Archive for July, 2010

Homage to a dear and flawed mentor

July 31, 2010

Christopher Hitchens has influenced me  ever since I read a Vanity Fair article on the recumbent bike at the YWCA gym.

At that point, my only addictions were exercise, reading and obsessing about the past.

Hitchens was arguing that the United States was the only advanced economy in the world that executed mentally retarded teenagers.  And what he meant was slow black “men” who were convicted by juries of their “peers.” 

I was stunned. Not because I suddenly realized terrible stuff happens but because I was deliciously persuaded by the truth: Hitchens was telling a story that was virtually irrefutable—but nobody wanted to hear it.

Christopher Hitchens is now battling cancer. It doesn’t look good but I can but hope.

Those who don’t know him obviously won’t care. And those who don’t like him or don’t trust him will likely care for the wrong reasons.

For background knowledge, clarity of thought and a relentless questioning, Hitchens remains one of my treasured mentors. If his anti-organized religion views didn’t touch the bone, he would be no target.

If you can put the booze and the worst of all secular sins, arrogance, aside for a bit, you might appreciate what I do about this warrior against superstition and idiocy.

For me, Hitchens represents a dying breed of English intellectuals of a certain educational age. He debates like a gentleman should: he respects his opponent as long as his opponent is worthy.   

And if you’re so inclined, you can link away through the entire debate  between his earnest little brother, Peter, and the master of secular argument, himself, Christopher Hitchens.

Pull through for us, Hitch! 



In Divine Defense of the Human Brain

July 24, 2010

This will come as no shock to anyone, I’m sure: I am not a religious person. 

I’m quick to defend Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins in their mission to get people to understand the destructive forces of religious control and cruelty.  

For years, I even resisted (though far less forcefully) the New Age high-jacking of the term spiritual.

But not any more.

I defend rationalism (yes, it does require it) as a way of accessing other truths having to do with intense joy, compassion, and my favourite, wonder

I love to look at old photos of myself and see that wonder in all of them. My father used to talk about it— but I was  too busy agonizing over what I lacked to get it. 

I guess a kid can’t understand wonder; a kid can live it, though.

About a year ago, I was chatting with my brother-in-law, Mike, about spirituality.

His position was that all spiritual traditions, in some way, ask us to live with the knowledge that there is something greater than us out there.

I’ve certainly not had problem with that idea; but some religious people have a problem with it if it’s got nothing to do with God. 

Mike went on to say that the hunger for knowledge is a power greater than us. I was a bit stunned at the simplicity and truth of this statement.

I then understood a little better why I bristle when I hear silly people suggest that the practice of intellectual curiosity is anything less than a spiritual one.

Well, that’s about as spiritual as you’ll ever read me waxing on Annie’s Vancouver Salon.

Somehow the time just felt right!

Here is a brilliant Huffpost article on Einstein’s spiritual practice–marvelling at the beauty of the universe.

When I Get Older, I Will Be Stronger….

July 17, 2010

…and one day, I WILL express myself as honestly and effectively as this Latino goat:

To Philip with love from the Moriarty family

July 17, 2010

It’s been over a week since Philip’s memorial service at Hycroft House in Vancouver.

As I remember the beautiful day, the moving and perfect tributes, and the large gathering of old and new friends, I wonder if I’m engaging in the magical thinking that so often accompanies grief.

But alas, I’m not the only one.

I kept expecting Philip to sail in, divinely dressed, and offer us all his wild approval. And apparently, many others did too.    

But it was also a very sad day.

And the more I remember how fabulous it was, the more Philip’s death feels real. It’s been a long and poignant week, with Philip and the magical day never far from our minds.   

Here’s what my sister, Catherine, and I had to say about Philip:

Anne: As Philip lay virtually paralyzed in his hospital bed, he watched the Haiti disaster unfolding on his tiny TV set and said to the nurse: “Quick, help me get my clothes on; I have to get to Haiti.”

The nurse asked him why and he said “They need me!”

I suspect Philip was entertaining himself at this point, delivering a perfect line to untrained ears. But I also believe there was something profound in his comment. 

It’s impossible to honour Philip without talking about humour. It was his way of digging for treasure, for nuggets of wisdom too serious for serious discussion. One expertly-crafted line stood in for years of  insight and experience. 

