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retrospective: old journal

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Les Semaines




For lack of much interesting to say this week (I went to work, I came home, I went to the Clarion office, we had a very pleasant evening going out to dinner and a movie then tea with friends) I hereby include the chronology of mine life.

  • 1958: Born to charming WASP parents in Winterpeg (okay, Winnipeg), Manitoba. (Both my parents were born there, too.) Immediately started annoying and arguing with older sister. Why wait?
  • 1960: Moved to West Vancouver. Started following dog next door into woods. Mom discovered that if she called the dog, I would eventually follow the dog home. Dog and I spotted strolling along highway.
  • 1961: Moved to house away from dog & highway. Mother breathes great sigh of relief, undoes chains. Bit older sister. Disappeared into woods behind house. No dog to call.
  • 1964: Father transferred to Edmonchuck (okay, Edmonton). All family members unhappy, though digging tunnels under snow is okay. Entertaining, even. Though the school is only a block away, walking through a blizzard one day I am sure I won't make it. Leave an apple in the same bag with Boodie, so Boodie smells too strongly of apple, and thus I am finally able to stop sucking my thumb.
  • 1966: Move back to West Vancouver. Parents build house over a stream. Due to power of suggestion, family pees frequently, especially when it rains. Disappeared into woods behind house. Dog follows.
  • 1968: Father tries new job in Victoria. Rent cool Victorian house with a tower outside. Have to share room with sister: arguments flourish. She gets the upper story of the tower because she's older. Not fair. No forest nearby, only rocky beach. Walk along rocky beach and young lad from the apartment buildings across the way throws a rock across the bay and hit my forehead. Much bleeding, trip to emergency room, scar.
  • 1969: Parents finish building new house, at least enough so that we can move in. Disappear into woods behind, build forts, sit in trees, find empty bottles and ragged porn magazines there. Find a favourite tree to sit in and contemplate the world. In teens smoke dope there.
  • 1976: Graduate from high school. Free at last. Attend UVic (University of Victoria). Pretend I'll do a practical major (teaching, social work, something) and hate them all. Major in lit & writing.
  • 1979: Start getting poems published. Work with Robin Skelton, a makar, a magician, a poet.
  • 1980: Graduate, work on top of mountain in woods. Yay. Living in a cloud is a fine thing. Brief anxiety when alcoholic treatment center I'm working for closes; relief when hired by astrophysical observatory on next mountain over.
  • 1981: Go to graduate school in writing in Missoula, Montana. Meet Richard Hugo, Jim Gurley. No sister to argue with, decide to start arguing with Jim. Live the wild and crazy graduate student life.
  • 1982: Start living with Jim, for arguing convenience. Live in little yellow house at the mouth of the Hellgate Canyon. Yes, really. Discover the place is named for the damn cold wind that comes out of it and right through little yellow houses. Spent winter wrapped in blankets, except when grading papers (we are both teaching freshman composition).
  • 1983: Marry Jim. Arguing is now extremely convenient. Move to apartment on upper story of Victoria house. No tower, though, but it has a screened-in sun porch, which we and our cats adore.
  • 1984: First book published. People are snotty about it. Graduate, start working as a secretary for rabid nun. Wounds don't show, but I sleep a lot and feel sick every Sunday night. Marriage survives this, luckily. Start first novel (still not finished).
  • 1985: Quit job. Get another. Begin to heal, but decide Montana is a good place to leave.
  • 1986: Move to Seattle. Work for City for a while, then for UW.
  • 1988: Move to London, Ontario, to put Jim through library school. Sleep a lot. (See old journal, below.)
  • 1989: Return to Seattle. Rent upper part of house near zoo where the orangutans serenade us. Jim starts job of Rocket Research. I start new job at UW. We're both still there.
  • 1990: Get first artist's grant and decide that I like sucking on the public teat. You see, it buys me writing time and I manage to put together the first draft of my second collection of poetry.
  • 1991: Discover email, the UWbb, and the Internet. Never recover.
  • 1993: Get another grant, supposed to work on poetry but start second novel instead (still not finished).
  • 1994: Get nerve to publish second book of poetry. Buy house. Discover WWW. Never recover.
  • 1996: Attend Clarion West and start writing short stories.
  • 1997: Start publishing short stories.
  • 2000: Third book of poetry published. Doesn't feel painful anymore.
  • 2001: Start working for Clarion West.
  • 2003: Start feeling very stable, an extremely odd feeling. Still married and arguing. Still writing. Still working at UW. Looking for woods to disappear into. No dogs. Cats never follow, anyway.

