19 January, 2008

no. 12: the need to flee

I don't know if other people get this, or if it is, truly the curse of a commitment-phobe, but every now and again, I have this overpowering urge to leave, to just get out, to up and go. I suppose it hits mostly when my responsibilities get the best of me, or when I'm overwhelmed with a certain sense of ennui, almost as if I've run into the doldrums and want out, at any cost. I feel as though I have panthers caged inside of me, pacing, urging me to let them out, urging me to get myself out. And if I don't do it soon, those panthers are going to pace themselves right out of existence. Or, more matter-of-factly, they are going to pace themselves into butter.

Okay, I'm mixing metaphors, and imagery in my head... So, as a child I was exposed to the kinds of stories children of the 40s and early 50s were exposed to. Credit my grandparents for that, and no, I thankfully didn't develop any of the nasty prejudices present in a lot of the children's literature of those days. But, I've been wrestling with an image in my head for the last while, trying to piece out what exactly it is and where it came from... thus the glory of the internet: one does searches. So, the 1939 Merrie Melodies cartoon A Day At The Zoo provides me with my image of pacing panthers... amazing how accurate the cage:animal ratio is in that clip to how I'm feeling these days, and the story of Little Black Sambo (please mind the horrid computerized piano music, there's a 'pause' button at the bottom of the page) provides the pacing animals turning into butter... hence the combination.

And it is thusly that I feel: as though, if I don't get out soon, there will be nothing left of me to get out. But the question remains, where is it that I should go, and what is it I am trying to get out of/away from?

I am getting better (I think) at trying to deal with some of this. I actually do get out - weather permitting, one would be foolish to set afoot now in the -24C windchill and seemingly perpetual darkness - and try to vent my... urges. But it is difficult. Winter weather makes it that much more challenging to sort through the caged panther mentality because we really are caged panthers, all of us. There is nowhere to go but our homes, or places of work or commerce. Everywhere you can go has some sort of implication associated with it, whether that of work, or domesticity or purchase obligation. The summer allows one to languish, and flee at all hours, comfortably, to a place of no particular predisposition, since the entire outdoor world is suddenly available. No such luck in winter. I went for a walk the other night, for reasons of at least getting the panthers some air and not just sitting and growling, turning closer and closer to butter. But, alas, winter is so much more confining, even if the atmospheric temperature is obliging enough to allow one to wander at 11pm with a down vest, light toque, a few sweaters and some knit mittens. There is nowhere to go. The sidewalks can be treacherous, even under the best conditions, forget near-melting temperatures, and thusly the roads are off-limit since cars need all the room available for their own purposes. And so, I tried a trail, figuring it was a little more out of the way, and cars couldn't careen off and hit me. But that too became treacherous, under-maintained, sloped and too isolated to assuage thoughts of angry mothers, even if the silence did me some good. So I walked, and so I got followed by a not-so-happy dog who barked and barked. But that didn't bother me so much. He stood his ground so long as I stood mine and kept my face towards him. Though the panthers weren't too pleased, and wished further to leave and avoid struggle. Cages often make one feel vulnerable despite having strength on your side.

the moon

So, the walk did me some good, staring down a dog, staring down the river valley, feeling as though the moon was watching me through her cloaked, cloudy hiding place, and getting enveloped in swiftly falling snow. I love the sense of silence and stillness imparted upon me when I stargaze (or, on more cloudy nights, moongaze). Winter nights are perfect for such ventures, too, since the sky, ever black, is home to the bastions of cold nights: Sirius and Orion, my winter touchstones. And seeking Mars in their realms this last while has been nearly meditative for me, if only it wasn't so otherworldly cold right now, I'd be out there scanning for their mythic presence as a form of reassurance. Perhaps reassurance partly because they are still there and I am still able to see them as the traverse the skies above us, and partly because Orion seems to be making a second home on my arm, in various slowly developing moles, my skin is producing the famed hunter in melanic effigy; he really just needs a right leg and bow, as well as the sure-to-be-following dog-star, Sirius. What can I say, but it makes me feel connected, somehow, though I'll never truly understand why a constellation is being replicated on my upper arm. Perhaps nature isn't as random and chaotic as we all assume (or maybe chaos isn't as random as we assume).

