Monday, October 16, 2017

Whistler Writers hike to Lost Lake for author readings

The 2017 Whistler Writers Festival kicked off with Comedy Quickies, and featured readings by winners of the Whistler Independent Book Awards. The weekend was choc a bloc with writers' events including pitch opportunities with editors from across the country.

Sunday morning, our walk to Lost Lake, led by Grant Lawrence, began with hot chocolate. We paused to hear readings by Leacock medalist Terry Fallis, filmmaker-journalist-author Mark Leiren-Young and memoirist Shelley O'Callaghan. We had a great time.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Remember Us: Letters from Stalin's Gulag, by Ruth Derksen Siemens

In the Stalin-led Soviet Union of the 1930s, it was impossible for the prisoners in any of the 2000 gulags to send letters out. There was no paper, no post office, no stamps. Yet some managed to write and smuggle their coded words past guards and informers. Remember us was their most common plea.

When Ruth Derksen Siemens received a binder of letters from family members who had written from the 1930s gulag, she was astonished. Her shock grew when extensive research revealed that none of the world's large archives possessed such letters, or even believed in their existence.

The discovery of the letters launched this author on a road that was "made by walking." This was her secret history. She was born in Russia, but when she went to school, her parents drilled her what to say. "I am Canadian. I was born here." She was exhorted never to reveal that she spoke Russian or German, thought she learned both before English.

Remember Us, her book that included the first group of letters that made it to her relatives in Saskatchewan, led to the production of a film, Through the Red Gate. Eventually, she met a survivor who wrote one of the letters as a child, and was able to show it to her.

This evening, Ruth Derksen Siemens enthralled a gathering of Canadian Authors - Metro Vancouver by describing a chapter of our nation's history that had been forgotten and suppressed. First, groups of Russian-born Mennonites escaped Stalin's gulags with their lives. Secondly, against enormous odds, they managed to send 463 letters to their relatives in Carlyle, Saskatchewan.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

From mummies to mums

We know that ancient Egyptians went in for mummies and pyramids.

It seems that mums are still important in Egyptian culture. These delightful Egyptian ones are on display at the Muttart Gardens in Edmonton, in a show called the Curse of the Chrysantemummies.

photos by Yasemin Tulpar

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Australian Kangaroo Paw and Bottlebrush now available here

Native to Australia, Kangaroo Paw is a new arrival in local nurseries. A red and green variety is the basis of one of Ian White's Australian Bush Flower Essences. It helps people who need to shift their focus away from themselves in order to become more aware of the needs of others.

The kangaroo paw is emblematic of Western Australia and comes in many colours. The fuzzy ones seen in the picture taken in 99 Nursery in Surrey are slightly different from the one used to make the essence. Recently, I spotted bottlebrush, another Australian native, in Cedar Rim Nursery in Langley. This essence helps people brush away unhealthy threads that hold them to the past, and strengthens mother-baby bonds.

These plants are immediately noticeable as they are so obviously not from here. They come from beyond an 18th century faunal boundary proposed by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace. Possibly related to tectonic movement, the Wallace Line line demarcates ecozones in the southern ocean.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

A Distant View of Everything by Alexander McCall Smith

Perspective changes everything. It's important to keep the wider context in view, and "everything comes down to ethics." Isabel feels that when we are involved in unequal dealings, the person with the advantage does well to remember what they have that the other does not.

In this delightful book, Alexander McCall Smith shares his unique perspectives on a whole variety of things. As Charlie, Jamie and Isabel's toddler, plays with his toy cars, the narrator notices an old Citroen police car "with miniature metal doors that could be opened and shut," and lying on its side, a "battered red Mercedes that had been the getaway car of some tiny desperadoes."

In Edinburgh, people are fond of their dogs -- think Angus and Cyril. But the idea "that a dog should somehow have the eyes of its owner" is "fanciful anthropomorphism."

Grace, the spiritualist housekeeper, is always interested in the goings-on of the "other side." For Jamie, one of her comments raises a momentary alarm at the possibility that the "grudges and battles of this side" might imply "the existence of arguments and feuds lasting for all eternity, with petty disputes stretching out over the centuries, waged from whatever trenches people could dig for themselves in such firmament as the other side afforded." Isabel, meanwhile, muses that "Christianity had unfortunately taken wrong turnings" until "a lovely message of love and redemption had become one of threats, fear and institutional self-preservation."

This conversation leads the couple to meditate on lies; then they move on to a discussion of Churchill's speeches. While Isabel is more interested in the content of his metaphors, Jamie, the musician, "loved Churchill's growl."

With her friend Peter, Isabel considers the vagaries of the Internet. He puts forward the idea that not looking for someone online is "a breach of civility," because it implies "that they aren't interesting enough to online presence." Isabel then reflects on "our narcissistic times."  Unable to see the attraction of "leading one's life in public," Isabel, who has never taken a selfie, admits ruefully that she may be out of date." Before they move on to a new topic, Peter observes that the culture of selfies has "made being the Pope or Prime Minister a very demanding job. The moment you meet somebody, they want a selfie."

