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Oh, he was hot. He arrived in our small suburban high school at the beginning of grade 11 and I think every girl in my class had an instant crush.

He was, objectively speaking, very good looking, and yet was cool, not conceited. Part of the boy’s mass appeal stemmed from being the first new, exciting male to arrive in a long time. In a school where nearly everyone had literally gone to preschool together and many had dated and dissected one another (not literally) to death, here was fresh boy meat.

Even I temporarily abandoned my longtime impossible crush to fixate on this tall, handsome stranger. The girls all did, I think, speaking his name in breathy whispers. One day after school, I and two of my best girlfriends were heading out downtown on the bus when we saw that he was on our bus. At the bus exchange, we invented a reason to hop on the bus he was taking, casually struck up some conversation from the seat behind (“Oh, hi! Where are you going?”), and then rode the bus until just one stop after he had gotten off. We promptly caught the bus going back the other direction, giggling about the whole adventure. Well, actually, I think we considered trying to follow him home to see where he lived, but stopped short of becoming complete stalkers.

And yet, this guy seemed to have no idea. Maybe, objectively, the lot of us girls weren’t particularly hot ourselves. You might think after a couple years of hanging around, he would have picked himself out a girl. His yearbook quote even included the question, “Do you have to open graves to find girls to fall in love with?” (I now know, thanks to the Google magic, that this was a quote from The Mummy. A hot high school boy with a love of film? Who was this person?)

A few years later, by chance I worked with a girl who was a roommate of the boy during this time. She shocked me with tales of how bitterly he complained about not having a girlfriend and of girls not liking him at school, etc. Wow, I thought, was he not only hot but also deaf and blind?

And now he has all but disappeared. There seems to be a lesson in all this about not believing too much of what you think you think about yourself.

A few years ago, in order to break the writers’ block that had been plaguing me for years, I cracked open The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the very first chapter, I came face-to-face with what was preventing me from writing: the fear of people reading from I wrote.

I’ve always had this fear that if I write using characters and events from my life, people will read what I’ve written and laugh at me, second-guess me, or hate me. This is a real problem for me, since I like to write personal essays and memoirs based on my own experiences.

It stems from grade 6. I was writing a novel in my binder which was heavily influenced by what I was reading at the time. It was about a girl (me, really), her horse, and a boy (based on and stupidly named after the boy I had a crush on). The whole thing was a blatant plagiarization of the movie International Velvet, actually.

Close your eyes, it gets painful: I was dumb enough to let my best friend read this masterpiece-in-progress in class. Other people got curious about what I was letting her read, and soon the entire class read it, including boy-crush. Dumb and dumber, I was – I had even put in a kissing scene. I tell you, it was a sensation. People chanted “Horse! Horse!” at me. I tried changing the name of the main character, but the damage was done. I couldn’t even hide inside one of those giant tires that were so in vogue for school playgrounds back in the 80s.

The saving grace was that this all happened close to the end of the school year. I took my binders home, ripped out all the embarrassing loose-leaf pages and flushed them down the toilet. But my story refused to die. On the first day back to school, kids asked “Did you write any new stories over the summer?” snicker, snicker.

I’m 20 years older, but that old fear of writing personal stories still haunts me. And I’m probably thinking a lot about this right now because of a new writing project I want to start that involves telling the story of my first boyfriend. And I could just barely write that last sentence to tell you about it. Even though he’s not in my life and hasn’t been for a good long time, I’m scared of him reading it by chance (gulp. publication? dare I dream of it?) or of my husband reading what I write on the subject and wondering why I’m still thinking about shit from all those years ago.

Fear of what people think: it can keep you from writing. It can especially keep you from writing about the painful and awkward subjects which seem to make the best stories. I’ll let y’all know how it goes.

As some of you already know, I have a dog. We found him last year through Petfinder and adopted him from the West Coast Spay and Neuter Society. Levi is now 5 years old, and we don’t know a whole lot about his history, other than the fact that he was found running alongside the highway.

