The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Saturday, June 30, 2007

One Lucky Mom

by Tricia Dower

She calls from Munich a few days before Mother’s Day to say, “We need a new tradition: an annual mother/daughter trip.” It’s been nearly eighteen months since we’ve seen each other as life has put 3,000 miles between us. It’s what I like least about Victoria.

She proposes Banff for the first trip and we agree to spend a long weekend in June there. A week before our get-together, she returns from a successful but exhausting ten-day business trip to London, New Delhi and Singapore. It hardly seems fair that she has the longer journey — six hours of flight, plus time in between to switch planes in Denver — but she’s feeling nostalgic about Banff and is probably mothering me, as well.

We check in with each other the night before our separate flights. It’s 10:30 p.m. where she lives, and she hasn’t packed yet. My son-in-law is in away on business and my grandson is supposed to be at a camp sleepover, leaving her free to make her way to the airport in the morning. However, the child is sick. She has collected him from camp and arranged with another mother to get him back there the next morning. When I call, she reports that he’s thrown up all over his bed but she’s cleaned him up and gotten him back to sleep. She can turn her attention now to an announcement she must write and e-mail to someone at work before she leaves.

We meet in Calgary the next afternoon, rent a car and drive to Banff. “I’ll do the driving,” she says. “I like to drive.” She knows I don’t. We slowly begin to get reacquainted. She drives us to Johnston Canyon where we follow the catwalk to the falls. We visit three Crayola coloured glacier lakes. She wants her ashes scattered over Peyto Lake. You can’t get down to its shores. You have to climb up, up, up to even look at it. Someone’s gonna have to charter a plane when she goes. It will be too cruel if it’s me. We run into snow at the Icefields just into Jasper National Park. She’s wearing sandals and I worry about her toes getting cold. We’re on the lookout for moose, elk and bear but have to be satisfied with two chipmunks, a few deer and two big-horned sheep.

We talk in the car, over meals, in our room, on mountain paths. About corporate politics, reincarnation, family life, her travels, my writing, diet and health, movies and books, social injustice around the world, how little support the US government offers to soldiers coming home from Iraq —hell, they still don’t care about those like her father who served in Vietnam and suffered as a result. It’s so easy with her. It always has been. I think how beautiful and capable she is, what a pure heart she has, but I don’t tell her. At dinner I say, “It’s good to be with you.” I hope she’s getting enough rest.

On Monday, I hurry off to my airport gate, not wanting to risk tears. A few hours after I arrive back in Victoria, she calls from Denver. She’s on the plane and the crew is trying to get clearance for an early departure as lightning is splitting the sky. They’re not successful. It’s after 1 a.m. by the time she lands, and she’s up early the next morning for work.

She does all that for me. I am one lucky mom.

Photos: My daughter at Lake Louise; Peyto Lake in Banff National Park

Friday, June 29, 2007

Stupid Hot

It has been hot and sweaty here in Montreal. I’ve had to resort to the ugly but powerful Seabreeze 3200-0 Turbo-aire fan to restore me to my normal good humour. I keep one beside my bed, where I went early last night to elevate my feet and read the latest New Yorker.

My husband brought me a glass of Zinfandel fresh from the freezer. I used what little energy I had to wave the magazine at him. It flapped in the airstream, losing my page. I had wanted to show him the article that I’d been reading, but no matter. I would tell him about it instead, just as soon as I’d had a sip of my drink. The glass was filled to the rim. Was he trying to get me drunk? Was this a come-on?

“There’s an article in here,” I said, “By that Jewish guy.” I stopped there, hoping that this would suffice. Conversation had been difficult of late, and not only because of the heat. We had had a fight that morning at breakfast over the true nature of fruit salad: does it constitute a meal or not? (I’d said the answer was dependent on the age of the person eating, suggesting that it was usually older people who went for the all-fruit breakfast. My husband had been fervent in his disagreement.) We’d been unable to resolve this, choosing instead to never mention “fruit” or “salad” ever again, especially when the temperature was above a yet-to-be determined threshold.

But my husband was staring at me blankly, so I pressed on. “The Jewish guy,” I said. “I forget his name. The one who lives in New York.”

I meant the short-story writer and essayist Shalom Auslander, whose work frequently draws on his Orthodox background, usually to comedic effect.

“New York?” asked my husband.

“Not the city,” I said. “The state.”

And somehow, miraculously, this information—which I’ve since learned is erroneous—was enough.

“The guy who wrote the essay about hockey?” asked my husband.

And suddenly I didn’t care so much about fruit salad. Let him call it what he wanted—a square meal, a blowout, a brunch—just so long as he knew which Jewish guy in which New York, and when to put the Zinfandel in the freezer. That was more than enough.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Steady, men... steady!

By Antonios Maltezos

In The Montreal Gazette of Wednesday, June 27, 2007, columnist Bill Brownstein conceded too much, too easily, I think. Immediately following the section of his column I’ve excerpted here, I will attempt to put things right.

Published: Wednesday, June 27, 2007

I used to take pride in barbecuing. Then a friend - a woman - passed on this reality check:
"When a man volunteers to barbecue, the following chain of events are put into motion: 1) The woman buys the food. 2) The woman makes the salad, prepares the vegetables and makes dessert. 3) The woman prepares the meat for cooking, places it on a tray along with the necessary cooking utensils and sauces, and takes it to the man lounging beside the grill - beer in hand.
"Here comes the important part: 4) THE MAN PLACES THE MEAT ON THE GRILL.
"5) The woman goes inside to organize plates and cutlery. 6) The woman comes out to tell the man that the meat is burning. He thanks her and asks if she will bring another beer while he deals with the situation.
"8) The woman prepares the plates, salad, bread, utensils, napkins, sauces, and brings them to the table. 9) After eating, the woman clears the table and does the dishes (not trusting the male to load the dishwasher).
"And most important of all: 10) Everyone PRAISES the MAN and THANKS HIM for his cooking efforts. 11) The man asks the woman how she enjoyed her night off. Upon seeing her reaction, he concludes there's just no pleasing some women."


Now here’s what I have to say in defense of men who barbecue (the ouch was his, btw):

Bill… Bill… Bill…

First of all, I’m hardly lounging by the grill as I await the arrival of the meat, which I’ve personally rubbed with the steak spice, btw. She only needs bring me the pan when I call for it. I’m ready forda meat! After glug-glugging beer one and two (it’s my shot of cowboy whiskey), every fiber of every muscle of my being tenses, on stand-by, ready to pull back my tong hand with a snap, quick as a gunslinger (except backwards) should the flames shoot up through the grill like a solar flare, which I’ve heard said can reach great heights, singing the nose hairs even. I’ve already got the safe spot picked out, the corner of the cedar side shelf cool enough not to warm my beer should I have to set the bottle down and wrestle the flames into submission, squirt my secret flame suppressing squirting liquid onto the briquettes, a faux lemon/lime juice I get from the Club Price by the case. It comes in green squeeze bottles, and sure beats water, which will send up heavy smoke signals every time, bringing out the neighbors, that sonofabitch with his advice. You know, if you hang that from a string, it’ll be much easier to spray paint. I keep the lemon/lime juice at my feet, my secret.

I can’t say it enough, guys: it’s so important to have that safe spot picked out. The beer needs to stay cold. It’s a question of survival, medium rare, or well-done. Should I scorch my hand, I need to be quick passing the tongs to the chilled hand, the one that’s been clutching the crisp La Bud, and flip the meat before it burns. But I can’t do that unless I’ve set the beer down quickly. See? And once the beer is safe, I can start licking the knuckles of my singed flipping hand. None of this would be possible without beer one and two, btw, because that’s when I’m memorizing the motion of setting the beer down on that cold spot. I don’t need to be thinking about these things during an emergency.