A certain expression on his face, an exaggerated gesture delivered with impeccable timing could sum something up like nothing else could. 

We hear the term “original” tossed about from time to time. Philip’s originality was hard-earned; it was his gift that he consistently shared with others.

In some circles, this is called truth. In others, this is called art. For us here today, it is Philip. 

Catherine: Mark Twain once said that “humour is tragedy—plus time.” Philip was able to take his own suffering and the suffering of others and distill it into pearls of comedic truth.

When Philip and I were faced with the challenges of traveling together through Europe, with the inevitable tension and anger, he reassured me that one day, we would only remember the good times and that we would laugh. And, of course, he was right. 

Philip was so much a member of our family that he attended more family Christmas celebrations that I did. No Moriarty event was ever complete without our Philip.

Not only was he present at our weddings, he became our wedding planner. Swooping in at the last minute, he transformed Anne and Jongho’s wedding from a meagre pink affair to a striking occasion with art gallery stands filled with spectacular white and Celadon flower arrangements. 

When Graham and I married, Philip agreed to go against tradition and be my male of honour, a role he fulfilled most traditionally. 

Anne: Philip was one of those rare souls who could actually feel the happiness of those he loved. After my sister Clare and Mike were married in secret in Las Vegas, they drove to Palm Springs where Philip was vacationing.

When Clare showed off her wedding ring, Philip ran circles around the table and jumped up on a chair, squealing with joy.

When Philip graced a room, he would intuitively seek out anyone who might need him. He would make a point of chatting enthusiastically with elderly guests and with anyone who he suspected might be feeling out of sorts or out-of-place.

It’s no wonder that so many women are here today. A beautiful woman, a perfect scarf or bag—an exquisite hair cut, a pair of fabulous shoes—none of these would go unnoticed by our own master of taste.

Catherine: Philip and I shared a love of dance. We trained under the unstoppable Carol Coulson for years, ultimately choreographing impromptu numbers at parties with a sense of abandon inaccessible in our daily lives. 

This intense connection was born out of decades of laughter and turmoil, from a deep understanding of each other’s need to perform, to be noticed, to be loved, to shine. We nurtured and protected these needs for each other.

I can see Philip now, theatrical hooded eyes, his mouth opening and closing in appropriate Broadway style as he pulls me through his legs and lifts me into the air. When he wasn’t being told off by my father for making too much noise. Philip was performing comedy and dance for people who celebrated the star under which he was born.

My mother feels fortunate to have had en evening with Philip not long before his health took a devastating turn.

She told him that his life had been fully lived and that not many people could claim the same. And the most touching of all is that Philip agreed. Philip and my mother shared a special friendship full of respect and, of course, humour. 

Anne: The last month of Philip’s life was filled with daily sadness and frustration for our family. Catherine and Clare both flew to Ottawa to spend time sitting with him, talking to him and holding his hand.

My sister, Sarah, having no idea how to begin a conversation of such magnitude, nevertheless, found the courage to pick up the phone to say her good-bye and express her love. 

I’m sure there are many stories yet to be shared. A telling and touching one comes from Marie Anne Tunstall, whose family will never forget the day Philip called with news of his father’s death. 

Marie-Anne remembers thinking at first that Philip was joking; but his voice suggested otherwise. He asked her if she had ever told her parents that she loved them, to which she responded “they know I do.” Philip persisted, asking again whether she had ever actually said it. Marie-Anne said no.

Philip instructed her to go downstairs immediately, to say I love you both, and then tell them that their friend, Armand had died. Marie-Anne’s heart was beating wildly as she uttered these important words to her parents.

Her mother began to weep and, from that day on, said I love you at every opportunity. Philip’s intervention, during his own time of grief, changed this family forever. Today Marie-Anne’s love and gratitude are immense. 

Catherine: Philip and I had the best of times; we had the worst of times. We had a ridiculous relationship; we had a profound relationship.

We knew each other for so long; he was my long-time dance partner, he was my dear friend and he was my brother.

Philip died a mature and brave man. The extended hand that beckoned me to the living room stages of our past is now a memory. But that memory will remain as I dance with Philip in my heart, as I dance for him and for all the things we shared and all that he brought to my life.

