The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, April 30, 2007

Anniversary Contest Winners

Here are the winners of our Anniversary Contest!

First Place:

Anniversary, by Anna Quon

I've been dog-paddling back toward the shore of my 20's, but the rip tide has me. Next year I'll be 40.

Thirty wasn't so bad. It was scary as Hell and demanded a party but I still went into it wide-eyed and hopeful, as though I'd just graduated from college and preparing to hitch a ride on the back of a truck into the rest of my life. I was a late bloomer, you might say.

Forty is something different. Where are my kids? My husband? My job with benefits?

Not that I want them. Really, what would I do with them? I'd still like to live in Paris, to travel around the world, to write a novel that lasts. A novel, a novel that lasts, doesn't ask me to file this, to copy and collate that. A novel that lasts doesn't require breastfeeding or leave the toilet seat up.

And it's not like I haven't accomplished anything—a few things got done over the last ten years. I recognized I needed my antipsychotic and antidepressant and turned myself into the hospital for the solemn interviews, punishing cuisine and undistilled boredom that constitute therapy. I doubled my body weight, lost hair, moved in and out of the life and home of a good but troubled man, and finally, burnt myself out of a freelance writing career (like the dregs of a campfire, a sooty circle remains).

I even wrote the damn novel. As I speak, the first draft lies on the floor, clipped with a sturdy fold back clip. It's been there for the past week, staring up at me, like a sad-eyed spaniel.

So things have got done, no one can dispute that. It's just that 40 is looming like an ice berg on the horizon, and no matter whether I'm sitting on my suitcase in third class or sweeping down the grand staircase in first, it's all the Titanic, isn't it?

Ah, but I was swimming. It's cold in these northern waters, perhaps thankfully so. Youth is the oil of our times. We burn it like crazy and waste it idling in the line to the Tim Horton's drive through. And up it goes, into the air, making the whole earth hotter and hotter until in a long, suicidal summer, we melt, wilt and desiccate. Better to be swimming with the killer whales, maybe.

Yup. Forty might be better than I expect. I'm going to ignore the fact that it probably won't be and celebrate the damn thing. The best way to do that is to invite the Queen and have her swing a bottle of champagne at it. Then the Polish folk dancers can come on, and the Parade of Food. It will be like this- an endless line of dim sum carts, chip wagons and Dickie Dee bicycles. The comforting food of childhood.

And I'll be in the closet, bawling my eyes out. It's my party and I can cry if I want to.

Second Place:

The Threesome, by Tish Cohen

It was my first day at Ryerson University . I climbed the steps of an enormous lecture hall and slid into a seat between a beautiful girl with an avalanche of brown curls and sequin-spackled socks, and a guy who looked like he’d just stepped off a catamaran. They introduced themselves as Tim and Lisa.

The professor began to speak, but we couldn’t hear him. Our freshman jitters had led each of us too far back into the room. Looking around, we realized we were alone. One by one, we began to shake with laughter.

When class ended, Tim invited us for coffee. As quickly as I nodded, Lisa shook her head. “Go ahead. I’m going to read up for next class.”

It would become the rhythm of our threesome. Tim and I played at being business students while Lisa worked at it for real. She was too kind to ask about our grades. We were too embarrassed to ask about hers. It was understood that her marks were impeccable. And well deserved.

The last day of classes before winter break, Lisa approached us, grinning as only a Jew who loves Christmas can. She handed us each a small present wrapped in Japanese paper, tied with a complicated silver bow. Inside were gifts straight from Lisa’s heart—jazzy socks. Tim’s were argyle. Mine were covered in moons.

Over the next 18 years, Tim and I watched our sock collections grow. Lisa never forgot a friend at Christmas.

A few years ago, as I was getting ready for work, a voice on the radio reported that, "The body of a 38-year-old woman was found, brutally murdered, in a Yorkville-area office building Saturday night..."

He didn’t have to say her name. I knew it was Lisa. I dropped my brush and screamed.

Lisa’s funeral was heavy with media, friends, family, and the kind of horror that surrounds so terrible a death. I found Tim in the lobby of the funeral home. We held each other up until the service began. Every seat was full—so, just like our first day of college, we sat at the back. Only this time there was no laughter.

Our threesome was no more. Or so we thought.

In the hours, days, weeks, months that followed, both Tim and I spoke with Lisa’s mother more and more. Not only because we could offer her a taste of her daughter through our stories and memories, but because we found ourselves adoring this woman who had lived through the unthinkable and somehow found a way to laugh again. Together we share Lisa’s birthday and, without a trace of morbidity, the anniversary of her death.

Her mother is holding up Lisa’s corner of the threesome—which is a bit more banged up than it was back in college. But if Lisa taught us nothing else, she taught us to appreciate fancy gift wrap—but only for a moment. Save your real joy for the starry socks inside.

