Visions

28 04 2017

Every once and awhile a vision passes by me, on the computer or otherwise, that immediately starts my mind burbling. This is one, by drone photographer Gabriel Scanu, who is apparently all of 20 and blessed with an excellent eye.

This photo speaks to my wet-felting soul. I can see it evolving with tracings of silk for foam, with needle felted people and shadows after the base has dried. I love the contrast of the shadows on the sand and in the water, the view of a tiny kayak braving the waves. I know local artists who could paint this, beautifully.

There’s something about looking at the world from way way up that is consoling these days – being above the world on an impossibly sunny day, not even hearing the quibbles of the people below, the children whining for ice cream, the couples fighting… This photographer has given me a vision to think about, a respite from the worries around me.

It’s a pleasant thought to be above trouble and sorrow. It seems most everywhere I look in the past month, people are dealing with challenges, losses, changes that are unpleasant and require strength to manage.

Support-356x253I know artists and musicians who are dangling, unbought, while the world takes advantage of the Maude Lewis story and millions go into Hollywood coffers while the poor woman lived and died in pain and poverty. I was talking to a friend of mine who also finds this enraging. No one seems to feel the urge to donate to starving artists after the film, or to donate to the arthritis society, or to do anything other than buying reproduced Lewis art calendars (just the small ones, they aren’t too expensive), while our world, especially here in the Maritimes, is full of fresh new art, folk and other, that could use a loving touch, a new home.

I’ve been trying to buy a bit of art on my tight budget. I’ve been blessed with a few artist friends who started my collection, and I am meeting more all the time, thanks to the patient gallery owners that let me linger among the small pieces and put things on hold, or trade what I’ve made. I adore each and every one I’ve chosen, both for the beauty of the piece and for the fact that I know the artist.

Art brings visions to us, places and thoughts we have never seen, joy. I live in a smallish, somewhat dark apartment, but around every corner now I have a little spot of brightness, a view of an artist’s vision of life. They make me smile, every time I look at them.

I’d like to encourage everyone to spend a little on art, especially local art. It seems like an extravagance when bills speak loudly in the corner. But for a relatively small amount of money, you can bring beauty to the world, both your own space and in the artists’.

And couldn’t we all use a little bit of joy (and vision) these days?

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On being ravished, or why the Iceland Writers Retreat is simply perfect

11 04 2017

IMG_1475And now for the other side of the story, and why it is so likely that I will be going to the IWR again.

It’s hard to encapsulate this event. To say it was life-changing sounds trite and overblown, but it was so for me. When I went, it was with a mind set of failure, wondering why I had spent so much money (again) on the writing I never seem to get done properly.  It was, I thought to myself, the final kick at the can, the Y in the road. If I couldn’t tolerate the conference with my MS brain, then I knew all was lost and crafts would have me forever (not that that is a bad thing, precisely, but…).

And then I entered the vortex that is the IWR.

IMG_1443It is set perfectly in Iceland, an island. A place sufficiently different to make the visitor feel vaguely alien, set apart, unreachable by real life. Nature like the surface of the moon, isolating us together. A place where both other human beings and that nature are reachable and attractive, in the way that magnets are attractive. You are inevitably drawn to the poetry here – the visual, musical, otherworldly poetry.

It rains here. Rain is so much better for writing than any other weather. Mists swirled.

And Eliza Reid and Erica Green have pulled together those trailing mists and created magic.

The Iceland Writers Retreat is a big conference these days. On the last day, I saw people I hadn’t seen all week. Yet, it feels intimate, safe, friendly, warm, and oh so supportive. The group of fellow writers, from the professionals to the new, were to a person kind and willing to share.

Usually, at a conference, you will meet the designated asshole, the one 130902_a17742_g2048-600who dominates everything, who is filled with nothing but complaints. I didn’t meet that person. (unless it was me – gasp!)

