Friday, 14 July 2017

Quora—A Web of Thought

I had avoided getting on Quora, Pinterest, Snapchat, etc., keeping my social media presence to a dull roar at Twitter and Facebook. I was pleased with this success. I know how easily I can fall down the rabbit hole and I had a big enough warren as it was.

My nephew, however, is very active on Quora, and he knows me well and from time to time would come across things he thought I'd find interesting, and send them to me. Sooner or later something came up that I really wanted to respond to, and that was it. I signed up, I was hooked.

What is Quora?

According to their website,
Quora is a question-and-answer site where questions are asked, answered, edited and organized by its community of users. Its publisher, Quora, Inc., is based in Mountain View, California. The company was founded in June 2009, and the website was made available to the public on June 21, 2010. Users can collaborate by editing questions and suggesting edits to other users' answers.More at Wikipedia

Fair enough. So why do I bring it up here?

I do so because it is, in a way, all about writing in its deepest senseat least, for me. There are endless categories of questions and ways to find specific people or categories of people to answer them, or you just let your question swim out into the waters and see who (if anyone) responds. I'm not much of an asker of questions. Not many pop to mind when I am at the site. But I am very often drawn in to answering.

The first and most satisfying question experience I had was when a spider half-drowned in my shower and when it recovered several hours later, it began performing odd movements. I asked the question,

Why would Pholcus phalangiodes do deep knee bends (see my comment below)?

Then I used the search field that allows you to find specific people to request a response from. I put "arachnologist" in the field, found several, asked them, and got some interesting ideas, though no definitive answer. Quora pointed me to a related question, which had received no answers, so again I requested the help of arachnologists. Between the two questions and the folk who responded I learned a ton about my spider neighbours, connected with some lovely people, really enjoyed myself, and found a satisfactory answer to the question (which turned out to be what I had hypothesized in the first place, so that was cool). The key thing is that the behaviour I was interested in is not mentioned in writeups about this beast, yet within a couple of hours I had contacted people who knew the species well and were able to help me think it through. Citizen science lives!

A second satisfying question I asked was,

How are Irish people reacting to Leo Varadkar's politicals goals?

This was excellent because to be honest I hadn't even heard through Canadian media (though perhaps it was said) that Enda Kenny had stepped down as Taoiseach (Prime Minister of the Republic of Ireland, whose job Varadkar now has), and the little I found on the internet about Varadkar was pretty cheery and meatless. So it was great to get on the ground responses to his presence in a political scene I can't easily espy from where I live.

Mostly, though, my time on Quora is spent answering questions. Sometimes my answers are off the cuff and meant to be amusing, as well as giving some genuine response. Sometimes I am drawn to think very deeply, take risks in exposing my own vulnerabilities, and work to find the best way I can to transmit my thinking, perhaps to someone who is in a position of fear or depression. That's what I mean about "writing in its deepest sense". I find myself challenged brainwise, heartwise, couragewise, and of course, stylewise. The wrong writing style will kill your message, but the right might carry it home.

I have no idea if any of my answers mean much to anyone, but I think that Quora is helping me to broaden my appreciation of the struggles people are facing, and their hopes and perspectives. I get to talk to people I would normally never encounter. And I get to dig into my foggy brain and do my best for someone, one Quora comment at a time.

Here are a few of my comments, fyi. They aren't perfect, but I think they are slowly improving.

Sara Ralph
Sara Ralph upvoted this
Casey Wolf
Casey Wolf, former Spy for the Far Centre.

I love spiders! My job as a little kid was to be summoned to every closet where my mother saw a spider, rescue the critter and take it outside for release. I felt awfully proud of myself because everyone else on earth, as far as I could tell, was either afraid of them or hated them, and spiders were in grave danger when those people were around. In fact, I was proud of my mother, too, who cared enough about both me and spiders that she didn’t let them get killed, which she knew would upset me, but let me help them out instead.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Good News for Creators and Publishers in Canada

Well this is happy news.

For several years there has been dismay among writers, illustrators, publishers, et al because of the reimagining of the copyright laws by educational institutions, who were essentially allowing themselves out of paying creators and publishers fairly for their work. At last the federal court has ruled against the practice, as we heard from Access Copyright yesterday. And bravo to that, say I.

I will not labour the point. Hundreds have explored it more fully than I am able to. But I will say that where I of course sympathize with cash-strapped schools, their ways of trying to get around the deficits too often fall on the shoulders of the very people who make those schools great--from creators and publishers, in this instance, to employees such as sessional instructors, who are ill-used six ways to Sunday.

Perhaps in these enlightened times we can start funding education, health, and the like to the extent that over-zealous (or panicked) administrators will be less destructively creative in their attempts to economize.

