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. 

A tried and true solution for retreating from the world: fiction

“Buddies” by gayle mavor

I’m sure I’m not the only person feeling overwhelmed by the ugly events in the world this week, this month, this year. It occurred to me that not since 9/11 have I felt so overwhelmed by circumstances out of my control. Today feels especially bad. I was wondering how to rid myself of these feelings of anxiety and angst and worry.

You could meditate, I told myself. I closed my eyes. Breathed in. Breathed out. Breathed in. Breathed out.  But I couldn’t stay with it. Not for more than a few times. I couldn’t stay with the breath. Not today, a day that most certainly is the kind of day that would benefit from such a practice, even though, my day, my safety, at this moment, unlike others, has not been threatened or decimated.

I opened my eyes and looked around.

I noticed a book on my coffee table. I’d checked it out of the library earlier this week. Flash Fiction International. Very Short Stories from Around the World.  I began flipping through it at random. I inhaled the one to three page stories and then I came across a story that seemed so perfect in its irony and in its sad truth that even though I shouldn’t feel better, I did. The act of reading, going somewhere else, words delivering an unexpected journey, beckoning through sentences, an escape from social media, was comforting. It reminded me that retreating into books, enduring monuments to the best of civilization, can help.

The book, Flash Fiction International, was published in 2015 and edited by James Thomas, Robert Shapard and Christopher Merrill., director of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa.

The story I’m referring to above is called My Brother at the Canadian Border by Sholeh Wolpe (for Omid). On the story, the author, a woman, is identified as Iran/United States. I hope you’ll click on her website  and read this short piece of flash fiction.

Walking with ghosts and angels

Painting by Jacky Hosford

As part of LitFest New West, an exhibit is up at Anvil Centre that paired writers of short text with artists who were to interpret the short text or poem.

I was paired with Jacky Hosford, a New Westminster resident originally from the U.K. Through layers and frames she painted her interpretation of what I wrote below. I like the way she’s put the frames into the painting to hint at it being a window into the past, and into the future.

Executive Director, Arts Council New West: Stephen O Shea, Poet Aidan Chafe and LitFest Chair Janice Bannister

I had a really good time at LitFest this year. I was on the planning committee so after all those meetings since September, it was good to see what transpired in real time when the weekend finally arrived.

 

 

 

Nasreen Pejvack, J.J. Lee, and Janet Kvammen

With the kick off at the library via the PopThis!Podcast  paired with J.J. Lee through to the Read Aloud event, I felt perhaps for the first time in the five years since I’ve lived back here, the real strength of community that flourishes in New West and that gets talked about on social media by local residents.

New West residents do a good job of branding themselves, I’ll give them that, thanks to small local businesses with great social media such as Steel and Oak, 100 Braid Street studios, Banana Lab, Tenth to the Fraser and others. And I think City Council and many other residents have a really progressive approach to things.

There is a lot going on here when it comes to words and writing and the people involved. I especially loved the In Your Words event that is put together by Alan Girling and takes place at New Westminster Public Library on a monthly basis.

Kyle McKillop reads Patrick Lane

It’s really great to hear others share their favourite authors and poets, highlighting some of those authors’ books and then giving their perspective by reading the authors’ words and sharing some background about the writers’ lives. The Lit Fest version shared Evelyn Lau, Patrick Lane, Thomas Hardy and a travel writer, Jan Morris. I’d never head of Jan Morris so right after the event was over, I went upstairs and checked out one of her books. It’s called Contact: A Book of Encounters about the people who she’s had the pleasure of connecting with during travels.

And I dropped by the New West Writer’s Group Critique session which was interesting as people shared their feedback on some writing pieces.  The Read Aloud Event was great with fantastic readings by Aislinn Hunter, Nasreen Pejvack, Catherine Owen and Carleigh Baker.  And it was interesting to hear the winners of the Short Fiction contest that got sponsored by local lawyer Dale Darychuk, Q.C.

New West Writers Group and their monthly feedback sessions

Poet Kevin Spenst and Shauna Kaendo doing performance piece to his love poems at Anvil Centre.

Carleigh Baker who read from her new book Bad Endings.

Anna Camporese, playwright Elaine Avila and me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s what I wrote:

Walking with Ghosts and Angels

When you return to the small city where you were born, you can’t help but walk with ghosts and angels.

As the radius of your routes expand, you carry in memory everyone who has ever accompanied you.

Landmarked meeting places.

Dad. There. Plaid shirt and black lunch kit full of tuna fish sandwiches made dutifully by mom.

