Archive for January, 2007

The writing is on the wall!

January 31, 2007

Yesterday I discovered this graffiti on a neighbourhood wall and received an email about action to raise awareness about Global Warming. It seemed appropriate to pass them both on:
global warming graffiti

The 1st of February 2007:

Participate in the biggest mobilization of Citizens Against Global Warming!

The Alliance for the Planet (a group of environmental associations) is calling on all citizens to create 5 minutes of electrical rest for the planet.

People all over the world should turn off their lights and electrical appliances on the first of February 2007, between 1.55 pm and 2.00 pm in New York, 18.55 for London, and 19.55 for Paris, Bruxelles, and Italy. 1.55pm in Ottawa, 10.55am on the Pacific Coast of North America.

This is not just about saving 5 minutes worth of electricity; this is about getting the attention of the media, politicians, and ourselves.

Five minutes of electrical down time for the planet: this does not take long, and costs nothing, and will show all political leaders that global warming is an issue that needs to come first and foremost in political debate.

Why February 1? This is the day when the new UN report on global climate change will come out in Paris.

This event affects us all, involves us all, and provides an occasion to show how important an issue global warming is to us. If we all participate, this action can have real media and political weight.

Please circulate this call to your utmost ability to your network.

Raven in the fog

January 29, 2007

raven in the snowWe were socked in by fog almost all day yesterday. It was so thick during my daughter’s soccer game, we could hardly see the opposite end of the field (couldn’t at all when we first arrived). When we were walking across the parking lot after the game, a raven flew over, trailed by several cawing crows.

Lying awake in bed last night (I always have a hard time falling asleep Sunday nights), I had to jump up and jot down this haiku:

raven in the fog

if not for the noisy crows

might have passed unseen

CBC radio is having a contest right now, calling for poetry, short stories and songs about ravens, so it seems timely to have had a visit from a raven. Now, what to submit?

Birthday luck

January 27, 2007

haiku signSome women dislike birthdays. I am not one of these. In fact, although my birthday is today, I have been celebrating it the whole month of January. Yesterday I went out for lunch with friends and was greeted by this haiku chalked onto a sign hanging in front of the Naam restaurant (in Vancouver’s east side).

This morning I opened this present (below right) sent from my friend Jean-Pierre in Japan:birthday maneki-neko

In keeping with the lucky cat theme, I thought I’d also share a couple photos and comments sent to me by people responding to my Quest for the Lucky Cat post. From Jodi at in the U.S., here is a photo of Kiki, “a rescued feral calico cat and my lucky cat…which she promptly knocked off the shelf and broke as soon as I brought it home from SF Chinatown. I had to glue it all back together. How lucky is that?”
Kiki and lucky cat

The rather spooky looking black cat at the bottom of this post is a giant Maneki-neko Jean-Pierre found in an antique store in Japan. author, Juliet, also shared a comment about the lucky cat in her flat in Edinburgh Scotland. Lucky cats around the globe!

maneki-neko in Mandu shop

Making connections with people is one of the things I love about blogging.

The Three-legged crow

January 22, 2007

crow statue, MiyajimaIn Japan, when people look up at the night sky they don’t see a “man” in the moon, they see a rabbit. In the day, they see a crow in the sun.

Anyone who has read this blog knows I am intrigued by crows. Before I travelled to Japan, I didn’t know whether or not I would see crows there. On my first day in Japan, I woke up to familar caws coming from the rice field outside my window. I was thrilled to discover that Japan does indeed have crows, and not just ordinary crows — but giant Jungle crows.

The crows I saw that first morning were not this kind, however, though they were a little bigger and had a slightly different pitch to their calls than the Northwestern or Common crows I see at home. My first encounter with Jungle crows did not happen until my visit to a Tokyo cemetary.

Tokyo cemetery
Although crows (and ravens) are often associated with prophecy, wisdom and longevity (positives for the most part), when you see the huge, heavy-shouldered, bulky-beaked black shapes swooping and skulking around an old graveyard, it’s hard to forget that they are also somethimes linked to death and bad fortune. Unnerving, to say the least (although personally, I thought they were great and spent about an hour following them around with my camera, trying, unsuccessfully, to get close enough to take a recognizable photo).

While ordinary crows may be considered bad luck in Japan (especially since they have started attacking people in Ueno Park and other areas of Tokyo), if a crow happens to have three legs, it’s a totally different story.

