Archive for October, 2016

The train derailment that happened in Gogama back in March of 2015 has been on my mind a lot these last few months. I’ve followed the case, hearing dribs and drabs about what happened, and — more importantly — what didn’t happen in terms of an environmental clean-up. What bothers me is how easy it is for politicians in Southern Ontario, at Queen’s Park, to forget about how train derailments that spill toxins into northern rivers damage the land. If this sort of thing happened in wealthy, pompous Muskoka, with all of its pristine lakes, monster cottages and their matching boat houses, I can’t imagine it would take a year and a half for the Ontario government to clean it up. And herein lies the rub, to paraphrase Shakespeare: there is a different set of rules for the south of this province than there is for the north. Those in the south will, of course, say that isn’t so, but northerners know how long progress takes. Look at how long it’s taking for Highway 69 to become four lanes.

What happened in March 2015 was heartbreaking for those of us who live in, and love, the North. I remembered hearing about it on the CBC, as I often listen to the radio more than to the television news. One million litres of oil spilled into the Makami River that day. One friggin’ million litres. CN says, on its ‘special’ Gogama spill site that “the product spilled was synthetic crude oil derived from heavy oil sources in Western Canada. This synthetic crude is less dense than water, so it sits on the water surface.” That’s nice. At least you can see it. CN is also nice enough to let us know that it’s going to ‘scare off’ migratory birds with devices that ‘create loud noises, movement, light changes, encouraging wildlife and birds to move on to the next suitable habitat.” Okay. So you’re displacing wildlife because of the garbage you spilled into the Makami River, which feeds into the Mattagami River and is on sacred First Nations land. Yeah. But what about the fish? Well, on its site, CN helpfully tells us that there were soil samples, groundwater samples, and fish tissue samples taken in January of 2016.

In a September 6, 2016 article in the Timmins Press, titled “Gogama anglers not biting on clean bills of health,” Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson was quoted as saying, “Most of the fish that died were suckers, they are bottom feeders, so we expected them to be the first species to be hit hard. But now we’re finding pike, pickerel, bass, perch and even lake herring–some of the strongest fish. Some of these pikes are three pounds and you have to hit them in the head with a hammer to kill them, but according to the ministry, they are dying from ‘natural causes.'”

I’ve been up to Gogama. I’ve been up to Timmins. That road, up Highway 144, cuts through some of the most beautiful and pristine land I’ve ever seen. I still remember encountering a moose up there about twenty years ago, on my way home from a friend’s camp. It was, and still is, one of those life altering moments, when a moose stops dead in front of your car in twilight and turns to look at you. You get it, especially if you’re a northerner. I think, to be honest, if you grow up in Northern Ontario, you automatically have a sense of how important the land is to your identity. I know that I often drive out to beautiful places, on the outskirts of town, when I want to get some sense of how small my place is in the world. Being in the middle of nature makes you realize that your troubles aren’t as big as you think they are. I think, too, that northerners feel a kinship to the land. My parents had a camp on the West Arm of Lake Nipissing, and some of my teenage memories are of hearing the wind whispering in the pines. For some in the southern parts of the province, that might seem a cliche, a sort of farcical Disneyfied version of what the north is about, but let me tell you that it is true. You walk into a northern bush area and your world changes.

I’m no scientist. I’ll admit it. What I am is a human and a teacher and, more importantly, a poet. We tend, I think, as poets, to see the world differently. We raise issues in our work that aren’t all stereotypically about love and flowers. I know people have views of poetry that are old fashioned, but I see poetry as a way to raise awareness for issues that I feel passionate about: poetry as a way to battle and deal with mental illness; poetry as a way to lift up the spirits of those in palliative care wings, or their families; poetry in places where you stand in lines and wait and wait and wait, like in airports; and poetry as a way to raise awareness of First Nations issues and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. I know. I’m becoming feisty as I get older. I always was feisty, but it’s getting worse. We need to speak up. It’s that simple…and that difficult. But, sometimes, you need to take a risk to make change.

