The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, September 29, 2006

Buying Time




by



Patricia Parkinson


Time, I want to talk about time, the lack of time, and how we as writers, as workers, as perhaps parents or girlfriends or wives or mothers of our own mothers try to find this time.

As a wife/mother/worker/writer woman (so many "w's") person - interesting how writer came at the end, anyway, time is valuable, time is fleeting, time is something that is always leaving, it abandons us, one can't earn it, yet, I think somehow I can. which is why last Thursday night, the night before my one day off, I was up until two in the morning doing laundry, setting the table and getting dinner ready for the next day, cleaning toilets, all so I could have the next day to myself to write. There could be no excuses. All my chores were done. Nothing stood in the way of accomplishing my goal of lounging in the last of my Indian summer days, God, Indian summers on the west coast of British Columbia are amazing and a secret so don't come!..lolololol … I even wore my bathing suit all day. All day. Were you wearing a bathing suit in your backyard last Friday? And yes, it was the suit. I had found a way to buy time.

It started well. I got the kids to school. Everything was clicking along, I just had to go home, make the last of the beds, tidy up breakfast and the day was mine, but maybe, well, maybe I should put in a small, a very small, load of laundry before I situate myself in a chaise lounge in the backyard beside the pool, yes, we have a pool, (refer to Phil's blog) that way, I could be ahead for Saturday as well! I's so smart, I thought, clever girl, buying all this time for myself to write.

I threw in a load of dark, if I tried harder I could have made a white, and readied myself for the day. I went upstairs, changed, with some difficulty involving spandex and adjustable bathing suit straps, into my suit. I grabbed my computer, threw a couple of things into a bag. I was going outside, I was not coming back.

We have a quarter acre. The pool is at one end of the yard, the house at the other with a lot of green space in between. Call me a spoiled brat, I am an only child, but I hate getting to the pool and having to walk all the way back to the house if I forget something.

I looked at my reclining deck chair and the side table holding all my stuff. my book, one never knows when a reading opportunity may arise, my ashtray and my cigarettes, without, oh my god, a lighter. Back I went to the house.

On my way to get my lighter the phone rang. It was my best girlfriend. We chatted and chatted, laughed and laughed and I managed to find enough dirty clothes to make a white load. "Thank God for cordless phones," my friend and I say to each other. What would we do if we actually had to sit down and talk? Where would we find the time? And then well, I had to put the dark load in the dryer, and would you look at that! The dishwasher was done. "Guess I better empty it," I said, and continue to buy more time for later on before dinner. This thought occured to me while still on the phone watching the clock on my oven tick past. I whirling sensation started in my gut. I have earned this time, I thought. I'm going to take it.

Back out I went, forgotring my lighter again, realized part way to the deck, feeling proud of myself for not forgetting entirely. I went back in. I went back out and sat in my chair - lap top poised and ready to accept my words. I even brought my sunglasses and a hat so I could see the screen better. I am ready, I thought. The stage is set, I'm ready to write. I turned on the computer.

“Critical battery. Hook up to a power source or risk losing your work,” it said.

“Please, no God!" I shrieked. I did.

I stood staring at the thing as if my eyes could somehow send power to the hard drive, which, well, spoiled brat princesses have powers, but electricity is not one of them. I had to get an extension cord. Off I went, this time to the garage.

After unwrapping, untangling, undoing!!! Who the hell wraps these cords? I asked myself, flinging the cords around, becoming increasingly agitated with the process, three cords later, after one that, regardless of how hard I pulled refused to reach the extra six inches I needed, isn’t that the case in most things, six inches??? I found one that stretched from the house wall socket to the computer. Problem solved.

I went back to my chair to find the sun had shifted. If I wanted to remain where I was, I’d have no sun. I looked at my suit, at my fading tan and decided to move my camp to the sunny side of the deck. I need not go into the painful details.

By this time it was past noon, it had taken me over three hours, three hours to accomplish, what? An empty dishwasher, made beds and clean, dry clothes which would eventually lead to the dreaded folding and putting away and I hadn’t written one word.

Back in the chair, feeling somewhat, exhausted, frustrated, I breathed in, breathed out and…well…started again.

My computer hummed and buzzed above my belly, Microsoft word with its blank page, a clean slate waiting for me, for me to embellish it with prose, literature, a story…something, and wouldn’t you know it, I had to pee.

It was closing in on one I was sure, sigh, a very heavy sigh. If I could have a drink, I thought, a cocktail to calm me down and get me into the writing mode! This would to the trick! However, I had to pick up the kids in an hour and a bit and wine breath and carpooling are not a good mix. The cocktail would involve going yet again into the house and there was still the issue of having to pee.

I looked at the house, the long walk back. I looked at the pool.

What would you do??

My decision ended up in the deep end. I dove, it was beautifully executed, my body leapt like a slinky from the edge of the pool, my hands and legs sliced the water with little splash, and I was in, in the water, the chaos and hectic week I had left my body, I felt myself relax, relax, and sigh, a good sigh. I bobbed on my back, did my business, what the hell, I figured, we use lots of chlorine, and quickly swam in the other direction.

In the end, I floated around on my chair. I was too wet to write. Why risk electrocution when I can float? I enjoyed the last part of my Indian summer and realized I can’t buy time, I have to find it, and if I’m lucky, it will find me. xoxoxoxo

This is a picture of our backyard towards the pool. The pool is behind the fence, you have to open a gate, it's a long ways from the kitchen. xoxoxoxo

Why Yes, I Am an Independently Wealthy Writer

by Melissa Bell

I've always been lousy with money. When I decided in my teens to go into the "arts", I never figured I'd make very much and my prediction turned out to be correct. For years I survived paycheque to paycheque, from temp job to temp job between squat-paying theatre gigs and the occasional bit part in a Made For TeeVee movie or low-rent film. I had no desire to head south of the border and try to make a go of it while sharing a 400 sq. ft. apartment with six other part-time actors and our rather large, but extremely fragile, egos. Even that would have meant a considerable upfront outlay of cash which I just never had. I loved the myth of the performer who arrived in L.A. or New York with $20 in their pocket and crashed an audition, and the next day were hired for a Broadway play or a long-running series. But I never knew anybody who had that happen to them. With the exception of one pal who made the leap and after many years of incredibly hard work, eventually became the star of his own mind-bogglingly successful sitcom, everyone else I knew just bounced around, most returning to Canada after a few years or soul-crushing months, and continuing with auditions and taking classes when they weren't tending bar or teaching aerobics. It's a hard life. A fun life when the work is happening and the roles are steady, but those occasions were, and remain, rare for the majority of performers. Most actors live well below the poverty line their entire lives and, while few of them complain about it – after all, we/they chose that line of work – I knew I didn't love it enough to make it to my 40s earning $350 a week doing summer stock in a field of canola.

Not that the writing life is any better. Income-wise it's worse. A lot worse. To date, in 2006, my writing has netted me exactly $287.68. And while I certainly can't live on that, I can live with it. That cash is a bonus. Because I can pretty much write wherever, whenever and whatever I want. I don't have to get dressed up when I do it, I get to choose my material, and where and when I send it out, if I choose to send it out at all. Unlike acting, I don't have to wait around for somebody's permission to work on "my art". An actor doesn't obtain much job satisfaction reciting Shakespearean monologues alone in their basement, no matter how brilliant they might be at it. But a writer can sit alone in a bar with a cold glass of beer and scribble ten pages of holy tripe in a 99-cent notebook with a pen they've ripped off from their dentist and leave knowing they've put in a good day's work at something they love doing. Try sitting at a table-for-one and re-enacting your favourite scenes from Pulp Fiction and see how long it takes for the cops to show up. "I was just honing my craft, officer!" and you're just going to have to leave that grilled cheese behind. Jeez, even at auditions, watching an actor go off to a corner of the waiting room and practice their lines with an invisible audience – they look like nutcases even when it's a perfectly normal thing for an actor to do. One needs an appropriate time and place to just simply be an actor. As a writer, there is never a bad time to just sit and do one's thing.

Except when I'm actually at my job. The job that provides the steady paycheque I never had up until a few years ago. But come lunchtime, I can wander off with my notebook, a felt-tip, and my imagination, and create something that is mine, that is my own.

And that, to me, makes me a very rich woman indeed.

(Bon weekend, y'all!)

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Regrets, I've had a few...

By Antonios Maltezos


Since its remodel, I’ve stayed away from the powder room just off the entry way. I’ll use it only if it’s an emergency – if I know I won’t make it up the stairs to the big bathroom. Hasn’t happened very often because I’m generally well-timed, but still, sh*t happens.

