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.

Diverse/City exhibit at Anvil Centre

DiverseCity posterThis is the poster for the community art exhibit I’m involved in with the opening night set for April 15th, 5-7pm, at Anvil Centre in New Westminster.

From a 200 word excerpt (185 words in my case) taken from a much longer story that I wrote,  visual artist Eryne Bea Donahue dove into the project, interpreting and conceptualizing my words through visual art.

I was allowed a preview, not the completed piece, and Eryne has created a very interesting interpretation that in the process of her conceptualizing, creating, and producing the art, touches upon the diversity of spaces – geographical, physical, psychological – that run through my longer story, a 2,500 word piece of narrative non fiction.

Looks like there are nine written pieces accompanied by nine visual art conceptualizations.

Consider this your invitation: Anvil Centre. April 15th, 2016. Everyone welcome! 5-7 pm. And afterwards, there’s always that fabulous new Mexican place down the street, El Santo, to go for a drink.

Check out the blog post I wrote after I first met Eryne.

Energizing writing into art via collaboration


Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

How New West is preparing to welcome refugees

Yesterday I went to a public meeting hosted by New Westminster MLA Judy Darcy and MP Peter Julian in the lovely downstairs space of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) union on E. Columbia Street.

Being overwhelmed with enquiries about how to help, Darcy and Julian realized holding a public meeting might make sense and they cobbled that together in less than a week.

They were expecting maybe 50 people to show up and the room was packed, no more chairs left, at a crowd of I’m guessing about 250.

It was good to learn of the facts presented by Andrea Canales, Manager of Settlement Services for Immigrant Services Society of BC.

Here’s what I learned:

  • There are 52 privately sponsored refugees who have been approved and are arriving in New West by December 31, 2015.
  • Privately sponsored refugees are sponsored by family members or groups of at least five people who are agreeing to be responsible for them and their welfare. Find out more here.
  • There are two types of refugees: There are privately sponsored refugees and there are government assisted refugees or GARS.
  • By the end of February 2016, in total, 25,000 privately sponsored and government assisted refugees, will be here in Canada.
  • New Westminster will receive about 200-250 refugees in total. Coquitlam, New West and Vancouver each will receive 40% of refugees coming to BC. Surrey will receive 25%.
  • Twenty-five percent of the refugees will be school-aged children and youth.
  • I didn’t learn this, I already knew it, but it was apparent to me that at least one person on city council who should know it, didn’t. Refugees and immigrants are not the same classification. Immigrants have a choice as to whether they want to move here and can be accepted. Refugees have been designated that way because their lives are endangered and they do not have a choice about leaving their countries. Do not confuse refugees with immigrants. Refugees do not designate themselves that way. The UNHCR or UN Refugee Agency (working with Canada) designates people as refugees based on criteria. Do not speak of refugees and immigrants as if they are the same designation. They are not.
  • In terms of funding, a single refugee (one person) would receive $734 a month and that includes money to pay for housing.
  • A family of four would receive $1,300 a month.
  • These amounts are the reason why it is imperative that people who have housing or extra space that is decent and livable, offer it for refugees in cities where affordable housing, as we know, is at crisis levels.
  • Refugees will be arriving every two weeks and typically they arrive at a place called Welcome house in Downtown Vancouver. They are driven by taxi from the airport to Welcome house. Once there they meet with Refugee Assistance Program Counsellors and they are housed for two weeks. They are inundated with information on services and supports and it is important to find them housing within two weeks because after that, new refugees will begin to arrive and the upstairs space will need to be turned around every two weeks.
  • At some point donations of furniture will be important. Those needs have yet to be established but once they are, the furniture will be located in a specific place. At this point, the Gurdwara temple in Queensborough is investigating the possibility of storage space for New Westminster based refugees.
  • Normally when refugees are flown to Canada, they are expected to repay what is called a transportation loan. The average repayment is about $9,000. According to Ms. Canales, ISS Manager of Settlement, the default has typically been about 2%. These refugees will not have to pay this transportation loan. The federal government has made that decision.
  • The refugees will receive basic medical insurance through the federal government called the Interim Federal Health Plan.
  • The Greater Vancouver Foodbank Society operates the New West Food Bank as well so any donations made to them could be specified to go to New West.
  • There is also a Muslim Food Bank that exists to provide culturally specific and appropriate food.
  • The New West Chamber of Commerce is working to create a welcoming space and to educate other employers because new refugees eventually do become employed and even start up small businesses.
  • It takes an entire community to support and welcome refugees including the School District, the New West Public Library, Lower Mainland Purpose Society, local faith based groups and churches, the New Westminster Islamic Society and many more. I did not know that there is an Islamic newspaper in New West.
  • If you would like to donate in New West make your cheque payable to Lower Mainland Purpose Society (LIP Refugee Fund) at 40 Begbie Street, New West, V3M 3L9.
  • If you want to get involved with ISS to provide money, housing, services, ESL, Counselling, products and services, you can visit their website at crisis@iss.bc.org or call 1-844-447-9742.
  • If you want to contact the school district in New Westminster to ask about volunteering, the person to contact is Belinda Scott.
  • The New Westminster offices of Immigrant Services Society are located on the second floor of Royal City Centre Mall.
  • When we speak of refugees, the current Syrian refugee crisis is just one part of an ongoing process in which refugees from all over the world are continuing to arrive from other countries as they have been prior to this crisis.