As Northerners, I’d encourage friends and colleagues to inform themselves and raise their voices. We need to stand up for Gogama and the Matagami River. We need to stand next to those who live in those areas, especially our First Nations neighbours. We need to demand that southern Ontario politicians treat environmental issues in the north as being just as important as southern ones. We know the truth…that our part of the province is beautiful and raw and real. Not everyone can manage that. Let’s be honest. We’re a hardy group of folks and we know the magic of sitting on the edge of a northern Canadian lake or river near midnight. We’re blessed to be guardians of that northern wilderness…and that means speaking up, alongside luminaries and environmental activists like David Suzuki, to be guardians of the land upon which we were born.


Read Full Post »

I’ve been thinking a great deal about school libraries lately. My school’s library is being renovated and shifted into a “Learning Commons” or “Learning Hub.” The semantics of the phrasing doesn’t really matter. We need to get beyond that, I think. At its core, it’s still a library. The word “library” shouldn’t be a ‘bad word’ in schools across Ontario, but I’m worried that it is becoming one. Yes, I recognize the need to have technology in the schools, and in terms of research, but I also want to make a case for keeping books on shelves. I’m a writer, after all, and I think of how many countless hours I spent in Marymount’s school library as a teenager, and how reading saved me from depression and offered a very solitary, overweight, smart and creative kid a bit of respite from the too harsh world.

At one point, I wanted to be a Teacher Librarian, but there aren’t many in my board, so I’m sure that’s not in my career ‘cards.’ In any case, as a writer and English teacher, and now as Poet Laureate of the City of Greater Sudbury, I spend a lot more time in my own local library and have learned about all of the things it can offer to me. (Recently, for instance, I gathered up a whole lot of fascinating research about the mining town of Creighton Mine for a novel I’m writing. This town is now gone, flattened to the ground. Deep in the Creighton Mine, though, is the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO), so there’s something still there, even if we can’t see it. The town, though, the little houses and the people and stories that built it, they’re all pale now…and that makes me sad.)

As Poet Laureate, one of my roles is to work in the schools. I chose to take that on as one of my tasks during my time as laureate…to try and introduce secondary school students to poetry in a more dynamic way. I’m also going to be running a professional development session at my board’s next PA Day in late November, where I’ll talk about integrating poetry into the secondary curriculum. (You can use poems in classes other than English ones, so I’m excited to share my ideas with my colleagues at home. Hopefully, some colleagues will sign up!)

As part of my reading with other poet laureates down here in Windsor this past Thursday, at Poetry at the Manor, I spent time visiting St. Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School. It’s a beautiful new building and it’s full of grand people, students and teachers alike. We met in the “Resource Centre,” which is a big open space filled with chairs. It’s attached to a sun-filled atrium. It’s really quite a lovely space in which to read poetry and speak to kids about writing. I loved it. But then I noticed the murals of books on the walls and figured out that it must once have been the library. (Just writing that sentence makes me feel full of doom…)

When, at the end of the reading, I asked the head of the English Department where the books were, she just grimaced. “We don’t have a library anymore.” She told me of how her board had disbanded libraries at elementary and secondary levels. I felt a despair rise up in me because I fear this is becoming more and more common across the province. Whether you teach in the Catholic or public system in this province, I think you know that libraries are at risk of extinction. That sounds rather ominous, doesn’t it, but seeing this empty room at St. Joe’s made me cringe inside. When, I wonder, did boards of education in this province begin to think that increasing technology in the classrooms meant casting off physical books? Was it the rise of e-books? Was it that budgeting became more and more difficult, due to cuts in boards and schools? Was it when technology began to sweep into classrooms? And, does it mean that, just because technology is present in our world, we need to cast off the things that were traditionally rooted?

