The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, August 31, 2007

The Artist Date

by Melissa Bell

Further to my recent attempts to reacquaint myself with The Artist's Way program, one thing I've never been terrifically good about is the "artist date". This is intended to be a solo excursion to something that will inspire creativity and, as Julia Cameron puts it, aid in "filling the well".

As an only child, I've sort of gotten used to doing things I want to do on my own. So for me, the whole "artist date" problem has been one of finding the time. Not that that has been much of an issue lately, but when it comes to choosing say cleaning the oven or stepping out to an art show, the oven wins. Wrong of me. So, so wrong. That oven isn't going anywhere. The art show will be over in a day. What's my problem? I'm guessing guilt. Do I dare allow myself the pleasure of an art exhibit when there are things to be done on the homefront? I do not know. But I think I need to get over that.

The thing is I really do have a good time doing things all by myself. There's something very liberating about taking oneself out to dinner or to a movie or even on a whole vacation. I really don't feel like some friendless loser on these occasions. In fact, more often than not, I've met some amazing people and been shown incredible generosity when others realize I'm "on my own". I've certainly never felt threatened or self-conscious. It's the solo ventures that remind me that maybe the world isn't such a bad place after all. One just has to make an effort and cool stuff happens. I guess it's the whole "road rising up to meet you" thing that shows up in Irish toasts. You just have to get yourself out on that road is all.

So I'm keeping this short today, folks, because I'm going to run off to the Royal Ontario Museum this afternoon and have a date with me. Maybe dinner out. And heck, maybe I'll invite myself back to my place for coffee afterward and we'll see where it goes from there.

Have a great long weekend, everyone.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

At the Mama Bird Retirement Nest

by Tricia Dower

They fly in for a visit. Your son and daughter, their spouses and children. The way-beyond- fledglings whose upturned beaks you are anxious to fill with what makes them happy these days: 2% Mediterranean-style yogurt, Egg Beaters, Go Lean Crunch cereal, no-sugar-added raspberry preserves, Nutella hazelnut spread, home style toaster waffles and Tim Horton’s coffee; bananas, blueberries, cherries, melon, strawberries and pineapple; salmon, halibut, steak, pork tenderloin and turkey sandwiches; Cup-A-Soup; multi-grain pasta with fresh basil, tomatoes and parmesan cheese; sliced tomatoes, snow peas, Swiss chard, hummus and baby carrots; nacho, ketchup and pita chips; wine, Stoli orange vodka, Tres Generaciones tequila, Knudsen Tangerine Spritzer Light, Diet Coke and Perrier with lemon; 98% fat-free fudge bars and a Baskin Robbins Sponge Bob ice cream cake.

You make Cowpokes and the youngest two don’t take any. “I did them for you,” you complain, shaming one, at least, into trying a few. “I like them, Grandma,” he says with a surprised smile.

“I thought you ate rice,” you say to your granddaughter a few nights later. She shrugs.

You trek to the store almost daily. Your mantra for ten days: What can I get you? Cleaned-off plates and cleaned-out serving dishes swell your mama bird heart.

It’s the best you can do after they leave the nest. Pretend you still have something to give, some nourishment left inside your no longer fertile body. They don’t really need you to feed them, but they let you. It’s not even close to bedtime stories and make-it-better kisses on scraped knees for them or for you, but it’s love all the same.


(From Rebar restaurant in Victoria)

For 4 servings, you need: 2 large or 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil and 1 teaspoon coarse salt.

Preheat oven to 400°. Slice the potatoes in half lengthwise, then into ¾” thick wedges. (While baking, the wedges need to stand on their skins, cut side up, so a solid base is required to keep them from toppling over.)

Toss wedges with oil and coarse salt. Arrange them cut side up on a baking tray, leaving space between each ‘poke. Roast for 20 – 35 minutes or until golden and tender. Serve hot. Addictive!

Photo by David Jefferies from this site.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance

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

Otherwise Occupied

School starts the week before Labour Day here in Quebec. I used to think that was weird, but I'm beginning to see the advantages, like how it enables me to take steps towards my aforementioned hibernation plan a little bit earlier than if I lived elsewhere in the country. Today: escort big kid to first day of grade one. Next week: convince remaining child of the wonders of daycare. The week after that, who knows?

Monday, August 27, 2007

I got nothing

By Tamara Lee

Call it fatigue; call it laziness. Call it nothing at all.

Or blame it on a long day spent eating mini-donuts and kettle corn and watching Superdogs and Trooper and otherwise imbibing in my annual trip to the Fair.

It has been a long time since I have had nothing to say.

In fact, I’m one of those people other people count on to say something.

Nervous friends have looked to me to break ice at parties, when everyone was sizing up the strangers over the tops of beer bottles and wine glasses; teachers would expect me to have something cantankerous or incendiary, possibly even sensible, to offer when no one else was willing to remark on whatever obscure poem the earnest young professor tried to get us to ‘get.’ I’ve even been taken on friends’ first dates, assuming I’d be able to ease the duo through the early awkward parts and then easily be on my way once the ball got rolling.

Quippy-Comeback Kid: winderup, takerout, senderhome.

Sometimes, though, a person just can’t turn on. You know? And when she’s not on, everyone looks at her as though the batteries are in wrong: she must have just heard her bank account’s been wiped out, or she’s contracted some mysterious illness, “And wouldn’t you like to share with us what’s on your mind?”

Nope. I got nothing. No reason, no matter.

Don’t bang the top of the box; don’t rattle them rabbit ears. This thing ain’t working. Maybe try back later, that usually does the trick.

Quiet or shy folks have it easier, maybe. They can be their quiet selves and no one expects anything more. But gregarious folks, man. Try letting them shut up and suddenly they’re acting ‘funny’, or they get teased mercilessly for acting out of character.

The gregarious writer with nothing to say…

So here I am, saying a whole lot of nothing, about having nothing to say.

Guess some people just don’t know how to shut up.

Either that or they’re committed to their Monday post days, and will think of something, anything, to save us from some sort of awkward pause, or ellipses…

(Image credit: Palagret)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Clean Break: Part Deux

by Melissa Bell

I didn't mean for this whole household chore kick to become a two-parter post. I assure you this will be the last I write on the topic. But I did something the other night that I was surprised I'd never done before - surprised that I'd managed to reach blah-blah years of age and had somehow avoided the task. I cleaned my oven. And seeing as how I love to cook and I use an oven almost every day to make something, how is it I've never cleaned one before? Am I just a neglectful slob who never noticed the build-up of black crust and baked on grease as I was sliding another pan of cupcakes onto the bottom rack? As I basted chickens and kept a steely eye on the garlic bread, how did I manage to ignore the oil spatters on the front door, the hardened ooze of lord-knows-what clouding my view as I carefully watched Mom's magnificent popovers rise to record-breaking heights?

I wish I had the presence of mind to have taken a before shot, friends. It was truly shameful and you would have recoiled in terror. But behold! The glory of the nice shiny oven! And it only took me...oh, maybe three hours. Not including the overnight wait time. Or the trips to the store to get the cleaner, the rubber gloves, extra paper towels.

Here's a tip: When buying cleaning products - or pretty much anything - READ the instructions while still AT THE STORE so that you can gather what else might be required in order to use said product. I was delighted that someone at my Dominion had the good sense to stock rubber gloves right beside the oven cleaner because rubber gloves are one of those grocery items that just doesn't seem to have a specific place in the stores. Like toothpicks. Or birthday candles. They're often never where you think they should or might be.

I went with the overnight method for the oven-cleaning - the Easy-Off Oven Cleaner people offer you a couple of choices, but I figured I'd spray it on Friday night and get it over with first thing Saturday morning. Another tip: Don't spray it on Friday night, go out and party, and have to deal with it Saturday morning if there's a chance you might be slightly hungover. The spraying part is the easy part. After eight hours of letting flesh-burning caustic chemicals eat through the petrified grime, now you must wipe it all out of there. It's challenging, my friends, especially the back of the oven and the top. It's physically awkward and your back will hurt and you will keep making faces as you keep pulling out spongefuls of brown-black sludge with every pass. I have to say, however, that the one-two-punch of Easy-Off and my heroic Mr. Clean Magic Eraser performed beautifully. I know that Easy-Off isn't probably the most environmentally-friendly method of oven cleaning out there. But I honestly can't imagine what else could possibly be effective in cleaning out all that crap . I did read an article regarding the use of a baking soda paste. It also sounded like that particular method would require hours of post cleaning clean-up. Anyone tried it?

