On Writing Retreats

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Having been attached to academe for most of my professional life, and not just any academic institution but Catholic educational institutions in the Philippines, attending annual retreats was part and parcel of teaching. There was always a spiritual component to the retreat, as it would be a way of stepping back from everyday life and stresses to relax the professional brain and delve into the spiritual core our selves so that we could reflect on our personal and professional lives and return to the “normal” world recharged and rejuvenated, ready for another year of teaching.

A writing retreat is somewhat different in the sense that, while you leave the normalcies of everyday living, you nonetheless immerse yourself into a working environment, assuming that you call writing work. It gives you time to recharge your writing batteries and set everything aside except your writing, allowing you that luxury of not having to worry, for the time being, about housekeeping or bills or meetings or that dreaded four-letter word work.

On my second year of joining a group of like-minded women, I have found myself looking forward more and more to this annual writing retreat. Case in point, I accomplished a record amount of writing in a day than I had in a week. Possibly, considering the rest of year, than I would in an average month. But it’s not just the fact that I can set aside time for writing that I join. After all, being self-employed and living in solitude does give me multiple opportunities to sit at my computer or at a table with whatever writing implement I choose for the moment, to write. Writing, as well, comprises a considerable portion of my self-ordained work. What I look forward to is that shared sense of oneness of purpose, that sense of belonging, camaraderie, and friendship, that openness to hear each other out and share whatever comes to mind at the dining table– be it television shows that you would never catch me watching, or what we call our pets. It is as much a spiritual as it is an emotional experience, when you know you can read your work to others who will not judge you or what you have written, and who can only understand you a little more with each word that trips from your lips, be it like tinkling fairy bells or the resounding boom of a cruise ship– though truth be told, there was more tinkling and clinking than clanging and banging. It is a coming together of minds and spirits that will, eventually part ways; but at least for the rest of the year, hear in our collective heads the gentle echoes of chimed words and ringing laughter weaving delicate lanyards that will hold our sails up until the next writing retreat.

 

@ The Serendipity Inn, Central Bedeque, PEI

IMG_20140607_180626 IMG_20140607_180632 IMG_20140607_180642

 

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365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 41: Orwell Corner

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(Orwell Corner Historic Village, PE. 17 September 2011). It was with great excitement that approximately 100 newcomers to PEI, along with about 4 or 5 staff members from the PEI Newcomers’ Association and a few EAL tutors gathered at the Kent St. entrance to the Confederation Court Mall on a sunny but very chilly windy Saturday. The group was unfazed by the cold, although several, who had expected a warm day, were starting to shiver as they waited for the buses that would ferry them to Orwell Corner Historic Village. Finally, the buses arrived–huge red and white behemoths that swallowed the people one by one. Sadly, a few newcomers have not yet learned common courtesy and etiquette. They have yet to learn that here, in Canada, we LINE UP and not rush for the door and cut into the line out of turn. Unfortunately, as well, they could barely understand English, so it was not something that could be easily explained. There was some head-shaking there, but that didn’t ruin the mood of the day.

The trip was a short one…not more than 40 minutes out of town taking the route through Stratford and somehow arriving at Orwell Corner after a series of pretty farmland scenes with corn fields and other fields, cows taking a noon nap, bales of hay rolled in white plastic wraps like gigantic white worms stretched across the fields, and gently rolling hills.

Once into the Orwell Corner turnoff, the road was slightly bumpy, as it was unpaved, unlike the highway. A bit of dust rose from the rear end of the red bus ahead of ours, but the buses were air conditioned, so that didn’t bother us at all. We pulled into a sharp turn that led into a parking lot, where our only view of the village was a dirt path bordered with log fences. Upon disembarking, we proceeded to follow the red dirt road to the museum and, of course, gift shop.

A view of the distant hills from the parking lot

 

Welcome to Orwell Corner!

 

following the red dirt road to the museum

Inside the museum, we were greeted by shelves of souvenirs, curios and other PEI products (like lobster chips, which I have yet to try), hand-made soap and goat milk soap. Unfortunately, this was a cash-less field trip, so I could only appreciate what I saw. Besides, everything was priced for tourists! Well, pretty much.

Once past the gift shop counters, we encountered huge and varied farm equipment, transportation modes, mostly for winter, and all sorts of alien machines. There was also a miniature log cabin and a miniature setting of a house–pretty much like a playhouse, with child-sized furniture.

