Archive for March, 2013

I get tired of hearing the young people I teach saying that Sudbury lacks exciting things to do or thought provoking events to attend. One need only chat with other like-minded people to hear of artistic happenings in the Nickel City. At the end of a busy week at work, I had the pleasure of sitting with a friend, novelist Ric de Meulles, over a cup of coffee at the Little Buddha cafe. Ric published his novel, Ramasseur, with Scrivener Press a few years back. Now, having retired last year from the mine rescue sector, he’s transformed this new chapter of his life into being a full time writer. It’s pretty amazing, to see how someone can finally have the freedom to write full time. I can’t fathom it, even though I get glimpses of it during summer months. I’m impressed by Ric’s commitment to, and passion for, his newest novel. He has a vision, he can speak to the way in which he’s structured his novel, and he’s moving forward.

The night with writerly types continued, following dinner and good conversation with my friend, Lisa. A mutual friend, the uber talented local poet and teacher Shannon Duguay, has had two poems published in Sulphur, Laurentian University’s Literary Journal. Then, to top off the night, my friend Natalie Wilson, a poet from North Bay, was also down to Suds to read her work. This is the third issue of the journal and I’m impressed by its sleek, elegant stylings. I’m also really impressed by the young people, English students from L.U., who drive the project. Their enthusiasm for promoting literature, focusing on local authors as well as writers from places as far afield as Florida and Ireland, is contagious. One of my dearest friends, Mel Marttila, was also there tonight, so it gave us a chance to catch up and make plans to get together on Easter weekend; it’s been too long and I need my Mel fix because she’s my writerly soul sista. 🙂

It’s on nights like tonight when I think about how some of my Grade 12 students whine about how Sudbury has little to offer. It drives me a bit bonkers. I understand the need for young people to pull away, to rebel, to yearn for bigger cities and brighter lights. We’ve all been there. In fact, a number of us have gone away and then returned to make a life here, “on the rocks.” While I’ve lived in Sudbury almost all of my life, I always think about what it would be like to live somewhere else. Then, I get outside, root myself to the ground. I notice the way the sky and the horizon work together, how the smokestack slices cloud, how Ramsey Lake calls to me like a siren, in winter and in summer. There’s a real raw beauty here, but you have to be willing and able to see it. You need to soften your eyes, let them drift off until you see the aura of the land, feel the sacred spirit of the place.

Sudbury began as a logging town and then moved into mining in the 1800s. When I was growing up in the 1970s, I remember that a teacher asked my Grade 4 class how many kids had dads who were miners. The majority of us put up our hands. INCO and Falconbridge were the big two, in terms of mining. I knew kids back then whose dads died underground. It happened. It still does and, when it does, it hurts the heart of this community. But, this place is about so much more than mining. I tell this to my Grade 12s all the time. I suggest that students go on “artist’s dates” (as Julia Cameron calls them in The Artist’s Way). They should walk downtown, stroll on the Jim Gordon Boardwalk, listen to a live band, or visit an art gallery. They need to take time to get to know the amazing people who live here.

Nights like tonight feel magical, with stars high up in the cobalt blue sky, and the air crisp and bright. They make me fall in love with the people, and the place that is my home, all over again. When I least expect it, this place surprises and delights me.


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So…most often I think in poetic and metaphorical ways. This does not mean, however, that I am not in love with good fiction and non-fiction, as well as poetry. Lately, I have been marinating in prose. I recently read Will Schwalbe’s memoir, The End of Your Life Book Club, which I thought was a wonderful tribute to the way in which books can link hearts and souls, in the best and worst of times (to borrow shamelessly from Dickens). Now, I am dipping into Robin Sharma’s parable, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. It’s a trip! Both books have made me think, yet again, of what life is about, in terms of the ‘big picture.’ As a poet, I suppose, one is always consciously engaging these bigger concepts on a daily basis. I am a true believer in the idea of finding elements of the extraordinary rooted and flourishing in what we supposedly consider ‘ordinary’ life events and rhythms. In terms of my poetry reading of late, I just last week picked up Mary Oliver’s recent collection, A Thousand Mornings. I always end up going to Oliver when I want to feel a part of things, more connected. She never fails me. Oliver is a master (like Robert Frost) in noticing the wondrous details of the natural world, in the way she points out the beauty to her reader. With Oliver, you can see the forest and the trees.

