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 fastest trip to Japan from Vancouver

I spent most of this past weekend at the Powell Street Festival which has got to be one of the best entertainment deals in Vancouver taking place at Oppenheimer Park and the streets around it with events at the Firehall Arts Centre, the Japanese Language School, and the Vancouver Buddhist Temple.

This area was home to the largest concentration of Japanese people in Vancouver prior to WWII before they were banished from the West Coast in Canada and the U.S. as a result of Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbour and a build up, prior to that, of racism and fear-mongering.

I had to get my little fix of Takoyaki (Osaka Balls),  those tasty street vendor treats that instead of the traditional style which are filled with octopus, these are filled with shrimp and scallops, a creamy middle with a crunchy deep-fried outer and with fish shavings on top. I stayed traditional but you can get the wasabi version or with mayo. 

So many interesting offerings  at The Firehall Arts Centre. We were introduced to a HAPA comic from L.A., Katie Malia and her Almost Asian vignettes which are being picked up by Netflix in the near future.

Listened to Dr. Asato Ikeda from Japan talk about a Third Gender in early modern Japan, a spin off from an exhibit at the ROM in 2016 A Third Gender: Beautiful Youths in Japanese prints. Descriptions of wakashu or boys between the ages of 12-18 who fulfilled the pleasures of men and women and how to hear about that part of cultural history in Japan without imposing contemporary North American values on that part of Japanese history which has been kept under wraps mostly because, if I understood the speaker correctly, of how it fits into the Kabuki theatre in the Edo period. Since Kabuki has been designated the official theatre of Japan, there’s a reluctance to acknowledge the roots of it in this expression of sexuality. Super interesting!

Introduced to two men (both Gaijin or caucasian) Jay Rubin and Ted Goossen, Americans who are elders in the translation of Japanese literature. They spoke about the novelist Haruki Murakami and mostly that stood out for me because it’s always amazing to me how some people just fall into their professions without any effort on their part and that becomes their entire life.

Admired that Joy Kogawa who is looking very fit and in her eighties was open to participating in an experimental performance that included her poetry, a young Hapa poet Soramaru Takayama and a wonderful mime (whose name I can’t find, unfortunately)  as part of a 20 minute performance.

 

Also took in two interesting short films called Born with it and Blasian Narratives about Black-Asian kids’ experiences. I’d never heard the word “Blasian” before.

Listened to a wonderful shakuhachi player who resides on the Sunshine Coast.  Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, is one of the leading teachers and performers of the shakuhachi in North America who teaches at the Bamboo-In Retreat Centre.  His performance was exquisite and a rare treat. I love the breathy, haunting sounds of the shakuhachi, an instrument that may be the hardest instrument to learn taking years of mentorship and practice.

And of course George and Noriko, a crowd favourite. He’s known as the Japanese cowboy and she’s the Tsugaru shamisen player. Together they have a fun and unique sound. 

Taiko. Walking tours. Ikebana. Martial Arts. My god. It’s a veritable trip to Japan without the hell of the long flight.

Must do a shout out to Leanne Dunic (seated in photo) who led the curation in her first year as the new artistic director.  It’s been a busy year for her. She’s a writer, singer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with the band The Deep Cove. Her book To Love the Coming End published by Chin Music Press was released this year as well.  The weekend was awesome and it didn’t cost a dime. The only thing wrong with it was that I didn’t win the trip to Japan for two or dinner for six put on by Hapa Izakaya restaurant chefs.

I’m not the C-word police [but I could be]

female anatomyIt’s not every day you get pulled aside by a 75-year-old woman celebrating her birthday who wants to read you a poem that she wrote and wants your opinion on whether the c-word should be left in or removed from a stanza.

“I removed it because I didn’t want to offend that older lady,” said the birthday girl nodding to the woman across the room fiddling with her hearing aid. I found that amusing since the even older woman with hearing difficulties wouldn’t have heard it anyway.

It’s weird that she should pick me to ask my opinion. Or maybe not. After all, I am sometimes referred to both affectionately and derisively by one close friend as The Presbyterian Nun.  Therefore staying true to my virtuous (uptight?) nature, I’m not about to be a big fan of the c-word even though I have read many of the arguments about how its reputation as the most shocking and taboo word in the English language derives from and represents misogyny and therefore we should, as owners of said part of anatomy, take it back. We should take back the c-word in a march or something and if we took back ownership of ourselves “down there” we’d happily be flinging out the c-word in casual conversation because we could, dammit! And with pride!

Of course, on closer examination, it’s not about us at all, or our anatomy. It’s about inequality and belief systems related to women’s sexuality and I guess we’d  known things had finally, actually changed in the world when the c-word loses all potency as the absolute worst thing to say to a woman.  It’s unlikely you or I will be alive to see that day.

For the record, I don’t like the b-word either. It’s probably my age but I’m regularly annoyed by the use of the word Bitch. Then again, I can’t say I typically throw around the word dick either but saying that to a guy certainly has less impact than the slap-across-the-face feeling that the c-word can provoke. Some guys would actually take it as a compliment.

I guess for me it’s more about feeling that such aggressive and angry language should be curbed in a world that’s elevated aggressive and angry to an art form, the Kama Sutra of anger.  If each one of us refrained from using these aggressive words, we could, to use an overused phrase that makes me feel somewhat ill, even if I wholeheartedly agree with it in principle: “Be The Change We Wish to See in the World.” PUHLEEZ!

So my vote was take it out. Nix the c-word from the poem.  In hindsight, I realized that it was actually the sentence that didn’t make sense and to C or not to C, was the secondary factor.

