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retrospective: old journal

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Les Semaines



Hearing From Richard

I'm sure you're tired of illness and hearing about it. I certainly am. So all I will say is that yes, I'm sick and trying to cope with it as best I can. This is a strange one and comes in waves where I feel horrible then eases up and I'll feel fine for a couple of hours and try to get some things done and wear myself out so I feel horrible again. Nasty. Don't get it. Jim thinks it's what he got last fall after he got back from his trip to North Carolina. Weird that it is still around and that I just now succumbed to it, if it is the same one, but the symptoms are the same. Right now all I want to do is recover.

So after last week, talking about my crisis of faith in myself, getting sick wasn't a good thing to do. Not good timing at all, because I've done little this week. Missed three days of work and dragged myself through the two days I was there like a somnambulant. Slept a lot. Read children's novels mostly because that's all my mind would hold until later in the week. Watched silly movies, too, which annoyed Jim greatly. Mostly our house is plenty big for the two of us; it just may not be big enough for the two of us when one wants the TV on and the other ones does NOT.

The only other event of interest was that because of the bug I was home on Friday morning when Richard phoned. Richard is one of those people who reminds me who I am. We all need them on our lives and Richard is one of those for me. I first met him in the spring of 1989 (shortly after the time of this week's retrospective journal entry) when I joined The League of Canadian Poets. It felt like a huge leap of faith to join The League after the emotional battering I had had at the hands of fellow writers in Montana. I had two friends who were members and they promised to look after me at the General Meeting, which fortuitously happened in London, Ontario, where I was living at the time.

I was walking across campus with these friends going from one meeting to another when we met up with Richard, and when these friends introduced us, he immediately said, "Oh, so you're Neile Graham! I've been looking forward to meeting you! I'm on the membership committee and read your book and to me it was real poetry, a real breath of fresh air." Well, those aren't his exact words, but that was the gist of what he said to me, and just that one statement went so far to healing so many wounds that I would be indebted to Richard to that alone for life. But he also helped me edit and shape Spells for Clear Vision and even wrote a blurb for the back. He has been a steadfast friend, one of the few literary poets who understands my love of fantasy writing and its connection to my poetry. We've never seen much of each other as we've never lived in the same city and for the last several years neither of us have attended League meetings. He has a young family, and his teaching career, and his own writing (his most recent book was shortlisted for the Governor General's Award for Poetry, which is the highest poetry award in Canada).

But anyway, the phone call. He's been talking about inviting me to read where he teaches in Calgary, but it's never quite taken shape for all sorts of reasons. We had tentatively planned a reading for the end of March. I thought it might fall through. But it certainly has not and I'm going, airline charges willing. Which is one thing. But he also told me that last term he taught some of my poems in one of his classes. Wow. What a concept. He said he's saved some of the papers students wrote on my work to show me. Whoa. It's happened a time or two that someone has emailed me to say they were writing on my work, but a whole class? And then he told me that this term he'd assigned Blood Memory as a text for the class. A text!

My head spins, it really does.

And once again Richard, unknowingly, has offered me just the balm my battered confidence has needed. I will bless him forever and ever.


last week's thinking and doing § next week's thinking and doing



Despite my illness, on Saturday night we went to hear the Baltimore Consort. We had tried, briefly, to find someone else to take our tickets, but failed. We made a deal that we would only stay to the intermission. But when we got there we found out they were doing a program of early Scottish music, so I decided if I were at all able, I'd stay through it. I didn't feel wonderful, but as all I had to do was sit there, I survived it and quiet enjoyed the music. They're a lively interpreter of early music, willing to lean toward being a folk band at times, willing to be lively. It was a fun evening. I wish I had been well enough to enjoy it more fully, but I did enjoy it. I was just really glad to get home.

last week's listening § next week's listening



Robert Lacy and Danny Danziger's The Year 1000: what life was like at the turn of the first millennium. An Englishman's World is a very easy-to-read assessment of what life was like in England at that time. I found it informative and entertaining.

I was reluctant to start Jan Siegel's The Dragon-Charmer. I'm not sure why. I quite liked the first book in this series (see my July 30, 2000 entry for comments) but perhaps the title of this put me off. And then when I finally did start it, the vague dreamy centreless quality of the beginning sections--in the viewpoint of a witch living in a mythic land--made it hard to really get into the book, but when I finally did, I quite enjoyed it. This is the story of a witch in the real world who gets kidnapped by these other witches, and of a family of dragon charmers and how they get caught up on a demon's plot. And the young witch's brother and friend in the real world and how they become part of the story. An interesting mix of fantasy and mythic worlds like the first one. Very interesting.

I feel like I've read Lois Lowry's young adult speculative novel, The Giver before but perhaps didn't remember it well enough to have; perhaps it was only something like it that I read. This is the story of a young boy growing up in a restricted society--so patterned that everyone has set forms of speech, of jobs, daily patterns. Marriages and professions are decided by a special committee. But there is one person outside of all that the young Jonas isn't even really aware of: the Receiver of Memory. This, of course, is the profession chosen for him. The Receiver of Memory is the keeper of everything that doesn't fit inside the pattern of this society. This is a well-told tale, though perhaps just a little too wooden or methodical for my tastes.

Margaret Mahy's young adult novel, The Other Side of Silence, is another novel that I feel vaguely that I've read before, and I may well have, I haven't looked back in the reading list I kept before I started this journal to know for sure. It's the story of a young girl growing up in an exceptionally accomplished family, who decides to be silent. She also likes to climb trees into the yard of a neighbour and to spy on her from the trees, until one time she calls at her feet and find herself hired as a gardener. It's a well-told tale of family and secrets, but I've liked other novels of hers much better.