Log cabin

There was even a little potty chair!

a little potty chair!

Outside the museum, we strolled down the road to the village proper, where the first thing you see is the cemetery in front of the Presbyterian church.

Orwell Corner cemetery

It was a nice peaceful quiet spot, God’s little acre where the old denizens of Orwell sleep for eternity. If I’d had more time, I’d have looked at the gravestones to see what years they were put up. Not that I’d find any relatives there! The sleepers would be from England and Ireland and Scotland.

The church was a simple building, a bright shiny white in the September sun. It looked pretty much like most of the rural churches around PEI. Simple, unassuming. I wonder if that is a characteristic of non-Catholic churches, or of churches built by the English, Irish, and Scots. Back in the Philippines, hardly any two Catholic churches look alike!

Orwell Corner Presbyterian Church

As soon as you stepped into the door, you could smell the old pine and cedar and the very strong smell of must in the air. The archway in the foyer above the door to the interior of the church bears the year the church was built: 1861.

built in 1861

The pews were sitting there, facing the pulpit. Old, solid, shiny from wear and some polish, I suppose.

The pulpit stood dead center of the altar area, dark and imposing, as it probably meant to be.

 

To be continued.

 

365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 40: New Jobs

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40. New Jobs

With most people, the idea of a job is something that you go to four or five days a week and work at for a specified number of hours and get paid a specified amount. Most people will stay at one job for years on end and work their way up, if they are lucky, until they land a somewhat higher-paying position with the company and get to have more responsibilities (=headaches) and sometimes supervise (=boss) other employees.

It’s what a lot of people call “security”. Sure, it’s job security, and a lot of people actually look forward to it and are happy in that situation. But not everyone.

Because I grew up with parents who were very conservative in some things (including the concept of job security), I was discouraged from trying to get into “business.” I was actually encouraged to find a company that would employee me and at which I could work until I retired. Or something like that. Switching jobs was frowned upon. But that was only until the 70s.

By the 80s, more experience in a variety of jobs with different employers actually made employees more desirable. It showed flexibility and adaptability. More and more employers were looking around for experience and trained employees whom they could entice (=pirate) from their current employers by offering better salaries, better benefits, better hours, and so on and so forth. This actually saved them a lot in training, because they could get employees who were already trained and had a track record somewhere else.

By the 90s and well into the 2000s, I had fallen into this corporate culture of holding one or more jobs at different companies at the same time, and getting pirated or offered jobs because of my past and diverse experience. I had also begun to like the concept of the extras that additional jobs (=moonlighting) provided. I had begun to seriously consider freelancing, and eventually did quite a bit of that as a consultant and a trainor, delivering workshops and seminars for professionals in different companies. Some of the jobs I acquired on my own. I also hooked up with an old friend (=from the past, not age-old) who offered training consultation services, and pulled in several contracts from that.

By the 2000s, I had a couple of part time jobs and several freelance contacts for training, consultation and writing.

Then I moved to Canada. The new jobs were there, and were a necessity (=necessary evil) just to have enough income to pay for bills. But the idea of being a full time professional writer and artist were always there, and I was looking for every opportunity to transition into a life where I would not need to depend completely on regular employment, except maybe for things like health insurance (group plans from employers were the ideal thing to have, as you pay a very small amount compared to the expected costs from any possible illness forthcoming).

I am still working on getting my paintings out. Once I complete my Diploma in Art, I will be able to push myself more aggressively in that area. (Unfortunately, aggressive is not my number one trait.)

I am working on getting more and more writing done, hence this blog (=platform building) and getting it published, hence this blog and Facebook, and getting independent writing contracts. Eventually, I will get my own manuscripts published (instead of just letting them sleep in my computer and on discs) and move towards becoming the professional writer I have wanted to be all my life. Hence my online publishing of materials I have developed over years, starting with my Quick Grammar Guide.

And the good news? Getting a new writing job! Sure, writing jobs don’t always give you the credit for your work, especially if you’re writing to help someone else develop content, but that’s what writing jobs are about! At least I get to use my mind and the skills I’ve been honing all these years. Finally.

Sometimes I feel like it’s all hopeless and too difficult, especially starting all over again at my age (which no one really believes). Then I get a real booster–like a new job to work on, that is just along the path I am carving out for myself.

Hurrah!