So we’ve established that the beer is essential to good barbecuing. Now what about who gets to cook the meat? The man or the woman? Well, s’cuse me for being so ignorant, but I didn’t know women had the skill, or the strength, to hang a pair of extra long tongs from the pinky finger while holding a pan laden with raw meat, keeping it level while emptying beer three down the gullet… beer one and beer two were so good and essential.

Here’s another thing I can’t say enough times: don’t ever, but never, ever have the wife bring you the beer. Let her count how many times you slammed the screen door shut in your hurry to get back to the grill. Why make it easy for her, Bill?

Now, ask any chef of merit: the meat needs be seared to lock in all those juices, those flavorful drippings the untrained barbequer, or a woman, might let drain onto the briquettes, hardly any sizzling because of feeble temperatures. The grills got to be white hot, man, dangerously hot. I ask you Bill: HAVE YOU EVER SEEN A WOMAN MOVING LIKE A STUNTMAN, A JACKIE CHAN HOPPING BACKWARDS ON ONE LEG, AND THEN THE SPIN AROUND… THE DUCK DOWN, TONGS POINTED LIKE A WEAPON AT THE FLAMES? I’ve had to do that, during a fire ball, all the while keeping my one loose eye on that La Bud I’d rested on the cedar side shelf just in time, whose cries for help I swear I could hear through the roaring and the fuss like a ping, ping in my ears. ‘Course you’ve never seen a woman with these moves, Bill. This is hero’s work.

Making the salad… arranging the cutlery… phffft! I’d rather kill the beast than shop for the shallots and the che-merry tomatoes. And what of the propane tank? Who’ll protect the wife and the kids from that bomb?

Me! That’s who.

Get the kids in the house, I’m about to light the BBQ!


Is the barbecue safe like that? I think it’s still on?

The vinyl cover a wrinkled heap on the deck, bed sheets kicked off onto the floor, the lid wide open like the maw of some devilish creature, or the yawn of a man who’s eaten too much, needs the couch for the next hour or so. He don’t feel so good. I can see it. I’m picturing it.

It’s taken care of, I say, sneaking off the couch. Outside, I singe my eyelashes when I lean over the grill to see if it’s still burning. I can’t open my eyes all the way anymore.

Ouch, indeed. This is such dangerous business.

I still have to screw the valve shut, turning in the direction the arrow indicates.

I do.

… and thank God I was here for that, too.

… so there.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Park Chan-wook

Article removed for revision and publication. Wish the author luck!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Cause we don’t post enough around here! And because it’s 10:30pm and I have to board a plane to Regina in 30 minutes and my post is due tomorrow. And maybe sometimes I’m too honest? So, some fiction:

Places She Cannot Go

She is on the couch, her head tilted down, so that she looks at me out of the top of her eyes. The room is lit from above so her mouth is in shadow and I cannot see her speak.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

Where am I going? she wants to know. Always. Even if it’s only to the store I have to tell her I’m going to the store.

“I’m going for a drive.” And I realize that she fills me with fear. I look at her legs as if to ask her what she could possibly do about my leaving. It is an exhilarating feeling. “I think I’ll go see Mother.”

I look past her at a picture of us, both smiling, her legs draped over my arms, my face happy, no signs of the strain in my legs as I forded that threshold. She looks past me at her chair folded in the corner. I watch her hands spasm, like her legs that walk at night while she is dreaming. I shook her one night about to tell her that on some level her brain knew her legs were still there. She looked at me when she woke up. Looked through me. Like she knew this already. I couldn’t tell her, it would have been cruel. So I waited until she fell asleep again and then I woke her again, only this time it was to watch her legs stop.

Her legs have not worked in 186 weeks.

On the highway to my mother’s, a truck smashed into our car like a metal fist. I held my breath, squeezed my fingers into the steering wheel. The seatbelts pinned us down as the car turned into a decelerating, crushed amusement ride. I didn’t scream. I couldn’t. But she did. She stopped when we came to rest upside down, in the ditch. She asked me if I was okay. I was.

The accident was so loud, the aftermath so silent and numb, that in those infinite moments before rescue I heard the plumbing of the universe gurgle and decide my fate. Someone rapped on the window. The doors were pried open. They pulled me out first because I let them pull me out first. I didn’t say, pull her out first, she is hurt. I didn’t say, I have to know she is okay. She came next, pulled through the blood and gore, her cut seatbelt tangled around her like an umbilical cord. They laid her beside me and she looked at me and calmly said, I can’t feel my legs. I didn’t look at her when I told her they were still there.

To be aware of yourself like this is a terrible thing. I want so badly to sleep again. My eyes have grown accustomed to the dark. Now when I wake her she cannot see me. I go places she cannot go.

I don’t go see Mother. I drive until I find a deserted stretch of highway. I accelerate with all the windows down. Seventy-five. Ninety. I close my eyes. My foot trembles. Nine seconds.

I’m still a coward.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Shadowy Selves, Part 2

by Tricia Dower

I first saw David Roche late last year in Bonnie Sherr Klein’s Shameless: The ART of Disability. The 2006 film marked Klein’s return to filmmaking after a stroke in 1987. (And, yes, she’s Naomi’s mother.) Roche, a humourist and motivational speaker, is one of five artists featured in the plays. When he gave a performance in Victoria a week and a half ago, I was there. It was only three days after I had first learned of Jung’s Shadow. How serendipitous, then, that David opened his performance with words to this effect:

"We with facial deformities are children of the dark. Our shadow sides are on the outside. And we can see in the dark, see you turn away. But we understand you turn away not from our faces but from your own fears. From those things inside you that you think mark you as someone unlovable. My job is to carry the weight of your fears.”

David is funny —“How do you tell each other apart?” he asks us — and mischievous: When kids stare at him, he’s tempted to say, “My face is this way because, when I was your age, I touched my wee-wee.” Mostly, however, he’s moving. The power comes from his willingness to put his inner and outer selves on display and his sense of theatre.

The stage is dark as he walks out and stands before a chair. A spotlight goes on and he lets you have a good long look at him before he speaks. His face is disfigured from a tumour that developed when he was an infant and the subsequent surgery and radiation treatment. He tells of applying for the Catholic priesthood and being turned down because he was too ugly. “The priest saying that was like God saying it,” he said. His self-esteem was shattered for years. He was thirty before he talked openly about his face to anyone other than doctors. It’s hard to imagine spending thirty years remaining quiet about something so defining, but, then, many of us avoid discussing our alcoholism, our drug addiction, our obesity, our suicidal thoughts, choosing to bear our shame alone.

Because of his face, David had no difficulty believing in the dark, monster side of himself. A belief in his inner beauty was more hard won. He and his wife Marlena Blavin give a presentation to 11-13-year-olds called Love at Second Sight: how they met and how she fell in love with the inner man. With that age group, “it’s all about appearance,” he says, and giving them a different perspective makes him feel useful. Adults who hear him speak tell him he’s inspirational and that keeps him going, as well.

I couldn’t help recalling a young man I knew in the ‘70s when I worked for an insurance company. He was the spokesman for a fire safety campaign we developed and he toured around the country for us, warning people about the dangers of fire. It gave him a sense of mission. He had been horribly burned in a crib fire when he was two-years-old, in the days before fire-retardant pyjamas. It was hard to look at his face. He took his own life a few years after I met him.

David says he’s accepted his face and looks at it as a gift. I want to believe that.

Photo of David Roche by Kathleena Gorga.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Our First Award!

See that little plaque thingy there? We're very proud. Oh so very! Thank you thank you thank you to Kelly Spitzer for such an acknowledgement. It's very nice to think we make others think.

And so, in the spirit of the award's origins (found here), we are passing the synapse-powered torch on to five other blogs and their bloggers that make us think, and which we hope you'll enjoy as well. And now this is the part that scares me, friends. This is where I, as a representative of a Thinking Blogger Award site, try to make links happen. Okay, let's do it!