Here's the poop from Access:

Access Copyright is pleased that the Federal Court of Canada upheld the rights of creators and publishers with its judgment on fair dealing which has helped to clarify its application in the context of the educational system.
On July 12, 2017, the Federal Court issued its decision in the action between Access Copyright and York University.  Access Copyright, a copyright collective that represents the creators and publishers of printed and digital works, brought the proceeding in the Federal Court to uphold the rights of its members.
The legal decision, which is the first to review the Fair Dealing Guidelines adopted by the education sector, in this case York University, concludes that “York’s Fair Dealing Guidelines are not fair in either their terms or their application.”
The Court concluded that the guidelines do not meet the test for fair dealing established by the Supreme Court of Canada.
The Court also found that tariffs are mandatory and confirms that, “There is no opting out.”
The Court noted that, “There is a mutual dependence between libraries/professors and the copyright regime which may suggest that a better system of protection and more certain criteria (such as in a licence or in a tariff) would assist all parties interested in education and access to educational materials.”
 “The Court struck the right balance between the public good that is education and the need to reward creators to ensure that this public good continues to be well supported by quality Canadian content. Up until today, the state of the law regarding fair dealing left creators and the institutions that copy copyright protected works in a state of uncertainty.” said Roanie Levy, CEO & President of Access Copyright. “This decision will help the parties understand what can be done and paves the way to re-establish stability and royalties to creators.”
Access Copyright would welcome the opportunity for all interested stakeholders to entertain a meaningful dialogue with a view to resolving any outstanding issues between them and establish a relationship that emphasizes the common ground between those who create and those who teach and learn.

“This does not have to be a zero sum game.” said Cameron Macdonald, Chair of the Access Copyright Board of Directors. “We – creators, publishers and educators – have an opportunity and responsibility to serve the considerable common interest between content creation and education.”

Read the full decision here.

Roanie Levy
CEO & President
Access Copyright
Copyright © 2017 Access Copyright, All rights reserved. 
You are receiving this email as an Access Copyright stakeholder (affiliate, licensee, member organization, Board member) 

Our mailing address is: 
Access Copyright
320 - 56 Wellesley Street West
TorontoOn M5E 1E5

Images: "Model writing postcards" (1906)Carl Larsson [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Русский: Это ремикс, выполненный к женскому празднику.Есть "в кривых" Coreldro. By Astrofilosof (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Poems Scribbled in a Well-Graffitied Booth at Bon's

At our very cheap brunch at Bon's Restaurant today, niece Flora Jo Zenthoefer and I wrote four short poems together, taking turns line by line. Here they are, fresh and unedited, for the joy of writing (and for the joy of playing):


a shadowed pen and darkling sink                               (C)
a dip and then a pause to think                                   (F)
what words convey the thing I glimpse                        (C)
beyond the hayfields it limps                                      (F)



grinning moon disappears                                           (F)
sleight of face                                                            (C)
a starless spot, no other trace                                     (F)
but here on earth its absence slowly whelms               (C)
a holesome spot in my heart realm                              (F)



look! the spindle spins and thread unravels so              (C)
that a garment fine can be made                                 (F)
of anti-thread in anti-time with aunties all around       (C)
the weaver stops for a sip of Antarctica                       (F)
and there along its rim: an ant                                    (C)



a red plague dances                                                     (F)
on these shattered bones                                             (C)
a soft smile above blood-stained teeth                         (F)
but we—we who remain—determine not to fall             (C)
keep time and manage to keep step
            ignoring cuts from the jagged dance floor         (F)
and dance we past all plague and precipice                  (C)

Image Credits:

The Walls at Bon’s,
Bon's Off Broadway,

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Well, Here's One Way to Respond to Homelessness: A Friend in Need

I somehow didn't realize that a friend of mine had ended up where we all don't want to be, and where I have actively worried about being for the last year since my building sold--homeless. Now she has started a gofundme page to help get out of the homeless shelter with the overconfident mice. (Read more!)

May I introduce the lovely (and funny, and very good at swearing, though she doesn't do it here) Sam Whyte, who asks, "Help Me Back To Orange Street". (But where, we may ask, is Orange Street, exactly?)


Help Me Back To Orange Street

Well, this is awkward. No, it’s more than awkward, it’s an abdication of dignity and I really hope you wont think too badly of me. I left a very solid and dependable field of employment to do something stupid and frivolous for less money. It was great and I don’t regret it, except there’s no sick pay. If you are occasionally laid up and unable to do owt then it’s the difference between poverty and penury.
I’m loathe mention "charitable work"; firstly because you don't give your labour freely then assume to get something back; secondly because I know a lot of you will object, as I do, to the notion we should only help those who've been fortunate enough to be in a position to make a contribution in the past. But if it helps my case ...

I have happily done lots of community work alongside paid work; I have done free research, policy, and copy writing for the LGBT Foundation and additional digital support work for Mind ; I even kept a digital peer support project going on a voluntary basis after the funding ended because I was really committed to it . Now I need some help back and it bloody kills me to ask for it, but ask for it I must ...

As some of you may know my flat was sold by my landlord late last year after they went into administration and I had to put my possessions into storage. I am currently staying in a room in a council hostel with most of my things in a storage container.

Staying in these conditions has been incredibly difficult and my mental health has suffered to the point where I cannot work enough to put any money aside. I need  some money to get a flat deposit sorted and get my possessions, furniture and white goods out of storage.

Living out of a hostel in unsustainable in the long term and has such a negative impact on my health that I'm currently caught in a vicious circle.

