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Sunday, 30 June 2013

What is Pride?

What is pride? What does it mean? More importantly, what does it mean to you?

I spent all of yesterday downtown. I joined a couple of friends (and their friends) for Can’t Stop the Serenity, a viewing of Serenity on a large screen. Proceeds from the tickets and the auction afterwards went to Equality Now, a charity in support of women’s equality. I hadn’t seen Serenity before, but knew it was part of the Firefly franchise. Plus, I’m a fan of Nathan Fillion and Jewel Staite. Oh, and before you ask, yes, methinks I am now a Browncoat.

After Serenity and the shindig afterwards, we went to check out the party that is Pride. And what a party it is, too! I’ve never gone down to Pride before, so it was an interesting experience. It is just one giant street party. We spent a fair amount of time at a bar on Church just sitting on the patio and enjoying the sights and sounds around us. It was also decided early on that I was the designated driver since I don’t drink. I was more than happy to oblige. Actually, I offered! I am quite capable of having a good time without alcohol.

Over the course of the evening, I was hugged by a woman I didn’t know, asked if I was lesbian, offered a shot of cranberry juice when everyone else was ordering shooters (my favourite moment of the night), saw women in costumes, saw men in drag and even saw a man with nothing on but his skin! Despite the amusement of it all, it got me thinking about pride and how we go about showing that we are proud of who and what we are. I am heterosexual. I like men. I have friends who are gay, bi and lesbian. I may be het, but I support the LGBT community. Everybody has the right to be proud of who and what they are. Gay, lesbian, bi, straight, black, white, Catholic, Mormon, atheist, agnostic… What does it matter? We are all HUMAN. We are flawed and we are perfect. We are capable of horrific monstrosities, and we are capable of immense love.

Love. That’s what I believe pride is. I believe pride is about not only loving ourselves but each other and not being afraid to express that love. Love is what keeps this ship in the air and what makes her home.

Saturday, 29 June 2013

What's in a Name?

I like names. As a writer, names are important. For me, names can make or break a character. I choose my characters' names on meaning and what stories they have to tell. The four main characters in my Pangaea Trilogy have names that coincide with their personalities and their personal journeys. The main character in "The Tunnels" is named Everett Palmer. Everett means 'brave boar' and Palmer means 'pilgrim'. Throughout the story (if it ever gets finished), Everett goes through one heck of a personal journey when he discovers dragon hatcheries in the tunnels of Toronto's subway system and that the dragons are cared for by a secret department of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). Oh, and did I mention that Everett's father, Ira (meaning watchful) works for the TTC as a subway driver? Everett also has a big brother, Bailey (bailiff) who is consistently bailing him out of trouble.
Sometimes I try to make a character fit a name I want to use. For example, I've always wanted to have a character named Percy. So, I created a Percival for The Tunnels. Percival means pierce and the character is one of the dragon caretakers. I got my Percy.

But, I like names in general. Especially names in different languages. Whenever I meet a new Japanese student in my language exchange, I ask them what their name means. Japanese parents name their children by means of meaning. Two people may have the same name, but because the kanji is different, their names mean different things. For example, there are two women with the name, Yuki. One woman's kanji ()means 'snow', while the other () means 'happiness'. Pretty cool huh? Most parents here in the West name their children based on what they like or what names are popular at the time.

I also like that "older" names are coming back. Names like George, Carol, Arthur. I like older names. There's just something timeless about them. My top three boys' names are William (helmet of desire), Isaac (he laughs) and Aidan (little fire). I also like Declan (full of goodness), Dean (valley or leader), Robert (bright fame), Paul (humble), Peter (stone) and Jacob (supplanter/holder of the heel). My top girls' names changes every few years. At one time I wanted to name my future daughter Catherine (pure), Letitia (happiness), Estella (star), and as of late, the name Aisling (dream) has entered the running. Letitia was my mother's mother's name and my father's mother's name was Catherine Estella (she went by Stella). My middle name is her first name. The C stands for Catherine. Her name meant pure star and her maiden name was Palmer (pilgrim). It's fitting; she was born in Montreal, lived in Toronto, moved to Hull, Quebec and back to Toronto (Scarborough). She lived the rest of her days in Etobicoke. My mother's mother was Letitia Peers (before she married my grandfather, Abraham Acton [father of many, oak settlement]). Together, her name means happy stone. And she was. She was a rock for her family.
My full name is Jennifer Catherine Flynn. The meaning? In order: fair maiden, pure, red/ruddy. Flynn was originally an Irish nickname for someone who had red hair or a ruddy complexion. As a kid, I hated my name. I even went by my middle name (among friends) during the first half of my Grade 1 year. Jenny was an unfortunate nickname I received, a name I hate being called to this day. Over the years, I fell into a very comfy and simple nickname of sorts: Jen. Eventually, I came to like my name and I still do. I also plan on keeping my last name when I get married.

