Monday, December 31, 2007
Here we go, another year gone by, here comes 2008.
It's been a crazy week. I fell in a snowbank out back, encased in snow up to my hip and couldn't get out. Luckily a neighbor saw me and I eventually got rescued. But for the briefest moment, I felt what it must be like to be in quicksand, or what it might be like, if no one ever came, to just stay there STUCK, and die in the snow. At first it was humorous, then a bit panicky, and finally ... just embarassing. So much for shoveling where shovels are never meant to go, ha ha.
I've just been reading The New York Times's take on the year we've just had, in an article titled Looking at America: "There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country... " It speaks of a "horrible sense of estrangement." Strong words, but they echo my sentiments exactly. Just when you think things might be starting to get better -- yet another thread in the fabric of Everything manages to come untangled.
But that's no reason not to keep trying. Here's to a new year of Hope and Possibility.
For all the ex-pats out there, for all those who feel alienated in their birth country, or are in exile and miss home--or, like me, don't feel that home is a physical place--for all the beings in the universe, I wish Peace and Happiness and that we all arrive at where we're meant to be.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
Friday, December 28, 2007
What a week. Andre has been moved to Intensive Care, Benazir Bhutto is dead, they still haven't found Cedrika, Boxing Day has come and gone, chaos reigns; meanwhile there's snow to be shoveled, laundry to be folded, soup to be made, that neglected story to be rewritten ....
This morning when I went out to walk the neighbor's little dog, the air smelled srongly of pine, the sky was an intense blue, and with the fresh coat of snow from last night, everything felt all new and wonderful and possible again. Until I turn on the news and get reminded that my little patch of reality is just that--a mere drop in the vast sea of Everything. Well, I don't know what to think of the eventual repercussions of these latest events in Pakistan and how this will all play out vis-a-vis the prevailing nuclear phobia (e.g., who's minding the nukes over there?). Meanwhile, the pressing little daily chores intervene. Good news: Yvon will reconvene our French conversation group the first week of January, woo hoo!
Trois-Rivieres, over and out. Gotta go shovel snow.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Am looking out my window this morning and everything is gray. Due to the heavy winds yesterday the cedar trees out back mightily shook their branches, sending bits of twigs and cones that now litter the once-pristine snow-blanket. The inflatable Santa on the porch across the street, beaming robustly last night beneath the twinkling lights, now hangs limp and airless. They'll pump him up again tonight when darkness descends and the holiday lights get turned on for the evening display--another picture-book Christmas. But this morning, it's the grayness that permeates: gray sky, gray snow, gray air, waiting for the sun to show its face.
The New Year's supposed to be about hope, at least most people hope that things will be better than the preceding year(s). A much-loved family uncle is spending the holidays in the hospital, his wife and son and daughter and brother all taking turns to sit with him, in hourly shifts, as he battles cancer from his bedside. My 80-year old neighbor is celebrating Christmas alone, with her little dog. The city is still asleep.
Back again, later, at the computer. The aroma of fresh coffee, the cats happily snoozing, it's so quiet (except for the furnace chugging away in the basement), and patches of blue are beginning to appear in the sky, yay.
Speaking of hope, I read an article this morning that suggests that current events may not ALL be speeding us toward "despair, fascism and madness":
Maybe we can take some guidance from this tiny nation at the center of the earth. -- Greg Palast
THIS sort of story to me is the hope for the future of our world.
-- Roger Anderson
It was shared with me; I'd like to share it with you:
Good and Evil at the Center of the Earth: A Quechua Christmas Carol
A Merry Christmas and enjoyable holiday to all!
(I MISS YOU, my little family bubs so many miles away!!)
Saturday, December 8, 2007
L'Hebdo reports this week that Frederick Durand, Châteauneuf Michel and Pierre Labrie, three Trifluvians, have written a book of poetry titled Locoleitmotive.
