26 February 2014


Steve meditating on the ontology of a walnut
I reached a milestone today: I was able to use "ontological" in a sentence. If you're going "Huh? Onto-what?", believe me, I know where you're coming from. That word has been the bane of my grad school existence. I've been telling myself that if I ever learned to use it in a sentence, I'd have arrived - and that day came today.

Then again - maybe not. I still haven't used "ontological" in a word combination of my own choosing, I'm just able to quote something someone else said, and actually understand what they're talking about. But that's a big step in the right direction, isn't it? It represents an ontological shift, for me. There, I did it, I did it! Except I'm not entirely sure that what I just said actually makes sense.

Okay, "ontological". What does it actually mean? The word kept cropping up early in my grad school experience, in philosophy readings and such. I kept looking it up to try to get a handle on it, but it still didn't really make sense. The definitions all say something like "Ontology: the study of being", and some go on much longer about it. And usually, when I encountered that word, that definition didn't really help me make any sense of what I was reading. But then, a while back, I was reading some folktale theory, and the word popped up in a context where I actually understood what they were saying (Score!). And then the other day, I ran across a book review on this blog which was talking about Brian Boyd's book On the Origin of Stories, and what Jenny was saying about it made me rush out (metaphorically - into cyberspace, anyway) to get a hold of this book, which was well worth it (I waffle on about it here).

What she said was this: according to Boyd, "people find stories most memorable when the characters of the stories cross ontological boundaries." Huh, you say? Well, here, let me explain, out of my new-found state of enlightenment. The passage in question in Boyd's book analyses Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who. Dr. Seuss constantly messes with our ideas of what's real - specifically, by creating these really weird creatures, with what animals are. We have a quite clear idea of animals' being, and he crosses that boundary and gives fish antlers or puts wheels on some critter. That's ontology - he is saying something about a state of being.

As for finding stories most memorable when the characters "cross ontological boundaries", that's what our fascination with fantasy stories is all about. Think about it: of the blockbuster movies of the last twenty years, probably some 80% (if not more) were fantasies. A neglected boy finds out he's really a wizard. An injured soldier finds himself on a planet of tall blue creatures. A group of small woolly-footed people team up with a wizard and elves to destroy an evil magical ring. (And so on.) We know what things are really like, we have a clear grip on the nature of being - and we love stories that cross those boundaries, that tell of an alternate state of being. Ontological boundaries.

So there you have it: Life, the Universe, and "Ontological" Used in a Sentence. Oh frabjous day, I have arrived.

21 February 2014

Olympic Hockey

Steve ready to cheer Canada in the Olympics
I don't give a rip about hockey. Oops, did I say that out loud? I might have just jeopardised my chances of ever getting Canadian citizenship. Oh, wait! Wait! Before you send me hate mail, delete the link to my blog, unfriend me on Facebook and refuse to ever speak to me again, hear me out.

It's true, I'm afraid - I don't care about hockey, and I really know nothing about it. But one thing I do know, and that's that Canadians care passionately about this game. I found out just how passionately four years ago, this very Sunday, during the Vancouver Winter Olympics 2010. The Man and I wanted to go for lunch, and we made the mistake of picking the local pub to get our eats. We got into the pub, and it was crowded - really crowded. Maple leaf motifs everywhere. And there was such a sense of excitement the air was practically crackling with it. We did get a seat, and then we realised that on the big TV screens there were guys on skates, and a big arena - that, in fact, they were winding up for the gold medal game, the final day, the BIG ONE - men's hockey, Canada vs. the USA (which tells you right there where our heads were at; we didn't even know it was on that day). I tell you, it was just a little scary. We were there early enough to be able to get our food and get out of there before the game started - slink out, rather. It would have been more than my life would have been worth to say out loud what I just said up top there; the crowd might have just torn me to pieces and fed me to the nearest coyotes. Besides, we knew our seats would get snapped up the minute we left. So we went home, and the Man and the offspring watched the game on TV - I went and had a nap, I'm afraid. But when I got up from my nap, I found out that Canada had, indeed, got the gold; at overtime, in a very dramatic play, no less.

And you know what? I was thrilled! I was so very, very excited. Not because the game means anything to me, but because the whole country erupted in celebration. All around me, people were ecstatic. The atmosphere of triumph, of victory, was fantastic. And it was EVERYWHERE. To have won the gold medal in Canada's sport on Canadian home soil - there was nothing like it. Canada was one big party zone that day. It was wonderful.

The 2010 Olympic Flame coming through our little town
I might not care about the game, but I care about the people who care about the game - so I guess, in a sense, I do care about hockey, after all. I care because others care. I care because I live in Canada, and Canada cares about hockey. I'm actually quite nervous about the game that is being played as I write this, Canada vs. the US in the semi-finals. I'm not watching it, because, other than the fact that I really don't know what's going on on the ice, I find the tension hard to handle. There are too many people to whom this matters so very much. As for the men's gold medal game on Sunday, I'll be sure to stay out of the pub. I might just stay off the internet, too, until it's over - just tell me who won afterwards, will you? If it's gold for Canada, I'll be very happy.