The friends go on to discuss promises and mottoes, and how "Latin adds dignity" to such things. They observe how saying "Love you" at the end of a telephone conversation has "become the equivalent" of goodbye, but "could be awkward if you made it too automatic," and you used this form of farewell on your bank manager, your child's teacher, or the plumber.

Later, a meditation on the possibility of a future edition of her Applied Review of Ethics devoted to the ethics of sleep evokes images of Victorian art and Victorian aspiration for "the elegant swoon...the well-timed and graceful collapse into unconsciousness."

Closer to home, Isabel is thrown into panic at the suggestion of serious illness in the house, facing what "we all secretly feared," the knowledge that life hangs by a thin and tenuous thread. Her emotional consternation leads her to reflect that "to say something is unfunny raises and often irresistible temptation to laugh...the humour being in the need to conceal our true feelings."

We hear the characters' thoughts on the natures of women, men, foxes, and historical revisionism. And as Isabel is obliged to consider that "her flights of fancy were not for everyone," we are invited along with her to entertain thoughts about information and power. When her niece Cat withholds information from her about a new employee at the delicatessen, Isabel observes that knowing something but not disclosing it" makes on feel "stronger than the one denied the information."

As always, her thoughts turn to moral proximity. This time, though, a sudden threat makes her realize that she also has "a moral firewall" which must be kept in good repair. We are invited to consider forgiveness, and love, and remembering the past, and the possible location of the soul.

Against the grosser grain of common practice, Isabel thinks of reproach and censure as "powerful weapons" to be used only when there was no alternative, lest they "cut the ties of good will that kept people together," or damage "a relationship that had taken years to establish."

Through her encounter with the hapless Rob, she faces the almost incredible fact that some people "slipped through the net" and "had never had anything nice said about them," an omission she attempts to ameliorate with a kind and sincere compliment.

In the final scene, Isabel's return home to cook and converse with her husband re-establishes the secure world of daily doings, still so very important in the greater theme of things. Alexander McCall Smith never disappoints. Like his others, this book was an absolute joy to read.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Resistance, the writer's enemy: a behind-the-scenes exposure

Steven Pressfield's book is absolutely the best-ever realistic look at the reality of our dirty little secret: resistance to doing what our higher creative selves want and need to do.

Creative writers tend to feel guilty and alone in their struggle against this pernicious enemy. But we aren't alone, Pressfield tells us. "Everyone who has a body experiences Resistance."

He also shares this all-important rule of thumb: "The more important a call or action toward our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it." And make no mistake, the force of Resistance means business. "When we fight it, we are in a war to the death."

Though Resistance keeps coming up with new weapons to use against us, we can learn to combat it effectively. First, we need to learn and apply the Principle of Priority. We must differentiate between the urgent and important, and do what's important first. That is the work.

Pressfield's profoundly important message is seen in lines like this. "The more Resistance you experience, the more important your unmanifested to you, and the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it."

Yet the book is fun and easy to read. It feels light even though it's serious, and on several occasions, it made me laugh out loud with rueful recognition. Bad news: the pursuit of healing, support and workshops can all be insidious forms of Resistance, but we must face facts. "It's one thing to lie to ourselves. It's another thing to believe it."

Here's the good news: Even though "Resistance works to keep us from becoming who we were meant to be, equal and opposite powers are counter-poised against it." We all have "allies and angels" who stand ready to help as long as we invite them in.

Stephen Pressman opines that "above the entire human race is one super-angel, crying 'Evolve! Evolve!'" Angels, he says, are like muses. They want to help, but they're "on the other side of a pane of glass, shouting to get our attention. But we can't hear them. We're too distracted by our own nonsense."

The only cure is to begin, and then continue the work. Thus we "get out of our own way and allow the angels to come in and do their jobs."

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Stephen Leacock Re-Tour -- coming here Sunday November 19

"Writing is no trouble; you just jot down ideas as they occur to you. The jotting is simplicity itself--it is the occurring which is difficult," said Stephen Leacock. Canada's first and greatest humourist died in 1944, but his work is still read and the Leacock Medal for Humour is awarded annually in his honour.

In 1937, he undertook a lecture tour across Canada. Eighty years later, Voyageur Storytellers Paul and Leslie Conway are crossing the country in his footsteps, giving a variety of Leacock-related presentations. On Sunday November 19, from 2 to 4 pm in the Labatt Hall at SFU Harbour Centre, the Voyageur Storytellers will present Stirring the Occurring, an event inspired by Leacock's views on the writing life.

Their performance will be followed by refreshments and casual conversation with the Conways. This unique presentation by Canadian Authors - Metro Vancouver is supported by SFU Continuing Education: The Writer's Studio and Liberal Arts 55+. Tickets are available here.