Camino de no thank you

The only person I know to have walked the Camino de Santiago was an acquaintance from The SFU Writer’s Studio, Barb Kmiec. Before I heard a few stories from Barb, it was something I thought I might like to do one day.  I was impressed that a) she did it alone, and b) she survived it. I’m not positive she did the entire route, but I do believe she did complete enough of it to get the certificate.  After hearing about it, I made a decision right then that I could check off this quasi-desire and label it, Camino de no thank you.

The walking appeals to me. The hordes of peregrinos (pilgrims) and the sleeping options would preclude my taking the first step. Not to mention that lately, my weak right ankle, (an old basketball injury), and one crooked toe that I’m guessing has some minor arthritis, would have to get sorted out. The thought of sleeping in a room full of others, in a bad bunk, after a day of walking 15-25 km, reminded me of the worst hosteling experience I had in London in 2001 and in Edinburgh somewhere on the Royal Mile.

In London, just after arriving, wide-eyed and a little overwhelmed because I hadn’t stayed in a hostel for a long time at that point, I was kept awake all night by man in the bunk above me. He was non-stop snoring. He didn’t speak English. We couldn’t communicate and we were the only ones in the two-bunk room. This went on for three nights. By the third evening, I was practically homicidal. I’m not sure why it never occurred to me to just ask for a different room. Duh!

I do not want to re-experience that or sleep in a room full of people in an uncomfortable bed that thousands of others have slept in before me. I do not want to deal with disgusting, painful blisters to do a pilgrimage that, from a spiritual perspective, I don’t really know at this point why I’d do, and for me, the spiritual, not the physical, would be the point, although I gather they’re inextricably linked.

I’m telling you this because last weekend I found myself ordering a small guidebook, Camino Francés, written by Bryson Guptill, from P.E.I., that I’d seen referenced recently on social media. I’ll call it a no frills guide. You can read it in a night or less. You’ll get the route he took with tips, some photos, and exact GPS-plotted distances. If you’re looking to whet your appetite, this could be one book to have in your arsenal. I do have to give a warning about the quality of its binding however. It would probably not survive more than a few days in a pack. Maybe he’ll rethink that on the next printing and use a cerlox bind instead.

“Are you going to walk the Camino this year?” he asked me in an e-mail that he wrote back to me when I ordered the book.

‘No,’ I said. ‘Not this year. Probably not at all. But just in case.’

And it was that part of the sentence, ‘just in case’ and the fact that it had popped out of my mouth, [where the heck did that come from?], that left me both curious and a little worried. I mean, that I actually took the time to order the book did not escape my curious attention either.

Then yesterday morning after reading his book, I was up, unintentionally,  way too early, and I decided I must re-watch, The Way, with Martin Sheen. But it wasn’t to be found on Netflix.  Instead, I came across another film, Footprints: The path of your life, a documentary about 10 American guys led by a young Catholic priest from Arizona. I thought it was really good because of its focus on spirituality (in this case Catholicism) and besides you don’t often see a movie about 10 guys, with at least one who’d had some major losses to overcome, make it happen.

At some point, past the halfway mark, the group realized that the slowest members had to come first, regardless of how slow they might be. Halfway through they found a unique solution for making that happen on the major inclines. You’ll have to watch it to discover what that was. Apparently seven of the 10, just in case you’re still romanticizing such a trip, had to seek medical attention during the 40 day experience (this little tidbit runs quietly across the screen at the end of the movie).

I couldn’t stop thinking of my friend Dave Brent when I watched it  For all I know, he’s way ahead of me and he’s in training for it with all the walks he leads around the Lower Mainland as a secret warm up.  Dave, are you holding out on us as to your ultimate walking motivation?

So just wondering, how many of you secretly desire to do the Camino de Santiago? Have you already done it? Got any unique tips?

Janis Joplin, green curry & New Year’s

I feel like New Year’s Eve is the one day of the year too many of us are trying to become who we’re not.

We’re kind of sick of who we are, and even who everyone else is by then, and we think, if we can just get this one evening right, maybe then the next 365 days will be different than the last 365 days even though they actually were each different just because how could they not be?

