28 August 2014

transition

Today is the last day of my residency. I've packed up all the papers and books, taken down the drawings my children made for my walls, found a safe place to transport the now brittle, but still red, maple leaf that I picked off the ground the first morning I was at the university after my Mother-in-law had died. I still need to wipe down the shelves and the desks, but this is it, this is then end of my time here.

No deer sightings today, but a few eager leaves have already turned and made their way to the ground. It's sunny and warm, but there is a briskness in the air that means autumn, that means school, that means new adventures.

I am incredibly grateful for my time and space here at the Centre. I hope to be back somewhat regularly for their Coffee Talks and afternoon lectures, but I know it won't be the same. Nothing ever is.

Our family is gearing up for the Saanich County Fair this weekend, which mostly means hours waiting in lines for rides, but it's a good time and my kids love to be whipped up and down and round and round. It's become tradition, ending our summer at the fair, despite this uncertain September with the teacher's strike still ongoing. This is the year of the never-ending summer.

One of my first tasks in September will be to come up with a new way to get writing done. Figure out times and spaces, but I'm looking forward to whatever that might look like. I wrote a lot during my residency, and after this break, want to get back at it.

Just for fun, this is what I wrote:
1. edited "What Can't Be Packed Away" essay for The M Word
2. wrote and edited "What I Need Is a Wife" essay for Telling Truths, Storying Motherhood
3. wrote approximately 20 new poems (most were sonnets, strangely enough)
4. wrote first draft of a novel
5. wrote notes and bits and pieces for a longer essay (eventually book length?) on death, grief, and legacy

I'd like to get back to the poetry soon, as I think I might have enough for another manuscript now. It will take a lot of crafting and editing to make it ready, but I think I'm a lot closer to it than I thought I'd be, considering Glossolalia was only published last year.

And of course, the novel. The first draft was fun and fast, but it'll be this next draft that I'll really have to work hard. I want to push up my sleeves and get dirty.

I'm going to close this down now, take my box and bags to the car, wipe down the room, and return my keys. I hope I won't cry until I'm back at the car, but I'll be wearing my sunglasses just in case.

20 August 2014

hope

I have been on the verge of tears all morning. Not for any particular, concrete reason, but more for the cocktail mix of circumstance and conversation.

I'm at the Centre today. I haven't been here much this summer and my residency ends next week. I am one for being nostalgic for times while I'm still living them, and this morning has been infused with missing my time here. Only a few more days I get to spend in this wonderful office with such a lovely view. I've already seen one stag galloping across my view and I hope I see more.

There about half a dozen fellows leaving the Centre at the end of August and this morning I spent chatting with a couple of them. We spoke of Gaza, Ferguson, First Nations rights, death, birth, middle age, and health, all within an hour. Then we went to the Coffee Talk where we talked about the rights and safety of sex workers in Canada along with those who seem to have an interest in them--for good and bad. I teared up during this talk, partly fueled by this morning's nostalgia and conversation, and partly thinking of the girls (yes, mostly girls and not women, sadly) who worked the stroll near my home in Edmonton, as well as Amber Dawn's incredible memoir How Poetry Saved My Life.

There is so much in this world that feels helpless, that feels futile. But there is hope. Sometimes hope is all there is. It doesn't seem like enough. It isn't enough, but if we don't have hope we have nothing.

It's been an exhausting morning, and I haven't really done anything yet, but talk and listen.

I have three full days left in this office, and one of them will be used cleaning it up, getting it ready for the next Artist in Residence. Oh, I'm going to miss this place, this space, these people. But I'm also looking forward to the next chapter in this life adventure. What's next, I wonder?

23 July 2014

deer and stones

Today is the fifth anniversary of the deaths of three very special people. On the first anniversary, I was by myself at the Wallace Stegner house. I went for a walk and came across three young deer. It was, of course, just a coincidence, but I longed to give meaning to their sighting. Also on that day, I read Louis Glück's Autumnal and threw three stones into the stream that ran behind the house.

Yesterday, I was at the beach with two of my children. I also threw three stones in the water, saying my lost friends' names in my head as I did so.

This morning, as I entered the parking lot at the university, I saw three deer. Again, I know this is a coincidence. Deer at UVic are like pigeons in almost any other city. But. But, still. Of course my mind makes connections.

I pulled Louise Glück's Collected Poems from my shelf and reread "Autumnal." That poem, deer in triplets, and stones in collections of three now, and probably always will, remind me of my young friends and have become symbols of their loss.

We can't help but make connections. We create narrative, find symbols to comfort, to ease ourselves through difficulties. It may be irrational, but we do what we can, don't we? I count deer, read poems, throw stones for this loss.

There are other losses, though. One only months old, another impending. I don't know yet what I'll reach for to guide me through their grief. But something will, won't it? Something must.

