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.

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.

The definitive example of how ideas come

July 31, 2017: Watched a Youtube video of a talk from 2001 by *Ray Bradbury recommended on Facebook by a stranger named Pauline Probyn.

August 1, 2017: Woke up to a neon ball of orange as if a graphic on the cover of Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 was plucked from the page and pasted onto the sky, your very own slice of sky, a single sky of a billion views.

Met artist for coffee. Artist in search of a home, artist who speaks eloquently about the devaluing of art and the desperation to achieve (needle in haystack in Lower Mainland),  the base level of Maslow’s Hierarchy: shelter.

Listen.

Go about day. Buy tabbouleh and falafel for lunch.

Read one piece of short fiction afterwards luxuriating in a rare ability to focus lately, completely.

Feel the space in device-free time.

Breathe.

Turn on computer in spite of last line.

Scan the Places for Writers’ website. Notice a call. Infinity’s Kitchen. Seeking experimental work that emerges from recipes.

Visualize my mother’s girlhood notebook from her Home Economics classes. Grade VII. Grade 8. Grade 9.

Recognize the feeling of an opening.

Visions of photographs taken from that black book, mixing with her perfectly straight handwriting, remnants of a lost way of life. 1940s.

Stirrings of inspiration.

Every heading in her ever-so-tidy handwriting a historically domestic tombstone.

Duties of Dishwasher
Experiments in Potato Apparatus
Luncheon Creamed Vegetables
Preserving of Peaches
Canning
Flour Mixtures
Sandwiches

Marvel at her achingly neat drawings.

Wonder about the 12, 13, 14 year old she was then. Internal brightening. 

Letters and photos and possibilities collage across imagination as if I am spool knitting (corking, French knitting, Tomboy knitting) who she might have been back then onto the page.

This is how ideas come.

_____________________________

*I don’t agree with Ray Bradbury that “modern” writers can’t write short stories or poems or that we’re all looking for ourselves. Sometimes we’re looking for those who are completely foreign. But I listen to this through the lens of knowing to accept opinions in the context of the age, race, and gender of the opinion-giver.

Fermented beverages, lemon macarons and 77KFREEZE

June 2, 2017

Dear Diary,

A friend, Karen, alerted me to a free course at the new Tommy Douglas Library on Kingsway near Edmonds which is a small library but a bright open space. Very inviting indeed.

There was a workshop there on fermented beverages on Monday night. Now I know what you’re thinking. What miniscule little pocket of tree huggers would check THAT out? Well, there were close to 30 people there. And not who I was expecting. A multicultural bunch for sure, more middle-aged than young.

A young twenty-something female, a Ginger, whose name I didn’t catch, and who, as you might guess, liked to use the word “cool!” with fervour, was sharing her considerable knowledge, minus the not very well thought out decision to go around the room first and have people introduce themselves. That left about an hour for her to share the knowledge we’d come for, but when you know better you do better.

She was sharing recipes for Kombucha, Kefir, and Ginger Ale with Ginger Bug. A while ago Karen had shared some Kefir culture with me because I love Kefir (pronounced Kuh FEAR, not KEE fer)  and thought it might be even better to make it myself until I realized that with one person, that’s a lot of Kefir. It wasn’t long before I felt like a slave to the kefir grains, like I was doing that experiment from high school to teach you what a drag it is to have children (or a boiled egg) that you’re responsible for 24/7.

Many people were there to learn how to make Kombucha and other fermented stuff, even Kimchi, for the benefits of the probiotics and the taste. Kombucha is made from black or green tea, non caffeinated. I learned a new word – SCOBY – which stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast. A SCOBY is critical for Kombucha.

As I sat there I was reminded of a drink called Sima made by the family I stayed with in Finland so many years ago and recollected that, amazingly, I’d kept the recipe. Here it is if you want to try it. Super simple.

SIMA (Recipe from Kuisma’s in Finland)

  • 2-1/2 litres water
  • 2 whole sliced lemons
  • 1/4 kilo brown sugar
  • 1/4 kilo white sugar
  • 1 tsp. yeast
  • raisins.