He might have been abused, since he tends to growl and then hide from visitors, especially men, and is easily spooked by strange people and objects. He might have been a stray for a very long time, since he spends most of his time on walks with nose to ground, looking for food, and often tries to eat napkins, fast food wrapping, matchbooks, and anything food-like left on the ground such as pizza crusts or bones. He also eats grass and dead leaves from time to time. Levi definitely has definitely come a long way in the last year, but he does have these indelible quirks.

This morning, I was walking Levi in the park behind out building. Under a tree, I saw a little dog laying calmly in the grass, but no one was around. It was a puppy – a Rottweiler cross with long black fur. Such a pretty face. Levi, of course, wanted to greet the little guy, and one thing about Levi is that he’s wonderful with other dogs. The puppy showed no fear, didn’t run away, wagged his tail. I approached the puppy and noticed that although it wore a collar, the identity tag was missing. He was also missing part of one his front paws – but he hopped around quite happily on three legs, soaking up my petting and praise.

Obviously, I couldn’t just walk away – but what to do? Scoop him up and take him inside? Call the SPCA? If I went inside to get some food for the dog, a phone number, and a leash, would the little guy run away? If I called animal control, would the dog be in danger of being put down? (Unfortunately, the number of adoptable, homeless dogs far exceeds the number of good homes.)

A neighbour came out to walk his dogs, and I called to him for help. He went inside to look up the number for the local animal shelter, but he was taking awhile, so I took action. I ran up to my apartment with Levi, looked up the closest SPCA in the phone book, stored the number in my phone, grabbed a dog treat, and the extra leash, and ran back outside. The puppy was still there, so I fed it the treat, put the leash on it, and called the number. It was the wrong shelter for my city, but they gave me the right one to call. The animal control person on the phone said they would be there in about 20 minutes.

It was so cold this morning and had started to snow. The puppy had lovely long fur, but it had no body fat to keep it warm. It shivered, and when I petted it, I could feel all it’s rib bones jutting out. My neighbour brought out a dish of water, and the puppy gulped down all the water in less than a minute. My neighbour brought a second dish which was drank just as quickly. He thought too, that the puppy was abandoned, pointing out that a glop of dog food had been left on the grass.

Together, we walked around to the front of the building to wait for Animal Control. The puppy was obviously scared of the noise from the construction across the street, and I remembered how scared Levi used to be when we first got him. He would stop and refuse to go any further if he heard the noise of big trucks, cement mixers, or other construction noises.

We made small talk, and I confessed that I was scared that the puppy might be euthanized if he wasn’t adopted. Maybe we were rationalizing, but we talked about how friendly the little guy was, how cute and young he was, too. The only sticking point for someone might be his tripod legs – I didn’t want to think too much about what happened to half of his front paw. I half-hoped that perhaps someone from our building would come out, see how cute he was, and decide to spirit him home on the spot. I thought about taking him upstairs with me. I wondered if I ought to take him home and try to find a home for the dog myself, instead of just calling the city to take him away.

The Animal Control van arrived, and the officer recognized the puppy right away.

“I know who he is. The owner lives not too far from here,” she said. She also mentioned the dog had just been spayed and licenced a couple months ago. She gave the puppy a treat, loaded her into the van, and off they went.

I wasn’t comforted to know that this dog had an owner who is known to Animal Control. Had I just sent a defenseless animal back to its abuser?

My neighbour said “Well, I guess we’ve done our good deed for the day.” I’m not sure about that.

Levi tolerates a hug

In honour of that heartwarmingly unofficial holiday, National Delurking Month, I have decided to reveal my secret superpower: an amazing ability to stop conversations wherever I go.

I first discovered my secret superpower at the tender age of 18. I had an office job at a engineering consulting firm, and my job was to copy and bind reports. Most of the time, I was in the copy room, where many people throughout the day would stop in, make copies, chat to one another and sometimes me, and leave. (I was hardly Rob Schneider, if that’s what you’re thinking.) One day, the sales manager was in the copy room chatting to my supervisor about a trip he was taking to Japan. I had been to Japan on an exchange the previous summer and loved it, so I piped up with a comment like, “Japan is great. You’ll love Tokyo.” The sales guy looked at me, fell silent, and left the room. Kachunka chunka went the copier. That’s when I knew.