On a lighter note, I found this great joke off the First Presbyterian Church of Oneida New York website.

THREE NUNS WERE ATTENDING A YANKEES BASEBALL GAME.

THREE MEN WERE SITTING DIRECTLY BEHIND THEM.
BECAUSE THEIR HABITS WERE PARTIALLY BLOCKING THE VIEW,
THE MEN DECIDED TO BADGER THE NUNS,
HOPING THEY’D GET ANNOYED ENOUGH TO MOVE TO ANOTHER AREA.

IN A VERY LOUD VOICE,
THE FIRST GUY SAID,
“I THINK I’M GOING TO MOVE TO UTAH .
THERE ARE ONLY 100 NUNS LIVING THERE.”

THEN THE SECOND GUY SPOKE UP AND SAID LOUDLY,
“I WANT TO MOVE TO MONTANA .
THERE ARE ONLY 5O NUNS LIVING THERE!”

THE THIRD GUY YELLED,
“I WANT TO GO TO IDAHO .
THERE ARE ONLY 25 NUNS LIVING THERE!”

THE MOTHER SUPERIOR TURNED AROUND,
LOOKED AT THE MEN
AND IN A VERY “SWEET” AND CALM VOICE SAID,

“WHY DON’T YOU GO TO HELL…
THERE AREN’T ANY NUNS THERE.”

Oh, and for more information than you’ll ever need in this lifetime related to the C-word, check out this site by Matthew Hunt.

Debunking Fame as the only legitimacy

When I saw the callout for proposals for workshops for LitFestNewWest it was on a whim that I began to create it the very same day. It came together as if I’d been writing proposals forever. Once it was accepted, Esmeralda Cabral and I fine-tuned it and fleshed out how we might do it together prior to the actual event, and that took more time.

The initial idea was easy because the kernel for the idea was found in J.J. Lee’s book, The Measure of a Man. In 2014 I was in a workshop led by Wayde Compton, writer, author, Associate Director of The Writer’s Studio. At some point J.J. Lee’s book came up. The book was published in 2011 to acclaim and as a finalist on many nonfiction literary award lists. I was amazed that an entire book of multiple story lines could arise from the artifact of a simple suit jacket that had belonged to his father.

I couldn’t think of a single thing that I owned from my father’s life that I could imagine building an entire book around. One day I walked absentmindedly into my bedroom, stared up at the open closet’s top shelf and immediately spotted this caramel-coloured, leather camera case. I took it down, the roughness of the weathered leather felt good in my hands. Inside was my father’s 8mm Paillard – Bolex movie camera.

My father took home movies of my twin brother and I when we were babies and toddlers. I was shocked when I saw it. I had always said that I was the only photographer in the family. I’d forgotten about him, the camera, and the home movies, regular intervals of us gathered round, eager to see ourselves on the grainy screen in the living room and the laughing. Family as foreign tribe revisited.

At the time, I’d started to write a story that made reference to my father’s emotional absence from our lives and when I saw the camera, the shocking realization between my observation about his emotional absence, and yet his consistent focusing of his viewpoint onto us from behind that camera’s lenses opened up all sorts of questions about him for me. And all because of thinking about J.J. Lee’s approach to his book.

But just a minute. Who was I to give a workshop on memoir? I haven’t published a memoir! And I’m getting the distinct feeling that there is some unspoken code that one must not give writing workshops about subjects where they have not achieved publishing success. I thought about that and eventually, in a defiant manner, rejected it because it is my pet peeve that “fame” seems to have become the criteria for the legitimizing of the sharing of, well, just about everything – knowledge, bullshit, sexist, racist, homophobic blah, blah blahing. I know you get it!

I thought back to Mona Fertig’s project that arose from her late father’s life-long work as an artist who received little, if any, recognition.  In 2008, when I’d moved to Salt Spring, I interviewed Mona and wrote a feature on her as she was embarking on her Unheralded Artists trade book project, a focus that many others said she was crazy to embark upon. Still she did it with many books now published under her MotherTongue Publishing.

And I began to think that we all need to find a way to fight the idea that we are only qualified to share our knowledge if we become “famous”. Because that is not how most of the world learned throughout history. They learned from elders, though storytelling. From trial and error. Through persistence. Via sharing in small groups, from a teacher challenging them from the front of the classroom.

And it is that kind of quiet sharing, one person to another — a grandmother teaching her grandchildren to knit, a fisherman showing them how to tie lures inside a wobbly boat on a lake with an Aurora Borealis of greens and browns highlighted on the lake’s surface by the sun’s first rays in the early morning.

And it is this form of sharing that is the way of The SFU Writer’s Studio which was started by Betsy Warland. It’s a commitment to relate as equals, mentor-students, one not more important than the other, that makes the SFU Writer’s Studio community a bonded one, person to person and then via social media for those who choose to stay connected after they move on.

So, as a bit of a stretch, I consider putting on our workshop, Mining Personal Artefacts as the Foundation for Memoir Writing, to be a very small political act specifically because I haven’t published a memoir. And yet, I do have something to share with others (as Esmeralda does) who may be farther back on the path than I am when it comes to writing overall.

Maybe you could assess your strengths and decide whether you have some level of knowledge and or passion, regardless of whether you’ve received notoriety from it or not, that you could share. Consider it a circumvention. That’s surely the attitude that self-publishing arose from.

And in that sharing, you might just help someone else think differently about something that they’re wrestling with personally, and maybe that’s enough. At the very least, it’s a start. It’s what J.J. Lee’s book did for me.