Your name is important. It’s how your friends know who you are, it’s what your family call you; it’s part of your identity. Maybe your parents named you because they liked the meaning of the name. Maybe they named you after an ancestor or maybe because they liked the name. My father had a girl on his school bus run named Jennifer and he fell in love with the name. My middle name was my Grandma Flynn’s first name and she herself was named after her mother, Catherine McDermott. I guess I’ve been named after two people in a sense. Your name is something to be proud of, because it is a part of who you are and you are a very important person. Your name is too.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Our Teacher, Nature

I have a great relationship with my cat. She greets me when I wake and when I come back home. She sleeps next to me at night and if I leave the room, she often follows. In 1996, a colleague of my dad’s sister had a cat that had given birth to several kittens. I had wanted a cat for a while, so my dad’s sister took one in for me. On November 10th, my parents and I went to her home in Etobicoke to meet this kitten. When I walked into the living room, there was this tiny, seven week old, grey and white kitten sleeping on my uncle’s chest. My uncle got up from his chair as I sat on the couch; he then gave her to me. She awoke for about a minute, then went back to sleep on my chest. That’s the way we sat for about half an hour before my mom called me into the kitchen for lunch. Due to how light her grey fur was then, I named her Misty.

When we brought her home, we read the note my aunt had included with the things we needed to care for Misty. She was only seven weeks old, but she already had a personality and mannerisms that were unique to her. She was independent, not incredibly affectionate (unless she wanted it), didn’t like closed doors and liked sleeping with us. It was always amusing to listen to her climb up the covers to join either my parents or me for the night. As we got to know her, we saw more traits reveal themselves. She didn’t use a scratching post (unless it was doused in catnip), and she couldn’t stand the feeling of fleece beneath her paws. She loved boxes, her grey mouse with a pouch for catnip, and she loved giving baths. She no longer has a scratching post, she still can’t stand fleece, she still loves jumping into empty boxes, playing with her grey mouse with the catnip pouch and she still gives me a bath every day. When she’s hungry, she sits in front of the fridge since she’s learned that that’s where my mom and I get our food (and occasionally hers) from. Oh, and she’s also a fairly lucid dreamer. But all of this got me thinking, not just of her, but of animals in general.

Is the Human race really the only “intelligent species?”

I often spend time just watching Misty. Sometimes we’re staring at each other, other times she’s playing with her old mouse, or maybe she’s sleeping. I love watching her dream; I wish I knew what was going on in her brain. Is she chasing mice? Is she chasing me in a game of tag? Is she just running around the house? What is she dreaming about? Well, if Misty can dream, it means there’s something happening in her brain, it means she’s thinking about something.

One of the things I love about living in Toronto is the wildlife that coexists alongside us. This has been an excellent year for hawks; I’ve lost count of how many I’ve seen in the last couple of months. The squirrels are always numerous and given the amount of road kill I’ve seen, it’s a good year for the raccoons too. These are just some of the animals I see all the time in my neighbourhood. Toronto is also home to woodpeckers, skunks, groundhogs, foxes, mice, snakes, ducks, swans… and, if I were to take a walk through the large wooded park about 5 minutes away, there’s a good chance I would encounter a deer. Maybe even a coyote.

