Waking Up In Canada

Time Out Just To See

Reading, deliberately February 13, 2013

Filed under: Books,Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 6:23 am
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Some of you will know about my love of reading and books; those underestimated resources of knowledge, emotion, inspiration and escape. Standing in a second-hand bookstore on Saturday, I realised the amount of books I have at home, unread. I also realised the amount of books I am reading, right now. I have 3, that I was occasionally picking up, more of one, one day, a little of none the next day. I was grazing on words.

I don’t usually have so many books on the go. I take a taste from a few maybe, until one just cries out to me and I must keep reading as if my very happiness depended on this story unfolding. A book I cannot get into today may sing to my soul in 2 weeks. A good book is not just about the story but about where you are, body, heart and mind, when you read it. However, my 3 books right now is a perfect synopsis of my head right now: all over the place. I am flicking from thought to thought, project to project, book to book. The Dalai Lama may classify it as undisciplined. So I am taking his advice, and injecting some discipline into my book-reading. First, I sorted them into spaces. By my bedside now, sits Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan, a fantastic story of the search for the secret of eternal life in a conflict between traditional books and ever increasing technology. One night, I got so enthralled by the late night secret scanning that I stayed up to the early hours, which for me, old before my time, is a true wonder. On my Kindle, in my handbag, for waiting situations, is Samantha Power’s A Problem from Hell, a tough read that takes an honest look at our world’s lowest moments and our own responses to them. The third, on my office desk is a reflection from the Dalai Lama on Happiness, for early morning coffees and after dinner tea. It inspires and soothes me.
With the Dalai Lama’s, I have begun taking chapter end notes, just a few words or sentences to summarise my understanding of what I just read. I want to give those great pages the respect they deserve. With the amazing Twenty Four Hour Bookstore, I want to slow down, read deliberately, take it all in. I want to pay attention to Samantha Power, so that I don’t close my eyes to the worst of our world. Regardless of what we do in life, when we pay attention to that which we do, right now, in this moment, it is a moment well spent.

Books give me inspiration, information and escapism, so I want to give them the time and the space to work their magic. Not a bad investment, I think.


To Kill A Mockingbird in T17 November 16, 2011

Filed under: Books — wakingupincanada @ 8:07 am
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Our topic of discussion at the book meeting was prize-winning books. I looked through the lists and there were a handful of books that I had read, and very few I had actually liked. Maybe I’m just not smart enough for high literature. I flicked back through the pages and I finally scouted one, a gem of a book that I utterly adored. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961.

I was 11 years old I think when I first read To Kill A Mockingbird. My older sister was studying it in school. I struggled with the first few pages. Scout was a girl and Jem a boy. The story of the Finches arriving in the County was hard to read. The I settled into what would become a heart-wrenching, loveable, sweet, sad story and a young girl making sense of an unfair world. 3 years later, it was my turn to study To Kill A Mockingbird. I was delighted, one of the few who was, as the Snapper by Roddy Doyle was the favourite choice. I used my sister’s book, giving me an unfair advantage: all the chapters were summarised briefly at the end and the key quotes underlines. I learned early the advantages of second-hand. As I read through it again though, I had my own observations to make, my own preference for quotes.

Tied forever to this book, is my experience of studying it in T17, a room at the end of the school corridor. It was the room with the most natural light, with windows facing 2 directions. It was a large spacious room, without clutter. It was the English teacher’s room and his calm and happy presence grounded that room, even when he wasn’t there. On my first day at secondary school, he recognised my brother in me, and I wondered what my brother had done that made him smile so. He led us through poetry, prose and plays that somehow largely encircled messages of fair play and justice, or at least that is how I remember it. There were days he would allow us to lie on the ground and he brought us though guided meditation. Maybe it only happened a few times, but it was a few times more than any other teacher. It was in his class I learned to debate. He dressed like an English gentleman, though his accent was very much Irish. He walked often with his hands behind his back, never rushing, taking life in his stride.

On one occasion, I remember him getting really angry with a girl, for what seemed like little or no reason. It shocked me, it shocked the class. His temper was rarely unleashed and when it was we had no doubt it was justified. That outburst was unusual and it was an indication of how highly we thought of him, that we wondered if he was ok today.

In my mind To Kill A Mockingbird took place in the American South within the walls of T17 and Atticus Finch was our English teacher, advocating truth and justice in a quiet, subtle way to change hearts and minds.