 

365 Things to Look Forward to–Number 40: Mail Order!

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40. Mail Order

Have you ever ordered anything by mail order? (And no, this doesn’t include brides, so those of you who’re hoping, dash it!)

I groan in dread every time I get an envelope in the mail from my mail order companies. Yes, more than one.

I belong to a book club that has given me some truly delightful collectible editions, but that has books that cost an arm and a leg! But they do have at least one spectacular clearance sale each year, when I can order books at ridiculously low prices. The shipping from England sort of brings the price back up, but over all, it is usually a satisfying and worthwhile experience.

I receive mail order catalogues and fliers from a couple of companies that specializes in mail order, and you can get all sorts of big and little things for anywhere as low as a couple of dollars to big ticket items that might cost nearly two hundred dollars. Some of the items are just amusing. Others are curios. Still others are curiosities. And the majority of them are items you might think of getting or trying out but wouldn’t really get. Then there are the items that you will really find handy or items that you might really want. Because of these, I do a lot of household shopping for non-perishable items that are not readily available in the grocery or department stores through mail order. Because one of the companies requires cheques to be sent before the items are sent, I don’t usually get from them, although once in a while, they have an item that’s too good to pass. Now, the other company actually gives customers the option to pay COD or in 4 or 5 equal installments. That is what makes it worthwhile. Even if you pay a little more for shipping, which raises the prices, you don’t need to get out of your house or even up from your couch to shop. Well, you do need to get up to mail in your order. The bonus is that they also offer all sorts of prizes and free gifts and bargain items and a lottery. Mind you, the big lottery is legitimate, as researched by various independent research companies, but as in any other lottery, you have a one-in-a-million chance of winning! But that’s not the point.

I said I groan in dread when the catalogues or fliers arrive. That’s because I know there might be something there I just can’t resist, or something I think I could really use, or something I really want, or something that might come in handy in the future, or something that’s too good to be true. That’s when I know I’ll be spending some money on something I wasn’t planning to get at all, no matter how useful. Which means I’ll be out some cash that I shouldn’t have spent in the first place. Which means I’ll be beating myself for spending money in the first place!

Aaaargh!

But when the package(s) arrive, it’s like Christmas! I don’t always remember everything I order…I’m not obsessive-compulsive enough to make a list of every single thing I order, in the first place, so when packages arrive, it’s a surprise! Well, not totally, because I knew packages would be arriving. But surprised, nevertheless, because I didn’t know exactly when they would be arriving. Plus, there’s the excitement of finding out what’s inside. And the excitement of seeing if what you get is exactly what it looks like in the pictures. Plus, the excitement of trying out something new and adding it to my growing pile of kitchen gadgets and tools, or household implements and other things.

Then the realization of a bill in your hand just hits you. Sure, it’s a small bill, so it’s like a pebble bouncing off your head. But sometimes, you’ve got two or three at the same time, so it’s a small handful of pebbles bouncing off your head, and if those pebbles are the size of dimes, a handful of them can be a bit annoying and even a bit hurtful, if they hit hard enough!

Aaaargh!

At least it isn’t TV shopping where I’d need to use a credit card that could just get maxed out before you know it! Thank goodness I don’t have a credit card!

 

365 Things to Look Forward to–Number 39: Fresh fish supper!

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39. Fresh fish supper

There is a lot to be said for fresh fish, if you like it. I do.

One of the reasons I picked PEI was because it’s an island with lots of fishing communities. So much water in rivers, lakes, ponds and creeks all over the island. No wonder a favorite pastime of many people is fishing. During the fishing season, that is, when it opens in mid-April until when it ends after summer. I figures it would be a great way to get healthy eating.

You would think that in four years of living here, I would have found some time to get me a decent fishing pole or net and go fishing. Or, considering I have never really done that in my life, I might be buying fresh fish from the grocery all the time. Apparently, that was never a habit ingrained in me, so I bought frozen fish instead.

Then, after four years of meeting the same people day in and day out and getting to know some of them well enough to crack an occasional joke or greet them with a personal remark, some of them actually asked, in the course of talking about fishing, if I liked fish and promised to bring me some in the next time they went fishing. True to their word, one of them brought me a pack of four fish, all cleaned and filleted and ready to cook. Not completely fresh, though, because he had to put them in the freezer until he could get them to me. Still, pretty fresh.

