Sunday, June 16, 2013

Knock, Knock! Who's There?

Lying in bed last night with my book and hearing it in my head being read by Nathan Fillian, whose character, Richard Castle from the TV show Castle, is credited for writing it, I was interrupted by a distinct knock on the kitchen door.

I leaned forward and looked out through the en-suite window that is next to the kitchen door and saw no one was there. I decided to ignore it.

A few minutes later another knock disturbed Nathan’s narrative and I once again leaned forward, looked out the window and saw nothing. Once again, I decided to ignore it.

When a third knock threw Nathan off, I decided to get up and check it out.

My first thought was that Willow was outside the door on the deck tossing around his latest kill. But he was sitting at the top of the basement stairs washing his face. Hmmm…

I crossed the kitchen, flicked on the porch lights and looked outside. There was no one there.

Back to bed so Nathan could continue to regale me with Derrick Storm’s adventures.

At 11:30, Nathan was yawning more than he was reading, so I gave him the rest of the night off, closed the book, turned out the light and settled in to go to sleep.

Knock, knock, knock.

Oh, brother.

Clearly, though it sounded like it was coming from the kitchen door, it had to be coming from elsewhere. I laid very still and listened for the knock, concentrating so I could pin-point its origin.

Several minutes passed in silence. Oliver and Willow both snuggled in beside me and within a few minutes their purring lulled me to sleep.

I dreamed that my feet were really dirty, but I could only get the left one clean. The dirt would not come off my right foot. I vaguely recall that there was a sandwich involved somehow, but I have no idea what one had to do with the other. Nor do I care. I think dreams are fun and interesting to recall when I can, but otherwise do not put any stock in them having any special meaning. The knock, however, that woke me – and Oliver and Willow – from this dream was another matter altogether.

It was 2:23 a.m. when the fifth knock at the door drew me from my warm bed with the determination to determine its source once and for all.

“You better be opportunity knocking!” I said to the night as I stumbled through the darkness into the kitchen.

As I approached the kitchen door, I heard the knock again.

Knock, knock, knock.

I couldn’t see anyone outside, but I threw back the dead bolt, flung open the door and stepped outside.

Nothing. No one.

I stood there listening for the sound of retreating footsteps. There was none.

This is ridiculous I thought as I retreated back inside, re-locked the door and helped myself to a glass of water. I figured that, since I was up anyway, I would stop off at the little girl’s room for a minute where, mid-stream, a seventh knock reverberated through the walls from the kitchen door. I ignored it completely.

Back in master bedroom central, Oliver and Willow were both sitting on the bed staring in the direction of the en-suite window.

“There’s no one there,” I told them. “I think it’s just Harry being a bit of a pill.”

I crawled back into bed and fell almost instantly back to sleep. Oliver and Willow snuggled back up beside me purring softly.

At 6:46 a.m. – you guessed it! – knock, knock, knock. I woke up, sat up, leaned forward to look out the window and – no surprise – saw that no one was there. Might as well get up, I thought, and proceeded to get out of bed. Willow leaped down to the floor and raced ahead of me to the kitchen door, through which I let him outside. Oliver sauntered out to the kitchen and proceeded to help himself to breakfast. I did my thing in the bathroom, got the coffee started and sat down to check my e-mail and see what my Facebook pals were up to on this fine Sunday morning.

Just for fun, I Googled “knocking” to see what would come up. Bob Dylan’s Knocking on Heaven’s Door was the lead result. (I rolled my eyes.) Written and sung by Mr. Dylan in 1973 for the soundtrack to the movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, this classic rock tune reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart. Since then it has been covered by: Vlado Kreslin, Arthur Louis, Eric Clapton, the Grateful Dead, Guns ‘n’ Roses, the Alarm, Warren Zevon, Avril Lavigne, Wyclef Jean, Babyface, Antony and the Johnsons, U2 and (Ms.) Randy Crawford to name but a few. It seems that this simple song about a dying deputy has stood the test of time and, at 40 years old, continues to make Old Bob what must be a fair bit in royalties. But I’m relatively sure there is no synchronistic connection to the phantom knocking on my kitchen door, which, while I think is a little slice of heaven, and near which several small rodents and birds have entered heaven, is just a kitchen door.

The second Google result for Knocking was for Knocking, the documentary about the Jehovah Witness’s legal victory to not have to accept blood transfusions. And finally there were references to engine knocking and what it could mean. Nothing popped with either of these, either.

Images for knocking scored pretty much the expected stuff: close-ups of door knockers, both the decorative and the human kind.