So now that the oven is all sparkly sweetness, that means one less excuse not to be writing. Then again, maybe I could go bake something. Then again, I might never bake again. The oven-cleaning experience was not something I care to repeat any time soon. So there will be no Sunday roast, no jam tarts or scalloped potatoes for a while. Thanksgiving is going to be extra challenging this year. But I'm sure somewhere there's a recipe for stove-top turkey and pumpkin pie. :-)

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Gifting, Moving On

by Antonios Maltezos

For years, I wouldn’t dwell on my childhood memories. I refused. Easy to do once you’ve mastered the art of being distracted, of moving on. But there’s a part of you that remembers every heartache, that will nudge you even in your middle age like a child of yours asking the silliest question, trying desperately to catch your attention because they just want to know why this is like that. For your children, you’ll snap out of whatever it was you were doing, and you’ll force yourself to concentrate just long enough to have a precious one on one. What’s most surprising about these moments is how little effort they require. I usually pat myself on the back afterwards, because I had the patience and the goodness to set my child’s mind at ease. As adults, we learn to accept that there are things in this world we’ll never understand, and what we do want to learn about, we look up in a dictionary, or on the internet, or we ask someone who might know the answer. For a child, realizing they have a question is a big deal. I remember. There’s an expanse of blackness that opens up just after the tip of their noses. It’s scary. It could be the edge of the universe for all they know. Some of my questions from my childhood were answered along the way, naturally, just by me growing up. These were answerable questions. Still others I came to realize would require some special schooling, which was fine by me. Hey, as long as someone out there understood the formulas and why they worked. Today, when I’m asked why this is like that, or how does this work, and I don’t have a clear answer, I see how even my stumbling about sets my child’s mind at ease. All right, if dad’s starting to bullshit then it mustn’t be something I should worry about. He doesn’t get how electricity works, and he’s doing just fine. The important thing here is that I try and answer their questions as best I can. We’re connected. We’re in this together. They know I take my responsibility to guide them seriously. I should worry when they don’t come to me and my wife with questions, if we ever lose that connection. If that happens, it’ll be my fault.

For years I wouldn’t dwell on my childhood memories, and that’s because I hadn’t had my answer yet to the question that had perplexed me the most. I’d look back and see snapshots where I should have been playing movie reels in my head. The snapshots were of the happy times, and as for the rest, I convinced myself I had a poor memory. It’s been a long time coming, but after years of writing about stuff I didn’t know I was writing about, dealing with the issues that had me imploding with little emotional bombs as I grew up, I’ve managed to get to those questions one by one. Not that the worst things that can come to mind ever happened to me. We weren’t abused, and we were certainly loved by our parents, but my father was also a very volatile person. Angry is the word that comes to mind. I spent too many hours in my room as if it were a prison cell, my eyes wide open in the dark, caught up in the drama unfolding around me -- that of my parent’s lives in the cell next to mine. As a forty-three year old, and a writer to boot (thank God), I’ve traveled far enough away from those times to realize they had very little to do with me, and that I had no business worrying about my father’s moods. But what’s a kid to do, especially when he loves both his parents equally? I held my breath, doing my hard time as best I knew how, even though I hadn’t committed any crime. I certainly wasn’t being carefree, searching out the things I didn’t understand, making a list so I could bring these gifts, these questions, to my parents by the armful. I internalized, instead. I watched movies, I read books, I daydreamed… even in school. Crap! I flunked high school because of my moody father. Terrible thing to say, but it’s true! I hadn’t been prepared as a child, my curious nature nurtured so when I did finally hit my teens, I had a bunch of questions like an arsenal, and I was prepared to take on the world.

But I made it through somehow, my one big question finally answered to my satisfaction. None of it was my fault. And I’ve been rejuvenated, reborn, filled to bursting with questions whose answers are just at the tip of my pen. I’m finally ready to write about my father, looking back on the times we shared without being recriminating. I shied away, maybe, because I really didn’t want to stick a knife into the memory of the man, there was so much good in him.

I love you dad, and this is my gift.

Friday, August 24, 2007

A Bottom Feeder Speaks Up

Pictured, Bottom Feeder Dines Out for the Last Time

Back-to-school has always felt like the real New Year, a time for reflecting on the past and planning for the future. This September marks the end of the first year where I publicly self-identified as a writer. It’s also the year where I got the least amount of writing done.

I got distracted by the peripheral aspects of the practice, like drinking coffee with other self-identified writers and occasionally working for pay. It sounds silly, I know, given the anti-social, non-lucrative nature of the work, but there is a running joke in my house that I only do book reviews for the money and the fame. I love reviewing, but if that’s all I do, doesn’t that make me a bottom feeder?

I signed up this week to give a fiction reading in the “real” New Year, but if I continue in this vein, I won’t have anything to present. It is particularly difficult to write something good if you don’t spend any time writing anything at all. (For more on this, check out the Alistair Macleod interview in the latest Maisonneuve.) And so I’m announcing my hibernation, which will begin, if all goes well, a week from Tuesday. In the meantime, I have a translation and a couple of articles to finish, two picnics to attend, and one to host. Wish me luck.

p.s. My interview with Montreal children’s author Joyce Scharf is now available online. Also, I should have something in the Gazette tomorrow.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Dear Yann Martel

My apologies for being so late in discovering your project, What is Stephen Harper Reading? I realize it was covered by the Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC and others, but I’m terrible at keeping up. The news to me is like As The World Turns. (Is that still running?) You can miss weeks of it and not miss much at all. And news about the arts doesn’t stay in the headlines for as long as, say, anything about Conrad Black, does it?

So, by the time I got wind of your project, you had already sent ten books and letters to Mr. Harper. A book and letter every two weeks for as long as Harper is Prime Minister. Wow! I’m impressed by the commitment and discipline this requires. It makes me think about the tree sitters just outside Victoria who have been protesting a major highway extension through a wooded area since April 11, 2007, just a few days before you started your project. I wonder if you’re feeling a little like they might be right about now.

You know: in the early days a small crowd gathers and you get some publicity. You’re feeling pretty good about yourself. You’ve planted your ass on a platform high up in a tree. But four months later, who notices as you sit (and sleep) up there, rain or shine*, defecating in a bucket? Of course, the real you (vs. the figurative) is trying to edify a Prime Minister, not just preserve some woods and the creatures that live in it. Furthermore, you’re going it alone — no one appears at the bottom of the tree to take the next shift. Even so, I wonder if your friends aren’t beginning to say stuff like, “Hey buddy, you’ve made your point. Climb down from there. Let’s go for a beer.”

In April, you were full of righteous indignation* over Harper’s budget for the arts. I’m all for upping funding. Let’s pull out of Afghanistan and make art, not war. You also were full of hurt over Parliament’s scant attention to a delegation of which you were a part. I understand that, I do. You won the Man Booker Prize, for crying out loud.

It reminds me of seventh grade when I was Lieutenant of the safety patrols. My post was a busy and dangerous highway. Captain Tommy W. and I had the power to change the lights; to stop traffic so school children could cross the highway. All that power could have corrupted me but my sense of duty was deep, unlike Tommy who was frequently late. Also, he didn't insist that the other Patrols maintain the discipline I thought they should. (Why hadn't I been appointed Captain?) One day, the Patrols left their wet yellow rain slickers on the floor in the hallway before class. The principal was angry. Tommy refused to help me pick them up. Protesting his incompetence, I resigned, turning in my white patrol belt and my brass Lieutenant's badge. I waited for our advisor to beg me to reconsider, but by the end of the day, he had replaced me.

Not to imply your emotions are on the same level as a seventh grader’s. Or that your indignation isn’t way more legitimate than mine was. It’s just that I understand outrage and how anger and hurt can fuel dramatic gestures.