I did the remodel myself, gutting the room so I could replace the floor tiles. They were of a 70’s color and pattern, very gross, cracked around the base of the toilet. What’s worse, they were set on a thick bed of mortar. No problem for me since I’d done many bathrooms before. I would replace the crumbling, cementitious, mess with a fresh sheet of plywood screwed onto the existing plywood sub floor for added strength.

I’m a bit of a carpenter, so there was always piles of scrap wood in the shed, pieces I thought might come in handy one day. When that filled up, I kept a stack in the storage room of the basement for a long while, moldings, 1” by 2”s, small pieces of hardwood I couldn’t bring myself to throw out, a ton of paint sticks because they made excellent shims. Naturally, my children would get into my stash and spread it around, building bridges were none was needed, or shanty town digs for their dolls. Inevitably, the day came when my wife said enough was enough, and that I’d have to clear out all the wood I’d been hoarding.

I’m not saying it’s her fault, but when I went to get my second layer of plywood, I was thinking about having to throw away the excess. I’d need one and a half sheets only, and the thought of throwing away a perfectly good piece of ¾ inch plywood turned my stomach. So what did I do? I went with the ¼ inch so it would be easier to toss the scraps afterwards.

Freaking emergencies, they catch you unawares, scrambling to find solutions. This morning, the only solution, the only option I had available was that powder room. You know, maybe it’s because I spent so many years doing renovations, and I can easily see through the skin of a room, but the idea of sitting on a wiggly toilet seems absurd to me. I can picture the screws securing the brass ring pulling out of the plywood, and it kills me. Just for the record, this toilet moves only for me, the heaviest person in the house, and the powder room looks great, but still… the toilet moves! Give it a couple more years, and I’ll redo the floor again. In the meantime, and whenever I can help it, it’s the upstairs bathroom for me.

***

I can’t believe it. I’m outta time. I was going to twist this so I could slip in some literary life stuff. It’s a post about regrets, and I wanted to talk about how you only get one shot at impressing an editor with a submission.

Just take your time, do it right, okay?

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Muriel Cheeseman Syndrome


by Tricia Dower

It’s nurture, not nature, that prevents me from getting to the point right away, that causes me to duck down alleys and open windows and doors into subplots tenuously connected to any story I start off telling. I call it the Muriel Cheeseman Syndrome, a condition I developed listening to my father’s meandering tales at the dinner table during the years I lived at home and his protracted telephone calls after I moved away. Allowing for vagaries of memory as well as poetic license, one phone call I particularly remember went something like this:

Dad: A terrible thing happened to Muriel Cheeseman today.

Me: Who’s Muriel Cheeseman?

Dad: You remember the Cheeseman brothers. They lived around the corner on Milton when we were on East Grand. What were their first names? George? Al? I seem to have drawn a blank.

Me: Can’t help you with that. I don’t remember them at all.

Dad: Sure you do. You walked past their house every day on the way to school. One of them was always out front working on something. Painting the porch, putting storm windows in. A big guy, tall, big shoulders. Didn’t have a job as far as anyone could see. The other brother supported him; Muriel, too. Not one of the three ever got married. Anyway, we figured the one out front was either lonely or nosy. Stopped everybody who went by so he could jaw at them. He used to give you candy which annoyed the heck out of your mother.

Me: That doesn’t sound familiar. Maybe Lillian got the candy.

Dad: I could've sworn it was you. Anyway, the one who supported them — why can’t I remember his name? Edgar? — worked nights with me at the pilot plant before I moved into Accounting. He was a corker. Cooked up that prank we pulled after Tom Dewey lost to Truman. We made an effigy of Dewey — I think that’s the right word, effigy, if you’ve got a minute, I’ll look it up. Oh, never mind, I’ll do it later. This is my nickel, right? Anyway, it didn’t really look like him except for the moustache and even that was more like Groucho’s. We laid him out like a corpse for the day shift to find. Thought we might get in Dutch for it but the company actually sent a photographer over, ran a little story in the employee newsletter. Both brothers are dead, now, by the way.

Me: Muriel was the sister?

Dad: Yes. Funny thing about that moustache. One of the Roosevelts, Alice maybe, certainly not Eleanor, said Dewey looked like the little man on a wedding cake. She made him look foolish. Might have cost him the election. Reminds me of the time the traffic light was out on St. George’s by the old Girl Scout house — you know, they do tours there now, we should go next time you’re here, it’s supposed to be haunted. Anyway, the light was out and a cop was directing traffic. I thought he had signalled for me to go but turns out he hadn’t. He went apoplectic, waving his arms and blowing his whistle until I stopped. “You made me look foolish,” he said. I’ll never forget that. Funny about pride, isn’t it?

Me: So what happened to Muriel Cheeseman?

Dad: Oh, some rough kids grabbed her pocketbook right on Main Street as she was walking home from church. She tried to hold onto it and they knocked her down. There’s a bad element in town now. It’s not like when you were growing up and we did all our shopping on Main and Cherry, before the mall. The mayor’s trying to attract business back, but the town’s been dead too long. Such a shame. It’s not safe to walk around anymore. Especially for women and old people.

Me: That’s awful. Was Muriel hurt?

Dad: No, she’s fine. Just feels a little foolish.

Photo taken in a chemical plant at Merck and Company, Rahway, NJ: My sister Lillian searched through the trunk on her back porch for this old photo. Thanks, Lili! Our father is the handsome one on the far left. The year was 1948 when Harry Truman won in what is considered the greatest upset in U.S. Presidential history.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Back to Basics: WotS 2006


by Tamara Lee

Busy day here in jog-town, Vancouver.

I’d committed to two great events, the 21st Annual AIDS Walk and the 12th Annual Word On The Street Book & Magazine Fair , a free one-day festival held in five cities across Canada, chock-full of readings, exhibits, performances and ‘all-round literary mayhem,’ just as their guide promises.

Having missed it last year, I was looking forward this year’s fest: the Poetry Slam; the always-hilarious Haiku Night in Canada; and some readings from favourite writers; as well as several panel discussions that looked interesting. This year also included an indie comics concourse; some cooking shows; and other new bits and pieces that I just couldn’t get to in the few hours I had left in my day. In fact, I lamented the days when it was a two-day event.

Nevertheless, like a crazy woman, I tried to do it all, and after my 10-plus km walk around the Sea Wall I headed down to WotS to squeeze what I could from the event.

Initially I’d hoped to catch Roch Carrier reading his beloved (and 5-dollar-bill honoured) story "The Hockey Sweater" but I’d just missed him, twice. Disappointing, yes, but there was plenty else see and read at the myriad independent magazine and book publishers exhibits. (Looking over the guide now, I see just how many great exhibits I missed.)

Then I had to choose between catching a Patrick Lane reading or sitting in on a panel discussion, “How to Get Your Work Published.” Seeing some familiar names on the panel, I thought I’d try to learn a thing or two.

Billeh Nickerson (poet and editor of Event Magazine) moderated, and the panellists were: Jenn Farrell (writer and managing editor of subTerrain magazine); Carla Elm Clement (executive editor at Prism and associate editor at Geist magazine); and Chris Labonté (writer and assistant to the president at Douglas & McIntyre.)

The discussion was mostly geared towards educating new writers on do’s and don’ts, so the advice sometimes bordered on simple common-sense, but I did glean some good reminders, lest one be remembered for all the wrong reasons:

Some cautionary advice
**When submitting in Canada use Canadian English, thank you very much (Billeh referred to Eats Shoots and Leaves and the Chicago Manual of Style), and they all cautioned there is no excuse for bad grammar.

And some obvious advice
**Use large envelopes please, and proper postage on the reply envelope.
**Read the gosh-darn guidelines, people, and follow them to a T!
**Write one-page letters, don't use staples, and be professional.
**Know the market, read the magazine, and be sure the piece is right for them.

The panel also spent a great deal of time soothing the future ego-crushed in the maxed-out audience: it’s not personal when your work’s rejected, it usually means the work is not right for them, for any number of reasons, like they recently pubbed another piece about dead grandfathers.

Chris Labonté said it well: 'Editors want to say yes; they’re not there with a big ‘no’ stamp just waiting to use it.’ So, don’t make it easy for them to say no. Jenn Farrell added that a wall of rejections could be considered a badge of honour, because, hey, at least you know you’re getting your work out there. Rejection happens. But if you get any sort of personalised response, do let yourself be thrilled, because given the stretched resources at indie pubs, that personalised note is golden. Remember, though, if that happens, if you think to send a thank-you note, you’ll be remembered for the right reasons.

Did I mention they talked a lot about rejection?

Other plain advice: network, workshop, go to events, subscribe to the magazines, volunteer. Be in and of the writer community, since people really do remember you, and that can only be helpful. Finally, for god’s sake, read the genre and types of books/stories you write.

