Posted tagged ‘literature’

What Miracle?

December 20, 2016
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Future Santa in his sleigh?

Here we go, lying to our children. Again. About a jolly, ageless man in a red suit, miraculously popping down a billion chimneys or magically passing through walls to deliver gifts to all the youngsters of the world in a single night. Then, we’re drawn along as though by some magnetic power and forced to buy! buy! buy!

Things.

Why?

To step back from the frenzy is a) to see how ridiculous it is, or, more hopefully, b) to search for the deeper meaning in this, the last month of the year…in children’s Christmas concerts at school, in the music we only listen to in December, or in the opportunities at every turn, church, grocery store, street corner, to give to those less fortunate.

I was in a shop downtown with my six-year-old buying a present for a family member. Suddenly my son looked up at me and said, “Santa isn’t real. Magic reindeer? How does that work?”

I should have patted him on the back and sighed with relief. I should have told him the truth. After all, when the tooth fairy forgot to come the other night, and there were no questions about “real” versus “fairy” I had to wonder, are my children naive? Stupid? Gullible?

One of the books I bought for my daughter this season was A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, by Betty Smith. I couldn’t resist taking a peek. In one scene, Smith’s main character has just delivered her first baby at age 18. She solicits her mother’s advice about how to give her daughter a better life than she has had. Her mother says:

“And you must tell the child the legends I told you—as my mother told them to me and her mother to her. You must tell the fairy tales of the old country. You must tell of those not of the earth who live forever in the hearts of people—fairies, elves, dwarves and such…. and you must not forget the Kris Kringle. The child must believe in him until she reaches the age of six.”

“Mother, I know there are no ghosts or fairies. I would be teaching the child foolish lies.”

Mary [her mother] spoke sharply. “You do not know whether there are not ghosts on earth or angels in heaven.”

“I know there is no Santa Claus.”

“Yet you must teach the child that these things are so.”

“Why? When I, myself, do not believe?”

“Because,” explained Mary Rommely, simply, “the child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination. I, myself, even in this day and at my age, have great need of recalling the miraculous lives of the Saints and the great miracles that have come to pass on earth. Only by having these things in my mind can I live beyond what I have to live for.”

Instead of responding to my son’s queries in that downtown shop, I allowed him the candy cane the clerk offered. I remembered the images I had as a child of a jolly Santa hurrying through the air behind his team of reindeer.

I can still hear those bells.

IMPORTANT: Libraries

October 7, 2016

IMG_4107Please, do not close libraries. My children have learned first words and important stories among the books and caring librarians of these establishments. We have spent countless hours of family time in libraries, made new friends, felt part of a community in this otherwise fractured and isolating world. The digital age can NEVER replace what a library does for a community. To be “lost in a book” is an activity, and event, a love that is essential for the intellectual needs of each and every human. A library is where we can all spread out, be drawn to the areas of our own interest, but rush back to each other to share pictures or words in respectful whispers….. Each of these activities teaches us something about being human than a computer never, ever could. We need the opportunities for not only literacy, but also for person-to-person contact that a library offers.

Lost in Winter

February 18, 2013

So this character walks into a library. He has unruly eyebrows, notable because he appears, otherwise, to be quite young. He is under thirty. Well, maybe thirty. Just.

He has never been in a library. Never in his life. Yet he is standing inside the door of this one, stories of thick books rising up eight floors from the open foyer, layers of heavy tomes, thin volumes in a series, wide opuses, extraordinary titles. He senses their grandeur without taking another step, without touching a single cover. He does something else he’s never done before: he strokes an eyebrow.

The eyebrows he attributes to the fact that he shaved them off once (okay, he had one shaved off when he passed out drunk at a party when he was eighteen, and immediately shaved the other so as not to appear lopsided. There is nothing worse, in his view, than lopsidedness. It is perhaps his biggest pet peeve).