Canada is terribly passionate about hockey - my boys got to watch yesterday's women's gold medal game in school, one in math class, the other in the school theatre on the big screen while they were supposed to have gym class. I ask you, what other country would put their high school classes on hold so they could watch a sports game? Canucks have their priorities.

Life, the Universe, and Olympic Hockey. I guess I'm a hockey fan by proxy.

15 February 2014


So it was Valentine's Day yesterday. E. L. Bates of StarDance Press just posted a really great little story about it, how she had hurt herself, and her husband just took over and did small, unromantic, utterly loving things for her (like wash the dishes). That, people, is love. Never mind the chocolates and roses - although they're all good in their place, too; I'm very fond of chocolates and roses. But nothing says "Love" like the washing machine that got fixed (again), or the flood from the burst pipe in the basement which is cleaned up without a murmur, even though it's 2:00 AM and the person in question is sick with a cold.

Valentine's Day is all fine and dandy. I love celebrations, they're wonderful. But I think for the most part this particular special day has totally got out of hand. I saw an ad on an online bookseller's website last week, adjuring the site visitors to surprise their Valentine with a $150 newly-released tablet-style ebook reader. Say what?

And then, someone else pointed out that Valentine's Day is the day of year which most hammers home the singleness of those who are NOT in a romantic relationship, or, conversely, reminds those who are in a less-than-glamorous one of just how unfulfilled they are. I remember some years ago a single woman going on a trip to Mexico, and stating that since she didn't have a husband to take her on those kinds of trips, she had to take herself. She seemed to feel that she was in need of an excuse for doing that. At that point I had been married for about ten years, and the number of times my husband had taken me on a trip to a resort in a tropical location was, umm, rather small - to be precise, nil. But that didn't impact the quality of our relationship in the slightest, and it still hasn't.

See, Valentine's Day seems to be above all an occasion for feeding completely unrealistic ideas of what "Love" is all about. If you haven't got a man who gives you flowers, chocolates, expensive ebook reader tablets, and takes you out to dinner in a fancy restaurant or on a trip to the tropics, you're obviously missing out, you poor thing. Yes, that's me, too; I've been missing out for decades now. I even had to buy my own ebook reader a few years ago, and it wasn't even on Valentine's Day.

You know what we did for Valentine's yesterday? We didn't go out for dinner, because our usual Friday-night-date-location, the local pub, was having some kind of Valentine's party going on. Too much fuss for our tastes. So we stayed home with the people we love - our kids - had homemade pizza (which is very loved around here) and chocolate cake with raspberries and ice cream (more love), and watched The Princess Bride. Oh so romantic. We didn't even talk about the movie afterwards, but I'm sure our marriage won't suffer for that omission. We spent plenty of time during the movie tearing it to pieces, though; it's such an eminently mockable film. Great fun.

Love isn't about flowers, chocolates and ebook readers. It's not even about the romantic, sexual relationship between two adults. Of course, that's a really important part of it, and it's a part that ought to be celebrated, shouted from the rooftops. But it's not what the sellers of ebook tablets and confectionery would have us believe. Love looks very different from those glittering stereotypes we are presented with in the media. Love is about people - husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, friends.

Do I like romance? You bet I do. Dyed-in-the-wool romantic, that's me. And I like flowers and chocolates and romantic movies and dinner dates, too ("Aaaas yooooou wiiiiiiish!"). Lovey-dovey mush is the best thing ever (I'm a total sucker for weddings, for one). But I know that when it comes down to it, what matters is doing the dishes for the other person, and fixing that dryer, and baking them a pizza because that's their favourite. And picking up your socks because they've told you that it irritates them when you leave them lying about. That's Love, and that's what we need to celebrate on Valentine's Day.

Life, the Universe, and Valentine's Day. Mine was lovely - how about yours?

09 February 2014

Fabulatherapy, Take Two

A friend on Facebook just posted a link to an article and little Youtube clip: "Movie-and-Talk: Can This Simple Exercise Help Save a Marriage?" In a word? Yes.

Researchers at the University of Rochester put married couples into different therapy groups. Two of the groups received more intensive, skills-based therapy (two different kinds), in one group the couples just watched relationship movies with each other and afterwards talked about them, and the control group did nothing. The study was carried out over three years, at the end of which the researchers found that the "do nothing" group had twice the divorce rate of the other three groups. But the exciting thing about this study is this: just watching movies together and talking about them was just as effective in keeping couples together as intensive, costly marriage counselling.

You see, it's yet another instance of Fabulatherapy, that word I coined  a year ago to describe how Story can help us deal with our lives. In that instance, it was dealing with bibliotherapy, reading books to help you cope with depression. Maybe this form of marriage therapy should be called cinematotherapy? Regardless, it's engaging with stories that makes the difference - Fabulatherapy.