When they took questions, I mustered some courage to ask something many of my writer pals here in Canada have: what up with the simul-sub situation?

From what I gleaned from the answer, a few folks have ruined it for the rest of us, namely that their lack of professionalism in advising editors the piece was accepted elsewhere has caused huge hassles for mags. Not a way to make a name for yourself, and just bad form, people. If you do take your chances with simultaneous submissions, keep very good tabs on where your work is sitting. But all the panellists agreed that, if after 4-6 months you’ve not heard back, it is acceptable to email an inquiry, to let them know you’ll be sending the story elsewhere in a month.

Did I say this panel discussion was full of common sense?

A couple other highlights from the panel came at the end:
**After I mentioned the simul-sub thing, a fella I didn’t know (turned out to be Neil Aitken, poet and editor of Boxcar Poetry Review) passed along to me the website address for duotrope.com, a ‘database of over 1275 current markets for short fiction and poetry’ that will allow you to search for specific pubs that accept simul-subs, among other criteria. Thanks, Neil.

**Chris Labonté also plugged his course at UBC, called Exploring a Career in Writing.

It looks like a very informative course ‘about what it takes to build a career in writing,' and one can only assume if the assistant to the president at D&M is teaching this course, there’s a real need for it. With Chris’s knowledge and his great humour, it’s sure to be worth the bucks if you’re serious about getting your name and work out there.

After perusing the last stalls standing; picking up some free giveaways (secret note: end of the day is great for freebies); and reconnecting (yes, networking, me!) with some publishing folks I’ve met along the way, I headed home.

Wandering out past the last of the stalls, I heard Roch Carrier reading from his new novel at the Canada Writes tent, but just as I approached, I heard him say “Merci. Bon soir,” and then the endearing man in the tweed coat, our beloved National Librarian, moved off the stage to sign some books.



(photo by freedryk)

Friday, September 22, 2006

On airport insanity, sweet air, and arctic mosquitoes

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

By Ania Vesenny

After living in Toronto for 14 years our family moved to Iqaluit, Baffin Island, in June of this year. We wanted a change of scenery, a quieter pace. Maybe a bit of an adventure. When my husband saw the listing for his job, he could not get it out of his head. Before we knew it we were at Costco, pushing four shopping carts, purchasing an estimated year supply of flour, dry fruits, and cookies.

June 28. We arrived at the check-in counter twenty minutes before our flight was scheduled to depart for Ottawa. We are not an organized family. It was six in the morning. We hadn’t slept the previous night – we packed. Despite our best packing efforts we had to buy another suitcase and repack at the airport. We made the check-in person quite nervous. Did I mention we had a baby and a 4 year old with us? They weren’t happy campers either. The most unhappy person was my brother-in-law. A logical and anal person, he could not understand why on earth would we have books in our already overweight suitcases? Didn’t we just have a container packed by professional packers? He was puffing so much, I never answered his questions. (S., if you are reading this, the books were on sale.)

One hour to Ottawa. My last Second Cup coffee in the airport. The First Air airplane to Iqaluit was half empty. We noted those returning home – they wore sandals. We noted tourists – they wore hikers. The kids slept. The flight attendants laughed. There was lots of turbulence.

The first thought after landing – oh God, where are we? The first thought after getting out of the plane – the air smells sweet. Despite people lighting their cigarettes while walking from the plane to the terminal. Up until then I thought that sweet smelling air was just an expression.

The weather was unusually warm. About 14C. Unleashed dogs ran inside the airport, wagging their tails. Women wore their babies on their backs. Our luggage didn’t arrive.

My husband’s coworker drove us to North Mart to get some groceries. Even if we knew about the local prices, seeing a squash the size of an apple for $6.99 was shocking. No matter how much I prepared myself. For some inexplicable reason my four year old daughter wanted a squash. She was obviously squash deprived in Toronto. It took some skillful parenting on my part to convince her that a bag of 8 oranges for only $9.99 was a better deal. Sort of.

I got bitten by the first Iqaluit mosquito as I exited North Mart. Apparently our arrival coincided with the first day of the mosquito season. Soon there would be dense clouds of them trying to get into our house every time the door was opened. They were big and fat. Not like the ones I saw in Toronto. More like miniature dragonflies, but completely silent. A dozen would immediately land on my citronella sprayed hand each moment I paused to take a photo.

The good thing was that they lasted exactly six weeks, and then, suddenly, they were gone. But this is how memory plays tricks. Their disappearance wasn’t sudden. First there appeared mosquito free pockets, here and there, with no apparent logic. Then there were days when I would not see a single mosquito, though my husband would be invariably covered with bites. Then the fat ones were replaced by very small ones. So small, that we didn’t even count them for mosquitoes. Besides, they didn’t even seem to bite. And then, one day, suddenly, they were gone.

Deem me Ready

By Anne Chudobiak

When I learned this past summer that my family doctor had unexpectedly retired, I felt vulnerable, exposed, as though the curtains on my windows had been replaced with threadbare sheets. It wouldn’t do, not at all. I started making phone calls, but the answer was always the same: “Not accepting new patients.”

“Relax,” I told myself. “You have a wonderful dentist. The funniest accountant. A good endocrinologist.”
But I was on edge.
“How old,” I wondered, “is the pediatric opthamologist, anyway? Sixty? Sixty-five?”

You’d think I’d be happy to encounter Dr. K at a party, and I was--for a while. She was young--my age?--and available. A general practitioner. But then she said something that, if not exactly stupid, was less than wise. “I’m trying to teach him my language,” she said, indicating her two-year-old. “I’m supposed to speak it on Mondays, but I don’t know. It’s not working.”

“I like my doctors to be older,” I told a friend later. “At least ten years. With kids who are bigger than mine.”
“Hmm,” she said. “When I see a doctor, it’s for a diagnosis, maybe a prescription.”
The next day, I called Dr. K. My appointment’s in December.

The medical system is no place to look for advice.
The government has made other provisions for that, not the least of which is the QWF mentorship program, where you can apply for a professional writer to hold your hand as you emerge, a doula for the arts. I might give it a try. Why not? It’s got to be easier than finding a doctor. Right?

p.s. The deadline is October 20. QWF, update your site! (Edited to add: Omigod, they did.)

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Bits of things


Point Pelee Park, Canada
Originally uploaded by Hello ChateauHo.
Some suggestions for your Thursday To-Do list:

1) Submit a story to the CWC's Canadian Travel Stories Contest.

2) Read an interview with a Candian author. Oh, here's one, an old'un but a good'un: Powell's Books' interview with Miriam Toews.

3) Write a pithy little piece to send in to the CWC's Canadian Travel Stories Contest. They accept multiple entries!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Back in 5 Minutes

by Steve Gajadhar

For the last long while my wife has been respectfully requesting a vacation. My usual response is to point out that we only just moved to Hawaii and that people spend a lot of money to sit on the beaches we are lucky enough to hit whenever we want. Who needs a vacation? And besides, as expats we’ve each had vacations returning to the motherland.

Well, she’s convinced me because she knows me, and for me it was always about the money. I’m not a cheap guy but I am cheap when it comes to vacations. I always see the other things the money could be used for. What I failed to see is that these other things are important to me, not to her. Vacations are important to her. And she’s important to me.

I can be so selfish sometimes.

Turns out that the far side of the earth is pretty darn cheap when you live in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which makes sense when you think about it (but not to a Canuck used to Canadian airfare, where distance in no way correlates with price). Now the only problem is where do we go? And that’s where y’all come in. We’ve got it narrowed down to 3 spots, and here they are in no particular order.

Option 1 = Tahiti
Romantic, exotic, and beautiful. My worry is that we wouldn’t see much outside the hotel room. My other worry is that we’d get there and find out it’s only slightly nicer that where we live, which would tick me off (and yes, because of the money).

Option 2 = Australia
This is one we have to hit eventually. I mean, who knows when we’ll be so close again? I can do a 12 hour flight. Any longer and the edges of my sanity might start to fray.

Option 3 = Hong Kong
This is the most expensive option, so naturally I’m a little hesitant. But where else can one see the clash of old and new like this? Insert joke I couldn’t come up with here.

Okay folks. Give me your vote. And if you have the time you can give me some background info. We’re going to go early in the new year, probably February.

It’s sort of funny that I chime in now with a vacation orientated post after my fellow CWCers have already blown their vacation/road-trip wads.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Meet Me in Banff



By Anna McDougall

As days shorten and cool winds begin to blow, a nearby vacation spot is necessary. We’ve less patience and less time for the inconvenience of travel. We need beautiful hideaways that will refuel us in a weekend. That place for me is Banff. Despite the commercial aspect of the town, it is nevertheless a comfortable getaway with every amenity inside a world class national park.

