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Les Semaines

99.02.21

what I'm thinking and doing § what I'm listening to § what I'm reading
what I'm writing § retrospective: The Phonosnout

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Scotland and I

So given that The Phonosnout talks about my first ever trip to the U.K. I feel inspired to talk about my travels.

After the six-day visit documented in The Phonosnout this week, I didn't make it back to the U.K. until 1991, 17 years later. Jim and I met up with my friend Christina in London for ten days. We raced around trying to see as much as we possibly could in the city itself and then headed west to visit Avebury and Hay-on-Wye (one of my favourite places in the world, a town on the Welsh-English border that is full of used book stores). That summer I came back and Christina and I spent four weeks in Scotland. Then in 1992 we spent three weeks in Wales, going back to Hay-on-Wye and generally messing about in that part of the U.K., with a few days in London. Then in 1994, just ten days after we got possession of the house we'd just bought, Jim and I met up with my parents for three weeks in Scotland. And in 1996 I got a Canada Council grant (god bless 'em) to travel to Scotland for another four weeks to collect material for more poems, and later that year I went to England to visit friends just north of London, attend the Milford Writers workshop, and World Fantasy Con in London. I've been home ever since, longing to go back.

Funny I've been to the U.K. so often, but have never gone anywhere else, even in Europe.

Well, maybe not so very funny. My love of the U.K. has a lot to do with being mostly Scottish and a little English and an even smaller amount Irish by heritage and being raised on British fairy tales and the lowland Scots lilt in my grandmother's voice, and my love of writing which makes use of Celtic mythology. But when I first went to Scotland I had no idea how much I would feel that it is one of the homes of my heart. It's very like and unlike the northwest coast (where I grew up and live now). I have grown to love the stone there--simply the stone on the beach, but what they've made of it over 5,000 years: the standing stones, the stone circles, the burial cairns, the Pictish stones, the castles, the cathedrals, the crofts, the fences, the gravestones. In many ways it's a more forbidding land than my home--the only forests left there are plantation trees in strict rows, and many places seemed windswept and barren when I first saw them, but I have grown to love them.

One of my favourite places is the Orkney Islands off the north coast of Scotland. When Christina first proposed going there on our trip in 1991, I was reluctant once she mentioned there weren't trees there, but despite my misgivings I fell in love with the green, low islands. It's an amazing place, so rich with layers of history. There's a Neolithic village there, and six miles away, in one small area there is Maes Howe, a Neolithic cairn covered with Viking graffiti, a group of longhouses, and small ring of very tall stones (The Stones of Stenness), and a larger ring of lower stones, The Ring of Brogar or Brodgar.

In one place on one of the southern islands there is a Neolithic tomb, the Tomb of the Eagles, where a farmer kept plowing up Stone Age artifacts. For many years he wrote the authorities to ask them to excavate. They didn't come, there being so many sites to call their attention, so he dug up part of it himself. There he found a 5,000-year-old cairn that had been in continuous use for over 500 years, where human skulls and bones mixed with sea eagle bones. (Later the archaeologists came and excavated a Bronze Age house a few yards away from the cairn.) It's a remarkable place, where Ronald Simison takes you through the tomb and his wife will show you artifacts and let you hold a 5,000-year-old skull, or a stone knife, or a hammer, or a shard of pottery.

How can you help but love a place like that? How could I help but write about it?

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

Listening

A scattered week for listening. I made the stack of tapes to triage (decide whether to keep or not) a little lower, but there's still a significant wall o' tapes on the bookcase beside me.

The cd I listened to most this week is Meg Lunney's The Margaret Anns, which continues to grow on me. Kinda quirky-voice Jane Siberry-ishness. Kristin Hersh-ishness. And I still love the David Usher--it's not wearing out its welcome at all.

The only new cd in the house this week is The Leslie Spit Treeo's Chocolate Chip Cookies which has some annoying chipmunk-voice amusichats interspersed between the songs. I don't know if I can bear it, as The Leslie Spit Treeo has always been an up and down kinda experience for me. I loved about 75% of their Book of Rejection, though. Some utterly brilliant material on there.

Today Jim isn't writing (unusual for a Sunday) and so he's playing lots of favourites. Kristin Hersh's Strings ep, Lida Husik's The Return of Red Emma, Rainbirds (self-titled), Gabriel Yacoub's Elementary Level of Faith, Mary Margaret O'Hara's Miss America.

Yum.

last week's listening § next week's listening

Reading

I may have been too harsh last week in my criticism of George R. R. Martin's A Clash of Kings because I did get caught up in the story again, but I still think he's made a mistake by publishing the books before the series was completed--it has gotten too big to keep the emotional impact clear, and judicious trimming of some of the subplots would strengthen the story. I also think limiting the numbers of points of view would only strengthen the series by allowing the reader to connect more deeply, but I suppose that over time the multiplicity will bear fruit. Sometimes it feels like running in place.

Also read two charming novels. Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia Wrede and Carolyn Stevermer, is an out-and-out delight, a magical Regency romance told in letters between cousins. Pure pleasure! Tanya Huff's Summon the Keeper annoyed me a little because of the awkward handling of the story and relationships, but it also made me laugh out loud a couple of times, not a small thing.

