writer

COVID-19: The Mother of all staycations

I keep finding messages. First I found a whole street of fairy houses I didn’t know existed in Victoria and then this (above), in a tree, near my apartment. I like it. Sweet.

I can take no credit for sourcing what I’m about to share with you.

My friend Susan in Vancouver sent it to me yesterday and someone sent it to her. Please share it if you are so inclined.

I started reading it while I was still in bed, early in the morning, worrying that using an IPhone in bed that I hadn’t wiped down upon waking would surely come back to bite me. You see how my brain has changed in ways that I’m not okay with?

Of course the topic is COVID-19. But it’s something that’s written with so much insight.

Yesterday, (today right now as I write this) was the first day I was feeling like, ‘oh, this, this is for real! This isn’t just some mother of all Staycations.'”

Here’s the article, The Coronation (15-30 minutes)  https://charleseisenstein.org/essays/the-coronation/

Here’s a link if you’d like to know more about this person, Charles Eisenstein.

Hope you’re staying the course, physically distancing at 2 meters, socially connecting, keeping up some weird new routine, taking time to go inside yourself, and think about what you might want to change once the crisis part is over. I hope you’re doing okay.

When the poetry arrives

There’s something so special about reading a book by someone you’re acquainted with after it has finally been written and published.

When I came home from an evening walk and saw a slim cardboard box leaning against my apartment door, I knew right away what it was.

I ordered it from Indigo way back in February (which I realize isn’t that long ago but now feels like another decade). The poet created it over 7 years.

I was sad the poet couldn’t see me rip it open. That would have been gratifying for her, I’m sure.

Her name is Tanja Bartel, the “j”, the Finnish give-away, perhaps.

She was one of my SFU Writer’s Studio peeps and by day she’s a high school English teacher in Mission, something she’s done for a very long time. She appears to be one of those high school teachers kids talk about into their futures and at reunions.

She’s been published in a bunch of literary journals: Geist, New Poetry, Antigonish Review, Rusty Toque, Grain, Maynard and others. This is her first book of poetry.

She’s of Finnish heritage with white blonde hair. She’s a wife and a mother to two children, now grown, including a son who lives with a rare genetic mutation. It’s almost guaranteed that she must be the only poet to have written an article that’s been published about a member of her family in the American Journal of Medical Genetics.

She has an old yellow lab named Romeo who, in Facebook photos, I love.  She loves to walk Romeo on the dikes near her home in Pitt Meadows. And she’s a woman with a mind full of intrigue and eccentricities as I expect poets to be.

What I have just told you is pretty much everything I know about Tanja.

Her book is called Everyone at This Party, published by an imprint (icehouse poetry) of Gooselane Editions in New Brunswick. It’s 71 pages. And it has a fantastic cover you can see above by artist/photographer, Alexey Turenkov.

She’s agreed to let me write this blog post and to share a poem from the book with you. I picked the poem, Whisper Street, because it really captured me, including the line about the “caged hamsters,” or maybe especially that line. A commentary on suburbia that anyone who has ever lived in suburbia could relate to. While the themes can be dark, there’s a lot of humour in the poems as well. 

When I told Tanja which poem I’d picked, she told me it was the last poem she wrote, added to the book in the eleventh hour and one of her favourites.

There are so many other poems I loved every bit as much, like Oxygen, Everyone at This Party, Sawmill Town, Backyard Wedding, Best Laid Plans and others.

Whisper Street

People are not as friendly as you’d expect

in places that run on friendliness.


Work, parties.

Work parties.


I came to see all co-workers and all partygoers

as one rude unit.


And to view myself as an only

(a single rude unit).


On my street, crumbled clouds, a half-eaten sun.

Agony rolls underground.


Something stings my wrist in the fattest vein.

The day ahead itches and I embark on a radiant


laziness in an effort to mimic the way

of dogs, envying their thoughtlessness.


My deaf dog’s hauled his shapeless old self to bed.

I’d follow, but for all the noise:


One thousand caged hamsters crack

sunflower seeds. Neighbour removes the Earth’s crust


around his property with a pressure washer.

Toddler next door screams blue murder


that he won’t go to bed. A mirror busted in half.

Rubber gloves snapped off and flung to the tiles.


I want to live on Whisper Street where a lounging

willow tree soaks up all our consequences.


Where nobody kills dandelions and everyone

grows yellow roses that hug one bee per blossom.


Violins play from tree houses.

No one mows their lawns and laundry blows by


like sails down a stream.

Green traffic lights that say you’re allowed to keep going,


but you don’t have to.

Good luck that won’t let me be.
Congratulations Tanja. I’m savouring them.

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!

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!