“In all of us there is a hunger, marrow-deep, to know our heritage — to know who we are and where we came from. Without this enriching knowledge, there is a hollow yearning. No matter what our attainments in life, there is still a vacuum, an emptiness and the most disquieting loneliness.”- Alex Haley,  Author, “Roots”

In 1996, my then 72-year old father began a years’ long search for his birth mother. As was the custom, his adoptive parents kept the adoption under wraps. However, they failed to consider gossip and childhood curiosity. At age eight, Dad heard himself referred to as an illegitimate bastard by a disgruntled family member. At age nine, he jimmied a locked drawer and found his birth records.

Dad’s parents never did discover the break in, which meant that the family secret became his secret as well.  When his mother and father died in a car accident in 1959, they took the only link to the history of his birth family with them.

Secrecy around adoption records began early in the twentieth century in order to protect adoptive parents from being hassled by birth parents. Canada is the last Commonwealth nation keeping its records closed. Fortunately, for my father, British Columbia, Alberta, Newfoundland and Labrador, and Ontario are exceptions.

BC opened its Adoption records in 1995. One year later, my father applied for a membership with Parent Finders. They provided advice and paperwork assistance. On September 30, 2000, he made application to the Ministry for Children and Families.  On February 1, 2001, the Information and Privacy Commissioner approved Dad’s request and he received his adoption records. The most significant and poignant record is the Certificate of Registration of Birth bearing his mother’s name and signature: Grace Cassiar Johnson. We thought her name both beautiful and unusual and because it was unusual, we felt certain tracing her would be easy.

However, receipt of the documents signaled the beginning of a frustrating journey. We looked everywhere but found no trace of Grace Cassiar Johnson.  In 2000, a friend who is an avid genealogical researcher posted a memo on a genealogy bulletin board. It read,“Would the family of Grace Cassiar Johnson who gave birth to a baby boy on Jan 4, 1924 in North Vancouver, BC and later gave the child up for adoption please contact Adele Abernathy at _____________.”

In July of this year, 26 years after the search began and 12 years after Adele posted the notice, an email landed in her mailbox. It read, “Grace Cassiar Johnson was my great-aunt. My Aunt Dorothy has had me searching for Grace’s son for a very long time. Grace was born in 1906 on the Union Steamship Cassiar while the family was travelling between Vancouver Island and North Vancouver. She died in 1927 in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana.”

Why Grace was in Louisiana and how she died is a story for another time.

Dorothy and my father are 89. They have talked on the phone and my husband Paul and I visited the extended family in November. They live in Portland. We hope the two families will meet in the Fraser Valley in the New Year.

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Thirteen Weeks

This posting is a self-assessment, a critical look (as critical as any self assessment can be) at the development of my writing skills in CRWR 1240, Writing for New Forms and Media.

I am proud of my accomplishments over these thirteen weeks. Some of the course requirements, such as creating this blog frustrated me yet the outcome is worth every anxious moment. The site is, to my eyes, uncluttered and my postings begin to reflect who I am. Still, I sometimes drag my feet when it comes to writing and that is something to work on. No class is going to give me the discipline I need to keep writing – that is my responsibility.

This blog has shaped shifted. I envisioned writing about the digital world from a senior’s perspective (and there will be some of that). However, I find myself drawn to writing personal reflection or self exploration pieces. Perhaps that makes sense at this time of life.

Having played it safe most of my life, I am ready to step up. I want to ‘find the wolf inside and ignore the rabbit.’ (Ross Laird: lecture notes September 19.) Blog writing is my wolf hunt.  Opening my blog to the public, and posting this self assessment is my way of ignoring the rabbit.

I confess that I did little research in preparation for my writing and spent too much time procrastinating. Although a book I have had for years, Tell Me a Story did influence me. The idea that stories both define and free us turned me inward. I recall works that fed me as a child and young girl: The Little Engine that Could; Superman the Radio show; and Invictus, by William Ernest Henley. These and other influences, will find their way into future blogs.

Sometimes I did set aside time to sit in silent contemplation.  Other times I engaged my creative energies by performing routine tasks – housework, especially washing dishes, sometimes does it. Driving long distances always works (scary but true).