The classes were small, with an overwhelmingly spectacular faculty: Meg WolitzerClaudia Casper, Chris Cleave, Esi Edugyan, Carsten Jansen, Bret Anthony Johnston, David Lebovitz, Paula McLean, Nadifa Mohamed, Paul Murray, Madeleine Thien, Hallgrimur Helgason, Viborg Davidosdottir, and many more Icelandic writers I didn’t have the pleasure to meet. They were so approachable they likely needed a long space in utter silence after they left.

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Paula with mini-Bob

 

I am presently in love (in an acceptable way) with David L. as he offered me such reassurance and good cheer I feel ready to write on for months purely on that. Of course, some of my time will have to be spent on reading his lovely cookbooks. Bret was a no- nonsense writer and dropped pearls of wisdom threw rocks of wisdom, each veined with marble, each ready for use. Meg gave us our Wonder Woman bracelets of fiction writing. Claudia spoke wisdom about the publishing world and promoted Canadian writers, gods bless her. Paula gave us the idea of mapping out our character’s world, and using that to highlight what was important to them, and to us. All of them shared books they loved, useful books, ideas and stories. Suffice to say my reading list has grown another five feet tall!

IMG_1456All were hilarious and excellent teachers. Writing well does not necessarily equal teaching well, but however the two E.’s selected this group, the faaculty were masters of both. I never felt tired, or feared dozing, in their classes. All of us were deeply involved in every one. That is truly rare, especially in jet-lagged, well-fed folks. And we were very very well-fed. Yum. If I could have an Icelandic breakfast every morning, I could take over the world. But I digress…

I learned so much, from them and from other writers – like my fellow Dorothy from Australia, who spoke to me of how to work the trauma in my YA book and my cookbook class who told me to write the damn MS book and pull in the royalties.

I am smiling thinking of it all. Even our tour guide, the charming Sigurlin Bjarney Gisladottir, aka Bjarney, was a writer, a multiply published poet. Who can also cook eggs in a hot spring.

We were taken to meet the President of Iceland, Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, a charming man who coincidently has translated several books by Stephen King! I pressed two felted mice on him for his daughters. I fear he thought them an unacceptable gift, but it was all I had to say humble thanks for the warmth and kindness of his country’s welcome.

IMG_1415We went to the home of Halldor Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning author of Independent People. I’d read that book, and to see where he wrote it was beyond compare – to say nothing of his beautiful home itself, with its view of the mountains and its geothermal swimming pool, steaming gently in the frosty air. He walked every day, a pattern highly recommended by many of the other authors for jogging your brain into submission.

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In the Laxness dining room

 

I’m taking that idea on. We have fog here as well…in all senses of the word.

I missed much of the fun of the retreat, as I ran out of energy early in the day and skipped the evening events. Instead, I had time for in-depth discussions with fellow writers, many of whom I hope will remain friends.

We were discussing dating at the lunch table one day and in my usual inappropriate way, I told my tablemates that I simply wanted to be ravished. The literary definition of ravish is: (ignoring the more violent ancient definition…)

fill (someone) with intense delight; enrapture.
“ravished by a sunny afternoon, she had agreed without even thinking”
synonyms: enrapture, enchant, delight, charm, entrance, enthrall, captivate

“you will be ravished by this wine”

 

I have been ravished by the Iceland Writers Retreat. I remain enraptured.

I will go again. And possibly again.

 

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The Laxness walking forest…

 





The loss of superlatives

16 11 2016

getty_superlative-154954029I’ve always been the sort of person to speak in superlatives. I talk about the greatest thing, waggle my tongue around three-syllable words that overflow the conversation, wave my arms about, waggle my eyebrows, roll my eyes.

In writing, I try to take out my excitable words, seek other phrases that are less “Golly Gee!” and more description-enhanced. Less “fabulous”, more evocative.

But, since Trump, I’ve even lost those.