"They wanted to do something different and unique, bringing together a single text written by three poets. 'Locoleitmotive is another way of looking at poetry, and a great way to learn about this kind of literature', says Pierre Labrie, one of the authors of the book. 'I believe we have created a new genre.'[Photo, L'Hebdo Journal]
"But Locoleitmotive is not really a book of poetry, since it reads like a novel, from beginning to end. 'The work is pushing for a main character that we follow through various epics , genocide, environmental disaster, through personal tragedies and wars of religion. While a book of poetry is formed from a series of the collection in one piece, rather we present a product that does not yet exist in Quebec: a poetic thriller,' he says, convinced that the work will appeal equally to fans of poetry and the black or thriller novel." 
A poetic thriller, eh? I must confess I have never read any of the works of these three local writers but it's interesting when poets or authors attempt to expand their literary horizon and try presenting their work in a new genre.
Their project caught my attention because a few weeks ago I wrote a short poem, which somehow evolved into a long, single prose poem several pages long, to be read as a story. It could hardly be considered a novel (too short) and it wasn't the product of a collaboration, nor was it especially "dark". I haven't yet read Locoleitmotive, and therefore am unfamiliar with its actual content, but it may be that we're talking about two very different things here. However, it's always interesting to experiment with new ways to present a thing, testing the boundaries, and going beyond the prevailing standardized format--or, as in the case of Locoleitmotive--create an entirely new genre. I'm noting the launch of this new publication in my blog first, because the authors are local poets/writers (and we writers should support one another), and second because if they have, in fact, created a new genre that does not yet exist in Quebec, well, that fact should be shared.
In any case, I plan to find a copy of Locoleitmotive and check it out! The book's due out around January 16. (I wish I still didn't need a dictionary at hand when I read a French book, though!)
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Two language conversation classes today-- in the French group, I am a participant; in the English one, I function as une animatrice. So there are six of us in the French group and four in the English group, all coming together to practice speaking what is for us a second language. Except that all the people in the French group speak French at approximately the same level and we have little difficulty, despite our various accents, in understanding one another. (The facilitators surmised that we had all attained at least the Intermediate level.)
The English group was another matter entirely. This was the very first session--an experimental class scheduled from now until Christmas. One of the other animators was not able to make it in today and the second "teacher" was 15 minutes late. That left me "in charge". I don't know what I was expecting, but it was certainly not this. The course was set up (and advertised) as a "Conversation" Course, the assumption being that participants could already speak English, however haltingly, and had signed up to "practice" and/or expand on an already established level of proficiency. What I found, to my great surprise, was that three of the four particiants spoke no English at all.
I was, of course, totally unprepared for this. I started by attempting to get them to associate words with actions, speaking slowly and pointing to objects so that they could identify the word with the object. ("Give me the cup" ... "What color is the cup?" ... "Give me the glove" ... What color is the glove?", etc.) Two of them knew the names for colors in English but the other two stared, uncomprending, with a blank expression, one of them reverting back to French when responding to a question. I ended up sometimes prefacing a remark with its French equivalent, which if this were a total language emersion course, would defeat the purpose.
Afterwards, one of the participants suggested that for next time we should get everyone to read a paragraph out loud in English so they could learn better pronounciation. Another suggested maybe we could do a role-play for everyday situations (like going to the supermarket or making an appointment by telephone). But you need some basic vocabulary to do this and at least a rudimentary knowledge of a few verbs.
Oh boy, what a challenge! The task of "facilitating in a conversation group" has suddenly evolved into now trying to teach a small group of adults a completely new language, starting from scratch.
Where do I begin?!!!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
"The world watched in horror when Taliban forces destroyed the monumental Buddha statues in Bamiyan, Afghanistan in 2001. "
[Click on picture to the right for animation] -->
It's happened again ... more ancient Buddhas destroyed, this time in northwest Pakistan’s Swat valley, where "armed Islamist militants attacked one of the oldest and most important sculptures of Buddhist art. Dating from around the beginning of the Christian era, and carved into a 130-foot-high rock, the seated image of the Buddha was second in importance in South Asia only to the Bamiyan Buddhas." Pakistan: Daily Times, Nov. 5, 2007
The world watches in horror as the carnage continues in the ravages of today's many wars. Which is the more difficult to know: That a beloved, centuries-old icon has been viciously, intentionally obliterated ... or that innocent children continue to be slaughtered in the battles for turf or oil or revenge? We cry for the destroyed Buddhas, we mourn the dead civilians ... but maybe our grief is also because of the truly unconscious, those who continue to shatter the peace, who "flail in rage", and "make holes in the light".