He leaves the eyebrows alone because he’s found the more he tries to shave/trim/tend to them, the bushier they grow. Call them caterpillars, cattails, the frayed edges of rugs that have been vacuumed excessively, towels that should have been thrown out decades ago. They and his library moment are all you are ever to know about him.

Perhaps it was a sense of hibernation that drew him out of my imagination. The closeness of winter that stifles other meanderings. But as we all push through the centre of February, there’s a restlessness of spring around the corner that carries an eagerness bordering on madness. This is my sense of the world, post Groundhog Day, pre-thaw. My escape from adult responsibilities and routine is fiction. Mostly writing it. Is it an escape, or a moving into something more real than the mindless routine of seasons?

I got lost in the stacks the other day. My breath of fresh air in the basement of a library. I’d read a short story online by Joyce Carol Oates, In the Region of Ice (you can find it here: http://www.narrativemagazine.com/issues/stories-week-2012%E2%80%932013/region-ice). She’s got this theme of humanism in the story, so I had this on the brain when I walked toward the literary journals and got sidetracked by a title on the Social Science shelf, called Anthropology and Humanism. Learned about a form of music that I couldn’t really tell you anything about except it’s name (which was spelled with a K in the journal, and a C online, a tidbit that must have its own storied story), Karnatic, and that the article has already seeped into more than one story I’ve been writing, where music, the motion of the human body, culture and sensibility are all at play.

There’s a fiction in randomly coming across something new, and the meaning I place on it, to use in my next (current) story. But that’s also pretty real. Or maybe I just want to think so, as an escape from the endless cycles of earthy existence that carries me from one season to the next.

On discipline and the power of love

January 9, 2013

From across the moonlit distances between the inevitability of life and the finality of death, I hear you, Ray Bradbury (may he rest in peace)… I’m not sure why I didn’t come across this video sooner, and I’m at a loss to describe how destiny works (as Bradbury was, too), but I believe in it. And in the coincidence (for me) of coming across this inspiring speech by Bradbury at the beginning of what will be a challenging year (which will include a home reno after a burst pipe resulted in a tectonic upheaval of our parquet kitchen floor….nothing like a good toe-stubbing first thing in the morning to wake all your senses….and maybe I’ll take that over the nausea of having to reno the whole kitchen, but maybe it’s not entirely up to me, and it’s just got to be done. Maybe that’s a sort of destiny in itself).

Back to writing: I believe in Bradbury’s challenge to write a short story a week, and at the end of the year, to have 52 bad ones. A much better goal than my previous idea of simply polishing up the few measly stories I’ve had on the go for the last few months, and sending them out into the great unknown. Why not write, harder, longer, stronger, and see what comes of it? I’m completely committed now. So why not push forward with even more gusto than I ever thought possible?

So here you go. For anyone out there who would sit and watch this entire thing, and be even half as inspired as I was (as much the second time as the first, since the first time I tried to watch I was interrupted about twenty-five times by two or three munchkins underfoot and in my ears and pulling at my last remaining strands of patience. But I was still completely awed, and I hope you are too).

One more writerly thing that inspired me this week was this – enjoy!

http://www.cbc.ca/thenextchapter/episode/2013/01/07/eden-robinson-lisa-moore/

The Clarity of Moments

December 31, 2012

IMG_4268Does it seem that the lessons get tougher even as the years, the accumulation of them as individual stretches of twelve-month periods, feel shorter?

I started this conversation then got horrendously distracted. Pre-menstrual and parent-weary. A bit anxious about getting any writing done while trying to get the house ready for a party tonight. But that’s not what I meant to say.

I meant to say how pleased I am with the piles of books we as a family collected this Christmas. I meant to discuss what I’m reading, Aritha van Herk, an author I identify with because of her daring female protagonists and especially their time spent in northern landscapes, their search for that place called Home.

