what I'm thinking and doing

what I'm listening to

what I'm reading

what I'm writing

retrospective: old journal

Email comments, questions, and complaints to neile@sff.net §

Neile's main page

people have wandered through this week with me




















Les Semaines



First Week of Clarion West 2003

The week started on Sunday night with orientation when the students who had gathered to the house met as a group for the first time. Leslie and I were both exhausted from moving in and running around setting up the instructor room and classroom things. Jim was kind enough to help us move all the things from storage to the sorority house. The sorority people had set up the classroom in a long rectangle but we shortened that some, but when the students came in they pulled out even more tables, shuffled it into a circle, and we pulled out one table to serve as manuscript pick up and sign up surface. Leslie had found two lined sheets of erasable plastic to use for students to sign for days to turn their stories in.

There was still much shuffling going on and Leslie and I had barely started with our orientation session when Nancy Kress appeared in the room, and so we turned it over to her, knowing that she's one of our most experienced teachers and has taught the first week several times and would be able to easily and naturally get the mechanical structure of the class working for everyone. So Nancy began talking, and had the class introduce themselves, and so it began.

The class quickly settled into the routine, and by Wednesday new stories were starting to be critiqued. It was a really intense week, and the students threw themselves into the workshop with high energy. Nancy even had to tell them to ease up a little and to remind them to pace themselves because they have five weeks to go and don't want to burn themselves out. The class is focused and high energy and quite intense. Even this first week they have hit some touchy issues, and I think handled them quite well, with Nancy's guidance.

They are loving living in the sorority and especially appreciating the chef, Eric, and have already challenged each other to put him in a story. The house itself seems to be working quite well. The class just barely fits into the living room and we certainly wish the instructors' rooms were just a little more posh, but otherwise it's spacious and comfortable. The main floor certainly feel luxurious.

Nancy's reading on Tuesday evening was a wonderful story and the attendance was good. A really enjoyable evening.

Friday night's party was also a lot of fun--full of local fans and writers and we had some good talks and I got a chance to get to know a couple of the students a little better.

A great start to the workshop.


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



No time to listen, really, though Jim has been on an early REM binge. I still really like their early music. Somehow around Green I start only liking about half of the album. Haven't cared much for their work since then. But I've really been enjoying hearing their early work again.


last week's listening § next week's listening



Sarah Singleton's The Crow Maiden is a mythic fantasy mixing the world of people rebelling against contemporary society with the amoral world of faerie. The story begins with a young mother feeling drawn to wander off and when she returns she can't quite remember what happened to her except that it was profound. Her partner was an environmental protester, who now finds himself with a regular job to support her and their child, but leading protests against a highway layby in their neighbourhood, trying to negotiate the treesitters & squatters, and the village regulars. Also involved are a drifting, selfish young woman who is intent on finding her way to the faeries and a young club-hopper who is drawn to the action. The prose is descriptive and rich, and the characters highly realistic. The three worlds (faery, the protestors, and the mainstream world) are clearly depicted. My only quibbles are that perhaps the story itself could feel a little more compelling and energetic, it felt like there were a couple of times where stumbles could have been smoothed over, and a good copyeditor could have really helped this. Recommended, though.


last week's reading § next week's reading



One poetry submission returned home. It hasn't gone out again yet, as I'm working on doing some research on just who is reading this time of year.