Lament for the Bamiyan Buddhas -- Stephen Sartarelli
Cry not for me, love,
but the breath of earth
unchanging on my changing form
Cry not for the grace
so rare, the visage
almost faceless in the air
of ages rapt in the beauty
of my house of sky
Cry not for that, no,
not for any loving thing
whose placid gaze
would love you only
as you love yourself,
nor for any thing beloved,
no thing to which
you speak your heart,
no holy conduit
of your deepest own serenity,
cry not for that--
our waters rush
as we would lose ourselves
in our own losing
all the same.
Cry only for the man
who would shatter the mirror
of what he might have been,
that dream of manhood
so much more godly
than my memory
of eyes and bones
Cry for the man
who would think he could be
as the tremor that brought down
the stone and lapis skies
of the house of Saint Francis
Cry for him
who would try to breach
the wall of your peace,
make holes in the light
Cry for him
who like a fool
would flail in rage
to make a nothing
of our precious nothing
But cry not for me
From: Poetry and New Materialities: Volume II (Dickinson Electronic Archives)
Stephen Sartarelli is a poet and also a translator.
Monday, November 5, 2007
The mail just arrived and with it the Nov/Dec issue of Poets & Writers, which reminds me I've missed yet another deadline for submissions. I open the magazine and these words jump out at me: "I get discouraged by the near invisibility of poetry in mainstream culture."
Various projects have been attempted periodically to bring poetry to the masses but I think it's kind of like with music--not everyone's "into" opera, for example. "I don't understand it" (re: poetry); "It just doesn't DO anything for me" (re: opera). Maybe it gets flat out rejected based on a gut reaction to something that seems too radically different from one's usual tastes in sound or reading.
Last night I watched a segment on the life of my favorite cellist and how he tried to bridge the gap between cultures and musical tastes in an effort to share this magnificence with people who might otherwise never be exposed to it. That's what I think some writers aspire to do in their fiction and poetry, and it's harder than it looks. How can you make your writing more widely understood and universally appreciated, without losing its inner integrity?
Look at what contemporary TV news programs try to do to get more viewers: their female anchors look like polished mannikins and the focus seems more to be to Entertain than to inform; celebrity court trials and crime stories are the footage most offered and replayed ad infinitum, while significant world events sometimes barely rate a mention. God forbid that the viewer could get bored, lose interest. I think this says more about the audience than the news station. Fast forward to the publishing world. The bottom line is: "Will it sell?" And for the buyer: "What's a good read?" I think the question for writers, however, should not be "How can I reach you?" but "How can I get you to hear what I hear, see what I see?"
That sounds so egotistical, but why then do we write at all? To play the stories out like a film and hope readers stay for the finish, that they "get" something out of the experience, maybe even consider the book a "keeper." So this is the dilemma I'm experiencing in my writing lately ... any number of interesting "stories" are circling my brain crying to be told (the characters nag at me relentlessly!)--but why would anyone necessarily want to read these particular stories? How can I write words that will resonate immediately, in which a reader will recognize something that touches some deeper part of them, where they begin to understand, where the fragmentary blotches of the world begin to make sense.
That is not to say the focus has got to be mainly on "entertaining." I mean, that shouldn't be the only thing the reader comes away remembering, even if it's primarily a humorous book. At the moment, the 'darker' book is holding sway: Leave the funny children's story for the time being--you need to get the brothers' story out, one of the characters scolds. Ah, the two tortured souls of my greatest challenge in storywriting: the story of the brothers Karl and Peter. The characters, of course, are just the unborn fictional elements of my imagination and the voice is my own; regardless, the message is the same: Stay on focus. Do the more important one first. Leave the 'lighter' one till later.
Thursday, November 1, 2007
HOW THE LOON BECAME A SEA BIRD
A long time ago the loon was a land bird. He was a great nuisance to the Indians, for he was always around, in and out of their wigwams, tumbling over their baskets, upsetting their firewood. The Indians shouted at him and threw things at him. Still he came poking around their wigwams, until one day he upset an old Indian's pot of beans.