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



    We got Cat Power's new cd You Are Free this week, and Jim has been obsessing on it. It's a great return to form after her disappointing album of covers. This is a mix of slightly more produced songs with her usual stripped-down slightly punky slightly folky indierock. Some really fine songs here.

    last week's listening § next week's listening



    Kushiel's Chosen is the second in Jacqueline Carey's trilogy of D'Angeline tales about a courtesan spy in a land where "love as thou wilt" is the highest command. She is unique in that she is an anguisette, one whom the god Kushiel has chosen to take pleasure in pain. She is also deeply involved in the politics of her country, and hopes to discover what happened to a traitor who escaped at the end of the last book (see my comments in my June 24, 2001 entry).

    Myla Goldberg's Bee Season really isn't my kind of book. I thought it would be. It's the story of a young Jewish girl whose lack of academic gifts is a disappointment to her family, when she suddenly wins first her school's then a regional spelling bee. But this book got up my nose; it had a huge disconnect between its seeming realism and its basic unrealism. The author lets us into each of the character's points of view, but she keeps information from us that if they were real people rather than ciphers they would be thinking about, so when you find out what's going on, it's really annoying. For example, the full dimensions of the mother's craziness. She has a huge obsession. We get to see her thoughts--so how come that obsession isn't revealed until the end? So the author can exploit the surprise. There doesn't seem to be any other reason.
         I don't believe in the character's single-mindedness, their extremity. Okay, people can be single-minded, but every member of the family has this particularly weird and extreme fanaticism about faith? Why are there are no other dimensions to the characters? If it's meant to be a more metaphorical novel, why present it in a realist fashion?
         It feels to me like the author really couldn't decide what kind of book she was writing. Anyway, it definitely didn't work for me, even if I ignore all the realistic signals and take it all as a metaphorical exploration. If it is a metaphorical exploration, the ending is a tragedy rather than a victory because with the metaphorical world the author has set up the daughter has nothing, because there is no alternative to the madness in this world. Blegh.

    Jo Beverley's The Dragon's Bride is a romance novel set in Devon after the Napoleonic Wars, when smuggling was at its height in this area. Here a young girl who in her teens had a badly ending romance with the younger nephew of an earl finds herself his housekeeper when the earl dies. Of course they are thrown together and sparks fly. A good antidote to what ails ya if you like romances.

    Jane Yolen's The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms is a children's novel about a young mermaid who lets herself be seen and therefore cast out of the sea, and the deaf girl who saw her and discovers her on the shore. This is a tale of both characters learning more about themselves.

    I've read Tuck Everlasting, Nathalie Babbit's children's novel before, but for some reason it just doesn't stick in my mind, even though it's supposedly a classic. It's the story of a young girl who discovers a family who has drunk from a nearby spring and become immortal. To protect themselves, they take her home with them to impress on her the importance of secrecy, but a strange man in a yellow suit is following them. It was a fine read but nothing particularly to make it a classic for me.

    Tim Winton is an Australian novelist I've admired for a long time. His novels walk softly but carry a big stick; they're about average people's lives and how they try to make them better. Cloudstreet is one of my favourite novels ever. This new one, Dirt Music, is also a fine novel. It's about a woman who has given up her profession as a nurse and has drifted into a relationship with a widower with two sons. He's the scion of a fishing family that ruled the little town they live in, and he still carries the weight of that privileged legacy. One day she notices that there's a poacher out there. She finds herself drawn to him, knowing that he's taking a huge risk and that the fisherman will take a horrible revenge if they find out that he's out there. Highly recommended.

    last week's reading § next week's reading



    In 1999 I sent out 14 submissions; in both 2000 and 2002 I sent out 3; in 2002 I sent out 1. That is bad. At least in both those years I only sent out 3 I had some acceptances--just sending out one batch, and that to a contest last year, well, I didn't have any poems accepted. Not good. No, not good.