Even though I grew up an hour’s drive from Banff, I will never tire of its charm. Over the years, it seems I’ve been there in fall and winter most often. I guess the summer is reserved for lengthier car rides, for exploring faraway places. The high season prices and crowds of tourists are another good reason to stay away from Banff in the summer.

When I was a teenager, Banff was a great place to sneak away with friends, skiing and drinking far from the reach of parents and their rules. In subsequent years, Banff became a romantic destination for my husband and I.

Last year, I discovered a new reason to visit Banff in the fall. WordFest, the Banff-Calgary International Writers Festival is hosted annually at venues throughout Calgary and at the Banff Centre. Not really in the mood to travel alone, I invited my eight year old daughter. Early one Saturday morning in October, I was off to Banff again, this time with a new purpose and a new companion.

A drive west from Calgary never fails to have the same effect on me. As the flat ranches and acreages flanking Highway One give way to foothills which minutes later are replaced by the magnificent Rocky Mountains, my worries and stresses dwarf until I become a calmer version of myself.

My daughter was thrilled to be taking a trip alone with Mommy. Her comment when we entered our very average ski hotel room, “Mommy this is BEAUTIFUL!” I must get her out more often.

That night we drove up the densely treed Tunnel Mountain Drive arriving at Banff Centre to take in Margaret Atwood’s reading of The Penelopiad. Walking from the car, I spotted Ms. Atwood being led inside by her likewise black clothed female entourage. “Honey, look that’s her!” I couldn’t keep myself from pointing.

“Who?” she asked.

How to explain this woman to a girl who has yet to discover the feminist jolt of Handmaid’s Tale or the raw beauty of Atwood’s poetry? I settled for, “She’s the one who will be sitting on the stage.”

We took our seats behind a foursome of fifty-something women clutching Atwood books, presumably for the signing to follow. A quick look around confirmed my daughter was the only child present. Although organizers assured me that a “mature child who loves reading” would be comfortable, I was relieved I had a backup plan. From my bag, I pulled out my daughter’s favourite novel. Just in case.

A few minutes later I realized I hadn’t thought this through. Of course the amphitheatre lights were dimmed to black and all voices quieted in preparation of the performance. I held my breath as a narrow spot light appeared bringing the space around a stool and podium into view. No one but Ms. Atwood would be reading.

After a brief introduction, I was saved by the applause and I bent over to my daughter to whisper a reminder: “There’s no talking allowed in here, ok?”

She nodded, obediently.

Atwood introduced each section with her signature dry sense of humour including a description of the worldwide project of which her novel was part. The evening was highly enjoyable and I was extremely pleased that not only did my daughter get through it soundlessly and with very little fidgeting, she even posed some astute questions later on in our hotel room.

The next morning, in a smaller meeting room lit naturally by the bright morning, we took in another reading shared by three authors. Among them, Michael Crummey read from his second novel The Wreckage. My daughter sat attentively, breaking her silence only once to ask softly about his Newfoundlander brogue.

“Mommy, he’s not from here, is he?”

Mr. Crummey moved from his first selection to an earlier part of the story in which the two main characters first become lovers. I shifted nervously in my chair worried not by the prospect that my uninitiated daughter might learn something new, rather by my own conspicuous feelings. I smiled to the people sitting behind us in an effort to compensate. What kind of mother was I? I was sure they were thinking, bringing a child to an adult reading! The passage began with harmless, poetic descriptions of the male body, progressing with a few common words including “penis” and “erection”, but as the focus of the scene was revealed: an encounter of the oral variety, I nearly crawled under my chair. I tried to avoid eye contact with the other adults in the room while I checked my daughter’s reaction. She was happily engrossed in the adventures of her favourite heroine, Anne Shirley.

This year, my daughter will understand what she’s getting into by attending WordFest. I’m not sure whether she’ll want to go. If not, I’ll be looking for someone to warm the seat beside me. Who wants to meet me in Banff?

Monday, September 18, 2006

This Bus Contains the Passionate World

by Andrew Tibbetts

My new job in Toronto begins two months before I move there, so I’m commuting six hours a day. I’ve been getting a lot of reading done. And I’ve fallen in love with poetry.

Poetry is the perfect read for a long bumpy ride full of interruptions and distractions.

Reading a novel I get a little sick. I think it’s the extra effort to stay on the right line. Your hand is jostling the book one way and the vehicle is jogging your body the other. Someone steps on your foot and you lose your place. Your eyes get tired. Your face gets sore from squinting. Public transit prose will age me.

With a slim book of verse in my hand, I take in a line, close my eyes and savour it. Toss it around the mind, see what it draws out. A line of poetry is a magnet. Taking in Anne Michaels’ descriptions of moonlit lovemaking is just about the best thing I’ve done with my ability to read. The feeling of younger days, past lovers, dewy grass on my skin comes rushing back.

Open my eyes and I go right back to where I left off on the page, because the line breaks and subsequent white space create landmarks to orient the eye. Take in another line. See what it does to me.

I picked up the Michaels’ and a book of Anne Carson’s in the bargain bin of a big box bookstore. Both gorgeous and I got change from a ten!

The last time I read poetry was in high school. I liked it. I liked analyzing it, too. I liked reciting it. I won a prize for saying Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” out loud in a sweaty gymnasium. I didn’t really know what it meant but it had an incantatory pull that reminded me of Patti Smith or Siouxsie and the Banshees. And I rode it. I'm really not sure why I stopped reading it.

I’d like to say this poetry out loud to the slumbering commuters as the grey coach cuts through the dawn to the city. But I doubt I’d win a prize.

So I close my eyes and let the poem say itself to me.

* * *

Click on the title to follow a link to Anne Michael’s “Night Garden” from her most recent volume Skin Divers, which has been keeping me company from Kitchener to Toronto.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Writing on the Edge



By Craig Terlson

While pondering what to write about in this blog entry, all my thoughts turn to a deep desire, or at least a current desire, truly what I need as I am writing this... sleep. I thought, as an experiment, I would write at a time when I am really on the edge of wakefulness. This can be a fun time to let the thought patterns drift and to listen as the synapses fire like pistols filmed in ultra-slow motion. It is interesting when I force myself to do this, it's almost a drifting sort of automatic writing, if you allow yourself to truly go with the flow the riffs start to ripple like a seasoned jazz drummer; Buddy Rich pre-tonight show wavers a blurry stick and snaps out a pushed beat across the edge of the snare, the bass thuds, not quite together but an immeasurable distance apart.

It's beats, but with words: thinking about Dr Derk-jan Dijk, the sleep researcher (since I was thinking about him before I stared writing), thinking about how we fight sleep from the first moment we wake, like a tide that forever wants to come in; and for some reason James Joyce drifts into my mind. The end of his story "The Dead".

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.”

All the soft flowing snow flakes and the soft words that make the reading experience not just dreamy, but lulls us off into that netherworld of random thought, deep breathing, and diaphanous visions.

As I write, I become more awake and the words come quicker - that is usually a desired thing, sometimes when I am tired I write myself out of it. But as the thoughts become more coherent, in a way they become less interesting. It's not that I want to write only of the apparitions that drift through my brain (usually large, purple and spotted) but I love that feeling of being on the edge. When I am searching for an end to a story, or even a direction, there is nothing like a nap to explore the possibilities. the bitch of it is, sometimes I have it, just as I reach that alpha state, the solution, and it's brilliant, and I don't have the wherewithal to get up and write it down.

Sometimes, when I wake it is still there, a residual image, like retina burn of the brain, and I go back to the keyboard and write like an awakened demon. Other times it is gone into the ether, it might come back or show up in another form (perhaps at the beginning of another nap), or it may just be gone.

This does not frustrate me. I could use a cheesy metaphor like somehow I let the idea free to roam the wild (sort of, "if it doesn't come back, it never was yours in the first place") – rather, I know that the world we inhabit, both in its visible and invisible forms, is home to an infinite sea of ideas, metaphors, and interesting apparitions.
The next one awaits.

My pillow calls.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Internet Friends




by Patricia Parkinson





While you're reading this post I will be in the United States. I'm going away for the weekend to finally meet my girlfriends, my girlfriends that write, and are very good at it.

We have known each other for...three years? I met these women here, on the internet. The same way I met the members of our collective, and hopefully you, the person reading this blog. We are getting to you know each other virtually. We are friends, friends who don't see each other or hear each other's voices, yet I feel we know each other better as we touch through our words. Thank you for being my friends, for taking the time to get to know me. I hope that some of my words have touched you.

