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retrospective: old journal

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Les Semaines



To Toronto And Back

So despite all the warnings and the lack of the WHO rethinking their stance, here I am, on my way to Toronto, WHO be damned, or at least ignored. Through the grace of my handheld and its lovely keyboard, I am typing this on the plane. Having watched the silly, charming romantic comedy with Sandra Bullock and Hugh Grant. Having eaten something the airlines called French toast before the movie started and now picking popcorn husks from my teeth after the little package of cheese-flavoured stuff I just ate. Travel, don't you love it? At least there's lots of leg room. I mean lots. This plane is nearly empty.

Now that I'm thinking about it a little more, I'm kind of wondering why I'm flying all this way and spending three days of my life for a half-hour reading. It was going to be 20 minutes until I reminded the hosts that I needed to read long enough to get full funding from The League of Canadian Poets Canada Council readings. It all seems a little out of proportion. I was flattered to be asked, as I don't know anyone running this series, and now I find myself wondering why they asked me, how I appeared on their radar at all. Through SF Canada? What? Whatever it was, it was enough that now here I am in the sun above the clouds above the North American farmland.

Time out from life, which given the now-usual annoying level of agony at work, I am grateful for. The forthcoming budget cuts are threatening people I care about. I am somewhat safe as I'm wanted for the new PhD program, but other cuts are being made that could be really devastating. People are, in my opinion, making bad decisions, but no one asked me. In fact, there's a serious lack of asking or discussion going on. This can't be good.

I guess it's not a break if I spend all my time thinking about it. I think I'll get back to my book for now.


So now it's Wednesday, and I'm sitting at the desk in the room at the B&B, having gotten up very late (I stayed up to finish my book) and had a slow shower. I'm dressed now except for socks, which I haven't put on yet. I'm going to go out shortly and get something to eat, as I told the host that I wouldn't be up in time for breakfast, and indeed I wasn't anywhere near. It's after 1:00 here. It's a gray day so far, but the sun is trying to break through.

I trying to decide what to do with myself. I could phone one of the few people I know in this city. I could go walk down Bloor again as I did for a while last night. I could stay inside and try to turn this into a little writing holiday, at least a bit. Here I look out over Toronto backyards. They're empty at the moment, though there have been some busy men in one of them. The trees are starting to push out leaves and give the yards a bit of privacy again. Looking at the backs of the brick houses, where the wooden back entries have been added to nearly each one of them. A couple have roof decks. I can see the top of one round tower; the rest are square. There's one billboard way up here, advertising fixed rates on natural gas for whomever would look so high. Down below there is sun-bleached yard furniture, and next door a lovely little carriage house with window boxes and lace curtains, a playhouse or writing retreat rather than an apartment I think, because of the bolt on the door rather than a regular lock. The yard of the house I'm in has some nice wooden furniture and many trees, eight at least. Well, I'm thinking about going out to Second Cup (and not the Starbucks) for some coffee and maybe something to eat.


Coffee and a cheese scone to be exact. Then a walk along Bloor again. If I were more in a shopping mode I could do some damage in the huge used disc shop, or in Book City, but I find I pretty much have everything I want and after a while I got tired of sidewalks and window shopping. I'm a little bummed that the grocery store doesn't carry the kind of tea we like, and the only wine gums I could find were stale (I bought some anyway). Now I'm going to eat the lunch/dinner I picked up and choose the poems for the reading.

Being alone in the city makes me write as-it-happens journal entries.


So it's after the reading now. It was in a typical bar reading set up--the stage in the corner, the bright lights and awkward chairs for putting things on, the crowd near the bar talking, but the audience was attentive, the hosts gracious, and I sold a few books and it was fun. And people I knew came, which made it seem a little less surreal. I love reading.

I felt sorry, though, that I hadn't worn a dress that would show a little cleavage, so I would match the two other featured readers and it could have been a three-cleavage evening.


So now it's Thursday and now I'm on the plane again, this time on the way home. I got up and got going this morning early enough to meet Paul and Kathryn at the Second Cup at 10:30. Now that's not early, but remember that's 7:30 Seattle time. I guess that's not all that early, either, really, considering most days I'm already at work at that time.

We had a wonderful time talking about how they're liking living in Toronto. Interesting to hear the point of view of people who have lived in the U.S. always and are now in Canada. I've lived in the U.S. so long Canada is just as strange to me, but I'm finding out that it's still the country I love. Damn, I want to move back sometime. Soon. If I could ever figure just exactly where I want to live in Canada that would help. I go round and round on this one. The west coast for certain, but where? And until Jim's job dies there's no point in moving. We have a house, we have a life in Seattle. But damn.

