Archive for February, 2014

Today marks what would have been my mum’s 75th birthday.  She died at the age of 69, though, so she’s missed the ‘big birthdays’ that everyone seems to love to celebrate:  the 70th, the 75th…and so on and so forth.  I posted some photos of her as a beautiful young woman on my Facebook page, as well as a clip of Judy Garland singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”  I am blessed (sometimes cursed) with a keen, photographic memory.  I suppose I ought to be thankful, in so many ways, because it’s come in handy in my creative and writerly life.  I can harvest images, scents, sounds, and echoes from my memory to fuel my own writing.  At the same time, it’s like there’s a vivid movie constantly running in my head, and it isn’t always lovely.  (Happy endings are for Disney princesses, I often think, and not so much for Hobbit-poets.) 

Listening to “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” made me think of how music has framed my life.  I truly respect the songwriters amongst us because I recognize them as fellow poets.  I love songs written by people like Sarah Harmer, Glen Hansard, Ron Sexsmith, Gordon Lightfoot, Stan Rogers, Joni Mitchell, and revel in songs by bands like Blue Rodeo, The Pogues, Great Big Sea, Dala, The Skydiggers, and Coldplay.  I have a pretty diverse love of music.  (The other passion I have is traditional Irish music, and any East Coast music with bodhran and tin flute, but that’s another story as Hammy Hamster used to say.)  Anyway, back to the Judy Garland song.  My mum always sang it to my sister, Stacy, and myself when we were about to be tucked in for bed.  It was either that, or it was Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.”  (Man, if only I’d learned how to take the advice of the second song to heart and not spent most of my youth, my 20s and 30s, worrying my head off for no reason.)  Mum had a beautiful voice, but I only really recall her singing us to sleep or singing along to ABBA on long summer road trips in the old van.  We crossed from Manitoulin to Tobermory on the Chi-cheemaun Ferry (the word is Ojibwe for “Big Canoe”) so many times that I can’t keep track.  I just remember that Stacy was often car sick, so it made for dramatic scenes in cars.  If my Gram Ennis was traveling with us, she often got the giggles and had us in stitches over little things that struck her as funny.  I have grand, sweet memories of those summer trips.  On days like today, on Mum’s birthday, I’m glad for that photographic, cinematic memory.

I went to HMV at the mall tonight.  Just needed to get out and be distracted by mall noise.  I like to people watch, and where better else to do it than the mall.  I love that HMV has the whole “2 for $25” thing going on, but I’m a bit out of control with CDs.  I still love CDs, heaven help me.  I love unwrapping them like little presents, and I especially love opening the little booklets and reading the liner notes.  I know:  nerd. 

I picked up Blue Rodeo’s “Five Days in July,” which, for me, conjures up my early 20s.  Actually, if I think about it, the first boy I ever loved introduced me to Blue Rodeo, The Police, The Housemartins (and The Beautiful South), The Cure, The Sex Pistols, The Dead Kennedys, and Elvis Costello.  If I can thank him for something, it was for introducing me to a wider variety of music than I’d listened to in my teens.  In my teens, I was transfixed by U2 (Bono was my first “secret husband;” others have now joined the roster, of course, but he was the first one that I can recall), Crowded House  (I thought I could marry Neil Finn, delusionally speaking) and The Pogues.  I pretty much was the only person I knew who loved The Pogues in my teens.  I went to a Catholic girls school where The Pogues weren’t “top of the pops.”  Anyway, first boyfriend, first love.  He shall remain nameless.  He arrived in my early twenties, at university.  “Our song” was Blue Rodeo’s “Lost Together.”  Yeah, I know, gag me with a spoon.  Looking back, it should’ve just been “Bad Timing” instead!  🙂

When I went to Carleton University in Ottawa to do my Master’s in Literature, in 1994/95, I met a whole bunch of cool poet types.  I had a Dodge Neon, a real lemon of a car that I named “Maude” (after Yeats’s love, Maude Gonne).  Five of us–me, Jamie, Leanne, Dan, and Carolyn—hung out, read poetry, and did strange things like walk to the Centennial Flame on Parliament Hill in the middle of the night, after drinking Irish beer at The Celtic Cross on Bank Street.  I don’t even know if that bar’s still there, but I was in love with the bartender (who was from Ireland).  His accent killed my heart.  (Later, Newfoundland accents or Nova Scotian accents, or Australian accents would all have the same effect on me, to my own detriment, I’m afraid.  A couple of the owners of those accents broke my heart in a couple of places, but what can you do?)  So, back to Ottawa. 