Anne:  If there are angels out there, I suspect the fanfare for Philip was something truly grand. I can just see him now, ordering the celestial staff about and re-arranging the goblets and golden plates in the name of beauty. 

We all know one thing for certain: there will never be another Philip.

And something tells me this was his plan all along.

Rest in peace, dear brother—dear friend.


And We All Cheered For Spain!

July 12, 2010

It’s been a strange World Cup. 

The Africa story, the old guard sent packing early, and two European teams who have never won—-you’d almost think the world is not unfolding as it should. 

We arrived at Mark and Jennifer’s house this morning welcomed by Timo, Mieka, Jentz and baby Ella decked out in orange. 

Jongho and I thought we would be rooting for Spain in secret but then Giulia showed up in bright red and we had a quick “Go, La Roja” chant—and the game was on. 

The host, Mark, was also in orange (his wife, Jen, is just too cool to do the colour thing). 

I apologized to Timo, the Dutchman, that I was actually going with Spain and he said something like, “Well, I am too, if they play better.” 

Our Timo—-a fanatical rationalist! 

The Dutch contingent stunned, yet again, that soccer could actually be this slow.

Even Timo was eventually okay with the Spanish win. 

But after the appropriate good-byes, he did say, on his way out the door:

“I’m glad the Netherlands won!”  

Check out this Spanish commentator calmly announcing Spain’s winning goal in extra-time: 

Philip Paris In Memoriam: a sister says good-bye with gratitude

July 7, 2010

This day belongs to you, dear Philip!

It was a gorgeous day and a gorgeous service. The rooms were buzzing with love and memories, as images of Philip on the silver screen reminded us how much this man had lived.

Here is the eulogy Catherine Paris delivered for her dear brother, Philip—all in the name of gratitude: 

Thank you. Those were Philip’s last words on this earth.

I know that Philip was truly grateful for arriving at that moment he desperately sought, when he would be released from his suffering;  but just as importantly, he felt grateful for the life he had lived.

I know this because Philip and I had plenty of opportunity to talk in the last 4 1/2 months of his life,  which he spent in hospital. And talk we did!

A couple of years ago, Philip remarked that he and I sure talked a lot, that we never seemed to tire of talking, that we always found something to talk about.

During his stay in hospital, on the odd occasion, when we sat in silence, he asked “have we really run out of things to talk about?” And then, true to form, he’d pick up the conversation, toss out a new topic, and off we’d go.

One recurring subject, naturally, was his illness and his imminent death. He wanted to console me, to reassure me that he was alright with dying at a relatively young age, that he wanted me to let him go, knowing he truly was ready to leave this world. In his words, or a variation of these words, on many occasions, he told me:

“I’ve packed a lot into my 47 years, my life didn’t follow a straight, traditional line but my life has been intense. There is nothing I feel I’ve missed out on. I’ve seen and lived in so many beautiful places; there isn’t a place in this world left I wish I could see.”  

But, invariably, there would be a reflective pause and  he’d add that he had one regret in leaving this world; and that was that he’d miss all of us.

In the end, that’s what mattered the most to Philip—his relationships with family and friends.

Everyone here knows that just like the life Philip lived, these relationships  could get a little bumpy, that they weren’t always devoid of DRAMA. But we also know how much Philip made us laugh, how much levity he brought to our lives, how Philip made our world SPARKLE.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude on behalf of Philip. The following are some of the people and events for which Philip told me he was grateful.

Firstly, To Armand and Lally, who brought Philip into our lucky family (I added the lucky part) and raised him—not exactly an easy feat, Philip admitted. 

To Michael, our brother: Philip felt so fortunate to spend the time with Michael that he did at the end of his life. Michael, Philip said, was always so sweet, so gentle—“such a good man,” were his words. Michael was Philip’s SPA GUY. No one could give him such a good shave; no one else, in fact, was allowed to give him his manicures and pedicures.  

Philip was also delighted to get to know Michael and Nancy’s children, Nathalie, Anthony and Marianne. He loved Nathalie’s stories and easy laugh. He was very impressed by Anthony’s (age 12) artistic ability.  He often said he wished he could be with us longer to see where Anthony’s talent might lead him. As for Marianne, he thought she got her zany sense of humour and empathetic nature from Lally.