I’m also reading Ted Solotaroff’s book of essays. He offers advice to writers just starting out that will give me a pep talk whenever I need it in the coming year. To keep going. Keep writing my way toward the goal of being a weaver of words into thought-provoking stories. My goal of clarity (also the goal of each individual moment), a burning desire that shines between the lines of well-chosen words. In fiction I can be a product of all that I am and all that I’ve come from and seen and done and felt. In fiction, I can take control of these things.

TS, in one of his essays, discusses how the novel can come across as self-conscious compared with the immediacy and honesty of the oral tradition. I worry about this in my own writing, of a self-consciousness rather than an authorial confidence. There was a writer I “met” online when I did my first NaNoWriMo. I adored the subject of her first novel, her characters and her story. But “self-conscious” was exactly how the writing felt to me. Like it had been over-edited, cut down to too few words because publishers will only print a limited number of pages for a first-time author. This writer, Sarah Dooley is her name, her blog has such an intimate and draw-you-in kind of a tone that seemed lacking in her first book. I’ve bought (for my daughter, but I might get to it first) Sarah’s next book, a YA novel titled Body of Water. I believe in her capacity to grow as a writer. To shed some of that self-consciousness, and let the more relaxed voice of her blog seep into her fiction. I can only hope to trip over my own feet a number of times, learn these tough lessons, and to keep trying until a piece of writing feels “right.” To Fail Better as Zadie Smith wrote.

I’m often anxious, like many of us, about where technology is taking us. But as I’ve seen with Sarah’s writing, perhaps blogging is the true continuation of an age-old tradition of oral storytelling that has otherwise been mostly lost in the world. I am terrified of the things we all know are heading for “lost” in the world, but maybe this is one instance where lost can actually be found.

Gifts for our children. This was what I really wanted to write about on this last day of 2012. I’ve thought a lot lately about the truest and best gifts I could possibly pass along to my children. Besides love, nutrition, discipline and shelter. As important as all of these, I think, is the gift of words. I’ve got three small heads in my household (and two larger ones) that bow to books several times a day. As well, all five of us have been getting our heads (and hearts, I hope) to church some Sundays this year, a place where this love of words is continued in the form of the oldest method of storytelling, that is, words passed along orally.

This gift of words is one I can see the affects of hour by hour, season by season. My children are capable of sitting quietly between outbursts of rowdy play. Sitting with a book is when they recharge their batteries. They can recite certain lines from books we’ve read together and stories we’ve heard at church, talk about them, laugh about them. From who sitting my chair? our two-year-old growls at Goldilocks, and the historical facts our five-year-old is learning about in a children’s chapter book about Christopher Columbus, to What is synchronicity? our eight-year-old daughter is exploring in the chapter books she devours at a pace of one every other day. The fact that words can lead to discussions we share together, this is the tie that binds all the other important gifts, from love to shelter. Words. Most important, every day of the year.

One of the things I am most proud of at the end of 2012, and what I will take into the new year as my central focus? The fact I can’t count the number of times each day I hear, “Read this, mummy! Read this!”

Pity Parties and Perfect Paragraphs

December 16, 2012

I have a new favourite paragraph. I’ve read it over and over and over again today, check it out (from Zadie Smith’s latest novel, NW, this is the opening of Chapter 14):

A great hill straddles NW, rising in Hampstead, West Hampstead, Kilburn, Willesden, Brondesbury, Cricklewood. It is no stranger to the world of letters. The Woman in White walks up one side to meet the highwayman Jack Sheppard on the other. Sometimes Dickens himself comes this far west and north for a pint or to bury someone. Look, there, on the library carpet between Science Fiction and Local History: a knotted condom filled with sperm. Once this was all farm and field, with country villas nodding at each other along the ridge of this hill. Train stations have replaced them, at half-mile intervals.

This paragraph has everything, at least, everything I seem to be looking for at the moment. The camera casts a wide glance over an area of London, England. It zooms in for a look at a particular place in a library. It has a dreamlike quality with the mention of infamous characters from literature and history (Wilkie Collins! I’d forgotten about Wilkie Collins, I’ve only read The Moonstone back in lit class, but I remember it well…..now here’s Collins’ Woman in White meeting up with a criminal, I love it), and its scope is both historical and current with those last two sentences, which I absolutely adore.

