Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Centenarian! October 11, 2014

Filed under: anecdotes,Commentary — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:18 pm
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Dad’s 93rd birthday

My father’s 100th birthday is being celebrated at our Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow, though there are still 2 weeks until the official day.  (Yes, I was a late in life baby). 🙂

Dad was born in Montreal in 1914.  He had two older brothers, but he was the only one to survive to adulthood.  He remembers the soldiers returning from World War One.  He was run over by a (new!) Model T Ford when he was 3.  He was an active member of Boy Scouts and saw Lord and Lady Baden-Powell when they visited North America in 1935.

He worked for Burroughs-Wellcome Pharmaceuticals in the 30s. During WW2, he tried to enlist, but they refused him, because the doctor heard a heart murmur.  He built aircraft at Fairchilds in Longueuil, instead.  In the 50s, he and a friend came to Vancouver and started Maco Industries, a building supply wholesaler.  For the next forty years he worked for them, retiring finally around 70.

He was married twice.  He had 3 adopted sons with his first wife who had tuberculosis and couldn’t have children.  His second wife brought 3  children into the marriage, they had one biological child (me!).

He was an avid tennis player and table tennis player.  He was playing tennis into his 70s.  He was still playing table tennis when legally blind, into his 80s.  He couldn’t see the ball, but he could see the shape of his opponent’s paddle, and knew where the ball would be.  He walked several kilometers each day until his 90s.

Dad never passes a children’s drink stand without buying a cup.

For entertainment at his party tomorrow, I’m looking for questions for an Ask a Centenarian! event.

Here’s your chance.  Leave a question in the comments, and we’ll ask him.  If technology allows, we may even film him responding to your questions.  If there are quite a few, I’ll keep asking over the next few weeks during the season of his birthday festivities.

So– what would you like to ask?



Bio: Crystal Visions of Rainbows April 17, 2013

At the Vernon Writers’ Conference this past weekend, author Patricia Donahue encouraged participants to create biographies for our characters.  She uses cards for this purpose and makes point form notes.  I decided to explore ‘background info’ on the character of Christie by letting her speak for herself.  This won’t be in a book, but it tells us interesting things about her, and how she got her job watching Grace.  Enjoy!


My name is Crystal Visions of Rainbows.

It’s stupid.  I know. 

On the first day of kindergarten everyone laughed at me when they heard it.  Everyone except Grace.  She came and sat beside me on the circle time carpet and whispered, “That’s the prettiest name I ever heard.”  I adored her from that moment, of course.

As I’m sure you can imagine, anyone who names her kid Crystal Visions of Rainbows is a hippy.  Free love.  Peace not war.  Tie dye and joints.  Yup.  My mother.  Her real name was Martha Grimes but she changed it to Earth Helper.  Sometimes it is an absolute mortification to have parents.  

She did one good thing, though.

One day, in her communing with the goddess through some psychedelic haze, she got me a job.  I was assigned to watch Grace. 

Watching, in this case means knowing who Grace’s friends are, how she’s feeling about things, and helping her out in simple ways.  In other words, I was hired to be her best friend.  I would have been her best friend, anyway.  Theoretically I’m paid for this, but I don’t know if it’s in drachmas, gold, or good karma.  Mother looks after the finances and any of those would be good enough currency for her. Myself, I don’t ask.

My brother Shane is lucky.  Somehow he was excused from the expectation that he be a flower child.  Shane (birth name, Sky Rider) is now aiming to be a corporate lawyer.  Mother rolls her eyes, and is relieved when he assures her that he votes Green.  It’s a small consolation. 

With his abdication of the family burden to save the world, all the weight of expectation falls on me.  Hence the bargain with a goddess.

When I was about twelve, I decided that my mom had been hallucinating the whole thing, and I put my foot down.  No more spying on my best friend and leaving written reports in the silver bowl on the dining room table.  There’d be no more of this crap about goddesses and duty and obligation.

But then the goddess showed up and introduced herself, and what could I do?

It was Friday after school.  I was going to be meeting Grace in a couple of hours, so we could go see a movie.   I walked in the door and there was this woman sitting in my living room.

My mother was nowhere to be seen.  Shane was at some debating practice at school.  I froze.

“Who are you?  What are you doing in my house?”