Then, wonder of wonders, another one actually brought a whole pailful of fresh fish, still slippery and shiny and bright eyed, to share with my friend who also worked at the store. (He had already brought her some before, but because I wasn’t working that day, she wasn’t able to get any to me.) So there I was, with a bucket of fresh fish. I shared some with her, dropping them off at her place after work, just before I headed home to confront the fish.

I was all ready and charged to clean them up so I could freeze what I wasn’t going to cook right away…but it’s really nice to have a friend who’ll do it for you, because he didn’t want me to hurt my hands on the really sharp fins. To make the work easier, I chopped of the heads and he cleaned them out. Unlike in the Philippines, people just chop of fish heads here. They do not eat the heads! Of course, my friend couldn’t understand that, as most fish in the grocery stores, fresh or frozen, come without heads, tails or fins, and they are all filleted and clean.

More surprising was, the only way he knew to cook fresh fish was salted and rolled in flour then fried. I, of course, humored him, and did just that, but fried it the way we do in the Philippines, so that the tail and fins and skin are all crunchy and delicious to eat. He watched me in horror, warning me over and over again to watch out, that I might choke on the spines, that the spines would stay inside me and puncture my insides. I totally enjoyed seeing the look on his face as I crunched away at the tails and the fins and the crunchy skin.

The worst part was, he just took away the whole belly of the fish and discarded on the side of his plate, along with all the spines and tail. That is the best part of the fish! Even while cleaning out the fish, he would have scraped the belly away if I hadn’t made him stop and told him the belly was the best part of the fish. He left some of it. Sigh.

Anyway, I made some Filipino-style dipping sauce to go with the fish. I had some fresh tomatoes and onions that I chopped up and soaked in vinegar and soy sauce, mixing in a generous sprinkling of dried chili flakes, which is only next best to fresh tiny red chili peppers. It was a wonderfully delicious supper, the fish slightly flaky on the inside, without a hint of fishiness.

I will cook the rest in different dishes. Maybe for supper tonight!

365 Things to Look Forward to–Number 38: Friday!

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38. Friday!

Who hasn’t picked up and used the phrase “thank God it’s Friday” at least once? Or heard someone else say it?

I haven’t really used that phrase, because Fridays aren’t really anything special to me. Sure, it signifies the start of a weekend, and most people are just too glad to get off work after a whole week of slaving away. So Friday is a respite from the stress of work. Whether it’s stress because there’s a lot of work and it’s really tiring, or because the work is ho-hum and boring and it’s really tiring, or because you hate your job and it’s really tiring, or because you hate the people at work and they’re really tiresome, people just want to set it aside and take that much-needed weekend break to recharge their batteries and get ready for the next week of work.

For people who do shift work at a place that is open 364 days a year, 24/7, and get the odd days off on weekdays, then Friday is nothing special. In fact, it just gets busier at places like these, because people who are off patronize and populate these places–restaurants, fast foods, malls, shopping centers, movie houses–these are weekend haunts of people who “work” during the week.

So why am I so glad it’s Friday?

I left work last night thinking it was already Friday. I also thought I was off on Saturday and working on Sunday, so I thought today would be Saturday and I was off. So I called the store after getting home from work last night, asking if my day off was Saturday or Sunday, and found out that it was Sunday–which was confirmed by my calendar at home, which said I worked Saturday, not Sunday. So I was all set to work today–which I thought was Saturday. And because I usually meet a student on Saturday mornings, but she was sick last Tuesday, when I was supposed to meet her as well, I called her up to find out if she was well enough to meet me today, which I thought was Saturday.

She insisted it was only Friday. I said, “No, it’s Saturday today. Yesterday was Friday.” She must have found that amusing, told me to hold on for a second, and I heard her calling one of her children to ask what day it was. And she told me again “It is only Friday.” So I got very confused. My mind was not comprehending this. So I checked my old reliable computer for the correct date and it said “9/2/2011”  and gave me a bubble that said “Friday, September 02, 2011.” How can I argue with my computer? I was totally embarrassed and so apologized to my student and told her I would see her then tomorrow.

I had to jump back into bed and lie there for a couple of minutes just to clear my head. It is only Friday! I checked my calendar. It is only Friday! I checked my clock that has date and time. It is only Friday! Ha! I have an extra day! I thought it was Saturday but now it’s actually only Friday, so I have gained a day! While I don’t look forward all that much to working, because now I have two more days to work before I’m off on Sunday, I actually have another day to write and accomplish other things. Because it’s only Friday!

