Archive for March, 2014

I walk a lot.  I walk when I’m angry, sad, frustrated, or just plain confused.  I find I need to move my physical body to move things through my mind and heart.  It’s always been a bit of a helpful addiction, my daily walking meditation.  I sludge along, in most weathers, except in the coldest of cold.  The shih tzus can handle anything up to about -15 degrees Celcius, so all is well throughout most of the winter.  Even today, after about a 5-10cm dumping last night and this morning, we three went out trudging through the woods, and wandered down through my old stomping grounds.  I live in an area that is truly familiar and comfortable to me.  I have always felt, when I’m at my worst, that I can pick a street, park my car, and go for a walk.  Now that I live in this area, I don’t have to park my car  anywhere other than in my own driveway!  It’s helpful, to say the least. 

My aunt and uncle, Gail and Peter, lived one street over from this one for years and years.  At the top of my street, there is a path that winds its way into the woods.  I have fond memories of playing up there with my sister, Stacy, and my cousins, Liam and Kelly.  It was called “Dead Man’s Canyon” and it was a real wonderland for kids.  On the other side of the woods is Wembley Drive.  A few blocks down from here is my grandmother’s old house at 350 Wembley.  A block beyond that, at the crest of the great hill, my great-grandfather, James Cornelius Kelly, built a house for his big Irish Catholic family of ten kids at 160 Kingsmount. 

Sometimes I get to thinking about how ideas come to me, as a writer.  More than one person in my life has told me that I “think too much.”  It’s sort of frustrating to be told that, especially when it’s all you’ve ever known.  It’s also a pain because it’s usually said as if it’s a bother or an offense to them.  My mind is constantly busy, especially if I’m not preoccupied with talking during a conversation.  I’m sure people think I’m quiet or something, but most of the time, I’m observing, seeing things poetically, or just thinking ideas through in my head.  (It’s busy in there!) 

Today, on my walk, I was sliding all around on the snowy sidewalks.  They had plowed a few, definitely, but I was tired and I felt like my feet weren’t solid underneath me.  One stumble and I likely would have fallen.  (One path had a pothole that made me trip up, but I recovered).  Thing is, when I trip, it’s usually because I’m looking up at the sky, or at the trees, or looking for the source of a neighbourhood wind chime.  I’m easily distracted, I guess you could say!  🙂  During one of these ‘looking up at the trees’ moments, I noticed the sky at the end of one street.  All of the sudden, the phrase leapt into my head:  “The sky is winter-bruised.”  I had to keep repeating it as I walked the rest of the way home.  What struck me was that “winter-bruised” isn’t one of my usual suspects, in poetic terms.  It got me to thinking about where the words come from….and how poets and writers filter gifts of words and images into well and finely tuned pieces.  The rest of the way home, I kept thinking, “Holy….that’s a bit mental…how it just pops up in there.”  If I don’t repeat it to myself, it will vanish. 

Some poets will say that the creative part of our work is mostly craft, but I can say pretty confidently that most of my poetic friends have encounters like this, where the words just fly in and sweep you off your feet.  There is definitely something to the whole belief that poets have a connection with a more ephemeral world, so that The Muses can work their magic.   I truly believe you have to be willing to see beyond the veil that separates this world from any others if you want to get at spine-tingling poetic imagery.  That’s how it works for me, anyway.  Others may have different creative processes, but, in terms of my poems, I always seem to get an image, or a full first line.  Today’s full first line is rare.  Usually, it’s a snapshot in my mind’s eye, of words creating an image.  One of my earlier short stories began with a flash of a woman in a white nightgown walking into the sea.  I had no idea where that image came from, but only knew that the story needed me to write it.  Rather, now that I think about it, it almost seemed that the woman wanted me to write her story. 

In recent years, I’ve let the story side of things slide a bit.  I’m a bit disappointed in myself, but I am glad the poetry keeps coming in a fairly steady stream.  I’m not a prolific poet, but I’m always grateful for a poem when it arrives on my doorstep.  I thank the angels, any saints, God, the universe, and any creative force that might have helped me to see things more poetically.  The story side got a kick in the ass last week when I signed up for Sarah Selecky’s online course, “Story is a State of Mind.”  Last week was March Break, so I spent about three hours a day working through some her writing exercises.  I was pleasantly surprised; I wrote a lot, and even created a full short story, as well as a number of ‘story starts’ that I’m going to use over the next few weeks.  I also have an idea for a novel that is shifting around in my brain.  What it reminded me of, taking the time to sit with a notebook and pen, honouring my gift of writing, is that you need to think of it all as a relationship between writer and written work.  You have to give to get some kind of writerly return.  You can’t expect a story to write itself without some time and crafting.  Starting Selecky’s course reminded me of that.  One of the first questions she asks is “How are you and your writing doing?” It is, as she says, a very intimate relationship, and, let’s face it, any good relationship requires tending.