This afternoon, after work, I went to see Life of Pi at a tiny cinema in an old downtown mall. (Those of you who live in Sudbury know that this is the Rainbow Cinemas, with even smaller theatres than used to be there back in the 90s!) In any case, how can you not help to celebrate the coming March Break but to spend a whole $2 for an afternoon matinee? Plus, to be with two teaching friends, to sit with fellow philosophers and ‘faith speakers’, was uplifting in and of its own accord.

Here’s the thing about Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. I haven’t read it fully. I know. It’s a confession filled with shame. 😦 Still, I had read excerpts and was fascinated by the concept of meeting God, in some way, shape or form that might be new to me. The beauty of the film swept me in. I won’t go into details, but it is a full fledged experience. I also love when a film speaks of Canadian place names, like Winnipeg and Montreal; there is a sense of naming and identity going on in these works, whether small or large. In speaking a place name, you conjure up the spirit and sense of a place.

I love Canadian films. My favourites, of all time, are The Hanging Garden, The Bay Boy (Gordon Pinsent, dontcha know!), Margaret’s Museum (Helena Bonham Carter at her best, with a Cape Breton accent and a sniffly nose!), Double Happiness (early, vintage Sandra Oh at her best, IMHO), Away with Her (Gordon Pinsent again!), Last Night (Sandra Oh and Don McKellar)and anything by Sarah Polley, who always astounds me with her storytelling. This list does not include Atom Egoyan, whom I consider a cinematic genius.

Okay, I digressed there, and I apologize profusely.

Back to The Life of Pi. It is a visual feast. More than that, though, it has left me thinking about the power of metaphor, as well as the power of the examined life. Here is the story of a boy who, crossing the ocean from India to Canada, ends up on a sinking ship. He is the sole survivor, along with a tiger. Imagine a life boat, with a boy and a Bengal tiger. The idea, Martel’s brilliance of creating such an unlikely pairing, strikes me as such a metaphor for so many things in life. Here is the human and the animal, the ancient and the young, the wise and the stubborn, the concepts of faith and doubt. There are echoes of God here, in the wonder of the tiger’s eyes, and in the rhythm of this parable. The anthropomorphism struck me. I am a believer in the idea of animals having souls, of being wise souls, so that whole aspect of the piece drew me in.

The idea that spins through my head, though, as I sit here thinking about it hours later, is the question of belief, not just in reference to faith, but also in regards to how we create stories, as writers and poets, and as humans who live our own narratives. We co-create our stories, in conjunction with those we love (and don’t love). The question of what the novel (and film) asks is what we believe in, what stories we might tell ourselves, and how we come to make meaning of things that are horrific and that challenge all we believe is good and right in the world.

Is the tiger actually an embodiment (in animal form) of Pi? Does the tiger represent God? Faith? Narrative? I don’t expect to even come to a conclusion, and that is part of what makes me so drawn to Martel’s narrative. Having dipped into excerpts, I now intend to read it fully over the Break. Yes, I have marking and planning, but to feel connected to story again, in a new way, feels good.

What I loved about the Pi film, I think, is the idea that we should all be open to living ‘examined lives’. What a sin, a shame, it seems to me, to live a life that is unexamined. Many do so—live unconsciously, without contemplation, without wonder–but I cannot imagine living in a world or dimension that did not allow me to ponder philosophy, music, poetry, faith and art. Being conscious of your world, of your place within it, can often be painful, but awareness is a gift too great to ignore. Besides, once you’re awake, there’s no going back to sleep, in a metaphorical sense….


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