I must confess I’ve read only two of the ten books you’ve sent the Prime Minister. Your letters make me want to read them all. I knew you could write when I read Life of Pi, and these letters are darn good, too. Mr. Harper might find parts of them a tad preachy and condescending which could account for his lack of response since the first book. I, on the other hand,* am enjoying them greatly.

I do have a question, though. How will sending Stephen Harper these books secure more funding for the arts? Just curious.

Yours Truly,

Tricia Dower

*More apologies, this time for the clichés. I appreciate your warning in the ninth letter that they can lead to dogmatic thinking. I will work on my lazy fingers and brain.

Photo by Alice Kuipers: Yann Martel reading a letter to Harper at a writing congress at the University of Saskatchewan in June.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Managing Your Submissions Properly

By Antonios Maltezos

You need a good pencil, first of all, nice and sharp, but not too sharp in case you have to log a new entry, or change an existing one while the log sheet is resting on your bare thighs. Need a good erasure on that pencil too. If it’s a dollar store pencil, the lead may be okay, but I certainly wouldn’t chew on the erasure. Besides, dollar store pencils have plastic erasures that’ll smear your corrections and adjustments and make an overall mess of your log sheet. Having everything neat and tidy on that piece of paper makes you feel more pro-ish, less amateurish, if you know what I mean. Gives you hope. And the more entries you jot down, the less devastating the inevitable Xs signifying the rejections. So fill that page. Submit, submit, submit! But stuff does come up, life happens, and managing your submissions, as I’ve mentioned, can be really time-consuming, so there’s always the possibility that valuable info will get misplaced, or wrinkly, and you’ll have to start a new one. If that happens, know that you aren’t obliged to copy over the rejections from the last list. What are we living in the past, here? You’ll need a new pencil, sharpened just right. Not too sharp, though, because you want the script to have a flare. You want it to look natural, like you scribbled the names of those journals on the fly, as a stylish individual might, with flare but steady and balanced on the page. You see? It’s like a pair of jeans’ll make one person look like a farmer, and another real cool. You want cool, and that too sharp pencil will just dig into the paper making your script look like it’s come from a shaky person. You don’t want that. You want Mont Blanc smooth, like you got enough money in the bank not to care that much, eh? Okay, g’luck!

Next week: Hunting agents

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I think about the future a lot. Not my own future, but the future of the world, the future of Canada, the future that the next generation will inherit. Futurists and futurism have been with us since the earliest civilizations, because few humans are able to happily live their lives adrift in the present. Some of us are mired in the past, while others drown in the present as they reach for the future.

Every once in awhile I stumble over some nugget of prescience that truly gets my brain juices flowing. I thought I’d share this one with you all. Check out In particular, check out the 2020 authors tab along the top. Clicking on it will take you to a collection of essays by several famous and not so famous Canadian thinkers, writers, and other notables.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Watch out for da BOMB

By Tamara Lee

A good 12 years ago, I had a favourite magazine—BOMB—that thrilled me so much I actually managed to collect over 30 of the oversized quarterlies before finally gifting them to a local café. Holding onto them seemed selfish when they’d given me so much pleasure, and eventually they started taking up too much valuable space in my small apartment.

A little background may be necessary for those who aren’t hip to this New York-based mag. From the site: ‘BOMB began as a late night conversation among a group of friends—writers, directors, and artists—when someone said, "Wouldn't it be great if we started a magazine where we could speak about our work the way we speak about it amongst ourselves?"’

I spent hours poring over the odd-shaped mag chock-full of artist interviews, photography and fiction: belle hooks sitting down with Wayne Wang; Willem Dafoe interviewing Frances McDormand; new fiction by Lynn Tillman, Francine Prose and Kathy Acker. These are just the best of what I remember off the top of my head. There were so many photo spreads by some of the best new and established artists whose names I don’t recall, I’ve found myself sort of regretting my decision to give the mags away.

Came a time when I couldn’t justify spending the near-$15 bucks while I was underemployed and putting myself through school. The mag wasn’t available online, and then when I did finally look for it in my local bookstore, it was nowhere to be found. I assumed the mag had folded, as it was a not-for-profit venture.

Around that same time it was difficult to find the Village Voice, too. It just became too expensive for Vancouver bookstores to carry even the best New York magazines and newspapers. Even the Sunday NYTimes, which didn’t tend to arrive until the following Thursday or Friday anyway, became scarce.

Then this Internet thing…

I am pleased to report that BOMB, after what seems to have been a brief hiatus, is not only still going strong, it's celebrating its 26th anniversary this summer. Plus, it will soon be available online, including… Oh, the joy… Including the back issues.

It seems that only the interviews, and perhaps select fiction or art features, will be available for free online when the new site is launched. But don’t let that stop you from seeking out the magazine. It was always worth the money spent.

In the meantime, has archived some of the interview tapes, for example a great oldie-but-goodie with Willem Dafoe interviewing Michael Ondaatje.

Looks like I’ve another new favourite way to procrastinate.

(Image credit: the cover of BOMB's 100th issue)

Saturday, August 18, 2007

The marmots, the rabbit, and that little field mouse I chopped in half when I tried to catch it with one of my wife's better salad bowls

By Antonios Maltezos

We’ve had a rabbit visiting our backyard all summer long. He showed up last summer as well, but his visits then had been more spaced out, sporadic. No other family members, just the one rabbit. Unlike the freaky marmots of past years who’d crammed in under our shed like a bunch of immigrants trying to get by in the new country by splitting the rent, this guy seems to be alone. And I don’t even know if it’s a guy or a gal. My girls think it’s a she, but then they’re girls, so it’s only natural. Me, I call him a he, as in he’s back again, or stay away from the rabbit because he’ll bite you’re fingers off. We had the same problem with our budgie, Lemonade. Poor bastard was so confused in the end. And I wasn’t being racist, either, when I said the marmots of past years had crammed in under our shed like a bunch of immigrants. I was thinking of my parents beginnings in Montreal. Seems like every relative I have of that generation lived with my parents at one time or other. It’s the thing to do if you’re an immigrant. Only natural. As a small boy, I remember my father taking us kids out for a drive through his old neighborhood, telling me to look up when we arrived at the apartment they’d rented on Hutchinson Street. That window. That window. Hard as I try, all I can remember of that car ride are the rectangular red bricks, and the miserable expression on my father’s face.

It wasn’t until the great flooding of my shed, and the great marmot exodus over to my neighbor’s shed, that the rabbit started coming around. S’cuse me... one last word about the marmots. Don’t be fooled if you see only one at the outset. They employ scouts who’ll dig away from the main hole, or whatever you call it, staking out any new territory until they’re satisfied it’s safe to colonize. Then the rest of them come, uncles, aunts, cousins. You wake up one morning thinking it’d be nice to have your coffee out on the deck surrounded by that peaceful, outdoorsy kind of solitude, when you’re confronted, instead, by twelve or fifteen of them sitting up on their hind legs watching you, studying your habits, flinching in unison when you lift a butt cheek off the deck chair, their little noses reaching for your scent as they pass sonic messages to each other. It’s just a fart. It’s just a fart. YOU try fetching the rake from the shed under these circumstances. When they were at their peak numbers in our backyard, I wouldn’t even consider approaching the tin shed without first tossing a couple rocks against its side. Not that I don’t think I could take a marmot in a scrap, but I am nearing that age where one good scare could be the end of me. Plus, they’re diggers, so they must have strong claws for scratching the lower legs of we humans. Forgetaboutit! I blocked their exits with old patio stones, shoved a hose under the shed, and let the water run for half a day -- two days in a row. I’m thinking they retreated to my neighbor’s shed, and then started digging towards someone else’s yard. Good riddance!

So now we have a rabbit renting some space near the end of our yard, and that’s fine by me, even if he’s paying his rent with little brown marbles. So long as he/she keeps coming around, I know my shed must be free of marmots. It’s only natural. You can’t have two digging species living in the same yard. Trust me. I’m getting to know rabbits pretty good, and I’m already a bit of an expert on the marmots, even wrote a couple silly pieces about them, completely fortified by the subtle truths (nuances) I’d observed over the course of the last few years.