Coming home tonight, I watched “Saving Mr. Banks.”  I thought it would be a light, uplifting film, but it ended up making me think more about a writer’s life.  I have quite a few friends who are writers.  They’re all pretty fascinating to hang out with, especially because the conversation is spirited.  I remember reading the Mary Poppins novels.  I loved them.  They were on par with L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables stories, in my twelve year old mind.  What I found interesting about the film was the way in which P.L. Travers was depicted.  She was a spinster, closed off, wounded, and afraid to let go of the past. I dislike the way single women writers are often depicted, as if they are lost and yearning for something other than their work.  Being a writer, I think, means that you do need to make some peace with being a bit more solitary than others.  It doesn’t mean all writers end up prickly and bitter.  Still, I ended up being a weeping mess throughout the film.  Her relationship with her father made me think about my relationship with my dad.  There are, apparently, parallels between the film and her own life, but not all of it is factually correct. This is not surprising; Hollywood often fiddles with facts and makes them seem more dramatic. 

There is a part in the film where the father figure, played by Colin Farrell, speaks to the child version of P.L. Travers, telling her that they both have “a Celtic soul” and that the world is too much for them.  I actually think I get this.  I often feel I don’t belong in this time or place.  My mum used to tell me that my grandfather, who was a prospector in Northern Ontario, was “an Irish dreamer,” as if that would explain his often erratic behaviour.  Maybe there is something to the whole, you’re Celtic, you’re caught between worlds, kind of philosophy.  Travers herself was quoted once as having said:  “Perhaps we are born knowing the tales of our grandmothers and all their ancestral kin continually run in our blood repeating them endlessly, and the shock they give us when we first bear them is not of surprise, but of recognition.”  This speaks to me.  Some people say there’s a link between creativity and madness, which you could easily argue, but I think you could also argue that genetic memory and the passing down of stories, in families where they are honoured and often told to children, can fuel creativity in a person. 

Beyond that, though, I was intrigued by the whole depiction of the ways in which our parents haunt us once they’ve gone.  Not in a ‘whooo whooo’ ghostie kind of way, but in a way that colours our lives.  In “Saving Mr. Banks,”  Emma Thompson’s P.L. Travers is often pulled backwards in time and memory, recalling her father’s decline.  Tom Hanks, as Walt Disney, says at one point that there are some people who use their imaginations to create order in the world.  I liked that very much, indeed.  You see, if you’re creative, it does sometimes seem like you need to protect yourself against the rigours of a world that you don’t quite fit into as easily as others might.  The other thing that passed through my mind was the way in which we fashion our stories, how we conjure up our memories (whether we repress them, or whether we gild them and make them grander than they were in reality). 

My friend, Nancy, let me borrow Don Miguel Ruiz’s wonderful book, The Voice of Knowledge.  Ruiz speaks of how we tell our own stories, over and over again.  Sometimes we create stories that are exaggerated, or sometimes lessened in intensity, simply because we find comfort and release in the actual action of telling the stories.  We mythologize our lives, especially when we’ve lost someone we love.  In the film, the character of Travers is haunted by her father.  She needs to let him go, to forgive herself for believing she could save him from his alcoholism.  Ruiz would say that your story is your own story; you cannot save others on your journey through this lifetime.  You are meant, he says emphatically, to be the storyteller of your own tale. 

These are deep thoughts, friends….and I’m not sure why they’re all here tonight, but I felt the need to share them.  Hopefully, you might find something here….in my story.




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Well, it’s snowing again. We’re supposed to get 5cm tonight and another 5cm tomorrow. Sigh. Actually, given that it’s March Break here in Ontario, and given that I’ve finished my marking, I’m intending to take the week as a reading and writing retreat of sorts. Am signing up for Sarah Selecky’s “Story is a State of Mind” course and hoping that it kick starts me in terms of writing more prose. I have ideas for a novel (or “novel ideas” if you’d rather call it that), and there’s some other story in my noggin about a house that owns a ghost (or is it vice versa?!). That one’s inspired by a huge turn-of-the-century house that ‘lives’ in my neighbourhood and is up for sale. We’ll see whether either idea starts to pan out this week….one can hope.