In regards to our own children, P was part parent and part sibling. Joseph, P’s pride and joy,  was OUR first, he was fond of saying.

In Coco’s case, he was her BFF. No surprise really, as Philip often mused over the last few years,  that he was a 14-year-old girl trapped in a 40-something body. That is why P and Coco—not to mention all her girl friends who were huge fans of Philip—got along so well.

And, of course, there is Brent, whom Philip has loved pretty much as much as I have over the last 26 years. Philip has been (in Brent’s words) the third person in our marriage. He was with us from the very beginning: from the first trip the 3 of us took to California, Philip felt he would be invited along as our trip was partly financed on the proceeds from a garage sale we’d held at Lally’s on West 27th. 

I’m not sure Philip was out of bed much before the end of the garage sale but nevertheless….Philip was always grateful to Brent for all his practical help with the details of life Philip didn’t like dealing with–details such as organizing his finances, filing his income tax return—you get the picture. As he often said,”What would we do without Brent?”

Philip was also grateful to Brent for marrying me and not just because he thought I’d never find a husband; Philip was grateful for their friendship, their shared, often irreverent, sense of humour. He delighted in their banter and their sparring. I think Philip knew he’d found a pretty good match in Brent.

Philip appreciated the love and support that the extended Paris, Byrd and Wiens families offered him throughout his illness. The phone calls, the cards, the e-mails, the offers to come and visit him in Ottawa—he was truly touched by the way family was so present for him at the end of his life. 

He realized that, even though we all led such separate lives, and don’t often see one another, we are all supportive of each other when support is what is needed. Your presence here speaks to that.    

When speaking of extended family, I cannot omit mentioning Marcelle. Philip was devoted to Marcelle. He visited her regularly, bought her clothes, and, not surprisingly, it would really upset Philip when he found her wearing mismatched outfits.

When Marcelle moved to UBC last summer, true to form, Philip immediately tried to improve the decor in her shared room. The day Maracelle moved in, Philip requested that a poster of a young shirtless man (I think it was an ad for blue jeans)  be taken down; he deemed in inappropriate for the 3 elderly ladies sharing the room.

I’m not sure he was right on that count, but everyone knows how Philip was  a stickler for all things being “correcte.”

Philip told me he looked out for Marcelle as he could never forget how good she was to all of us kids. He recognized that he had fewer obligations or time constraints than other members of the family. 

In that vein, Philip wished to thank Michele Paris for all she’s done for Marcelle over the years—and, Michelle, I’ll take this opportunity to thank you from all of us. 

Philip asked me to thank Dr. Philip Berardi, who took care of him in the hospital in Ottawa. I’m extending Philip’s thanks here as Dr. Philip’s sister, Catherine, will soon  be joining the Paris family when she and Dan marry this Saturday.

Not only did Dr. Philip provide the best possible medical care to our Philip, but he often popped by to chat. Dr. Philip always seemed to know the right tone to take with him—when to keep it light (he obviously enjoyed Philip’s sense of humour) and when to talk more earnestly with Philip regarding end of life issues.

I have to add that Philip looked forward to seeing what Dr. Philip would be wearing. Here, I quote Philip: “that Dr. Philip is one snappy dresser. He can’t be married; I won’t believe for a second that he really is. Well, no matter—he won’t be for long after I’m done with him.”

Yes–Philip was joking (or at least half-joking) until the very end!

I move now from the Paris family  to Philip’s other family, the Moriarty family.

Gwynneth—-thank you for welcoming Philip into your home when he was a child and accepting him just as he was. He always felt safe and loved in your home.

The friendship Philip shared with Catherine, Sarah, Anne and Clare went all the way back to elementary school at Blessed Sacrament and dance classes with Carol Coulson. Philip enjoyed a personal friendship with each of the Moriarty girls, each of those friendships had its own ebb and flow over the years, but each and every Moriarty, including the late Dr.  Michael Moriarty, loved Philip unconditionally.

That unconditional love sustained and grounded Philip for over forty years. For that, Philip and our family, have always been extremely grateful.