For example: You cannot stare down a marmot, or a bunny rabbit for that matter. The only way to get their attention is by throwing stuff; toys left out overnight, clothespins, or crouching and sneaking up on them ‘til you’re about five feet away. But then they exit, scurry down a hole or hop away under the fence, and you’re left feeling used. Wild creatures are impossible to catch.

Speaking of rabbit turds, I’ve heard they bring field mice. Is that true? And that these field mice running through your grass all summer long eating the rabbit turds get cold come fall/winter time. Uncanny creatures, field mice, they learn the sound of your patio doors opening and closing… so I’ve heard, and when it gets too cold outside, they hide by the patio door waiting for one of your children to leave it slightly open. Is that true, as well? I’ve also heard that two people with brooms are just as useless as one with a broom.

And that the best way to skin a bunny rabbit is by hanging it from a doorknob.

Ah, the circle of life. Sigh.

Blame the marmots!

Friday, August 17, 2007

A Clean Break

by Melissa Bell

Happy Friday, folks. I’m heading up north to enjoy some cottage time with some pals. Maybe you’re going to be doing the same. Or maybe you’re going to be hanging around ye olde homesteade this weekend, getting some writing done or maybe staying indoors and avoiding the sun and doing some organizing and freshening up. Okay, that last part is a ridiculous suggestion. I just checked the forecast for the weekend and it’s supposed to be wonderful (again). Why on earth you’d want to be indoors doing some housecleaning is just crazy! In fact, the only reason you’d do such a nutty thing would be if you’d read this post and lost your mind to my All-powerful Inspirational Influence and told your friends, “Hey, friends! Forget the patio party/beach brunch – I am so getting my clean on this weekend!”

Don’t do it. If you’re from a cold climate and you’re reading this, you know that our summer season is far too short to be spending any part of a glorious sunny weekend on household chores. That’s what February is for. However, should you be at loose ends this evening and feel like you need some encouragement to de-scum the kitchen sink or rid the sofa of cat hair before inviting the Significant Other over for some quality time, I offer some cleaning advice. Please note these are not cleaning tips. I leave those to the pros. I love the products. For me, a trip down the cleanser aisle at Wal-Mart is like a trip to…well, most anyplace else for normal people. Whatever. Here ya go.

My Dream Team of Clean

I’m going to deal with the Big One right off the bat. Earlier this year, I managed to save up enough dough to buy myself a Dyson vacuum cleaner. I got the one known as The Animal because it’s supposed to be really effective on sucking up the pet hair. Now I only have the one cat, but I’m pretty sure the Dyson has been getting rid of the cat hair and dander from several other cats that have gone before him. It just never ends, the crap this stuff pulls out of the carpet. The machine is astounding. I knew I wanted one of these when I first saw one demonstrated at an interior design show. One wouldn’t think a vacuum would leave such an impression, but it did. Next time you’re in the market for a vacuum, I would not hesitate to tell you to make the investment in a Dyson. This thing has changed my life. And it’s purple. I love it.

Dysolv. Removes stains from carpets. Yes, it’s a Dyson product. But it’s gotta be the best thing ever for red wine stains on carpets. Or for anything else that I’ve encountered so far since Dysolv and I became acquainted. And it’s environmentally friendly. I got mine with the vacuum purchase and I’m still working my way through it, but you can purchase it at Best Buy.

Swiffer brand anything. This whole line of products is not the most cost-effective nor the most environmentally-friendly. But I have to admit that I’ve tried just about everything they make and I love what they do. My favourite of all are the Swiffer Dusters for nothing other than the fact that they are awesome in dusting off bookshelves, bookcases and books in record time. A feather duster just scatters the dust everywhere. A damp cloth is just way, way too much work. The Swiffer Duster is the perfect answer to keeping your library dust-free without having to remove every item on the shelves. The “system” is flexible and effective. A box of refills is almost as much as the initial purchase, but it’ll last you a long, long time. And that’s coming from a city dweller who leaves her windows open a lot. Hoo boy, do I know from dust!

Lysol Bathroom Cleaner. The foamy kind. I’ve tried everything under the hot August sun for sinks and bathtubs and this stuff just seems to do the job with no arguing ever. It just gets ‘er done. Highly recommended by moi.

Have you all seen those commercials for the Scrubbing Bubbles Automatic Shower Cleaner? Here’s the deal on that thing. It works and I do not ever, ever, ever have to scrub or scour the walls of my bathtub and I have zero mildew. Big yay. However the refills for this baby are ridiculously priced considering that it’s probably nothing more than a solution of regular bleach and water. I’m irked that the container is not refillable, but must be replaced. So not environmentally friendly. Therefore while this product actually works and works well, I can’t recommend that anyone go buy it. The Scrubbing Bubbles people could have been so much more…considerate.

Mr Clean Magic Eraser. Love this thing to death. Awesome product. Today I found a mystery spatter behind the kitchen garbage can. I gave it the ol’ Windex treatment and that spatter didn’t even budge. So I brought out the Magic Eraser and it was history in seconds. I adore the Magic Eraser. However a word of caution: there are various versions of this on the market, and it might be a temptation to go for Magic Eraser Extra Power. Don’t do that unless you’re cleaning something heavy duty like your whitewalls or your garage door. You might be sorry. I’m just sayin’ be gentle if it’s your first time using these things. In fact the Mr. Clean people should spell it the olde tyme way of “Magick” because they’re that powerful.

And that’s pretty much my standard arsenal, everybody. No, it’s not nearly as charming and pure as the ladies on “How Clean is Your House?” with their lemon juice and their baking soda (and I do love that show to death!), but when it’s open season at Chez MelBell on dust bunnies and soap scum, I don’t spend a lot of time getting creative with old socks and broom handles. Unless we’re making puppets.

And maybe making some puppets is something I might just do next week seeing as the cleaning’s all done around here for a while. I’ll let you know.

Have a great safe summer weekend, everyone. There’s only a few left – make it count!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bet they line up for you, too

by Tricia Dower

Every morning, when I fire up the computer, twenty to forty new friends are waiting for me. More show up throughout the day. I delete most of their messages unread, but occasionally I peek at the fabulous opportunities I’m missing.

Savannah Whitman is ready to give me a loan. Likewise Buddy Savage who goes on to say, “Your credit report doesn’t matter to us!” That hurts me a little. Buddy’s offer is for $51,000, no strings attached, but I have to hurry because, “this offer will expire THIS NIGHT.” Buddy likes caps. He wants me to telephone him.

Dolly Mathieu says China You TV Corp (now trading at 46 cents) is going to explode!

Caleb McCollum is selling knock-offs Rolexes. Years ago a friend traveled to Hong Kong and brought me back a bogus Cartier. The band was too big for my scrawny wrist so I took it to a jeweler to have a link or two removed. He said he’d have to send it out to a Cartier specialist. What was I thinking? I had nightmares about being arrested for possession of counterfeit goods. With great dread, I returned when the watch was ready. “No charge for a Cartier,” the jeweler said. “Visit us again.”

Tdonald (don’t you hate it when people hide behind a first initial?) wonders if I’m ready to hit the jackpot waiting for me on the Web. “Real Vegas is just a click away” and I am eligible for free start-up credit of up to $1,000.

Various generically described acquaintances such as “uncle,” or “neighbour” or “worshipper,” yet, send me greeting cards, even when it’s not my birthday. I don’t click on the site provided to read them because these generic friends and relatives are pranksters. They want to infect my computer with a worm. Back in high school, they were planting cherry bombs in lockers.

It’s astounding how many total strangers share intimate details with me. Margaret Burt, for example, writes, “I just started having sex, and my boyfriend keeps popping out when we do it.” Goodness! In an amazing coincidence, the same thing happened to Janice Bogg. Beatrice Pryor is nothing but a gossip. She says, “Paris Hilton likes them big.” Logos Wilbert confides he’s having an affair with a family friend and “she thinks I am a god.” I have the look, I think, that makes people want to spill their guts. Somehow, Margaret and the others are able to discern that without even seeing me. They may be psychic like Jenna, just Jenna, who feels something “new and powerful” about my situation and wants to do a reading for me.

Francis Gregg thanks me for being a customer of a Canadian pharmacy. But I’m not a customer. Francis is not psychic.