The teachers at St. Joe’s now have classroom libraries, which is something that Penny Kittle suggests we do in her Book Love. I totally love Penny Kittle, but I also have to speak up for libraries in our schools. Yes, physical books cost money, and more and more each year it seems. Yes, technology is important and we need to educate our kids so that they are twenty-first century learners and citizens of the world. I’m not suggesting it’s one or the other. Why can’t it be a marriage of technology and tradition? Of electronics and paper? You only need to look at the gong show that was the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) roll-out last week, in its online incarnation, to realize that–sometimes–paper and pen can still work wonders and be more efficient.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours at my favourite bookstore in the province, Biblioasis. My friend Bob Stewart is the bookseller there and he knows so much about books. What I love about Biblioasis is that you walk in onto its hardwood floors, its quirky brick walls, and the large armchairs and floor rugs, with sunlight streaming in through the big front window, and you can actually sense yourself calming down. You are surrounded by physical books. New and used, it doesn’t matter. Some of the best things I found at Biblioasis in August were in the used section. The poetry section is stellar. Then I got to thinking about how, in Sudbury, independent bookstores just seem to fail. Chapters has taken over. As a poet, I can’t stand the poetry section at Chapters. You look for a new book of poems by a person whose work you love and you can never find it. There is always, though, the one that is titled “100 Love Poems for Men to Use to Woo Women” or something equally kitschy. Jaysus Murphy, Mary and Joseph. That is not poetry! So, I ordered a whole slew of poetry books and Canadian plays from Bob before I came down here and I’ll heft them home tomorrow on the plane. I under packed my suitcase (which, if you know me, is a pretty amazing feat) so that I could buy a lot of books. I’d rather support a local, independent bookstore–even if it isn’t in my own hometown–than order through Amazon or Chapters.

All this is to say that we need to fight, as readers and writers and teachers of literature, to support small bookstores and teacher librarians in our school systems. If we don’t, the demise of books in our schools, and the ability for kids to learn to love reading will disappear. We need to fight for our libraries in our smallest (and largest) towns. We need to say ‘yes, books do cost money, but knowledge and imagination is crucial to human development.’ We need to be brave enough to raise our voices to protest the gradual and slow extinction of independent bookstores in this country. And, maybe even more important, we need parents to speak up about what they want for their kids in the school system, Catholic and public both. In that, we as educators need to be united. Otherwise, I fear, we’ll be seeing more of these empty ‘resource rooms’ next to grand sunlit atriums.

For me, as an introvert and a smart girl in high school, I remember that the school library and its books offered me an escape. I loved, and still do, the smell of a book’s pages (whether old or new). I love to touch the covers, turn them over, and discover what’s inside. As a person, I believe in looking beyond the superficial surfaces of things, in living with depth. I think books (and art) can do that for us in our homes, lives and societies. The slow extinction of physical books, especially in the school system, causes a shiver to run up my spine. Maybe St. Joe’s is a harbinger of what’s to come…and that, my friends, is a real worry.


Read Full Post »

I spent this past weekend up at a beautiful little cabin on the edge of Lake Kagawong, surrounded by the sounds of loons calling on long walks by the shore, and by wind whispering in the trees. It was, to be honest, one of the loveliest fall weekends I’ve even spent in Northern Ontario. Somehow, back in early summer, I stumbled across Shannon McMullan’s offer of a rental space. I knew her beautiful gallery, Perivale, but hadn’t really noticed the cabin next to it. (I’m always about seeing original art, whenever I can see it, and wherever I can find it, so I’d been to Perivale Gallery before.) The notion of staying in a cabin on that same magical piece of property, tucked up on the cusp of a hill overlooking the lake, appealed to me. I corralled two writer friends, Danielle Daniel and Liisa Kovala, into renting it with me, and we waited for the weekend for months. Dan just launched her memoir, The Dependent: A Memoir of Marriage and the Military, and Liisa’s book will be released next year. I’m about to enter two or three fairly busy weeks in my role as poet laureate, so I knew that I too would need a break, in advance of the chaos. As a quiet person, an introvert by nature, it takes a lot out of me, energetically speaking, to be out in front of people. I love it, reading my work, but I also know I need to muster my energy in advance, and then collect it all again after a public reading. Besides all of that, I knew I’d write some new work, and I’d have fun with two of the most amazing women I’m blessed to call friends.