Staycation II: Revisiting close to home


I’ve relocated back to the float home for July. For the second year, it’s Staycation Central thanks to owners Pat and Janna who have made their annual migration back to their ocean-side home near Bonavista, Newfoundland.

As with every place we inhabit,  I have found my favorite place inside their home. It’s not, as you might expect, on the top deck, although that is especially nice on a sunny afternoon when the wind is minimal and the bees dip and settle.

For me, there is nothing better than Sunday mornings on the second level where, with coffee and fresh raspberries and yogurt, I can settle into the corner of the comfy velveteen couch, The Globe & Mail and The New York Times plucked from the old tin mailbox outside and now resting on the side table. This perfect cocoon on the comfy couch, offers a comfortable positioning to write longhand which, itself, such a rarity, feels deliciously decadent.


I can write my morning papers by hand with my favourite pen. My hand moves across the page of the large, hard covered Writer’s Way book I found for a steal ($2.50) at a recent flea market at the Westminster Quay. I can let go of all weekday worries of shoulds, musts, and ever-present wondering about redesigning my life and just relax into the moment, to feel gratitude, to just be.

From that little corner, I can scope out the entire room with all its marine-themed artifacts and allow daydreams to hover.  The olive-green river on an overcast day, like today, flows continuously past, movement as reminder of the fleeting realities we all face. The reflections of the trees off the far bank and the texture from smooth to linear, circles of tidal movement, seem like the varying thickness of paint on a canvas of abstract imagery. A fantastic creative retreat this does make. I feel a renewal of inspiration here the way you’re supposed to when you leave your familiar for viva la difference.


A tugboat chugged by yesterday. I love tugboats. No matter how large, I imagine plucking them from the river and floating them in the tub.  The blue heron squawked by its legs outstretched behind it prehistoric. The eagle, I can’t see, calls out to me with that tell-tale, identifying high-pitched staccato piping.  The swan, alone this time, floated by the other morning. I wonder like last year if I’ll see them just once? I hope not.


My return was christened yesterday. I dropped my keys into the river as I went to lock the door. I watched with horror as they succumbed to the green liquid just for a few seconds and were gone. Sucked under. As far as accidents go, a minor mishap. A walk, a bus ride, a Skytrain trip back to my apartment where, uncharacteristically,  I had copies of all of them. They were easily replaced, although I will miss my Roots lanyard key chain.

The familiarity of return. The anticipation of new finds. It’s good to be back even if it’s close to home.

Floathome Staycation Rocks but Gently


It’s been a fantastic Staycation on the river and now, boo hoo,  it is over.


