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retrospective: old journal

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Les Semaines



To Calgary & Back

It's not a good idea to leave the description of a trip until after my return, especially if I get sick along the way.

To start off with, I don't remember anything about Monday or Tuesday last week. I know I went to the Clarion West office and logged in applications and sent them on their way to the readers. Obviously at one point I packed. Jim was kind enough to leave work early to give me a lift to the airport--which was pretty empty, though my flight (direct!) to Calgary was full.

Richard met me at the airport. And there I was, back in winter. In the end of it, at least. It reminded me so much of Montana--the way everything was dry yellow grass, ice wherever there was shade, though the sun was warm. Nothing was green yet or showing signs of being green.

I'm trying to remember more of Wednesday night, but can't. We went to the grocery store where I got all nostalgic over Old Dutch chips and other Canadian products. Then we went to his home where his family was waiting. Lisa had to go off to a meeting, so he fed me some pizza and salad and fed Emma (8) and Keeghan (3) as well. Shortly afterwards he had to go upstairs to put Keeghan to bed, so Emma and I entertained each other and I don't remember exactly how. Maybe that was the evening she showed me all the Internet games she plays. It was fun.

Thursday was my poet day. I went to the College where Richard teaches. First he showed me a lovely paper, that was a response to my poem, "Leaving Montana in August". He introduced me to a lot of people, too. Then we went into a big, sunny, glass-lined room where a lot of students were already waiting. We had about 20 minutes before the reading was officially supposed to begin, but I read a poem ("Lucidity") and we let the students ask questions. And after the 20 minutes were up and a few more people arrived, we started again, officially. I read about 35 minutes or so, several requests, and then opened it up to questions again. The students were very interested in the incidents that had sparked poems, the genesis. I tried to be clear that the genesis in my head and the poem itself and then what they thought of the poem were different but equally valid things. Because I believe that. I love that I can create worlds in people's heads. That I can touch things in their lives by talking about things in my life.

It was highly gratifying afterwards to have a long line-up of people wanting me to sign their books.

Richard had a stack of papers, a few of which were about my poems, and so I read those. So interesting to read what people pull out from the work. I was also a little surprised to see how in general much better writers they were than the students I used to work with.

We had an interesting lunch with one of Richard's students and a colleague in the College's very American-feeling food court, then went into Richard's afternoon creative writing class. This was a last-minute arrangement, so the students weren't prepared at all, and not only was I visiting, but so was one of his students from last quarter, the one who had written the paper on "Leaving Montana" because she hadn't been able to attend the earlier reading.

The students did a free writing session, and a few read them aloud and talked about it. Then I did a short five poem reading. Then the students did another short free write. Then we showed transparencies of "Water Root Light and Love" and the poem it became "Rain in the Forest" (from Blood Memory), and talked about the differences in the two drafts, and where there were hints of what the poem would become in the early draft. It was fun. Interesting, too, to watch Richard draw the students out--reminded me very much of Paul Park's teaching style last summer in the first week of Clarion West. At the end of the class the writer of the paper on "Leaving Montana" handed me the freewrite she had done after my brief reading--it was a wonderful appreciation of my work and how it had touched her.

All in all such a powerful experience, being able to read to and then to have the give and take with people who had read and been touched by poems in my book.

The rest of the visit was equally charming--spending time with Richard, Lisa, Emma, and Keeghan, and watching them interact with each other. Richard and Lisa are so natural with their children. While they pay them a lot of attention, necessary of course, it seems far more just how things are, treating the children not as adults but as equals in a way I have rarely seen.

Unfortunately, that night I came down with this miserable fever which I could occasionally keep at bay enough to act nearly human but mostly I was pretty loggy and stupid. Friday we went to coffee (which helped me cope with life again) to a chocolatier (where I got some gifts for Jim) and to a bookstore where I didn't spend too much money.

It was a lovely visit. This was the first time I'd spent any time in Calgary. It's a lovely, spacious city. There's a river, of course. On Saturday we went up the Calgary Tower and I got a good view of the whole of it and its environs, including the mountains to the west before I left. Saw the Chinook bow over the city as well.


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Lisa played me some interesting music but I don't remember the artist's name. Darn it. Besides, it was a boy, and folky, bluesy boy at that. Still, it was fine music.

last week's listening § next week's listening



Michael Bishop's Unicorn Mountain feels very much a novel of the 1980s. It's about the early days of AIDS, when a woman for some reason feels compelled to go and get her ex-husband's cousin, who is dying of AIDS, to bring him back so he can die close to home on her ranch in Colorado. But at the same time she's trying to deal with the fact that the strange animals she has seen running on her land are sick and dying. Her Indian ranch hand is trying to help her, but also to deal with the guilt of leaving his ex-wife and daughter on the reservation years ago. While I found parts of this compelling, I never did get a more than two-dimensional feel for most of the characters and the setting so it never quite came alive for me. An interesting story, but just not all that I felt it wanted to be.