Some e-mailers pretend to be banks. They are worse than the cherry bombers. They ask me to update my personal info and open files labelled “dividend statement” or “payment approved.” These messages never come from a bank I actually use. They come from banks with poor grammar.

I love the names and save them as possibilities for fictional characters: Tuttle Brock. Whalen Casey. Cherry Diaz. Riley Fisher. Nellie Grimes. Jeri Hatch. Evangeline Herndon. Humphrey C. Hinton. Reed Kent. Adrienne Wolfe. Edith Gore. According to Google, real people own some of these names. People who probably would be horrified to learn they’re promising better erections or instant riches. I wonder if Tricia Dower is out there making a nuisance of herself. Whatever she’s hawking, I hope her spelling and grammar are impeccable.

Images: by Romanian visual artist Alex Dragulescu who creates art from e-mail. These are from his Spam Plants collection, generated from the ASCII values found in the text of spam messages. In another series called Space Architecture, he and his software translate various patterns, keywords and rhythms found in the text into three-dimensional modeling gestures. Visit his site. ACT NOW! This offer won’t be repeated.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

An Army of Me

by Andrew Tibbetts

Everyonceinawhile I google myself. Just to see what spills out. Just to ensure nothing noxious erupts. I highly recommend it. Contrary to popular belief you won’t go blind.

Turns out, I’m not the only Andrew Tibbetts. There are others of me. I’m a web developer, a composer of music for handbell ringers, a Chicago area survivalist, several track and field athletes from the U.K. and the U.S.A. (or just one who gets around), a reporter of polytechnics, a young leukemia patient, a person with the record for Marilyn bagging (which sounds rude but has something to do with mountain climbing), and an indie-rock musician. It’s fun checking in with these other selves over the years through their expanding cyber-trails. It was heartwarming, for example, to find out that Andrew Tibbetts, 10 year old leukemia patient, has become Andrew Tibbetts, 11 year old graduate of leukemia treatment, now a fundraiser for the successful program.

I wonder if any of the other Andrew Tibbetts army regularly google themselves and what they might make of the sporadic hits outlining this soldier’s tiny literary career. Perhaps the track and field star wanting to check on the results of that last race will come across “My Gay Date with Attorney General Ashcroft” and wonder if it’s a true story. Perhaps the Scottish mountain climber checking to see if his record still stands will stumble across “201 Feet” and wonder if it’s true. When your cybertrail is partly fiction, you risk winding up on someone’s list of ‘others of me’ as a self-loathing gay republican or a self-deluded stalker. Note to self: no more first person narratives submitted to on-line journals.

If I won the lottery, I’d throw a big party for all the Andrew Tibbetts’s. (Tibbettses?) (Tibbetti?) (Tibbettum?) What fun it would be to mingle with myself! I suppose you John Smithses and you Mary Joneses can’t get too excited by this, but those of us with funny names, oft tormented in school (I got ‘Tidbits’ and ‘Timbits’; my sister got it worse with “Mrs. Fliptits,”)- we’d love to commiserate! Perhaps I’d bring Anne Chudobiak as my date to the Tibbettsfest and I’d insist that all the other Andrews bring an Anne Chudobiak as well. Good luck boys. Or maybe that’s a common name in Poland. Maybe if you wander downtown Warsaw calling out “Anne Chudobiak” hundreds of heads will turn your way.

As a totally irrelevant and inappropriate aside: one time, my friend and co-worker showed me a job application that was sitting in a pile on his desk. [This is highly unethical so I’m going to spell the name slightly differently to avoid criminal prosecution, plus I’ll claim I’m making this up (but I’m really not, shh), plus I’ll get my lawyer, Andrew Tibbetts, on it.] Anyway, the guy’s name was Ufuk Cochgeezer. I looked at the resume for a second and it didn’t register. Then I said it out loud in my head. And then my friend and I, two full grown men who should have known better, lost it. I have never laughed harder. It’s stupid, I know. I’m a juvenile idiot. But snot was pouring out my nose and my stomach hurt so much I was punching it to readjust the traumatic twists it was taking. I was gasping, too- I could hardly breath. I kept trying to say the name out loud and so did my friend, but we couldn’t. I tried to make a speech welcoming the new employee to our company, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I’d like to present our newest hire, Ufuk Cochgeezer!” But I couldn’t get past “La-,” “Lad-,” “Ladi-,”…. And my friend had mistakenly tried to calm himself by taking a sip of water which he soon sprayed the resume with. We both deserve to be punished. But I swear it was not intended. Luckily poor Ufuk was not qualified for the job and so it was easy to just shred the maligned resume as per company policy. Or we would have had to file our spittle with human resources.

Another tangential memory: I guess I’m a sucker for funny names popping up in odd places because I just remembered the other time I laughed so hard it hurt. Grade eleven morning announcements and the principal’s syrupy voice pours out of the P.A. system: Congratulations to Miss Jeffrey, our guidance teacher, who was married over the summer and whom we’ll now have to start calling Mrs. Bangs-Jeffrey. Oh, you 70’s feminists and your hyphenated names, bless you, bless you!

But I digress. My name is not Ufuk Cochgeezer nor Jocelyn Bangs-Jeffrey nor even Armand Hammer, Bonnie Anne Clyde, Buster Cherry, Craven Moorehead, Dan Druff, Dick Rasch, Ella Vader, Harry Balls, Ivana Mandic, Kerry Oki, P. Ness, Willie Stroker, or any of the funny names on Ethan Winer’s internet list. It’s just Andrew Tibbetts. One of many. Not too bad in the scheme of things. Right, fellow Andrew Tibbettses?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Vomit Stop Number One

We made it home from Nova Scotia, but not without the driving getting to me, by way of my brain. The trip took a little longer than normal, because we took some detours–to St.-Georges-de-Cacouna, to Old Town Quebec City–to do research for a food article that I'm writing. I learned, the hard way, that food writing and long distance travel with small children don't really mix. Kids aren't ideal taste testers. They don't care whether the chocolate gelato they're eating is imbued with hazelnut. All they care about is the sick feeling it produces in their bellies once they return to the car. Oy vey! Pictured above, Anne and Esme at Vomit Stop Number One, outside of Truro.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Worst Interviewer in the World

By Andrew Tibbetts

About a year ago I interviewed Kim Jernigan, the editor of the New Quarterly, one of Canada’s most notable literary journals. In the heady rush of setting up the Canadian Writers Collective, one of the things we envisioned was regular interviews of the movers and the shakers in the CanLit industry. (Hey, just ‘cause an industry’s small, doesn’t mean it isn’t one! Doesn’t mean it doesn’t get moved or shaken!) Ex-CWC-er, Denis Tailleffer (kind of like being ex-gay and found in a gay bar, Denis can be spotted around these parts guesting and commenting from time to time) did a super interview of book store owners/managers- an indie one and a big-box one. I volunteered myself to interview an editor. Aspiring writers envision editors as pitbulls, or perhaps some monstrous half-pit-bull-half-bitter-divorcee. We imagine them sitting in their fashionable offices sipping martinis tossing manuscripts (unread) into solid gold diamond encrusted shredders, chuckling the whole time. I picked Kim because I suspected she wasn’t like that- the rumours were that she was ‘nice’. Oh yes! A nice editor. I’d seen her once in public interacting with writers- interacting with them as if they were actual human beings- whose company she enjoyed. Weird, eh? I thought she’d be a good start to my interviewing career.

It was a summery day at the University of Waterloo campus. Nervous, I got there insanely early. I looked around for a square of grass that wasn’t covered in Canada Goose manure, practically impossible along the creek that runs through the campus. I leaned against a tree with my knees against my chest in the only spot I could see. Our national bird is disgusting. It produces tons of green-grey slime and smears it everywhere. It’s also not friendly. Friendly polite Canada should have a friendly polite bird. I thought about this for an hour and then I brushed off the spiders and went in to see Kim.

She was in a tiny office that she shared with an intern. There was nothing golden or jewel encrusted. Nothing luxurious. In fact, it kind of sucked. She took me out to the cafeteria to chat. She paid for my coffee. With change from a change purse, not with a platinum master card.