In no particular order, the Canadian Writers' Collective bestows the Thinking Blogger Award to the following:

The Evitable by Martin Heavisides
It's consistently engaging and very thoughtful on a wide variety of subjects- from a great jazz review to a comment on erosion of jurisprudence to a critique of recent gorefest horror movies. Plus a few poems every once in awhile.

blog off by Sass
“Trim, but not skeletal, poetic, but not effusive.” A blurb from a Cormac McCarthy book that could just as easily describe this blog.

The World's Fair by David Ng and Benjamin Cohen
Very science-y. Very funny. Very informative. David Sukuki wishes he could be this hot and this cool. (Global-warming jokes, anyone?)

Writing Neuroses by Kay Sexton
A Pushcart-nominated writer from the UK, Kay also writes for the UK's premier sustainability journal, Green Futures.

Dadsmacker by C Monks
Very fresh and always hilarious, Mr. Monks rocks the cradle and then some. Me, I'm in love with the whole Offsprung familia, but we can't give an award to everyone over there. We trust he will share it nicely with the rest of his Offsprung siblings.

Champagne and cigars all around, everyone. Have a lovely weekend!

Thursday, June 21, 2007


By Antonios Maltezos

Lucky me! My last Tetanus shot was in 2000 -- a bit o good fortune, if you ask me, not the festering wound that had me double-checking my wallet for my Medicare card, but the year itself.

“It’ll be easy to remember for the next one,” said the doc.
“Hey, yah! That’s right. That’s right.”
“2010. Easy to remember.”
“That’s right. Ha!”

Lucky me.

I should have had only three Tetanus shots in my last thirty years, but I’ve had a lot more than that. How many? How the hell should I know -- every time I’ve gone in for stitches, at least? That’s seven times (I can see the scars.). Plus the three or four finger tips I’ve sliced off that couldn’t be stitched. Fingertips grow back, btw. I must have built up immunity, by now, to the dreaded Tetanus disease; I’m finally the super hero I’d always dreamed of becoming.

“When was your last Tetanus shot?”
“Dunno. Can’t remember.”
Well, I’ll give you one anyway, they always say, thinking just this once couldn’t hurt.

I have a terrible memory. Things happen. I react. The dust settles. And then something else happens.

I don’t remember the year Elvis died, but I can still see my dad coming home... walking into the kitchen, mumbling something only my sister could hear, and then her implosion, her devastation, her mournful wailing, the bedroom door closing behind her, and me looking to my dad for an answer. Elvis is dead. Just like that. My dad was one of those guys with the big sideburns, and my sister had adored both him and The King. What a bad, nasty-ass day that was. But don’t ask me the date. I’d have to look it up.

You see these people on Charlie Rose, shooting off the dates for the most mundane of things, and I’ve just got to ask: how the hell can they remember the year they had lunch with that chap from the… whatever! Wtf! I can’t even remember my SIN number, and I’ve been sitting on it since I was fifteen, way back in… whatever!

I remember about twenty seconds of my father’s reaction to his mother’s death, him on the floor in our apartment in Parc Ex, kicking and screaming in his best dark suit, fresh from the funeral, a bunch of other men, familiars, my uncle Bobby, in their best dark suits, trying to keep clear of my father’s pointy shoes, his flailing fists, the two cops off to the side mumbling as if Elvis had just died -- not yaya. They had their mothers, too.

I was born in 64’, and I peed my pants my first day of school, 1969. The teacher had put me on the long bench against the wall, one of those gym benches, to lie down, calm myself, I must have been crying like a baby. I don’t remember her face, what the lessons were that day -- nothing. But I do remember my mother begging me to go into the school, to leave her side. Everyone else had already gone in, so the playground of Barcley Elementary was deserted, and the building was big, brown, and ugly. She wanted me to leave her side and go in on my own. Over the years, if we’d miss school, we’d have to write our own notes, so she could copy the spelling, get it right, so she could sign: The Mother.

If only I had pictures of all the days I was wounded, wounded badly enough to get a Tetnus shot, I’d have an amazing album, I think. Ahh, fuck the Tetnus shots, just the wounds, the twisted ankles, the hockey puck to the forehead, the black eyes, the heart pains, the popped knee that time at the Paladium, I’d have an amazing photo journal of a very regular life. Me bending that steering wheel in half as the hydro pole came ripping through the dash, the humming grinding my teeth as the bees crawled up my legs out of that wood pile in Brome, the Calamine lotion -- that shit don’t work. Fuck the Tetnus shots. What about all those nightmares? The Curse of the Mummy. Me racing in pantomime down that hallway in that apartment on Ball Avenue. Thank God for all those Tetanus shots.

2010, here I come.

File this one under someone forgot to leave the light on. K


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Someone Saved My Life Tonight

Article removed for revision and publication. Wish the author luck!

Monday, June 18, 2007

Questionable Content

I recently started freelancing for an Internet content provider, but providing them with content has left me strangely devoid of my own: My apologies for missing my “day” here last week. I wanted to post a lighthearted, comedic piece about obituaries. It didn’t work out.

This week, to streamline the process (notice the newly acquired corporate terminology), I have decided to post in point form.

-Last week, I spoke with the lovely Joyce Scharf about her first book, a children’s fantasy novel, Grace and the Ice Prince. Watch for the interview in the July Montreal Review of Books.

-This week, I’m reading a Jacques Poulin book in translation, also for review. I only mention this, because until last week, I’d never heard of him, in spite of his having been selected for Canada Reads in 2005.

(Or perhaps because of his having been selected for Canada Reads in 2005. That year I was completely overwhelmed by a cranky baby. I was too frazzled to listen to the radio. Or read the paper. Even the obituaries.)

I assume that you’re better informed than I am, but just in case you aren’t, don't forget to read Poulin before you die.

Best regards,

Your eternally devoted content provider

p.s. Fellow Montrealers (including Tamara!), the St-Jean deadline for the New Quarterly Montreal issue is fast approaching.

p.p.s. There's a non-fiction reading tonight at Boa Bar that looks good. 9pm, St.-Laurent and Maguire.

My New York Happenstance

By Tamara Lee

For my first-ever visit to NYC, I thought I'd 'let NYC happen to me,' in that no-plans, just-explore way. Until I panicked and thought I was missing out on things. Until I realised of course I'm missing out on things, it's New-freaking-York and there are only 6 days and 7 nights on this trip.

Travelling to a place that you're sure to travel to again means you can let yourself relax a bit and be comforted by mantras like: 'This is my survey trip' or 'It's all about the architecture this time.' Initially, I thought it'd be all shoes. For some strange reason, shoe luck was not mine. Instead, it was about music and walking (and wishing and searching for better walking shoes).

In the short time I was here, I saw an amazing range of live music, most of it free: the Metropolitan Opera's Faust in Central Lawn of the Park, R&B legend Booker T & the MGs in downtown Brooklyn, a gypsy-influenced chanteuse in a tiny bar in Park Slope, a jazzy-worldy Yuka Honda and friends in the lower East Side, and seminal NYC band Television at Rumsey Playfield in Central Park.

And I walked. I walked until my feet and calves burned and those motorized carts I saw folks using in the Met and MOMA started to look appealing. But I managed, and I can now say I have been to nearly every neighbourhood in Manhattan and the better part of Brooklyn. Aching feet was a great excuse to sit myself down and indulge in some New York nosh. Oh, the countries my palette explored.

So I may not have pictures of the Empire State building or most of the usual NYC landmarks (and indeed I don't even think I saw a great many of them), but I lived and ate as close to a New Yorker as I could get, and that is what I like best about travelling anyway.

Next time I'm here, I'm sure I'll find shoes.


(image: Walking Man II, Alberto Giacometti)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Happy Father's Day!

by Melissa Bell

Shortish post today, my friends. Hope you don't mind! I'm sure a lot of you are doing the Dad's Day "thing" whether you're visiting one, or celebrating being one yourself.