Wasting time October 16, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — wakingupincanada @ 7:53 am
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I am working in 2 hours. It takes me twenty minutes to cook my lunch, and 5 to eat it. It takes me 10 minutes to get dressed. It takes 10 minutes to walk there, at a brisk pace. That gives me 1 hour 15 mins. What can I enjoy in 75 minutes? Sit and read my book? It’s a Canadian Book and I am really enjoying it: Lori Lansens’ Rush Home Road. I could watch Anne of Green Gables on DVD. I remember watching it as a child and was astonished when the librarian informed me it was set in Canada- I’d assumed it was American. Perhaps I should do a little writing. I know I am busy tomorrow. Doing a little today would free up some time tomorrow. The Post A Day Challenge certainly puts the pressure on to dedicate time every day to writing.

I sit here pondering. What to do? As I sit and think, minutes tick past. Should I go for a nap? I find the late shift tiring. I have the sleep habits of a 7 year old. I’m cold so I rise and make a cup of tea. As I write, I remember once in a while to drink it, so I stop and sip. Mmmm, nice. I have developed a strange love for green tea. As I stop, I see the time. 65 minutes.

I really don’t want to squander this precious time before work. If I do not do something, I will go to bed tonight feeling like I did nothing. Wasting time is the greatest waste of all.

I remember a quote I saw somewhere:
“How you spend your days is how you spend your life”

(Annie Dillard)

I liked it.

It makes sense. I’m all for the day to day happiness. I prefer to savour a cupcake every day, than save for an exotic holiday. This is why my 65 minutes is very important to me. I look again. 60 minutes. I realise that thinking about how best to spend my time is stopping me from just spending my time. I smile at myself. I turn off the computer and my internal counter and pick up my book.

An hour reading is never a wasted hour.


Libraries: the quiet refuge October 15, 2011

Filed under: Abundance,Books — wakingupincanada @ 9:18 am
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I walked out of there into the cold, dark night, excited and elated.

Earlier that day, I saw a poster in the library about an upcoming workshop, “Canadian Writers You May Not Have Heard Of“. Given my lack of knowledge on any Canadian writers, I thought this would be perfect. I popped along at five to seven, and the room was filling fast.

Over the next 90 minutes, a crowded but comfortable room reviewed books by Canadian authors, some set here, some set elsewhere. They looked at the celebrated, the not so celebrated and the celebrated-who-did-not-deserve-it. The group comprised mostly women, a few men, from a mixture of ages and accents, sometimes agreeing with each other, sometimes disagreeing. The facilitator guided us through the workshop with passion, inclusiveness and humour. I wondered how I could learn to do that job.

I love books. I love being taken to another time or place, another person’s world. I love absorbing myself in a land built with words. I love recommending a book that is then loved. I encourage children to read at any chance I get. Whether in book form or e-reader form, and most recently, audio, I love them.

Being part of a group that oozes love for the written word took my passion and multiplied it by 100. I fed off their enthusiasm, their energy, and took notes on recommendations. There were a few books handed around, and from flicking through to a random page and sampling the prose, I could make my mind up what was for me or not. I also took note of those not my usual style but worth a try. That’s the great thing about such meetings: you push yourself out of your usual shelf.

How do books get known if they don’t have a big marketing ploy behind them? The facilitator pointed to the library as key in this area, ensuring little known writers also get to the readers.

The statement reminded me of my favourite book, Shadow Of The Wind, and the Cemetery of Forgotten Books which ensures that any book written is kept safe. To me, this is the essence of the Library, keeping books circulating. Regardless of your income, status, interests, you have access to books, at no cost. What wealth!

I joined the library not long after arriving here. It opened up to me a vast array of books , not to mention the newspapers, magazines and the DVD collection. I felt intimidated when informed that if I do not return my books, and fail to respond to the multitude of warnings, the library will hand my debt over to a Debt Collection Agency. However, on behalf of the books, I applauded the approach.

Before leaving Ireland, I dropped hundreds of my books at the second-hand store. Only my absolute favourites could be stored at my parents’ house. It was better than recycling, or, worse, landfill, but the amount of waste struck me. The library helps me be a little more ethical in my shopping, pioneering “Re-use, Re-use, Re-use”.

I had gone to the library that day to return books. 2 were late, and I asked about the fine. “We don’t charge you”, she explained, “we have a guilt jar”, pointing to the jam jar on the counter with $2 and other coins. Guilt prompted me to add another tooney (A Canadian dollor has a picture of a loon bird on it thus known as a loony; a $2 then becomes a tooney). An excessive fine, I thought, but I gave graciously because I didn’t have to. Sitting reading at a window table, the quiet calm relaxed me. People came and used the computer suite, sat and read the magazines and wandered around the shelves.

The library is the refuge for books that could slip from memory or fail to make it big in publishing. It is a refuge for second-hand books, saving them from landfill. It is the refuge for the reader, offering a quiet oasis of calm, whether your stay in town is short or long.