Water, water, everywhere

Yesterday I witnessed a phenomenon. Through a scheme offered by our district authority, the Region of Waterloo, I participated in the annual Rain Barrel Distribution day. Through this programme local residents may purchase a high-quality rain barrel for a modest sum (about 1/3rd the cost of what you would pay in Canadian Tire or Home Hardware). The region has a single distribution day annually and, yesterday, it had three locations across the region where you could go to get your rain barrel.

Over the years the region has placed more than 34,000 rain barrels. That’s got to be having an effect. It reduces the amount of water that the local authority needs to process and that saves the residents money as well since we pay for our water use here. But it is also better for all the flower and vegetable gardens in the area to use fresh rainwater rather than chemically enhanced and purified drinking water from the taps. So, good for the region, good for the pocket-book, and good for the environment.

And yet the phenomenon I witnessed and have referred to was something else which felt very Canadian to me but perhaps is not unique at all. The distribution of the rain barrels was to begin at 7:30 am. I duly ensured that I arrived in the parking lot of the big mall north of town exactly at 7:30. I am nothing if not punctual (usually). But I was already late. When I joined the queue there were more than 800 people ahead of me. At 7:30 in the morning! More than 800 people had arrived before 7:30 am for their chance at purchasing a rain barrel. Nor did it take long for another 500 or so people to join the queue after me. And that was it. Once all of the application forms were distributed (you need to verify your address to participate in the rain barrel scheme) the organisers closed the line. And so we formed an orderly and friendly queue winding back and forth across the large parking lot of the mall. Children were laughing, friends were spotting each other at different points of the queue and waving, the ubiquitous Tim’s coffees were in the hands of the lucky few who perhaps had anticipated a bit of a wait. I chatted with the young couple ahead of me in line and the elderly lady behind me. The queue moved forward at a regular pace. And within 90 minutes I was up at the front receiving my new rain barrel.

I am left wondering what the motivating factor is that gets 1500 varied people out of bed to stand in a line early on a Saturday morning. It goes without saying that Canadians just love a bargain. So maybe that was it. Or maybe while I was out of the country living in England the environmental consciousness simply took hold. I hope that was it. But I have this feeling that we just love joining a queue.

Last night it rained. Just 11mm. But it’s a start.

A whole new desktop

What, me upgrade? I don’t think so. These days when I want the latest and greatest version of Ubuntu (today it is 9.04, the Jaunty Jacalope) I wipe my entire Linux partition and start from scratch. From a clean disk to full installation takes about 30 minutes. (I’m doing this on a dual boot laptop with 2GB of RAM and plenty of disk space.) After that it takes me probably another hour or more spread over a few days to get my new system almost exactly like my old one. The bottleneck in the process for me is downloading the .iso file and burning the image. It can easily take 3 or 4 hours even with a high-speed home connection such as I have. And I am much more aware now (after recent visits to Nepal, Mali, and Malawi) than I ever was before how that number multiplies in other parts of the world, enough to make it implausible to undertake on a whim. I know that in future I will always travel with my latest Ubuntu cd so that I can share it with friends and colleagues.

I have installed new versions of Ubuntu now every 6 months for 3 or 4 years. It always makes my day. I put the date of the new release in my calendar and look forward to it with pleasure. When the day finally arrives it is always a challenge to hold off from rushing out and getting the .iso file immediately. Pragmatically I think to myself that the servers around the world will be getting hammered that first day, but equally pressing is the delight in extending the anticipation. Soon enough my will weakens and in what seems like no time I have it, a whole new desktop.

Starting over and afresh appeals to me.

It is also a lot less painful these days since I now live half my life in the clouds, so to speak. I have been letting Google look after my email for some time. More recently I started testing a service that supports syncing of files across multiple computers called Dropbox. I install it on my new clean desktop and within minutes I have all the key document files that I have on my other operating system readily available to me without the issues involved in mounting or writing to NTFS partitions. Very convenient. (It is sort of like using Subversion for version control.) After that there isn’t much more needed for my new desktop to be fully operational given that Ubuntu, out of the box, comes with virtually everything I need. I also need to install a Java JRE so that I can continue using jMemorize and I add a French keyboard layout as well for my input of French text for that. I’ll have a bit of fiddling at some point to get the drivers installed for my wireless printer, but merely because I’ve only done that once before and I don’t recall precisely what I did, although I don’t remember it being too hard. And lastly I have to get Skype up and running because that is what is used for communication in my work.

A clean slate to fully operational. And then 6 months of letting it fall into a messy state as I install software I don’t fully understand in order to play with it and learn something. And then another whole new desktop.

If I could organise my life the same way, I would.

Starting a new blog – setting out the initial goals

I have actually had this blog for some time. At least I’ve had the title for this blog for a while. I simply haven’t done anything with it. The time has come to get started on this project. The project itself is, I suppose in one way or another, my life. And thus Transformative Explications could be a way of hinting at how these bits of prose might, just maybe, be part of a larger transformation. Well, that’s a good enough story to tell for now. I’ll think of something more clever later.

Prose pieces. Yes, that pretty much covers what you can expect to find in this blog as I go along. Snippets of ideas. Tentative meanderings of thought. Descriptions. Dialogues. Flights of fancy. Enthusiasms. Nothing too long, unless writing something long is what I am playing with that day. But also no content implications or constraints. Just the writerly explorations of writing.

I am not looking for readers. I am looking for the writer that I once imagined I might have been.