The Indian grabbed him. "Now I'm going to throw you in the fire, or I'm going to throw you in the water." Loon squirmed and tugged to get away. "Don't throw me in the water. Don't throw me in the water," he begged. "Throw me in the fire, but don't throw me in the water."
"If that's what you don't want, that's what I'll do. I'll throw you in the water."
The old Indian threw him in his canoe and paddled out into the deep water and tossed him over the canoe. Loon went off laughing, the wild laugh that he has laughed ever since at the Indians when he remembers the old Micmac that threw him in the water. "Just what I wanted, just what I wanted."
From: RED EARTH: Tales of the Micmacs. With an introduction to the customs and beliefs of the Micmac Indians, by Marion Robertson. The Nova Scotia Museum: Halifax, N.S., 1969, p. 42. (Reprinted 1977)
(I came across the above delightful little book in a local thrift shop, at the remarkably low price of 10 cents. These early inhabitants of our continent called the sun "Nicscaminou, the Very Great".)
Listen to the loon:
The wail is most frequently given in the evening or at night, and can be heard for many miles. This haunting call is not an alarm call but is used to keep in contact with other loons on the same lake and surrounding lakes. Click to listen.
The yodel is only made by male loons. This call is used to advertise and defend their territory, especially during incubation and early chick-rearing. If you are watching loons and they make this call or a remolo, it usually means that you are too close and are disturbing the loons. If that happens, you should leave their territory and give them their space. Click to listen. 
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Not a single leaf left on "Maurice", the little tree out front. He's only three years old so still a bit fragile. Big blue sky today... and sun!!!!!! (yay), and a bit of a breeze (double yay, 'cause I just hung out two lines full in the back yard).
Tonight's Halloween. I wore my alien mask when I went to walk the neighbor's dog this morning. It did not fool him; he knew me immediately.
Title of a song by Sylvain Lelievre ... "J'ai perdu trop de temps" ... Time ... again, always that obsession with time--time past, the now times, the time left. Thinking in linear instead of connecting the pieces to form a whole.
When you figure out what Time is, let me know.
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
Watch Your Back, Sibel
Always a bit dangerous, when a whistleblower starts to "tell all". Two sides to this: those who worry that she'll be "Wellstoned", and those who question the announcement itself. [See Comment #40 at bottom of article on Brad's Blog.]
At any rate, it's getting harder and harder for whistleblowers to get their message out. What's the first response: Discredit them, then fire them, or kill the messenger, whatever it takes, so that the message is not brought to light, or worse, believed, and even worse than that, investigated. Anyone remember Bunnatine Greenhouse? Did anything really change vis-a-vis contracts because of that investigation? Anyone ever do a comprehensive follow-up?
Will be watching this with some interest. Will she be given a public forum to tell all? Name names? What's going to be the final outcome? Inquiring minds, stay tuned.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Spend a Night with the Homeless
It's a cloudy, windy day here in Quebec and this week 22 towns and cities across Quebec are inviting you to spend a night with the homeless--you know, those people who sleep outdoors all year round in cardboard boxes, on park benches or in alleyways or find themselves crammed in among dozens of others in a homeless shelter and told they have to get out during the day, the space is only available at night time.
Similar annual gatherings, called "Night without a Home" are also being conducted by communities in the US and other parts of Canada, to call attention to homelessness and poverty and lack of affordable housing, and to the "down-and-outs" among us who struggle daily just to get something to eat and a place to sleep. Their number is increasing. What's that old saying, "Don't criticize someone unless you walk a mile in their shoes". Try walking around all day searching for food or work or a place to lay your head at night, lugging your entire life possessions in a plastic garbage bag or backpack. The scary thing is, it could happen to anyone.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
I'm passing along the press release for a new book I just read. Stephen King, move over, you got some competition!
LAMPREYS STRIKE BACK!
LAMPREYS STRIKE BACK!
Burlington, VT. October 2007
The ongoing efforts to control the lamprey infestation in Lake Champlain undergo a spectacular setback in the new novel by Burlington author Peter K.K. Williams. In Clamp, the residents of a lakeside village are subjected to terrifying attacks by swarms of mutant, flesh-eating lampreys. Along with the invasion of these horrifying predators, Clamp provides a humorous view of the quirky characters inhabiting a Vermont village, a group that includes summer and year-round residents, guests at an exclusive resort, dairymen, a homeless tramp, a Loch Ness search team seeking Champ (Nessie’s long-lost cousin), and a local rock band.