Boil the water. Add two whole sliced lemons, 1/4 kilo of brown sugar, 1/4 kilo of white sugar. Shake well. Leave sit for an hour. Add 2-1/2 litres of cold water. Add 1 tsp of yeast and shake. Let sit for 12 hours. Put through strainer squishing lemon juice out of lemon pieces. Put into bottles. Put two raisins in every bottle. Leave in fridge. When raisins rise to the top, it’s ready.

You can also check out Cultures for Health for all you need to get started with fermentation.

The young woman was starting her own company where she’ll be selling some of her fermented beverages and she’s part of a new social venture market that’s going to happen every Tuesday, 11-4, on Granville Island called Groundswell.

Artist Barb Webb at her opening at The Gallery at Queen’s Park in New West’s Queen’s Park.

On Wednesday, I took a few photos at The Gallery at Queen’s Park as I usually do once a month at the opening of a new art show. June’s show is Barbara Webb’s acrylic paintings called Nature of Layers. It was nice to have a full house at the gallery. The food was to die for, especially the lemon macarons made by her daughter, and can I just say, her two kids just had the nicest energy. I mean look at them. Don’t you just get the best feeling when you see them. No, they’re not twins.

Spy those lemon macarons? To die for! Made by Barb Webb’s daughter.

 

Went out with Colleen last night to a teeny, weeny Lebanese place called The Jam Jar on Commercial drive. Good energy. Very friendly service. The food was good and there was one dish we had that was super delish called Kafta Skillet. I loved that one.  A lot of people on TripAdvisor raved about the deep fried cauliflower tossed in pomegranate molasses but I wasn’t crazy about it. A small appetizer of it would have been good enough given the strong taste.

Employee behind the cloud making our frozen dessert using liquid nitrogen.

Afterwards, we wandered into the place, almost next door, called 77KFreeze and for $8 you too can wait to get some ice cream made from a liquid nitrogen process. You can choose from a variety of liquid bases (cream, light cream, almond, soy, coconut, etc.) and then you add to that with fresh fruit (or they have their own suggested recipes) and then they put it in those metal cylinders and there’s lots of white clouds arising from their equipment and voila, frozen dessert. Good luck to them. It is a novelty.

Recently went to a place called Sula on Commercial Drive. Indian food. Now that is good. I would highly recommend it.

And now here we are: Full circle. The weekend’s winding back around faster than you can say Kalamazoo or What’s for dinner?

After a funeral

I could not bring myself to feel enough to cry over your ending here.

Why would I?

You have moved into your element.

Christian beliefs actualized.

A joy too big to describe.

In on the secret.

Maybe it is us you now shed tears for

in that place where

you are always dressed in red

cheeks hurt from smiling so much

celestial wings wrapping you with the love

we can only imagine, the kind

you’d sought ever since your father left and

you’d steeled yourself against

heartbreak arriving in that same way again on any chilly spring morning.

None of that earthly business left now.

No need for words where spirit plays.

Comfort before worries have a chance to surface,

making you wish you’d accepted,

unconditionally,

that of course everything was always going to be alright

In life.

In death.

Meditation on a suburban concert

She went to a concert last night.

The older man carried the evening through clarinet, alto sax, and the sweet precision of the notes from his flute.

The piano player banged the keyboard, added trills like too many adjectives in a poem, and betrayed the musicality of all but a few pieces.

The bass player seemed afraid of the audience.

There was a furry-haired little boy whose enthusiasm could not be contained by his exasperated parents and she wondered why they didn’t just give in, appreciate, not stifle, his joy.

The older woman beside her hummed along, slapping at her left thigh,

keeping time to the Woman from Ipanema and Autumn Leaves.

Behind her, the shaggy-haired eight or nine-year old unwrapped his candy, the one his mother must have slipped him, as if he was slowly peeling a Band-Aid off a bad cut.

In spite of all that,

thanks to her meditation classes,

she managed to incorporate every sound, welcome it all,

accept what was,

breathing in, breathing out.

She closed her eyes and let it swirl,

the organized melodies from the stage,

the messy soundscape all around and even

the small win for what she deemed her own emotional progress.