Third Place:

Remembrance Day, by Salvatore Difalco

Twilight and a couple cement themselves to the steps of the war-dead monument, statues but for the bobbing head of the man, eyes ablaze, fist pounding his palm, his poppy velvet-red. His points ricochet off the woman’s face, white as a mime’s but not exactly, and off her periwinkle dress, that blue rarely seen, and vanish into the fired ink of the sky above them, an altogether different blue. What is it? The man knows but words betray him. Sounds like quacking and maybe the green grass carpeting the riverbank entails ducks and other fowl. In the bigger picture they signify little, but the universe still squeezes their lungs and makes their heads fit to burst. They may be playing it up for me, surmising their plight, their intimacy, for I am alone and without destination on this day of remembrance. All these names died for us? When did I arrive? Shortly before I began to describe these events, this event, this moment in time, my head bare to the fading blue of the sky, eyes locked on the periwinkle dress. Another shape of my solitude: the curving line to the couple from my coign behind the—what are they called? In the end a bone tossed to a dog leads to a good chew, nothing more, nothing less. People circulating round the park, poppies pinned, keep their noses down and shut their eyes when they pass, guided by smell. Some greet the couple with soft words and nods. Over time they too would understand what the man had been trying to express for the last half hour, so passionate, so futile. Give it a rest at last. It’s easier. But the duck continues quacking. We think we know everything and try to fill in the other but all we do is bore them. I saw her sigh when the park lights flickered on and I saw her eyes dance toward me, behind the shrub or bush or whatever it was. What am I trying to say? That love is the glue that keeps us together? Not that. Try to scrub off the glue after it gets old. Be truthful then, say what’s really on your mind, admit what you would really like to do. I’m only in it for the experience, for the luxury to say I was alive at that moment, on that day, listening to people tell each other things they’d regret later. She isn’t staring into the void, she’s looking for an escape clause in the contract and if you’re too vain to notice that then maybe you should look her in the eyes to see what she sees.

We’ll be sending off a gift certificate to our winner. A heartfelt thanks from all of us to all the entrants.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Some Good Kind of Crazy in This Crazy, Mixed-Up World

by Melissa Bell

Hi folks. Posting a little late today. So sorry! I’m sure you’ve been anxiously awaiting my bi-weekly musing with proverbially bated breath (which, while spelled differently, always sounds like someone’s been eating worms or something equally unpleasant [to me, anyway, because I’m weird that way]).

Speaking of odd things (and how's that for a segue?) I’ve often found it a little absurd when people blog about blogging. But I’m sort of doing that today, so I hope you’ll forgive me. I’m just very excited to have learned this week that one of my favourite bloggers in the world, Laurie Perry, aka “Crazy Aunt Purl” has a book coming out this October: Drunk, Divorced, and Covered in Cat Hair.

I first discovered her site last fall (and mentioned it in an earlier post), back when I rediscovered my love of knitting and all things wool-related. But her blog is more than a just a good read for the needles-and-yarn crowd. Ms. Laurie has a flair for telling a good story, no matter how mundane – whether it’s trying to find a decent cat litter for her feline brood (she owns four), or her struggles to grow okra in her backyard – she’s a lovely breath of fresh air in her own smog-filled city of Los Angeles.

If life is at all fair (and sometimes it can be), I predict “Crazy Aunt Purl” is going to be the next young Oprah. Except a lot less preachy and with a lot more cats as guests on her inevitable talk show. Yeah, that’s a crazy prediction all right, but it couldn’t happen to a nicer girl I’ve never met.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

American Idols

By Antonios Maltezos

Watching them singing last night, I couldn’t help thinking how these young people have been transformed over the course of the season. They’re smoother now than in the beginning, all six of them, even the guy who looks like Nosferatu. Marvelous! Good for them! We love our celebrities! We want them rich and famous -- so rich they eventually forget what it was like getting gasoline for the car (the hullabaloo begins so suddenly for these celebrities, all they know is a driver showed up one day in a limousine), or having to go to the kitchen to answer the phone, or eyeballing the roll of toilet paper, wondering how many squares before the glue begins. We love our celebrities. And if we’re lucky, and we spot one of them, we stare. We stare so much, they have to start moving around with an entourage. And you won’t find them in the snow. If a celebrity bundles up against the bitter cold, wearing a thick woolen scarf, and a toque pulled down to the eyebrows, a heavy, upturned collar, the I’m keeping my head warm look, is it really a celebrity? Hot spot ski slopes don’t count. If you want to stare at the famous, you have to go south where it’s warm. They’re all down there… because we love to stare, keeping them safe by keeping them paranoid, surrounded by personnel, the best and most exclusive real-estate, so they don’t have to worry about much anymore, like looking both ways before crossing the street, or getting ripped-off by the supermarket cashier. They certainly don’t have to worry about sending their children off to school, or getting hit by a car while crossing the street. Do they? They shouldn’t. They’re celebrities, and they have body guards, publicists, agents, the cleaning staff, gardeners, a dozen paparazzi, millions of people who are interested in what’s new with them. Things have changed for them, now, is all I’m saying. They're becoming American Idols, truly, just like Celine. Good for them!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Born to Kvetch

by Tricia Dower

I was debating whether or not to use a Yiddish-speaking character in my latest story when I came upon Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods on the bargain table at Munro’s Bookstore. I took that as a sign to go for it.

Author Michael Wex, who lives in Toronto, is a novelist, university teacher, translator and performer of stand-up and one-person shows. He lectures widely on Yiddish and Jewish culture. His book is a scholarly work but it’s also a hoot to read in many places, especially if you grew up close to New York City and had a part-time job at Robinson’s Hardware in high school. Although old Mr. and Mrs. Robinson had turned the day-to-day operations over to their progeny by the time I worked there, they presided on lawn chairs in front of the store kibitzing and kvetching and instructing customers that whatever they wanted was “in de beck.”

Wex defines kvetching — the fine art of complaining — in some detail and gives this helpful analogy: “If the Stones’s (I Can’t Get No ) Satisfaction had been written in Yiddish, it would have been called (I Love to Keep Telling You that I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction (Because Telling You That I’m Not Satisfied Is All That Can Satisfy Me).” After I read that, I finally understood a friend of mine.

