Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Banff Writing Studio 2007

Ten years ago this month I was at the Banff Writing Studio.

My time there meant so much to me personally and professionally. At Banff I made friends who are friends to this day. In the ten years since Banff, there have been meetings in cities across Canada, book publications, weddings, travels, names hailed on the street and at parties, joint readings, babies, prizes, book launches. At Banff I met the editor of my first and second books.

The Banff Writing Studio wasn't my first experience of a writing community but it's been my deepest.

There was the astounding landscape that I associate with the memories, five weeks of work with no other distractions, the great gang of people I was there with.

These shoes were bought in Paris because (I was told) who goes to Paris and doesn't buy shoes

Guitar at dusk, followed by a bonfire.

Group hikes were organized. This one to Stanley Glacier in BC.

I believe this was a yoga consultation. Aka: what to do about "writer's back"?

Here's the path up Tunnel Mountain where I went for a hike most days. We were told to be wary of the elks who were pregnant and irritable. I never saw any on the path, though a herd used to hang out beside the cafeteria.

A demonstration of book binding.

The writers formed two groups identified by their disciplines, narrative or poetry. The narrative group had met for an afternoon discussion when this poet arrived with a strudel she'd made--crossing the form divide.

We had a clear warm day for our hike into Johnston Canyon.

On May 24th it snowed. No one had brought mitts and hats.

Writers tend to stick to themselves. We do what we do best when we're alone, be that in a busy cafe with background chatter or in a solitary room with a door that's closed.

I had that precious alone-time at Banff, but what I also felt was the nurturing experience of companionship among writers. The conversations, the listening, the drinks, the walks, crossing paths on our way into the gym, even just doing nothing together.

Happy memories!
If I'm still around in twenty years, I'll post pics of faces to show how endearingly young we were in 2007.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

saving the planet at the grocery store and other city encounters

I had to buy pressed cottage cheese which I can usually only find at a kosher or "ethnic" grocery store. I use it to make Topfenknödel aka cottage cheese dumplings.

I was two people back in the express checkout. The young woman who had just paid was still talking loudly to the cashier. I assumed she was a friend who wasn't thinking that the cashier was at work. She speaking and doing something... packing her groceries in a cloth bag? all the while talking emphatically. I wasn't listening. I had my earbuds in.

Then, as I got closer, I saw that the cashier was trying to ignore her, as were the other people who had paid and were passing behind her. Her movements were too energetic for simply putting fruit and veg into a bag. She was tearing the plastic wrapping off several packages of pork chops and slapping the raw meat on the cashier's counter. One by one -- three, four, five, six pork chops. She balled up the plastic wrap and tossed the styrofoam trays back to the cashier. It was a crime! How much packaging the grocery store used! And she was mindful of ecology! And saving the planet! More people needed to think about ecology! Weren't they concerned about the planet? Well, she was! Her vegetables already in her cloth bag, she shoved her stack of pork chops on top.

I could have tried to interrupt her lecture to ask why she wasn't eating lower on the food chain if she wanted to do her small yet not insignificant part toward saving the planet, but I didn't get the impression there was a Q&A.


This morning, as I waited for water to boil for tea, I stepped into the backyard to see what was growing. Buds on the columbines, ferns spreading, clematis only starting to send out leaves. We have a small, inner-city backyard with a mismatched wooden fence. The neighbour on one side nailed up boards. The other neighbour asked us to split the cost for a fence with a trellis along the top. We haven't done anything with the weathered planks that face the alley, even though after every winter it becomes ever more impossible to shove open the gate to wheel our bikes out.

Then I noticed the thinning stubble of a man's head over the top of the back fence. I thought he might be walking his dog and the dog had stopped to pee, but a few moments passed and he kept turning his head to the right, then the left, then back to look into our yard again. It felt like a scene out of my novel, Five Roses. I didn't know if he could see me, but he didn't know I could see him or -- I'm assuming -- he would have moved along. I didn't see his shape through the spaces between the shrunken boards, as my character did, because the light wasn't behind him. My character runs to the gate to challenge the man in the alley, but  I didn't want to do that at 7 am, not sure how big the man was. That he stayed there felt threatening enough.

I called out, "What are you doing?" (En français.)

He didn't seem surprised that I knew he was there. He said he was very thirsty and would like a glass of water.

Geez! How can you refuse a person water? I told him to wait.

I still didn't want to open the gate, so I reached the glass over the top of the fence. He drank with loud glugging gulps, then told me that what he would really like was a cup of coffee.

I said there was no coffee. I didn't drink coffee. He suggested I give him two bucks to buy one.

I could have. I should have? But where would we go from there? I didn't want to find him there again tomorrow.  I would have given him money if we weren't having this conversation where I live. I'm not sure I like how I reacted. Or didn't react. I have to think about that. Maybe I was spooked by what happened in my novel.

He thanked me and returned my glass over the fence. We wished each other a good day.

Monday, May 15, 2017

walking and writing / life balance

Years ago, when I was too impatient to wait for the bus to go to work, I realized that I could leave home only 10 minutes earlier and get to work by walking. Ditto the return route. That was how I started: 8 k/day, 5 days/wk.
That was a couple of decades ago. I no longer work in the same place. I still walk.

Walking clears my head. I like that it's gentle exercise. I couldn't sustain anything more aggressive. Moving my legs and body is a good antidote to the stationary hours I spend at my desk writing.

In the sense that walking progresses at a slow pace, walking mimics my slow movement through narrative.

The act of walking balances the act of writing.

My words stay with me too -- even when I don't set out to think about writing while I'm walking.

I replay dialogue. I consider adding a flashback to help with a plot conundrum.

Or I decide to describe the place that I'm walking through.

It often isn't a conscious decision.

Of course, I'm not the first writer who appreciates walking. I belong to a tradition of writers who trudge. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce to name a couple. More recently, Rebecca Solnit has written a book, wanderlust: A History of Walking.

I have friends who are writers with whom I go on long walks.

A good friend and writer, Elise Moser, suggested we do a walking/writing workshop to introduce others to the benefits that we experience.
Last Saturday, Elise and I conducted the workshop under the auspices of the Quebec Writers' Federation.

We planned a route that would take us along the edge of the upscale Montreal neighbourhood of Westmount, then down past the Lachine Canal to Pointe St. Charles, where I live and where I set my novel, Five Roses.

Between walks, we wrote.

Thank you to the Quebec Writers' Federation, the venerable Atwater Library, and the small but welcoming Café Lalli for sitting-down space. Thank you to all who participated for making it an enjoyable day.

This sweetie played a role too, because I saw her while I was walking -- so who knows where her red dress, red shoes, and the two red balls might appear next.