The worst times were those moments when, after spending hours working on a piece, I realized the writing was drivel (two pieces wait for me to determine if anything in them is salvageable). Drivel is what happens when I let my ego get involved in writing.

The best times where those when I followed Ross’s advice in his handout: How to Start Writing. When I let go of being in control, thoughts flow as if some other entity has taken charge of words and keyboard.

If I had to give myself a grade for my writing in this course, it would be 80 to 90. I am still working on authenticity in my pieces.

So what is the most significant learning in these thirteen weeks? The answer will emerge as I continue growing with this blog, however, I believe it will be about trust and courage. Trusting my voice and taking chances with what I write.

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Let Me Tell You a Story

I often buy books, put them on my bookshelf to read later, then forget about them until they speak to me. Daniel Taylor’s Tell Me a Story is an example. The book, which joined my collection shortly after publication in 2001, is about the life shaping and healing power of our stories.

Taylor says our personal stories help us understand who we are and how we fit into life’s narrative. Like all stories, lives have a beginning, middle and end.   According to Taylor, endings provide an opportunity to work out the inherent possibilities of beginnings and the consequences of choices made in the middle. A good life, like a good novel, ends with a resolution.

At 66, I am interested in final scenes and in particular, how mine might play out. So let me tell you a story:

 As a kid growing up on the Sunshine Coast reading seemed as natural as breathing. Yes, we had television, but books offered both solitude and entertainment. I enjoyed Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, but for pure excitement, nothing beat the Black Stallion series.

Like many young girls, I yearned for a horse. Not just any horse, I wanted one like The Black – a loyal Arabian, sleek and strong. An impossible dream, unless a shipwrecked stallion swam ashore – which I selfishly wished for on many stormy nights.

One fall some friends and I scraped together enough money for an hour-long trail ride.  We arrived at the ranch full of girlish excitement, debating favorite horse breeds and colors.  When we saw the rental horses, our chatter stopped. Six skinny horses stood saddled and tethered with their heads hung low to the ground. None resembled the noble steeds conjured in our imaginations.

I took advantage of the moment and lay claim to the only black horse, which caused a girl fight – high-pitched yelling and name-calling. The ranch hand observed for a while before he stepped in with six straws in his fist. We knew the rules. I drew the short straw.

On the outward journey, disappointment grew. The horses lumbered. No amount of tongue clicking or rib kicking encouraged a faster pace.  Worse, they stopped to munch on grass at the trail’s edge while the rental clock ticked away our time. When we resorted to violence – using reins for whips – the nags sidestepped and kicked out with their hind legs. We stopped whipping, they resumed eating and moved on in their own time.

As we neared the turn-around point, the equine energy shifted. Heads lifted, eyes widened, ears swiveled forward and nostrils flared. The horses snorted, nickered and collectively picked up the pace.

When the team broke into a trot, we all cheered. Cheers turned to laughter when the trot morphed into smooth rocking canter. Laughter turned to screams, when the canter grew into a full-on gallop.  We yanked on the reins, yelled whoa and cursed. Nothing slowed them.

We arrived back at the ranch clinging to our saddle horns white-knuckled and white-faced. The ranch hand ambled over and patted one of the steaming beasts. Then he grinned at us and said, “Good ride girls?”

At this point, I wonder why I chose to begin with this story. You might ask the same question. In poetry, horses sometimes symbolize sexual energy such as in Dylan ThomasFern Hill. While subterranean impulses might be at work here, I doubt their energy is in the sexual realm.

Rather, the story speaks to me of wishes, disappointments, relationships and aging. At this moment, I choose to focus on aging:

  • The horses take their sweet time on the outward journey. My life is like that. I drag my feet. I procrastinate.
  • At the turning point, a sense of urgency arises. Going hell-bent for leather on the way home.

Nearing my own turning point, I also feel a sense of urgency. Time is too precious to waste. No more procrastination allowed. I commit to using the time left to create the best possible ending to my story so that: I return home white-knuckled, white-faced, and when asked, “Nice ride?” I reply, “It was golden.”