Born to Kvetch features chapters on the Yiddish curse (“a kvetch with a mission”), demons, food, religion, marriage, sex and the Angel of Death, among other things. It steers you through the origins of Yiddish — the coded language of exiles — and sheds light on why so many great comics are Jewish. As Wex writes in the chapter called A Slap in the Tukhes and Hello: Yiddish Life from Birth to Bar Mitzva, “There is almost no phase of life that Yiddish takes entirely seriously.”

I laughed out loud at the Yiddish equivalent of ‘speak of the devil.’ When just any old somebody shows up only seconds after his name has been mentioned, the Yiddish say, ‘We should have mentioned the Messiah.’ You gotta love people who’ve been waiting even longer than Sleeping Beauty for a saviour and can still joke about it.

It’s a point of pride with me to be out of touch. Apparently this book was a New York Times best seller in 2005. So successful, in fact, you can now buy Born to Kvetch t-shirts, camisoles, mugs and boxer shorts, ball caps, hoodies, sweatshirts, mouse pads, teddy bears, tote bags, throw pillows and thong underwear. Even a shirt for your dog.

So, get the book, already. And maybe a thong for your shlong or your oyse mokem.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What’s in a Year?

By Tamara Lee

The CWC’s first anniversary, for me, is sweet not because firsts are often the sweetest, but because we’ve fostered something this year that thrills me as much as the memory of that first-kiss-that-counts.

What’s in a year? A miscellany of bloggers, toddling away…

What we’ve uncovered as a group, and for some of us as individuals, has ranged anywhere from beautiful to neurotic to hilarious. It’s the breadth of this group that thrills me most, and each day I look forward to seeing what others have been thinking about lately.

This is more than I could have hoped for, when, just over a year ago, I casually mentioned to some online writer-pals that we should think about starting a blog or something. And before we could say ‘Canadian Writers’ Collective’, we were live and developing.

I love how this endeavour has taken on a personality, how our own personalities and styles have become emboldened by the opportunity to try something new.

What’s in a year? A range of Canadian views, from nearly every corner of the country and abroad.

Another great opportunity this sweet first anniversary offers is a chance to reveal to you some of my favourite posts from our core members; think of it as a montage to the past year. Cue music.

*Brilliant humour from Andrew Tibbetts

*Links and thinks from our ever-resourceful Anne Chudobiak

*Cuddling up to the master of masculine sensitivity Antonios Maltezos

*Some lovely comfort from Jen McDougall

*Joyful fun with Melissa Bell

*Taking a thrill-ride with Patricia Parkinson

*Getting a glimpse into the inquiring mind of Steve Gajadhar

*And reflecting with the wise and wonderful Tricia Dower.

And then there are our beloved alumni:

*The thoughtful Ania Vesenny

*Our favourite drawing-man Craig Terlson

*The charming bon-homme Denis Taillefer

*And the multi-talented Thea Atkinson.

So what’s in a year (and in more years to come)? Contests and interviews and book reviews and event recaps and rants and ponderings and lots of surprises, from our wide world of CWC’ers and guest-bloggers.

Finally, on this our one-year anniversary, I would like to say to everyone who has been involved so far, Cin cin and thank you for allowing me to remain along for the ride. I would also like to give a big Merci virtual-first-anniversary-kiss-that-counts to all our readers.

It’s been a grand year. May there be many more to come.

Friday, April 20, 2007

One Week, Two Firsts

By Anne Chudobiak

I have two book reviews coming out this week: Catherine Kidd’s Missing the Ark in the Montreal Gazette and Heather O’Neill’s Lullabies for Little Criminals in the Montreal Review of Books. This was carefully orchestrated to coincide with the first anniversary of the Canadian Writers' Collective—Yay, us! I'll update with links when they become available.

Pictured: Seymour, 2005

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Year One

by Jennifer McDougall

If you change your mind about dinner tonight Dear, just call...

I’ll be home all evening, call me if you want to talk...even if it’s late...

Donya can hear them leaving messages - her mother, his mother, her sister, his aunt, a friend – but she doesn’t move to pick up the phone. Wrapped in the comforter she dragged from her bedroom, she sits in an arm chair by the front window. A person walking past the house might think she is waiting for someone to arrive though she is not dressed for company. Donya put on black capris and a pink t-shirt yesterday morning, wore them all day, and fell asleep without changing.

Everybody wants to comfort Donya today, the first milestone day. She realises now that the attention shouldn’t have come as a surprise since it is still early. Only two months have passed. Sensitivities are on high alert. Plus, Len always made a big deal out of his birthday: a ski trip to Fernie one year, a barbeque at home with friends the next. In late March, Alberta weather could go either way.

Donya is imagining how all the friends and relatives will behave when the most problematic date arrives, when a full year has passed. They’ll be retelling the tragic story to new acquaintances by then: I knew that guy. And his wife. It was a year ago Tuesday… She ought to take control of the anniversary herself. In advance. Plan something huge and distracting. Something the whole extended collective of well-wishers can pour their energies into. Then, maybe, they’ll leave her alone, or at least their compassion will arrive in contained measures.

Becky is at the neighbor’s house and Josh is in the basement puttering with race cars and Lego, both of them clueless about why today is special. Was special. Fortunately, they’re too young to appreciate calendars and clocks, but there will be no hiding the anniversary from them, no chance of her keeping it to herself. They will sense it as people Donya never sees start coming by again. The media will also call, to follow up on the widow of the freak accident victim. No, it won’t matter that Becky and Josh don’t understand what January 16th stands for, they’ll figure it out soon enough and then it will forever be a miserable day for them too.