Patricia A. McKillip's early children's novel, The House on Parchment Street, is conventional novel that anyone would suspect who is reading her more current books. It's the story of a young girl who goes to visit relatives in an old house in England for the summer, and there she finds a ghost. Her cousin seems them, too, but no one believes them. And someone they have to help the ghosts...disappointing knowing McKillip's later work, but a fine story of its sort. (For my comments on other McKillip novels see my June 25, 2000 and January 27, 2002 entries.)

Donna Tartt's bestselling novel, The Secret History, is an odd read. In structure and in several psychological ways it reminds me of The Barbara Vine mysteries I've read: you know from the start who was murdered and by whom, and the novel consists of revealing to you along the way the events that brought it about and unfolded after it, so the focus is on the trail of events leading to and from that crux, the echoes on both sides of it. From the start you know that the narrator, Richard, was involved in the murder of one of a group of well-connected students of a charismatic classics teacher, and that this event has changed his life. What you don't know is what brought him to do it and what exactly his part in it was and how he dealt with the repercussions afterwards. That's what this novel tells you. I found it a well-written, interesting read.

last week's reading § next week's reading



The poems aren't out yet. They will be, though. Very very soon. See comments above for other events.

last week's writing § next week's writing


Retrospective: old journal

February - June 1988

1532. Sunday in February
February 7, 1988

Just fed the cats. Susan just fed hers [1]. Zach is picking at his claws. Dinner is ready to be cooked. Jim's locked in his room. The dryer is going and Susan's working at the computer. 4:10 and I'm just settling down to thinking about working--this is how little time I allow myself to be. Harold visited last weekend. I don't want to forget that. It was wonderful to be serious.

1533. And it's gone (out of speech out of silence)
February 29, 1988

February that it said it was. Most gone.
I am looking for some more particular truth.
Less general--less truthful--something
to hold on to. Turn and turn about in the forest
till you fall against a particular tree
(better that looking out onto the ocean
where any wave, it could be, any nameless
strand of light falling upon it. It's all
too general). So what is it what have we here?
This tree in this late afternoon clouded white
sunlight, this needle fallen fro it in my hand.
One end crushed by my fingers, the scent
shining from it like a match's flare.
So--I managed to call it here from my mind's
file of places I have been and made.
Here into this house I brought it, felt that
needle in my palm and smelt it much better
than the world forest. I stole it and I
brought it here. Hoarder. Ferreter away of
cones and stones, surf pebbles and beach
glass to put it in my hand on my tongue
to make it speak. [2]

1534. In Glendive
April 25, 1988

Here I am in a motel in Glendive, Montana, while Jim soaks in the tub. We are driving to London, Ontario. This is our second night out. The first we spent in Missoula, which seemed so familiar it was as though the two years we spent in Seattle had never been. The cats are not greatly happy but are surviving. We drove into snow this morning--one car lying on its roof between the lines of the Interstate--a woman on the side crying--put the fear into me [3]. There were a few bad patches, but we drove out of the snow. In Billings the slush was a few inches deep. The drive was beautiful but we couldn't see much and there was fog and birds flying out of it (a couple, I know, hit the car and didn't get away in time). The trees were beautiful and all the streams and hills and we're all four weary.
     It was wonderful seeing Bette again, talking to Bryan on the phone, Dennis and Bronwyn visiting. Bette is still Bette and beautiful.
     And so we're really on our way, changing our lives again. It's hard to believe (and not) that we've left Seattle, left Missoula, left Victoria, and are on to create another new and temporary life. I feel caught in between places, in limbo between new and old. Three or four days more on the road to go. [4]

1535. London, Ontario
June 25, 1988

So now we've been here almost two months and I still feel as though I'm somewhere on the Interstate. I've been working for a month or more [5] and I'm trying to make a life for myself here and to do something worthwhile in this year in this strange city and somehow I haven't caught up with myself at all. [6]

1536. Evening to Myself
June 25, 1988

Jim's out with Jim [7]
It is barely summer by the catalogue (calendar) but already there have been days of nearly unbearable heat--today being one. 38°C and a heavy wind that felt like it came directly from the Sahara.
Listening to Morrissey. It's dark outside.
Much cooler
Reading Chatterton,
Zach in the window. Voices on the street. Misty, lost, melancholy sleepiness in my head.
Wind in the trees, cooler now.
This is my hand; my pen in my hand and my writing that becomes itself with this pen.
Zach jumps from the window, restless voice.


1. Susan is a friend who moved in with us with her two cats for four months while she was getting herself settled in Seattle. It was a complex time.

2. Part of this became the final part of the poem "Out of Speech Out of Silence" which appears in Spells for Clear Vision.

3. The State Patrol was there, too.

4. Jim had decided to go to library school, and the University of Western Ontario in London, Ontario, had a one-year program that we could afford and that a friend of ours had gone to. We cut all our ties, threw out a lot, arranged for some stuff to be shipped, stored a walls worth of boxes in my parents' basement, and filled the car, stuffed the cats in and went, trusting to fate to bring us a place to live. We were plucky then.

5. A temporary job for the academic advising department of the Faculty of Science at the university.

6. London Ontario was a kind of culture shock to us. Not only were we back in Canada (where Jim had never lived before) but Jim had a built-in life through school and I was adrift, except for work. London was a weird place for us. Conservative in an English Canadian way I'd never experience before, and hard to get to know people except at work and school. I had no identity there. I read and slept a lot and wrote not at all.

7. Our closest friend in London was also named Jim.

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