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Today I am taking a technological time-out. I need a break from the Net. Instead of powering up, I am powering down. No email, no twitter, no browsing the blogosphere, no checking the on-line polls to see how the US election is unfolding (here is fodder for another blog – why do I find American political dramas so fascinating).

Instead, I sit with a cup of tea and watch the morning open. A narrow streak of light lines the horizon like a pewter band and the night sky recedes. Silence fills me. All is well.

This feeling of ease, reminds me that once upon a time, I practiced transcendental meditation (TM). If you wonder why I stopped, the simple answer is lack of discipline or will power – laziness is the most accurate word (another blog, another time).

I look closely at myself these days and see as many weaknesses as wrinkles. There is still time to choose the right path but the hourglass is less than half-full.

I remember my mantra – my personal sound vibration. Today I use it.

It takes no more than a few minutes for the familiar prickling sensation – as if a sleeping part of me is awakening. Energy flows outward and I relax. Thoughts crowd in like kids wanting attention. I ignore them and drift. I am rudderless, a boat carried on ocean currents.  I want nothing – desire nothing except this lightness of being.

Now I am a child on my father’s gillnetter, the Heidi.  The surface of the sea, a smooth gunmetal blue, undulates as if alive. The anchored vessel sits low in the water heavy with the day’s catch. The boat rocks, ropes creak, and the sea slaps out a gentle rhythm. As the sun dips, the sky turns crimson and the ocean catches fire. The light infuses me. The boat, the ocean, the sky and I dissolve. We are the light.

The experience is brief but momentous. This is a reliving of a childhood event.  My mother, brother and sister are somewhere at the edge of the light. My father is nearby, gutting dogfish, retrieving the liver and tossing waste overboard. There is blood everywhere – on his hands, the boat and in the sea. Overhead gulls shriek and clamor then dive fighting for their share of the meal.

My ego with a strong attachment to the rational wants me to deny the experience and the memory. My spiritual self knows the child does not lie. I am with her when she slips through an earthly crack and escapes a moment of ugliness.

The Plugged in world is bigger than I can imagine. The Net is a gift that helps me to learn and grow intellectually and as a writer. Unplugged, I am able (if I choose) to learn and grow spiritually. I need both ego and spirit to find my voice. Help me Lord to balance my energies by embracing the gifts of these two worlds.

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My Computer and I

My computer and I have a complex relationship that reminds me of my first crush – an elementary school experience. Martin, a cute, aloof blond boy sometimes played nice but more often he ignored or teased me. My emotions swung between elation and misery faster than the senior girls switched boyfriends. Eventually I retaliated by breaking the nib on Martin’s favorite fountain pen. That might seem mild by today’s standards, but it felt delicious at the time. My computer sometimes evokes that violent side. Tempted as I am to throw the digital demon across the room, I hold back. I am, after all, mature enough to refrain from aggression – usually.

My present computer is an ASUS laptop about a year old. Do not ask me the size of its RAM, or for detail on its CPU or OS. Our relationship is not that intimate. ASUS is an elegant thing, slim as an athlete and much lighter than my bulky old Samsung model. But now I see smaller systems on the market: notebooks, tablets, netbooks, iPads. As I write, that list becomes outdated and I feel caught in a flood of technological turbulence.

If you are a digital native, you likely take your devices for granted. The promise of an upgrade or thought of a new device may even excite you. Not so for digital immigrants like me. When I was a child, television came with rabbit ears and screens the size of a microwave window.  When DVD players arrived on the scene, my husband and I had just become comfortable with our VCR. A few years ago, when I bought an early model iPhone, my 16-year old grandson did not welcome me into the new era with a high-five. Instead, he shook his head and said, “What a waste.” He knew most of the phone’s features would sit idle.

New devices and upgrades alternatively frighten or frustrate me. Just when I get comfortable, a digital newcomer arrives to remind me of my interloper status.  Yes my relationship with technology sucks. I admit that. So I have undertaken a review of my life with ASUS using five relationship stages.

The Honeymoon Stage is that starry-eyed period full of unlimited possibility.