I took a shower. I put on some foundation and eyeliner and lipstick, and a new top that I’d bought on sale. I told myself it wasn’t for New Year’s but it kind of was. The sleeves were so flowing that, I imagined myself at some buffet table, those sleeves gathering seafood sauce, small dinner rolls and even bassinets for newborns, like magnets for whatever wasn’t tied down. Was it fabulous or ridiculous? I still don’t know.

I had big afternoon plans. As a regular 6 am riser, regardless of what’s gone on the night before, showing up at a little afternoon soirée where I could dress mostly like myself (minus those sleeves) on New Year’s Eve, pleased me.

I walked to Hermann’s Jazz Club on View Street.  A piece of paper had been hastily taped to the door. It read, Sold out! That slowed me down only momentarily, a question mark in my mind as I opened the door and stepped in. I passed some guy at the entrance who wasn’t really doing anything as far as I could tell and I said, “Is it really sold out?” But I didn’t give him a chance to answer as I walked right by and before I knew it, looking around for that elusive seat, helpless female that I’m not, a man to my right at a table of four at the back motioned to offer me a seat that was available beside him.  Finally, a break on the single supplement, I thought, relieved.

I sat down, wondered how they’d find me to get me to pay the cover because initially I was a little concerned about that but not enough to offer up cash when I knew they were charging $15 more than they’d usually charge just because of some artificial construct: New Year’s Eve.

I ordered an unsophisticated pint of Hoyne dark lager.

The band was playing softly, just the kind of old-style jazz I love.Take 5, Careless Love and tunes like that.

There was a real character on the piano, an older black woman. I was told she was originally from the U.S. From her perch on the piano bench, she used her exaggerated silences in response to questions as humour; a little feigned exasperation with the boys on the tenor sax and trumpet, respectively.

The sounds flowed out casually following short huddles of decision-making. Bass. Drums. Trumpet. Bugle. Fiddle. Tenor sax.

It was just the kind of afternoon that makes the day feel celebratory, like you’re one of the few who got in on a secret; something special that you’ll carry around in feeling as one of those forever good memories

At the end of the afternoon, the man who sells roses, but not nearly enough, given the lack of sales I witnessed, showed up. The man of the sweet middle-aged couple in front of me bought a red rose, presented it to the woman he was with, undoubtedly his wife, while clasping her other hand in his, their eyes meeting, no words needed.

Then the MC said that the flower vendor was also a singer himself and after a few seconds, the woman at the piano yelled out that it just wasn’t right that someone should mention that and not invite him up to sing.

And so, they all huddled together as if deciding upon a play at some new year’s day football game and the band started up tentatively and when the flower vendor opened his mouth, ours fell open as well,  astonished at his tone all Bing Crosby-like. The man who’d offered me the seat in the first place, wondered aloud what I’d been thinking, which was, “Why haven’t these people made a CD?

These were the kind of thoughts I was having as I realized how tired I was of doing things on my own. Like this is my 37th marathon and, as I should be, I’m tired. Tired of all the decisions, all the planning, all the doing, all the trying to make a living, all the failing, all up to me.

But not so tired that I’m willing to spend time with anyone who can’t make it better, really better if you know what I mean. Whose conversation can’t entertain me or who annoys me less that I annoy myself.

But carry on. One foot in front of the other. Buoyed by my delightful afternoon experience, I thought I might proceed with my second tentative plan which was to head to a local church that was having a potluck and then showing a Sally Fields movie about some 60-year-old spinster, (the advertising words, not mine),  who decides to sign up for an online dating site, even though, let’s be honest,  that felt like it was hitting awfully close to home.

As I made my way back home, I kept trying to convince myself about my dubious plan to set foot in a church for a new year’s meal when I’d never even been there before to recite something as simple as the Lord’s Prayer.

“You can leave. You don’t have to stay if you feel weird or bored,” said the voice in my head. “Just check it out.”

I envisioned opening the church hall door to 37 lesbians and 17 other middle aged women between the ages of 47 and 85 because with that choice of movie, they couldn’t possibly be expecting any men, could they? Maybe that had been the plan all along.

