degrees of bilingual

I blame the seventies for any sense of inherent confusion I might possess. I was a teenager for much of that decade—a confusing enough time of life, but on top of that, and other mind-altering details floating freely about in those groovy days, it was when Canada went metric.

Here’s the question though: did we actually go metric… or did we more sort of ooze into it?  Either way, the point is this: by the time the eighties rolled around I was a functioning dysfunctional bilingual.

And in large part I remain so.

What I mean is that I’m not completely comfortable in all areas of metric, nor am I comfortable in all areas of whatever the other way is called. The miles and inches way.

For instance. I am five feet, seven inches tall. If you asked my weight I would tell you in pounds. [maybe…]

Area is measured in square feet. But fabric, in metres. The height of a tree or a building is metres also. Yet I have a ruler and a yard stick.

I know what the air feels like in Fahrenheit from about 60 degrees up. Below 60, I wouldn’t be sure what to wear. I’d need to know what it is in Centigrade.

I register all AIR temperature in Centigrade. But water temps only make sense to me in Fahrenheit.

With respect to distance, I can wrap my mind around a mile if pressed [it’s less than a kilometre, right? or more??], but, truthfully, I prefer the metric version. Even so, I say things like: we walked for miles; it may as well be a million miles away; you can see for miles…

Speed, also, must be in metric. I don’t know how fast 75 mph is except that a cab in St. Louis did it once and it wasn’t good.

A kilo has no weight at all. And ovens are in Fahrenheit for good reason.

I can process one litre easier than 1000 thingies but please don’t ask me to pour you anything in millilitres and if you refer to a gram I will ask Which one? Your mum’s side or your dad’s?


If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to measure it, is it still bigger than a breadbox?

If you remember the metric conversion era, you will remember breadboxes.

But I digress.

I blame the seventies.



pinning, pining and penning

So the other day I was repairing clothespins.

Because, yes, I hang my clothes on a line. Two lines, actually. In good weather, outside, on a circular thingy. And in bad weather, or in winter [for everything but sheets, which go outside year-round], a line in the basement. The clothespins I use are wooden, held together with an ingenious metal squiggly [there may be an even more technical name for it that I’m unaware of]. It delights me to what is probably an unusual degree that somewhere there is a factory making these tiny works of art, that they are still necessary and that [while they’re also made in plastic] for the most part they haven’t become scientifically enhanced, engineered or in some other way ‘improved’.

There are the dolly peg kind as well but I never got the hang of using them. As a child I was taught the art of laundry, using the wooden/metal squiggly kind and it would be like breaking rank… plus, to be honest, they annoy me because once they break it’s finito la musica… They can’t be repaired.

Unlike the avec metal-squiggly version.

Which brings me back to my point.

I was sitting at the kitchen table, fixing a basket of broken clothespins and thinking: well, this is pathetic. Shouldn’t I be doing something grander than this?? Shouldn’t I be at work on that next great novel, the one that will allow the world to continue turning? Shouldn’t I be penning brilliance of a poetic or opinionated nature, blazing trails in form and incomprehensible voices with short fiction, or hammering away at something entirely made up, like creative non? Shouldn’t I be painting? Or compiling something? At the very least, shouldn’t I move that bag of leaves to the compost?

And as much as logic wanted to say damn right, another part, much brighter than logic, kept insisting that, no, these clothespins were where it was at right now and that these few moments of tending to something so mundane were to be relished, that there was a gift in the seemingly ‘backwardness’ of this kind of work. I thought of my dad, a master of fixing things; he’d prefer that route any day to buying new, and it had nothing to do with saving money. It just pleased him to take the time to repair something. There was the satisfaction with the end product of course, but it occurred to me as I mended those pins that part of what he enjoyed may well have been the meditative quality of mindless but worthwhile tasks… the sort of thing we’ve gotten out of the habit of doing in our never-ending search for faster, better, easier, more—as we get sucked into thinking we don’t have time for this sort of thing in our clever-clever Jetson world—but if we’re honest we waste more than mere minutes doing a lot less of value… it’s just that we do it with things shinier than clothespins.

Anyway, the point [at last] is this: what a difference I felt once I allowed myself the luxury—a sliver of time to do this wee job—once I allowed myself the odd and simple pleasure of it rather than feeling I must always and forever be getting on to something more important…

Important being decidedly relative.


I keep trying to stuff my meditation into a time slot. On a zen tuffet. While decked out in pristine white yoga-wear.

I don’t even own yoga-wear.

No wonder it’s been so difficult.

Then this morning, as a nineteen year-old cat stretched on the rug and I in my bathrobe rubbed her tummy while Gregorian monks chanted on the stereo and a beeswax candle flickered on the mantle and the darkness outside was so dark I couldn’t even see the BBQ… I thought: this is meditation.

And so is making soup. Or spaghetti sauce. Curry. Anything with much chopping and stirring.

Even toast. There’s an art to it… it’s about the butter and jam ratio, honey if you’ve got it. It’s about thinking where that honey came from.

Changing the sheets, smelling that fresh-off-the-line smell in your bedroom [or fresh from anywhere smell is good too]. That crisp feeling when you get in under them. With a book. Early enough so you don’t fall asleep in five minutes. This is meditation.

Walking. With a letter to mail, or just to get a paper, a few lemons. Around the block. With a dog or alone. There’s ways of doing it like a chore, but what’s the point in that?

Walking through an art gallery.


Staring just a moment longer than usual at a painting, a squirrel, a plane passing by.

Cleaning. Chucking out the bits that no longer serve a purpose.

Conversation. Snow shovelling, weeding, sketching, collecting beach glass. Doing a crossword. Drinking tea, really drinking it, tasting it; doing nothing else for a moment but drinking tea… [I wouldn’t know, but this may also work with coffee]

Writing a letter, with a pen. Or a crayon.

Breathing. Just that, done well… this is meditation.

Looking up.

Paying attention.

Eyes open, or closed.

“The more I read, the more I meditate, and the more knowledge I acquire, the more I am enabled to affirm that I know nothing.” – Voltaire

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