That vacant lot you weren’t supposed to set foot in as a kid and that old woman, Snookie, [was she lonely?] who lived above that garage across the street.

Backyard forts. Baseball diamonds. Lacrosse boxes. Willow trees.

First crush on lifeguard at Kiwanis pool.

Even strangers. Their faces stick.

You carry their hearts on your sleeve as if you’re leading an invisible parade.

Over there. Your grandparents’ backyard and their cement birdbath.

A purple plum tree, its marbled gifts dropped in late summer.

The cobwebbed wooden shed where your Grass is Greener Syndrome first arose as if Grass is Greener might actually be a place that you’d find if only you were better at reading maps.

Now, walking through the cemetery on the hill, you’ve left this era behind, retreated — perhaps to the 1950s — ignoring what the world has become.

Convincing yourself species aren’t disappearing and you’re not afraid of what’s coming down the pipe: oil, the Big One, and even a lack of imagination.

Not the most uplifting ending but written quickly and in line with how I’ve been feeling, about how many people the world over surely have been feeling given the state of international affairs at this point in time.

Write for 5: The Rorschach of Writing Exercises

Card 10 By Hermann Rorschach (died 1922) – http://www.pasarelrorschach.com/en/inkblots.htm, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3594383

Hi Kids,

All three or four of you!

Well that was fun while it lasted. I’m speaking about Write for 5. Apparently it was mostly fun for me. It seemed like a good idea. It did increase my social media followers. Whoopee! I had high hopes about participation but I guess I’d have to have a following of thousands for participation on the scale that would make it a really interesting exercise with interactions.

Perhaps many people either didn’t see the point or didn’t want to waste their imagination or time on what they consider a trivial exercise as I reflect on how wrong they are about that assessment.

Oh well. I learned stuff about how the imagination works, or at least how mine does. Basically, I’d look at these images for just a short time and it wouldn’t take very long before an idea, a connection or a storyline came to me and if I just carried on from the time I chose the image (yes, I did have that advantage) to the time I wrote about it, the writing required almost no effort. It was like the Rorschach test of writing.

From picking the photo to reading the small pieces to choosing a book from my bookshelf and even popping those in the mail, and then thinking about the person opening the package in their mailbox, it was a nice little five week diversion.

In terms of effort expended, as you can imagine, the reward versus effort quotient was a little lopsided.

So, I guess I’ll just go back to as I was. Thanks very much to those who took the time to play along. You know who you are. Much appreciated.

Enjoy your own creative projects, whatever they might be, as we on the West Coast still await spring, the kind of spring we used to know and love.

Oh, and by the way, what do YOU see in the card? I see a Thai king in a headdress and a luscious red robe with two green parrots on his shoulder. (Is she kidding?) Analyze that!

Write for 5 to win a book on writing

Hi Kids,

So four weeks of Write for 5 have now flown by.

It would be so awesome if I could motivate a few more writers anywhere in the world to participate.

So far I’ve mailed off four packages. Those have gone to Toronto, Uruguay, Vancouver and Atlanta, Georgia. Last week I shipped off a photographic print that I bought a few years ago that I loved but I never had anywhere to hang it. I communicated with the recipient and it seemed like last week’s writing book wasn’t the kind of book that he would probably get around to reading, so I looked around and based on his blog, I picked a photographic print for him.

Of course, I should have taken a photo of that before I sent it off to Atlanta, Georgia, but I forgot. Maybe he’ll send me a photo when it arrives and then I’ll be reminded of who the print was created by. I know it was a young photographer based in Delta, B.C.

I’ve decided that I can only send one book per person once at this point given the limited number of participants so that means your chances of getting this fantastic little book are pretty high if you’ve yet to be chosen.

This week’s book prize is called, The Situation and the Story by Vivian Gornick. And you’ll also receive the above print.

For those of you who have been playing along. You know the routine. I post 2 images at 8:00 am on Saturday morning and you have until Sunday at 11:00 pm to Write for 5. I want to experience the uniqueness of your imagination in five minutes.

On Monday, March 27, I’ll choose the small piece that spoke to me in some way.
This might be the easiest contest you’ll ever enter.

Are you in?  See you back here bright and early on Saturday, or whenever you get around to it over the weekend. Have a good one.

Understanding trauma through storytelling

photo by gayle mavor. Art by Suzanne Fulbrook.

I went to a panel at the Growing Room Festival on Saturday called “No Way out but Through: Writing about Trauma.” The panelists were: Evelyn Lau, Christine Lowther and Sonnet L’Abbe with Elee Kraljii Gardener as the moderator. 