I had the pleasure of spending a beautiful day with my own father yesterday - lucky me, my dad now lives in the charming little town of Niagara-on-the-Lake - home of the Shaw Festival, Ontario wine country, and a lovely location at any time of year. We had lunch at the Riverbend Inn where I enjoyed a fantastic smoked trout and a bowl of home-grown strawberries. Dad had a small pizza and beer (oh, Dad! - such a guy!). Then it was off to the Niagara-on-the-Lake Annual Rose Show where my father and his wife had numerous entries and dear ol' dad cleaned up. I'm so proud of him! He won the cup. To be honest, I'm not sure what the "cup" was all about, and his own modesty about the whole thing didn't provide much in the way of details ("I just plant 'em - nature does the rest"), but he does admit that his secret is epsom salts, i.e. magnesium sulfate. So I leave you with some pretty pictures of my dad's prize-winning efforts.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Shadowy Selves, Part 1

by Tricia Dower

How can I be substantial if I fail to cast a Shadow? I must have a dark side also if I am to be whole; and inasmuch as I become conscious of my Shadow I also remember that I am a human being like any other. ( Dr. Carl G. Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul)

I have a tendency to relate everything I learn to writing, so when a friend introduced me to Jung’s concept of the Shadow a few days ago — it’s amazing how little I know about really important things — I wondered if the most powerful writers are the ones most in touch with their Shadows.

Jung used the term "Shadow self" to describe everything in us that is unconscious, repressed, undeveloped and denied. And not just the usual stuff you may have been programmed to deep-six, like anger or selfishness or sensuality. The Darth Vader side, too, the one that draws you to photos of Abu Graib and mutilated bodies in Sierra Leone. We know the capacity to torture, rape and murder is within us even as we’re repulsed by these acts and may never lift a hand to harm another. Likewise planted in us are seeds of hatred and emotional abuse though we may go out of our way to be loving and just. On the plus side, according to Jung, our Shadow also has a light side in undeveloped, positive potential.

As writers, we need to create Shadow selves for our characters to make them authentic. And that means acknowledging our own Shadows. Whatever we can imagine in our characters is somewhere in us, as well.

I recently read Susan Musgrave’s Cargo of Orchids (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000) which is riddled with images of torture and murder that frightened me at times. The female narrator is on Death Row. She goes into great detail about the different forms of state-ordered murder — hanging, electrocution, firing squad, lethal injection, gas chamber — and what happens when it’s botched. Horrible and fascinating. I could imagine myself watching, maybe even firing the bullet, or dropping the pellet; tried not to imagine myself being zapped. The story also explores kidnapping, drugs and the lives of merciless thugs — female thugs, to boot. It’s brave writing that risks exposure (How do you know all this?), courts disapproval (How could you?) and forces us to face our dark side.

I sometimes worry that if I allow violent images into my mind, I’ll attract violence to myself. Kind of a twist on ‘You are what you eat.’ I don’t know if this is true or not but I can see that shying away from thinking about aspects of life I find distasteful may inhibit my ability to develop characters readers recognize as whole human beings. I’m studying gangsta culture right now for my latest story and trying to get beyond tut-tutting about how awful it is and embrace the life. To feel what it’s like to be ‘jumped into’ a gang and wear its colors, to tattoo your body with its symbols, to pack a roscoe and patrol the ‘hood, with your dark side on display and the light of your Shadow buried, maybe forever.

Next time: one man’s take on his shadow.

Image: Embracing Shadow Self by Rita Loyd

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Worst Haircut, My First

By Antonios Maltezos

This is the way I remember the bitch… It’s summertime and I’m playing hide-and-seek with… let’s say 23 children. One of the 23 can’t be found. Either he’s really good at hiding, or he was called home and no one noticed. Regardless, a group search begins and the game is put on hold. I know it’ll never resume. Not this game. When someone goes missing, it’s like a great big guillotine drops. Ts-s-s-aph! It’s a drag. There’s a head count. I stand still for this, as do all the other children, without being asked, aging in an instant because we all know the story of the kid who was snatched from right in front of his building. The game is finally over when the boy is found safe at home. We scatter.

I’m in the back alley where I’m not allowed to dally. I can’t remember my mother ever telling me not to come here. It’s just something I know for myself. The windows of our apartment home face the streets out front and to the side of the building. She wouldn’t hear me calling out if something bad were to happen. Just the same, I pass through the alley regularly, always moving quickly. But this time, there’s a strange woman pulling carrots from a deep box full of black earth… strange, because of her pale skin and blonde hair. Most people here have dark hair and dark eyes – Italians and Greeks – una fatsa, una ratsa. She’s out of place, but her voice is nice. She wants to share what she knows about the carrots. I listen as she tells me they’re good to eat right out of her box, without washing them first. It must be something like bread, I believe. Bread is the only food you can drop and still eat, as long as you kiss it first, give thanks. She has big white teeth. She smiles just before taking a bite. It’s like bread, she tells me with her sweet blue eyes. Nothing will happen to her, she promises. “You see?”

One of the bigger boys has made a good slingshot, and I stop to watch as he fires a stone into the air, clear across the field keeping my building safe from the train tracks and all the bad stuff that happens there, where children have died, where I scaled that wire fence that one time only so I could see that dog for myself. He’d been turned inside out. I would never again climb that wire fence, I’d vowed. Only Superman can outrun a train.

I can hear the psalithas tolling his bell, calling me and all the other children to the sidewalks. There he is, his rusty truck moving slowly, forcing us to quiet down. He hasn’t come for us. We’re only here for our mothers, so when they run out into the street, their scissors rolled up in their aprons, they’ll feel special, as if this is an occasion, there are people lining the sidewalks. It is special. For me, it means my next haircut won’t be so painful. I’ve got thick hair, and thick hair is hard to cut. She doesn’t want to hurt anyone, so my mom comes out trotting, walking stiffly, but quickly. She’s seen me, I’m sure. She’s just as aware of me as I am of her. But we don’t speak. She doesn’t even look at me. The psalithas has come to sharpen her scissors.

There’s a skunk at the bottom of a sewer hole, tormented because one of the bigger boys removed the manhole cover. He’s dropped a large rock onto the skunk, wounding the creature so it’s lying there wondering what else will strike it from up above. A creature is everything we aren’t. It’s a dog on the tracks -- who must have been asleep? It’s the green flies, slower than usual because it’s been a terribly hot summer, I can even catch them. I cup my hands over them as they rest on the red brick of my building. I expect a tickle, at least, but it’s too hot, so they just sit there, or stick there, on the wall, until my father pulls up in his car, and they’re gone in a woosh.

I’m at his side, even before he can step up onto the sidewalk. But it’s different today. He isn’t looking down at me. He’s staring at the boy with the beanie shave, who’s all worn out from being chased, slapped on the back of the head by the boys with the longer hair.

“That’s what you need,” my father says, a drop of sweat hanging from the tip of his nose.

There’s no point in him going up to the apartment, taking off his shoes. Why not right now?

I run like The Flash. I’ve never run this fast. I’m already in the living room. My mother has her back up against the wall because my father tends to flail when he’s enraged. He, too, has never moved so swiftly. It must be the heat that has him so agitated, I believe, already looking for his excuse. He tosses the sofa aside with one hand, and all I have left is the hope my mother might tell him to stop, her living room is being torn apart. But she doesn’t dare open her mouth. He grips my arm, swings me through air, letting go so I hit the wall, so I lose the fight in me. I don’t hurt so easy, though, I’m a kid, but I do know when to back down. He’s threatening to rip my hair out with his bare hands. He’s pumping his fists like he’s doing exercises.

No car ride, just the barber’s chair, me crying like a baby knowing my mom refused to help me, that big black cloak opening as the barber snaps it over my head. It moves easily for him, but it weighs heavy on my shoulders. It’s hard to breathe, especially as he’s choking me, pulling the collar super tight.