A Japanese legends tells of how, long ago a monster was about to devour the sun. To prevent this, the rulers of heaven created the first crow, who flew into the monster’s mouth and choked him (I assume this crow had three legs, since the “crow in the sun” is supposed to have three legs, representing dawn, noon and dusk). Another story tells of how the first Japanese soccer emblemEmperor of Japan was travelling through the mountains and became lost. The sun-goddess sent a three-legged crow to guide him, and from that day on, the three-legged crow became an emblem of Japanese imperial rule (and the Japanese National soccer team).

crows and cats, Ueno Park                                          Note: the top photo is a crow statue outside the shrine of Miyajima near Hiroshima, and the photo at left shows a crow and some stray cats who were “sharing” food scraps at the back of a restaurant in Ueno Park, Tokyo (see, the Jungle crows really are big!). Although the story I’m working on right now is not specifically about any of these things, I’m having fun working them in (manga-loving North American girl on an exchange trip to Japan discovers Japan is not quite what she expected…. learns a lesson from some Tokyo crows….).


January 17, 2007

My dog, Dylan, usually goes to work with my husband, but today my husband went to a meeting and couldn’t take him. So, when I walked my daughter to school, the dog came too. Dylan, a blond Lab-cross adopted from the local animal shelter, knows the streets of our neighbourhood and knows his mind. After saying goodbye to my daughter, I turned to head home, and Dylan turned purposefully in the opposite direction. I gave in.

As we walked, I watched birds and composed haiku (sorry, couldn’t help myself). Dylan, interested only in checking out the various odours along the way, didn’t care at all about the birds (even when a Northern Flicker flew up right in front of his nose).

The dog:dog








The haiku:

new snow softly falls

black crow glides over white field

— silent watcher


in the middle of snow

crow sits in bare-branched tree

centre of the world


on our snow walk

my dog and I, in two worlds

mine sight, his smell


Quest for the lucky cat

January 13, 2007

maneki-nekoAnyone who has ever eaten at a Chinese food restaurant has probably seen a lucky cat. The statue cat with one raised paw often stands inside the entrance of Chinese restaurants and stores, welcoming or beckoning people in. I was surprised to discover that the lucky cat originates, not in China, but in Japan. There, it is called Maneki-neko, the beckoning cat.

Before I travelled to Japan last spring, I did some research about the origins of Maneki-neko. I came across a few different stories. One involves a cat who saved a geisha from a snake dropping on  her head. But the one that seems most accepted is about a cat who lived at a poor temple near the city of Edo (the old name for Tokyo) about 200 years ago.

The temple priest had a calico cat, who he was fond of and shared his meagre food with. One day the cat sat at the side of the road near the temple when it began to rain. At the same time, several samurai rode up on horseback. They saw the cat raise its paw as if to beckon to them, so they followed the cat to the temple. The priest welcomed them in out of the rain and gave them tea. One of the samurai, Lord Li, was impressed by the priest, and later returned for regular visits. The lord and his family gave money to the temple, and it was never poor again. The story of the faithful cat, who brought luck and prosperity to the poor temple, spread across the land. Soon the first Maneki-neko statue appeared, and eventually the lucky statue spread from Japan to China and to North America.

I thought I might like to write a story for kids involving a statue of Maneki-neko (and perhaps a cat spirit who inhabits the statue), so on my trip to Japan I kept my eyes open for Maneki-neko statues and for real cats. My quest took me from a little antique store in the ancient town of Seki-cho, maneki-nekowhere the store owner showed me two Maneki-neko figures from the Meiji period (about 1900), to the backstreets of Tokyo, where a tiny shop was filled with lucky cats and real cats lounged up and down a market stairway, to a town beside the ancient shrine of Ise, maneki-nekowhere a giant stone Maneki-neko stood outside another store filled with lucky cats. Hello Kitty(Hello Kitty, or Kitty-chan as she is called in Japan, was also in evidence.)

After all this, the story I ended up starting to write is not about cats (although I may write the Maneki-neko story yet). Instead, it is about (or partly about) two other things I found myself looking out for in Japan: crows and manga. I will tell the you about the crows next.

More wind! (and a story hint)

January 10, 2007

How many wind storms can we have in one winter? Right now, the trees in my yard are dipping and dancing, and a rolling current of crows just flowed over the neighbourhood rooftops like snowboarders over a mountain.