She smiled and extended a beautifully manicured hand, “Hello.  You must be Crystal Vision of Rainbows.”

I scowled. “My name is Christie.”  I didn’t take her hand.

“Have a seat.” She indicated the chair opposite the one she’d been in.  “We need to talk.”

I crossed my hands and stared at her.  “I don’t think we do,” I’d said, and turned to leave.  I was going to the neighbours to call the police.  I took a step forward and froze, my right foot stuck in the air.  I couldn’t move.

“Actually,” she drawled, “we will.  Have a seat, child.”

Completely against my will, my body pivoted and carried me to the chair.  “Hey!”  I tried to fight it, but I had absolutely no control.  “Who are you!  What are you doing!”  My hands folded themselves demurely on my lap.  Inside I was thrashing, but outside I was quiet and calm.  It was like being wrapped in an invisible strait jacket. 

“Crystal Visions of Rainbows, I am pleased to meet you at last.  I am Aphrodite.”

I gaped at her.  “The Aphrodite?”

She inclined her perfectly coiffed head in assent.  “The Aphrodite.  Your mother told you about me, of course?”

“I read,” I grunted.  Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love (beautiful, vain, used to getting what she wanted) was sitting in my living room in a perfectly tailored, spotless white suit.  Her hair was twisted into a chignon.  Scarlet toe nails peeped from shoes made of satin brocade.  No blouse was visible; the suit jacket displayed her cleavage in suggestive, if not provocative, style.

She nodded, “Very good.  You know that you have been in my employ for several years.”

I started to speak but she raised her hand, and my mouth wouldn’t open.

“Your work the past few years,” she continued, “has been exemplary, and I have been pleased with your efforts.  Recently, however, I have observed that you are growing dissatisfied with our agreement.  This is not acceptable.  You have an obligation.  You must follow through with it.”

I tried to speak, but it doesn’t really work when your jaw is clamped tightly closed.

She flicked her index finger through the air and my body returned to me.  “Speak,” she said imperiously.

“She is my friend.  I don’t want to spy on her.  What will she say when she knows that her best friends is spying on her!  She’ll hate me!”

Aphrodite nodded, “Very likely.  What would you feel like if she were to die because you were not spying on her.  Would that be better?”  Her brows were raised in calm inquiry.

“What?”  I stared at her.  “That’s ridiculous.”

“It is not.  Why would we have someone watching her if she were not in danger?  You are a key reason she is still alive, and make no mistake, the older Grace is, the more danger she is in.”

“Really?” I squeaked.

She inclined her head.  “Your job is vital to Grace’s survival.  Are you enough of a friend to keep her safe, even if it is a secret that you are doing so?”

“What’s so important about her?”  Grace was just a regular kid.  Uncoordinated, silly, crushes on boys, not great at PE, not great at music, not great at math, but good enough at everything, and pleasant enough that she got along with everyone, kids and adults alike.

“If I told you, I would have to kill you,” Aphrodite deadpanned.

Or maybe she was serious.

At my incredulous look she laughed daintily, in a contained, fake sort of titter.  “She is important to me.  I would like her alive.  Your job is to continue to file reports through your mother…  What?”  She’d intercepted my rolled eyes and tilted her head.  “You don’t trust your mother?”

“My mother is a nut job.”  I love her, but she is.  She’s into all the quackery of tarot cards, crystal gazing, tuning into her qi, and all that.  She’s fervent, and loving, and fun, but she’s a nut.

“Your mother is attuned to me.  It is not your place to question your mother’s role in this.  Your place is to obey, and in so doing, to keep your friend alive.  Can I trust you to return to your duty?”

“Yes, ma’am,” I said quietly, looking down at my feet.

“Excellent.  I look forward to your next report, Crystal Views of Rainbows.”

“My name is…”

“Yes.  I know.  Do you understand the power of your name?  You see clearly.  You divide simple facts into a spectrum of understanding, like a crystal divides colours into a spectrum, or rain divides light into a rainbow.  You see beauty and create beauty.  Your name is a declaration of your true self.  You should not deny it.”

I sighed.  “Can’t you call me Christie?”

She laughed that contained titter again.  “If I remember.  We are in agreement, then? You will report?”

I nodded.