I’ve tried to chalk up this incident to being sort of a greenhorn, to not having learned the fine points of office small talk yet (see: Whisper Hello). But there seems to be more to it than that. I can stop group email conversations in their tracks with a mere click of the “Reply All” button. I can join a group conversation at a party, and without saying very much at all, find myself sitting alone 5 minutes later. At that point, if I’m lucky, some wag will wander over and ask “Why are you sitting here by yourself?” I’m tempted to answer something random like “Purple Monkey Dishwasher!” to hide the pain of having the secret superpower to stop all talking.

The very worst permutation of my superpower is the ability to part the conversation like Moses parting the Red Sea. In this case, I join a group conversation and soon create two conversations, one on either side. At that point, I cloak the shame by trying to look like a part of one of them. Nodding the head, making agreeable noises. Hmmm. If I gets really bored with that act, I can always make a comment like “Yeah line dancing is hard,” to stop the conversation altogether, or at least drive my unwitting victims off to the buffet table.

Like any superpower worth having, mine is sometimes put to the test. It sometimes fails against those who are absolutely determined to tell you their life story. My superpower appears to have little effect on those with the power of uninterrupted speech; I can nod and grunt and ask “How about that?’ all I want without stopping the conversation. Depending on the power I’m up against, saying something random or even offensive, might just pause them.

In the spirit of delurking, I challenge all comers to overcome my mighty superpower. Your comments are proof of my defeat.

When I was in grade 2 or 3, this big guy (he seemed huge at the time) starting coming to my school to help out in class. His name was Mike Schemmer but everyone called him “Buff.” His mom was a teacher, and she was friends with my teacher Mrs. Armstrong. Buff helped kids in class, acted as a crossing guard and was especially involved in gym classes and sports.
When we went to high school, it seemed like Buff kind of went along with us. Again, he was a fixture around school, coaching various sports teams for both boys and girls. He was the coach for my grade 8 basketball team, and the main thing I remember about being on the team, besides my own suckiness and the single basket I made in a game for the entire season, was how at the end of the season he made kind of a scrapbook about the season with little profiles of each player and a rundown of all our games.
Later on, he started to get into drama – when I was in grade 10, he directed a Halloween play. Ours was a really small high school, so the drama teacher usually only mounted a spring production. I flubbed my audition for a part, badly, but Buff let me be stage manager, which was a lot of fun too.
For anyone who went to school in Deep Cove between 1980 and now, Buff was a part of their lives. He coached more teams and directed more plays, and also got into organizing sports events and writing and directing his own plays. He also became a special education teacher. Kids knew him as a coach, teacher, friend, and leader.
I always felt a little intimidated by Buff. He was such a big guy and had this deep voice, and he would kind of laugh at you if you acted like a goof. I saw him again not too long ago at a baby shower, of all places. He lived in the suite of my friend’s house, and he braved the room full of women briefly to congratulate my former classmate on her first baby. I felt kind of shy about seeing him; now I wish I had at least said a proper hello.
I just found out last night that Buff died. He jumped off a bridge four weeks ago and I somehow missed seeing any news coverage of the event and the surrounding circumstances. There was an “accusation” made against him to the RCMP; the investigation has now been officially closed. No one else came forward with any reports that we know of. We’ll never know what he was thinking or why he had to do it.
But I have only good memories of Buff. He gave his time and energy to a lot of kids – it’s too bad that 1,000 people had to show up at his funeral to demonstrate the impact he had on the community.

Hey Buff – thank you, and rest in peace.