See, he’s absorbed the superlative arena. With his endless rants and talks of “bigly” and “the best” and “great”, and his manic gesturing and twitter rants, I am rendered mute.

social-network-mute-quiet-generic-640x434Since the election, I’ve been left speechless, even, in a verbal slump, angry at how words can be used to lie in all sorts of crazy, meaningless ways. Angry at the pundits, “Oh this was only campaign rhetoric. He’s not going to do that.” It’s okay to lie, they seem to say, because no one believes you anyway. Left without speech as I reel in horror as the actual future rolls out ahead of me, burning ground, shrivelled hopes, fear…

It’s like If84d9123c06e24a9e9632f6f721d6984 can’t think of words strong enough to explain my despair. I don’t even live in the US and I am unable to deal with this. His hateful speeches have opened the Pandora’s box of every country’s racism and sexism, and said, “Hey, let’s show our ugly side.”
And so we do. We aim our frustration at “other”, we snarl at anything that seems to put us out, even mildly. I know my patience is pulled tighter than a piano string as I hear one bad news item after another. As Mr. T settles intothe White House (oh, but he wants to commute back and forth to his tower because that will only cost millions and hours of frustration for New Yorkers but at least he’ll be able to sit on his gold toilet in peace), more ridiculous stuff happens, more stuff so outrageous I am left gobsmacked and verbally crippled.

It’s like my mouth closes tighter with every dangerous move. I feel  bit like Mrs. Lynde in Anne of Green Gables, mouth pulled into a knot, shoulders tense, head throbbing.

Perhaps it’s because, if I open my mouth, I’ll start screaming.

Bigly.

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Gnawing my fingertips

8 11 2016

images-10My nails are long since gone…..

I’ve been dreading this election Tuesday for months. I live in Canada and thus can only watch, horrified, as a rude, lying, idiotic man bullies his way through towards President, making all of his policies (if any) sound like “I know I am and so are you” schoolyard yells. Or whenever he is told of his past behaviour, he just bully-cartoon-2015-1denies it, like we don’t have a film record. It’s bizarre.

But some people do think he’d make a good president, I hear. Migods. Surely the American people can’t think that someone who makes money off of ripping others off is a success story? Or an accused rapist and admitted assaulter is good to send out into the world as their spokesperson?

But then I remember the American dream. The one that was sung to me when I lived there. The off-key tune that: everyone makes their own success; losers deserve it; and if you win, God’s on your side. It is a horrible, selfish dream, the kind of one you suck on like a thumb when you are curled up in the da51uphka8al-_sx319_bo1204203200_rk, chewing over some hurt. It is a gray-green dream, the colour of jealousy and pride, two of those deadly sins we hear about now and then. And it’s a white person’s dream, a white man’s dream. Everyone else knows that, sometimes, no matter how hard you pull on those bootstraps, you may not “make it”. You may not be rich or famous, which appears to be the only goal worth having. Well, that and heaven.

If you choose to avoid wealth, you are obviously sick. Good people are those that make millions and then dole it out in dribs and drabs. They are applauded, while those that suffered at minimum wage and long hours and poverty gaze up in adoration, forgetting the whip…

58660647And what of those very religious? I have a family member who believes that if God loves you, He (it is a male God, of course) will make you rich. My family member isn’t rich. How horrifying that must be, to think that therefore God must not like you. How damning. How angry it must make you at those you see as less deserving who are wealthier than you. Surely they cheated somehow, or were given the job because of special interests. It can’t be that YOU are not competent or prepared or the right fit. No never, because God loves you and so you are perfect.

It breaks my heart.

I’m also watching the races for the Senate. I have an irrational desire for a Democratic sweep – irrational because of the millions spent to prevent such a thing. I hear the GOP saying they will block everything if they get in and Ms. C wins. Childish and horrible. A waste of the taxpayer’s money they seek to protect. Or so they say.