Peter K.K. Williams has been living near the shores of Lake Champlain for more than two decades, observing and painting its many moods. The Kieron Press is soon to publish Mr. Williams’ second book, Gigs – An American Rock ‘n Roll Odyssey.
Copies of Clamp may be ordered online at Amazon.com or at Booklocker.com.
Mr. Williams can be contacted at Kieronlabs@yahoo.com.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
1. Abdicate (v.), to give up all hope of ever having a flat stomach.
2. Balderdash (n.), a rapidly receding hairline.
3. Bustard (n.), a rude bus driver.
4. Circumvent (n.), an opening in the front of boxer shorts worn by Jewish men.
5. Coffee (n.), the person upon whom one coughs.
6. Dopeler effect (n.), The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when theycome at you rapidly.
7. Esplanade (v.), to attempt an explanation while drunk.
8. Flabbergasted (adj.), appalled over how much weight you have gained.
9. Flatulence (n.) emergency vehicle that picks you up after you are run over byby a steamroller.
10. Foreploy (n.), Any misrepresentation about yourself for the purpose of obtaining sex.
11. Frisbatarianism (n.), The belief that, when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck there.
12. Gargoyle (n.), olive-flavoured mouthwash.
13. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray-painted very, very high.
14. Glibido (n.), All talk and no action.
15. Hipatitis (n.), Terminal coolness.
16. Ignoranus (n.), A person who's both stupid and an asshole.
17. Inoculatte (n.), To take coffee intravenously.
18. Inspissator (n.), one who inspires covert micturation.
19. Intaxication (n.), Euphoria at receiving a tax refund, which lasts until you realise it was your money
to start with.
20. Karmageddon (n.), It's like, when everybody is sending off all these really bad vibes, right? And then,
like, the Earth explodes and it's like, a serious bummer.
21. Lymph (v.), to walk with a lisp.
22. Negligent (adj.), describes a condition in which you absentmindedly answer the door in your nightie.
23. Osteopornosis (n.), A degenerate disease.
24. Oyster (n.), a person who sprinkles his conversation with Yiddish expressions.
25. Pokemon (n.), a Rastafarian proctologist.
26. Rectitude (n.), the formal, dignified demeanor assumed by a proctologist immediatelybefore he
26. Reintarnation (n.), Coming back to life as a hillbilly.
27. Sarchasm (n.), The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the reader who doesn't get it.
28. Semantics (n.), pranks conducted by young men studying for the priesthood.
29. Testicle (n.), a humorous question on an exam.
30. Willy-nilly (adj.), impotent.
[Thanks to a post by Nienke Hinton on 8/21/2007]
Monday, October 15, 2007
A friend of mine writing a book on the Battle of Quebec of 1759 went this past weekend to revisit the Plains of Abraham and found himself standing, in the rain, on the exact spot where General Montecalm had been mortally wounded over two centuries ago. My friend watched a footrace currently in progress and the runners finished 5 meters from this historic spot, whose significance seemed completely forgotten in the excitement of the race. I got to thinking about casual passersby encountering physical monuments scattered about the world from Boston to Barcelona, Quebec to Ireland, Greece to Jerusalem ... plain concrete markers on modern sidewalks next to a bank or park or pub, brass plaques on the side of a commercial building, signs posted to indicate the location of someone's demise. People walk by them every day, maybe stop and lean against them, even deposit their soda cans there. Monuments to important historical moments amidst the urban sprawl.
There are markers for victims of violence and tragic traffic accidents and bombing events, temporary drop-off points where people can express their grief and outrage, deposit flowers, leave written messages. Public markers to commemorate the passage from Life to Death, besides commemorating a specific event, also remind us that whether we're important or invisible, the Grim Reaper gets us all eventually.
My grandmother gave birth to ten children; seven survived. One day I climbed the hill on the side of a mountain to the old church cemetery to look at their graves: my grandmother, grandfather and the three dead infants who never made it. The stones were so faded with age I could not make out the dates. What do tombstones usually say: Here Lies So and So. Born (gives date), Died (gives date). People even do this sometimes for beloved pets. Cemetery markers celebrate a person's entire lifespan, not just one event.
