Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Christmas 2004 and New Year's 2005

The really, really loud music from the dance show
finally stopped, and now I'm only contending with the
moderately loud music and real-time fighting games
played by the kids sitting near me. I'm sitting in a
sauna's internet cafe, paying a lot more per minute
than most internet cafes, and feeling quite mellow,
thanks to having just soaked in hot and cold water.

I've reached the point in my contract where the light
at the end of the tunnel is getting quite a bit
brighter, and I don't mind that a bit; soon I'll get
to that mellow stage where nothing can phase me
anymore, the stage where I walk around all day as if
I'd just woken up, and I answer everything anybody
says to me with "No worries, pal!"

We have a CD player in the staff room, so all is well,
as long as I can put on some music during the five
heartbeat (I mean five minute) pause (not long enough
to qualify as an actual break) between classes, and
listen to a song. I've nicknamed the CD player "My
job satisfaction", because really, I'm just that easy
to please. There's a selection of music in the CD
wallet I leave at work that's varied enough that I'll
have songs ready to start me up (Led Zeppelin, Yeah
Yeah Yeahs), slow me down (Norah Jones, Nick Drake),
give me something new on my mind (Miles Davis, Glenn
Gould), take me out into left field (Flaming Lips,
Havalina Rail Co.) or just plain make me feel good
(Cat Stevens, Beach Boys, Prince). Seeing as the
break is exactly one song long, I'm set. Nothing bugs
me, as long as there are tunes -- even the new
Kindergarten teacher who made defamatory statements
about Mother Theresa's politics ("she should have
built a hospital -- why did she go and send all that
money to the vatican?"), or questioning the historical
existence of the prophet Mohammed (who led a conquest
during his life, and whose line of heirs were/are(?)
Islam's leaders for centuries). Whatever. It's all
good. She's just trying to start a conversation, and
sometimes it's fun to take her bait, if you can still
hear over the sound of Joe (the guy sitting on the
other side of me), grinding his teeth in annoyance.
(He isn't fond of her shocking statement converstaion

Whatever. It's all good. No worries, pal!

Happy New Year.

As most of you know, I spent Christmas in BC (Agassiz
specifically, with brief forays into Langley,
Chilliwack, Vancouver, Harrison Hot Springs, and a
mountainside near my home). This was an excellent
thing. The doctors have given mom about 4-6 months,
(but we don't say things like "Last Christmas
Together" out loud, 'cos that makes the egg nog and
almond rings taste a little bitter, or at least
bittersweet, and who's cutting onions in the other
room again?). We had some amazing moments of family
closeness reflecting on the last year, making
Oliebollen (dutch new-years treats deep-fried in oil),
cooking a turkey, wandering around Harrison Hot
Springs, and driving all over the Fraser Valley in
units of three or four.

Of course, as with any family, seven days of family
closeness was. . . well, tiring -- everybody was
totally beat by the end of it, but it was great.

My nephew kept wanting to hug me so hard I fell over,
"Tio Rob. Do you have a squish for me today?" and my
niece wanted to shout "NO" at me every time I spoke to
her (which her father asked me, rightfully, to
discourage. I did my best); she would also blink at
me rather than make other funny faces. She was really
sweet and affectionate to my brother Dan, though -- I
smiled to see her run towards his legs as if he were a
magnet and she a paperclip begging to be picked up.
I'm continually impressed at how reasonable my
sister's kids are -- they respond amazingly well to
reasoned and calm explanation of why you can't play
that game, or why you won't give him the plastic
hammer until he says he's sorry for hitting your. . .
um . . . lap . . . with it. (didn't actually happen.)
If you tell them to play nicely, they actually DO!