“Very good.  Farewell then.”  She rose in an elegant unfolding, stepped into the centre of my living room, and (I swear to god!) vanished in a slice of light, as if she’d stepped through a curtain from a dark room into a brilliant one.

I sat staring at the spot.  I was twelve, but I suddenly felt as if I’d grown up.  I was doing great and important things, even if no one else knew about them.  I was a hero, keeping my best friend safe.  I smiled to myself and inclined onto the couch, pondering what else my mother might be right about.


(As a bonus, I can count this in CampNaNoWriMo word count.  I’m in desperate need of the 1200 words!  I have been seriously distracted by poetry this month).


What’s the point of fashion, anyway? October 13, 2012

Fashion matters because every day people get up in the morning and, with the palette of clothes they find in their closets and dressers, they attempt to create a visual poem about a part of themselves they wish to share with the world. 

J.J. Lee.  Measure of a Man. p. 53

I was raised by a mother who loved fashion and filled her basement with fabric, patterns and notions.  She crafted beautiful garments, and rarely threw anything out.  Which meant when we moved her from Kelowna here to Salmon Arm, we moved eight closets full of her clothes, and a hundred or so pairs of shoes.  It also meant that Vogue magazine was a staple in our house, and that I grew up with a keen eye on clothes.

J. J. Lee wrote his biography of his father within the context of his time as an apprentice tailor.  His father’s suit provided an exploration of the suit as symbol and metaphor in his own life, but also in the life of all men.  Clothing makes the man, and he was trying to figure out the man the clothing made.

I love his expression of fashion as a visual poem.  It’s very accurate.  Our clothes give the message we wish to send to the world on any particular day.  Whether it’s laid back casual with jeans and a Tshirt or cute and quirky with a hat, bright tunic and leggings, we say something about ourselves.  But we don’t wear the same thing every day, just as we wouldn’t write the same poem every day.

Every day we adorn ourselves to be a visual poem.

I like that.


soul vs a woman July 7, 2012

I’m transcribing the text of Life of Petrarch by Susanna Dobson (1777).  This day’s words offer a fascinating view of Petrarch’s hopeless devotion.  He climbs Mt. Ventoux with his brother, has a profound spiritual awakening, and determines to avoid Laura and the distraction his affections for her have on his spiritual devotion.  Laura, who has sedulously avoided him for nearly a decade, is alarmed at this change in his behaviour to her, and with a few words of attention, sucks him right back to her feet where he belongs.  lol.  I have to say, this section seemed rather familiar.  Obviously, men and women have not changed much in six hundred years!  

Here is the passage.  In brackets are the page numbers in my original 1777 copy of this work.  (sic) indicates a verbatim spelling from the original.  I have switched ‘f’ to ‘s’ in words as required (to avoid lines like “he attempted the moft diftant expreffion”), but otherwise have kept all spelling,capitalization, and punctuation as it is in the original.

An imagined view of Petrarch and Laure, which looks to be set at Fontaine de Vaucluse.

THIS year, in 1336, at the end of April, Petrarch, always curious and eager to see new objects, took a journey to Mount Ventoux.  This is one of the highest mountains in Europe, and having a few (104) hills near it so lofty as to intercept the prospect, it presents from its summit a more extensive view than can be seen from the Alps or the Pyrennees.  Petrarch gives this account of his journey in a letter to father Dennis:

“HAVING passed my youth in the province of Venaisson, I have always desire to visit a mountain which is described from all parts, and which is so properly called the mountain of the winds.  I sought a companion for this expedition; and, what will appear singular, among the number of friends that I had, I met with none quite suited to my mind: so true it is, that is is rare to find, even among persons who love one another the best, a perfect conformity in taste, inclination, and manner of thinking.  One appeared to me too quick, another too slow; I found this man too lively, the other too dull; there is one, said I to myself, too tender and too (105) delicate to sustain the fatigue; there is another too fat and too heavy, he can never get up so high; in fine, this is too petulant and noisy, the other too silent and melancholy.  All these defects, which friendship can support in a town and in a house, would be intolerable on a journey.  I weighted this matter, and finding that those whose society would have pleased me, either had affairs which prevented them, or had not the same curiosity as myself, I would not put their complaisance to the proof.  I determined to take with me my brother Gerard, whom you know.  He was very glad to accompany me, and felt a sensible joy in supplying the place of a friend as well as a brother.”

