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.

The poetry of mac and cheese

from Food Babbles blog: http://foodbabbles.com/jarlsberg-macaroni-cheese/

Up at the ungodly hour of 5am on Sunday morning, I began reading the food issue of Room magazine, savouring the blissful silence at that time of darkness, and I suddenly got this craving for the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe (which I don’t have) because I almost never eat it.  Then after reading some great pieces in this food-focused issue 40.1 (Psych Ward Grub by Lucas Crawford, Snap Dragon by Sylvia Symons, Your Body the Fire by Rachel Jansen), I felt the urge to write a poem.  It left me wondering what the perfect macaroni and cheese recipe might actually be. I found one at the bottom, after my poem, but no guarantees it’s the ultimate.

Mac and cheese love

If it’s going to snow in Vancouver in March (for God’s sake)

I need to find a perfect macaroni and cheese recipe,

buttery smooth and steaming into existence a non-existent family.

Don’t forget the wieners.

Call forth childhood

when we’d eat them handed to us

by a fat man behind the meat counter,

blood specked phonetics on his white apron.

We’d pop the wieners round, packed firmness

chewy and fun inside our mouths,

my brother and I grossing each other out,

we’d open wide

revealing the gnarly, half-chewed mystery bits

when our mother wasn’t looking.

 

This time, maybe I’ll use white cheese, not cheddar

Snow Geese, not crows

clouds, not cream,

hold the gull droppings,

oregano as evergreens

parmesan, not pigeon

and finish with a delicate, breadcrumb topping,

like brown birds dotting a frozen lake from a distance.

 

I’m thinking now back to the time I made my version from memory

for you (lacking)

and you were mad

because (I now realize), you were actually hungry, the

way most of us never are any more (in the West)

for a good

meal, (with meat),

subtle flavours requiring conversation to identify,

the kind of dishes you’d always concoct for my visits

on your two-burner hot plate,

you, Jamie Oliver, you.

Nothing like what I had plated, something

to turn your nose up at

as if my making such a thing,

(suburban, mundane, less-than),

meant I didn’t love you the way

you’d imagined I did.

 

And with that, it may (not really) have been worth getting up at 5 am yesterday.

Check out this blog for their recommendations for making amazing homemade mac and cheese or if you’re holding out on me, and you already have the very best mac and cheese recipe, tell me what I have to do to receive it from you, point me in the right direction.

May your week be full of culinary surprises (in a good way)!

A feminist success story continues: Making Room

I went to a panel on Tuesday at the Vancouver Public Library on the 40th year anniversary of the literary magazine, Room, or Room of One’s Own as it was called in the past. What stood out for me is how challenging it is to capture and retain the many authentic voices that make up the oral history of an organization. I know that’s true whether that organization has been a feminist collective run by volunteers such as Room or a large private corporation. Anyone who has ever tried to write a history of an organization will know this to be agonizingly true.

You may not know, as I didn’t, that the VPL has in their catalogue, bound copies of every decade of the four decades that Room has now been published. A physical presence on shelves that leaves the complexity of what has actually taken place to sustain it to one’s imagination.

It was fantastic that there were a few women on the panel who had been participants from years gone by.  I wanted to hear a lot more of those types of personal experiences because they really highlight the struggles and the conversations in the inevitable tug o’ war dynamics of a democratic process that goes on in every organization that is concerned not just about producing something of creative value but of ensuring that the way in which those volumes come into being is also something to be proud of.

One of the women spoke about how she came to Room at a time when they were really challenged by funders who were questioning whether the journal was unique enough. There are only so many stories about motherhood and breast cancer, not that those aren’t important, that any of us can take.  They went so far as to hire a Branding specialist who began to ask them annoying but typical Branding type questions like “If Room was a woman what kind of woman would she be…?” And then at some point in Room’s history there was even a question about whether feminism needed to be central. Blasphemy!

Cynthia Flood’s response to why Room still matters, mimicked, dare I say, the response Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gave when he was asked about why he felt a gender balanced cabinet was important and he replied, “Because it’s 2015.” Flood’s response was: “Because sexism still exists.” My apologies for the comparison, Cynthia, but the succinctness and the truth were comparable.

Chelene Knight as managing editor for the past year said that they want to be constantly questioning the type of work they are publishing, and questioning perhaps even what they aren’t publishing, and recognizing that it’s not just about the content but about the process and being open to involving women who may not have considered Room as a place for themselves or their creativity.

