what to think about Whohub? Again, guess it depends on what you want from it. Social connection, self-promotion, marketing potential--all possible. Then again, viewers may drop by, read the interviews, maybe even check out the referenced sites or blogs, and then move on, never making contact. The Whohubber would never know what such viewers thought of him/her or the interview. But it will be there for all to see (at least until the site expires or the domain is bought out by someone else, meaning their name is there forever, so to speak, for anyone to find. All they have to do is google them. Neat, eh?