My father is pretending to read the newspaper, pretending not to care, but he does, and that makes it worse. He’s sorry for hurting me, for kicking me into the car in front of all the other children, but it looks like I’m still going to get my buzz cut.

There are hairs coming out of the barber’s nose, black and white hairs, and he’s exhaling right in my face. I shouldn’t be looking -- I know. “Don’t move,” he says. Don’t look at my face, my skin, just like the peel of a rotten orange, big pores and deflated. I’m scared, but oh how I wish the barber would just cut my throat and get it over with, so my father should feel bad for what he’s doing to me, I was just catching flies.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Military Intelligence, Military Muscle, Military Fabulosity

by Andrew Tibbetts

I read yesterday that the U.S. military once considered developing a chemical weapon which when dropped on enemy soldiers would fill them with irresistible homosexual desire for each other. This “distasteful but completely non-lethal” bomb was conceived to deliver a punishing blow to the enemy’s morale.



There are so many things wrong with this idea that it’s hard to know where to begin. My biggest fear is that I will miss some of them.

Let’s dive in: This plan assumes that ordinarily warriors aren’t hot for each other. Haven’t they heard of the navy? It also assumes a gay army will be an easier adversary. Haven’t they heard of Sparta? Don’t they remember how gay England acted when it had an empire? And just on the basics: the plan demonstrates a breathtaking lack of scientific knowledge, a stunning social psychological ignorance and a flaming insensitivity to irony. Who runs the military’s R+D department? Eleven year old boys? (Apparently the same proposal suggests a fart bomb, and a chemical that gives enemy spies easily detectable bad breath- so perhaps ‘eleven’ is a too sophisticated a conjecture.)

If you’ve ever done a group brainstorming exercise for some corporate job or other, you know the perky hired consultant will encourage you to come up with your craziest, most creative ideas- “at this stage of the game there are no bad ideas, folks, let's send our inner critics out for lunch, think outside the box, I want nutty, I want wild!”- and despite that, you know that no one will suggest a gay bomb.

Sure, I would like to drop a gay bomb on the cast of Ocean’s Thirteen (as long as I wasn’t next to Elliot Gould at point of impact) or on Stephen Harper’s next speech at the Empire Club (as long as I was only watching on closed circuit TV, and hadn’t just eaten,) (do you think this sentence will set off a bell in some CSIS office and get me on a list?) but I know wishes aren’t horses. And gay wishes aren’t pink unicorns cavorting under a giant rainbow- DUCK!- are you gay now? Gayer?

Can you picture the insurgents in Iraq suddenly taking time off their insurgency to spruce up their hidey-holes, invite some of the boys over for a fabulous brunch and settle down to watch My Life on the D-List?- “Omar, have you lost weight? You’ve been working out? Who is he? Is it that Mohammad from the bunker on Fifth Street? I knew it! Girlfriend, you are shameless!”- Eventually, they’ll pair up and adopt Chinese babies. Invest in the Fallujah IKEA now, folks!

Crippling blow to morale, my ass! The world would be a damn sight better after a good gay bombing. Happier, more stylish and with less depressed women. Get to work, military! It’s not getting any more fabulous out here in the real world on its own.

Surf's Up!

by Steve Gajadhar

That’s me with my new surf board. Hard to believe I’ve been in Hawaii for 2 years and I’m just now taking up surfing. But I am, and there’s something to be said for that, right? Positive thinking and all that. Speaking of positive thinking, you need lots of it if you plan on learning how to surf. Surfing is the hardest thing I have ever tried to do.

Unlike Oahu, the Big Island isn’t exactly a world famous surfing destination. Our island has few surf spots and most of these are breaks over coral or lava bottoms = not too easy on the beginner who is going to spend more time in the water than on their board. The waves at the summer spots break fast, no gentle rollers like you get on Waikiki, the learners Mecca. But it is Hawaii, and the waves are definitely better here than say, Saskatchewan, so a learning I went.

First off there’s the paddling, lots and lots and lots of paddling. Imagine lying on your stomach and trying to look up at the ceiling, then crank your arms like you’re swimming and for good measure pull your legs up so they don’t drag behind you. Do this as long as you can and then try to pretend that there are sets of waves that are trying to push you backward and that you must paddle even harder to push through these waves to get out to the calm (relatively) waters where the rideable waves are. Oh yeah, and the ocean isn’t your floor, so the whole time you’re paddling it’s trying to throw you off your board.

Once out past the shorebreak, it’s time to practice sitting on the board. Surfing is lots of sitting and waiting. The sitting bit looks easy, but it’s not. Think of a waxed up, half submerged mechanical bull. I’m told this gets easier with practice.

Watch the waves, they come in sets and it’s generally the third one of the set you want, so let the first two roll under you. And don’t turn your back on the waves. It’s a bad idea to turn your back on the ocean. Turn, paddle (yes even more paddling) to gain speed, wait till you feel the surge, pop up, and poof! you’re surfing.

Now for reality.

After 2 times surfing, I’ve gotten to the turn and paddle stage. The poof! is a ways off I think. The surge doesn’t surge a guy of my size as easy as it does the little folk (90% of surfers appear to be at least 50lbs lighter than me). I get more of a sur without the critical ge. I’ll get it though, I just need to learn how to paddle better, there’s a critical short somewhere in my paddle technique that is robbing my paddling power. Then I can try the poof bit. I can say it though, and visualize it, poof! Hopefully all that visualization, sports psychology mumbo-jumbo will get me there…

Then I have to stay standing. But one thing at a time. It gets easier they say and I hope they are right. After all this, I have to learn etiquette and how not to piss off the people that can surf. Surfers are an understanding and patient lot, eager to teach newbies like me, so this part at least will be easy.

I’ll let you know when I get up and stay up. Maybe this weekend? Or the one after that. That’s why I’ll keep heading out there. The challenge of it. The sheer stubbornness that most of us have. I will learn how to surf, if only to prove that I can do it. Rocks and sharks be damned!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Transistor Radios and First Loves

by Sandra Cormier, CWC Guest

During recess, I sat against the warm brick wall with my book held high, knees drawn up and shoulders rounded. I glanced furtively from under my unkempt bangs when he ran past, playing tag with his friends.

Afternoon sunlight spilled around his golden hair like a halo. His cheeks flushed with high-spirited exertion. He looked like Mark Lester. I saw him glance at me more than once, and I knew he liked me. My friends had told me so.

He was in Mrs. Smith's class, and I was in Mr. Baum's. We never spoke directly to each other, but I often dreamed that I actually said Hi to him in the school stairwell. The thought of speaking to him sent my heart slamming in my chest until I felt it would leap out, slopping on the floor as I shrank with embarrassment.

As the spring progressed, tokens were exchanged – a bag of chips, a chocolate bar, a lollipop. One day in the last weeks of school, my girlfriend handed me a little paper bag, and inside was a golden box. A cardboard box, about two inches square. I opened it and saw through tear-blurred eyes a little gilt salamander nestled in a bed of synthetic cotton. Its eyes were red glass, like rubies. It was more beautiful than anything I'd ever seen – more beautiful than the alexandrite ring my father had given me on my ninth birthday.

Wracking my brain to think of an appropriate gift to send in return, I took the pin home and showed it to my mother. Big mistake.

"He obviously stole it from his mother's jewellery box," she declared. "You have to return it."

I didn't want to. I cried and sobbed and begged and argued, but there was no changing her mind. With a heavy heart, I sent it back via my friend, with a little note explaining that I wasn't allowed to keep it.

We still stole looks at each other until school ended. All I had was a name: Andrew Gabland. Friends told me he was from Czechoslovakia. I didn't know where he lived, and promised myself when summer was over, I'd march right up to him and say hello.

I played the scene over and over in my head throughout the summer. As the weather heated up, I hung out at the apartment pool with the other kids, wearing my new 'wet look' bathing suit.