I will call my student again tomorrow before I leave the house to meet her, in case it’s actually still Friday or it’s already Sunday.

 

 

365 Things to Look Forward to–Number 37: New Students

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37. New Students

When I was a student myself, I was always a little excited about meeting new students because I felt that I could make new friends who didn’t already have their biases about me. Some of them have become good friends, some moved on to other friendships. But that didn’t stop me from learning more about them and being a good friend for as long as it lasted.

As a teacher, I always look forward to meeting new students. I think it is one of the most exciting things about teaching. Every year or term or semester, whenever classes change over, I am excited about who I will meet, what my students will be like, what will they know or not know, what I can learn about them, and what I can learn from them. Then I can tailor my teaching style and lessons to individual and group needs. Even my classroom management style varies, depending on the students.

Yesterday, I met several new students. Well, 10 of them were most likely the first and last meeting, because they belonged to a class that I was substituting for. Still, in one short afternoon, I learned so many things about my students that even they themselves did not know about each other after sharing several classes together! It was a very enlightening and interesting afternoon, to say the least. As a matter of fact, I found out that in China, Chairman Mao is considered a hero. Very interesting.

The one student I met whom I will be meeting on a regular basis over the next six months at least, is a middle-aged Chinese lady who, as chance would have it, works at the same store that I work in! I know from working with her, that she was terribly frustrated with the school she was attending to learn English because after a year, she still could barely speak proper English and could barely understand others speaking. It was more frustrating that she could not do the regular work at the store and instead, is given menial cleaning jobs, again because she could not speak very well. To top it off, she was an accomplished nurse and businesswoman in China, but could practice neither nursing nor business in Canada, again because of her difficulty communicating in English. I had advised her to go the the Newcomers’ Association and explain her problem because I am a volunteer EAL tutor for their program and I knew that she could get help from them for one-on-one tutoring.

I suspected she might be the student I was to meet when the program coordinator started telling me about her. Wasn’t it a pleasant surprise when, as we approached the library, we saw her from a distance and, upon seeing us, she began jumping up and down with a huge smile on her face and a whole lot of excitement as she ran to me and gave me a big hug! The program coordinator was quite pleased, I could see, because he could tell it would be a good match. I, on the other hand, was happy, as well, because I could get to know her better and help her out.

Such encounters make meeting new students a truly fulfilling experience.

I look forward to the school opening for the additional reason that I will be meeting new students each time I substitute in a class. Even if I don’t get the chance to know them very well, because most of them will be with me for only one class in one day and I might never see them again, 40 minutes to a day is more than enough time to learn so many things about new students.

365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 36: School Opening

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36. School opening

I can name more than a good handful of people who are more than glad to get out of school. And twice as many who wish they never had to go to school. And only a small handful of people who can’t wait till school starts again. And still less who would love to study all their lives.

Can you guess which group I belong to?

Definitely the last two groups. Yes, I love school.

When I was little, I couldn’t wait for my first day in school. Not nursery, because I had a moody teacher who wouldn’t let me talk to my seatmate and made us bring our chairs up front and sit down facing the wall for a good amount of time. What else do I remember about nursery? Naps. We have colored mats that we napped on. And the uniforms. We had little tent-like dresses which remind me now of Fred Flinststones’ outfits sans the spots. Except that these came in pastel colors, one for each day of the week, or maybe just 3 different colors that we alternated. I don’t think I learned very much in nursery except that teachers can be really nasty.

It was going to a “real” school–Kindergarten–that I was completely excited about. I was going to take a new school bus and go to a new school. We had moved closer to the new school, so the old school was no longer an option. I had a real uniform–not different colored play dresses, but a navy blue pleated jump skirt and a white button-up blouse. I didn’t like the ruffles. I always hated the ruffles. All the way till I graduated from senior high, I hated those ruffles.

Anyway, off I went on the first day. I had instructions to “follow all the little children with a K on their badge”. We had little round badges about the size of a quarter that had our level on it. K was for Kindergarten. I was proud of my little K.