    So, I sent out a long poem to a long poem contest, the sent out four batches of poems. I'm already doing better than the last three years as far as getting the work out there. Good.

    I also made a few minor revisions to several of the poems I sent out. I'm back in the game.

    last week's writing § next week's writing


    Retrospective: old journal

    July 1988

    1537. Another sleepless night
    July 4, 1988

    Hot city night and I'm torn
    from sleep by a woman's voice
    yelling "no" and her loud crying--
    a low slow man's voice protesting
    the police and it's "Barney, Barney,
    you'll be okay" and her heavy tears.
    Not what I thought.
    The cats in the window watching.
    You in heavy dreams six years
    beside me and here we are
    at this night, voices laughing
    from the bar and church
    bells timing us. It's us and the city's
    hum not dying, summer, dark,
    the river shallow and no rain. [1]

    1538. A Bird in the House
    July 7, 1988

    Dreamt last night of a bird coming through a hole in the screen in our window--it was bright blue with small red markings. It had hurt itself and couldn't fly away. I remember especially the strange sensation of holding i in my hands, feeling how alive it was.

    1539. Reading too much
    July 20, 1988

    An idea from The Creation of Patriarchy that had not occurred to me before: when we look for great women, we look for women who do what men do. Is our vision of greatness lopsided?
         I am surfeited with reading fiction, like eating too much cake or candy--need some good bread and that tough. And so I'll read something else and maybe write a bit-=-time for something better for the mind. Not that all the fiction I've read has been candy, just that too much is too much and it's time to stop. Try a different tack. Even if it is summer, simmering. My mind is so disorganized, and the house is its usual mess. I've been drifting too much, letting too much go. I don't want this year here to be a bad dream--I can't afford to waste that much time. ("Mirta, please fine me I am nearly 30". [2]) It's as if the miles we travelled to get here somehow disjointed something in me.

    1540. Reading cont'd
    July 21, 1988

    Lerner argues that desire for tribal survival led to warriors capturing women from other tribes so there would be more babies, therefore women became reified. However, unless there were a situation where for some reason a particular tribe's children all died (an epidemic, whatever) wouldn't children that were 1/2 foreign continue to be seen as foreign and thus not contribute t other tribe's continuity? I'm assuming an "us-them" mentality, which seems to be prevalent in tribal societies as it functions to preserve the tribe and its integrity as a unit...unless perhaps children were seen as entirely male property, which seems unlikely, given the biological reasons for associating children closely with their mothers. A child from a captured mother would be seen, to some extent, as an outsider and not a part of the tribe and its survival, unless tribes had a long-sightedness I think is unlikely and could see eventual assimilation of a child's offspring into the tribe. Maybe groups were so very small little difference would been between a child from within the tribe and a child with one parent from outside?
         She also argues that neolithic tools are simple and anyone would make them, therefore the reification of women's reproductive capacity came before private property--but what of talismans? What of food stored for winter? Or a special food found?

    1541. Christina's Visit
    July 24, 1988

    Christina has just left--Jim is driving her to the train [3] and I stayed behind because my stomach's upset (too much chocolate cheesecake, I suspect).
         This weekend, like last, was wonderful. We walked in the rain, yesterday and today, just like last weekend. It seems that it rains whenever Christina comes to town. And we just talk, walk, and act silly, and I enjoy her company so much. She is so deeply wonderful in her intelligence, her desire to understand, and her physical beauty, and her love of life. I wish I were better at expressing how lucky I feel to know her and to count her as a friend. It had been years since we'd seen each other--before I married Jim--and yet those years didn't change us in a way that we are foreign to each other. Just richer. [4]
         THe rain today was like coastal rain. We were walking along the river, playing around and walking, and sat on a grassy spot to watch the water, then the rain came--we realized it was raining by watching it fall into the river. I looked surreal. We sat for a while, then began to walk home and it really started pouring down--thick rain and thunder. We were drenched again. The thunder sounded really close and when we got home the cats were hiding (Zach under the chesterfield; Maddy under the bed).


    1. Never did anything with this.

    2. A note from Leonard Cohen.

    3. Christina was living in Toronto, only two hours away from London, Ontario by train.

    4. I still feel that way about her.

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