For me, this phase lasts through the unpacking. Faced with a lifeless computer and a multitude of discs and instructions I call my daughter. She Who Sold Me the System tells me to take a Valium. She will set it up for me.

I curse my way throughout the Individuality Stage: Damn it I was sold a bill of goods.

Then I move on to the Stability Stage: I guess I am stuck with you. Nothing much happens here – like living in the doldrums – until my desire to write turns serious.

Then, I edge toward the Commitment Stage: Let’s pull together and make this thing work.

So, at the age of 65 I find myself enrolled in a course at Kwantlen Polytechnic University called “Writing for New Forms and Digital Media.” Every Wednesday I sit in a classroom with 20 other students – most of them not much older than my grandchildren. I soak up information on computer applications and their use in the creative writing world. But this is not a passive learning environment, students familiarize themselves with the new technology by engaging with it.

Recently I wrote my first tweet. My 18-year-old grandson is my first follower.

And this is my first blog.

The big news though? The more I engage with my computer and the digital world, the more my fondness for geekiness grows. Perhaps ASUS and I will make it to the Reconciliation Stage: I have chosen you for my growth.

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Lost Time

Our ability to adapt has no end to it, if we pay attention the appropriate response is at hand for every situation. Deepak Chopra, Creating Health, Beyond Prevention, Toward Perfection

Recently I sat in front of the television, drank three glasses of red wine in quick succession and ate a small feta-cheese pizza. Next came a bowl of potato chips, several ginger cookies, and chocolate – lots of it. This response to stress is familiar. Once upon a time such behavior felt shameful, but that reaction is old. Now, I am curious: Why do I prefer to poison my mind and my system, rather than attend to subconscious signals of alarm?

Martin Seligman offers a clue in his book What You Can Change and What You Can’t when he compares anxiety to the flashing of a car’s oil light. If we respond appropriately, the signal goes quiet. If we ignore it, the flashing light intensifies and we experience tension, worry and increased heart rate. Drinking and overeating acts as a dimmer switch that provides temporary relief from these symptoms.

Still, I wonder what is it about anxiety that stimulates an avoidance reaction. Dr. Chopra says it is a fear response based on thought patterns which have little to do with reality. In other words, what we think about the events in our lives is often more influential than the actual experience.

The precipitating event in my case, was my husband. Not him directly – he is a nice man – but an incident he experienced while walking on the beach. The day was lovely – fresh with salt and sunshine. He felt exhilarated until he got in the way of a group playing kick ball. When one young man complained, his friend said “Don’t worry about it, he’s just an old man.”

There was not a hint of threat to my husband. However, the beauty of the day dissolved like a mirage when he heard the words ‘old man.’ For the first time, he thought about his age and aging and what it might mean for him. That led us into a discussion about our lives and our dreams.

By definition we are seniors, but we do not think of ourselves as old. Both of us lead active lives and find enjoyment in what life brings our way. We travel, embrace learning, and enjoy new experiences. Yes, the mirror reflects our ages, but our attitudes remain young. Of course, our concept of youthful probably appears old-fashioned to the young. That brings me to my main point.

The students in my CRWR 1240 Course, Writing for New Forms and Media, speak a different language. They read Manga comic books, play foreign sounding online games, use Facebook like a private club and seem far more self-confident than I was at their age. They welcome me – that is not an issue at all – it is my increasing awareness of the passage of time that troubles me.

In particular, I wonder, what took me so long to find my way here and how do I make up for lost time.

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Hello world!

This blog is a course requirement for CRWR 1240,  Writing for New Forms and Media at Kwantlen University in Surrey, BC

Until I began CRWR 1240, the desire to develop my own website or write a blog seemed unattainable.

I googled the other day and registered a domain name. The first baby step taken toward building my own web page.

I have opened a Twitter account and began twittering in a tentative voice. My Grandson Justin became my first follower.

And now here I am. Blogging.

My blog focuses on learning from the perspective of a very, very mature student – with an emphasis on journeying into the digital world.

I hope to engage in conversations and share experiences with other digital immigrants as well as digital natives.

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