It wasn’t hard to find out where the Kindergarten classes were. There were sandboxes and a playhouse and swings and other toys outside. And there were dozens of little girls and boys just my size. My problem was finding my room. I went into the first room I found and sat there until the teacher figured out I didn’t belong to that class, so she walked me to all the classrooms, looking for my name on the lists on the doors, until she found my classroom. It was a nice, cozy room with chairs just the right size and a very friendly teacher, Miss Astrid Perez. But I easily got bored. I knew the alphabet and my numbers. I could count. I could read. And I read through all the books in the room long before the class even got to them. So I started sneaking out to play while the class was going on. I never knew it, but the Principal, Sr. Gratia, had called my mother to let her know that I was skipping class. So young! So they gave me tests, and Sr. Gratia gave the verdict: I was to be accelerated to 1st grade. I don’t really remember, but I think a group of us were chosen for this privilege, but we had to take our Prep (with a P badge) in summer. That was fine with me, because I loved school, and somehow felt more at home there than at home.

And so it went. Every year, I have looked forward to going back to school after summer. Now, I still look forward to going back to school after summer…but this time, to teach. I would love to be able to keep on studying just for the pleasure of learning new things, but I have to do that on my own now, because I need to work to pay my bills.

There is everything to be excited about with school opening. Meeting new classmates, meeting new teachers, meeting old classmates and friends, checking out new books in the library, getting new textbooks, getting new school supplies and school shoes, and most of all, learning a whole lot of new things!

I just don’t think people appreciate school enough. But that’s another topic.

365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 35: Cherries

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35. Cherries

How can one not love cherries?

Back in the Philippines, the only time we ever saw cherries growing up was in cans of fruit cocktail, which was served as is, in fruit salad, or in crema de fruta. We were always trying to best each other at finding the single half slice of preserved cherry.

I discovered maraschino cherries in high school, for a cooking class, if I’m not mistaken. It was one of the ingredients for a fruit cake recipe that we were learning. Of course, some of us simply picked a cherry or two to eat as is. Since then, I’ve always kept a jar of maraschino cherries in my fridge for baking, garnishing, and fruit salads. Not that they always were used to that end, since, later on, my youngest son Justin discovered them and would appropriate the jar for himself, popping cherries as a snack. Let’s say I always had an empty jar of maraschino cherries for some years.

Cherries were a delicacy, a special fruit that we could only find preserved in the Philippines. They were as exotic to us as mangoes are to Canadians.

Scene change: Canada.

On one of our first grocery trips, I decided to get maraschino cherries for fruit cake. While delicious in the cake, they had a completely different taste from the maraschino cherries we got in the Philippines, which were much sweeter. That jar remained undisturbed by Justin, who did not appreciate the sharper flavor.

This summer, as I was browsing through the weekly store flyers, I noticed several specials on fresh black or red cherries. At those prices, how could I say no? Off I went to the grocery store to buy myself a bag of cherries–and didn’t I fall in love! Since then, every time there’s a sale on cherries and I have a bit of extra cash–because they are still an expensive fruit–I get a bag of fresh cherries.

What’s not to love about them? They are luscious little things that you can just pop into your mouth whole and when you bite into them the sweet and very slightly sour flavor just rush over your taste buds and send prickles of pleasure to your brain. Then you savor the soft smooth flesh as you separate it from the pip and crush the fruit some more between your teeth, roll it over your tongue as you spit out the pip then swallow the flesh. There is just enough juice in the fruit to make you want more, not so much to inundate your taste buds.

If they only came seedless, like grapes!

Mmm. New favorite.

 

365 Things to Look Forward to — Number 34: Chat!

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34. Chat

There was a time when you could only chat with someone else when you were face to face.

I’m not from that time.

Then, telephones were invented and soon, you could chat with anyone who also had a phone for as long as you wanted…well, as long as you had a phone subscription or enough coins for a pay phone. I grew up in such times, but I never really called up anyone to chat much because I didn’t have anyone to chat with over the phone. And I didn’t like chatting. I preferred to read.

When I learned how to chat socially, I did it with my best friends in grade school and high school, and even if I had the phone numbers of some of my friends, I still didn’t call anyone much just to chat. Phone calls were for important things, to set appointments and dates and other such business.

Then I encountered boys. And they called. And we chatted. And it was fun. And tickled me pink. And I learned that people don’t always look the way their voices sounded. So I was careful about getting set up by phone. Anyone I entertained on the phone was already someone I had met.

