22 April 2014

"creative recklessness is what it takes to be an artist"

"The freedom and creativity of that early life forms part of her theory about why there are fewer female than male choreographers in the ballet world. 'Things have changed a lot now but I think until recently, for a young boy to make a choice to be a dancer already takes a kind of courage and recklessness. It is easy for a girl to grow up in ballet and there is nothing she necessarily has to fight for or defend or endure in that journey. They require humility, obedience and blinkered vision and discipline, whereas a boy has to be really strong. To be able to take risks and to have this kind of creative recklessness is what it takes to be an artist, and you are not going to find that in many of the women who have gone through ballet school.'"

from an interview with Crystal Pite in The Telegraph

18 April 2014

"the prevailing metaphor for women of my generation has failure built into it"

"'I think that’s not even to be wondered at,' he said. If you have a creative life, you can only do so much, he explained—something he, too, had had to come to terms with. 'If you give it in one place, it has to be taken away from another.'

Maxwell’s response to my puzzlement was so matter-of-fact that I didn’t realize until later that he hadn’t really explained the contradiction—he had just restated it as a fact of life. But that was the whole point: we were looking at the same thing in different ways, as men and women have been brought up to do. Men tend to see their lives, regardless of the balance of the various parts, as a unified whole, but the prevailing metaphor for women of my generation has failure built into it: we are said to “juggle” the various parts of our lives, and the only possible outcome if we concentrate on one ball in particular is that we drop the others. But this is not how Katharine White saw her life—partly because she could afford not to, by hiring people to juggle for her, but mainly because she just didn’t think that way. When I started looking at her life as she looked at it—and as she lived it—it suddenly seemed all of a piece."

from Lady With a Pencil by Nancy Franklin, an article about Katharine White, The New Yorker's fiction editor from 1925-1960

11 April 2014

doing the work

I've been writing. Like really writing. Not editing, not doing research, not answering emails or hustling or blogging. I'm on a spurt and it's been great. I'm hoping to keep my head down and the eye on the prize (a finished first draft) by the time the residency is over. If I don't get distracted, it will happen.

Strangely, I have to thank the conversation I've posted below. Out of all the many books these women have written, I've only read Elizabeth Gilbert's most recent, The Signature of All Things (which I absolutely loved). I love how strong these women are, their friendship, and how they treat writing as work and just get it done.

Now I need to read Ann Patchett and more of Elizabeth Gilbert. If you can suggest which of her fiction I should start with, I'd be grateful. (I do plan on reading her This is a Story of a Happy Marriage soon.)

If you haven't watched this conversation, please take the time to. It's inspiring and entertaining.

27 March 2014

Hurricane Edna

Last week I finished reading East of Eden. A few hours later, I stalked my bookshelves to see what I should read next. I pulled a couple books out that I've been wanting to read/reread, but none of them seemed quite right. It was hard to imagine following up this American classic with a recently published Canadian novel--it didn't seem terribly fair to the newer book, but I also wasn't sure I was ready to dive into Dickens' Bleak House quite yet (but will I ever be, I wonder?) and while I am itching to reread Yates's Revolutionary Road, I didn't want to read two mid-century American novels in a row.

I've been reading Charlotte's Web to my boys. It's one of my favourite books of all-time. My friend Alexis recently posted this article about E.B. White's writing of Charlotte's Web and in it White's essay "Death of a Pig" is referenced. I pulled Essays of E.B. White off the shelf and began to read.

It won't be a revelation to anyone who knows his work, but I had merely read his Charlotte's Web and what a treat his essays are. I've only read the first six, but I am in love. He is a brilliant wordsmith and very, very funny. Already, I feel like I know him and that I like him very much.

"The Eye of Edna," about waiting for Hurricane Edna (but really about media-hysteria, which feels quite relevant today) to hit is a pure joy. I knew, thanks to previous essays, White farmed in Maine, but when he mentioned going to the shore to pull up his boat and that he lives to the east of Penobscot Bay, it reminded me of another book I adored. Once I finished the essay, I went to the kids' bookshelf and pulled out Robert McCloskey's Time of Wonder and read it to my youngest.

I've never been to New England or lived on an island or learned to sail or lived in the 1950s (shocking, I know), but Time of Wonder always leaves me feeling nostalgic. I discovered the book as an adult and love reading it to my kids (probably more than they like being read to).

In McCloskey's book, there is a hurricane and now I wonder if White's Hurricane Edna was also the inspiration for Time of Wonder. I did a cursory search on the internet, but found nothing. Perhaps it's better not to know, but now I wonder if I'll ever not think of the two hurricanes as the same one, both remembered in very different, but equally excellent ways.