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Besides the readings, which should have been enough of an event for any writer, I came home to more news. Alas, the press that I sent re/inventory to last fall decided to re-think their plans and aren't publishing any "established" writers right now, so now I need to think about that book again and what to do with it. And I am. Slowly. As much as I have been able to do any thinking at all with this fever.

One thing for sure, I know I will have to give it a hard edit.

Work, more work.

last week's writing § next week's writing


Retrospective: old journal

July - September 1989

[We've moved from London, Ontario to my parents' house in Victoria, B.C. then pack it up and move back to Seattle, for good. Or ill. Where we still are.]

1559. Home Again
July 24, 1989

Back in my parents' house, husband, cats, household goods, all. Been here about 5 weeks already. Waiting for Jim to get a job--offered one today he turned down. Would have deadened him. I understand because I turned down one when we first moved to Seattle. It's alarming. When will the next opportunity be? Will the job-fairies forsake us? Comfortable/awkward here both. Cats survive confinement by two household sprees a day. Maddy and I get fatter; Zach and Jim retreat more. Beginning to make myself write, now while I've some time. Back into BN. Visited Robin Saturday night--shamed me into it, he and his 22 books in progress. Strange visit. Mom back last night from sailing on the Darwin Sound, cut hand which Dad pretends not to notice, and dreams caught in her eye [1].
     Mornings I wake when the sun cuts the sky open--that's what it looks like. Then I doze, take and turn the radio on, lie, doze, listen in full sun. Sunsets too are too beautiful, burning through the trees. I'm glad to be back on the coast, settled or not.
     Today, too, heard I didn't get my Canada Council grant. Disappointed, though I didn't expect to get it. Must work while I can before we start trying to settle ourselves again. Seattle or Canada? I want to stay here but it doesn't look possible. Must wait and see and hope for the best. Dis/advantages to both--moving seems deadly now, looking for places, U-Haul, cats, setting up, job hunting. I look now, but it's hard when I don't know where we'll be.
     Zach at the black window waiting for moths to chase. Maddy down from the bathroom window, snacking.

1560. New Home (Again)
September 8, 1989

I'm sitting in my shell chair in my new living room. Maddy is belly up in the patch of sun between the front door and the screen door. Zach's in the kitchen occasionally meowing for dinner. Late afternoon.
     I've spend these days organizing, unpacking. Longest in the study. Then this week in there organizing, filling in applications and answering those long horrid questionnaires about training and experience and working independently, and writing letters & postcards to tell people we have moved again. Here, this is where we are now.
     I hope to stay here awhile; it's nice and light, though small and we've just barely managed to get everything to fit in. Buying bookcases, lots of little things to get the place to work. A stereo stand is being made. I brought down my oriental rug and the bedroom suite that was my mother's in my grandmother's house. Things to love to make a real home and not something patched together, which is how we've mostly lived.
     We're having people over to dinner, catching up with them, going on shopping trips with them (trying not to spend too much money). I'm glad the worst of the transition period is over--Jim even finished the first draft of the short story be began at Mom & Dad's. I haven't begun writing here yet, but I wrote at Mom & Dad's and think I'll start again soon.
     I really want to write a new poem or two. To prove I'm myself again. To prove that we're building a life we can write in.

1561. By candle
September 11, 1989

After midnight and my mind won't quiet down. I am not in the least tired--so I had lit a beeswax candle from Winston-Salem and enticed Maddy to lie near me and I sit in my shell chair in the candlelight with only underwear on writing with my fountain pen. Dreadfully affected but no one will see me but the cats--Jim's asleep.
     Bette phoned tonight to tell me how sorry she was about what the Canada Council jury had said and to make me feel better. I know it was self-pitying to write and tell her, but I knew she would not hold that against me and would help me dismiss the bit of venom their words left in me--strengthen the good that her encouragement and other people's--richard Harrison's at The League, Bronwen's help, the Can Lit & Event reviewers--has been to counteract it.
      I told her about Bronwen. Read her the hands poem at the end of Common Magic. She said she saw my work there, which I don't think I do, then said that in a sense, Bronwen has passed the work on for me to do. Now I know Bronwen herself would most likely have passed that on to other writers more close to her, but I feel in a sense that it's true. By accepting Bronwen's generous help, at a time when she was already fighting the cancer that killed her (though I didn't know that yet), I have made a promise to her. And now I must work.

1562. Late
September 11, 1989

The wick of my candle flares out like a cobra's mane. Twisting scaled and shadowed in the flame. And now the light won't hold steady, won't burn. And now it begins to look like a slim figure holding something very heavy in her arms. The cats are restless, pushing behind the blinds and I'm getting angry with them, so I suppose it's time I shut down for the night, left them to their own devices and slept. Definitely. I'm not going to write a poem tonight--maybe a letter and I've probably written too many of them lately. Time to join Jim.


1. She'd taken the boat up to Haida Gwaii, The Queen Charlotte Islands, and explored Native sites and glorious beaches. Probably her favourite place in the world.

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