They spoke of how recognizing the evolution of Room is to recognize the entire evolution of print and how technology has impacted the way the magazine comes together. It’s been possible in the past few years to expand the editorial team to include Toronto and Montreal. They spoke to the way in which they now receive manuscripts through Submittable which has significantly reduced the amount of on-the-ground labour. At the most basic level, nobody has to trudge down to the post office and pull reams of envelopes out of the post office box and transport those back to the office. Formerly, the process involved paper being passed from one editorial reader to the next. Meetings no longer have to take place face-to-face, at least not as much.

Chelene acknowledged former editor Rachel Thompson as the catalyst behind her own participation for taking on the responsibility of managing editor, urging her to do it, assuring support, and pushing her to greater empowerment given that Chelene came from a background where envisioning herself in that role would not have been a part of the personal stories she told herself about herself.  Those are some of the women writers, artists, and editors the magazine hopes to embrace.

Forty years! It’s a quietly impressive legacy and if you’ve been paying attention in the past two years to what’s inside Room, it’s clear that an evolution is happening that has indeed led to an interesting diversity in the contributors and the issues overall. Chelene said that constantly questioning that, not getting complacent…making room…is the way forward.

For the first time ever, there will be Growing Room: A feminist literary festival in March. Tickets are selling fast.

Getting inspired to Write for 5

It’s not too long until Saturday when I’ll be posting an image here on my blog with the hopes that some writer friends, or anyone who wants to give it a go, will participate in a timed writing exercise. I wrote about the idea on my last post, Using Imagery as Muse.

In preparation for that, I thought I’d remind you of what most of you already know, and that is, there’s nothing like reading some inspired writing, right before you know you have to write something to get yourself into the right frame of mind. That’s a lot of rights to live up to!

Maybe because of the free flowing nature of poetry, (at least until you try to write it and then you realize there’s actually nothing all that free flowing about it except maybe the first draft), I find poetry often inspires me to get into a creative mindset for writing on demand.

The other thing you also know is that the editor in your head, that dastardly perfectionist, must be slain or at least sent off on a long errand for a product that hasn’t been invented yet. Adopt a “This is not a test, this is an Experiment attitude.” It’s a jumping off point to investigate how the brain can rise to the challenge.

As an aside, I was reading the NYTimes on my phone last week (in bed), as I often do (sad but true) because that’s not what anyone should be doing in bed, and they posted the original short story of BrokeBack Mountain written by Annie Proulx.

I re-read it and couldn’t put my phone down and if you want to read something that is really amazing, you should read that story that the Oscar-winning movie was based on. It’s amazing how she uses language.

Unfortunately, that story come block-buster movie ended up causing Proulx unending irritation because people just didn’t get it. Here’s what she told the NY Times…“And one of the reasons we keep the gates locked here is that a lot of men have decided that the story should have had a happy ending. They can’t bear the way it ends — they just can’t stand it. So they rewrite the story, including all kinds of boyfriends and new lovers and so forth after Jack is killed. And it just drives me wild. They can’t understand that the story isn’t about Jack and Ennis. It’s about homophobia; it’s about a social situation; it’s about a place and a particular mindset and morality. They just don’t get it.”

And you thought that getting published would solve all your problems. Guess not.

My absolute favourite poem (getting back to being inspired) and I have to say that loving this poem hasn’t really changed since the first time I read it, although there are so many poets to choose from it’s kind of crazy to say that a poem can remain a lifelong favourite, is a very old poem by Margaret Atwood that was in her very first book of poetry, The Circle Game.

Here it is. Hopefully this inspires you in preparation for Saturday. And, I should say, there’s nothing that says you can’t write a poem in response to the image. The slate is blank. Colour it!

Against Still Life by Margaret Atwood
Orange in the middle of a table:
It isn’t enough to walk around it
At a distance, saying
It’s an orange:
nothing to do
with us, nothing
else: leave it alone

I want to pick it up
In my hand
I want to peel the
skin off; I want
more to be said to me
than just Orange:
want to be told
everything it has to say

And you, sitting across
the table, at a distance, with
your smile-contained, and like the orange
In the sun: silent:

Your silence isn’t enough for me
now, no matter with what
contentment you fold
your hands together; I want
anything you can say
in the sunlight:
stories of your various
childhooods, aimless journeyings,
your loves, your articulate
skeleton; your posturings; your lies

These orange silences
(sunlight and hidden smile)
make me want to
wrench you into saying:
now I’d crack your skull
like a walnut, split it like a pumpkin
to make you talk, or get
a look inside

But quietly
If I take the orange
With care enough and hold it
gently

I may find
an egg
a sun
an orange moon
perhaps a skull; center
of all energy
resting in my hand

can change it to
whatever I desire
It to be
And you, man, orange afternoon
lover, wherever
you sit across from me
(tables, trains, buses)

If I watch
quietly enough
and long enough

at last, you will say
(maybe without speaking)

(there are mountains
Inside your skull
garden and chaos, ocean
and hurricane; certain
corners of rooms, portraits
of great-grandmothers, curtains
of a particular shade;
your deserts; your private
dinosaurs; the first
woman)

all I need to know:
tell me
everything
Just as it was
from the beginning.