The bunch of us once piled into Maude, heading into the pitch black of an empty Gatineau Park.  We stopped at a lookout overlooking a lake that we couldn’t see by moonlight, and howled at the moon.  I know, poets….what can you do about them????  I still remember the park police pulling over, thinking we were all stoned, and asking us to leave.  Dan had a huge longwinded, but very believable explanation, telling them that we were students of literature and poets.  Whaaaatttt?  The cops just shook their heads and told us to leave.  What I remember about that night is letting Jamie out to pee.  I can still see him standing in a field, the bunch of us laughing hysterically until he returned to the car.  The songs that were playing on the cassette player that night, in the Dodge Neon named Maude, were all by The Skydiggers.  Remember Andy Maize with his glasses and beard?  I thought he was cool.  I also thought Andrew Cash had great hair.  It was the mid-90s after all.  Regardless, the music was fantastic.  We blasted “I Will Give You Everything” and “A Penny More” over and over again.  Then, we drove back to Jamie’s apartment and stayed up to see the sun rise.  Yup….those were the days. 

My fascination with Great Big Sea started in Ottawa, too, when I saw them perform in 1994/5 in a small cement amphitheatre just outside the National Art Gallery.  There might’ve been forty of us.  The band was selling their self-titled first CD.  They played alongside a Celtic rock band from London, Ontario called Uisce Beatha.  That’s when I started digging into Irish and East Coast music.  My thesis was on Seamus Heaney, the Irish poet, and my undergraduate thesis had been based on the work of W.B. Yeats, another great Irish poet.  Guess you can see the pattern here, eh?  🙂 

Anyway, my 20s really were about The Skydiggers, The Pogues, Tori Amos (when I felt depressed or was infatuated with a boy who didn’t seem to see me), Blue Rodeo,  and Great Big Sea.    

Coming home tonight, putting that Blue Rodeo CD into the car’s stereo system, I took the overpass home and drove fast through the night, singing along loudly with “Hasn’t Hit Me Yet,” “Cynthia,” and “Bad Timing.” I miss Mum a lot, but I’m glad she introduced me to good music as a child. Sometimes, you can fight sadness with good music. Tonight, it helped a little bit, to lessen the missing of her….I imagine heaven must be full of music, art, good food and fine wine. I imagine she’s having a fine time, kicking up her heels with my dad….listening to Johnny Cash or Stompin’ Tom Connors or maybe even Elvis. I hope she’s so blissfully happy. I hope, for fun’s sake, that she can actually swing on a star, if she wants to….and travel with her favourite Little Prince through space and time continuums.

Well, people, if you’ve read this, and you still have your parents, give them a hug. They really aren’t around forever…I can tell you that.


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Winter is taking forever to leave us here in Northeastern Ontario. Tomorrow, we’re expecting about 5-10 cms of snow, following by a coat of freezing rain. I am addicted to previewing The Weather Network forecasts on my ipad, which is undoubtedly weird for my age range. (I’m 43, after all, not 83. Weirdly, I remind myself of my dad and how he always watched the weather.) I think ahead to when I should shovel. I plan it in sections so that I don’t break down weeping on the stairs. I hate it. . .the snow, the cold, the endless winter. It started in November, so we’re deep into our fourth month of it here. I cannot wait for lighter jackets, shoes instead of boots, and walking the dogs without their sweaters (so they aren’t bullied by bigger dogs on our walks).

One of my undertakings this month includes increased music listening time. I’ve been listening to The Once, a great Newfoundland band; Dala, a duo with fab harmonies; Stan Rogers, the greatest East Coast singer/songwriter of all time; Ella Fitzgerald, because, let’s face it, why not?!; and, some traditional Irish music to get me going in the early mornings. I also have been listening to a lot more CBC radio, especially at night. Less TV, more music and radio. I’m fine tuning my readerly, writerly soul. It’s like uncovering a long mulched flower bed or something. Kind of esoteric, but also messy.

I’ve also started cooking more passionately. I used to love cooking and I’d forgotten how good I was at it. When I get to cook for others, it makes me happy, but when you live alone eating just seems to be something you do to fuel the machine that is your body. A friend recommended Janet and Greta Podleski’s new Looneyspoons Collection. (Canadian readers will know these two sisters’ work….simple fare, healthy, all that jazz.) Anyway, every Sunday I choose a new recipe and go at it. So far, I’ve got at Wowie Maui Chicken & On Golden Prawn (shrimps!). I’ve impressed myself both times and frozen stuff for future dinners. I love chopping vegetables. I’m a chopping machine. 🙂 For me, I just fell into the whole chicken and salad thing for such a long time. Not exciting at all. I’m in love with quinoa, though, and it’s a relatively recent romance that began last spring. I love it with red and yellow peppers, or with falafel. There’s just no wrong way to enjoy quinoa, in my humble opinion. 🙂

