The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Thursday, August 09, 2007


by Tricia Dower

I didn’t want to go but I had promised a friend I would. A concert in the house of local arts promoters. A wonderful thing to support, but I’d been jangly all day, obsessing about my neuroses that refuse to grow up and leave home no matter how old they get. I would have preferred to brood alone.

Rows of uncomfortable looking chairs filled the main room of the vintage house but we had arrived early enough to hijack the slip-covered couch. I took a corner of it and folded into myself, looked around. The room was stuffed with objects placed with whimsy and not a whit of pretension: a ceramic cat trapped in a bird cage suspended from the ceiling with a bright blue stuffed bird looking in on it; an assortment of candle sticks lining the fireplace mantle; framed photographs perched on the edge of the walnut panelling; stacks of magazines; shelves of CDs; a bottle of colourful stones; plants, plants and more plants — a large one on a tall stool draped with a tasselled scarf of pink, turquoise and black.

The audience filed in. Seasoned souls like me. Men in shorts with black shoes and socks. Women in various stages of decay. I busied myself with a note pad.

The younger fedora-wearing performers were from the States. Paul Benoit, singer/songwriter/guitarist, from Seattle, Washington. Spoken word artist Chris Chandler, from Silver Spring, Maryland. I had heard of neither before. Paul did a few solos first. The bluesy sound he made on his guitar and the lyrics he sung with a gentle voice slipped inside and started calming me.

When Chris came on, Paul continued to play, inserting his voice occasionally like a Greek chorus (They’re gonna have a war, don’t need a reason. If you don’t like it, they’ll call it treason) into Chris’s ruminations about life in what he calls the United States of Generica. One was a brilliant satirical piece on the attempt to “banish all uncertainty” — padlocks and car alarms, gated communities, product labels and warnings, airport and border checks, Homeland Security. Others: how marketers are already capitalizing on global warming and energy-depleted doomsday scenarios (“Buy your ticket to the end of the world”); how we left the primordial soup only to achieve the greatness of Pringles; how the U.S. has no vision — “Mr. Magoo is sailing the ship of state off a flat earth.” U.S. imperialism drew his strongest censure and his intensity transported me back to the days when I still believed that ideals guided my birth land. A piece on Iraq called up a few tears as it yanked me back to Vietnam and the sorrow that will not go away. When I see Second World War vets wiping their eyes at Remembrance Day services, I understand. It’s been more than thirty years since “my” war ended, and it doesn’t look as if I’ll ever be over it.

More than 58,000 U.S. soldiers were killed in combat in Vietnam between 1959 and 1975. Estimates are that anywhere between two million and five million (million!) Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed in twenty-one years of war that started with the French. The families of all those dead could say to me: But your husband came home. Yes he did, and for that I am grateful, but he wasn’t okay and we didn’t make it. Maybe we wouldn’t have, anyway, we’ll never know. However it’s not the death of a marriage that brings forth fresh tears. It’s the loss of faith in a country I believed was honourable, if not in all actions, at least in intentions. It breaks my heart to see the killing continue. To know that all the sacrifice that went before was pointless. Even Prime Minister Harper seems unable to envision a future without war.

Chris ended the performance with a plea for change and Paul sang, Where are the strong? Who are the trusted? Sometimes it seems as if we’re space walkers whose life lines have been cut, adrift with the stunning recognition that we only ever had ourselves after all.

“Take care of yourself,” my friend said when I dropped her off at her home. “You seem a little fragile right now.”


Photos: Chris Chandler, left, and Paul Benoit. If you get a chance to see these guys, grab it.


Anonymous Larry said...


This is absolutely beautiful and tender and strong. You are truly gifted with the weaving of words.


Thu Aug 09, 01:14:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Anne C. said...


Thu Aug 09, 08:19:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

Tricia, thank you for sharing this side of yourself, your thoughts and feelings, your vulnerability. I found this post exceptionally moving.

Thu Aug 09, 12:09:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Larry, Anne, Andrew. I guess you could tell it was heartfelt.

Thu Aug 09, 03:51:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Suzie said...

once more you open my eyes and my heart goes to you. I found your posting deeply moving. thanks for sharing.

Thu Aug 09, 09:27:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Ah, Suzie, thanks.

Thu Aug 09, 10:05:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger tamara said...

simply beautiful post, tricia. thank you.

Fri Aug 10, 02:38:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks, Tamara.

Fri Aug 10, 04:15:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Steve Gajadhar said...

Beautiful post.

Fri Aug 10, 06:18:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger MelBell said...

Lovely post, Tricia - as always. Thank you for this.

Sat Aug 11, 09:49:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for reading, Steve, Mel.

Sun Aug 12, 04:27:00 pm GMT-4  

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