It's shit. It's SO shit. There's no wifi and a grotty kitchen and bathroom I share with 12 other women. Not only are there mice crawling about, they seem in no way fazed by humans. I'm struggling to live in the same environment as over-confident mice. I feel like Robert Smith in the Lullaby video, only less compellingly sexy and with literally no musical accompaniment.

If you are able to help I would be extremely grateful. If not then that's completely cool too.

Much love,


Thursday, 22 June 2017

“To Eva on the Day of Your Surgery” (Poem by Casey)

where I sit
sun scatters wide
through sky and window
over smooth blonde wood

this streetside café
just me and pen and you
in my thoughts

where are you now
consulting with the anaesthetist
scribbled on by your surgeon
whose sure hands soon will
hold you
fold you back
and nick
where nick is needed
where knit is wanted
fold you in again

are you ladled yet onto the gurney
smoothed out on the cot
is your breathing easy

I see it easy
the sun’s fair light
finding you somehow
easing you

are you sleeping gently
anxiety a million miles away
are the stones and sun and stars
silent in your dreamscape
your heart strong
your heart strong

have you wakened
turned your head
looked about
are the drugs still playing games
with equilibrium and thought

have you seen our eyes yet
smiling      weeping
joyful      worried       loving eyes
all pleased to see you
waking up

do you know the love
a strong thick woolen blanket
scratchy      caring
swaddled round you

you are always loved
all and always loved
heartbeat strengthening
heartbeat deepening
your tender organ
filled now with our
reciprocating love

sleep now      Eva
rest and grow
we will be here
when you wake

copyright: Casey June Wolf, 2015.
Image: “Medical staff and female patient”, Wellcome Images, file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Internationallicense.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Thanks Be To Writers

I am aware that I have been neglecting this blog. Not that I expect anyone but you, Pat, to actually read it but still, the blog arose out of a desire to simply write, just for the love of it, or to offer some piece of writing that inspired me--to somehow acknowledge once a month that writing is a beautiful act, often one of healing, often one of outcry, sometimes (though I try to avoid this sort) of revenge.

I spent a number of days last week on Bowen Island, resting in the bosom of a quiet room, windows that looked out on mountains, trees, a small stretch of ocean, and even occasionally on deer. A bathtub beckoned me after walks in the woods or on the labyrinth. (One of those days--no, two--my labyrinth walks involved children bouncing along peering up to see how I'd react. It is amazing how grounded one can be in walking meditation even with all that ululation and dashing about, but even so I permitted them a small smile if they got right inside my tiny circle of attention. There is a line between focus and foolishness.)

I wrote no poems while there, though I did write a simple hymn, and worked easily on its melody a few times over the days. If having it become a brainworm is success, then, well--success!

I was very anxious when I got there. Somehow this housing thing is really eating away at me. Having the island to go to to bargain a few days of respite from my despairing brain is a real godsend. By day four I could feel actual calm beginning to surface. By day five, well, it was time to prepare to go home, and the calm evaporated in a cloud of tears. But.

Writing prevailed. Not mine, but that of others. I read a novel while I was there, but also spent time with a number of other books--Thich Nhat Hanh's How To Relax, via Overdrive (ebook through the library system), Pearl S. Buck's The Good Earth (beautiful and ugly; audiobook via Overdrive), the Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux (this one really got me missing my gramma), and most particularly In Age Reborn, by Grace Sustained: One Woman's Journey Through Aging and Chronic Illness by Sister Thelma-Anne McLeod.

This book reached me on a number of levels, in part because the illness she suffered was Parkinson's, which killed my grandfather in the 1980s and which at the time I was too scared to learn much about. (Instead, I put my courage into getting myself to visit him when I was so afraid of losing him I was inclined to bury my head in the sand instead.) Her thoughtful examination of her physical, emotional, and spiritual struggles in response to the illness was gripping and illuminating. (Her sense of humour, humility, and pride were a delight, as well.)

I was surprised, though, by how much of her experience of chronic illness and the emotional turmoil that comes with it reflected my own. I tend to discount my illnesses and blame myself for the limitations in my life. Seeing her grapple so courageously and publicly with things I have endured for so long was a shock but also an inspiration. And some of the deeper lessons she drew from her grapplings struck me resoundingly, as well. So, the gift of grace, borrowed from others, helped me through another week.

Many thanks to the authors whose joy, sorrow, and wisdom touched me over these days.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

A Stunning Photo of (Saint Francis?)

Reminds me of him, anyway, Saint Francis. Preaching to the birds. What a gorgeous shot, Raimond. Thank you for making it available on Wikimedia.

Sgraffito am Haus Schadowstraße 7, Köln-Neuehrenfeld

© Raimond Spekking / CC BY-SA 4.0 (via Wikimedia Commons)

Jenny Kwan Responds (Housing Crisis)

I posted Jenny Kwan's initial response to my letter about housing and poverty in Vancouver. I will add the links to that and to the original posting below. But I heard from her again today, and here is what she said:

Message body

Original post: Housing: Guess Who Pays the Price?
First response: Housing: the Responses; the Process; the Fear