I’m back at Zumba with my friend Pat. I can’t explain how much I love Zumba. They turn off the lights in an elementary school gym and I go a bit mental. There’s a flashing coloured light, some great music, and no one can truly see how out of step I am. You just can’t stop grinning when you do Zumba. For the first fifteen minutes of the hour, I imagine that I’m on Broadway in a musical…yeah, I know, sad. Then, after that, well, things begin to go awry. There’s sweat, some under-breath cursing, and a couple of crackly knees. Still, I love it and it makes me thankful for a body that still moves in fairly fluid ways….even if it isn’t in synchonicity with what everyone else is doing.

Am reading some fairly cool books this month. One, for my book club, is about Scientology. It’s called Beyond Belief and it is pretty interesting to read about the tenets of that belief system. On the side, I’m reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Voice of Knowledge which is making me re-think my way of thinking and being in the world. It’s by the same fellow who wrote The Four Agreements. I highly recommend it. Two lighter pieces…Maeve Binchy’s last novel, A Week in Winter, is a like a favourite sweater on a dark, cold winter’s day. You always know that Maeve has you covered. Bad day at work? Pick up Maeve. Someone cut you off on The Kingsway? Stick your nose in classic Binchy. I’m also reading Nora Roberts’s Blue Dahlia. Yeah, I know…not the highest brow there….but I do like knowing how Roberts uses plot and structure. No surprises there. If you need some kind of comfort in life, why not turn to a writer who provides you with a familiar equation or structure? There aren’t surprises with Binchy or Roberts and maybe that’s why I read them for fun. (Still, Binchy is above Roberts in my view….but sometimes my brain is tired from thinking deep thoughts and I just need a day pass….)

I’m teaching a Studies in Literature class to some Grade 11s and 12s these days, so I’m also reading Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome. It’s my counterpoint to my pulp fiction of the previous paragraph. I’m also dipping into essays on Seamus Heaney’s work…and reading poetry on a pretty regular basis. In my AP class, we spend time talking about what makes literary canon. Who decides what we teach (or learn) at high schools or universities? Who’s left out of the traditional Western literary canon? As I situate myself as a feminist literary critic, and because I teach at an all-girls school, I always integrate great female writers. I also try to diversify my offerings to my students, so that they begin to see the world through a variety of theoretical lenses. I love bringing in Virginia Woolf or Sylvia Plath, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood, or Carol Shields. It’s like a buffet of classic literature. You can’t ever ‘eat’ too much of the classics….but you could easily overdose on the pulp fiction. Maybe that’s why I read them side by side….to offset the pulp with the classic. 🙂

Thinking ahead to summer, I’m planning on going to some sort of writing retreat….I’d love to do something out in Newfoundland, but I’m still researching possibilities. Finding the right place, with the right people, is a bit like a magical spell. One thing goes off with dynamics in a writers’ retreat and you’re in trouble. The atmosphere and collegiality has to be positive and encouraging. It’s a tall order….

So…these are the ruminations of February. Still hermit-ish, reading, listening to music, walking dogs, just finding my centre. It makes me wonder if the squirrels are out there doing similar things, just waiting to wreak havoc on my two dogs when spring arrives. For Sabe and Gull, winter means a reprieve from the squirrels, chipmunks and their incessant scolding. They’ll be ready for ‘the great chipmunk hunt’ as soon as the snow has gone. It may be a while yet, though….so for now they’re chasing stuffed chipmunk toys around the living room. 🙂


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Thanks for bearing with the radio silence of the last month, blog readers. I’ve learned a lot through the cold, mean month of January. It wasn’t a good one for me. One of the most difficult of my life, in fact, though I will spare you the details. Suffice it to say that I owe the universe a debt of gratitude for “coming through it”, as D.H. Lawrence would say, and that I’m moving in some direction….which is better than being stagnant. (Those of you who are creative types will get this. Too often, as artistic types, we pummel ourselves and don’t trust our gifts…especially in a world that isn’t often kind to the gentler, more creative souls out there.)