It amazes me that President Obama was able to accomplish what he did, despite the racist rants and rebellion of the right. It sorrows me that he wasn’t able to accomplish a lot more. It enrages me that the block is by conservative men who want to control women’s bodies by preventing liberal appointees to the Supreme Court. Suspend Roe v. Wade, they cry, because life is precious. Until, that is, it is born, and then we can starve it, shoot it, beat it into submission…

But pgodzilla_zpsag7wurjbrimarily, I’m gnawing my fingertips because of the violence validated by the media and one candidate in this race. I worry for friends and relatives and everyone else too, if the situation flares out of control. Everyone seems to be packing a gun south of the border, and tempers are frayed. I’m hoping that people won’t go rioting or marshall up the militias because, somehow, having an uncivilized monster run for President has made it even more okay to attack those weaker than you. Or different from you. Or those who “took your job.”

But if they do, the media will be there, licking its hungry lips, making media darlings out of the worst of the worst. They should be ashamed.

The US has been fighting the “war on terror” for years, yet hasn’t trimmed the roots of terrorism within its own borders. I pray that poisonous tree will not blossom tonight.

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Becoming an urbanite

3 07 2016

scenes-from-suburbia-ppart-1I’ve lived a lot of my life in the grimness of suburbia. You know – the large lawns, the well-spaced houses, located around schools and playing fields. The places from which you must drive to get anywhere exciting – or you can walk around your suburban block and watch other’s lawns grow, admire their gardens, comment on the lack of maintenance or the amazing maintenance, dodge lawn sprinklers and skateboards and bored teenagers with cars.

Some of them were nice suburbs – my home town of Winchester, Ma, for example, but I never really lived there. I lived in my house and yard and went downtown as a treat – it was a long walk and my parents were too watchful for me to go down there much (though I was allowed to go skating on an unmonitored lake whenever I wanted – I think my mother was afraid I’d take to drinking or smoking or hanging out with the fast crowd. As if they’d have me.) The bad kids in my crowd would go to the drug store, for heaven’s sake, and hang around buying makeup, or stealing it. We were even in the part of town that missed D’Agostino’s and the fun had by hanging out there. We were in the ultra suburb. We had one Jewish family in town. No black children until we bused them in from Boston.

Not a natural environment for the curious.

homeI’ve even lived in a suburb without an urb – the town of Shilo, Manitoba – a cluster of suburban roundabouts and 1950’s homes on a military base, in the middle of the short grass prairie, equally inconvenient to anywhere in North America as it was smack dab in the middle of the continent. When I first moved there, I slipped into a time warp, started wearing an apron, and cooked five batches of chocolate chips in the first week to share with the local kids before my natural anti-50’s soul rebelled. Still, I spent a heck of a lot of time house-cleaning there, my brain slowly leaking out with every bucket of pine-sol laden water poured out of the bucket. I wasn’t allowed to speak to men there, as every woman was pre-supposed to be on the hunt for a better husband (higher in rank). I also was reproved for speaking to the other ranks’ wives. I bought TUPPERWARE. In my defence, I had to, because the CO’s wife sold it. I still have it, 25 years later, a cautionary tale about being forced to conform.

I wasn’t brave then. I was unsure of who to be – I didn’t fit into the military wife drink and gossip gang, and there were so few kindred spirits and I was afraid to reveal myself to them. I was half my age now when I lived there, and my husband was establishing himself at the same time and it was rough for both of us to squeeze into the military mode. He stuck it out longer than I did, but then he had my support. I didn’t have his.

So suburbs, suburbs, suburbs. And now I’m making a change. I’m moving on down, as the Jefferson’s might have sung, truly – from my deluxe apartment in the sky, to a smaller, darker, less glamorous one in the nest of the downtown. Yes, Dartmouth rather than Halifax, but I remember so well the words of a couple I met when I first moved here – “We lived in Halifax and looked at Dartmouth – if we’d been smart, we would have done the opposite!”