Here’s the thing about Perivale: You open the door of that little cabin and walk into a space that is any writer’s dream. There is original art on the walls, and tiny nooks for reading and writing that are tucked into spaces where you least expect them. (I love houses with character, and I love houses with surprising twists and turns. There’s nothing like a house with a fancy antique doorknob, or a piece of beautiful stained glass hanging in a window, catching sunbeams and sending them around a room.) I think I initially bounced around the various rooms like a crazy woman, shouting out repeatedly “Oh my God! Look at this! How amazing is this?!” (I’m rather exuberant when I encounter things that are beautiful, so I was in shock for most of the weekend. I have aesthetic issues…a la William Morris and his philosophies of beauty in the world. Bless him!) The one thing I’m so pleased about is that I went with two friends who also know the value of silence. The best retreats I’ve been to in the last few years are the ones where you can agree to carve out a number of hours to just sit in silence and work, or even just read. Yesterday morning, I crafted two new commissioned poems, and then this morning I added to the third act of my play, “Sparrows Over Slag.” I never feel like the poems are done, but I know I’m my own worst critic. At some point, you just need to say, ‘okay, I did my best with this piece, and now I need to let it go…’ This is, believe me, easier than it sounds. 🙂

Some of my favourite Perivale House weekend memories: hearing a chipmunk scamper across the roof while drinking coffee in the sitting room (!); a latte at the Peace Cafe in Providence Bay; picking cedar to make tea sometime this week, and thanking the Creator for these gifts; sitting down at the water’s edge, listening to the chickadees (my Mum’s favourite birds!) twittering in early morning trees that lit up with sunlight — everything looked like stained glass; a raven soaring high above some trees; yesterday’s early morning walk being so beautiful that I actually began to weep as I walked down an empty gravel road (one more reason I usually walk alone; beauty moves me without warning and not everyone can handle that intensity); an afternoon walk today, before leaving, with Liisa and Dan–and finding a path that was alight with gold and red leaves–so amazing that it felt sacred and holy, that space, like a cathedral of trees. Above all, I felt the time on The Island did what it always does to me: that place, when you cross the swing bridge and drive through Little Current, unwinds me. I exhale. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve been holding my breath, and my spirit, for too too long. Manitoulin opens you up when you least expect it, so that walls fall down and you are left amazed by what landscape and spirit can do to your own soul.

We can’t thank Shannon enough, for the time we had at Perivale. Her Irish hospitality and cultivation of the arts in this northern part of the province is warm hearted, generous and enthusiastic. So love that about her! I’ll never forget the wild turkey that seems to be courting the tall heron statue in the sunroom, or the sound of loons calling while I walked a long gravel road and gathered bits of cedar. These are such vivid images, held now in my heart. And the words. Where else do the words come so freely, so that stories and poems seem to rise up as you look out over a hillside guarded by the tallest trees?

And I can’t thank Liisa and Dan for being two fine writerly companions and friends. To think that we’ve orbited each other for about twenty years, and only just found one another last year! I can’t imagine. I feel like I’ve known you for lifetimes…and maybe, just maybe, I have.


Also, if you haven’t been, you can read a bit about the gallery itself here:
http://www.perivalegallery.com It’s a magical place.

Read Full Post »

Most people around town know that I’m trying my hand at writing plays. I say ‘trying my hand’ because I read and study them in my spare time, and then try to write them when I’m not working on my poems or adding layers of detail and research to the second draft of my novel. I never have difficulty writing poems because they always seem to come to me without warning, a phrase or image pressing down on me until I commit it to the page. With the novel, or short stories even, things take more work, trying to weave a world together–with people in it!–so that it isn’t contrived or boring. Plays, though, have stolen my heart. They’re a bit like that handsome man you secretly fancy (but think you can’t have) in that they the dance in a shifting of shadows and light on a stage, in the artificial wonder of sound effects, in the crispness of good dialogue, and in the sheer amazement at the brilliance of keen actors who take a writer’s words from page to stage. (That’s the most seductive thing of all for me, as a writer– to hear my words spoken by an actor. I was never prepared for what that would do to me, viscerally almost, in terms of how attracted I would become to this genre of writing.)