Donya picks up her cup of mint tea and pulls Minou into her lap, the animal’s ginger fur warming her palm, the insistent purring barely audible. She regards the front yard where last fall’s dead perennials litter the garden. Yesterday’s Chinook melted nearly all the remaining snow. Becky and Josh will be thrilled to finally play outside soon after being cooped up for a particularly difficult winter. Donya briefly considers taking a walk herself. Instead she cuddles back under the checked blue and green fabric and closes her eyes.

Shortly after she and Len met, when Donya was in the midst of her articling program and preparing for her certification exams, she discovered Len outside her apartment one Sunday morning in his old blue car waking the neighborhood with his horn. Alarmed, she raced downstairs to find him laughing, insisting she come for a drive. She tried to beg off, annoyed and overwhelmed with consolidations and tax code, but he convinced her, eventually admitting that it was his birthday, joking that she had no choice.

They sped west of the city towards the Rocky Mountains to a place Donya had never been in the five years she had lived in Calgary. The earth in the farmers’ fields flanking the highway was dark with moisture and the bright sun struggled to warm the winter air, air one expected to be much warmer than it really felt.

As Len turned at Elbow Falls, Donya opened her window to let the sounds and cool air produced by rushing water fill the car, shrinking the space between her and Len. He pulled into a small parking lot hidden by poplar trees. Donya doesn’t remember there being any other cars, but back then, she felt like they were the only two on Earth most of the time. He turned off the car and leaned over to kiss her.

“Let’s walk,” he said. He popped a baseball cap onto his head and reached into the back seat for a blanket hiding the torn upholstery.

Donya closed the buttons on her bulky maroon-colored cardigan: her study buddy throughout the winter. She wanted to suggest that they sit in the warm car a while, but she already knew one thing about Len. He loved the outdoors.

Blanket over one arm, Len met Donya at her side of the car and took her hand. Together, they found their way to a narrow dirt path lined with tall hedges sprouting tiny new leaves. Cluttered beneath the growth was winter debris of mushy leaves, twigs, and smudged cardboard pieces from last summer’s picnics. This path opened up onto a meadow enclosed by overgrown bushes and small trees. At first, Donya wondered if it was private land. It appeared to have been taken care of personally, like the grounds of a country home. In the centre was a large pond hemmed in cattails and long grasses on one side and a clipped shore running into the gradual water level on the other. Len led her to one of the benches and dropped the blanket on the damp wood.

Later, the two lovers walked hand in hand around the lake until they reached the far side where the weedy edge narrowed so much they had to walk single file. Sounds of “chee chee” stopped them. A small indentation in a pine tree held a fist-sized nest of grasses and white fluff. Shiny dark green feathers swept across a cache of creamy eggs. A slender beak popped out from the tree in sharp determined motions eventually revealing a striking white band ringing the swallow’s neck and continuing down over her chest. Donya held still, trying to quiet her breathing in the hope of extending this curious moment of spying with Len. Her heart fluttered with exhilaration and a deep sense of contentment and peace all at once. After a few moments, Len closed his hand over hers and led the way onward past the lake.

They never returned to this park which through the years retained its mystery for Donya. Where exactly it was located, why Len had chosen that particular place, and how it was that he knew just what she needed so early in their relationship.

Absentmindedly, Donya stretches her arm towards the front room window. The cold shocks her fingertips as soon as they settle on the glass.

“Josh?” She rises from the chair and moves to the top of the basement stairs. Whining cartoon voices from the television answer her call.

“C’mon up Honey, let’s get your sister from next door. We’re going for a ride.”

Josh appears at the bottom stair with something attached to his belt loop. An action figure of some kind, unfamiliar to Donya, a toy his dad must have bought for him.

“Whhhhhhy? Beyblades is starting, Mom!”

“It’ll be good for you. Bring your…” she motions to the dragon or monster thing hanging off his pants “…animal with you, if you want.”

“Where are we going?” He’s dragging his little-boy body up to her like he’s an old man. Donya notices for the first time how long his hair has grown in the past few weeks.

“It’s a surprise. You’ve never been there before.” She crouches and forces a smile directly at her six year old, greeting him with a hug as he reaches the top step.

He pulls away immediately. “Is it far?”

“I’m not sure. We’ll know when we get there.” Gently, Donya slips her fingers around Josh’s reluctant hand.

He concedes.

This is a section of a story I'm working on that I hope will become a novel one day. Thanks for reading.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Anniversaries are a humbug

by Andrew Tibbetts

I’m not an anniversaries kind of person. I can’t think of anything I celebrate. I joke that I celebrate the loss of my virginity each year but it isn’t true. I claim to read T.S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets every spring, but honestly, I did tha
t twice. I think human beings’ preoccupation with the past is unnatural. Animals celebrate nothing -- it’s all about today! I’m beastly in that regard. I wake up each day and snuffle around for food, power, companionship, sex. The fact that I had any of those things on some day in the past is useless to me now so why clog the present moment with commemoration.

Also, I’m not fond of mementos. I don’t get a
ttached to objects. I can love a person and toss the gift they gave me in the garbage without another thought. My reverence is for their giving not their gift. There’s no connection for me. And, yet I see other people do these weird things like save their old brownie badges, keep an ugly old lamp because it used to belong to their grandmother, cry when Aunt Sara’s toilet seat cover shrinks in the laundry. The objects have somehow taken on the value of the person. To devalue the object is to somehow devalue the person who once gave/owned/touched the object.