Anyway, we had a great chat and afterwards I took the subway to Union Station, hoping to leave my suitcase in a locker only to find they'd closed them down for security. Of course. But damn. So my suitcase and I went walking up Yonge Street. Trudge, trudge. Walked up to HMV, only to find that it no longer stocks indie cds. It's all mainstream, all the time. Well, not quite, but I wasn't impressed with their selection. Went next door to Sam The Record Man and found that they are filling in the gap somewhat. Sadly, I didn't know enough about it to buy things, that is until I found a disc that has been on my list to look for in Canada for several years. Hooray.

Then I went bra and dress shopping. Found several of the first and one of the latter, or rather a skirt and matching top. Then to Indigo, where I spent a long, long time dreaming of books and no really finding any. So to the subway and back to Union Station, to get the bus to the airport, slow, caught in traffic.

Then the airport stuff. Oh god. It has to be the most confusing airport I've ever been in. Long line at Customs/Immigration line, snaking back and forth. Finally through that, then through security. Then the confusing situation where our gate was changed at the last minute because another plane was boarding at about the same time. Now the plane. A little fuller than on the way there, but I still have three seats to myself.

I'm sitting here, and half-watching About Schmidt. Not so good so far. Blegh. Shall I give it up and read? Work on my novel? Try to watch? Typing this takes just about the right amount of attention, but I'm running out of things to say. Too much time in airports and on airplanes.

Forgot to mention the important things: I have three novels to choose from to read. Haven't worked on my own novel yet. Sigh. Carried it to and from Calgary and Toronto for nothing. But one little airport concession store had fresh (Fresh!) wine gums for sale. So now I have a multitude of wine gums. This is the life of a poet on her reading trip.


Oh, About Schmidt didn't get any better, but I did watch it to the end. Then I started working on the chapters I'd brought with me. So there.


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



We've still been obsessing with Kat Terran. And I also got some French Canadian electronic pop by Ariane Moffatt. It may be partly too pop for me, but she's got a lovely voice, so I'm listening.


last week's listening § next week's listening



Margaret May's young adult novel, Alchemy, is one of her best. It's the story of one of the popular boys in high school, who is given a strange punishment when he's caught shoplifting: to find out as much as he can about a quiet, self-sufficient student named Jess. In finding out her secrets he find out things about her, about his assignment, and about his past and himself. Highly recommended. (See my February 16 entry for comments about another book of hers.)

Maeve Binchy's Scarlet Feather is a warm story about a woman who is starting a catering business, whose upper-class husband is an activist lawyer, and she finds herself having to deal with the difficulties of getting the business off the ground while her husband works long hours, her husband's uncle deserts his young children whom she then has to arrange for members of her family to take care of, and her partners girlfriend is trying to launch a belated career as a model. Interesting characters as always, and very true to life. (See my January 14, 21, and February 25, 2001 entries for comments on other books by Maeve Binchy.)

I hadn't read Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird since I was in grade 10 and it was assigned. Mostly what I remembered about it was the overall feeling of the book--the slowness of its days--and that when he had our test on the book a substitute teacher was there to give it to us, and the first question asked to whom the book was dedicated. I was so incensed to be asked such a question on a test that I pulled the book out from my desk and opened it on my lap to read the dedication and copy it in the space for the answer. To this day I remember that the book is dedicated to "Mr. Lee and Alice." What a horrible thing to do to a memory of the book. A couple of months ago I came across a TV station that was playing the movie and I watched and loved it. So when our neighbour had a copy of the book and I was working on her computer, while waiting for tests to run and software to upload, I started reading it again and brought it on my trip to Toronto to finish it. It's such a wonderful novel, from the shaping of all the characters to how the events are handled. What a delight to re-read.

Jocelyn Reekie's children's novel, Tess, is the story of a young Scottish girl in 1857 whose circumstances force her to travel with her father from her home in Scotland all the way around the tip of South America and north to Victoria, B.C. The book is about her trip and what happens to her when she arrives on Vancouver Island. I bought this because of its basis in early Vancouver Island history (that's where I grew up). I enjoyed this--the character is feisty. It did, however, feel like her story wasn't over when the book was.


last week's reading § next week's reading



Worked on those chapters of Davey, as mentioned above. Haven't heard a word on any of the multitudinous submissions.


last week's writing § next week's writing


Retrospective: old journal

January 1990

1582. Starting with Zero
January 7, 1990

All the old complaints about whether this is the start or the end of a decade, whether we're starting with zero or one. The rain and the wind of storm outside sounds like the end of beginning of anything, the simplest magic of arbitrary time.