Tom and Cecilia have also provided the kind of love to Philip that families do. Philip appreciated how they looked out for him after Lally’s death. He appreciated all their lunch and dinner invitations and he loved walking his dog, Lola, with Cecilia and her dog, Lexie.

Speaking of dogs, Philip was grateful to our family friend, Kathy Moore, who has taken such good care of Lola on so many occasions; in fact, Lola will be back in Kathy’s care again, as of tomorrow.

Carole Griffin is another friend who fall into the family category. It meant the world to Philip that Carole and Chris asked Philip to be godfather to their son, Griffin. I remember Philip telling me, at the time, he was a little nervous at the prospect of becoming a godfather. 

He hoped he’d be able to properly carry out all “god-fatherly” duties and responsibilities to Griffin. I told him that he’d be just fine as he was such a wonderful uncle, that it was obvious he was a natural with kids. He cut me off saying: “if all else fails, I’ll just give him ten bucks whenever I see him. That always makes a kid happy.”

Andrew Earle is one of Philip’s oldest and dearest friends. Their friendship has weathered its share of emotional storms (especially when they traveled together) but somehow, they managed to keep their friendship afloat.

Andrew took care of Philip in hospital while our family went to Mexico for a week. When I got back to Ottawa, Philip let me know that Andrew would be hard act to follow–and boy, was he ever.! Andrew made the chicken noodle soup, just so…and hadn’t I peeled the broccoli stems so they wouldn’t be tough like Andrew did?

In spite of the fact that Andrew set the standard of care for Philip impossibly high, I was extremely grateful to Andrew for allowing me to enjoy our family holiday,  knowing Philip was in such good hands.

As Philip said so many times in his final days, “Andrew really came through for me. “

Andrew: Philip was truly thankful for your friendship and, thanks to Philip, I know I have a life-long friend in you.

Also, thanks to Philip, our family has a life-long connection to David Kelly.

David left Vancouver over 20 years ago but David and Philip managed to remain close to one another over the years. They visited each other often and took many holidays together. Even our families holidayed together. We spend that last 2 Christmases with Philip, David and David’s mother, Jessie Kelly.

But David’s and Philip’s love for one another was in no way limited to celebrations and holidays. They applauded each other’s successes and supported one another through painful times. And sadly, as we know, in recent moths, Philip was obliged to face the most difficult of times and make the most difficult decision. 

David stayed with Philip every step of the way. He listened to Philip. And David listened from the heart.

As Philip repeated so many times during his illness: thank God for David.  

I began by saying the last words Philip uttered were thank you. They were to Brent and David.

He was, of course, thanking them for their compassion and for accompanying him on his final journey. I would like to add my voice to Philip’s:

 Thank you, Brent; thank you, David.

Finally, and this brings me full circle, I’d like to emphasize how grateful Philip was for the life he’d been given, the life he led.

And most significantly, for the love and friendship Philip experienced throughout his life—that thank you is meant for all of you here today.

The Sausage and the Crab

July 2, 2010

I chatted at T & T today with a Chinese lady and her son about the best way to cook crab. The son translated everything as his mother helped me with the selection. 

This was the result of my Canada Day chat with some fellow-Canadians:

Deep-fried chili crab with sea salt and garlic

The Sausage was incensed.

Aah...hello? Have you forgotten someone?

Go Nederlands!!

Why are young Koreans killing themselves?

July 1, 2010


Park Young Ha

Yesterday, 32-year-old  Korean actor and pop star, Park Young Ha, hanged himself with an electrical cord in his parents’ home. Nothing is known for sure yet, but it’s thought that he was suffering from depression, financial troubles and stress from nursing his very ill father.    

The Korea Herald cited Park’s mother’s deposition, “While my son massaged the legs and back of his father, who suffered from the late stages of stomach cancer, he said ‘I am sorry. I am sorry,’ to his family before going into his room past midnight.”     

This is nothing new in Korea.    

In 2005, actress Lee Eun -Joo slit her wrists and hanged herself.     

Lee Eun Joo

In two suicide notes Lee wrote:  “Mom, I am sorry and I love you….I wanted to do too much. Even though I live, I’m not really alive. I don’t want anyone to be disappointed. It’s nice having money… I wanted to make money.”[1][3][4]   

In 2008, actress and model Choi Jin-Sil hanged herself with pressure bandages in her home.      