I lay on my stomach and listened to my transistor radio with the black and white checked pattern on its side and the yellow plastic dials. Tinny notes from Cinnamon Girl played in one ear while I rested my cheek on my arm, inhaling the odour of chlorine and warm skin. I closed my eyes and dreamed of the day I'd talk to Andrew, perhaps even hold his hand once. Maybe we'd go to the movies.

The agonizing summer passed, slow as molasses in… well, you know what I mean. Grade Six approached, and I rushed back to school in anticipation. Darn, he wasn't in my class. Again. I looked for him on the recess tarmac, but he was nowhere to be seen.

As we lined up for afternoon recess, I asked a friend if she'd seen Andrew.

She looked at me blankly, and said, "Oh. Didn't you know? He died during the summer. Some kind of heart problem."

Chattering, my classmates filed out of the room, and I stood still, my throat thick with misery. No. It's not true. They just heard a rumour. He moved away. Tears coursed down my cheeks and dripped from my chin.

My teacher looked at me quizzically and said, "Sandra, why are you crying? Smarten up and get outside for some fresh air and stop that nonsense."

I wish I'd kept that damn pin.

Sandra Cormier is better known in the writers' blogosphere circuit as Chumplet. No, not the poker player — the romance novelist. She’s also one of the CWC’s faithful readers. Sandra lives north of Toronto with her husband and two teenagers. The Wild Rose Press has slated her first novel, The Space Between, for release. You can read and share her thoughts on writing, painting and other stuff on

Saturday, June 09, 2007

The Middle Stories

by Tricia Dower

Sheila Heti says: “Some of the foreign editors who rejected the manuscript complained that there was a ‘sameness’ to the stories. Indeed, there was, because I was only interested in capturing most precisely the structure of my mind through language. I had nothing to say, and I knew it. This is what was so exciting to me about writing The Middle Stories: having absolutely nothing to say, and so going for the sheer representation of Saying.” (From an interview by Lee Henderson in the Vancouver Sun)

I was delighted to find this old interview a few days ago, because I was feeling pretty stupid after making it through this collection of thirty very short stories without a clue as to what Heti was trying to say. Nothing, as it turns out. What a relief.

I may be the last Canadian to read this book (published by Anansi Press in 2001). I was able to snap it up on a bargain table for $3.99, an eminently fair price considering its faddishly small size: designed to slip into your purse or pocket and get permanently lost on your bookshelf. I might have read it earlier had I not been slavishly devoted to Alice Munro. My decision to discover who else can write a decent short story has led me to several celebrated collections. The Middle Stories received high praise from a number of places, including the National Post which said, “Quite unlike anything else being written in this country... The stories are sculpted with a skewed grammar and their charmingly off-kilter cadence is neither totally contemporary nor archaic, possessed of a loopy logic all their own."

‘Loopy logic’ says it all for me. It’s like coming across someone’s dream journal. People and animals appear in strange places doing illogical things in cryptic little tales that end without resolution. Some of them are as cruel as any the Grimm brothers cooked up but they have no apparent moral. My favourites are Mermaid in the Jar and The Poet and the Novelist as Roommates. Even though Heti might not have intended it, both of these did suggest more than what they said: the mermaid as alter ego; the roommates as desire and envy.

From a CBC interview by Andrea Curtis in 2005: “I don’t consider myself a storyteller like some other writers,” Heti explains. “I’m more interested in the essence of the story. In crystallizing something, compacting it, making it so full of energy that it’s powerful... I keep pressing my hands together as I say this.”

Heti may not give us much in the way of traditional character arc, but her prose is clear and frequently audacious. Fearless in a way. Two passages from The Girl Who Was Blind All The Time:

She lived in the hollow of her mouth and ears. She lived in the hollows of her nose, and when and if someone touched her, she lived in her skin as well.

The rest of her life was like a long thin line with little diminuendos and tiny little crescendos and friends visiting from out of town. She had a big, bright, curly head of hair that made her look like a clown, and nobody ever told her.

None of The Middle Stories stayed with me for very long or made me think deeply about life but, as a writer, I still found the book inspirational. Break out of the mould, it says to me. Amaze yourself.

The Middle Stories was published when Heti was 24. That same year, she created the Trampoline Hall Lecture Series in Toronto, at which people speak on subjects outside their areas of expertise.* The series was praised in The New Yorker magazine for “celebrating eccentricity and do-it-yourself inventiveness.” Last year, Heti published her first novel, Ticknor, to mixed reviews. With my record, it’ll be another six years before I read it. I’ll let you know how it was when I do.

* My ninth grade English teacher, Miss Russell, would have loved these lectures. Her favourite torture was to call on you without notice and make you speak for five minutes on a topic of her choosing, usually something you had nary a clue about. It’s her fault I make things up.

Photo of Sheila Heti by Edward Pond

Friday, June 08, 2007

Of Course We Know Each Other - We're Canadian!

by Melissa Bell

Today I'm meeting up with Ms. Tamara J. Lee for lunch, people. A fellow CWCer who's flown in from B.C. via Montreal, and we're going to do lunch with The Pasha at King's Noodle House on Spadina. So if you've got designs on all of us, that's where we're supposed to be meeting up, around 1:15ish.

Funny thing this meeting up with people who you first encounter on-line. I feel like I know Tamara J. Lee - after all, we've been a-blogging here for over a year now, and yet I won't even know what she looks like and she won't know me either. Yet I suspect when we sit down over some spring rolls and hot tea, we'll find we've got at least half a dozen friends and acquaintances in common. Such is the Canadian way.

Canadians often joke that the rest of the world assumes all Canadians know each other. But to some degree - at least in my experience - it's very true. If I don't know who so-and-so is, it's highly likely I do know somebody who does. And rather than that generating a creepy feeling, it's really quite comforting. And it keeps me "kind". Because sometimes when I want to rant about something a certain somebody might have done or said in the media up in these parts, I stop and think that that person might be friends with a friend of mine. I've been caught out before. I love the media and I'm a pop culture addict. But, lo and behold my dear friends, the media very often doesn't let the truth get in the way of a good story. So while I've heard through the Canadian grapevine that Tamara J. Lee likes to do "certain things", I'm going to take the high road and reserve being all judgey until I've actually met her myself and can tell all y'all about it the next time I'm scheduled to post.

Like with Andrew Tibbetts. I've met him several times. You know how his posts are all funny and irreverent and sometimes also very moving and incredibly well-written? Well in real life Andrew is even funnier and sweeter than you might imagine, it's enough to make you hate his living guts. But do I say that here? In public? He could sue my ass! And Tricia Dower. She always posts something with real weight to it and she's a fantastic writer. But she's somebody else that I've met and...she's actually really whip-smart and hilarious! Doesn't that just twist your brain?

Pasha Malla, while not a "regular" here, is, for all intents and purposes, a "beloved contributor" and he's got a book deal and he's all talented and stuff. People often ask me "Is Pasha a jerk?" and I have to come clean and say "No, I hate to burst your bubble, my friend, but he's not a jerk. Far from it." Sometimes they believe me, sometimes they do not. But that's just the way it is. Not only is Pasha a wonderful writer, he does "good work" with the community and is highly dedicated to causes of literacy and whatnot. Hey, he's just going to have to live that down on his own. Nothing I can do about it. If he chooses to not to be a jerk about stuff, that's his problem. Don't think just because I might know the guy you can tar me with the same non-jerk brush, because that's not necessarily the way I roll. And I work in an office with someone he went to high school with. He is also not a jerk. I know what you're thinking: What gives?

Anne? Chudobiak? Haven't met her. But other folk here have. Sounds frighteningly friendly. I bet when I meet up with Tamara she'll have some stories. Sure, I could post them here. In fact, I would and I will. Because I know she knows people I know and it will be easy to shake her down for some beer money. Score!

Steve? That ex-pat livng in Hawaii? We've got mutual employment history. Brief mutual employment history, but it's there nonetheless. Does that answer your questions about why he's living in Hawaii? It should.