Books and stuff

To say that I have a lot of books is an understatement. Years ago when my wife and I left Canada to live in England we stored our joint library – the library you get when, as an adult, you start living with another adult and your book collection begins to merge, the duplicates getting sold off or given away – in her parents’ basement. There were probably about 3000 books there. Almost all of my philosophy texts were on those shelves – scores of books by or about Wittgenstein, and then another even larger though more varied collection of books centred on the theme of moral regret. There were novels, of course, and German texts (in those days I could read German passably). And there were also those books that come your way that you can’t fully categorize but can’t seem to part with either. My wife’s book collection was nearly as large as mine (pre-merger) but included a great many more art books, plays, and literature in translation. There were also many books there whose origin in one person’s collection or the other we could no longer recall. In any case we set all of these aside and left town, province, country, and continent with little more than a single suitcase each.

It is a challenging prospect to leave all your books behind, to start afresh.

The first few years that we lived in England I bought almost no books. First off, I had almost no money. And England, or at least Oxford and later London, is (or was) very expensive. Kathy and I would share a pint of ale (it’s cheaper to buy a pint than two halves). We never dined out. We would walk rather than take the bus. And of course we used the public library in Oxford extensively. And then there was always the Bodleian library, where I had managed to obtain a reader’s ticket, for philosophy books. I used to walk in to town each morning (about a 45 minute walk) and spend my day in the Philosophy reading room of the Bodleian. [Wow, that was a long time ago. I’d nearly forgotten how much time I used to spend reading, thinking, and writing philosophy. Anyway, books are my theme here not wistful reminiscences of earlier selves, and more specifically the books in one’s private collection.]

For about 3 or 4 years there we bought almost no new books. Nevertheless, a small collection of used books, library discards, and gifts from friends began to accumulate: the start of a new collection. By the time we were both earning real salaries we had reached the point where we knew we were not heading back to Canada any time soon. England was likely to be our home for the rest of our lives. So there was no longer any practical reason not to buy books. And with Oxford blessed with 3 mammoth bookstores there were temptations aplenty for our disposable income. So a new personal library began to form in earnest. This one did not have very many philosophy texts: Kathy kept hers in her office in her college and I, well, I had set my boat on a different tack. Mostly novels then. Mostly books that we shared, either reading them aloud to each other, or ones that one of us read and urged the other to read so that we could compare notes and talk about them. Is there any other reason to read?

Years passed and by the time we came to leave England we had accumulated approximately 3000 books. This time we left nothing behind. They all came with us back to Canada. This group of books forms the core of our current collection.

Now we have a house (for the first time) and so the time has come to gather together those books we left in parents’ basements or in the rooms we occupied growing up (I still have about 1000 books in my old bedroom in the house in which I grew up, books from high school and my days as an undergraduate – so a fair bit of poetry in that mix; well, I was someone else then). Acquisitions, or perhaps more accurately, re-acquisitions, such as these call for serious judgements. One’s personal collection of books, at least for me, says something about the person you think you are or wish to be. This is as much true for shared collections as for those of a single individual. Merging a whole collection of books, even if that is a collection you formed yourself in ages past, is inevitably as sensitive and anxiety ridden as that first adult merging of collections. The intimacies are real, and subject to the usual embarrassments. Did I really once own a copy of The Magus? One shudders to recall, so I decide that this book must be a rogue entry in our collection and it prompty gets culled.

Do I really want to live with a person who has so many books on Wittgenstein, even if that person used to be me? I realize that my general pattern in life has not been to synthesize; instead I have tended to compartmentalise. To pack an earlier self in to a box, label it, and then set it aside as I change continents and lives.

And so this post about books does in fact turn out to be a trigger for wistful reminiscences. The re-acquistioning, so to speak, is going slowly. Most of the books from all those years ago are still sitting in boxes. I’m working on it. But the re-integration will take some time.

Meanwhile there are new books which are being added to our library at a steady pace. We have a fabulous independent bookstore in Waterloo, Words Worth Books, that we both love. And Amazon is always tempting as well. So the collection grows and grows. And changes. Again.

A change coming on

I feel a change coming on. It is an odd sensation, or possibly just an odd expression. It’s not as though I have a trick knee that reacts to sudden shifts in barometric pressure. The change I have in mind has nothing to do with the weather. Nevertheless I’ve been having the impression for some time now that a change is coming.

It is more like a hunch than a direct sensation, something that has me looking at things out of the corner of my eye and wondering whether this is it. It generally isn’t. But it is hard to shake this feeling. I feel like I need to be ready for something, ready to react quickly or possibly to be the initiator, given the right conditions. I must be coming to a tipping point, something that will send me off in a new direction. I’m not there yet, but I appear to be readying myself, getting set to spring. What will trigger it? I don’t know. I just feel a change coming on.

Typically, in the face of uncertainty, I make lists. The transition to a new calendar year promotes this habit. I tend to look back at the year just passed and make a fresh assessment of its actions and events as a prelude to setting goals for the year ahead. That list of course, my list of goals for a year, is always an open-ended document. On the 2009 edition I note a few additions. One of those has to do with reacquainting myself with the classical piano repertoire; this because for the first time in more than 25 years I have a piano at my disposal. It is no small challenge for me to (re-)establish the habit of practising: the hours spent on technique just to get my fingers in to shape; the embarrassing forays into pieces I used to play all those years ago; the need for more realistic goals and scheduling and a more modest initial set of pieces to work on. And every time I touch the keys I hear both the echoes of my youth and the more mature re-sounding which informs me that I can now choose my new relationship with the keyboard, I am not bound by what I did or didn’t do years ago.

I am not bound by what I did or didn’t do years ago. Maybe that’s it. Maybe that realisation has sparked this feeling of a change coming on. Maybe it is part of the realisation that the conditions for change are in my hands now. I can choose my own direction. I’m ready for it.

I feel a change coming on. A change for the better.