These are the remarkable women I'll be with this weekend. I am in awe. I am inspired. I am grateful.

and my links don't work and this is pissing me off and I'm with my friends and I"m not going to work at this anymore!! xoxoxoxo....and the picture is of another woman I admire. Sort of reminds me of someone xoxoxoxo


Kathy Fish


Kelly Flanigan


Nance Knauer

and


Kim Teeple

Writing by the Dawn's Early Light

by Melissa Bell

Well over a decade ago, the book The Artist's Way, by Julia Cameron, was an enormous hit. Raise your hand if it's on your bookshelf. It was on mine, but I went and loaned it out to an acquaintance (a minister!) and he never returned it. Bugger.

Anyway, when I was cleaning out one of the too-many things that need de-cluttering around my house, I discovered an enormous stack of old notebooks filled with "morning pages" I'd written over the span of about three years.

For the uninitiated, writing one's "morning pages" every day was one of the backbones of The Artist's Way and the key to Creative Enlightenment™. Every morning, before you even rolled out of bed, you were supposed to grab a pen and a notebook (or haul your still-sleep-groggy ass to your computer – me, I didn't own a computer at the time) and write three solid pages of anything. It didn’t matter what. In fact the whole exercise was solidly geared toward not thinking at all about what you wrote. Just fill up the space. Three pages. Just throw it all down, close the book or shut the file, and then carry on with your morning routine.

I'm not a morning person. It meant getting up half an hour earlier than I wanted to in order to write them. And more often than not it was a struggle not to just hit the snooze button for the fifth time and say "the hell with it". But those notebooks are evidence that I didn't do that. Almost every day, and for a not-insignificant period of time, I found the strength to prop myself up into a semi-upright position in bed and scrawl three single-spaced pages of writing in my preferred Mead Five Star college-ruled 8-1/2" x 11" notebook before I even wrapped my head around what day of the week it was.

I had kept diaries and journals before, but these morning pages were different. I waxed on/waxed off with the former, making an entry when I felt like it (usually when depressed or angry), and, more often than not, felt embarrassed and guilty over the emotional self-indulgence and self-absorption upon re-reading said entries at a later date. Not so with the MPs. Mostly because they accumulated so rapidly and were written with such haste that I never bothered to ever go back and really look at them. That is until this past week.

I was shocked that I'd written so much stuff. And you know what? It really didn't suck. I mean it's not stuff that I'd ever show to anyone – great heavens! no! But there are so many things in there that I had completely forgotten about. Things that were so important at the time I decided to fill up space by writing about them. Obsessions. Lost dreams. Crummy past jobs. But also moments when I was truly happy. The kind of happy that, were it not for the MPs, I never would have bothered to write about otherwise because I would usually be too busy being happy. Does that make sense?

They were difficult to revisit. There is a strange shame I find myself trying to come to terms with when I think about all that mindless writing I did. I can't articulate it. That day of organizational good intentions I only spent about 45 minutes skimming over all that handwriting – handwriting that wasn't so scribbly as one might imagine given the time of day it was produced – and then I put the notebooks back where I had found them, and went and watched some god-knows-whatever on TV. At least I'm pretty sure that's what I did.

But one of these days, I'll go back and look at them some more – probably sooner rather than later. The notebooks aren't labeled by date (stupid me), so I'm going to have to plod through each one and try to put them in some sort of chronological order.

Because I am truly curious about two things: When did I stop writing those three pages a day? And why?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ooof!

There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature.
~ Raymond Carver


I’m not sure I know how to write a happy story, though I don’t see myself as being a totally miserable person in life. I hate it when things go bad. Good news, good times make my skin tingle just like everyone else, but that’s got fuck-all to do with literature, imho.

There’s something about finding a character that may be in a pickle, a difficult situation, a dead end, and then writing about it that gives me a rush, makes me feel like I’m in control. Hey, as long as it ain’t happening to me, right? I’ll give him some rope, but whether he hangs himself, or not, is of little concern to me. Soon as he picks it up, I’m gone. I don’t need to see him swinging, kicking, and turning purple. Like I said, I’m not all doom and gloom. I want these moments to stop just short of the absolute end. I want the reader to sense that I’ve left some unused space after that last period… where things may take a turn. The tinier the space, the closer to the end I get, the less hopeful I am, I suppose.

As bleak and as dark as my stories might seem, I’m the type of writer who feels for his characters. I allow myself to hurt, even, when I’m on a roll. But I’m just the writer. I need a way out, as cruel as it might sound, I need to be able to walk away, leave that character just as he stumbles over the coil of rope.

But Carver’s talking about human beings. You spot a significant moment, and if you’re lucky, you’ll store it away before it goes poof. I’m a great listener. I can’t do math, but I can do quick calculations when it comes to these moments – like doing those mazes where there’s a start and a finish, a bunch of writhing snakes in the middle. I need to see a way out… for me.

Here’s a story I started last week I’d tentatively called Falling:

I was in the same building as the shooter, same room, in fact, looking out the same window, our shoulders touching as we marvelled at the pattern of the windows like a cheese grater.
“I got it,” he said, raising his camera in the air.


It’s as far as I got -- dry the rest of the week because I couldn’t get the image of the falling man out of my head, sensing there was a story there, but maybe not for me.

Not all moments are easily turned into story. What I really wanted to write about was the guy who jumped. It was him who touched me, not the shooter, who seemed like a nice enough bloke from the documentary I saw. But I just couldn’t get there. The shot of the falling man was too close to the end, out of my hands – no room to work, not even for a flash. If you look closely at what I’d written, the piece was moving away from the jumper at great speed, away from that knot of emotion that had me sitting at the computer staring a the screen.

We had a horrible shooting just yesterday at Dawson College, here in Montreal, a college I attended.

Someone else is going to write about it, I’m sure. Me, I’ll wait until I’m past the horror, and I can envision a mom or dad finding their son or daughter amid all the chaos that came out of that day. I’ll make sure. A fucking happy ending. Why not!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Language of Geography


by Tricia Dower

My ‘point of origin’ (as my husband likes to say) was Rahway, New Jersey, twenty miles outside of New York City. It’s the congested, industrial part of the state. Travelers pass through it as quickly as possible while holding their noses. I don’t recall ever boasting about the scenery.

Our home was three houses in from Route 1: 2,300 miles of road stretching from Maine to Florida. I fell asleep to the steady hum of cars and trucks. Traffic was one of the words I grew up with, along with highway, parkway, turnpike, hot rod, brownstone, apartment, tenement, slum, hood, gang. New Jersey has the highest population density of all of the states. Now there’s something to brag about.

I was heavily into crosswords by about age twelve and learned to spell scads of words I hadn’t experienced (emu, poi, tapir). At some point, I must’ve had to come up with “butte” for “an isolated, steep-sided hill,” but I wouldn’t have known how to pronounce it. “Beaut” was one of my Jersey City born and bred father’s words, as in, “That car is a real beaut!” I might also have filled in “coulee” for the clue: “a deep ravine,” although I knew only of cheap coolie hats you bought in the five and dime if you wanted to be Chinese on Hallowe’en.

Colin was born in rural Alberta – about as different from New Jersey as I can imagine. Parts of Alberta remind me of my mother’s Kansas and make me feel sad for her. She was a farm girl who never quite took to the east. Nobody there spoke her language.

The last week in July we drove to coulee-rich Lethbridge to bury Colin’s mother who had died a few days before, only a week after breaking her hip. On the way back to Victoria we took a detour to visit Colin’s first home — farmland between the village of Woolford (on an official list of Alberta ghost towns) and the still living Cardston. We didn’t stop in at his family’s farm. It’s owned now by someone else. We turned onto a different gravel road to visit neighbour Delynn Bingham. He’d shown up at the funeral but there wasn’t enough time to catch up on all the years since he and Colin had seen each other.

Older than Colin, he was a mentor of sorts, sharing tips on branding calves and shooting gophers. Delynn used to ride the rodeo (known as “The Bing”) but, these days, he leaves that to his son Tom who’s had success in Saddle Bronc events. Delynn farms the land his parents once did. He grows grain and cattle, has a horse or two. Except for some feral cats, he lives by himself in a trailer on the property. Nothing fancy. He drives a pick-up with a windshield pitted with cracks, the bigger ones taped up. Has a bunch of guns he uses to shoot coyotes (pronounced with only two syllables, the second one “oats”). Keeps a clipping of a story that columnist Christie Blatchford did about him a few years ago when she came out in search of regional colour. He had border collies then, he told us, and she was a good sport about them jumping on her.

Delynn’s place sits near the foot of Lumpy Butte. Say that without laughing if you’re from New Jersey. It’s covered with scrub grass and wild flowers. Cattle graze on it from time to time. When it snowed, Colin used to ski down its slopes or take the snowmobile up there. The three of us sat in the front seat of Delynn’s truck and headed towards the butte. Colin hopped out to open the gate. “He’s still got his farm boy manners,” Delynn said, “remembers it’s the passenger who does that.” He put the truck into four-wheel drive and drove straight up. It felt like the slow, steep climb of a roller coaster. Felt like the truck could rear up on its hind legs at any moment and dump us out. I closed my eyes.