Funnily enough, I’ve fallen in love with plays in the last year and a half. I order them, buy them, read them, and try to write them. I don’t think I’m very good yet, but I have three on the go, one of which is almost done. (I’m off to Manitoulin the weekend after Thanksgiving to finish Act 3 of that play, I hope. It’s prodding at me these days, so I know it’s ready to come out onto paper. I’m hoping that, sitting by a lake again, alongside two dear writer friends, will inspire me to finish that first full draft. Then I’ll start revising.)

Last week, I read Colleen Murphy’s “Armstrong’s War.” When I was in Playwrights’ Junction at the Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC), I was introduced to Murphy’s work by Matt Heiti. Last fall I read “The December Man,” which documents the Montreal Massacre of early December 1989. It changed me, reading that play. I knew then that I wanted to read more Canadian women playwrights, so that I had a sense of the tradition. (I don’t have an MFA in Creative Writing; I know I’ve said it before here. I have a straight MA in English Literature, one which has served me well as a teacher, but as a writer, I’ve pretty much just continued to read voraciously over the years, dipping into various areas of interest. I feel, though, that I’m teaching myself how to feel more comfortable about writing plays. It’s taking its time, though…trust me!)

If you read the back of the published play, it’s a simple premise: “After suffering an injury during a tour of Afghanistan, Michael, a young solider, is recovering in the rehabilitation wing of a hospital. The last thing he wants is to spend time with a twelve-year-old girl, but Halley, a spirited Pathfinder and self-described ‘reading fiend,’ is eager to earn her community service badge. The pair is at odds from the start, but they find a shared interest in “The Red Badge of Courage<" the classic American Civil War novel, which spurs them to reveal their own stories. As their friendship grows, uncomfortable truths are exposed and questioned, redefining the meaning of courage and heroism." It's a nice 'blurb.' The relationship between the two characters, though, is really what it's all about.

I was thinking, sitting there in that wonderfully quiet and darkened theatre space tonight, about what friendship means, and how it develops without warning sometimes and can sometimes seem most unlikely in a retrospective way…and how sometimes those are the strongest friendships you'll ever experience. I thought about serendipity, and how I believe we meet people for a reason. And I thought about how we tell (or don't tell) our personal stories. In the play, both Michael and Halley tell one another stories. The entire play is fashioned around the notion of Stephen Crane's novel, with the two characters reading to one another, and then writing their own stories in a fictionalized way. It isn't until the end that we hear their real histories (which I won't reveal here).

Stories fascinate me. I'll often chat someone up if they seem open to it, simply because I want to ask them questions about what they do, or if I want to learn more about what they are passionate about. I find it interesting, to see which people will open up to me like a flower blooming, to wonder if they will share their life stories — even little snippets of them — with me. Sometimes a smile, a few questions, and a quick chat can open up a flow of amazing stories. For a writer, well, that's golden. Anyway, I've always loved stories, so getting people to tell me stories is what I like to do, and not in an "I'm a stalker" kind of way. I hope that's clear here! 🙂

"Armstrong's War" makes you think about how stories work, how we choose what information we share with other people. We protect ourselves with persona pieces, masks that we think will protect us but really only ever just heighten our fears. I wonder why we do this. We only ever end up isolating ourselves. Maybe it's just that we've all been hurt somewhere along the way, so that walls are easier to build than tear down. Our stories, though, have power.