Oct-Nov-2015-089-smaller-600x400(My house! (to the right))

I found a place right in the heart of everything. I look out at the downtown main street – I’ve often dreamed of living above a shop and I have that now, though it’s a holistic health centre (fewer food smells). The local bars are clustered across the street, as is the library. Little shops and dental offices and restaurants and theatres and music are within a few steps. The street noise is a wonderful melange of people talking, fog horns, train bells, ship calls, and the occasional “I have no balls so I am going to pull out the muffler on my motorcycle” jerks. Poor and wealthy walk by my windows, commuters stride by to catch the ferry, buses gasp as they make the turn. I can step across the street and inhale the harbour, get fresh fish and chips, go to the farmer’s market, grab an ungodly rich croissant.

I’m thinking of selling my car, trusting to legs and bus and ferry and car share and rentals when I want to go afield. I CAN DO THAT! I did that before, in cold as hell and hot as hades Ottawa, and gave in after winter. I’m in a better climate now, and I know this place. The prospect excites me.

I’m going to be an urbanite! It feels like a new cloak, a new identity. Onwards, ever onwards.

amandine-urruty-spitz

If I hate it? Well, there’s always the country….

 

 





The country in six days, ending with an exclamation point…

24 10 2014

trajets_Canada_enOf course everyone is focused on the madman attack on Parliament Hill, that total abnormality here in Canada, where representatives of the people feel free to walk and work without fear of assault. (well, at least until now). I’m not going to write about that, sad though it is. Suffice to say the assault brought my trip to a sudden, jerking end, reality intruding on my mind much like my post-travel cold throws me flat onto the bed.

I’ve just travelled across the country, stem to stern, on #VIArail, taking the Ocean from Halifax to Montreal, commuter train from Montreal to Toronto, and the Canadian from Toronto to Vancouver. It is a fabulous trip, one everyone should do at least once in their lives. I sat up in Economy from Halifax to Montreal, cheap-seated it to Toronto, got a room (and an upgrade, thanks VIA!) to Vancouver. All have their pleasures.

The Ocean is fitted with handicapped accessibility (limited though it is). There I met a former biker gal who cheerily named me “D” and took me under her arm (literally) while she pestered the bartender. She told me of her many lives, from legal to slightly not so, then offered to put out a contract on one of my relatives. You see, the thing about the train is that you know you are not likely to see folks again, so stories get told, intimacies shared, secrets revealed. It’s a bit like those five minute dating things – meet, smile, reveal, reveal, leave. One woman told me the horror she felt that her cousin accused her of jumping off the bedroom dressers when she was a kid. The woman was in her 70’s, and she’d never told anyone before. Some hurts lie deep.

I met a gorgeous but naive young gal who was going to Montreal to maybe be a model. Biker gal and I both sat her down for a talk, I gave her my contact info, called on my niece for info about places to stay in Montreal. The young gal listened, but I haven’t heard from her. I hope she’s okay.

But then, that is the other real charm about train travel and, in fact, about Canada. Almost always, you meet people who are going to treat you right, who are polite and friendly and safe and sweet, who offer help or support or friendship, short or long. The trip affirmed that. No matter what train I took, what class I was in, every person I contacted was this way. Even on the flight back, when I shared the plane with a crew of drunken roustabouts heading home from the oil patch, 99% of the people were sweet beyond belief.

It’s a grand trip for the people, but the landscape is breathtaking. I started with the rocky Atlantic shores, rumbled through the Acadian dykelands, on to the rolling Appalachian hills of New Brunswick, the fields and townships of Quebec, through my old town of Kingston and on to the big city of Toronto. Then on to the Canadian Shield, so large it takes a while to understand it. I watched the endless endless trees and rocks and trees and rocks and water of Northern Ontario, gasped with relief when we got to the prairies and Winnipeg and I could see the sky again. Saw the tiny old slumping homes being consumed by prairie, spotted a football-field-sized car dump in Saskatchewan, adored the Qu’Appelle valley. A few oil rigs dipped their heads as we went by.