As for Antonios - well it's only a matter of time before I figure out we're actually related. Seeing as I've no blood relations with anyone else on the site here, the odds are such that Antonios is one of my first cousins or my favourite nephew. Because that's the way things work in Canadaland. We're all connected. We really are.

So it's 1:15 at King's Noodle on Spadina. Just beware if you read this and show up, you're buying. And I hear they're pricey. Real pricey. Don't say I didn't warn you!

Welcome to Toronto, Tamara J. Lee. :-)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

No More Cirque du Soleil

By Antonios Maltezos

I was playing the Cirque du Soleil game with my youngest the other day, balancing her on my feet as I lay on the floor. It's a great game for both of us -- calisthenics for me, and a confidence builder for her.

“Let go of my hands,” I said.

“I can’t,” she answered back, scared but giggling, giving me the go ahead to insist, telling me she trusted I wouldn't let her fall from so high up.

“Yes you can,” I said. “Come on, baby. You can do it. YOU CAN FLY!”

She let go of my hands and soared, just like a bird. My mother, who was visiting, came into the livingroom to see what all the fun and laughter was about.

“Oh, my God!” she screamed. “The baby. The baby.”

She rushed us, throwing my balance way off so I had to snatch my daughter by the wingtips, right out of the clouds. I lowered her down and got up to confront my mom.

I was pissed. “What the hell, ma? I know what I’m doing. We’ve played this game before.”

“Ya,” she said, “just like you uncle Bobby. You remember?”

I did. I do remember. He kept tossing me up in the air, and catching me on his shoulders. I was frightened and wanted him to stop. Eventually, I landed on the hard floor behind him, a crumpled mess at his heels because he'd wanted to show everyone he had a way with kids, and I'd ruined it by being a chicken instead of an eagle.

She looked at me funny. And then I looked at her funny.

“How old was I?”


Forty years ago.

“I remember,” I said.


“You know why I remember, ma?” I was just realizing myself.

“You had a shock,” she said.

That’s right. I'd been traumatized. Physically, I'd been okay, but when I'd looked up at his eyes expecting to see some remorse, all I'd gotten was him trying to laugh it off because he'd been more concerned with how stupid and awkward he'd appeared dropping his nephew from so high up. That's what hurt like hell. I’ll never forget it. I can still hear my mom berating him.

“I was only three, huh?”

“Yup, you had a shock.”

“Okay, ma,” I said. “No more Cirque du Soleil.” We'll find another, safer game to play. She’s carried that memory of me falling on my head long enough, I think, poor woman.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Phenomenolgist Did It (in the library, with a bound edition of the complete Goethe in the original German)

By Andrew Tibbetts

Just because you can appreciate a Tunisian spin on Chicken Veronique doesn’t mean you can’t curl up on the couch with a pot full of Kraft dinner on your chest to watch Canada’s Next Top Model. Didn’t your mother always say that? Mine did. On her way from the ballet to the roller derby. I like mysteries.

I’m smart. For example, my borrowed copy of The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, Volume Two by Herbert Spiegelberg is overdue at the library, and not because I’ve lost it in the dust farm under the bed. Yes, I’m reading it! I’m loving it! I try to read it in public so I can be seen reading it. Sometimes I shake my head, smile and mutter, “Oh, Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty. You devil!” At home, I read mysteries.

I’ve almost read Ulysses. Ditto: War and Peace and Swan’s Way. I have some really long poems memorized, hard ones by Shakespeare and T.S. Eliot. I read William Gass for fun. Seriously. But at the end of the day, before I drop off, I crack open my crime novel.

Mysteries are my comfort read. It’s calming to be among the poisonings, stabbings, shootings, and blow-torchings. No matter how awful the crime, the detective will wrap things up. The appeal of the novels is their sameness. Consumption, as Anne Carson points out by quoting somebody French, is hunger not for the specifics but for the code. That’s true of mysteries. Each corpse is unique in ways that really don’t matter. Each detective has his or her quirks that delightfully frou-frou up the essentials to absolutely no real effect. Each murderer is revealed as a specific, and hopefully surprising, individual and-- honestly-- it doesn’t matter if it was the butler or why he did it. It’s the pattern that we want. The ur-narrative. Justice prevailing. Wrongs being righted. Truth shining its ennobling beacon on us all. Good night. Off to bed.

Tomorrow, I will toil with the Harold Brodkey novel I’m reading. Bad things happen and nobody will deal with them appropriately. Good deeds will have inappropriate consequences. Secrets will be kept. The person whose fault it all is will never be revealed. If there’s a dead body, it will smell. Truth will attempt to shine its beacon but nobody will be ennobled. Sorry. No code. Just specifics.

As my mother liked to say, when she’d pop home between her two jobs -- playing the oboe d’amore in an early music ensemble and crack-whoring -- “Sometimes you take the high road; sometimes you take the low road; sometimes you lie down in the middle of the road and scream, Oh, Merleau-Ponty, what I want to know is: who is it that walks beside me, always beside me, in the shadows? And are they packing heat?” How true, eh? If I had a nickel for every time!

Andrew Tibbetts is currently reading The Runaway Soul by Harold Brodkey and Pretty Boy Dead by Joseph Hanson. He is not really reading The Phenomenological Movement: A Historical Introduction, Volume Two by Herbert Spiegelberg, but he is skimming it and it is overdue.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reading for the Blind

By Anne Chudobiak

I spent some time online this week, researching “how to give a good reading”—a literary reading, that is. Not palms or some similarly forward-looking medium. No psychic centres, no higher selves. But, like any “good” writer, I found myself instantly distracted by the proliferation of online mystics, people like Hedera, Demonesse and DarkChild who gather in cyberspace to debate the finer points of reading the future (“Enya as background music at a tarot reading: yay or nay?”). I had to filter them out, though (-tarot, -palms). They were too disheartening. I still harbour a childhood wish for there to be magic in the world. Would people with psychic powers really need to communicate via computers? I think not.

The ensuing results were not noticeably improved:

“Arrive at your reading venue early. Burn incense or, even better, burn a sacrificial issue of Poetry. Call down the gods and goddesses of your choice. Get used to the room. Of course it will sound different when it is full of people -- still, you can listen to the room as you walk through it. How alive or dead is the echo?”

Clearly, I would have to filter out the poets as well.

That’s when my results started to get truly interesting. I found Mary Robinette Kowal, a puppeteer whose childhood struggle with a speech impediment had ironically graced her with perfect diction thanks to years of therapy. She read competitively in college (Interpretive Reading was a branch of the debating team), and went on to do radio theatre and to record audio books.

Her Reading Aloud site is full of tips for the newbie. Worried that your audience can't distinguish between characters in a long stretch of dialogue? Give them a physical “sign-post” by focusing on a different point on the back wall for different voices. A slight shift in your visual focus will provide your listeners with the cue they need to follow along.

Kowal says lots of other useful stuff as well, but I don’t have time to summarize or even integrate any of it, because I spent too much time this week reading about psychic energies—curse you, DarkChild!—and now I barely have time to review the story I'm supposed to read aloud tomorrow. As usual, I will have to put my faith in the stars. Wish me luck.

Monday, June 04, 2007

In the Heart of Verdun

By Tamara Lee

Upon hearing I am staying in Verdun, a tsk of pity might escape from some friends’ mouths. But while it isn’t in the hub of Montréal’s trend-setting action, it has its own sort of allure, most notably very affordable rents compared to the St-Laurent or Mt-Royal areas, where one pays for location, ambiance, and culture.

What Verdun lacks in ‘culture’ it makes up for in diversity and local colour. Only 10 minutes away is the relatively wealthy borough of LaSalle, where former prime ministers live, but first you must drive through Verdun, where the people live.

Verdun’s history is working class; its roots a kaleidoscopic blend of anglophone Irish and a wide range of other immigrants, and of course francophones. This wealth of ethnicity means sitting on the balcony—balconville, it’s called, Montréalers’ favourite non-contact sport—offers up a lot of viewing and auditory pleasures.