Before leaving for Hermann’s earlier, I’d prepared some green curried chicken with rice, just in case. For the potluck. I’d tested it out for lunch, and chuckled to myself thinking about the spiciness,  imagining some unsuspecting, hangry old dear digging into my green curry contribution and choking on the chicken which would be a lot spicier, I imaged, than the typical fare offered up at United Church buffets.

I began having the kind of doubts that can waylay the best of intentions.

By the time I came home, I unlaced my new boots, lied to myself about going out again, threw the green curry in the oven to reheat, punched in 350 degrees, and proceeded to watch a wonderful documentary on Janis Joplin instead.

I admire her for being ahead of her time, for being so who she was in spite of the grief it caused her. I could relate to that, to a much lesser degree.

And before I knew it, it was time to count down to the last 35 seconds of 2017. I chimed in with the voice of Knowledge Network before raising my mug of mint-lime tea, even though I had a small bottle of Henkell Trocken in the fridge.

And here’s the thing: I was happier than anyone should ever be just for managing to stay up until midnight on new year’s eve.

A canvas for new beginnings

As seen from my balcony, at a distance, at 8:00 am, New Year’s Eve Day. Taken with my 55-300.

CANVAS

I wake up every morning now,

only a short distance from

Emily Carr’s heritage home on Government Street,

and that makes me happier than it should

because of who she was and who she became

even though who is she to me, really?

Just another woman who struggled to live

how she wanted to live — no more, no less.

On canvas and across her days, an original.

Not as easy a feat as that might seem.

Love her or reject her still?

Settler that she was, that almost all of us now are.

So much to learn about this old city.

Peering down from my eighth floor concrete perch,

each day book-ended by

watercolour washes of lucky accidents

and in the distance, three deciduous.

I’ve named them The Triplets because

three tall tops poking above the rest is what I see.

Regal and stretching, their tippy-toe branches

resembling that delicate ancient art: Crewel embroidery

except, in this case, offered up to the gods.

All it takes is a little imagination to transform this morning’s vista:

blacks

blues

pinks

grays

into an orange horizon on a distant savanna.

The heat from a tanned land blurring the whirling dervish of far away hands.

Nowhere near, as I am and The Triplets are, to Mile Zero on the West Coast of Canada where Terry Fox runs, in stillness, towards eternity.

____________________________________________________________________

Wishing for you this year, as I do for most everyone who has touched my life, ever, good fortune, stellar health, memorable conversations, fulfilling friendships and as C.S. Lewis describes in his book of the same name, The Four Loves.

Use bright colours to decorate your canvas in the next 365 days. Happy 2018!

Not that kind of revival: Lekwungen

The other evening I went to the Royal BC Museum to an event billed as a storytelling event by Indigenous people.

In my mind, I was going to show up and First Nation’s people were going to tell me stories that I could romanticize all chock-a-block with salmon and ravens and full moons and North West Coast mythology. And afterwards, I’d be full, as if I’d eaten too much bannock. My belly would ache but emotionally, I’d feel satisfied, probably self-satisfied to be more accurate.  Reconciliation with a capital R. I’m all in.

Sady, it’s beginning to feel, to me, that the planet is going to melt and implode before true reconciliation makes any significant inroads. Too many non-indigenous people aren’t willing to listen and try and understand and it pains me to hear their ignorance.

But on Wednesday evening, I was in the small amphitheater on the fourth floor of the museum where I quickly realized, these stories weren’t going to be told in English. They were going to be told in their own languages, in this case, Hul’q’umi’num’ [Hull-ka-mee-num] and SENC?OTEN [sin-cho-ten].

An elder, Sarah Modeste, was there. Apparently, she’s the woman who turned the knitting of Cowichan sweaters into an entrepreneurial endeavour and, at one time, she had 300 knitters under her coordination. There was a linguist there named Andrew Cienski who works with First Nations’ speakers to develop language skills and resources for teachers and community members working to revive their languages.  The Lekwungen language has one native speaker left. It’s almost extinct.