Deer in Morningside Park; August 2011

All of the aforementioned animals have learned to adapt to Toronto being built all around them. They have learned to coexist with us. The key word here is, learned. The ability to learn means these animals have a certain level of intelligence. They already knew how to defend themselves from, and take advantage of, each other. I’ve seen tiny sparrows chase giant crows from their nests and a flock of pigeons fend off a hawk 3 times their size. The American Badger and the coyote often hunt together. The badger can’t really chase its prey but is able to dig out rodents hiding underground. The coyote can chase those rodents, but can’t dig them out. The prey ends up with no way out and both animals are happy. Now, many animals have had to learn how to shelter and defend themselves from us as well as take advantage of us. Who’s ever been sprayed by a skunk or bit by a snake? How many of us have been approached by hungry squirrels in autumn? Have you ever been watched intensely by a pigeon while enjoying a bagel outside? And some of those pigeons are quite brazen! All of this happens because they have learned to live with us. For this, I tip my hat to them.

I think we can learn something from the animals that surround us. We can learn a lot about love and loyalty from our pets and we can learn a lot about adapting and getting along from the squirrels, hawks and pigeons we share our neighbourhoods with. If the badger and the coyote can successfully help each other survive, why can’t we do the same? Why can’t we help each other regardless of race or skin colour? If these animals can learn to coexist with us, why can’t we coexist with them? If a coyote can successfully live within the ravines and forests of our city, why do we have to shoot it when we see it crossing the road? I understand the danger coyotes present to our pets, but what about the danger we present to it? The coyote was here a long time before we were. We are the ones who have moved in on their turf, not the other way around. I think we have a lot to learn from the animals we live with and I believe we can take what we learn from them and apply it to ourselves and the people we share cities with.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Simming my Life

Sometimes I wish I could jump into my favourite PC game. I have been playing The Sims for going on ten years. I have countless versions of me on the go, created to fulfil the many phases my fangirl side will go through. It provides a means to escape and enter a life I only wish I had. Currently, I am an author and stay-at-home mom married to Nick Carter in one and Isaac Hanson in another. (I am also step-mom to Isaac's two boys.) In another town, I am a supernatural hunter living with Dean and Sam Winchester and writing on the side. The Sims is a means of escape for me and a way to live a way I wish I could.

But on the other hand, it has provided me with some much needed inspiration. Back in March, I created the Palmer family to coincide with my April Camp NaNo novel, The Tunnels. It helped me come up with a family dynamic and give life to those characters. I’ve done it with my potential upcoming Camp NaNo novel, The Wargs as well, though the inspiration has been a bit lacklustre.

As I said before, the Sims is a means of escape because my life (or lives) in the game is much better than the one I’m currently living. In the Sims, I have a career, a loving husband and two or three children. Everything I don’t have. I am single, I don’t have children and instead of a career, I have a job that doesn’t give me any hours. I’m hoping the job situation changes soon, as well as the relationship status, but until then, I shall immerse myself into the wonderful world of The Sims.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Father's Day -- The Time We Have is Limited

Dad holding me a couple of days after I was born.

Today is Father's Day. It's the day we take our fathers and grandfathers (as well as the men we think of as dad) out for the day, out for dinner and give them a set of new tools or a gift card for their favourite store. But what happens if you can no longer celebrate Father's Day?

My father passed away on July 30th, 2009. I was there when he went and upon seeing everyone else in the room (all seven of them) crying, decided I had to be the strong one and kept my tears at bay. I kept them at bay as I read the eulogy at his funeral a week later and they remained at bay until Christmas when it hit me that I would spending it without him. Everyone told me that the first Christmas without him would be hard, but no one ever told me about the first Father's Day without him.

Father's Day 2010 my mother and I went to Swiss Chalet for dinner before going to our legion for an evening of karaoke. While we were sitting there eating, I watched family after family come in, every one of them taking a father out for dinner. Some of those fathers were in their 70s, others were in their early 30s with young children and I knew the fathers were paying for their own meal. I suddenly felt extremely out of place sitting there with a parent missing. It was strange being out on Father's Day without my father. It still is.

Well, it's no longer strange, but every year I am reminded of what I have lost. My dad was the build a snowman and have a snowball fight with dad, the act silly with dad, the make up lyrics to songs with dad. But he was also the dad who would bail you out, even if it meant picking you up downtown at 3am because you were out at a club too late. (He didn’t complain either. He was more concerned with my wellbeing than how late I was out.) That was the dad I was blessed to have for 21 years. He was 66 when he passed and 29 days shy of celebrating his 28th wedding anniversary with my mother.