April 13, 2000
Last weekend, we went to do
hanami – cherry blossom viewing – in Ueno Park. Ueno Park (in Tokyo) was very crowded, but not in the way I expected. The cherry blossoms themselves were beautiful – a canopy of blooming trees. When the wind came up the petals would spray everywhere adding to the blinding sight of all those pale-pink flowered branches.
The crowds moved along down the middle, and on either side people were having their parties. I thought that we could sit anywhere there was a space – it turned out that people had their party spaces “occupied” and informally “reserved”. When we first tried to sit down, we were shooed away by a Japanese guy saying “This is our space.” Amy huffed that they can speak English when they want you to go away. (Never mind that they weren’t using the space in question, it was just marked.) There went my idea that seats under the trees could be had in some anarchic fashion.
Walking along a little further, we spied an area that was open, but occupied by a group of young guys who didn’t seem to be doing a whole lot in there. Rather than make the mistake of just sitting down again, we asked them if we could sit in their space. They said that they had a party starting around six, but why should they turn down us pretty foreign girls (plus Canadian Robin) until then?
Without too much effort then, we scored a prime spot to sit. We were right under the trees, and right next to the crowd. We had a little table, onto which we quickly emptied our pile of wine, beer
, sake, and food.
It was a good party we were having. People walking by stopped, or slowed, to stare at us. They took pictures and video of us. I think we were a bit of a spectacle, what with Stacy and Amy lobbing chip balls at Robin, who caught them in his mouth.
The only problem was having to go to the bathroom. The first time I visited the Porta-Potti, it was covered in poo, even on the back (?!) of the squatter. This being Japan, there was no paper. It was so small that I didn’t want to reach for my pockets, lest some part of my clothing touch the surface of that thing.
And once you start to pee while drinking, it seems you have to go so often. The worst part was the lines. I don’t know why, but people take so long in public toilets. I knwo they are pleasant environments to hang out in, but come on! Anyway, the guy at the front of the line went in – and just about never came out. Maybe he passed out, maybe he suddenly needed to take a long, leisurely shit on the squat. Perhaps that Porta-Potti was some kind of portal, time machine or black hole. He may have been sucked into a vortex, but remembered to lock the door.
I was drunk, easily provoked. The guy in front of me turned half-around to shrug “What can you do?” I took the bait a little too much, gave in to my impulses, went up there, and banged on the door. Wake up! “
Isoide! Hayaku!” I yelled. (Translation: Hurry up!) Of course, everyone stared – one delicately dressed cherry blossom viewer gave me a very strange look.
I was a little embarassed at my display – but the guy never did come out that I could see.
Most of the time, I think I’m pretty responsible about my “cultural ambassador” role, but this was one time I let the inner “Ugly
gaijin” (foreigner) take over. What the hell. Maybe they thought I was an American. Teehee.

So hungover. Upon inspection this morning, it seems that I drank half a (party-sized) bottle of Gallo Chardonnay all by myself. At least, I think I was the only one drinking the white wine last night. The husband was pretty chipper this morning, having yet again dodged the wrath of the hangover gods even though he was mixing his drinks. I’m feeling better now than I was this morning, although I’d rather not attempt long walks or solid food just yet.
Between drinking all those glasses of wine and getting the food on the table for my favourite people, I didn’t get to eat very much, or have a proper chat with everybody. It’s terrible trying to catch up with people, only to have to run off to buzz more people in, greet them, get them going with drinks, keep the food coming, and find my wine glass. “Now where did I put my wine?”

But it’s fun because beforehand, I get to obsess over what fod to make, go shopping, play in the kitchen with all my toys, and then have everyone packed into the kitchen, living room and patio all having a good time. What I also like is that although some people have to be there every party whether you like them or not (yep, that crazy wife of his has been around for years; believe it or not she’s improved…) we also always seem to get a new set of friends coming in to keep things lively. It’s fun to see your old friends hit on your new friends.
Unfortunately, Levi was less than impressed with guests coming into the house. When Jnads and Melanie came, they were the first to arrive, and the dog still out, and he was all barky and growly. He’s been doing this sort of thing as we have gotten him settled in; my mom’s theory is that now the dog has a home of his own, he wants to protect it. He was very good at staying in the den by himself – didn’t bark or scratch on the door or get agitated at the noise levels. When the last few people were here at about 1 am, we opened the door to his room. He came out, saw the group standing around the kitchen, and seemed to be trying to figure out the best way to run to his safe place under the coffee table. After two attempts, he went for it, crawled under and let out this huge sigh of relief.
So everyone was gone by the sensible hour of 1 am; I didn’t even have to brandish the Michael Bolton CD kept for such occasions.
All the food dishes were empty, which I take as a good sign. Besides chips, gummi bears, and rice crackers, we served smoked salmon (made by my Dad), hummus, tzatziki and pita crisps (brushed with olive oil and baked in the oven), salsa and tortillas, cheese and crackers, asparagus wrapped in proscuitto, tomato-basil bruschetta, and plenty of non-crappy booze. The drink of the night seemed to be Crown and ginger. There’s still a whole case of beer left, and the other half of that chardonnay bottle. You guys left too early!
Let’s do it again soon.