Deb and Brad were in and out, being the closest to
home in Langley (an hour away), but the dinner table
is never full without the laughs Deb brings to it, and
the planned zaniness of things like no-utensil
spaghetti meals and cream pie fights. Dan remains the
funniest person I know, and also the one who
understands me best in the world -- the one who'd know
all the secrets. The midnight cigars and frigid walks
and drives are something I'd never trade for anything.
His fiance Caryn. . . let's just say I can't wait for
her to be my sister. She fit into the family
amazingly well. Her first ENTIRE WEEK (wow) with the
entire family totally exhausted her (of course -- a
new family is like a new culture, and culture shock is
exhausting, whether it's national or familial), but
she stood up amazingly well, and I think everyone in
the family has really warmed up to her, since seeing
her in all the different contexts and situations that
come up in a whole week together.

Two of my uncles came out as well -- it was great to
see them, too, and I love those people, and two of my
nearest and dearest also came out to see me, and that
put a big old smile on my face, too.

On the Tuesday, my sister bought some whipped cream
and whipped egg-whites, and we had a cream pie fight,
where we pull names out of a hat and throw cream pies
in our family's faces. I aksidentaly got some craem
in my fase (bad for the allergies) instead of just egg
wite (and the spelling in this passage is a clue as to
who perpetrated this cream-smearing). Some got in my
eye, which irritated my eye, and had me worried that
I'd have pink eyes for. . . the family pictures later
that afternoon. Yes, we got family pictures. They
were great -- we got some amazing pictures of everyone
in the family, and especially some real keepers of my
wonderful mom. I can't wait to see the copies.

As you know, I'll be coming back to Canada in March to
take care of my family and see my brother properly
married. We'll be apart for a while, but I'm working
hard now on establishing solid roots for our
relationship, and positive patterns of trust and
communication, so that we're equipped to deal with a
time apart. Francois Duc de Rochefoucauld once said

"Absence lessens the small loves and increases the
great ones, as the wind blows out a candle and blows
up a bonfire."

(I'm not actually THAT smart: I looked that quote up
on the internet so I could use it.) So my work right
now is to make sure that the flame is big enough
before I leave that the absence will increase it,
rather than extinguish it. Talking to my friend
Melissa, who had a long absence in the middle of HER
courtship with her wonderful now-husband, made me feel
a lot better about this.

(the now, retroactively renamed Exgirlfriendoseyo and I celebrated an anniversary this weekend
at a FANCY restaurant, taking pictures together at a
photo studio (quite nice ones), and eating lamb and
steak in a restaurant overlooking Seoul at night.
Every time I see her it's better than the time

Anyway, before I make you all ill with my mushy talk,
I'll move on to other topics.

As when news came out that Matthias has muscular
dystrophy, and the sweet people in church showed their
concern by asking, weekly, "How's your nephew,"
despite the fact muscular dystrophy is a disease that
will take about 20 years to finish its process, now,
well-meaning students continually ask about my mom,
and I have to say, several times a day, "still sick."
This situation requires tact and discretion more than
anything else, as much as the first instinct is to be
surly and say "please don't bring that up right now"
or to look for the nearest exit. I'm doing my best.

It's an interesting aspect of human nature that, even
when your situation is difficult, you can still find
what one coworker calls "the little v's" -- the small
victories. He's a smoker, so for him, every smoke,
and ever cup of coffee make his day a little better.
Little things can totally change one's perspective --
people caught on desert islands probably spend as much
time wishing for a toothbrush as wishing for an
emergency transmitter. My little victories are not
cigarettes and cups of coffee, but times my students
crack me up, the five minute conversations with my
girlfriend during lunch and long breaks, getting a
message on my phone, getting e-mails, and being
cracked up by Matt and the others in the staff room.
Long hot showers. Saunas. Cold winter air that wakes
me up. The smell of Exgirfriendoseyo's hair. Matt's loud
laugh. Cindy (in Kindergarten) absently taking and
holding my hand during class. And if I can play music
in the staff room at break time too, well, I'm
laughing my way home at night. Optimism and,
moreover, contentment/happiness, just like holiness,
awareness, fitness, and punctuality, are not so much
conditions as disciplines, and I'm learning how to be
in the habit of happiness.

Take care my wonderful peoples. I hope all of you are
in the habit of happiness and optimism.

Rob Ouwehand