I turned on my little tape recorder and we chatted about the New Quarterly, Canadian writing, what editors talk about when they get together, the finances of literary journal production (I learned Kim didn’t actually receive a salary. That’s right, she and many other Canadian Literary Journal editors are volunteers! I don’t think she noticed my jaw dusting the floor) and the joys and sorrows of being an aspiring/emerging writer. I remember her saying some very smart things. However, my tape recording is inaudible.

So, over a year later- (It wasn’t two summers ago was it? No, just the one- I think) I’m still thinking, “One of these days, I should try to put my notes and that buzzy hissy tape recording together sometime and write that damn thing up.”

Never hire me to conduct an interview.

I do remember our one point of disagreement. She said she admired a short story that had the courage to be quiet. I thought all Canadian short stories were quiet! I was eager to admire a Canadian short story with explosions and zombies. I was wishing movies would get quieter, but fiction get noisier. She asked me what I’d like to see in the New Quarterly and I don’t think she registered that I said “Pirates.” Also, I remember she asked me something about the story of mine they published. Wasn’t that super nice! When I asked her, on behalf of all my fellow writers aiming to get published, “What are you looking for in a short story?” (Again, never hire me to conduct an interview.) She said, “If I knew that, I’d write it myself.” I think she was quoting someone, but I was sucked up into a vortex of self-recrimination (oh what a dumbass question that was Tibbetts every editor gets asked that every day at least twice can’t you think of something intelligent to ask you utter bonehead) so I didn’t quite catch it. And of course the tape is inaudible.

But there are some things I can confirm for a fact: Kim Jernigan IS nice. She loves fiction. She works hard for very little in the way of tangible reward. She admires the staff/volunteers who work with her at TNQ and the writers who submit their work. She didn’t say anything mean about anyone, even when I begged (Come on! Which of the other editors bugs you? Those Descant people, they suck, right? Mark Anthony Jarman, he must smell. A little? Come on! Isn’t there a writer who keeps sending you stories and you just vomit when you see their return address on the corner of a bulky envelope in your in-box? It’s Pasha Malla, isn’t it? Come on!) I honestly don’t think she was being coy. That’s just not the way she thinks. She’s a little other-worldly actually. Cate Blanchettish. Maybe you have to be, to volunteer to man a slush pile and wrestle a journal to the ground four times a year. Or maybe she was just slightly faint because she can’t afford to eat.

Kim, I apologize for doing such a lame interview and taking so long to do it, too. If it’s any consolation I will never inflict my interviewing self on anyone again. (Unless the CWC gets me the staff they promised or a solid gold diamond encrusted tape recorder!)

Read The New Quarterly!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Starting Out Write

by Melissa Bell

Lots to do today, my friends. Another gorgeous day in the Big Smoke and so today it's Blog-Lite(tm).

While I’ve had it sitting on my bookshelf for years (purchased on sale at Winners, I think), I just recently began reading Vein of Gold by Julia Cameron - who also produced The Artist’s Way. They’re great books for artists of all disciplines, or for anyone who would like to bring more creativity into their lives. We’re all artists to some degree, right? – even if we’re not ready or willing to accept that, each of us has the gift to create something.

Newly inspired, I decided to start getting back to the habit of the Morning Pages. The Morning Pages (a.k.a. MPs) are simply three pages of stream of consciousness writing that you do immediately upon waking. They are handwritten (that’s one of the “rules”), single-spaced in a regular 8-1/2” x 11” notebook. On average, it takes about 45 minutes to complete. They are not meant to be written as a journal of events (although they can very well be) – the real purpose is simply to warm up the brain for the day – to encourage it to think in a non-linear fashion. Yes, it works, and very rare is the occasion when filling up three pages is an actual chore. It might sound like that at the outset, but when the head is still fresh from dreams and mildly groggy, it’s quite fascinating what winds up landing on the page. I’m not trying to sell anybody on the fact that it’s brilliant stuff, but when one goes back and reviews it several months later during more wide-awake moments, it’s quite an interesting read. I would whole-heartedly encourage anyone and everyone to give The Morning Pages a go for the next month just to see where it takes you and what you might learn along the way.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

One Whole Gale and a Whole Lotta Love

By Antonios Maltezos

I had some misgivings about our trip to Shediac, New Brunswick, home of the giant lobster, but I thought I knew from where they’d originated. I fell asleep, once, while driving back from the Eastern Townships, so very briefly, but just long enough for the car to point itself at one of the concrete pillars of an overpass. I awoke just in time to jerk the wheel, straighten the car, and wake my wife, who’d been pulling a grandpa, her mouth slightly open, probably dreaming of shucking corn. Everybody and their mothers grow corn in the Eastern Townships. I’ve never forgotten that split second, and neither has my wife, Nicole. You okay. You awake. Smack, when she slaps my thigh. You were nodding off. Ouch I say, making like I’m going to smack her back, grabbing myself a handful of that thigh instead so she has to remind me that the kids are in the backseats. I’ve come to depend on her for these long trips, the car full of rug rats, our children, our family, our reason for living. New Brunswick was a long ways away from Montreal, so that’s why I figured I had the misgivings.

Tent Cabin: A tent cabin is a structure whose frame is made entirely of wood, whose mass rests upon cement blocks much the same way your shed may be sitting on blocks. From the waist down, it looks like a regular cabin, shingled and all, but from the waist up, the frame is covered by a tailored canvass designed to fit like a glove. When it gets wet, the canvass tightens. It’s a fucking giant drum, basically.

We got to our campsite late in evening – five minutes to ten. The old guy at the reception told us to grab the first empty lot we came across. We were thankful because our children were already half-asleep. We were to inform him of our location in the morning. Great.

We chose lot number 12 because it was nearest the bathrooms. Awesome. I got halfway through pitching the tent in the dark when a lady shows up, arms crossed over her chest, demanding to know what we were doing on her lot. Seems like number twelve was already taken, but the boobs who’d taken it had decided to park their camper way at the back of the lot rather than up by the chemin where the fire pit was. We promised her we’d find another spot in the morning if she and her husband, who’d remained just outside the reach of my crank lantern, would allow us to finish pitching the tent.

(notice the camper deep in the background)

When everything happens for a reason: Sometimes, and always in retrospect, it just seems like some benevolent being was guiding your steps along the way to an event that could have proven itself catastrophic had you made that one wrong turn. You run through the list of people you’ve known who’ve since passed on, and sometimes you’ll pick yourself a guardian angel.

The next morning, Nicole and I decided to take a stroll through Murray’s campground before going to the head office. We wanted to know what our options were before committing to any lot. Up on a hill, overlooking the Northumberland Strait, we came across four cabins, two of which seemed empty. We decided then and there that we’d try and snag one of them. To our delight, tent cabin C was free, the only one with straps holding down the canvass roof. We took it.

With our gear safe and secure inside the cabin, we decided we’d spend a couple hours by the beach before heading towards the Confederation Bridge to Prince Edward Island, the longest something or other in the whole world I think. You can cross the bridge for free, but you must pay a forty dollar toll, or thereabouts, if you want to make it back across. This is according to Shelly, the nice lady working the front desk at the campground. She’ll be a grandma for the second time soon, btw. She advised us not to cross over. Go to the Bay of Fundy instead. After getting our pictures under the bridge, we’d head off to the Hopewell Rocks area, which has the greatest tides in the known something or other.

One whole gale

It started raining while we were still down by the flowerpots, those magnificent and very frightening rock formations. We couldn’t believe our misfortune. In fact, we refused to believe that the rain would last. We even bought ourselves some campfire wood, a twelve pack of Bud for me, and a bottle of Strawberry wine for Nicole. Once the rain stopped, and the kids were safely tucked away in their bunk beds, Nicole and I would enjoy a nice fire and a couple of drinks, our lawn chairs facing the cliff and the surf beyond. We deserved it, after all, some special mom and dad time.