I'm thinking, too, of having read tonight at NISA's Open Minds Quarterly launch at the Northern Water Sports Centre on the shores of Lake Ramsey. It was a lovely place to hear poems read and see visual art. There were so many brave people, all in one big, bright room on the edge of a lovely lake, and all of them were taking off their masks to say, without shame, "I have lived with mental illness. I have survived." It was powerful, to see stories told so bravely and openly. For years, I wore a mask to cover depression and pain. Taking it off is a relief. I can breathe better now. I don't hide as much of myself, and sometimes I think that can be overwhelming for other people, but I really don't care anymore. There's power in that, in telling stories and shedding shame. If it's too much for someone, they just won't be in my life. That's a good lesson for me to learn. As some Ojibway elders say, "The people who are meant to be here now, to be with you, are here now." I love that teaching. It speaks to me.

The same thing happens in Murphy's "Armstrong's War." Halley and Michael are brave enough to pull down their walls, brick by brick, knowing that they could be hurt by one another in the process of being honest. Still, they do it anyway…because life is short, and they value the connection of the unlikely friendship that they have forged. As Halley says, the Armstrong motto is, aptly, "I remain unvanquished." That's a motto we can all hope to ascribe to, I think. I’m going to add it to my own list of personal truths or mantras, to carry in my pocket as Michael carries his seashell.

You don't have to read Colleen Murphy's play, or study it in the intense way that I did, to enjoy this production that's on stage at the STC until Sunday night. I know it's Thanksgiving weekend, but sometimes holidays aren't always the best of times for people who struggle with emotions and memories…and maybe seeing a play is a way to sort of escape for a few hours. Either way, you need to go and see Katie Ryerson and Trevor Pease in this production. It will change the way you look at the notions of life, friendship, war, bravery, and love.

Think about it. Tell Roxanne, Brittany and Cora that I sent you. (Cora will pick you the best damn seat in the space, especially if you want to sit by yourself and slip into the middle of the theatre in an all encompassing kind of way!)


Read Full Post »

There are always artistic things happening in this Northern Ontario town, but Matthew Heiti’s Crestfallen Theatre group (including past Poet Laureate, Daniel Aubin, Daniel Bedard, Jorge Cueto, Marc Donato, Jenny Hazleton, France Huot, Patrick Ryan, and Dani Taillefer) is one of the most innovative. A few of these people are my friends, so I’m going to admit that I have a bias here, but I still think it’s important to reflect on what Heiti is doing here in Sudbury. He and this dynamic band of ‘creatives’ transformed the highest floor of Querney’s Office Plus building into a pale and ghosted likeness of the old Silverman’s Department Store that operated in the space from 1911 to 1975. I don’t remember it. I’m too young, but I remember my grandmother and great-aunts talking about it. I also remember Mary Fournier having her Elm Tree Books & Things store on the bottom floor. She used to wrap whatever you bought from her in Silverman’s paper, which was pretty darn cool. It was like there was a shadow store behind her store somewhere, hidden behind closed doors.

Matt’s done great work in running the Playwrights’ Junction, via the Sudbury Theatre Centre (STC), over the past few years, encouraging local writers to delve into writing for the stage — even if some of us think we can’t, or don’t know how. He’s an excellent teacher and mentor for Northern Ontario playwrights, and even more fun to have as a friend. He wrote “Mucking in the Drift,” a play that focused on Sudbury’s baseball past and was produced at STC in 2013. His love of local history, and of digging through the old microfiche machines at the public library, is pretty common knowledge among local writers in town. Part of being in the Junction sessions was researching local history, trying to find stories that we could ‘mine’ for our own use in our new works of drama. What you learn, as a writer, is that your city has many stories to tell, and so many of them vanish without a hint of protest.