It never occurred to me to chat away on a phone with friends. That’s probably because I usually met my friends everyday, at school or at work and we already spent a lot of time chatting. Well, not really–I did chat with friends occasionally on the phone, but it was usually they who called me. As I said, I’m bad for phone chatting. I could have called friends so many times just to chat but I never wanted to bother them in their daily routines because they might be doing something and not really want to chat. So I’d just chat if they initiated the call. I still only called for important reasons or business purposes, hardly ever to just chat. Unless I really liked a guy. But I’m not getting into that.

Then, the personal computer was invented. Most of the time, I just used it for work, because that was pretty much all it was limited to. Well, there was email and browsing as well, but those were limited too. Email was for work. Browsing, well, that was a waste of time if it didn’t involve work. Besides, there wasn’t a whole lot of stuff to browse through then.

Then Windows was invented. And Yahoo! And Yahoo! groups And Yahoo! Messenger. Still, I didn’t chat. My YM list never expanded. I used Yahoo! groups for classes. And Yahoo! for mail.

Then Facebook was invented. From everything I’d heard about Facebook as a “social networking” site, I didn’t think I’d want to get on it. After all, I could attend to my business through Yahoo! Mail, and my browsing consisted of research for work or writing purposes.

Then I finally decided I should try and see what this Facebook was all about, as everyone at work was on Facebook. After a tentative foray into Facebook, I eventually got into the swing of things and discovered that so many hundreds of people I knew and encountered in the past were also on Facebook! All of a sudden, my wondering about how a former student or a former classmate or a former colleague were was not just wondering. I could actually find many of them on Facebook and actually “connect’ with them so that I knew how they were doing, what they were up to, what they were thinking, planning, eating, playing. Let’s not get into that.

And I discovered FB Chat. Believe me, it wasn’t that I was avoiding it. One of my friends just suddenly popped up in a box and we got into chatting! Because I had used YM, I was familiar with the box popping up out of nowhere. Soon, friends were popping up now and then, and I have found it a great and wonderful to keep in touch, keep up, especially with people you’ve been close to, or want to remain close to. Oh, I’m still bad at initiating a chat session. I’m usually working at my email, my blog, my online writing presence, my freelance writing, when a box suddenly pops up. Sometimes the box pops up and I’m not around, so those people get ignored. Not that I meant to ignore them. And sometimes the box pops up when I’m really busy writing and don’t want to be disturbed…because I don’t want to break my trend of thought…like now. But most of the time, when a box pops up, it’s someone I really want to keep in touch with, so we chat…and chat and chat and chat.

It’s a really great way to get a “live” conversation going, which is way different from sending wall messages and comments and likes. Still, all the other passive/active ways of keeping in touch is a great way to keep people in your lives and remind them that you’re still interested in them. I like best the fact that you can jump into any wall conversation and have your say! No matter that you don’t get a response. You still have your say.

Of course, I avoid having my say on everything. Some things are just so trivial or ignorable. After all, people can say or put anything they want on their walls (barring the self-policing and policing by watchers who can flag your content as inappropriate or offensive…not that this censorship happens all the time) because there is freedom of speech on the Internet! And it allows people to say things. And sometimes others listen. Let’s not get into that.

So I’m writing this because I just concluded a very pleasant chat session with an old schoolmate from university days, sharing notes on a variety of things.

What’s bad about it? The chatting just keeps on and on…other things get put aside. Sure, you can end it when you want, or just not reply at all when you have something really important to do. But it’s just nice chatting with some people.

So I’ve put off my housecleaning, which I promised myself I’d do today all morning at least, before I sat down to chat. What happened? I ended up starting my day clearing my email inbox, then started answering some email, and before you knew it, a chat box, then another and another yet popped up. It’s amazing that I can chat with three different people at the same time. On a phone or face-to-face, that would be considered rude, especially if the people are involved in different conversations with you! But on Chat, nobody knows who else you’re chatting with! Or what else you’re doing while you’re chatting. That is just awesome!

So I do look forward to Chats, because it makes me feel like all your friends are closer than they really are…that people are just next door…just a Chat box away even if they’re halfway around the world! I think social networking is an amazing breakthrough in communication. Whatever happens, though, I don’t plan to get a webcam. I’d rather chat away without having to dress up or fix myself up just to chat. We still need that certain level of privacy in our lives, and webcams just cross that line and I’m not comfortable with that.

But I will chat!