The crows do seem to be enjoying themselves, but the dancing frenzy of the trees is getting me nervous. I should probably get off the computer before a branch falls on the power lines again.

To be honest, what I really need to do is get off the internet and get to work on my current story. I have a deadline looming, and I’m not as far along in the writing as I’d like to be. I need to stay away from internet distractions (and the urge to write crow and wind haiku) until I get a serious chunk of writing done.

I’ll leave you with two hints about the story I’m working on:

1. I found out last spring that there are crows in Japan (really big crows).

2. The oldest comic, or manga, in Japan is said to be the 12th century Choju jinbutsu giga (Frolicking Animals and Figures Scrolls).

Tokyo crow

(crow in Ueno Park, Tokyo, Spring 2006)

How a bad hair day led to a possible sighting of Emily Carr’s ghost

January 8, 2007

bad hairWhile I was visiting my parents over the holidays, an old photograph surfaced of me before a high school dance. There is much I could say about this time in my life, but when I look at the photo, it’s hard for me to get past the hair.

As a teenager, I was very self-conscious and embarrassed easily. When I decided (shortly before this photo was taken) to get my long hair cut and permed, I was hoping for a slightly new look, but not a drastic, attention-drawing change. Not too short on the sides. Not too curly. When I ended up with what could be best described as poodle head, I was horrified.

How could I face the stares and jeers of everyone at school? (Yes, it sounds self-absorbed and superficial now, but this was high school, remember). I called up my boyfriend and we agreed to skip school the next day and drive to Victoria (about an hour away) – where no one would recognize me.

I can’t remember exactly what we did all day, except that we spent some time wondering around the neighbourhood of James Bay near Beacon Hill Park. Maybe we parked the car and walked or maybe we just drove around. In any case, one house caught our attention, and we stopped. On the grass in front of the house, sat a small brown monkey. Neither of us had ever seen a live monkey up close before. When we approached, a middle-aged woman came out of the house. She was very friendly, let us meet the monkey, and chatted with us for quite awhile.

It ended up being a good day, but with a strange quality – as if we had stepped out of our regular lives and even out of time. By our return home, I had grown accustomed (or at least resigned) to my new hair and bolstered enough to face school the following day.

I didn’t give the episode much more thought until two years later, when I was living in Victoria going to university and became interested in the artist Emily Carr. I had known about her before, but now something about her paintings and her life seemed to speak to me in a new and personal way. She had grown up in the Victoria neighbourhood of James Bay (she was born there in 1871) and had lived there as an eccentric older woman with many pets, including a monkey named Woo. Emily CarrAs I looked at an old black and white photo of a middle-aged Carr standing in her James Bay backyard holding a small familiar-looking monkey, an eerie feeling of deja vu came over me. Is it possible I might have seen the ghosts of Emily Carr and Woo on that fateful bad hair day?

I’ve walked around James Bay many times since then, trying to remember which house was the one where we’d seen the woman and the monkey, but I never could find it again. If it really had been the ghosts of Emily and Woo, did they appear just to help me through a bad hair day? Or was there some profound message that Carr would have liked to pass on (a P.S. about art or trees or life, perhaps)?

A few days ago, I paid one last visit to “Emily Carr: New Perspectives on a Canadian Icon,” an exhibit which just ended at the Vancouver Art Gallery. As I walked through the rooms of Carr’s paintings, it occurred to me that she doesn’t need a ghost to pass on a message: her paintings have never stopped speaking. This is not to say I wouldn’t have a few questions for her, if I did meet her ghost….

[Click on “My Books” in the right sidebar for info on the two novels I ended up writing about Emily Carr’s childhood]


January 2, 2007

Thinking about my goals for the year. . . .

collage art

I created this art work for the January-February 2005 issue of Somerset Studio magazine, but the resolutions (create, travel, love, etc) are pretty much a continuous part of my life. I have a huge list of things I want to write this year, I want to make more time for art, I want to do some travelling within Canada with my husband and daughter this summer, I want to nurture friendships and family relationships, I want to include more music in my life (relearn how to play the guitar, for example), I want to pay attention to the world around me, overcome a few obstacles, take a few risks . . . (and do a few other things I’m not quite ready to commit to writing yet) . . .

How about you? Any resolutions you want to share?