But my attempts to convene with our stellar deities hasn't removed my urge to flee. It's such a base instinct in me right now, it takes much (aside from the c-c-c-cold weather) effort to curtail any fleeing actions. Perhaps I should let it work in me as it would for a while and see where it leads. Maybe, just maybe, this need to flee isn't about physically removing myself from this place, but changing this place into somewhere I want to be. Though, fat chance of that happening. Maybe I should concentrate my efforts on making it easier to leave when the weather and circumstances make such an endeavour more enticing. Yes, maybe I should do that: prepare myself to pack up and leave. And no, not actually pack, just make it a lot easier to do so. Clutter is as much a cage as anything else out there. We shall see, perhaps there's hope yet for these panthers.

17 January, 2008

no. 11: meanderings

I'm not truly sure how my mind works these days. I got a blog because I was tired of the blog formats at other places such as MySpace, and actually liked the idea of the internet anonymity. Granted, as always I am bound to be found by someone who knows me eventually... But regardless, not my point tonight. My point tonight is that I got a blog, and suddenly I don't feel like 'talking.' Or, perhaps it's not that I don't feel like talking, I just never get anywhere coherent these days. My mind wanders like someone lost in a vast, meandering Zoo... like the time I went to the Zoo in Berlin (first day in Germany) because I KNEW I wouldn't have to talk to anyone at the zoo. ha! see what I mean, I'm not trying to talk about the zoo, but there I go talking about the zoo... Vast meandering zoos are great because you can walk a path and stop at just about any point, only to find yourself with five options for new paths to take. That is approximately what my mind is like these days.

This meandering thought process has led to the start and near completion of a lovely turquoise calorimetry for a darling friend of mine, the starting of what will be a very time consuming (but hopefully gorgeous) lace nightie from the free lingerie patterns in the Spring 2007 Interweave Knits, and most of one mitten. All of this, mind you, has been started since I've decided I ought to buckle down and do some serious work on my thesis. My thesis of "beautiful data" according to my supervisors. My thesis that WILL NOT write itself, no matter how much I try and convince it to...

And, all in the same breath - it is, after all, only the 17th of January - I am trying to convince myself that 2008 will be a good year full of productivity and change. Productivity, I hope, in the thesis writing department, although knitting productivity is also good, just not of primary importance; and change hopefully in the thesis department... primarily in the form of "I will finish my thesis and graduate this year." This year is going to be a mountain of change. Whether or not the roaring noise in my head and all the surrounding headaches amount to anything more than some nasty migraines, the rest of my life is going to change momentously this year. I moved last summer, and my lease will be up in another 5 1/2 months. I doubt I will be staying on here, in this cute, "very me" house (according to my friends). While I love living in this neighbourhood, I don't particularly love living with my roommate, and the house is leaving much to be desired, most particularly modern windows that actually insulate. I'm not sure I'm prepared for the step of finding more roommates to live with, or living with a friend, but I know I need change, and perhaps I'll be able to find a small walk-up or something amenable to my income that doesn't involve me being the only person to shovel the sidewalks or mow the lawn. But moving aside, other changes are inevitable. One cannot be a student forever - at least not in this day and age - and my MSc is rather palpably drawing to a close, if only I could get my butt in gear and write! And thus, with that, (6 months ought to seal the deal on both house and thesis, I hope!), I am... off to the races? I don't know. I'm not sure what I'm going to do. Like the Berlin Zoo, I have the rather distinct feeling that I shall just come to a stop on my path and find myself with five different paths to choose from as I decide to walk onwards.

So, I don't know. Perhaps I'll end up visiting the Hippos for a spell, if only because it's a warm place to stand, and the large, lumbering beasts are kind of interesting to watch. Or maybe I'll head off in search of strange breeds of livestock at the back of the Zoo compound only to find myself face to face with all the animals I am so accustomed to seeing - being from Canada, I suppose what's familiar to me might not be to a German zoo-goer - that nothing is new or exciting except the surprise of finding such a familiar face in such a different location. Or maybe I'll be drawn in by a gaggle of bird cages, their unique calls and flashy feathers enticing me, only to find, hidden just behind them, the most exciting of all, the vast and wondrous elephant exhibit, replete with dexterous trunks and glorious trumpeting calls. Or maybe I'll just set myself down on a bench overwhelmed with choices and fear that I'm not going to make the right one... wishing I'd picked up the visitor guide map at the entrance like everyone else, instead of trying to decipher signposts written in another language.