The father-daughter dance at weddings are difficult for me to watch because I know I will never get to do that when I get married. I won’t have a father to walk me down the aisle. My future husband won’t have a father-in-law or someone to ask if he can ask me to marry him. My children won’t have a grandfather and in this case, history will repeat itself. I never had a grandfather either. It’s a domino effect.

Fathers are very special people and deserve all of the love you can possibly give them. Mine was taken from me far too young – for him and me. 66 is too young an age to pass away at and 21 is too young an age to lose a parent at, but cancer knows nothing of age nor does it care.

Give your fathers tight hugs, new power tools, gift cards to their favourite stores, but most of all give them your time and your thanks. The time we have with them is limited and one day it may be too late to simply say, "Thanks for being my dad."

Saturday, 15 June 2013

Owls are Such a... well, Hoot!

I love Owls. One of my favourite movies is Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole. There are two families (True Owls; Great-Horned, Snowy and Barn-owls or Tytonidae) and many different subspecies, but they all have something in common. There is something, I don't know, otherworldly about them. The Greek goddess, Athena (Minerva in Roman mythology) was represented by the owl. They are creatures of the night that fly on silent wings in search of nocturnal rodents and insects. But, it's their nocturnal lifestyle that has given rise to negative symbolism by several cultures. The Kikuyu of Kenya believed owls to be harbingers of death and it was thought if one saw or heard an owl, someone was going to die. The Hopi Native Americans believed the birds were associated with sorcery and other evils. The Aztecs and Maya saw them as symbols of death and destruction. The Aztec god of death, Mictlantecuhtil was often depicted with owls and the Mexicans have this saying: Cuando el tecolote canta, el indio muere. "When the owl cries/sings, the Indian dies." The Mayans described owls as messengers from Xibalba, the Place of Fright. The Hočągara (Winnebago Native Americans of Wisconsin)believed owls were messengers and harbingers of death. It is said when they killed enemies in the sanctuary of the chief's tent, an owl appeared and said, “From now on, the Hočągara will have no luck.” That marked the decline of the tribe. When one appeared the only female Hočąk chief, Glory Of The Morning, and spoke her name, she died not long afterwards. The Cherokee believed the birds were bad omens and that if one flew over you during the day, a family member or loved one would pass away in the coming week. Misbehaving children were told "the owl will get you." Even in Arab culture, owls were considered bad omens.

Despite all of these negative connotations the owl is associated with good things. The owl was the mount for the Hindu goddess, Lakshmi and in much of western culture, they symbolize wisdom. The Greeks associated the owl with the goddess Athena (Minerva). The appearance of the owl determines its connotation in France, Belgium and the Netherlands. If the owl doesn't have ears, (like the Barn-owl), it is a sign of bad omens, but if it has ears (like a Great-horned), it is seen as a symbol of wisdom.

Bad Owl: Barn-owl

 Good Owl: Bengalese Eagle Owl, native to India.

Owls are also the provincial bird for three of my country's provinces. 

Alberta has the Great-Horned Owl:

Manitoba has the Great Grey Owl:

and Quebec as the Snowy Owl:

The owl is one of my favourite birds (my favourite is the Peregrine Falcon) for many reasons. They are mysterious, they are excellent hunters and they only come out at night. They are silent, swift and beautiful. Some look intimidating; the Great-Horned has a hard look to it. Others are darn-right cute, like Tito (barn owl) and Elf Owl.

Everybody, meet the adorable Elf Owl!

This love has spilled over into my jewellery.

That's three necklaces (not including the Elephant), and a pair of earrings. I also have a ring with an owl on it, as well as a large gold necklace that belonged to my mother, but they weren't present for the photo.

Whether you believe that owls are harbingers of bad luck or that they are symbols of profound wisdom is your own prerogative. Their mystery and otherworldly qualities are what fascinate me most. The fact that they are back in fashion makes me happy. I love owls and those accessories are my way of showing it. The birds are beautiful and every species is special. Every owl is special. Every last one of them.