If you have any piece of writing you get inspired by prior to writing, feel free to share it in the comments.

Online learning knows no boundaries

“The best poetic moments are moments when you’re allowed to reside in the moment without looking to the future,” – Jonathan Bates, University of Warwick.

In the past year I’ve learned, firsthand, the value of online education.

It started out when I took a course in Developmental Psychology for credit through Athabasca University. In spite of my initial resistance to doing an online course, I found it a much more enjoyable way to learn than being stuck in a lecture hall, hearing just one human, blah, blah, blah ad nausea and surrounded by others who, of varying degrees, may or may not want to be in the course.

In the Athabasca online course there were pretests and post tests and challenges and study tips and it was a much more interactive and focused experience than I expected it to be and it resulted, for me, in what seemed like greater retention of the subject matter than is typical for me.

More recently I completed a four week online course about PTSD in U.S. Veterans and how to interact with them and their families. It was called Mental Health Care for Family Members of Post 9/11 Veterans: Practical Approaches to Addressing the Impact of the Invisible Wounds of War on Families.

It was offered through the Massachusetts General Hospital and directed mainly at therapists and mental health professionals. Registering as a student, they let me in and it was free.  There were role-playing therapy exercises that were videotaped that used experienced therapists doing therapy with volunteer actors and volunteer military family members to demonstrate interventions. They highlighted the intergenerational model, how to manage substance abuse and communication methods using the CRAFT model,  as well as educating around the DSM V definition of PTSD including symptoms to ask about and be aware of. The videotaped sessions, and then a roundtable of case exploration at the end was so fantastic in terms of giving insight into key factors to be aware of in working with many of the common problems that arise in this specific population. But would be transferrable to others.

More recently, I saw a course offered through the University of Warwick and a portal called FutureLearn.com about Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Well Being. In this recent course, very well-known personalities, Stephen Fry and Sir Ian McKellan, along with university professors discuss the impact of literature, poetry specifically, on stress reduction and mindfulness. It’s wonderful to hear and see others, especially an actor of McKellan’s quality, read a poem aloud beside the river Thames in keeping with the lines in the Wordsworth Poem, ‘Composed upon Westminster Bridge.’

When I read this poem below, it was my favourite of the bunch. By the late W.H. Davies, a welsh poet.

Leisure

What is this life if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

No time to stand beneath the boughs

And stare as long as sheep or cows.

No time to see, when woods we pass,

Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.

No time to see, in broad daylight,

Streams full of stars, like skies at night.

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,

And watch her feet, how they can dance.

No time to wait till her mouth can

Enrich that smile her eyes began.

A poor life this if, full of care,

We have no time to stand and stare.

The discussion boards on this course on Literature and Mental Health have a ridiculous number of comments, up to 2,500 on a single question.  It’s AMAZING!  The students are dropping in from all over the world via their computer screens. There is no reason to leave your house anymore. And yes, that is a problem!

There has perhaps never been a better time to embrace lifelong learning than in any other time in history, and the fact that it’s free elicits delight indeed!

Have you ever taken an online course? What was your experience? Do you even think about how you can continue to learn into old age and all the ways that’s possible?

why rumour mills are bad things

Me headed out,

you returning

spewing excitement about a bird,

a Kingfisher to be exact,

in the park down the hill,

bridge as watchtower.

 

Between us,

zoom lense like rifle scope.

Your words crack and bounce,

overflow like popcorn

at Cinemax,

leave me to wonder,

fellow tenant,

who you are

like a tug

scratching the surface

before bad news,

de ja vu.

 

Weeks later

a couch, pitched like the enemy,

smacks the back pavement.

Indignant,

I investigate.

Join lobby congregation.

Your name gets batted about,

rumours abound:

bi-polar

hospitalization

suicide.

That sinking feeling

lingers all week

until I spot your surname on

returned mail in the lobby.

I Google you,

find you on Facebook.

Is it really you?

There you are: alive.

Posting photos

every few hours,

racing around Spain no less,

having the time of your life,

acting as if the whole hot country is your

plaza de toros.

 

A solid reminder about

why rumour mills

are bad things.