2 am. I hear my name being called, rousing me from my sleep up on the top bunk. The cabin had leaked, so my wife and children had crammed into the two lower bunks. We’d rigged up some tarp we’d brought along on the exposed beams of the roof framing, channeling the water down the sides. No room for me down below, so I’d found a semi-dry spot on one of the upper bunks. Again my name. As I reached for the flashlight I had somewhere next to me, I realized that I had a terrible hangover headache from the six Bud I’d downed while rigging up the tarp. I also realized that there was a horrible, violent noise raining down on my head from the outside, which had nothing to do with the cans of Bud.

Golden showers: If you must piss in a hurricane, make sure the wind is at your back.

Earlier in the day, when Shelly had shown us the inside of the cabin, I’d asked her about the noise level inside if it where to rain. I had no reason to ask because there hadn’t been a cloud in the sky. Maybe it’s a writer’s thing, wanting to store information. She was more than happy to chat with us, telling us about the water spout that had come up on the campground the year before. Destroyed everything but these cabins, she said. Yours even has straps holding down the canvass, so I wouldn’t worry, she said.

Straps or no straps, we were being bombarded by something ferocious that was going to destroy us. I climbed down from the bunk so I could have a look outside, a sinking feeling in my belly. The front door had a curtained window. I couldn’t see anything until I pressed the flashlight up against the glass. Friends, the ghostly white Chevy Uplander we’d rented for the trip was rocking on its springs like a rowboat in choppy waters. I was f-ing mortified, but my wife had called out to me frightened for us all, so what could I do. I told her it was nothing and that I needed to piss. The pissing part was true. I donned my windbreaker and put both hands on the door handle. Once I’d shut the door behind me, every step I took away from the cabin felt like a bad idea, like I was going to pay a heavy price for leaving my family behind. Screw the cinderblock washrooms building. I made it to a stand of trees not far from the cabin, very flexible trees whose measly crowns were tickling the earth like feather dusters, and I had me a golden shower.

There was not much else I could do but get back inside the cabin, show myself to my wife, tell her I’d had my piss and that it was bad out there but survivable. I was standing right in front of her, after all.

Ten hours of this hell, friends. One hundred kilometer an hour winds blasting our cabin, forcing us to sleep in shifts, escape by Uplander out of the question because the country road leading to Murray’s Campground was unlit, 15 kilometers long, and marshy on both sides. By the time Shelly came to check on us around 7 am, we’d become as sturdy as the locals, barely registering the still heaving, slapping canvass. You guys all right? We’re still here, aren’t we, I said, feeling like a shit after because I hadn’t asked her inside out of the weather. It wasn’t her fault the perfect storm blasted through. Nice people in New Brunswick. The folks at the general store up the road asked us how it had been for us in the cabin through the night. How they knew we’d slept in one of those tent cabins, I have no idea, but they were genuinely happy to see us in their midst picking up two coffees and four hot cocoas.

So how do we feel about New Brunswick now that we’re back home? The children have an adventure they can’t wait to share with their friends when they get back to school. They thought the trip to the Bay of Fundy was out of this world, and they’re extremely disappointed they couldn’t spend more time in the lovely waters of Shediac. My wife wants to return. In fact, she’s trying to figure out which business we could start if we were to move there permanently. Me, I’m still in awe of their rolling highways, the gorgeous landscape, the lovely people, and my wife, whose presence at my side gave me the comfort I needed when I needed it most. One whole gale, and a whole lotta love – that’s how we’ll remember it.

(Murray's Campground at its best)

(... and at its worst. Our tent cabin is just out of view on the cliff.)

Friday, August 10, 2007

Somerset Griffin

By Anne Chudobiak

This week, on Tamara’s suggestion, I read Somerset Maugham for the first time. It had never occurred to me to do so before. I’m not even sure that I’d known he was a writer. I knew he was famous, but not what he was famous for. With a name like that, he could have just as easily been a statesman or a philosopher.

I started with the book Cakes and Ale. It deals with the lionizing of a Thomas Hardy-like figure (not that I know anything about Hardy). When I finished, I was gratified on two counts: I had “discovered” a new writer and advanced my general knowledge. No longer would references to Maugham slip me by. The whole world would make more sense. (I remembered how when I had finished Madame Bovary, I’d realized that references to the book—most of them comical—came up an almost daily basis, on paper, on screen, in conversation. How much had I missed out on before? Was there some kind of comedy directed only at the well read? Wasn’t that impractical? Who wants to tell a joke that only one percent of the audience is likely to ever get?)

With Cakes and Ale, I didn’t have to wait long for results. The same day that I finished the book, Maugham was referenced on a tv rerun, the primetime cartoon Family Guy. In the episode, blue-collar antihero Peter Griffin moves into a closet and sublets the rest of his house while his wife is out of town. When she phones to check up on him, their daughter answers.

“Dad,” she says. “Mom’s on the phone.

“Please be Somerset Maugham. Please be Somerset Maugham,” says Peter.

I don’t know what I would have made of this joke in my pre-Maugham days—it probably wouldn’t have registered—but now I think it’s pretty damn funny, all the more so because of what Holden Caulfield has to say in Catcher in the Rye:

You take that book Of Human Bondage, by Somerset Maugham, though. I read it last summer. It's a pretty good book and all, but I wouldn't want to call that Somerset Maugham up. I don't know. He just isn't the kind of guy I'd want to call up, that's all. I'd rather call old Thomas Hardy up. I like that Eustacia Vye.

Maugham’s writing is said to be heavily autobiographical, and in the case of Cakes and Ale, at least, he takes on the voice of an odious old man heavily concerned with rank. He would make short shrift of Peter Griffin, and Holden knows it.

All this to say that it looks as though I might have to read Hardy, too. As Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane puts it in one interview, “Even if only person thinks it’s funny,” the joke goes in. No mercy for the unread, not even in prime time. Three authors for every joke. Whew.

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.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Approaching Mid-Life

by Andrew Tibbetts

In a few weeks I’ll be half-way to 90. I intend to live that long- at least. Although the Life Expectancy Calculator suggests I’m only going to make it to 78.58, I figure they aren’t factoring in the developments that will occur in medicine over the next few decades. I remind myself, when I feel old, that I’m not even half done! I also remind myself, when I feel unsuccessful, of artists that became known in their later years: Grandma Moses began painting in her 70’s to help with her arthritis; Henry Miller’s first novel came out when he was 44; Anton Bruckner began composing in his 40’s. Child prodigies always die unhappy and penniless any way, don’t they?

78.58, eh? That means I’d better not mark anything in my calendar after March 16, 2030. Hey, I’m going to save a bit on my student loans! Isn’t that great?

I recently made a list of my publications for a grant application! It fit on a page. But it almost filled the page! Could be worse, right? And the next ones will be page 2’ers (if I go with a footer, and I will. I will! I will! I will!)

This week I’ve had a long poem, four prose-poems, and three flash fiction pieces rejected. The accumulation has managed to remove the comment “Congratulations. Your acceptance rate is above average!” from the top of my submissions tracker on Duotrope. Oh well. I’ve got half a life to get it back up there.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Somone Comes to Town...

by Steve Gajadhar

I’ve been binging on sci-fi lately, looking for something different, an escape from the restrictions (maybe even limitations) of standard literary fiction. Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town by Cory Doctorow was my latest escape accomplice, and it was definitely something different.

Of all the swirling themes in the novel, difference—and the struggle to fit in caused by being different—is by far the strongest and most obvious. All of the main characters are “different,” some are not even human. Alan, the protagonist, is a monster, albeit not the scary kind. His father is a sentient mountain and his mother is a washing machine, his brothers include an island, a brother who knows the future, an undead demon, and 3 brothers that occasionally share one form in a Russian nesting doll arrangement. Mimi, Alan’s love interest, has a pair of wings that her original boyfriend, Krishna, periodically cuts off so that she can be “normal.” Kurt, though human, is a 30 something anarchist and also an anti-cyberpunk archetype. Doctorow further highlights the difference of Alan’s family members by employing a shifting naming convention for all of them. A fact Alan himself emphasizes when he is asked to repeat his name early on in the novel: “Alan, Adam, Andy. Doesn’t matter, I answer to any of them.” Doctorow also names them in alphabetical order. His second brother is known by B names, the third with C names, and so on. His neighbours in Toronto also share linked names, Krishna-Link-Mimi-Natalie.