And Stephanie Smith's Other Nature, which I thought might be more powerful than it was. It was intriguing, I'll grant that, but the characters were opaque (I kept being told about their traumatized reactions to everything but never felt any of it), and the big change with the children was telegraphed so early and so strongly I was annoyed that the other characters didn't get it, and their reactions when it finally became too clear for them to ignore seemed bathetic. (SPOILER WARNING) When one of the characters commits suicide I was annoyed with her rather than sorry for her!

Sometimes I think my love of literature, poetry, psychology, writing, wonder, and years critiquing and editing make me too sensitized to enjoy a lot of books. If a book doesn't have pretensions (for example, the Huff book), I'll take it at the surface level and not be too critical, but a book like Smith's, which seemed to be trying to be something bigger and more important becomes a great failure. I keep reading, though.

I still prefer a beautiful mess to tidiness with everything so carefully in place it never comes alive. But Stephanie Smith's wasn't either.

last week's reading § next week's reading

Writing

I spent most of this week working on a grant application. Not an exciting creative work, but any bits of money will make a summer of writing rather than scrambling possible, and I'd much rather write than scramble or live in terror of our car insurance bill which comes due, inconveniently, right in the middle of my two months sans paycheck (my job is a 10-month position and I don't work or get paid in July and August).

Anyway, I had thought I would write the grant to continue work on the novel, but instead asked for money to complete a chapbook's worth of poems about Scotland. I thought I had enough for a chapbook already, but I don't. They loom larger in my imagination. I guess I really do have more than that, but the non-space-specific ones have been absorbed into the poetry manuscript I'm trying to wrap up now.

I finally got my copy of Odyssey 7, with my story "Ars Poetica" in it. My first full-length fiction appearance! My first appearance as a cover name on a fiction magazine. Woo woo!

last week's writing § next week's writing

Retrospective: The Phonosnout

About the Phonosnout

Winter 1974

72. Jesus Christ Superstar

I'm sitting here on this Saturday afternoon feeling mellow and listening to Jesus Christ Superstar. I've seen the movie five times and saw the play once in London. I loved it every time. Not being a religious person,1 i don't know why it affected me so much, but it did. It even inspired me to read some of the Bible. The movie was so beautifully done. I wish i could explain it better. It was just an experience.2

73. London

I just realized i haven't said anything about London. I have been Somewhere! Like, London England. Maybe it was only six days, but it was enough time for that (beautiful?) city to make its impression on me. Westminster Abbey, the Tower of London, the history, the soot. I loved every bit of it. I guess a great deal of it was the freedom. No parents, just teachers (it was a trip through the school and the Society for the Study of the Heritage of Canada) for them what wanted guidance. It was a sunny day when we walked around Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park.3

Neile in Hyde Park 3/74     Neile & pals in London pub 3/74     Neile at Stonehenge 3/74
74. Stonehenge I'll always remember those last days of March 1974; even though it's almost a year since then i remember so much. We had a day trip out to Stonehenge, those rocks. It's almost sacrilegious to call them rocks. It was the most weird feeling to be there. (Déjà vu? That's what i wish...) It's hard to imagine that people historians thought didn't have the technology put those gigantic stones in place for their gods. If it is so beautiful now, i wonder what it must have looked like when it was still together. No wonder they thought it a place of magic.

75. Salisbury

On that day long trip we also went to Salisbury. It was still medieval-looking, and it was fun to explore. We really didn't get a chance to see much because of the time, but i loved what i did see. The newest houses i saw were the Georgian ones in the Cathedral keep. The Cathedral itself was gorgeous--it was in the shape of a cross and had a statue of a saint for every day of the year. Now they're broken or missing but some are still whole. It's unbelievable that me, i, could fall in love with a building but i most certainly did.

76. On Becoming Me® in London

I got quite rowdy on that trip, but at that point, being not quite me® as i am now, i needed it. I needed every vodka and orange juice i had on that trip, every hotel bar special (they were good!), but the Irish coffee i had when our plane had to stop in Ireland (Shannon airport). It makes me smile whenever i remember anything about that trip. (I wanna go back...)4

77. Thick as a Brick

I hope you're beginning to understand me, and to like me (even a little, i love being liked). That's the whole Point in this. I know i haven't actually come out and said anything fantastic about me, you have to get to know me by sharing my experiences, and seeing the way i see things, like, through my viewpoint, narrow as it may be. Maybe this whole thing is just an ego trip for me. Most likely. [Lyrics from Jethro Tull's "Thick as a Brick" deleted.5]


NOTES

1. My family was not church-going. At least it was when I was very small but we stopped going after the minister patted my mother's butt at a party. I did have a spell of religious fever though, coming up soon now.

2. Emotionally manipulative, but at 16 that's what you like in songs and movies.

3. I even got a sunburn on my nose. In London. In March.

4. Didn't manage to until February 1991. Sigh. Been back several times since then, though. See doing and thinking section above.

5. Thick as a Brick was one of my favourites in those days.

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