Choi Jin Sil

A year later Choi’s brother Jin -Young hanged himself with an electrical cord.    

In March 2009, actress and model Jang Je-Yeon hanged herself in her home.     

Jang Je Yeon

In April 2009, The Guardian published a piece on Jang’s suicide and the disturbing number of similar deaths within only six months. Here’s an excerpt:      

Jang is one of seven South Korean celebrities to have killed themselves in the last six months. Ahn Jae-hwan, a 36-year-old actor, was reportedly mired in debt. Choi Jin-sil (right), 39, was worried she had pressured Ahn into suicide. Model Kim Ji-hoo, 23, was harassed on the net after coming out. Singer Lee Seo-hyun, 30, was also under attack on the net over sexuality. Actor Kim Suk-gyun, 30, was said to have been depressed. Transgender actor Jang Chae-won, 26, left a suicide note online.    

The list goes on; and it’s a long one.     

These beautiful, talented and famous Koreans, most of whom choose hanging as their method, seem to have a few things in common. Debt, pressure, depression, and shame  are words frequently found in media reports of their deaths. It’s also been suggested that being a star in Korea can be nasty business. Young women have reported terrible abuse on the part of managers, producers and husbands.     

It’s impossible to understand the rash of celebrity suicides over the past decade without understanding that Korea, as a whole, seems to be suffering from a number of mental illness issues –mostly depression. Alcoholism is rampant, as are 16-hour work days.      

Korea has the highest teen suicide rate in the industrialized world. I’ve been hearing about this for years. My Korean students plainly tell me that there’s too much stress in their native country. 

But they don’t have the words, or maybe just the English words, to go deeper into what this feels like for them. It’s a fact that they all acknowledge but they obviously know something more than I do —maybe something  they know they can’t change. 

Even parents I’ve spoken to acknowledge it, all the while rushing their kids off to 5- hour after-school cram sessions so that they’ll be able to do well on their SAT’s. And these kids are only 17.   

Years ago, I read an article in which a Korean woman claimed that mothers and teachers are ruining Korea. Yet this is neither fair nor plausible. It has to be more complicated than that. 

I’ve met many Korean mothers and yes, they can be extremely demanding, but they truly believe it’s the only way for their children to survive and thrive.  

A few years ago, a student of mine casually told me the preferred method of suicide for Korean teenagers it to throw themselves off buildings (this is also too common in China and Japan). The student smiled and said “Splat! Now, their parents listen.”   

I have plenty of theories about this from observing and reading about Korean and Chinese culture over the past 10 years. And I won’t bore you with much of that today.     

But I will say this: Korean society is still firmly rooted in Confucian social structure; and they can be a passionate bunch.

They have one of the most aggressive market economies in the world and seem to have swallowed consumer and Internet culture whole with the same energy they used to pour into the preservation of their own society. 

There have even been reports of deaths in both Korea and China from addictive video-gaming; the kids just forget to eat and drink. Thanks to the freedom of the Internet, suicide chat rooms provide an alienated soul with a sense of camaraderie and heroism.      

Korean pop music has always made me uncomfortable. It’s not as overtly sexual as others but it’s powerful and alluring in an eye-candy sort of way. The singing room (karaoke) videos are filled with dramatic war scenes, horrific accidents, illness and heartbreak. And the women are all tiny, impossibly nurturing, with suspiciously big eyes.    

I’ve often said to JH that the pop music lacks soul; but what I mean by that is it lacks a Korean soul.    

Some would argue they’ve taken Western bubble-gum-pop and made it their own; I’m not buying it.      

Everything seem to be moving too fast for this relatively new modern nation.     

And it makes me more than a little sad on the day after Park Young Ha hanged himself with an electrical cord while likely repeating: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”    

You can only hope that someone, at some point in his life, spoke the same words to him.   

I doubt it though—in this fascinating country with one foot in the past and an even  bigger one in the future, a place where so much is felt and so much can’t be said!       

Here’s an interesting article published in The Independent following the suicide of Jang Je Yeon.