It finally happened. We moved into our new apartment. So far we’ve got food, couches, TV and clean underwear in there – the rest of the stuff is being moved in tomorrow. The last couple days, I have felt like I was in some sort of dream where I am camping in a hotel.
Everything is clean and new and open and spacious (like a hotel), but we are improvising arrangements, like you do when you are camping. Until Donovan found the bowls and bought some plastic eating utensils, we ate canned chili with a melon baller. We celebrated the first night by sipping expensive champagne (ooh la la) from a couple of coffee mugs.
The fact that this apartment is all ours just hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
The only thing I could make sense of in my world last night was that at least one channel saw fit to show Groundhog Day. Groundhog Day is a bit of a placeholder holiday – look, it’s only 6 more weeks to St. Patrick’s Day! I don’t acknowledge Valentines’ Day.
Back to me, now. I’m back on the road to adulthood. I might even remember how to cook.

We didn’t plan to do it that way, but we flew to London right after September 11. Our flight was booked for September 12, 2001 and we were delayed three days, but we went shaken. The bumpy ride didn’t end by stepping off of that horrid Canada 3000 flight to Gatwick at 10 pm London time. No, there was to be some sleep wherever we could find a decent patch of carpet in the Heathrow departures area until our flight to Oslo, Norway left in the morning. (The hotels surrounding the airports had all jacked up their prices to commemorate the terrorist attacks.) But everyone we encountered – the shuttle bus driver, the airport staff, and the bobbies – were cheerful and sympathetic to our predicament.
When we returned to Britain after touring Scandinavia, we were greeted with tea and sympathy from our British friends. We stayed in Cheltenham with Amy, who now works in London (Amy, Zamiha, hope you guys are okay). Her Mom left on a trip to Paris via the Chunnel shortly after we arrived, but the trip was delayed at Victoria station because of a terrorist scare. I was alarmed, sheltered Canadian that I am, but Amy assured me this sort of thing was not terribly unusual. When her Mom returned from the trip, she talked about rubbish bins being removed from Tube Stations because they were potential hiding places for IRA bombs. And you had better believe that unattended cars or baggage are swiftly and unapologetically removed from airports and stations, and destroyed.
And as I’ve read like fifteen times this morning in articles on the attack, the British lived through the Blitz and Hitler and WW2, IRA attacks for 30 years or more, and still commemorate the day Guy Fawkes tried to blow up the Parliament Buildings with bonfires and gunpowder. I love their spirit. I love that so many Londoners converged on the pubs at 11 am to commiserate in the wake of the attacks, rather than trudging home in fear. I love that those who had to walk out of the subway tunnels lit the way with their mobile phones, and used their videophones to document what they were experiencing. I love the invocation to keep a “stiff upper lip” and vowing not to interrupt the usual routines because of the bombings.
I hate those who spout off from a comfortable distance about how Bush and Blair are responsible for these terrible bombings happening, how we need to go forth and kill, and smirk about “payback” for the Iraqi occupation. People dying are people dying are people dying.
I send my love to those of you living right there, living through the nightmares in my newspaper. I hope you are okay and safe.