“WE went from Avignon to Malaucene, which is at the foot of the mountain on the North side, where we slept the night, and reposed ourselves the whole of the next day.  The day after, my (106) brother and myself, followed by two domestics, ascended the mountain with much trouble and fatigue, though the weather was mild and the day very fine.  We had agility, strength, and courage; nothing was wanting; but this mass of rocks is of a steepness almost inaccessible.  Towards the middle of the mountain we found an old shepherd, who did all he could to divert us from our project.  It is about fifty years ago, said he, that I had the same humour with yourselves; I climbed to the top of the mountain, and what did I get by it?—My body and my cloaths (sic) torn to pieces by the briars, much fatigue and repentance, with a firm resolution never to go thither again.  Since that time I have not heard it said that any one has been guilty of the same folly.”

“YOUNG people are not to be talked out of their schemes.  The more the shepherd exaggerated the difficulties of (107) the enterprise, the stronger desire we felt to conquer them.  When he saw that what he said had no effect, he shewed us a steep path along the rocks; that is the way you must go, said he.”

“AFTER leaving our cloaths and all that could embarrass us, we began to climb with inconceivable ardour.  Our first efforts, which is not uncommon, were followed with extreme weakness: we found a rock, on which we rested some time: after which we resumed our march; but it was not with the same agility; mine slackened very much.  While my brother followed a very steep path which appeared to lead to the top, I took another which was more upon the declivity.  Where are you going? cried my brother with all his might; that is not the way, follow me.  Let me alone, said I, I prefer the path that is the longest and the easiest.  This was an excuse for my weakness.  I wandered for some time at (108) the bottom; at last shame took hold of me, and I rejoined my brother, who was set down to wait for me.  We marched one before another some time, but I became weary again, and sought an easier path; and at last overwhelmed with shame and fatigue, I stopped again to take breath.  Then abandoning myself to reflection, I compared the state of my soul, which desires to gain heaven, but walks not in the way to it; to that of my body which had so much difficulty in attaining the top of Mount Ventoux, notwithstanding the curiosity which caused me to attempt it.  These reflections inspired me with more strength and courage.”

“MOUNT VENTOUX is divided into several hills, which rise one above the other; on the top of the highest is a little plain, where we seated ourselves on our arrival.”  (109)

“STRUCK with the clearness of the air, and the immense spaces I had before my eyes; I remained for some time motionless and astonished.  At last waking from my reverie, my eyes were insensibly directed toward the fine country to which my inclination always drew me.  I saw those mountains covered with snow, where the proud enemy of the Romans opened himself a passage with vinegar, if we may believe the voice of fame: thought they are at a great distance from MountVentoux, they seemed so near that one might touch them.  I felt instantly a vehement desire to behold again this dear country, which I saw rather with the eyes of the soul than those of the body: some sighs escaped me which I could not prevent, and I reproached myself for a weakness I could have justified by many great examples.

“RETURNING to myself again, and examining more closely the state of my soul; (110) I said, It is near ten years, Petrarch, since thou hast quitted Bologna: what change in thy manners since that time!  Not yet safe in port, I dare not view those tempests of the mind with which I feel myself continually agitated.  The time will perhaps come, when I may be able to say with St. Augustine; if I retrace my past errors, those unhappy passions that overwhelmed me, it is not because they are still dear, it is because I will devote myself to none but thee my God.  But I have yet much to do.  I love, but it is a melancholy love.  My state is desperate.  It is that which Ovid paints so strongly in that well-known line;”

“I cannot hate, and I am forced to love!”

“IF, said I, thous shouldst live ten years longer, and in that time make as much progress in virtue; wouldst thou not be able to die with a more assured hope?  Abandoned to these reflections, I (111) deplored the imperfection of my conduct, and the instability of all things human.”

“THE sun was now going to rest, and I perceived that it would soon be time for me to descend the mountain.  I then turned towards the West, when I sought in vain that long chain of mountains which separatesFranceandSpain.”

“NOTHING that I knew of hid them from my sight, but nature has not given us organs capable of such extensive views.  To the right I discovered the mountains of the Lyonnaise, and to the left the surges of the Mediterranean, which batheMarseilleson one side, on the other dash themselves in pieces against the rocky shore.  I saw them very distinctly, though at the distance of several days journey.”