So was this just another example of the odd stuff that happens from time to time at Alegria? I’m loath to use the term paranormal, because I am convinced that there is a rational, reasonable, scientific explanation for it. Even being less than three feet away from my kitchen door when I heard a distinct knock and could clearly see that no one was there through it, is not enough to convince me that a ghost is to blame. It was weird. But it was only weird – in that there is no obvious explanation.

I am utterly fascinated by the things that happen in this house. I do wish they would not disturb my sleep. (Or Nathan Fillian’s oratorical recitations.) I also wish they would happen more when other people are around to witness them. I’m beginning to wonder if I’m not waxing schizophrenic or something and if the things like the knocking are symptomatic auditory hallucinations associated with that condition. At least no one is directing me to take inappropriate actions and I think that my paranoia levels are well within the normal range… Is there a normal range for paranoia? (Does that sound a little paranoid to you?)

Well, I’m going to knock back another cup of coffee and then head on out to the back yard to relocate some more gravel. Hopefully tonight Nathan Fillian will not be disturbed as he reads more from Storm Front… although if he decides to knock on my kitchen door, I’d be perfectly okay with that!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Beyond Hope

I don’t travel much. I am beginning to want to travel more, but opportunity and funding is somewhat elusive. So I take what opportunities I get and make the best of it.

One such opportunity arose last week. The Beyond Hope Library Conference in Prince George took place on June 10th and 11th and so my staff and I all piled into our Program Coordinator’s Jeep and off we went. Leaving on the 9th we drove for 3 ½ hours and reached our destination mid-afternoon. We checked into our hotel, chosen for its proximity to the conference venue and settled in for two days of conferencing.

Beyond Hope is a bi-annual conference hosted and organized by the Prince George Public Library. It’s designed for the northern libraries that are situated – geographically speaking – beyond Hope (BC). Unlike the big annual library conference put on the BC Library Association each year, Beyond Hope is tailored to the smaller, more rural libraries of the north, being more accessible, more affordable and less overwhelming. It’s a great way to connect with library staff and management with which one has something in common.

As conferences go, this year’s was fantastic. The sessions were varied and interesting. I even co-presented at one session on Interlibrary Connect: the Evolution of Resource Sharing in BC Libraries. It was pretty cool!

Besides conference activities, there was shopping (I kinda over-spent) and I got some time to toodle around an art gallery. I haven’t done that in years and years and it was just a really nice thing to do, even if the art on display did have a bit of a dark side to it. I’m convinced that at least two of the three featured artists are in dire need of some serious therapy. The other one, while a bit creepy, managed to inject a certain sense of whimsy into her work. It was well worth the $7.50 fee, though.

The conference was the main reason for this short foray away from home. And, as with any travel, accommodations are a significant part of the planning. As I said, we chose a hotel close to the conference venue, assuming that, being a well-known chain, it would be relatively comfortable and a decent place to stay. I can attest to the beds being not too bad. Otherwise the rooms were nothing special. In fact they were in need of some updating and TLC. Which might have accounted for the notice in the lobby stating that the hotel was undergoing renovations.

On the ascent to our rooms in the elevator, we took notice of a notice that informed us that the water would be shut off between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m. the night we arrived and that there would be jack hammering going on the following day until 4 p.m. Okay. We would just make sure that we had brushed out teeth before 11 o’clock and since we were going to be at the conference during the day, the jack hammering didn’t appear to be a problem.

Right on schedule, the water was shut off at 11 p.m. I had already settled into bed and had just finished a bit of pre-sleep reading when this occurred. I turned off my bed-side lamp, plumped my pillow and scrunched the covers up under my chin. My eye-lids were drooping immediately and I was ready to sleep.

At ten minutes after 11 a god-awful noise tore through the peaceful quiet of my room. It sounded a lot like a repo saw and hammering. I listened for a while – I could hardly help it, it was so loud – to the sounds of sawing, hammering and drilling coming from beneath my room. I was a bit stunned by the racket. But I assumed that it would not (could not) last long. Surely they understood that the hotel guests were trying to sleep.

Apparently not.

The noise got closer and louder as midnight approached.

I decided to call down to the front desk to find out what the heck was going on and was left on hold for several minutes before a very harried desk clerk answered my call. She was clearly stressed (I could tell because the first thing she said was: People are yelling at me.) I didn’t want to be one of those people, but I was a bit stressed, too. I assured her that I did not blame her and asked her to please ask the workmen to stop. I needed to get some sleep. She told me she didn’t know what to tell me and then tried to assure me that the noise would not go on much longer.