I was invited to be one of the active listeners. I’m not sure who suggested me. Someone, I suppose, who knows that I’ve taken quite a few counselling and related courses (eight to be exact) as pre-requisites to a Masters in the past few years. Poet Jonina Kirtan was the other active listener.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, nobody needed to talk to us.

Let me rephrase that. Some women may have benefited from sharing their feelings. There were no outward signs (except coughing) to indicate that. The thing about coughing is maybe you have a cold or maybe your emotion is being manifested through coughing.  Who’s to say.

How strangely serendipitous it should be that I would find myself being invited to that event because what some of the panelists had to say set off a bit of a light bulb moment for me in understanding that some of what I’m writing about is, of course, trauma-related. And if I re-examine some of the things I’ve been writing about from that perspective, it’s much clearer to me how to focus the stories and perhaps my entire manuscript with that in the background as the “golden thread” of explanation.

Evelyn Lau spoke to how she needed to be completely in her own space, in silence, in order to have the psychological space to work through her stuff.  She spoke about forming her commitment to writing long before a commitment to people.  “When talking hasn’t worked, writing is all that’s left.” And she also reminded us that trauma can also translate, eventually, into strength.” That, I believe, for me, has absolutely been true.

As a writer, a storyteller, you have to decide who you serve. Do you serve the writing or do you serve the people around you? Christine Lowther recalled hearing that (from Evelyn Lau) and as a result, (and she’s not alone in this experience based on what I’ve heard from other writers), she’s had relatives not speak to her for periods of time because of some of the things she’s written.

I think it was Elee Kraljii who said “the closer you are to a trauma, the more catharsis feels like the impetus for the writing. Years later, however, if you are still writing about it, it can feel psychologically damaging.”  Interesting insight to mull over.

Christine Lowther has been writing/re-writing about one specific image left over from a childhood experience, approaching that trauma and having new memories surface to add new layers and different ways into the story.  

She recalled having some student say to her 20 years ago, “Well, I hope you’re not going to be writing about this 20 years from now!” And she still is.  And maybe that’s what every writer is doing. Writing about the things that were the impetus for writing in the first place, in only slightly revised ways, but with layer upon layer of new insights impacting the words on the page.

Sonnet has this incredible project where she’s using Shakespeare’s sonnets to write around and interject her own writing over top of them, layering her experience as a woman of a Guyanese, South Asian and African mixed descent over some of the most seminal works in British colonialism.  I hope I understood that correctly.

I don’t know when trauma became a commonly referred to word but it didn’t exist when I was growing up. Or if it did, the depth of understanding related to it is greater now. At least that’s how it seems to me.  After a lot of therapy, some education and my own insights, I can’t help but see how that term – trauma – gets loaded with so much misinformation and misunderstanding.

Our stories, after all, are just our stories. They don’t come with labels alerting us to the clinical box they might fit inside. We can so easily forget to recognize how the scenes we’ve been a part of in life can be defined clinically in ways that we can so easily overlook. Sometimes that acknowledgement, not just in life, but on the page, can not only lead us to be kinder to ourselves, but to a more cohesive narrative.

Week 3: Write for 5 right now

photo by gayle mavor

photo from Creative Commons CC0-public domain

If it’s Saturday morning, it must be time to Write for 5. Or not! This is Week 3 of doing this and I’ve so enjoyed reading the writing of those writers who have taken the time out of their hectic schedules to sit themselves down and courageously face the blank page and screen.

If you’ve participated before, you know the routine.  If not, here are the guidelines:

·         I post a photo (or two) here at 8am on Saturday morning.

·         You look at the photo(s) above this blog post.

·         You take as much time as you need up to Sunday at 9pm

·         When you’re ready to write, set the timer for five minutes.

·         When you’re done, you post your results in the comments.

·         Do I ever look at what I’ve written and change a few words, and fix it slightly? Of course. I wouldn’t want you to put up what you don’t feel comfortable sharing. But perfection is not the goal. Heck, it’s not even possible. Five minutes. That goes FAST. But that’s the challenge and for me, that’s the fun.

·         Form is open: poetry, CNF, Flash fiction. You decide.

·         After it’s over, on the following Monday, I’ll let you know whose writing touched me in that moment in some way. Usually, it’s in a way that I’m not always able to define as to why. Then, I choose a book for that writer from one of my books and mail it to them. It’s an awesome way to cull my books, and to give someone a nice surprise.

Good luck. Give it a try!

PS: I probably won’t be posting my own response until Sunday morning. No time this Saturday. Very thankful for the scheduling feature in WordPress.