The story takes place in Toronto and Kapuskasing. Kapuskasing is the flashback setting for Alan’s recollections of his unique childhood, his struggles with society, and his conflicts with his evil little brother Davey. Alan is the oldest and champions the need for all of the boys to assimilate into the real world, and so enrolls them all in school. Young Alan gets his first girlfriend, Marci (it is no coincidence that his later love interest is named Mimi, as naming and linking are such important aspects of the novel), a human girl who is his first tangible example of fitting in. After Alan introduces Marci to his mountain father, Davey kills and dismembers her, thus beginning his antagonist role of preventing Alan from ever fitting in, of reminding him of the undeniable gravity and difference of his origins. The brothers kill Davey and bury him within the island brother, Carlos. But Davey comes back from the dead and spends the rest of his life extracting revenge.

Toronto finds the grown Alan retired, and settling into a new house to write. His neighbours include Mimi and Krishna, and he eventually meets Kurt at a local hang out spot. Kurt and Alan team up with a goal of providing free wireless access to all of Toronto. Kurt uses discarded parts and street kid labor to fashion wireless broadcasting hubs that Alan then convinces merchants to install in their shops. Davey comes to town and attempts to kill Alan, but is thwarted by Kurt, the only other person Alan has ever let in on his family secret. Davey then begins to kill off the nesting doll brothers one by one. What follows is one of the most interesting end games of any novel I have ever read, and also one of the most hopeful and uplifting conclusions.

Doctorow even finds a way to push his manifesto of Creative Commons free distribution. The whole point of Kurt and Alan’s “unwired” Toronto is perfectly aligned with Doctorow’s own free distribution of all his solely authored works on his website, Doctorow has made it all available in various formats for all of us to download and read if we want, no strings attached. I for one don’t think e-books will ever replace their paper parents—at least not until they can make a reading device that looks, feels, and smells like paper—but the idea of free distribution is a welcome one in today’s world of digital rights management and the erosion of privacy that the internet and lawmakers are slowly trying to foist on us.

The book is not without its faults. It rambles through the middle, leaves quite a few plot lines unexplored, and fails to explain (or at least gloss over) a lot of the fantastical elements. In fact, much of the novel is as rough around the edges—prone to over description and wandering tangents that end nowhere—as its perfectly rough characters, but that is also part of the novel’s charm, and I bet Doctorow wanted it this way. This is an important book, a genre busting contemporary-postmodern-fabulist-fantasy-low tech- cyberpunk-thriller. It blows the China Meivilles of the SF world out of the water, and leaves me hopeful that we might be witnessing the birth of a Canadian M. John Harrison. Go Canada!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Sumos and Lilies

By Tamara Lee

As I sit out here on my mom's back deck, I can feel the summer night air succumbing to fall.

It's 8:30 p.m. and while my mother is inside satisfying her Big Brother addiction, I am out here drinking red wine by candlelight, smelling the lilies letting off their evening scent.

This afternoon I watched the amateur Sumo competition at the Powell Street Festival (a local festival celebrating Japanese-Canadian culture) with some friends. I rarely miss it; the spectacle, for me, having as much to do with rooting for the little guy as anything else.

And there are a lot of little guys, some 100 lbs with their shoes and borrowed mawashi on.

Hundreds, maybe thousands surrounded the ring, and ooh'ed and ah'ed over the size disparities of the competitors, everyone certain the largest sumo would prevail.

Today, a young fella, no more than 18 years and 90 lbs, stared down his larger opponent, and waited for the gyoji (referee) to call out the start. Without a shirt, skin that had perhaps never seen the light of summer, glistened with nervous sweat.

The frangrant lily never ceases to surprise me; it looks gentle but its fragile body packs a whallop.

The young newbie sumo wrestler stayed in the ring for several moments, pushing and jostling his opponent, the hmms of naysayers soon giving way to surprised hope. The two fell in unison, the arrogance of the larger sumo evident with the presumption of his win.

But the audience and gyoji knew different.

The young fella had fared well and had forced a rematch. The crowd was euphoric, the tiny sumo buoyed by this faith.

It does not matter how the rematch ended. It does not matter that inevitably the arrogant larger sumo won, and danced around the ring and tried to force the crowd to cheer him.

The crowd did not go wild.

The young lily quietly settled his lanky, awkward body into the crowd of the other losers in the competition sitting by the side of the ring.

Then he smiled broadly.

(photo credit: karenkuo on

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Dancing with Facts

by Tricia Dower

Forty-two years after Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood reputedly birthed the genre, The Malahat Review is dipping its literary toes in creative non-fiction waters. Editor John Barton stopped by the Victoria School of Writing’s summer session to tell us that (and a few other things).* Other Canadian lit pubs have been in the pool for a while: Event, Grain, Room of One’s Own, The New Quarterly, Prairie Fire, The Shore and Prism (which calls it “literary nonfiction” and eschews the hyphen).

So what’s the creative part of this genre besides including dialogue and description, building suspense and so forth? Can you call it non-fiction if you’ve changed the names of people and places so you don’t get run out of town? Or if it’s essentially true but you’ve added a bit here and there to spice it up? Several of the VSW faculty unwittingly engaged in a small debate via their plenary lectures.

Brian Payton (not the football player) doesn’t like the term “non-fiction." You might as well say non-watercolour, or non-sculpture. And calling it “creative” is simply saying it’s well done. He does make a distinction, though, between writing based on fact and writing based on fiction, calling the latter “literature of narrative untruth.” On his list of recommended “truth” writers are Joan Didion, Peter Matthiessen, John McPhee, John Vaillant (The Golden Spruce), J. B. Mackinnon (Dead Man in Paradise) and Ryszard Kapuscinski (Shadow of the Sun). Brian claims everything in his latest book, Shadow of the Bear (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2006), is true. He gets prickly at the suggestion that creative means you can make up stuff. To do so violates the contract with the reader.

Lynne Van Luven says it’s okay to “re-imagine” real events. She’s associate professor of writing at UVic. She cites Under the Bridge by Rebecca Godfrey as an excellent example of re-creation based on research. Godfrey’s book tells of Reena Virk's horrific murder right here in Victoria the Good. Lynne has this to say about creative non-fiction in the introduction of her book Going Some Place (Coteau Books, 2000):

If creative non-fiction were a bird, it would surely be a magpie. Like the fractious, black-and-white bird with the iridescent feathers and raucous voice, creative non-fiction operates on audacity and curiosity. Grounded firmly in “real life,” it nevertheless swoops across the writing landscape, picking up the bright baubles of invention wherever it finds them. As long as the item glitters, the inventive magpie will appropriate it, to enhance its sallies into narrative. Yet, despite its flights of fancy, the magpie of creative non-fiction is a hardliner when it comes to actuality – it does not invent its stories, it simply tells them dramatically.

Harold Rhenisch, poet and memoir writer, says, “To hell with the facts. Tell the story.”

I came across the account of a speech on creative non-fiction given by Canadian journalist Peter C. Newman. He referred to the genre as a “new journalistic writing style with a creative twist” that is increasingly necessary to appeal to today’s overloaded prospective readers. “You have to give more than facts,” he said. “You have to entertain people ... tell them stories, convince them to spend their time with you…To do this, you have to make the facts dance ... endow them with feeling.” On the matter of whether creative non-fiction is factual or not, he said, “Truth is too big of a concept, but authenticity you can provide.”

Except for my weekly blog, you'll find me dancing with the narrative untruth.

* Barton’s Submission Tips:

  • Acceptance odds are higher for poets as The Malahat Review gets three times more short stories than poetry and they devote an equal number of pages in each issue to prose and poetry.
  • Send your submissions unbound — no staples (I knew that) and no paper clips either (I want mine back).
  • Keep your cover letter to a single page —they don’t care about your hobbies.
  • On your SASE, write the magazine’s return address as well as your own.
  • Feel free to submit elsewhere if you have not heard within nine months to a year!!!! (Exclamation points mine. John said they’re getting a little more accepting of simultaneous submissions. Just a little.)
Photos, top to bottom: John Barton, Brian Payton (credit rarevisionphoto), Lynne Van Luven (credit Melanie Siebert), Harold Rhenisch (credit Anassa Rhenisch)