At 1:30 I called back. The desk clerk was crying. I asked her to please call the manager and get him/her to stop the noise. I was tired and growing increasingly more cranky with each blow of the hammer, every grind of the saw and all the whines of the drill. She said she was trying. I asked her to give me the manager’s number so I could call him. She said she couldn’t do that. “Then please,” I begged, “go over and tell the worker to stop.” Her response, an obviously desperate ploy to appease me, was to say that they would be done in 15 minutes.

At 2:30 I called back again. It took a lot of will power and discipline not to yell at the poor girl. I’m not good with being over-tired. But I did reassure her that I understood that it wasn’t her fault. I asked her if she had gotten hold of the manager and she said she was calling him. Not sure what that meant, but I didn’t think it meant that she had. Through gritted teeth I firmly suggested that she tell the workers to stop. She said she couldn’t do that. I told her that she absolutely could. She reiterated that she could not.

At this point the work was being conducted directly under the bathroom in my room. At the same time that I hung up the phone, the repo saw flashed up and cut not only through a stud or something, but through my very last bit of restraint and patience and I lost it.

I stomped into the bathroom, beat my heel against the tiled floor and screamed… Well, let’s just say that a vile series of expletives overpowered the power tools, turned the air quite blue and – as I discovered the next morning – accomplished the hysterical feat of adding an element of entertainment to the situation for many of the other guests on my floor.

As the F-bomb dropped, so did the noise. Silence filled the hotel.

I am guessing that my eruption simply coincided with the manager’s issuance of a cease and desist order to the workers and was not the sole motivation behind the muzzling of the motor-driven commotion.

I went back to bed and lay there, eyes wide open for over half an hour longer, waiting for the clamour to start up again. I wanted desperately to sleep, but could not bring myself to fully trust the quiet. Eventually fatigue won out and I fell asleep. For three hours.

The midnight renovations were a hot topic between sessions at the conference. There were many, many bedraggled attendees, looking for all the world like they had just survived the zombie apocalypse wandering about the corridors at the Civic Centre that day. How I managed to get through it, I’ll never know. But I did.

After the lunch break I returned to the hotel with the goal of talking to the manager in mind. When I approached the front desk, I was equally mortified and amused by the fresh-as-a-daisy desk clerk’s countenance; there was palpable trepidation reflected in her face. I was determined to be polite and, having had a chance to calm down (or being too bloody tired to muster much bluff) I asked if the manager was in. I was told he was in his office. I asked to speak to him. I was asked what about. I told her it was about the noise. I was asked if there was anything she could do for me. I began weighing my options. I was told that my room would be “comped” (hotel speak for free). I added my staff member’s rooms to that. The desk clerk apologized. I told her it wasn’t her fault, I appreciated being “comped” and then proceeded to ask what I really wanted to know: What the hell were they thinking? The desk clerk swallowed and told me that they didn’t know there would be any noise involved. Good grief!

I didn’t get to speak to the manager. I have an image in my head of some spineless guy cowering in his office, afraid to face his guests. Clearly he had instructed the desk staff to “comp” the rooms of the guests that complained – the whole thing was rather anti-climactic. I kinda wanted to look the guy in the eye and, perhaps, educate him on the intricacies of renovation work and the need to organize things a bit better, but I’m guessing he now knows.

I’m relatively sure that no one dared pick up anything that even resembled a tool the following night. I can see the Night Audit thinking twice about picking up a pen or tapping a keyboard. (If she didn’t quit after all that.)

The whole affair baffles me. Even if none of the principals involved in the organization and planning for the renovations had any direct experience with construction work, could they really have been that naïve as to think that it could be done without disturbing sleeping, paying guests? It seems impossible. And yet it happened.

Where was the breakdown in communication? Did the manager actually think he was saving money by asking construction workers to renovate a hotel over night? Did he not realize that saws and hammers and drills make noise? Or did the order come from somewhere above him? Was he helpless to stop the mechanizations of corporate bureaucracy? I can’t even begin to fathom it.

As for travel experiences, this one will go down in the annals of personal history as semi-negative. I will check first, before booking any other hotel room ever again, to see if there is any renovation work scheduled during my proposed stay. Once bitten and all that…

And now that this missive is nearly as long as my two-day conference adventure, I will attempt to put it behind me and not let it jade my feelings about future travel possibilities. Surely they cannot all be beyond hope.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Dear 16-year-old Self

Let’s get this out of the way right off the top: None of the dreams you have now will come true! None.

You will not go to university and get a degree in English. You will not get a degree in anything, because you will not go to university at all. You will not become a famous author, nor will you become a dancer. In fact your long, slender legs that you love so much and consider one of your best features, next to your lovely blue eyes, (which, by the way, will fade to an indeterminate shade of something you will eventually refer to as hazel, for lack of a better word), will become chunky and you will become overly attached to maxi-skirts long after they disappear from the fashion magazines. I won’t even bother to tell you what you will think of fashion magazines.