Sigh. I’m not jealous of this perfect paragraph, I think that’s the silliest thing in the world, to be jealous of another writer’s words. I know I have a sense of language. Of the rhythm and music created by words when they are put together in a certain way. I know that there are as many different ways to do this as there are writers, both past and present. No two writers will ever put the same words or ideas together in the same ways. Like snowflakes, we writers are. Like each individual human, past and present, and oh, alright, future as well. I’m only anxious to get around to creating my own ideal sentences. Perfect, ideal, these are not the right words. Striking, maybe? Memorable. Lasting.

I just need more time to work on this glorious, heartbreaking, obsessive craft of writing. And it’ll come. The few scattered hours a day of writing I get in now isn’t enough, but it’s worth it to push on through, keep going. On through snowstorms (it’s about time the snow arrived, and I hope it lasts through Christmas), through illness, through all of the life that can’t be separated from work and writing…..

Oh illness. Our youngest had croup recently. Croup is one of those things I’d heard of, but which taught me, again, how you never really, truly know a thing until you experience it yourself. In this case: how it will keep you up all night (your child coughing, gasping for air). How the cough will linger throughout the day, make the whole family miserable. How you will end up in and out of the doctor’s office and the hospital for a week straight.

The first night he was sick, when we didn’t realize it was croup (which is really just a cold virus, but in small children, their trachea swells making it difficult for them to breath, and they will make a sound like a seal when they cough, and it is agony to listen to), I’d get up when I heard him cry, put his head back on the pillow, cover him with the blanket. Then I’d lay down in my own bed, sure that he was drowning.

He wasn’t. He didn’t.

But then I got so sad over the fact that we are all alone out here on the Rock, without our families, the grandparents who would, if they lived close by, come over for even an hour or two during the day to be with the other two kids while I took the youngest to the doctor. I felt sorry for myself over the fact that I’d been in and out of the house all week, arms loaded with sick child, diaper bag of snacks and water and toys to keep the kids occupied in waiting rooms. All the while looking longingly over my shoulder at my neglected writing.

My own cough made me weak. Sent me into a two-day pity-party. Catching the baby’s cold was inevitable, being covered in his coughs and sneezes around the clock. By the end of the worst day I was exhausted, and had to make the clear, conscious decision that the next day would be different.

My husband filled in the role the grandparents would have taken on had they been here, leaving work to pick up the kids from school. We pulled together as a team, and made it through the croup and our own bad colds. I put aside my writing for those few terrible days, and turned to reading which, for a writer, is sometimes equally as productive. With cold, without the bad attitude. Pity party over. Simple as that, really. I mean, none of this was tragic. But during those few days I felt th pull that sometimes happens when you think only dark, sad thoughts. The sideways lean that sometimes has me reaching for the liquor cabinet….hand slap. Deep breath. Don’t make a bad situation worse.

And then the skies open up (and snow like crazy) and this amazing paragraph appears and brightens everything. So I’ll read it one more time, then get outside to play in the snow with my family.

Genie in a Bottle

October 14, 2012

I was pleasantly impressed by my olive oil the other day. More than being great for things other than cooking, like moisturizing my dish pan hands, the new bottle I purchased boasted another feature. I peeled back the protective plastic, unscrewed the cap, and up popped one of those easy pour spouts.

This is an addition to the function, but not the cost of an oh so essential cooking element. The easy pour spout was not advertised on the outside label. I’d compare this surprise to the advertising of something like….think, diamond shreddies. Think, have a happy period.

All I’m saying is, I like surprises. There exists in my being a preference for pleasant surprises rather than being bashed over the brain with redundant information. A turn on, versus a turn off.

PC Splendido, Cold Pressed, Extra…Virgin. Sometimes, the power of words lies in what’s left out.