Then the first mumblings of hills, a blue-grey lump ahead, that grew, slowly slowly, then faster than imaginable into the completely over-the-top (pun intended) Canadian Rockies – they are sharp enough you could cut yourself on them, showing off the rocky tumblings laid down millennia ago, tilted up long long ago, still patterned like a group of seven painting.

By this point we all were in the sky view car, glass overhead and around. We didn’t get the bubble car – we were the last long train of the season and so missed that – but it was chilly in the regular glass one so everyone brought up blankets and curled up for the show.

We stopped in Jasper, rolled down to Vancouver. Beautiful, beautiful. Sea to sea in six days. Unspeakable grandeur, sweet places and huge cities, seemingly more trees than stars in the sky…and not a SINGLE MOOSE.

Our train trip ended in delays from conflicting track use – CN owns the rails so there are battles at most crossings over priority. So we passenger trains wait, then race along like a roller coaster. The engineers were great, slowing down so we could see waterfalls and bears and goats. The staff on the train were fantastic, the chefs unbelievably good, the activity staff endlessly cheerful and helpful. I loved every minute, though I admit to impatience in Northern Ontario. I do love the sky.

I flew back through that sky. It was a shorter ride, but much less pleasant, despite the charms of Westjet. The train rules.

Now, how can I get to N’Awlins by train???





Revolutionary regrets, I’ve had a few…

21 06 2013

my-arms-are-tired-protester1Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the oppressed of the world could actually succeed in overthrowing the oppressors? Everywhere there is seething, but the outcomes are minimal, except for those killed, beaten, and imprisoned in the protest. Tyrants become stronger. It breaks my heart.
I remember travelling to Havana last Christmas, eager to see the Revolution’s results, knowing, of course, that it is hard to succeed when your nearest trading partner insists upon standing on your neck – but Cuba broke my heart. Such wonderful people, such beautiful art and music and talent and strengths and yet, so many slowly starving. Even the museum of the revolution was dusty, uncared-for, grim. It made the part of me that longs for some reprieve from the outrageous me-first greed and capitalism sad and sorry.
Are we destined to lose everything we have to the powers of the shareholders? Will we be discount-stored into non-existence? And will our world leaders continue to usurp our freedoms in the Orwellian name of “security”, while we dither about and do nothing?
It horrifies me, more than the destruction of the planet, even, for without power, we as citizens of the earth can do nothing to stop that destruction.
But we’re all too comfy, or too busy, or too hesitant to speak out.vote-the-bumsout
Or we do speak out, risk our lives, and make no progress against the juggernauts who shoot us, gas us, imprison us. And eventually, we have to get back to work. At the jobs they graciously allow us to keep as long as we keep our mouths shut.
My son has been reporting from Istanbul for the past several days, and now, as things quiet down, he wonders if anything was accomplished. Like the Occupy protests – masses of people rise up, make a lot of noise, get coverage for a few minutes of our magpie-news coverage, and then once the real messages come out, the media turns to the next shiny thing and the pressure goes off the leaders.
I used to feel I didn’t believe in armed insurrection, that peaceful protest was the right way, that working within organizations was the best way to change things.
Then I tried to change organizations from within, and every time I was broken against them. I’d get a change to happen, however minuscule, one that benefitted people, but as soon as I left they slipped back into the old ways, ways they didn’t even like but which they were used to.
So how do we change an outrageous paradigm?
Maybe it’s time to link Brazil and Turkey and Occupiers and the French (who are very very good at driving the dialogue) and those rabid footballers in various places, and pull together?
I don’t know.
I’m tired.
And here we have an admitted fraudster telling everyone he will run for office again, and people saying yeah, sure, I’d vote for him.
I give up, disgusted, and pull my covers over my head.
At least, for a moment.
I need to regroup. I’ll be back.Gandhi-368x378

 








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