June 15, 1999
I got up this morning at 4:30 am and went to Tsukiji. There were a lot of people on the 5:30 train, it seemed. When I got to Tokyo and transferred to the subway, I began to see a lot of people in rubber boots. I followed the rubber-booted men out of the subway station and towards the market.

There are two Tsukijis, actually. There is a block or two filled with stalls selling all kinds of fish, produce and other cooking goods such as those gorgeous steel Iron Chef knives. I went there first, wandered about a bit. It was fairly bustling, with guys on motorbikes and carts driving down the narrow alleyways. A few tourists skulking about too.
After awhile, I began to wonder about the real Tsukiji. I found some more rubber-booted men with baskets and cigarettes to follow down the street and over a rise in the road straight into Tsukiji’s hive. I know “hive of activity” is a cliche, but I am at a loss to describe this epicenter of noise and action and movement on every sort of vehicle in every direction. I felt a little superfluous there, but it was an exhilarating place, filled with people, noise, traffic, stalls, and every kind of seafood, some of it alive and splashing, some of it frozen solid. Huge tunas (maguro) were thawing out everywhere, waiting to be cut.

This is also probably something that has already been said, but Tsukiji is ground zero for fish in a nation that consumes the stuff passionately. Walking in there is like walking into an airplane hangar – it’s dark and your eyes have to adjust to the light. On either side of the trading area there are “roadways” of traffic going in and out – motorized carts, bicycles, dollies, scooters, even rickshaw-like contraptions. Guys are zooming around with innumerable white styrofoam packing crates. Outside, on one side of the market, the used crates form a huge mountain.
I walked up and down the narrow aisles trying to take it all in – the colours, the giant tunas, a row of live crabs – one vat of them in water, another crate of sand covered crabs. I wanted to touch them to see if they were really still alive. There were great varieties of octopus and shrimp and a beautiful unidentifiable bright red set of tentacles. Several, actually.
Everyone was busy – I was trying to see it all without getting too much in the way. It got so that as I walked, each time I came to a crossing I would look both ways for traffic coming down the busy “streets”. A few of the old guys were very friendly as I stopped by to gawk at their fish. Omoshiroi!
At one stall, I thought the old man was slicing his hands in the hair to tell me to get out, but he was smiling so perhaps it was his way of waving hello. His stall mate also gave me a cheery hello and ohayo gozaimasu. I’m sure they are used to tourists stalking around, perhaps they wonder why we should be interested in being there. “I work here, what could be interesting about a fish market?” Tsukiji has inspired a few ethnographies and analyses and I certainly wanted to go out and write my own. Quite a few of the sellers smiled and said good morning. When I stopped to look at a box of enormous tiger shrimp, I was startled by calls of “Money! Money!” I was confused until I realized the man was saying “Morning!”
Seeing all that fish in various states of preparation did not diminish my longing for a fresh sushi breakfast. Across from the main building was another one with rows of food stalls, noodle bars and a few sushi places. Maybe my geography was wrong but I had expected more sushi bars. I reasoned that people who handled fish all morning would probably not want to eat it again right away.
I fought my way back through the market and dodged and swerved my way back across the busy parking lot? loading docks? to the food stalls.
I found an open sushi bar; to my surprise it was empty. I bought the lowest-priced set, which included the coveted maguro, buri, ebi (prawn) and iro iro (stuff I ate but did not identify) nigiri sushi and finished off with a set of kappa (cucumber) and tuna maki. The chef, who was quite young and adorable, set down each item in front me on the high, clean wooden bar above the counter as he made it. He smiled as he set down each piece and said “Dozo!” It was such good-tasting sushi – the maguro was heavenly, did it come from the market that very morning? I imagine it did. To finish, the chef gave me a bowl of seafood miso soup which was also unexpectedly fresh. I think it might have had sardines in it but it was absolutely delicious. Even the green tea was real matcha, thick with floating green leaves.
Yum.

(I wrote this entry in my diary later on the same morning while sitting at the Board of Education office with my fellow English teachers in Chiba City, Japan. I’m glad I wrote down as much as I did, because this is the best food experience I ever had. No other sushi even comes close.)

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