1583. Sea Glass from Execution Rock
January 7, 1990

This is the kind of gift
my mother gives--hints
of vision, a small chunk of glass
tasted and tasted by the waves
tasted and finally softened,
tossed onto the rock to wait for rescue
by the next high winter tide.
This my mother sees, having walked
across the mudflats to the Rock
and the remains of Ohiat village
after that she sees this bit of green
with the flavour of ocean, some white
man's broken bottle turned into beauty
by the sands and tides.

Her second gift: words:

I told her I'd steal them,
those words to trade for what
I cannot see or feel in the city
but only a hint that comes in with
the winds from the Sound, a rumour
of Ocean crosses the rainforest here
THe cedars outside my door
shake it for news, and I
stand outside in the dim winter morning
on my way to work, guess at the meaning
of the weaving branches, touch the
bit of glass in my pocket
and see the sky--above
and below. [1]

1584. Last lines
January 8, 1990

for a poem in homage to Bronwen, someday maybe:
the grace you described in such
clear particulars we know it is real.

1585. Winter Count
January 9, 1990

Yesterday was the day of winter count--both when I read Barry Lopez's story from the book by that name on the bus on my way home, and when a friend of Jim's from Calgary sent us a card, a reproduction of a winter count painting. "He came to hear a story unfold, to regard its shape and effect. He thought one unpacked history, that it came like pemmican in a parfleche and was to be consumer in a hard winter."
     "What did they want from him? A teacher. He taught, he did not write papers. He told the story of people coming up from the Tigris-Euphrates, starting there. Other years he would start in a different place--Olduvai, Afar Valley. Or in Tierra del Fuego with the Onas. He could as easily start in the First World of the Navajo. The point, he told his students, was no t this. There was no point. It was a slab of meat. It was a rhythm to dance to. It was a cloak that cut the wind when it blew hard enough to crack your soul."
     "I can no longer think of anything worse than proving you are right."
     "'As professional historians, we have too often subordinated one system to another and forgotten altogether the individual view, the poetic view, which is as close to truth as the consensus. Or it can be as distant.'"
     You can only tell the story as it was given to you, he wanted to say. Do not lie. Do not make it up."
     "...it is too dangerous for everyone to have the same story. The same things do not happen to everyone." "'Everything is held together with stories,' he thought. 'That is all that is holding us together, stories and compassion.'"

1586. Tuppence in Pocket
January 10, 1990

And there we were, tossing sticks
on a late Ontario night as high into the air
as we could on the path near the bridge
for the bats to swoop at, and it's true:
the bats few at them, deceived, though them live,
dancing all directions, chasing nothing in the dark.

I remember another time, years ago, dark
night again, your father screaming words at you like sticks
he would use to beat you--his anger seemed a live
thing. I was waiting for you at the door, the air
thick with lies,--I knew what you had said was true
--between you hatred was the only bridge.

I wasn't used to that. I was the kind that thought family love was a bridge
that would carry me over the bad world, over every dark
spot in my life--I suppose that for me it was true
But not to for, your family used treated love for like sticks
And so you got away, where you could breathe the air
freely without them, where you could study a way to live.

Another time, back home on the coast where I still live
We left things in the forest there, things to bridge
the distance and years between use--left clay statues to air
themselves at a cedar's bas, buried coins together in the dark
loan there. Strange things to leave there among the sticks
and leaves, but they were a way to make our friendship true.

We've had some strange times together, that's true.
Sometimes friends dont' believe the stories. Somehow we live
such different lives, but something between us sticks
us together, no matter how long we're apart, we able to bridge
the time like nothing. We know the secrets, how the dark
parts of each other's lives, know how to make them disappear like air.

Do you remember in the church courtyard, teaching me that English air
about the woman promised to a boy, but the marriage became true
then of course he died. I know it's a kind of dark
tale but beautiful and helps me to make sense of how I live.
That song, the statues and coins, these are the gifts that bridge
all the changes, the year,s the loves and hates--they're what sticks.

Like the English coin you gave me, dark with agin, it sticks
you into my mind again--wood in the air above the bridge--
Something honest, true as the water moving below us, where we live. [2]


1. This is pretty much the poem as it appears as the first poem in Spells for Clear Vision. For the section of the poem that appears as the ellipses here, see #1576 in my April 20th entry.

2. I mostly tinkered with this, except I changed the ending a lot. This sestina appears in Blood Memory. It's about my friendship with Christina.


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