From the ever-present red and white stickers declaring ‘Je l’ai ma coeur a Verdun’ ('coeur' being a heart shape), and roughly translated as ‘My heart is in Verdun,’ to the four-day community celebration this past weekend called Verdun Days, there exists the palpable spirit that usually evolves within fringe cultures or communities.

If you’re driving along avenue LaSalle in your Lexus on your way home from a hard day of stock marketing or corporate lawyering, you’ll pass along the St. Laurence River and the marina, and see the Cirque du Soleil School (Cirque having started as a fringe street troupe) in all its familiar yellow and blue glory. But you likely won’t bother stopping in Verdun. If you did, this is what you’d find.

Parallel to LaSalle is “Promenade Wellington,” where the locals can promenade to the sounds of soft rock and disco hits, seeping from the mini-speakers the local government has erected on the lampposts in an effort to create some ambiance. This is an amusing contrast to the seemingly erratic bell-tolling from the half-dozen or so local churches. The bells begin at about 8:00 am and continue in intervals past 8:00 pm, with seemingly no pattern or order to them. I like to imagine there’s a secret bell competition going on amongst all the denominations. And I swear one series of bells sounded dubiously close to ‘I Will Survive’, a song I promenaded to on my way to the metro just the other day.

Perhaps the step-sister of trendy rue St-Laurent’s Main Madness, Verdun Days is as much about community perseverance as it a celebration of the stickwithit-iveness of the business folks—from the variety shops selling everything and anything just to make a buck to haute French cuisine in a Dunkin’ Donuts town. (Although, sadly, not all businesses have been so successful, including two personal favourites: the recently closed Blue Monday vegan café and the Kozmic café/launderette, which suddenly closed overnight last week).

Twenty blocks of Wellington were cordoned off, and pedestrians were free to walk along the streets (for once having right of way in this city that seems to have it out for pedestrians). There were no clowns at this festival, no official stalls. Entrepreneurs just pulled out all the best of their wares, set them on tables; furniture stores tied beds to lamp posts; bistros and butchers hauled out BBQs. The only thing planned, it seemed, were the entertainment stages. At the end of my block was the country-cover-tune à la française hub; you’ve not lived until you’ve heard every Elvis and Dwight Yoakim hit covered in French three times a day. I’m just saying.

The highlight of Verdun Days is also my greatest disappointment, in that I did not get a picture of it. Strolling along the promenade was a red and yellow mascot, taking his job very seriously though what it was exactly was not immediately clear to me, a non-resident. See any real Quebecer would know that it was the St-Hubert Chicken. Children ran towards him giggling with glee, mothers took pictures of their kids beside him, and the big polyester chicken waved as if he were Bonhomme. Ah, local flavour.

There are characters that I will always think of when I think of Verdun, who were here last year when I was stayed and seemingly haven’t gone anywhere: the hippies at the end of the block who have brightly painted broken hockey sticks as a fence around their garden; the self-appointed Verdun ambassador who knows everyone by name or face and waves to everyone like the King of Kensington; the raucous yet harmless gang of old folks benched with their sacks from the SAQ outside the metro,

So, even though it’s not Mordecai’s ‘hood, or Roch’s world, sitting on the balcony or promenading to pumped-in disco, watching all this go by, I can easily imagine someone growing up in Verdun and becoming a writer, and having a lot to draw on from his or her own Verdun days.


rue wellington photo by christopher dewolf on

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Enough Dilly-Dallying - I've Decided to Start my Own Airline

by Melissa Bell

Hi everyone,
Boy oh boy what a big steaming ball of pre-travel nerves I was the last you heard from me, huh? Thank goodness they have no restrictions on Air Canada regarding serving alcohol before noon because by the time I boarded I was ready to use somebody's dangling body parts as a luggage tag. However, seeing how it's only a matter of time before we probably see the 9:00 am Bloody Mary go the way of the free peanuts and the pillows, I plan to take advantage of getting a chance to booze it up in the early morning for as long as I'm able. Because good grief - that in-flight service really does suck.

But never let's even mind with the flight itself just yet. Why does airport signage stink so much? I couldn't believe the number of tiny little messages I encountered here and there, exhibiting dire warnings - all of them - but by the time you would read such dire warnings it was already too late. You'd be halfway through the check-in line before you realized that only "Lockerman X"-approved luggage locks were allowed or that you were only allowed to board with a half-full bladder so that any full-bladder boarding was subject to a surcharge, etc. etc. I'm only mildly exaggerating on the bladder stuff.

My dad used to say to me "Any flight you can walk away from is a good flight, Missy." And I suppose he's right. But gee whiz, how far away are we from actually having to wipe down our own tray tables? I didn't even see any vomit bags in the seat pockets. And the EnRoute magazine looked like it had been repurposed at least twice before it found it's way back to 25F. I remember when those things were always fresh. Now it feels like I'm waiting for an internal exam at Dr. Green's office where the Canadian Living Magazines hail from the second millennium and Brad is still happily married to Jennifer.

The laminated card that was supposed to nicely outline how to get myself out of jam should a jam be encountered? Forget it. I don't know who draws those things up to be all international-ly and everything, but I spent at least 15 minutes trying to figure out whether if I sat close to the emergency exit I was supposed to open the door and go first, or start shoving people down the chute with my foot and then follow. Damn, it never was like that before! It's almost as if the airline, should an emergency be encountered, wants us to perish so we don't come back and sue their behinds for providing such crappy instructional material.

And to think air travel and the mocking-of has always been standard fodder for the stand-up comedian. Is that still the case?

It's 2007. The Wright Bros. ought to be spinning in their tombs. And, by the way, where the hell's my flying car???

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Birdzilla, in the Conservatory, with the Beak

by Tricia Dower

In March I wrote about the herons’ return to Victoria’s Beacon Hill Park. Since then Colin and I have popped over from time to time to catch a glimpse of the birds on their nests or flying in and out of the trees like resurrected pterodactyls. On Victoria Day, the heronry was eerily quiet, deserted except for an eagle triumphantly reigning on an abandoned nest. On the ground beneath her: bits of egg shells.

We were at the scene of a crime.

The Victoria Times-Colonist two days later reported that a female eagle nicknamed Birdzilla bullied more than a hundred herons away from their nests and ate an estimated thirty-nine chicks and 187 eggs in a rampage that could mean the end of this rare urban nesting ground.

“Pfft,” said the woman who cuts my hair. “They should be more responsible about what they report.” She lived across from Beacon Hill Park for three years and said there’s no way one eagle could eat that many chicks and eggs. In her opinion Birdzilla was getting a bum rap. She fingered the raccoons.

But do raccoons eat herons? Would they really climb all the way to the top of a Douglas fir? I did some research. The bandit-eyed critters are not bothered by heights of thirty-five to forty feet, I learned, and, yes, they eat heron eggs as well as chicks. Other predators are crows and ravens. They swoop in and spear unguarded eggs after an eagle chases the adult herons away. So did a dastardly gang plan and execute this massacre?

I also learned that, while eagles prefer fish, they will eat ducks, coots, muskrats, turtles, rabbits, snakes, herons, of course, and whatever else is handy, including carrion. And here's a damning piece of evidence: they've been filmed eating goose eggs. Birdzilla is reputed to be elderly (Gray feathers? How does one tell?), and herons have been known to abandon a heronry once an eagle kills even one of their number. So, if I’m an elderly eagle who’s got just enough scare left in me to chase away all the adult herons, why wouldn’t I hang around for the easy pickings? Let the younger eagles go diving for salmon and risk drowning while holding on to a big one.

The salient facts and the memory of Prime Suspect’s defiant presence at the scene was enough for this detective. Book ‘er, Danno.

Photo of Birdzilla by volunteer heron watcher, Rhiannon Hamdi, from the window of her apartment facing the heronry.