As I write this, Pat is on a plane somewhere over Canada mulling over her own summer memories of Newfoundland and her other neighborhood.  She’s high above some place in this beautiful country that I’ve never seen or maybe never even heard about. Far beneath the big plane, sleepy inhabitants, like me, are waking up, making coffee, getting ready to enjoy whatever plans they have for their weekends.


I’m up early, ready to wash all the sheets and towels and try to put everything back to the state of perfection I found it in minus the Purdy’s Haystacks. Sorry Pat. I’ll get you some. Trying to test me? I failed! But, you knew I would.

So many visitors commented on how tastefully this place was decorated. A real nautical theme but not overdone.



It has been so wonderful to be here. I’ve had a lot of guests over for dinner. I’ve become familiar with a neighborhood that I’ve almost never visited prior to staying even though it’s a mere 20 minute drive from my own place. I’ve enjoyed walking down the road, a mix of light industrial and hodge podge residential and on Thursday, I finally saw a real live Canadian beaver, on the bank in front of the house. How do you know it’s Canadian? my manager asked me when I told him.  “It’s here isn’t it?”  The swans visited only twice. The blue herons at dusk.

My friends and family said to me, “You look like you belong here.”


Mostly, I’ve loved seeing what goes by on a river that has such great significance to B.C. and the history of our province. My impressions of the Fraser have been forever changed, at least in terms of how people use the part that winds through New Westminster, Queensborough, and Richmond.


I never imagined that people kayaked it and two nights ago I even saw some guy, standing on one of those flat board, in the pouring rain, exploring. Can you believe it? Don’t fall in, buddy!  It could get messy. Contrast that with some of the yachts that have glided by and even a few yahoos speeding past, purposely making waves so the float homes will rock. And all the little whatever they are called, those tiny boats with one guy steering the motor from the back, just dodging to this bank and that log boom and having fun on a summer evening. Men fish off the banks under the bridge. There’s a lot going on. The brown river with the amazing history attracts life, human and wild and industry.


I’ve bonded with Norman. Pretty much turned him into the most spoiled little kitty who thinks whining works. They’re going to hate me. Yes, sorry, I do have a habit of getting up really early and Norman just LOVES that. Don’t plan on sleeping in! Of course, Norman’s up, eats and then it’s nap time again.


I’ve enjoyed the luxury of having a built in washer and dryer and Netflix and a deck and living somewhere that people want to come and check out. It’s amazing how social life can be when you live somewhere that people WANT to see.


It’s been great to come home to a place that made me happy to just stay put.  Gratitude.  Thank you Pat and Janna.

Childhood Revisited in New Westminster


This is a photograph of my eldest sister, Heather, when she was in her early twenties. Note the blue Volkswagen in the parking lot behind her.  This was the 1970’s. I don’t know exactly how old she was in this shot but at the time she worked for the New Westminster Public Library where I believe she was the assistant to Alan Woodland, the long time head librarian there.  Oh, how she loved to read. She had a bedroom all to herself back then while the rest of us shared and her light would be on into the wee hours, her nose in a book she couldn’t put down.

In 1991, at 43, she died of breast cancer.

When I first approached the New West Public Library about showing my slides and doing a talk on Georgia O’Keeffe and the Ghost Ranch from a trip I’d taken there in 2006 and 2007, I never mentioned anything about Heather.  Why would I?  That was another lifetime ago. But, in communicating with Debra Nelson, the community librarian, I did finally mention that I had a connection to New West, that I’d grown up here, and my sister had worked at the library back then.

When I presented my talk for the second time last night, Debra gave me this colour photo of Heather that she managed to hunt down from the archives. Seeing it was a bit like ingesting Wasabi. First, a sharp pang of regret and then pleasure at the memories that came flooding in.

Heather loomed so large in my childhood (there was a 13 year age difference between us). This picture catapulted me right back into the big old house I grew up in across from Moody Park in New Westminster. I have such strong memories of her there from my childhood and how she would always talk about the goings on in the library (you can’t imagine what happens in that supposedly quiet place). Sometimes, she’d even bring a few of her co-workers who became her friends home for lunch.  So much has changed since then. Neither Heather nor my mother or father are still alive.

It was a really great little gift to receive. Thank you Debra.