People’s calendars clutter with sentiment in similar ways. This is the day my father died. This is day my oldest lost his first tooth. This is the day Aunt Sara came out of her coma. The dates become mementos. For me, I’ll thin
k of Aunt Sara when I think of her. I believe the quality of my connection to her, what I learned from her, what I appreciated about her, what changed in me through knowing her, is not lessened because it isn’t fastened to a time or a doodad. Do people worry that they won’t have enough spontaneous and naturally occurring reverence?

People do not handle the transience of existence well. The idea that someone may die and be forgotten appals us. If it happens to Aunt Sara, it might happen to me. So we take a bunch of daisies to her grave every June the somethingth and we stretch her shrunken tacky Phentex cover across our toilet seat. But seriously, face it; there is nothing we can do to stop time’s obliterating tread. We’ll be gone ourselves soon enough. The fact is that Aunt Sara will dissolve into nothing along with everything she touched and not a soul alive will remember her, let alone the day she won the pie-baking award. In my personal opinion that only makes her the more beautiful. We are all of us rare and one of a kind and 'don’t miss your only chance to see this' special. The time we have with each other is now. And it’s precious.

Friday, April 13, 2007

May Day in the Park with Bob

by Melissa Bell

Bob and I have been quietly and understatedly acknowledging the anniversary of our friendship for many years now. Come May 1, he and I will have been perfecting the fine art of hanging out for 27 years. That’s longer than a lot of my friends have even been alive.

Five years ago, Bob and I went to Paris and celebrated Year 22 there; we didn’t plan our trip around the anniversary or anything – it just worked out that way. Also turned out that May 1 in France is a public holiday, so any visits to galleries or museums were just going to have to wait until the following day. We had no choice but to just find some pleasant place to drink some wine, eat some cheese, and…well, hang out.

We got up early on our anniversary and walked over to our local Parisian equivalent of a 7-11. In Toronto, my corner gas station/convenience store serves up fresh Tim Horton’s doughnuts. In Paris, you get fresh-baked baguettes, white or whole wheat. You can also find a rather decent selection of ridiculously cheap but highly drinkable wine (a bottle of wine is cheaper than a bottle of Diet Coke). We also loaded up on several intriguing smelly cheeses, a tube of paprika-flavoured Pringles (paprika Pringles? crazy!), and some plastic glasses. Then it was off to les Jardins du Luxembourg.

It was the first sunny, warm day in Paris since we’d arrived five days earlier. But I still packed my parapluie in case we’d need it. As we walked to the gardens, we encountered another lovely surprise tradition in Paris. Dozens of people on the streets selling small bunches of lily-of-the-valley (les muguets). Their incredible scent was everywhere. They are probably one of my favourite flowers of all time, and if I lived in Paris, every May 1 my modest flat Parisian mansion would be stuffed with them. But on this day I didn’t buy even one small bouquet. Yes, it hurt – it hurt bad to refuse them - but I couldn’t walk around carrying a bunch of flowers all day and a big plastic cup of wine and our big bag of picnicky goodness.

Once at the J du L, we took a bench at la fontaine des Médicis and uncorked a bottle of red. It was maybe 10 a.m. While a lot of things are nicely tolerated in Toronto, drinking in a public park, especially before noon, is not one of them. But this was/is Paris and everyone there is considered a grown-up, even dogs. And for all the drinking of wine that goes on over there, Bob and I witnessed only one very brief scene of obvious inebriation in 10 days and that was a very, very drunk man seated at a Metro stop with vomit all over his shoes.

I won't go into the details of les Jardins - there's plenty of info on the innernets. Now one might be inclined to think "It looks like it's just a park! How boring!" when there are so many other exciting things to do in Paris. But while it may be "just a park", it is a park in Paris. And in Paris, when it's sunny and the air is filled with the scent of muguets and you're slightly wobbly on Parisian gas station wine and cheese, there could be no place more perfect on Earth to spend a day. And (here's a secret bonus for the writers among our readers), the park is pretty much dedicated to les écrivains. Busts of famous French writers dot the landscape everywhere you walk there - sometimes obvious and out in the open, sometimes a sweet discovery slightly hidden from view behind a tree or hedge of boxwood.

We walked and we walked and we walked, eventually finding ourselves at les Jardins des Plantes. I know that must sound about as creatively-named as The Tree Forest or The Animal Zoo or The Snowy Ski Hill, but it had its own particular charm, different from the Luxembourg gardens. I remember a series of dark greenhouses and conservatories, closed because the high season was still a week or two away. I also remember dreamy long avenues of tall, trimmed trees. Vines, untamed, and in need of a gardener. Stylish Parisians and their charming French-speaking, beribboned-hat-wearing little children, and well-behaved dogs. A steel-coloured sky full of thunder. A writer friend of mine recently complained about the overuse of the word "surreal" these days. But that's how it felt, how it was that day. Surreal. Like all the paintings by Magritte (yes, I know he was Belgian) and Kay Sage and Giorgio de Chirico made sense, the way Emily Carr's style gels once you actually get to see the BC rainforests. I'm digressing. I'm indulging. I apologize. No, I don't.

When it started to rain, it rained hard, and Bob and I took shelter in the doorway of the Reptiles building, shared by an enormous statue of a Pope – a statue that seemed to have been placed there the way we might put an extra sofa or a washing machine on the back porch until we figured out what to do with it. We drank another bottle of wine as we hung out with the Pope statue, waiting for the rain to abate. We giggled a lot and reminisced. Sometimes we were very loud with our laughter. But nobody seemed to take any notice. Springtime. Paris. Two best friends with 22 years of extraordinarily happy memories. Loud laughter is permitted and expected.