last week's writing § next week's writing


Retrospective: old journal

April 1990

Monday, April 16, 1990

Five days in Toronto. Fast. Christina and Ann met me at the train station. We ran a bunch of errands, then home fast because Ann wanted to hear a CBC program on music. Had some bread and cheese and hummous at Christina's new place. Only two rooms but they're bigger than ors and seem open. She has gotten rid of a lot of things but says sh still feels the weight of her possessions. I understand.
     The reading was that night, so we got grapes and cookies for it. Ann picked us up and I met Flory Vale--a lovely woman; hard to believe she's 80. We fussed around in Hart House. The reading was up in the top floor. Emily [1] was there. I was relaxed from the train trip, though Christina was nervous that things would go wrong and about the introductions.
     George read first--sometimes confusing poems but he read well. Then Flory read. She was nervous but her poems were delightful when read--simple but fun and charming, always close to (t)he(r) bone, mostly witty. Then I read, mostly poems for Christina. "Seven Robins" and the "Dear Christina" and "The Seasons Break their Shapes." Best I think was "Tuppence in Pocket"--she was almost crying, said later that she felt it described our friendship well. Last I read "Midfire."
     The talk after was a little awkward. The room was small for thirty plus people, but I had the chance to talk to a few folk and exchange books with George. One young man kept hinting that perhaps my poems described a spiritual quest, kept trying to formulate a question. I gave a couple of fake answers, but he kept pressing so finally I said that I was definitely not seeking organized religion, that it was the closest to evil I had ever experienced.
     Later we went to George's, where we drank and talked and played with his grandchild, Peter. Emily was really absorbed with him. She had to leave because she was taking her son David to her parents' for Easter in the morning. Don Cullen bought us dinner because we hadn't eaten yet--Chinese that took a long time to get there.
     I really enjoyed giving the reading. I felt like people were really listening, and it wasn't an audience of poets for a change. Both Christina and Ann felt that listening to a reading was far better for them than trying to read it--easier and more understandable.
     The days in Toronto were busy and already I can't sort out what happened on which day Lots of shopping--Baldwin Street, Yonge Street music stores, Bloor Street for funky shops and Longhouse Books. Had a wonderful lunch in a Malaysian restaurant on Baldwin on day.
     Saturday Kathryn [2] came over and we wandered around late--late dinner at a Chinese restaurant, talking and laughing. Kathryn stayed the night then went to her parents' the next morning.
     We had tea and talk at Flory's house. Full of paintings. Both she and her husband had been painters. She began writing after his death. She also played piano for us. We talked a lot about family and about writing. She'd had a drawing and poem in Skelton At Sixty so we talked about Robin. We exchanged books.
     Watched a couple of Dr. Whos. Trotten and Hartnell, read a little. Saturday night Christina and I read aloud from the old books she'd brought back from Britain--about mammals--badger, cats, vampire bats (a bloodfucker in that old type) and the Rump, a collection of satirical verses about the Roundheads, mostly.
     The day after the reading we spent mostly running around shopping, and that was the day we had lunch in the Malaysian restaurant. Actually, shopping isn't the best description, but we looked more than shopped--looked at the people, the things, a family of street cats beautiful but wary, lovely old buildings being restored, imported clothing and jewelry from all over, atmosphere and a taste o the big city as it exists in Toronto. That was the centre of Thursday.
     Friday focussed on our tea with Flory in her magnificent house, magnificently showering her work and her spirit which isn't ponderous but not exactly light, either. Quirky but real, too. Wonderful row house. We talked about mothers and daughters, about her family and her daughter now, a little about her husband and her painting and how her work was received compared to this realistic backyard scenes. How she began writing after he died as a kind of companionship, and how her daughter disliked her writing.
      Saturday was the day with Kathryn when we wandered around a couple of places and best got Christina's fish: the suck, Joanne and Ernie; neons, the three guys on probation; two leopard fish, Boo and Akbar; and the green catfish, Zach. Watched them and worried about them. Ran around trying to find a thermometer for the tank so they wouldn't freeze or boil. Finally got a tourist keychain at a convenience store next to Shoppers Drug Mart while Christina was talking to Mary, the bag lady from Russia. Then we argued about how to read the thermometer (as mostly a toy it was hard to decipher) which Zach went wild in the tank. And we worried that night, kept waking up to be certain they were still swimming and there would be Zach flitting wildly around. Kathryn on cushions stolen from the chesterfield in the storage room. She left earl the next morning because it was Easter and she didn't want to miss her family's egg hunt. Too quick a visit with her, and she doesn't look well. She has begun school, though, which is a new adventure for her. Out of the office where we had worked together, rather messily for her. Glad she's out and begun something new; she's too young to waste herself.
     Sunday we went to for a walk in the ravine because it was sunny and had a hint of warmth. Muddy, though. Would have taken the Bodger, the upstairs dog, a young spring that Christina spends a lot of time with, but he was already adventuring. It was fun to spend that much time with Ann--she seems to play--I thought all the time was but apparently she usually works and works too hard. We did have a delightful time and she drove us everywhere, even to the airport Monday morning. We did have fun, wasting time, walking around, eating, looking, talking about life, sex, Canada, America, families, relationships, our work, our seriousness, our fun.
     Had some wonderful times with Christina, too. A chance to see how she lives now--though not at work as she usually is, living in Robards, the spaceship library. talk and food, and reading the books from England, her relationships, her wish now to marry and have children and dogs, and the kind of marriage she envisions as possible for herself. The life she hopes for after the chaos of her family life. What she wants to create, and what I do, and how we muddle along.
     It was a wonderful trip--the combination of the readings and visiting, the museums, cities and places. Affirming how much I love to read and share, and to share time with my friends. I am very lucky in both. A wealth of it.


1. A friend from our stint in London, Ontario.

2. Another friend from our London days.


last week's old journal § next week's old journal

Last Week § Les Semaines index § Next Week