You will not even graduate from high school. You will quit school in a fit of pique, after a clash with your grade 12 English teacher; the point at which your anger and frustration at having been wrenched from your school and home town and relocated to Houston reaches critical mass and explodes in belated teen-age rebellion, producing unsatisfactory results. You will, however, get your dogwood some ten years later when you ace the GED exam at the local college.

You will not backpack through Ireland, you will not see the sun rise at Stonehenge and you will not vacation in the Maritimes. You will, in fact, develop agoraphobia and suffer from sever anxiety attacks. Flying will become out of the question. Driving will be difficult enough. But you will fight it and overcome much of the fear that will nearly, but not quite, cripple you. You will learn to cope and to deal with the anxiety attacks, though they will never go away completely.

At 18, you will fall in love with and marry a man 13 years your senior and spend the next sixteen years of your life in a passionate and tumultuous relationship that will end with his death. You will feel utterly lost while you watch cancer kill him. Again, you will be frustrated and angry. You will rage and rail at the world for the cruel injustice of his rapid decline. You will mourn his brilliant mind, but not so much the peculiar applications to which he applied it at times.

After his death you will fall in love with another man; this one eight years your junior who will disappoint you in ways you cannot even begin to imagine. Your love for him will never waiver, never flag. Even through all the frustration and anger you will experience. (Do you see a pattern developing here?) You will feel heavy sadness over the way he stifles his own creativity, while you take great comfort in his faithfulness and dutifulness. You will eventually, after 14 ½ years, move out and learn for the first time to stand on your own two feet.  Even so, you will maintain a pretty special relationship with him.

You will choose where you live - and oddly you will chose to live in Houston - for the first time in your life when you are 47 and you will name your new home Alegria (which means Happiness – Which is a choice!) You will build a labyrinth in your back yard. You will figure out how to landscape the rest of the yard around it. You will renovate rooms as you are able. You’ll build a fence and grow a garden.

You will take all that frustration and anger and ball it up and bounce it off the heavens, ricochet it off the mountains and sink it into the deepest depths of the oceans. You will once again rebel against the constraints and expectations of others, the conventions and conditioning of society, and you will stand tall and proud as yourself (though your legs will still be chunky).

You will have a series of different jobs, but no career. You will do well at all of them, even find some measure of success at some of them, though none of them will really stir your passion. You will dabble in a variety of interests and earn certificates in things like Yoga, reflexology and healing touch, but you won’t really do much with them. You will search for ways to live creatively and you will always desire to make a living that way.

You will always long to paint and you will putter with a wide variety of crafts, but you will learn that your talent is in knitting and you will become quite good at it. You will start to design and you will be very proud of your accomplishments. You will discover that yarn is your palate and you will use it to create many beautiful things. Even this, however, will wax and wane.

You will struggle spiritually for many, many years. You will look to established belief systems for the answer until your realize that you don’t need dogma or doctrine to be spiritual. You will research and practice and review and rethink and then one day you’ll wake up and find better uses for your time and energy.

You will always question things, though. You will always love pondering, philosophizing, analyzing and theorizing. (now and then it will get you into a bit of hot water, but you’ll survive) You will love learning. And one day you will actually be humble enough to admit that you do not know everything.

You will treasure seven things above all else: your three daughters, two (to date) grandchildren and the two men in your life. These are your reward for giving up university, dancing and writing the great Canadian novel. Your daughters will awe you with their creativity, their passion and their amazing minds. Your grandchildren will enthrall and inspire you.  The men in your life will vex you considerably, but you'll be okay with that.  They will teach you a lot and you will be grateful for their lessons - even the painful ones.

You will begin to take chances, to risk failure and, when you find it, overcome it. You will learn to do things you never thought you could do, like use power tools to make useful things. You will make friends that will make you laugh (you will even build a blanket fort with some of them one night and sleep in it when you’re 50 years old). You will learn how to have fun again; to dream again.

After all this, when your dreams start to reawaken, you will do incredible things. You will learn to love yourself and love loving yourself. You may not go to university. And I’m pretty sure you will never, ever be a ballerina (those chunky legs just won’t pull off a tutu). You may not ever get to Ireland or the Maritimes or see the sun rise at Stonehenge. But that novel… well, it’s still in there omewhere. Perhaps next to the latent painting skills and the myriad knitting designs and the dozen or so lifetime’s worth of other creative ideas that keep you awake at night and vex your bank account on a regular basis.

The most important thing I have to tell you is: You’re gonna be okay!

Love and Light

Your 50-year-old Self