Delynn parked at the very top and produced two pairs of binoculars. If it had been clearer we could have seen all the way to Whiskey Gap, he said. Another ghost town. It was incredibly windy up there. I had to brush my hair from my face to peer through the binoculars. I spotted the tall trees bordering Colin’s old place. Imagined what it must have been like to have all that land as a playground. There was only a small field near my house where violets and blackberries grew wild; a mere fraction of what he had.

Up there I could see the language of crops, coulees, foothills, streams, livestock and grain elevators my husband grew up speaking. Could feel how it gave him a different sense of the world than my language gave me. He prefers a small, snug house to return to each day after exploring whatever the outdoors has to offer. The outer world of my youth was crowded and threatening. I like my big, open spaces to be inside. That’s just one of the differences that may be rooted in our separate points of origin. What I’m saying might be nothing more profound than ‘he’s a little bit country, I’m a little bit rock and roll,’ but up there on Lumpy Butte I felt I was onto something bigger.

Photo: On top of Lumpy Butte with The Bing.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Spinning characters

by Tamara Lee

In a recent Salon article, Farhad Manjoo reviews the new book by neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, This is your Brain on Music, which explores “the connection between memory and music.” The book addresses a phenomenon we’re all familiar with: the previously inexplicable obsession or passion we all have for certain kinds of music, particularly the music of our youth.

With this in mind, I began considering how just choosing music to write to can be a telling and occasionally anxious exercise. Knowing that the final decision will set the mood and the pace of a piece, flavouring the characters’ personalities, histories, and interconnectedness, means I need to get it right. My relationship with the characters, thus the story, depends upon it.

Since music affects my world like weather patterns, why wouldn’t it affect my writing, too? And why wouldn’t that affect character-building? Surely a story written whilst listening to sizzling Brazilian superstar Seu Jorge will have a decidedly different atmosphere than the same one written whilst listening to something more murky, say, The Clash.

If I choose to bypass listening to music entirely that writing day (a choice often reached with the help of my chronic indecision), I can sometimes fool myself into thinking I am writing with a clean slate, unaffected by a bad musical selection. But even if I’m not writing in the company of iTunes, when developing a character I tend to consider his or her musical preferences, whether it comes up in the story or not. Sometimes, I know, things needn’t be so complicated. But this is my process, and so far it’s worked for me. Usually.

I have this one character I’ve been messing with for some time, in possession of a nice well-rounded and eclectic musical education. I don’t usually let my characters evolve into pretentious artists, but this just sort of happened and it fit the story. Anyway, he’s a pianist who grew up listening to his mother’s Tin Pan Alley records, was high schooled on rock, and is now obsessed with the classical pianist Satie. A lot of classical music research time was expended on this character, in fact, but still I don’t know enough about classical music, and so the story sits. Perhaps the music research is yet another diversion for me, or maybe it’s just an excuse to buy (and write off for tax purposes) more music. Anyway, I can’t seem to finish the story, and I really like this character. It’s frustrating, actually.

Of course there are loads of things to consider when conducting a character sketch, music just seems to cover a lot of ground for me. A teenaged girl who loves country music has a lot of story and character-defining potential: she could have grown up listening to Patsy Cline, and so it reminds her of her working-class parents, or she could be a middle-class cheerleader who heard Johnny Cash the first time she had sex with the bad boy in town. So with the choice of one musical genre, I’ve covered: class, age, emotional tendencies and personal philosophy, among other traits. But then, maybe I just felt like listening to Johnny Cash that day.

At any rate, this tendency to compile musical tastes for a character is akin to the sort of character assessment I tend to make on people when I meet them. Not potential pals, mind you, but potential mates. If a friend likes the Barenaked Ladies (and not just as a guilty pleasure), I can overlook this poor judgement, as there’s plenty else to discuss between friends. But if there’s going to be anything between us romantically, there had better be some common ground in that music collection. In Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness, there’s a great scene where Nomi has this same experience with her future fella, sniffing the arse of potential love interest:

“And then we just started talking about music because that was sort of the test of potential. Even a Menno sheltered from the world knows not to stick her tongue into the mouth of a boy who owns an Air Supply record… Travis mentioned the name of Lou Reed without acting like a fawning dork about it and I knew then that I wanted to be his girlfriend…”

I mean, really, can you truly love someone whose musical tastes do not at least overlap with yours at some point? The same may apply to character building. Or does it?

I’ve never created a character whose musical tastes I completely despise, but that is a challenge I’d like to set for myself. Would he have to be a bad person or a lout, simply because his creator doesn’t like his musical preferences? Or could I really take the Pepsi-challenge and try to make him likeable in spite of his misguided musical tastes?

As I write this conclusion, the new tenants below are blaring their techno-annoyance music. The floorboards and walls are pumping with the rhythm of the bass. I’ve never been a big fan of techno music, so now I wonder what kind of stories I’d write while listening to music I hate. Not that I would want to put myself through that kind of hell, writing can be frustrating enough. It seems my writing future in this apartment will involve the regular use of headphones. Time to buy some new music.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Special Message to the Editor

Ken Alexander, Editor
The Walrus

Dear Ken,

Thank you for the special offer you made my husband when he went to that conference in Toronto. Twenty-four dollars for ten issues--that is a good price. I’m not going to argue. Pre-paid postage and everything on the reply card. A nice touch.

Unfortunately, we will not be able to take you up on your kind offer. It’s not that we aren’t committed, as you say, to elevated discussion. We do care about this country. We love deep thought and brilliance as much as the next guy.

The truth is that I don’t see how I would fit into your “conversation.” How could I? Your fiction department won’t accept unsolicited submissions and your editors have yet to contact me (I check my messages regularly).

I will have to stick with The New Yorker. The subscription price is less attractive, of course, but it was a gift from my mother and their submission policy is more open than yours. As much as I love thinking, I like dreaming more.

Thanks again,

Anne Chudobiak

(Picture courtesy of Esme)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Leadership Blues

by Anna McDougall

Unlike the 2003 contest, when Martin trounced Copps with 93.8% of the vote, the Liberal leadership campaign this year is a real race with ten brave contenders, exceeding even the number of candidates during the momentous 1968 convention.

Emails are coming in everyday now: Become a delegate for Stephane Dion, Speak with Hedy Fry about your ideas, Join with Scott to help build a better Canada, Gerard needs your participation. For those not being bombarded with new support pleas every day, they can access websites for each candidate. The whole process is laid out on the party’s site for any visitor’s scrutiny. The internet has changed campaigning. Back in 1990, my friends and I didn’t even know what John Nunziata or Tom Wappel looked like until they came to town, unless we spotted them on the news during the brief air time allotted to fringe candidates. It’s easier than ever before to learn about the platforms, to find the bios, to make a difference.

In spite of all this access, I can’t get excited about selecting a new leader. Is it possible that it was more interesting when the process was more difficult to understand? When information on the candidates was harder to find? Was my passion wrapped up in the mystery of it all?

In 1990, there were so many political issues stirring the passions of political types like myself. GST legislation was being prepared by Mulroney’s gang as the Meech Lake Accord withered and the Oka crisis burgeoned. The national debt was at an all time high. Hell, Bob Rae was NDP that year. And just as I was getting my September university classes organized, Iraq invaded Kuwait. I cried and cheered and argued my heart out that year.

I wanted desperately to attend the June leadership convention – to make a difference, to exercise my right to choose the next Liberal Prime Minister, but I had to figure out how to go about it. The difficulty was in knowing whom to trust for unbiased answers and advice since members used every conversation to garner votes for their candidate, typically Martin, Copps, or Chrétien.

I declared myself undecided right into the final week before the convention although the Chrétien organizers must have known I was a lock, otherwise there would have been more free beer. Determined to thoroughly research each of the candidates as well as I could, I attended a small delegate meeting with Paul Martin. Without the confidence to ask any questions of my own, I listened carefully to his responses and watched the way he moved his eyes, his hands, the papers in front on him on the boardroom table. The gathering was scheduled very early the morning news broke that Chrétien’s adopted son had been charged with a sexual assault related offense. One of the delegates at the table mentioned it and we realized that this was the first Martin had heard of it. At that moment, I sympathized with both men. I wondered what must be going through Martin’s mind. Did he feel pity for his opponent? Was he worried about what this could mean in terms of press for the leadership convention? Was this an opportunity for him to seize? He paused for a moment, obviously in shock, listened to the details, eyed his aid and said nothing. I admired his prudence in that moment. It was one of those times a politician had no choices. There was nothing he could say or do that would be right.