It came as no surprise, then, that Matt would spearhead BrokeDownTown, pulling together a group of amazingly creative folks to build what they termed as a ‘phantasmagoria,” a mixed-media installation followed by a short performance. Performers met audience members in the alley behind the Querney building, with Marc Donato wandering out with a guitar, assuming the persona of Burt Northburn and serenading folks while Jorge Cueto documented everything with his camera. Everyone was in costume. We were entering “Nickelman’s,” a fictional department store that was based on the old Silverman’s store. Climbing those three flights of stairs took us back into another world. There were multi-media experiences to take part in, including my favourite, which allowed you to write a message and then hear it zip off with a thunk above your head to someone who would write you a response. It was delightful, and I felt like a little kid, remembering how simple things can be fun. There was a graphic novel telling the story of Nickleman’s, with panels by Dani Taillefer hanging on columns, so you could read through it all. Dan Bedard created the soundscape for the entire thing, which was obviously a huge undertaking. It felt, at times, as if I was eavesdropping on the past. It also felt overwhelming, just because it was such a grand space. It was sensory overload, but it was wonderful! The wood floors stretched out forever, and the crew had created a “Nickelman’s” bar, complete with a bartender. Little strings of Christmas lights dazzled up above our heads, and strange half-mannequins and hat boxes were clustered in little visual vignettes. It was, quite simply, like a buffet for the senses. I loved it! 🙂

Hazleton and Huot drew on their acting and clowning training so that people were in stitches all night as the two wandered almost aimlessly (but not quite!) through the crowds of explorers. Heiti never came out of character until the end of the night, which could be frustrating if you were trying to congratulate him on his undertaking! Matt was the ringmaster. He circulated, in character, gathering in audience members, interacting, and (I’m sure) thinking heavily about what he could do differently. (It was perfect, I thought, but I know he is someone who rethinks and revises his work, whose mind is always active, so why would this project be any different? Plus, as writers, we are always having to release something to the world even though it could be continually revised and reworked. I struggle with this all the time, not wanting to send in a ‘final’ poem in case I want to change it in two days’ time! Even though he stayed in character, you knew — if you know Matt — that his mind was working away at high speed, taking everything in and considering all angles.) Aubin wandered around in his top hat and answered questions (if you were nosy enough to ask, as I always am!) His “If I had a nickel” performance poem, which was part of the performance piece of the evening, was simply brilliant. It made me think about how much of our downtown core has perished without a blink. So much history has been erased in the core of Sudbury’s downtown and continues to be destroyed. We can only hope that groups like Crestfallen Theatre will continue to remind us of what we’ve lost.

Here’s what made me smile so much last night: spending time with other writer friends, interacting with the various multi-media exhibits and actors, and then seeing the beauty of the actual short performance. It was all so beautifully woven together. It was all so unique, so eccentric, so quirky, so not like traditional Sudbury theatre. That’s what made it divine, I think, that sense of diversity and excitement. It was also great to re-connect with John Querney (we used to be on the Laurentian University Alumni Association Board years ago) and hear about how excited he was to work with Matt and his group, and how proud he was of the Silverman’s mural that hovers above the stairs as you enter onto what used to be the fabric floor. John cares about the history of his building. He knows he’s a steward. That made me smile. It felt like walking into a time machine, somehow…like walking between worlds.

Here’s what made me sad last night: the entire thing made me realize just how much Sudbury has erased itself through history. It’s not just a nickel and mining town, although that’s obviously at the root of it all. (You can’t ignore the roots of this place, especially when you often see people posting on Facebook “Hey, was that a rock burst? Did anyone else feel it in the south end?”) You also, though, can take a look at those old YouTube videos of downtown Sudbury in the 1970s and wonder “Where did all the people downtown go?” It’s a good question. The downtown I grew up in, when my parents had a gift shop on Cedar Street, was always alive with people–characters who were larger than life. It might’ve been that I was very young, and they all seemed like characters in a book, because I was an introvert and a big reader, but I don’t see that as much anymore when I walk downtown. That makes me sad.

We have a role to play in this city, in how we choose to move forward. Being involved in BrokeDownTown last night, as an ‘audience’ member, made me think again about what sort of place I want to see the city evolve into. I know, for certain, that we can’t continue erasing history and paving parking lots. I know that…


Read Full Post »