February 1st is known in Ireland as St. Brigid’s Day (if you’re a Catholic) or Imbolc (in the Celtic, pagan tradition). Now, as someone who is Irish Catholic at heart, I have a list of favourite saints that includes, but is not necessarily limited to: St. Therese (my mum and dad’s fave), St. Patrick (mine), St. Jude (“Helper and Keeper of the Hopeless”), St. Anthony (patron saint of lost and stolen things), and St. Brigid (who happens to be in charge of poetry). While some don’t recognize St. Christopher as the patron saint of travelers anymore, I still have a little medal in my car that my grandmother, Alice Ennis, gave to me years and years ago. I will always think St. Christopher is still the man who guards me as I travel, with or without Vatican approval. 🙂

I also love Mary, who is my most steadfast ‘home girl.’ I know. I’m a weird modern Catholic…I believe in talking to angels, saints, and the ‘big three,’ namely Mary, Jesus & (you guessed it!) God. There’s a conversation going on inside my head with these guides and helpers on a daily and hourly basis. I know they hear me, even if I don’t always think I can hear them…especially on a rough day. (But I’m also learning how to listen better…)

I digress. This is about Brigid. Why do I love St. Brigid of Kildare so much? Let me tell you….

She is very old, in terms of Irish history. She was a nun who lived in the fifth century and who, along with Patrick and Columba, is one of Ireland’s three patron saints. (Some say her parents were baptized by St. Patrick, which is pretty cool if you ask me.) As an abbess, she established a dual monastery, for monks and nuns, in Kildare, which became a cathedral town. She founded a school of art in Kildare which produced amazing illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Kildare. (You may know more of the Book of Kells, which you can visit at Trinity in Dublin.) She died in Kildare on February 1st, which is why we celebrate her on that feast day.

Her feast day falls on the same day as Imbolc, the pagan festival that celebrated the start of spring in Ireland, especially in terms of planting and lambing. Interestingly, if you study Irish history, you’ll know that a lot of sacred Catholic places, where big cathedrals or churches were built, were originally the sites of pagan and druidic holy wells. When you visit Ireland, you can often find little holy springs or holes in the ground that are now marked by little statues of Mary.

I think Brigid is so special to me because she is the saint who takes care of poets. When I first started teaching, back at St. Charles College, a student I taught created a painting of Brigid in his art class. When I saw it, I knew who it was, and I knew what she was all about. I bought that painting from Jonathan Boucher for about $25 or $50 and it’s still in my house today. 🙂 (I’m a big believer in meeting people when we ought to, as divined by God and the universe, and learning from them as we walk through life.) When I get stuck, poetically speaking, I take a peek at that painting and remind myself that St. Brigid’s out there guiding my creative footsteps.

She’s been on my mind a lot lately, to be honest. I’ve been struggling with my place in space, I guess you could say. Still fighting off the ends of my bout with bronchitis, both of my ears are still blocked. It’s hard to read, think, write, teach, or even be comfortable, when you are not feeling well physically. A wise friend told me yesterday that blocked ears mean you’re not open to hearing something of importance. What am I not hearing? Maybe, I think, it’s that I’m not honouring my gift of writing as much as I should be….maybe I need to carve out a space where it can grow and flourish. It needs time to steep or marinate or something like that. I’ve learned that I block out a lot of grief by keeping too busy. I like to do things that make a difference in the world. I’m goal oriented. Now, though, my busy-ness has been impeding my ability to open my heart to the words I so love…the writing that shapes me and helps me to evolve. The words that come through me root me like nothing else ever will.

So, through January, I’ve been living a hermit-like existence. Probably not ideal for someone who has always struggled with depression and shadows of loss in life, but I’ve come to find some peace in silence of late. There’s a deep spiritual and creative well here that I’m drinking from these days. Not a lot of people will get that, I’m sure, but some of you who write, or paint, or sing, or dance will. And you’re the ones I’m most likely speaking to with this blog. The creative ones, the ones who are often on the margins of society because you see things through creative eyes. Artists of any ilk walk through this world seeing things slightly askew. This is better in terms of observing the world from a different point of view. Without that unique view of the world, would we ever even be able to be as creative as we are? Here is the blessing and the curse of creativity….and I choose to focus on the blessing of the gift, even if it can sometimes be solitary and almost too silent in origin.

I’ve set a new series of resolutions this year….to read more, poetry and prose (mostly non-fiction), so that I can hone my own craft of writing; to rest more, to breathe deeply in both prayer and meditation; to avoid drama and people who create it; to watch less TV to distract myself from my grief; to listen to music more often, blaring the stereo loudly in my house; to create a peaceful place within myself, and to honour that peaceful centre as a place of creation and blessing; and, maybe, lastly, to walk more often with my dogs and revel in the beauty of crisp snow underfoot and the sound of lonesome chickadees in trees. 🙂

I’m looking forward to finding my creative feet again…and am hopeful that it will only serve to fuel my soul’s fire.

Happy Imbolc and St. Brigid’s Day to you all, wherever you may be…

(Special blessings to those in Ireland today who are battling fierce storms and flooding. You are all, my friends, especially Sue in Eyeries, in my prayers and thoughts tonight.)


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