30 May 2014

"storytelling is intrinsic to biological time"

"This story has everything a tale should have. Sex, death, treachery, vengeance, magic, humour, warmth, wit, surprise and a happy ending. It appears to be a story against women, but leads to the appearance of one of the strongest and cleverest heroines in world literature, who triumphs because she is endlessly inventive and keeps her head. The Thousand and One Nights are stories about storytelling--without ever ceasing to be stories about love and life and death and money and food and other human necessities. Narration is as much part of human nature as breath and the circulation of the blood. Modernist literature tried to do away with storytelling, which it thought was vulgar, replacing it with flashbacks, epiphanies, streams of consciousness. But storytelling is intrinsic to biological time, which we cannot escape. Life, Pascal one said, is like living in a prison, from which every day fellow prisoners are taken away to be executed. We are all, like Scheherazade, under sentence of death, and we all think of our lives as narratives, with beginnings, middles and ends. Storytelling in general, and the Thousand and One Nights in particular, consoles us for endings with endless new beginnings. I finished my condensed version of the frame story with the European fairy-tale ending, 'they lived happily ever after', which is a consolatory false eternity, for no one does, except in the endless repetitions of storytelling. Stories are like genes, they keep part of us alive after the end of our story, and there is something very moving about Scheherazade entering on the happiness ever after, not at her wedding, but after 1001 tales and three children."

from "The Greatest Story Ever Told" in On Histories and Stories: Selected Essays by A.S. Byatt

7 May 2014

the fears of reading

As I mentioned earlier, I’ll be reading from my The M Word essay on Thursday night at Russell Books. I’ll be honest with you, I’m fairly nervous. Nervous because, while usually I love to read my work and know I can give a good performance, I’ve only ever read poetry. Not only this is prose, this is memoir-prose. And it’s not funny, or light. No, the essay I’m reading, “What Can’t Be Packed Away” is about loss.

Here I am in the airport, writing this, after a rush visit with my parents in my home town. Rushed, because my father was brought to emergency late Thursday night with heart failure. He’s home now, much better than the when he went in, but I will tell you that when rereading my essay to see what sections to read on Thursday night, I have a pang of guilt.

In the essay, which is largely about the fear of loss of my children, I wrote:
My father has been diagnosed with a terminal neurological condition. He is seventy-six. I know I should feel sadder than I do, but I can’t help but think: yes, this is how it should be. We hate to use the term, “old,” but yes, he is old. He is elderly. Of course, we would like another ten or twenty years with him, but I can’t help but whisper gratitude to the universe for choosing him over one of my children. This is how my superstition works.

And now, here I am, leaving from seeing my father so close to his own death to read to a group of strangers from this essay, I feel uneasy. It will be difficult reading an essay that explores the death of children I knew and the imagined deaths of my own children with this paragraph and my recent experience with my father so fresh. Frankly, it feels like I’m tempting fate.

I’m not shy about death. I think we need to talk about it in the world much more than we do, that we need to open about grief and loss. It is the only thing in life that unites us—we will face the deaths of those we love, we will die ourselves.

I’m reading Wallace Stegner’s All The Little Live Things right now and there is a lot about death in the book, a lot of talk and philosophizing. There are about two pages worth of quotes I’d like to copy out for you, but I’ve chosen this:

“It’s right there should be death in the world, it’s as natural as being born. We’re all apart of a big life pool, and we owe the world the space we fill and the chemicals we’re made of. Once we admit it’s not an abstraction, but something we do personally owe, it shouldn’t be hard.”

I don’t agree with Stegner’s character Marian, here. I think it death is always hard (though hard isn't the right word, either), but I think there should be more ways in this world to help us with death. Death doulas, choices, and more rituals/ceremonies, but this is a big topic and one for an essay, I think.

Now, I hope I haven’t scared you off coming to the reading tomorrow night. The M Word is an exceptional anthology, so many important essays in it. Please come and join the conversation.

6 May 2014

The M Word on the Island

The M Word is coming to Victoria! I have the honour of launching this anthology with Fiona Lam, who is joining us from Vancouver, and Yvonne Blomer who will be reading from her essay in How to Expect What You're Not Expecting. We'll be reading at Russell Books this Thursday, May 8. Doors open at 7:00 and we'll start reading at 7:30.

I'm about to catch a flight, so I hope to write more about this shortly. I'm thrilled and terrified. If you're in Victoria, I hope to see you there!

1 May 2014

Edmonton Poetry Festival

I'm not sure how to write this post, how to start it except by starting it. Part of me doesn't even want to write it because you know how it is when you have such a wonderful time and you start telling people about it and after a while the story and the event loses it's magic because you've spread it too thin? I can't be the only one who feels this way.

What I want to write about is the few days last week when I was at the Edmonton Poetry Festival. (All my crappy photos are on my phone on which my daughter is currently playing.)

There is so much to say, but it all can be distilled into this: I had a wonderful time.

The festival is one near to my heart as it was so integral to my four years in Edmonton. I was on the organizing board for the festival for three years and attended many, many events while I lived there. To be asked to attend as a featured artist was an honour and I was thrilled to be reading with a healthy mix of people I knew and people I wanted to know.

Aside from getting to see some (but, alas, not all) my Edmonton friends, I got to attend and read at some great events. My first night in Edmonton, I attended an event featuring the transcendent Joy Harjo. The next day I got to read with Shirley Service, Julie Robinson, and Sandy Pool. Sandy read from Undark and she blew me away. A fantastic performer and glorious writing. If you ever get the chance to hear her read, please do. The next day I did a workshop with grade eleven students transforming Macbeth into erasure poems. So much fun. Then I read with Rhea Trebegov, Paul Zits, and Kimmy Beach (with whom I got to spend a lot of time, lucky me!) Wednesday morning before flying back home.

It was a whirlwind and I was fortunate to experience some stellar poetry, spend time with good friends and great poets. Such a pleasure. Thank you, Edmonton. I hope it won't be too long until I see you again.