Happy soon-to-be Year 27, Bob. Happy very soon-to-be Year 1 to the CWC.

And happy wonderful weekend to the rest of you, Friday the One-Three and all!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Time Capsules

By Antonios Maltezos

What was the name of that song, the one you heard often when you were writing that story? Whatever the name of the song, it’ll give you a shock and a yucky feeling when it shows up again, on the car radio. Even if the story was a thrill to write, and much of it has withstood the test of time, the skills you’ve since acquired, it’ll still leave you with a yucky feeling remembering the hassle. Because it’s writing from another time of your life, silly, and though you thought it was perfect, it could still use a rewrite. But thankfully, this ain’t real life, and we get to touch up when we revisit the past, rewriting whole passages in greater detail. We’ve lived a bit since then, so we’ll fix things. We know better now, and it’ll be easy, obvious. We’ll revive the story, and for a brief period of time, we’ll believe we can rewrite anything.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Danny Boy

By Lisa McMann

When Patricia graciously invited me to participate as a guest blogger for the Anniversary theme, I had an entirely different story in mind to share – a fun story about a twenty-year high school reunion. But then I couldn’t stop thinking about the kids that don’t live to see graduation, and the people they leave behind, and something entirely different emerged.

Whenever she sees those pearly snap-button shirts, she remembers seventh grade when she walked behind the Civic Center stage curtain and Danny ripped her shirt open on a dare. Her tiny lilac bra glowed iridescent in the stage lights until she snatched the shirt plackets back together, re-snapping with shaking fumble-fingers to close the curtain on the show. Danny’s boy-face blushed crimson and his pink lips puckered into a wrinkled “O” before he ran away. The thick slides of trombones from the pep band rang in her ears.

And whenever she thinks about Danny, she remembers one Wednesday morning in the summer after tenth grade, and how she hated organ practice in that dark, echoing church. How Danny beckoned from the open casket twenty feet away, until the ominous silence of the boy’s dead body grew louder than the pipe organ at full swell. Abruptly she stopped playing, left the organ keys bare and the bench askew as she trip-toed to where the hazy colored light filtered in through stained glass, painting crimson and yellow boxes on Danny’s pale face. The final chords she’d played from the blue hymnal hung eerily above the balcony. Suspended, like witches, from the rafters.

Twenty years later, she still thinks of Danny. The pearly snap-buttons, the pep band, the boy-face blush. She still thinks about organ practice on the day of Danny’s funeral in the enormous, spooky, echoing church. And she still wonders now, like she did later that afternoon when handfuls of dirt thudded on top of the casket, why she didn’t dare to open her shirt for Danny on his last day above the ground. If she had, maybe, just maybe his eyes would have opened. And the things that shadow her mind – lilac satin and pink lips and stained glass, trombones and organs and dark, secret places – wouldn’t have to be shrouded in crimson curtains of regret.

Lisa McMann is the author of two paranormal novels for teens, DREAM and FADE (Simon & Schuster 2008). Her short story, The Day of the Shoes, won worldwide recognition and a 2004 Templeton Award. She writes from her green chair overlooking the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, where she is hard at work on various other novels for teens and ‘tweens.

Several of Lisa's short stories are linked to her website. You can also find Lisa on my space and at her blog.

Bop In and Whale Out

by Tricia Dower

For the next two weeks leading up to the anniversary of our very first blog, we will be writing about happy (or not) returns of happy (or not) days in our lives. You've got those same two weeks to enter our contest. Check out the rules highlighted in the masthead.

The first high school reunion I attended was my 25th. Grads who had never left the old home town were accustomed to seeing each other’s thickening waists and thinning hair but it was a shock to me. Aretha Franklin* was big as a linebacker! Diana Ross, on the other hand, looked terrific. She’d become a fitness instructor. We were given name tags that featured our yearbook graduation pictures so we could recognize each other. Most people picked me out right away because — not being a change for the sake of change kind of person — my hair looked the same minus the headband.

The dinner/dance was held in a big hall that was popular for Italian weddings: faux frescoes of Roman ruins mocked our deteriorating forty-something bodies. A band played the oldies as though they were channelling Guy Lombardo. Connie Francis opened the evening with a protracted grace. Once outrageously cheeky, she had been Born Again and was in touch with her solemn side.

A bunch of us “girls” were there without husbands or lovers. We commandeered a table and had a blast, as we used to say, catching up on each other’s lives. I sat next to Brenda Lee who once used empty juice cans to curl her big, beautiful hair. She turned up at the party with a pixie cut and minus one perfectly good uterus. Married for nearly twenty years to “a really great guy,” Brenda confided she was getting it on with someone else who didn’t like her having a period, so she’d gone and had a hysterectomy. Just like that. “I highly recommend it,” she said. (What if he hadn’t liked her arms or legs?)

At our table were a few members of the “Mean 17,” seventeen girls who had hung out together since grade school and given each other nicknames like Chubby Chubette, Hamhead, Foot, Noo-Noo, and Fuzz. They had authored our Dictionary of Cool, including Thanks a lot Charlie Chrysler, Heather hence, and Bop in and whale out. Feminists before it was fashionable, the Mean never allowed an invitation from a boy to trump a date they had made with each other. I wasn’t surprised most of them turned out just fine.