During the convention itself, the party was buzzing. Even in Calgary (a rather strange place for 4500 liberals to gather) normally apolitical people were getting caught up in the excitement. I slipped out of the Saddledome right before the ballot counts were announced and passed my pal’s photo id to his twin brother waiting in the parking lot. He knew history was being made and also wanted to bear witness.

When Martin was led in by a small group of smartly dressed horn musicians, it was over for me. While his style was tempting and his campaign polished, a handful of people had orchestrated the campaign and they had affected only a segment of the party; it was evident he would never be able to move millions. Chrétien was larger than life, willing and able to sell the whole country his vision with the hallmark “We can be different and equal at the same time!”

The difference between a government led by Martin and one led by Chrétien was clear, and hindsight tells us we were right. Chrétien’s win and Martin’s subsequent support of Chrétien’s leadership changed politics for the fifteen years that followed. There existed considerable national issues at the time and with the Liberals poised to win the next election, the leadership choice became crucial.

Maybe that’s the reason for my disinterest this time around. This year we’re not electing a powerhouse to lead us to victory after sustaining a decade of Tory majority. The new liberal leader, whether it’s Ignatief or Rae will only be the point man for Harper-sparring in the house, killing time until the public is at once tired of the Conservatives and ready to trust our party again.

I nearly nodded off watching Rae’s promo video on the party site and learned little more from the Ignatief video. The latter was mostly music and applause but I did catch his bold “out of the cab and into the lab” remark intended to promote his support for new immigrants seeking professional work. But even this concept is not fresh as a variation on it is included in the platforms of many other candidates.

Accusations that Ignatieff is an opportunist, simply looking for a cool new C.V. bullet could actually work out for the Liberals. No one could be more effective in making Harper appear parochial and ill-informed. He may be just what we need for the interim, until it’s time to begin planning the next great leadership race.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Existential Nature of Visitation


by Steve Gajadhar

Clean up the house, put away the Xbox, and get a haircut. It’s time to entertain, to cook and drink and have deep meaningful conversations on religion and pseudoscience. We have visitors! Canadian ones! And this reaffirms something oh so important for me: Canada still existed 4 days ago.

Yes, if a tree falls and all that BS (I need something to keep this blog going…). You see, according to some of the quirkier aspects of quantum physics things don’t exist (take shape to be more precise) until someone or something interacts with them and I haven’t interacted with Canada since I renewed my work Visa 4 months ago. Keep your hands down class. I realize that there are others interacting with Canada, and therefore keeping it around, but let me have my fun.

First a brief explanation of the probabilistic nature of quantum mechanics:

According to our current sub-atomic physical model of the universe everything is fuzzy. Fuzzy like an infinite, uneven shag carpet. Bear with me! Say you’re eating some toast over the carpet and a single crumb tumbles from your lips to the shag. For arguments sake let’s say that your crumb didn’t fall straight down, but could have fallen anywhere in the whole infinite shag rug. Odds are it didn’t. Odds are (like 99.9999987655%) it did fall reasonably straight down from your messy mouth. The real quirk is that you won’t know until you get down on your hands and knees and look for it. Until then, the crumb exists as a probability fuzz-wave-membrane spread across the whole rug. Think of each fiber of the shag as a probability spike in the membrane-fuzzy thing that contains the potentiality of the crumb—the higher the spike the greater the probability that the crumb will be found there. At your feet the shag fibers will be considerably taller than the fibers found throughout the rest of the carpet, and this symbolizes the massive probability that the crumb will be found near your feet. Your act of looking for it makes the crumb randomly choose where it will exist, but it doesn’t exist until you actually look for it. And if you repeated this whole crumb dropping fiasco a few billion times that crumb just might pop into existence in the heart of the sun, or in the lower left corner of the Horsehead Nebula. Here’s the point: at its smallest scales the Universe (our visible portion of it) doesn’t exist in a definite location until we interact with it. Sort of pulls the rug out from under you doesn’t it? I’ll understand if you stop reading now…

Let’s say I take the view that the Universe has no independent existence outside of my perception of it. If I’m not looking it’s not there. This is a popular philosophical quandary, one that’s been getting kicked around for quite some time. The logical extension of my taking this view is that Canada doesn’t exist unless I’m interacting with it, because it’s my interaction that makes the Universe exist, and not anyone else’s. Apply this same axiom to our Canadian visitors: Canada exists for them when they are interacting with it. So that means that Canada existed up until the point they left to come to Hawaii (and Hawaii didn’t exist until they stepped off the plane).

And that’s why I love having visitors! I admit this is specious at best, but I’m filling up space with words. This can get deeper, so much deeper, so much much deeper that I’m getting a headache just thinking about it.

Next post: how many angels can fit on the head of a pin?

Next next post: if it takes interaction to make things exist, then who, or what, is continually interacting with each of us?

God?

Monday, September 04, 2006

That Spinning Night

by Andrew Tibbetts

I’m not aiming to acquire a distinctive writing style- in fact, the opposite. I’m hoping to get out of the way so that each story I write can find its own way of telling itself. I think about what the story needs and then I set myself some fairly abstract challenges with which I hope to produce the desired effect.

For example, I have one story, published in Fiddlehead (No. 226) called “Thirteen Glimpses of My Mother Unaware of Being Watched”. The story spans the main character’s life from school-aged to middle-aged. I thought that the style I told the story in should ‘mature’ along with the character. So I gave myself a maximum and minimum sentence-length range for each section. For the boy, things are tight. For the man, all kinds of ideas and sensations mix together into a complicated mesh of feeling and thinking. Also, I used a feature of my word processor which analyzes the school-grade level of the passage. The writing style progresses from elementary to grad school. Or at least it did for the first draft. I allow myself to tweak spontaneously once I’ve gotten the feel of a story’s style. I aim for these ideas to be the skeleton of the telling, not particularly visible under the flesh.

If I have a story that can’t find its voice, I feel pain. It’s prolonged labour. It’s inside kicking to get out, but can’t find the exit. It’s the worst thing about being a writer. Worse than the pay.

For example, I have a story about a boy who steals. The tale swirling around my head begins when he picks up the habit and ends when he decides to stop stealing. I have thought out the plot details, all the events he initiates and reacts to. I have thought out all the other characters and the settings. Everything’s ready. But the thing won’t pop.

I have only the vaguest sense of how it should feel. It should feel like when I was an adolescent and lay on my bed listening to music. Sometimes songs just made my soul expand. Once I took a transistor radio out onto the summer night lawn. The grass was dewy but warm. The world was asleep except for me and Brent Bambury, of CBC’s 80’s late night radio show, Brave New Waves. It was like he was laying out a hand of tarot cards, divining my essence. Song after song was perfectly chosen. I had a kind of out-of-body experience. Part of me floated above myself turning in the air.

That’s the feel I want for this story. And until I get the kind of word-choice/prose-rhythm/cognitive-schema parameters that will birth that spinning night, the story stays mere potential. Every once in awhile I take a frustrating stab at it and fail. But I’m patient, and it’s not going anywhere.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Coffee with the Neighbours



By Craig Terlson

Things I noticed while touring a foreign country (that would be the United States of America):

As soon as that imaginary line, for now the largest undefended border in the world, was crossed I heard a different accent. How can that be? North Dakotans had just a touch of twang in their voice; not a single 'eh was to be heard.
And the accents changed again moving into South Dakota (twangier) and again one state over in Wyoming (the twang was a touch deeper and drawn out, like the low E string on a guitar).
It could have been my imagination, but I really felt quite British indeed, with all my over-enunciation when ordering a small repast at the local eatery.

Kilometres go by way quicker than miles. I don't know why, they just do – it takes forever to go 62 miles! Much longer than it takes to go 100 Kilometres. Trust me it does.

On a similar note – why can't we go 75 M.P.H. on our highways? You cross that border and hit the power boosters, on returning it’s like your front wheels hit a lake of maple syrup.

Crackers are better in the U.S. It has something to do with those damn Keebler Elves – I think our Keebler products are outsourced to someplace in Northern Alberta (trust me on this one, I know crackers).
Salad bars suck in most U.S. restaurants. You have your wilted iceberg lettuce and then buckets of different coloured goop. That's why I know the crackers, also at the salad bar, are better stateside.

Why can't we allow dogs in our bars? Dogs should be in bars, they act like they belong. In a roadside bar my wife and I played cards and sipped Michelobs while we waited for our pizza. A pair of dogs, Little Girl and Hank kept us company – true, they got a bit close when the pizza came, but it made us feel at home.

The money still looks all the same. I know... I've heard our money looks like monopoly money. But I am really hoping I didn't give out a lot of twenties when I thought I was handing out ones for the bar tab (boy, those Canucks do tip).