The researcher who talks about this study on that Youtube clip speculates that it's not the movie-watching itself which makes the difference in couples' lives, but the talking about it afterwards. I beg to differ (somewhat). Watching a movie means to immerse oneself in the story. For the hour or two that you're watching, you ARE the person on screen, you experience what they experience, and you learn from it. In watching it with someone else, and talking about it afterwards, you synchronise your experience, and the learning that comes from it. Yes, the talking is important, but I think it's the movie itself that makes the greatest impact.

This is a beautiful example of the Power of Story (and one that's verified with fancy terminology, statistics, N=174, and a write-up in APA's PsycNET, no less). Fiction has incredible power over our lives. From personal experience, I can tell you that one of the biggest factors in the success of a marriage is to have witnessed the functional marriage of one's parents. When you have seen a marriage work, when you have experienced a couple who argues, does not always agree with each other, has weird quirks and irritating habits, and still stays together, reconciles after the arguments, and above and in spite of all deeply loves one another, you have an invaluable toolbox for making your own marriage work. (For the most part, on average. It's not an unfailing guarantee, of course, but it means you're quite far ahead of the game.) It's having experienced it, having seen it - that's what counts.

In daily life, we don't see how marriages work at home - I'm sure I'm not the only one who has been caught by complete surprise at the divorce of couples who, by all outer appearances, seemed to be doing perfectly well. We don't show our squabbles in public. So you have to be on the inside, so to speak, have to watch a couple in their home, in order to see how marriage really works. And the beauty of Story, of fiction, is that it allows us to go on the inside like that without having to intrude on our friends' privacy ("Hey, Joe and Martha, you seem to have a good marriage going. Do you mind if I park myself in your living room for the next month and listen to you when you're fighting, so I can learn how it's done? I promise to shut my eyes when you get too lovey-dovey." Uh, no. I don't think so.). We can watch a relationship, we can learn from others' mistakes and what they did right, just by popping a movie into the DVD player (or finding it on Netflix, more like) - just by engaging with a story. And that story, even if it is entirely fictional, can help us on our own lives, can teach us what we need to learn to make things work for ourselves.

Now I want to watch that movie with Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney that they showed a clip of in that Youtube video. And there was one with Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy that looked interesting, too. Or maybe I'll just go to my own DVD shelves - there is Shrek 2, all about making a new marriage work and making compromises for each other, or My Big Fat Greek Wedding, about making a relationship work in the midst of a great big extended family, or...

Life, the Universe, and Movies for Marriage. Fabulatherapy at its finest.

06 February 2014


In honour of the Russian Olympics, I thought I'd cook me a pot of borscht. Well, actually, no, it's not in honour of the Olympics at all, it's in honour of the fact that I found a borscht recipe I really like and I wanted some. I hadn't really ever made borscht before that one, as the man and most of the offspring wouldn't be into eating it; but I'm on a bit of a food emancipation kick - I want to try new stuff, particularly new vegetable dishes - so I made some. A friend who happened to come by that day ate a bowlful and declared it good borscht, and as she's of Ukrainian extraction, I feel this soup has received the stamp of approval.

The issue with making anything that involves beets is, of course, that it requires some pre-planning. You can't just stick your head in the fridge half an hour before you want to eat, and go "Oh, there's some beets, let's make something with them" - they take far too long to cook for that. However, cooking them is really easy, and they keep cooked in the fridge for quite some time, so you can pre-cook them one day, and do your spontaneous borschting later in the week. To cook, just wash them off, dump them in a big pot, cover with water, put them on to boil, and bubble-bubble-toil-and-trouble for about an hour (depending on how fat they are - I don't think you really can overcook beets, so better longer than shorter. Poke the biggest one with a sharp knife, and if the knife slides in easily, they're done.). Drain them, let them cool (I fill up the pot again with cold water just to cool them off, because I'm too impatient to wait for them to cool on their own), and peel them. Peeling beets is funny - when they're well-cooked, they slip right out of the skin, with sort of a sloosh kind of noise. I'd highly recommend wearing an apron and/or clothes you don't care that much about, as your hands and the sink and everything around it will look like a bloodbath (I suppose it is, too - beet blood. Muahahahah!).

Okay, now you've got your beets cooked. So here's the recipe (I got it from the More-With-Less Cookbook by Doris Janzen Longacre, which was the first cookbook I bought myself after I was married. If you can get a hold of that book, I highly recommend it. No, you can't have my copy; it's falling apart, anyway.)

Quick Beet Borsch (they spell it without the t. Apparently you can also spell it borshch, which is closer to the Ukrainian/Russian pronunciation. But it looks weird that way.)

1 c cabbage, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
2 c water
cook 10 minutes. Add:
2 c stock or broth
2 medium beets, cooked and chopped
1/2 c beet juice (I leave that out)
1/2 t salt
dash pepper
1 T lemon juice.
bring to a boil, serve with sour cream.

Which is exactly what I'm going to do right now - serve it. Even if it's just to myself.

Life, the Universe, and Borscht. Do they have cookoffs in the Olympics?