We did the Jitterbug, the Bop, the Stroll, the Hand Jive, and the Bunny Hop. Only guys attending sans wives had the courage to come up to our table and ask us to dance. Frankie Avalon — a boy I had wanted to marry in third grade on the basis of his being better than I was in arithmetic — was one of them. Nobody had told him open-necked shirts and gold chains were no longer in style. As we danced, he stared at me with glazed eyes, mumbling over and over, “Who loves you, Baby?”

“What’s with Frankie?” I asked Dusty Springfield, back at the table. She’d always known what was what with all of the guys. Some of the girls, too, come to think of it. She danced with Lesley Gore all night.

“He’s just stoned,” she said. “Frankie’s always stoned.”

I looked around for the boy I callously dumped when I went to college, hoping that after all these years I’d have the chance (and the grace) to apologize, but he didn’t show.

Cher said she had considered staying away because she and Sonny had gotten divorced. “Who hasn’t?” I said. Sonny and Cher had gone steady for most of high school. They broke up for a year during which someone else bagged Cher’s virginity. That was pretty hard for Sonny to take after he and Cher got back together, she said. They got married, anyway, and then they got divorced. And so it had gone for a lot of us.

We’d been exposed to the worldly air long enough for our bright, shiny surfaces to begin to tarnish. We had stopped studying history as though it were over. I liked us a lot.

*Names have been changed to extend my life.

Photo Top: The way I looked in high school. Inset: Doing the stroll — I loved the stroll! — with Gabe Rosko (voted “Best Looking” in our class) and Karen Kavet. (She was my best friend the last two years of school, although I wasn’t hers. Funny how that happens.) Gabe and Karen are their real names.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Civility Wars

By Tamara Lee

In W. Somerset Maugham’s 1905 novel, The Merry-Go-Round, the protagonist, Miss Ley, asserts that ‘Nowadays self-sacrifice is a luxury which few have the strength to deny themselves.’ Grand notions of what it means to be civilized is the stuff for history papers and philosophers, not humans having to live their lives, Maugham suggests, and after hearing former boy-soldier Ishmael Beah speak recently at a packed-out high school auditorium, this assertion is difficult to argue.

A hundred years after Maugham’s treatise/novel, in Sierra Leone thousands of young people experienced self-sacrifice unlike anything Maugham could have imagined.

Ishmael Beah, after losing his whole family in a civil war conflict, found himself on the run for a year, and was finally recruited by the government army at 12 years old, eventually committing unspeakable acts in the name of personal survival. That he lives to tell us his story (in A Long Way Gone and on its book tour) is remarkable enough, that he does so with thoughtful earnest and surprising humour speaks even more of human nature’s incredible capacities.

Ours can be a selfish and self-absorbed society; our decadence embarrassing in its seemingly desperate reach for significant meanings, concocting turning points or poignancy for our lives. But there are times when the truly remarkable person or event can stop such cynicism in its trek.

For several years, Beah knew mostly brutality and fear. But there were rare moments, too, of humanity, he says. He describes with humour a night of dancing, ever-aware of his captors’ guns, to his hip-hop tapes in an effort to secure the safety of he and his friends. Somehow, since his release, he has been able to find humour again, to see beauty, in what he calls his second life, having learned just what kinds of things he and any human is capable of doing.

There so often seems a woeful lack of self-recognition or personal growth in the world. Maugham's piercing wit reveals the hypocrisies of a decadent and ‘civilised’ society seemingly incapable of restraint. But even in his world, there are flashes of true humanity. And for those who will learn something of themselves, and what folly are their hypocrisies, Maugham's Miss Ley reminds us:

“The world may be full of misery and disillusion…but there is one thing that compensates for all the rest… Beauty.”

With finite detail, Maugham describes the beauty of a grey winter London that will see spring again, and the rare roses that grow out of coffins. Beah recalls the small acts of dangerous kindness he encountered during his journey toward his second life.

And in the end, for Beah and Maugham, a civil world is not a self-sacrificing one, but a society that believes in second-chances.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Summer Fiction Issue, Cont'd

By Anne Chudobiak

Last July I blogged about my frustration at not being able to find the summer fiction issue of Ottawa Magazine, a problem that wasn’t resolved until very recently when my friend the poetess somehow acquired a copy while speaking at the Ottawa Art Gallery. People are always giving her stuff to read. Sometimes they even ask her for her address so that they can send her books in the mail. Thank goodness for the poetry barter system. It’s so much more effective than Chapters.

p.s. Thanks to Amy for sending me to Miranda July’s author site. It's hilarious, particularly the part about the password. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007


by Steve Gajadhar

By the time this is posted for me, I should be just coming out the other side of some wicked jet lag. Southeast Asia, with stops in Thailand and Cambodia. And ya, I’m excited.

Vacation has been non-existent for most of my adult life mostly because I’ve spent a lot of it far away from family. Vacation meant going back to Saskatchewan. Vacation meant Christmas, weddings, family issues. It never meant vacation. Couple that with the 2-3 measly weeks of holidays bestowed by employers and it’s easy to see why I forgot the concept of getting away from it all.

I’m looking forward to being bitten by the travel bug all over again, although I hope it doesn’t give me malaria…

I’ll be back with pictures from and writing about the far side of the world.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Merry Christmas

By Jennifer McDougall

When I exercise at home, I do so in front of the television where I can indulge in American daytime talk shows. I figure that as long as I’m giving my body a workout, it’s fair to give my brain some candy. With the long weekend approaching, predictably, the reruns are being aired. What surprised me was how many of these were Christmas themed episodes originally shown last December. How obvious must it be that a repeat is being slipped in? I’ll agree that around my place it looks and feels an awful lot like Christmas these days thanks to a spring snowstorm, but honestly, do seasons and dates make no difference anymore?