Somehow, inexplicably, WalMarts are even bigger. We tried to avoid them for the most part, but one late night we were out of tonic water and after hitting the local convenience stores we were told to try WalMart. So there we were at around 1:00 A.M., gazing around this gargantuan, consumer cathedral of all worldly goods, in awe of all the things we could buy, and for sooooo cheap.
We made it out of there with our tonic water and a rainbarrel size of Smuckers Grape Jelly (c'mon, it was like a buck!)

No one lives in Wyoming. No, really, trust me.

Okay we did see a few folks – but wow, can you ever see a long ways, and it is GORGEOUS. Growing up in the prairies of Canada we had that joke about watching your dog run away… for three days. In Wyoming, I think you could see him for a week.

American cows look about the same as Canadian cows – no accents were noted.

Gas is still cheaper and road coffee is still bad. I used to laugh at those folks that hit the McDonalds in their around the world travels – sheesh, you want a bad burger, have one at home. But the squeals of delight that went through the car when we came upon a Starbucks in the wilderness… well, it was just a tad embarrassing.

Lastly, people are people. I met some great people on the road and where we stayed. Talked politics, geography, droughts, prairie dogs and black-footed ferrets, urban sprawl, living where there is space (like in Wyoming) and just general learning about each other.
It rekindled my hope for keeping that border open and undefended.
It was really good to meet the neighbours.

But that salad bar... c'mon.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Home



by Patricia Parkinson

Been home from holidays for three hours. I have to say, I am so happy to be here. Not that we didn't have a great time, we had the best time, the best, the weather was wonderful and when it wasn't we snugged down in the trailer on the fold down table and the fold down couch and watched movies and told stories and went to bed with sand between our toes, and other areas of our bodies I'm sure, and on the sunny days, it was paradise on earth sitting on the edge of the Okanagan Lake in my black and pink bathing suit, building sandcastles, rowing out in the dingy to bird poop island, which later became known as, "The Big Floating Turd," as RV, was the movie of our last two weeks, projected one night on the side of a 40' with three pull outs, the guy had a projecting TV that hooked up to his laptop and we had movie nights, don't ever say that I don't know how to rough it, anyway, okay....lololo...it makes me laugh at myself, that and I found the greatest boutique of alllll boutiques in Westbank, had some alone time one afternoon after a tiff with my hubby sent me off to town in nothing but my suit and a sarong, the hundred square feet held charm for only so long, that and a cell phone call from hell, don't ask, that ended up with me on the buying end in a groovy store that carried a clothing line by the name of "Velvet," I was in consumer and credit card heaven, even went back today it was our last stop of the day as I have made a vow to myself to not leave a place and say, "I wish I did this or I did that," you know, like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, I had to go back to that shop and try on the red sweater I had seen hanging from a maniquin and walked past! GOD! It looks great on me and was stuffed with it's gold bag, (gold bags!) between the now deflated dingy and the roof of the truck. All in all, our holiday was spent looking, looking out, book in hand or computer turned on, I had the best intentions, really I did, but I looked instead at my daughter who went on her first speed boat and taught me, "When you find a penny on the ground tails up, you turn it over and leave it heads up for the next person," it's the best rule in life I've heard since becoming an adult and my son who poured pizza sauce over our sand volcano to simulate lava and told the folks gathered round the campfire that his mother had "diaherra farts," and my husband who flashed me while barbecquing burgers while wearing the most ridiculous red pair of bathing trunks and will understand because he does and won't question the value of the contents of the gold bags, yes, there was more than one, and knows something about star formations that I never knew he knew before.

We went camping and now we're home. I was first in the house as I am every year and stood in the doorway from the laundry room to the kitchen and sort of gasped at the vastness of space and surprise that I actually live in this house. It's our house. Camping on a bigger scale.

Life in a one hundred square foot trailer, okay, maybe it's bigger, narrow, but bigger, with four people, is an experience to treasure, to remember, to endure, the bathroom had lap space only, but in the creases of my tan and in the memories and lessons I will treasure and remember the thing I take away from this vacation is that things don't have to clean and shiny to be perfect, that something doesn't have to be eloquent to be romantic and everything, they, them, he and me too, can be just what we are.

My vow today is to hold tight to this camping feeling.

This is a picture of my family last night at the campfire. If I can ever figure out how to post this picture I will do it..xoxo I promise xoxoxo



Happy Labour Day weekend everyone..xoxoxo Enjoy xoxo

Friday, September 01, 2006

How to Apply for a Government Grant in 12 Simple Steps

by Melissa Bell

Hello everyone! Sorry I'm a bit late with this one today. I went to bed early! Anyway, this is the piece that ultimately did rejected by Publication X. They were darn nice about turning me down though, and I didn't get nearly as drunk as I thought I would. It's a little long, so if you've got other things to do, run along and go do them! And have a safe long weekend everyone!

How to Apply for a Government Grant in 12 Simple Steps

1. Have best friend break leg. His own of course. Avoid the “compound fracture” as these can be complicated and messy; a nice clean break that necessitates a bit of surgery in order to realign a displaced periosteum is ideal. This will provide an opportunity to drive your friend to his consultation with his surgeon.
2. Make sure the doctor is pleasantly attractive and someone you might like to get to know outside of his work environment. This will inspire you to scheme and plan and take full advantage of your friend’s “unfortunate accident”. But be subtle about it! Offer to drive your friend to any follow-up appointments that might be required. These appointments will usually occur once every 6-8 weeks for perhaps the next 6 months. This allows you, the “writer”, to “bone up” (zing!) on your doctor jokes.
3. Eschew the usual “I’ll just sit here and read a magazine while you go in” at these appointments. It’s important that you accompany your friend at all times. Hold the door for him. Offer to get him a macchiato. Act like you genuinely care about your friend’s future as a fully mobile human being, but make sure the doctor understands that you and your friend are NOT married and that you’re a just very concerned and reliable source of comfort and rapier wit. Watch and listen very carefully for any signs that the attractive doctor might be married and/or gay. While neither of these “conditions” precludes acquiring a government grant, it can really make Steps 7-9 particularly challenging.
4. Watch medical shows on TV. Begin to write something that involves an attractive doctor character. Give the doctor character lots of funny lines/predicaments and a rich inner life.
5. When your friend’s leg has healed completely and few weeks have passed since his final appointment, write a letter to the doctor informing him of your medically-inspired work-in-progress and ask if he might be able to grant you an interview for research purposes. (Note: Even though you know his home address and have driven by his house several times to check out the neighborhood, it is recommended that the letter be sent to his office.)
6. Keep reminding yourself that most doctors – especially attractive surgeons - are very, very busy, and while the temptation will be strong to just forget the whole thing after your letter has had no response for several months, try not to waste the summer thinking about what a fool you’ve been and bothering your newly-healed friend with phone calls about whether or not you should follow up with a second letter (handwritten this time). Your friend is unlikely to be sympathetic to your dilemma. You must soldier on with writing the project, however do feel free to begin rendering the doctor character as less funny and charming and more of a pathetic loser/worthless bum.
7. When the doctor eventually does call and apologizes for not getting back to you sooner and says he’d actually be delighted to help you with your research, try not to giggle and squeal like a Justin Timberlake fan. Wait until he hangs up.
8. When he calls a few days later to give you directions to his house, do not respond with “Oh, yeah, I know exactly where that is.” Take a notepad and a nice pen. Think of some good questions!
9. If you’ve been doing your “homework” and watching medical shows as previously suggested, don’t be afraid to pepper the interview with a few challenging queries such as “Did you know acetabulum actually means ‘vinegar bowl’?” Do not take it personally if he corrects your pronunciation of acetabulum. There is a very good chance that you have already shown him you have more knowledge of his profession than many of the people with whom he works. Discreetly give yourself a pat on the back when he leaves the room to get you another beer.
10. Go home and continue writing project. When a first draft is complete, schedule a reading at a local bar that holds such events, and invite the doctor to attend. Do not be disappointed when he informs you he has a previous appointment, wishes you “all the best in your future endeavors” and says “It was nice to have met you”. He is a doctor and he is very busy. But do go and have a “good time”. Have your best friend drive you home. He owes you one.
11. The following afternoon, when you wake up, look up “How to apply for a government grant” on the web. This is a relatively simple process as most government websites have readily printable applications. Read carefully (a lawyer, preferably a cute one, might be helpful with this part) and fill out all the required forms neatly and accurately, obtain excellent letters of reference from respected individuals (those who owe you favors are your best bet), and provide a detailed and appropriate budget. Above all, don’t forget to include your work-in-progress in the package and be sure to submit by the appropriate deadline. This is crucial.
12. Pour yourself a stiff drink and wait. Repeat as necessary.

Congratulations! You have successfully applied for a government grant! Now wasn’t that easy?