“THE Rhone glided under my eyes; the clouds were at my feet.  Never was (112) there a more extensive variegated and inchanting (sic) prospect!  What I saw rendered me less incredulous of the accounts of Olympus, and mount Athos, which they assert to be higher than the regions of the clouds from whence descend the showers of rain.”

“AFTER having satisfied my eyes for some time with those delightful objects which elevated my mind, and inspired it with pious reflections; I took the book of St.Augustin’s confessions which I had from you, and which I always carry about me.  It is dear to me for its own value, and the hands from whence I received it, render it dearer still; on opening it I accidentally fell on this passage in the tenth book: “Men go far to observe the summits of mountains, the waters of the sea, the beginnings and the courses of rivers, the immensity of the ocean, but they neglect themselves.”

“I TAKE God and my brother to witness that what I say is true.  I was struck with the singularity of an accident, the application of which it was so easy for me to make.”

“AFTER having shut the book, I recollected what happened to St. Augustin, and St. Anthony on the like occasion and believing I could not do better than imitate these great saints, I left off reading, and gave myself up to the croud (sic) of ideas which presented themselves, on the folly of mortals, who neglecting the most noble part, confuse themselves with vain objects, and go to seek that with difficulty abroad, which they might easily meet with at home.  If, said I, I have undergone so much labour and fatigue, that my body may be nearer heaven; what ought I not to do and to suffer, that my soul may come there also?” (114)

“IN the midst of these contemplations I was got, without perceiving it, to the bottom of the hill, with the same safely, and less fatigue than I went up.  A fine clear moon favoured our return.  While they were preparing our supper, I shut myself up in a corner of the house to give you this account, and the reflections it produced in my mind.  You see, my  father, that I hide nothing from you.  I wish I was always able to tell you not only what I do, but even what I thing.  Pray to God that my thoughts, now alas! vain, and wandering, may be immoveably fixed on the only true and solid good.”

PETRARCH often retired into the most desart (sic) places; and if by accident he met with Laura in the streets ofAvignon, he avoided her, and passed swiftly to the other side.  This affectation displeased her.  Meeting with him one day, she looked at him with more kindness than usual.  Perhaps she wished to preserve a lover (115) of such reputation; or could not be insensible to the constancy of his affection.  A favour so unhoped for from Laura, restored Petrarch to happiness, and put an end to all his boasted resolution.  When he passed a few days without seeing her, he felt an irresistible desire to see her in those places she frequented.  She behaved to him with more ease; he wished to assure her of his love by the most tender expressions, or at least by his sighs and tears; but the dignity of Laura’s countenance and behaviour rendered him motionless: his senses were suspended, his tears dried up, and his words expired upon his lips.  His eyes could alone express the feelings of his soul.  In a sonnet he says:

“YOU could not without compassion behold the image of death stamped on my face; a kind regard, a word dictated by friendship has restored me to life.  That I yet breathe is your precious gift.  (116) Dispose of me, for you are the reviver of my soul; you alone, beautiful Laura, possess both the keys to my heart.”

THE Poets imagined their heart to have two doors, the one leading to pleasure, the other to pain.  It is to this poetic fiction that Petrarch alludes.

LAURA wished to be beloved by Petrarch, but with such refinement that he should never speak of his love.  Whenever he attempted the most distand expression of this kind, she treated him with excessive rigour; but when she saw him in despair, his countenance languishing, and his spirits drooping; she then reanimated him by some trifling kindness; a look, a gesture, or a word, was sufficient.

THIS mixture of severity and compassion, so strongly marked in the lines of Petrarch, is the key to a right judgment of Laura’s character.  It was thus she (117) held for twenty years the affections of a man, the most ardent and impetous, without the smallest stain to her honour; and this was the method she though best adapted to the temper and disposition of Petrarch.


Zadie Smith July 7, 2011

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:20 am
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I like this alphabet introduction to Zadie Smith who is a Penguin author.  I like the framework that she has used to tell us something about herself.  It makes me ponder how I could use a similar framework for myself, but I’m too busy editing at the moment, so enjoy Zadie’s for now, instead.,,1000049267,00.html?sym=MIS


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