I’ll admit that I am one of those people to whom the actual date of an annual celebration is not drastically important. Take my extended family’s “quarterly birthday parties”. If you are born between July and September as I am, you can expect to share your cake with up to five other people either in early July or some time in the third week of August depending on who’s in town. This is fine by me, as long as there is a celebration.

My aunt enjoys her birthday so much she embraces an entire “birthday week” allowing plenty of time to celebrate with her girlfriends, her children, her co-workers, plus a special date with her husband – why keep it to one day? Yet to her husband, dates are important. Thanks to his photographic memory-like ability, he can tell you which famous person you share a birthday with or what historical event coincides with your wedding anniversary.

Many religious observances are unconnected to a specific calendar date. This weekend’s pinnacle of Christianity is a perfect example. Annually, the date of Easter Sunday is calculated - at least by the western rite - as the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon that occurs on or after March 21 (the day of the ecclesiastical vernal equinox). This complex calculation keeps us guessing every year.

Even the celebration of Jesus’ birth date is only symbolic. Historians suggest that he was in fact born in the spring or summer and that the Dec 25th date was chosen for a variety of other social and political reasons.

The month-long observance of Ramadan begins with the sighting of the new moon in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. Who sees this moon from which shore is a likely point of annual contention.

I’m looking forward to other posts here at the CWC this month as the nature of annual celebration is discussed and celebrated. I’m wondering to what extent others are committed to the ceremony of anniversary especially when it is married to a specific date. Perhaps a date’s importance softens over the years. I know that my husband and I have become much more flexible when recognizing dates that were once central to our pre-marital romance. Our Valentine’s dinner dates now take place on a night sometime in February when the stars align. In other words, all four kids are healthy, a sitter is available, and we’re able to get a reservation.

In an attempt to learn more about what today represents for somebody out there, I went to the second best source for trivial information – my uncle was unavailable – and looked up birthdays occurring on April 3. Lo and behold, Jesus of Nazareth was the first name on the list.

Merry Christmas, indeed.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Bruised Lips and Pinched Bums- the Canadian Literati celebrates the CWC!

By Andrew Tibbetts

The recent Canadian government directive to writers’ collectives insisting that uniforms be made from eco-friendly materials has put the CWC in a tizzy. Under normal circumstances, our patron, Alice Munro, would have gotten her maid to sew us new ones, but Barbara’s been at her husband’s trial in Chicago, so we’ve been on our own.

This past Saturday, Alice called us up to big house- as you know she’s donated her garden shed for our quarters. Ostensibly, she wanted to have a good old-fashioned ‘stitch-n-bitch’. Or so we thought! It turns out the whole thing was an excuse to throw us a surprise party for our one-year anniversary. That’s our Alice! As generous to her patrons as is she is with information about bystanders in her ‘short’ stories (I love that one where she gives you the financial history of everyone in the doctor’s waiting room, even though the main character doesn’t actually go in for their appointment that day!)

The party was such a roaring success. In the west corner of Alice’s banquet hall, Margaret Atwood was manning a kind of crepe station and pouring buckets of fancy liqueurs over her homemade gelato. Halfway through the party she set her hair on fire from the hotplate. It took half an hour for anyone to notice (Anne Michaels’ flaming do didn’t get spotted for a full hour and a half.) In the south corner, Leonard Cohen was leading a little meditation circle and sharing this special zen practice of challenging the meditaters to keep going despite distraction as he pinched people’s bottoms. I pointed mine in his general direction but he kept bypassing it for Melissa Bell’s. She must be like a red-bottomed baboon by now.

Russell Smith did people’s colours for them in the east corner. Sheila Heti’s a winter. Duh. Who couldn’t have guessed that? But Austin Clarke an autumn? I was stunned. Russell gave him a quick makeover and sure enough he looked days younger.

In the South corner Alice had set up a dunk tank. Was it just me or did she rush over to dunk Miriam Toews with just a little bit too much eagerness? Why didn’t anyone want to dunk Jane Urquhart? That was awkward. Luckily she was so drunk she dunked herself. The line-up to dunk Eleanor Wachtel went twice around the house. And it’s a big house.

The CWC, of course, were the men and women of the hour. Alice put us all in kissing booths. Two days later and I still look like Angelina Jolie- sore! Who knew Hal Niedzviecki was so passionate? And don’t think I didn’t notice you, David Bezmosgis, in everybody else’s line but mine! That was funny when Christopher Dewdney punched Antonio out because it looked like Barbara Gowdy was ‘enjoying herself.’ Duh? It’s kissing.

I know the party went on until the wee hours but I got between Michele Landsberg and a buffet and got barrelled over and knocked out.

Thanks everyone (especially the people who kept Yann Martel busy at customs!) Swell time! We’ll do it all again next year.

Oh- yeah. The new uniforms? Apparently Alice sent them with Barbara anyway, who couldn’t afford to take an unpaid leave, what with her future so undecided. She’s doing them by hand during jury selection. Apparently they hope it’ll give ‘the common touch’ to their whole side. So, as soon as she’s back- we’ll be all spiffed up and in compliance with Bill 97-01-B. Stay tuned for photos of us in our spiffy eco-uniforms! (Plus I might slip in a few from the party: was that Andrew Pyper making out with Margaret Cannon? Philip Marchand throwing up in the rose bushes? Wayston Choy, Michel Tremblay and Shyam Selvadurai fighting over who would give me CPR?)

Welcome to April!