26 March 2014

The M Word has arrived!

My copy of The M Word arrived earlier this week. I was getting pouty because according to social media, all the other contributors had received their copies the previous week. (Yes, Canada is a large country, but I'm fairly impatient when it comes to mail regardless.)

I've decided that I'm not going to read it cover-to-cover, but flip around and read what speaks to me. I'm reading another collection of essays right now, so I'm going to go back and forth between both books as not to burn myself out on motherhood. So far, I've read the essays of Heather Birrell and Carrie Snyder, both of which are excellent. I really wish our country was smaller, as I'd love to sit down with these two women over beers one night and talk about their essays. So much of what they wrote spoke to me, seemed similar to my own experiences. I hope their contributions are an indication to the quality of the rest of the anthology, because if so, it promises to be stellar.

If you're on GoodReads and would like to enter the draw for your own copy, follow the links.

20 March 2014

Helen Lawrence

Last Friday, I went to a preview of Helen Lawrence, the highly anticipated play created by Stan Douglas and Chris Haddock.

This play has been in the works for years. Stan Douglas is a brilliant artist and I was very much looking forward to seeing his take on late 40s Vancouver, specifically Hogan's Alley. His co-creator is Chris Haddock, whose work I don't know very well. I've never seen Boardwalk Empire and I've only watched a handful of episodes of DaVinci's Inquest. He has a strong reputation. Both men do, but neither have worked in theatre before.

As stated earlier, I saw a preview (which, criminally, was full-price) and there were technical difficulties. This show is tech-heavy. Tech-dependant, really as it wouldn't even be a show without the tech. Because it was a preview, I forgave those problems.

It's visually stunning. The actors are live onstage, but behind a scrim. They are being shot live, and the images are projected on the scrim, but thanks to some spectacular blue-screen technology, it looks like they are in Hogan's Alley or the second Hotel Vancouver. It's gorgeous.


This is supposed to be theatre. I have not been able to figure out why they didn't just do a movie. There is no play or tension happening between the live action (which you can sometimes see thanks to the lighting) and what is projected. What does this staging choice say thematically? Disappointingly, nothing.

I have seen a lot of theatre, and much that plays with technology and pushes boundaries. It can be exciting, but if it doesn't do anything to support the story, it leaves me cold and impatient.

The main problem with Helen Lawrence is it's foundation: the script. It is weak. It's overloaded with dialogue that sounds good (perhaps authentic to the time, perhaps what we've been trained by the movies to think as authentic), but doesn't really say anything. There is one plot line (of four) that goes nowhere and really shouldn't be in the play at all. Take that one out and give the other plot lines space to breathe a bit, expand, and perhaps have the space to tell the story they want told.

Because I don't know what the story is they want told. The story touches on Vancouver police corruption, gambling, prostitution, the shutting down of Hogan's Alley, the closing of the second Hotel Vancouver, lack of support for GIs, a dead husband, a spurned lover, bother-issues, race-relations, and I'm sure there's even more. All this in 90 minutes, but the story? The heart of the piece? I don't think I could tell you.

(And, despite having four women in the cast, I don't think this would pass the Bechdel Test. Every conversation between the women were about men. I hope I'm misremembering, but I don't think I am. Shameful.)

The draw of Helen Lawrence is the visuals. And people will and should go for this, but it's not enough. Perhaps this should have remained an art installation, perhaps they should have invited a playwright to co-create? I don't know. But it was disappointing and feels like a missed opportunity. It really could have been phenomenal.

14 March 2014

On rereading: East of Eden

I'm rereading Steinbeck's East of Eden right now. I've read it twice before, but the last time was about half my life ago, so I won't go on about how much I have forgotten.

It's a long and meandering novel. I know this is popular to say about books, but I really don't think it would be published now. Actually, maybe more to the point, I don't think it would be written like this now. The narrator is a very minor character in the book (Steinbeck himself as a child) but is also clearly omniscient. Are novels written this way anymore? I don't think so, though if I'm wrong, please let me know.

I'm only about 2/3 through (only! I'm on page 524!) and while I am loving so much about it--the vividness of his descriptions, his language--I am getting tired of the how the women are portrayed in this world. They are either saintly suffering women who cook and clean all the time, or they are devilish manipulators. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground, and I'm not sure this would even pass the Bechdel Test.

The novel does feel like a throwback, something from and for another time. It's interesting, to me, that it was published in the early 1950s and my beloved Gloria took place about a decade later. I wonder if Gloria ever read East of Eden?