The moderator who, unfortunately, was non-Indigenous, told us to listen to the pacing and the tone and the sounds. And as Sarah Modeste began to speak, even though at 82, recovering from a recent stroke, she’d sometimes have to pause when she forgot a word, I began to visualize her with her dad, on the beach or in a long house and how he may have spoken to her as she shared a story called “Clam digging with my dad.”

Afterwards, she shared a memory, in English, about how she’d be sitting on the beach and she’d hear the sound of the paddles from his canoe, returning to her, and how they’d knock against the side of the boat, the wake of the water and we’ve almost all heard that somewhere. She brought that alive.

Hearing the language, not knowing the words, brought home the reality that, OH MY GOD, THERE WERE ENTIRE FUNCTIONING CIVILIZATIONS THAT EXISTED LONG BEFORE US in a way that I hadn’t truly internalized before. It’s hard to explain it. Of course I knew that. But I hadn’t really internalized the implications of it until I listened to the people who spoke share their languages.

Sarah Modeste said that when she speaks in her own language, she’s always thinking about the trees and the water and the animals and everything that is the natural world. When she turns to speaking English, she immediately begins to have thoughts like, “I wonder what’s on sale at Walmart? How much did those shoes cost I saw at The Bay?”  English is a universal language of trade.

Other Indigenous people got up to speak, mainly women, and one of them was a Grade Two teacher. Unfortunately, I now can’t recall her name, but when she told her story, she used her entire body, gesturing and modulating her tone and when you hear someone speak a language the way she did,  you understand that when you refuse a people their language, you have destroyed the foundation of their lives.

Right moves and the universe moves too

Moving to new places is so weird. Like relationships, each experience, and how it comes to be, is completely unique.

When, in my mid 20s, I finally moved out of my parent’s house into Vancouver, I lived in a bachelor suite full of suites directly across from Vancouver City Hall. Amazingly, that house is still there, I think. One morning, I opened my door to leave and a dead mouse was perfectly positioned right in front of my door. I thought someone had put it there as a joke. I was indignant. I knocked on my neighbour’s door, who, at the time, I’d never seen nor heard nor met. I quizzed her on the dead specimen on the ground between our feet. Her name was Kelly. We became fast friends. She was at BCIT doing radio broadcasting. That’s how friendship happens. She’s in Edmonton now where she has lived for a long time and has been married forever, which, at the time, I would not have predicted.

When I moved to Salmon Arm all those year ago for a community newspaper reporting job, I moved there in a whirlwind, tears streaming down my face, because I didn’t really want to leave my former Journalism instructor who I was in the throes of the honeymoon phase of a relationship with. And we all know how that ended. Well, those of you who need to know, know. If that was SO LONG AGO, why is it still so completely vivid in my mind, like maybe it just happened ten years ago or something?

When I moved to the West End around 1999 or thereabouts, I moved into an old Art Deco building on Haro Street. It was so hot, every single window in the building was flung open 365 days a year. My landlord was a former youth care worker but a designer/artist at heart. He was in his mid-fifties at the time, I think, and he had a long grey beard and long scraggly grey hair always topped off with one of those square hats. When I walked into his apartment I was completely shocked. It was like walking back in time into some 16th century castle, all dark wood and iron, as if some Benedictine father might emerge from the galley kitchen.

In the West End, I became good friends with a woman named Heather. We met at work. Her husband, whom she’d been married to from the time she was 20, (she was about 40) had just passed away in six months from Multiple Myeloma. I can still recall us sitting in Delaneys coffee shop on Denman, surrounded by mostly gay men, tears streaming down her face, which I could usually turn into that hugely relieving crying-laughing emotion. We had a good friendship for a reason and a season.

When I moved to Salt Spring, I can still go immediately to that time in my mind and be filled with the most overwhelmingly joyous feelings. That little cottage had a little hot tub under the evergreens and a delicate feathering of wisteria climbing up the deck. Heaven! I would be in my car and I’d just be letting out sounds of happiness. I can say without a doubt, I’ve never been happier than when I first moved to Salt Spring.