Had sad news on Friday morning. My aunt, Cathy, called to tell me that her co-worker and friend, Sally Spence, died early Friday morning at the local hospice. Sally was my physiotherapist when I was twelve. That goes back about thirty-one years. I had slipped femoral ephiphysis, which meant that my hip had weirdly slipped out of its socket. I had to go to the Hospital for Sick Children (warmly referred to as “Sick Kids” by its previous and current patients) in Toronto for a major surgery. As a result, my left leg is one and a half inches shorter than my right leg and I limp when I am tired. There’s also a staple of some kind in that leg that is in there for life. Titanium? Who knows! Anyway, I was sent home for eight weeks of bed rest in a body cast when I was twelve. You can imagine that’s where I developed my love of reading and imagining up stories. It was an enforced incubator. After the cast was removed, well, I had a lot of physical therapy to do in Sudbury, so that’s where I met Sally. She pushed me through pain to get as much range of movement as I could possibly attain. She always wore pink lipstick and she always laughed and smiled. You remember these things when you’re a kid who is dealing with physical issues….the people who care for you are near and dear to you.

Last year, when I moved to my new house, my aunt Cathy and I came across Sally walking her dog, Gracie. We had a great chat and, whenever I walked my dogs through the summer or fall, I would often encounter Sally and Gracie strolling under leafy skies. Even though she was battling cancer, you would never know it. She loved her life with a passion I’ve rarely seen in my time on the planet. What I do know is that she touched the lives of thousands of Sudbury-area kids who needed a kind, but firm, physiotherapist when they were most terrified or worried about their progress. Her work at the Children’s Treatment Centre (CTC) in Sudbury was nothing but angelic. She probably didn’t recognize the scope of her influence, but I’m sure she does now that she’s in heaven. So many of us are sad she’s left us, but glad we knew her and had the experience of her touching and truly changing our lives. Bless her.

Friday also brought the opening of a dear friend’s art exhibit at the GNO downtown on Elgin Street. My friend Mary Green’s exhibit, titled “evocation,” is wonderful. It runs from now until April 19th. If you get the chance, go spend some time with great art. Mary is a fantastic artist, someone who works in mixed media and photography. This exhibit is all about photography. Paul Walty, the curator of the show, writes: “The subject matter is the stuff of Mary’s dreamtime.” I love that line because it reminds me of Australia and aboriginal dreamtime. There’s a mysticism here, an ethereal essence, as if you’ve missed something out of the corner of your eye because you’ve turned your head too quickly. He continues, “The images are frequently in soft focus or blurred. There are tight compositions of the human figure and northern Ontario landscape that drift in a space both familiar and off-kilter. . .Like snap shots that catch but do not capture. A suggestion, a trace of half-remembering.” They are truly beautiful photographs.

I was honoured to have been asked by Mary to read her works. I recorded them on a stormy winter night in January 2012, just a few weeks after my dad had died. I was on the cusp of a wretched winter cold, so I thought my voice sounded scratchy. Anyway, I guess Mary liked the recordings, because she’s incorporated them into her show. At each photograph, you put on headphones and hear my voice reading her wonderful poems. I think Mary is a triple threat, artistically speaking. She’s an artist and a poet, and she’s a creative soul. If you tell her she’s a poet, she will just brush off the comment, but I’d truly love to see these poems in a small collection. It would be beautiful to see something ekphrastic emerge from this exhibit, with poems published alongside photographs.

One thing that surprised me is that, when you hear your own voice, you’re often taken aback. I’ve heard myself read my own poems, of course, in video or radio recordings, but it always strikes me as odd. . .to listen to your own voice read poems. Still, I do believe that poems need voicing, so I’m always more than glad to give them that, whether or not they’re mine. With Mary’s poems, well, you’ll just have to go and hear and see the exhibit to understand the beauty of her written and visual creative work.

Now I’m off to finish my ginger peanut chicken and coconut rice. The creative cooking experience, on Sundays, continues…so far, I haven’t buggered anything up too badly. 🙂


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