What got me thinking of death markers (because that's what they are, markers commemorating someone's last day on earth) was all the millions of people who die every year who are not accorded this respectful remembrance, like flood and earthquake victims or mass casualties from a war. Bloodstains on a sidewalk can be washed away; memories of one's last heroic or horrific end cannot. They will return, again and again, to inspire--or haunt--those of us who remain.
To all the Invisibles, for whom no physical marker exists, may you be remembered, for as long as possible, in this fickle and war-torn world.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
The darker places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.
Started on the third novel this morning. My first novel lies in a drawer, unwritten except for the outline, a list of characters, and a clumsily constructed first chapter. The second novel remains in preliminary draft only, a psychological mind-twister with a hidden agenda. All of them have a "story", primary and peripheral characters; none as yet has a title. A funny thing--some of my characters are more persistent than others, in wanting to get their story out. Last month it was Will, the protagonist from the fist novel. I think he felt I was going to abandon the project entirely and so he suggested a new tack, one I'm not entirely comfortable with because it's a controversial subject. This week the persistent voice is from Allie, the young girl from the third novel-in-progress. She feeds me info at night just before I'm about to drop off to sleep, and in the wee hours of the morning, just as I'm waking up. "Remember to write this down," an inaudible voice reminds me. "Here's a little vignette you must include," nudges another voice. Whether these sudden thoughts originate from the fictional characters I have created or are just my subconscious prodding me to stop procrastinating and get to work, I have no idea. But apparently it's working. I'm setting up a writing schedule, to which I intend to adhere no matter what.
In all three stories I have a beginning and an end. It's the middle I'm having trouble with, going from one vignette to another (it's called plot, silly!). This third one's going to require some research. It takes place in Florida, a place I've never had the slightest desire to visit and about which I know very little--except that it's hot, a lot of old people go there to retire, and annoying little insects are prone to populate the premises. I need to talk to someone who actually lives there to get specifics.
I just read two "thrillers", front to back, in a matter of days. I seemed not to be able to put them down. They were full of action scenes and tantalizing intrigues that kept me glued to the page, as it were. And yet I'm not keeping them as permanent residents on my bookshelves. They satisfied momentarily, but are not Keepers. These are not the type of books I want to write. They're a dime a dozen. Interesting, entertaining, the visual equivalent of watching a movie through words. I feel compelled to write a different kind of fiction ... something that would make someone want to keep the book. For that, the book has to resonate in a deeper fashion. I'm torn between wanting to have a character-driven book expressing universal dilemmas ... or an Orwellian allegory describing current disturbing political events. Something tells me this will entail a whole other project.... Novel No. 4?!! Is it possible to work on writing four books at once?! Maybe I should shorten them and place them, along with my other short stories, into a collection--which, I'm told, is infinitely harder to get published. What do you think? Any fellow writers out there ... I'm open to suggestions!
Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Two of my English Conversation students, to express the idea that they were busy, or occupied, recently used the term "occupated." ("I was occupated until seven o'clock.") I have never heard this word used before in this context, although I have seen it used to mean "occupy" ("The country was occupated by force").
One of the pitfalls of learning a new language is that accoutrements from one's native language invariably slip into common usage, out of sheer habit. For example, in English we say "cancel" an appointment. When I want to express this in French, I'm prone to use the verb canceler instead of the correct word, annuler. (Canceler falls under the category of the dreaded Anglicism.)
So what's the big deal--if you say "occupated" to mean "occupied", or canceler instead of annuler? People will still understand you. That's not the point. As annoying as they are, the grammar police provide a needed service--if only to alert us to deliberate or unconscious transgression of language, reminding us of its inherent malleability. Language changes, words disappear from use, new ones emerge to fit the times; it's a natural evolution. The result is often amusing, sometimes controversial, but always interesting, especially in fiction when it's done intentionally. (In my short story, "The Autobiographer", one of the characters uses adjectives as nouns ... e.g., "He's a bushy unreckognizable" or "It's a deplorable.")