I tried so many different things in the past five years. I mean, honestly, I don’t know too many people who put things “out there” as much as I did in the past five years trying to make SOMETHING happen. The Writer’s Studio. All those psychology and counselling psych courses trying to gather pre-requisites to apply to a Masters in Counselling Psych. Oxford Seminars, ESL course. Temping. I have the resume of a writer even if I’ve never written a book.

You want to talk to me about your shit. Go for it!  I won’t be taking it on but I’ll listen, with compassion because I. Have. Been. There. At least in my own unique way. Mine all mine. Get your own!

You know you’re really getting on when you’re suddenly proud of all you’ve overcome instead of being ashamed of it. THAT only took 50 years.

The last few years have been job interview after interview and so many stupid questions as if nobody has a brain left in their judging little heads and can’t use their intuition, references, and best of all, me, right in front of them as a good enough reason to say, “Okay, get your ass in here five days a week and we’ll pay you.” I’m still pissed about it but I just have to let it go.

Just a little while before this latest move, I was seriously preparing, mentally, to pack up and just move to Thailand. It’s why I took some ESL training in December even though teaching kids how to speak English, mansplaining in a female way, has never been all that high on things I’ve ever really wanted to do. Still, I was ready to do it.

I even got offered a job working in a place called Buriram or City of Happiness in the North of Thailand. I accepted the job, sent them a copy of my passport and never heard from them again. It just wasn’t MY happiness, I guess. Although I do think it would have been such an adventure. Thailand for the winter or a government job. Which would you take? I accept that if it was meant to be it would have happened. Besides, I’ve already been to Thailand.

I now have a very intimate understanding in a hugely positive way, (Salt Spring), and a not so positive way, (New West), that when The Universe thinks something isn’t quite right, it just won’t budge. And when it thinks it is right, you can practically just ly down, have a nap, forgetaboutallofit and things just fall into place, handed back to you on a silver platter.

I’m now here in Victoria, employed, within walking distance of my workplace which is in a brand new Leeds Platinum complex, which I can actually see from my balcony. Walking to work ETA: 10 minutes or less.

It’s as if your thoughts really do create your reality or something. Go figure?

Not getting on any kind of transportation to get to work was probably my number one criteria for a job, and yes, I realize that doesn’t actually have ANYTHING to do with work but that was my criteria. Now, done!

I’m feeling very positive about this move. I’m feeling like all that stuck nothingness leading up to this is going to be a distant memory very soon.

Hallelujah and gratitude!

A happy introduction to Victoria’s literary community

Victoria Literary Festival at The Metro- (L-r)Patrick Lane, Lorna Crozier, Esi Edugyan.

Last night I went to an event as part of Victoria Literary festival. I had never heard Gregory Scofield read and I have yet to read any of his books. Last night he gave a reading of his long poem, Muskrat Woman, about MMIW and it was really compelling. It’s such a great reminder that when writers can also read really well, the audience is silent and they are right there, present, in the belly of the delivery and changed in some slight way afterwards.

I was introduced to Zoe Whittall through her readings. She’s another writer who, I’m sorry to admit, I’ve never read or even heard of. I’m impressed that she can write for some of CBC’s really successful shows such as Baroness von SketchSchitt’s Creek and still have the ability to go back to her own personal writing. And of course, I’d seen/heard Patrick Lane read. The  last time was a long time ago when his book, There is a Season, came out. It was at the Sechelt Writer’s Festival. What year was that? 

I’d only seen Lorna Crozier read at the introductory Growing Room Festival last spring or whenever that was. But to see them together, and the banter between them, was pretty entertaining. I think I know who wears the pants in that family and it isn’t Patrick Lane. But I’m sure, in reality, it’s very give and take. They just seem like the kind of people you’d love to be able to linger around a dinner table with. The evening was quite wonderful.

As a newcomer to Victoria, I got a real sense of the strength of the writing community here just from attending that one event. And it was clear, even with Esi Edugyan facilitating the conversation, that this pair have had a hand in the careers of so many writers who have gone through the UVic Creative Writing program. It was like witnessing a family reunion or something. 