My mind, and my life, it would seem, are like a vast, meandering old zoo. And now, all I can think of are the beautiful carpets of brown leaves that laid across the paths at the Berlin zoo when I visited in November, 2005. A chilly time to visit an outdoor attraction, I know, but I was never one for convention, and it sure beats trying to hustle through the crowd of summer tourists in uncomfortably hot and sticky temperatures.

08 January, 2008

no. 10: a merry, gendered Christmas to you!

well... all my Christmas celebrations have now officially come to an end. Ukrainian Christmas occurred (according to the Orthodox usage of the Julian Calendar) on the 6 and 7 of January this year. Presenting us with the ever present concern of just how much overeating one person can conduct in the span of a few weeks. Apparently, quite a lot.

Though, how can one resist when it is the only time there are vast quantities of Kutya (a honey-sweetened wheat dish to start off the meal), holubtsi (cabbage rolls), Kolach (fresh-baked braided bread), Nachynka (a sort-of cornmeal souffle) are available? Never mind a delicious turkey, stuffing, some perfectly cooked carrots, and tray upon tray of homemade dainties. I had resisted on ('normal') Christmas Eve, knowing the spread to come on Christmas Day, my aunt's peanut butter and chocolate covered maraschino cherrie s, but I had to cave-in and indulge last night. Like all Christmas treats, these delights are ephemeral too. It was so fantastic, and yet amazingly, I was hungry today. I have a feeling my stomach has grown accustomed to large quantities of feasting-foods, and will not appreciate my return to the typical "poor starving student" meal plan I'd been using prior to the holidays.

I love the holidays. Not only is there a lot of food to be had, but there are great bonding moments with family and friends, and there's an expectation that people take life a little more slowly, more deliberately and more attentively. There also seems to be a rather gendered division of Christmas festivities in all the events I attended. Who cooked the bulk of the food? The women. Who set the tables to overflowing with food? The women. Who collected the dishes and doled out desserts and coffee? The women. Who loaded the dish washer, and washed the pots and pans? The women. Alright, I'm oversimplifying. My father does an amazing job of washing everything from crystal to roasting pans, and is a huge help to my mother and me on Christmas Day.

Perhaps it's just Ukrainian Christmas where the the gender differences become entirely too apparent. The men bartend. The women set out dishes of appetizers and ready everything for eating, from the first course through to the last dainty desserts. And at the end of the night, when the boys and men have retired upstairs to watch the hockey game and check internet news, the women stay behind in the kitchen carving up the turkey leftovers, packaging up remnant stuffing and potatoes, and washing the seemingly insurmountable mountain of dirty dishes - whether too large, crusty or delicate for the dishwasher. One of my more memorable years actually involved the patriarch (though, truly the matriarch really does rule in these families) taking his delightfully tiny and new granddaughter on a walk-about tour of all things family and Christmas, from the tree to the table, taking a stop at the kitchen where all the ladies were busily cleaning up from the delicious supper. That was not the memorable part. What stays in my mind was the comment he made about how one day she would grow up, and like a 'good girl' would join the other women in the kitchen. And while I'm sure he didn't mean it in any specifically chauvanistic way, how could I not see it like that? There I was, on my third towel, drying dishes, while the only thing he'd done (and no, neither him nor I come from the host household) was help to carve the turkey... which it would seem is a most auspicious (if relatively simple and straight-forward) task.

Now, in all honesty, I do understand part of it. The women know the recipes, as they have been passed down from generation to generation by matrilineal line. But we all know dishwashing is a non-gender-specific task, so why is it that the very same women (particularly my aunt and her sister) who spent the last two days, and the week prior, preparing these traditional dishes have to then turn around and spend another couple hours washing? I really don't honestly believe anyone delights in washing dishes after the first hour of kitchen duty has elapsed. Surely, at the end of a cookie-baking session, there's a bit of sense of full-circle completion as the last bowl is rinsed clear of doughy residue, but no one relishes scrubbing a roasting pan. And all of us know that the more desirable thing to do would be sit and talk with your family, and enjoy that cup of coffee that's now coldly sitting on the crumb-scattered table. So why is it that the menfolk seem to have that privilege moreso than the women?

All this aside, I, of course, love my family, and will no doubt continue this odd holiday tradition of dish washing for many more years. And probably yet again failing to correctly pronounce the traditional Christmas greeting : Khristos rodyvsya!