It also made me think that anyone ranting on about the history of CanLit and its white roots, should just get over themselves because these are the people who historically made things happen. Like anything, evolution is a part of that, and the transformation is happening right now as it should be. It’s because of that foundation that a Canadian literature even exists even if it isn’t yet as representative of all realties in the country as it needs to be.

As I sat waiting for the event to begin, I was eavesdropping on the conversation behind me, well, not really eavesdropping so much as not being able to avoid overhearing it. It was that somewhat excruciating navel-gazing about a personal writing process that as writers we’re all so familiar with, especially if you’ve been involved in any kind of workshopping. I feel so done with that.  I just feel the need to find the time to focus on my own writing and it’s pretty clear to me that I just need to show up for that and there’s no need to discuss anything really. I know that might sound harsh but it feels like that phase is over. Let’s not get all precious about putting some words on a page or the process. As Patrick Lane so perfectly described it. “I’ll sometimes write a sentence that I really love  and get really excited about that, until I realize, Oh fuck, I need to write an entire paragraph.” And then keep doing that over and over. Again and again.

I’m not saying I wouldn’t love to have just one person who I could rely on to be a reader of my stuff to give me feedback, someone whose opinion I trusted and who actually would give me feedback when they said they were going to. Someone who understood the process, especially when it comes to first drafts,  but that’s so hard to find unless you pay someone, or they’re in your life as a partner and into literary things or you just luck out. Not having that is a real lacking for me in so many ways, much more important ways, of course, than just writing feedback.

I also met a young woman who was working for a new self-assisted publishing company (I found that terminology interesting) called TellWell Talent. She is the digital media marketing person for them and we talked about how a lot of authors these days are choosing to self publish because of the control it gives them, the ability to get things done more quickly than traditional publishing and to market the book as effectively, if not more so.

In my books, that all counts as a very satisfying evening. 

Admitting to the story under the story

This week, I got this short piece published in this online magazine out of Nova Scotia called Understorey. Its own underlying story is that it launched in November 2013 as a project of the Second Story Women’s Centre in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia. They published seven issues on the many facets of motherhood and in 2016 Understorey formed a new partnership with the Alexa McDonough Institute for Women, Gender and Social Justice (AMI) at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax. Under an editorial board and editor Katherine Barrett, its mandate has diversified to include a whole range of themes important to Canadian women.

A million stories in one

Initially, the piece I wrote, The Trouble with Margaret, was written way back in 2012 like many of the Salt Spring stories I have written when the experiences I had while living there between 2008 and November 2011 were still really fresh.

The original version of this story referenced many other aspects that this final version omits. I edited it down to 1,500 words from 3,500 in order to meet the callout for stories related to a theme of “Service.”

It’s still hard for me to believe that I chose to take on this part-time, overnight care-giving role that I write about and it’s an episode in my life that was, I’m not afraid to admit, the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Because in addition, sometimes after not sleeping for most of the night, and making Margaret breakfast and dealing with whatever might have happened during the night, I’d have to get ready to go to my other four-day-per-week job at the employment centre by 10 am. I know, if you’re a parent, you’re like, so? What are you saying? What’s weird about that? Well, in an ideal case, at least as a parent, you theoretically end up with engaging adults at the end of it that have brought you some amount of joy. We can only hope. No guarantees!

When I re-read the story, I think, I’m not being honest. I haven’t described any of my own really negative feelings about what it was like to be on that overnight duty. The story doesn’t really tap into that aspect at all. But that’s the thing about stories. As the writer, you get to mold them. I could write ten stories about this experience, each one different which could be an interesting exercise, actually. And so, it’s true that stories are never really done. As soon as they are printed, many writers’ obsessive and doubting selves want to start all over again because they see what’s on the page and they also see everything that has been omitted.

The most predictable relationship in life

But there are only so many days in a lifetime. Other stories are calling out to be wrestled to the page. And that reality emphasizes, yet again, that the most important and predictable relationship — the most intimate, the most vivid and long-lasting and yes, ultimately the most satisfying — is the one between the writer, their thoughts and the blank page. It just has to be that way.