Wednesday, June 30, 2010

HST -- yes or no?

I'm still puzzled about what kind of effect B.C.'s new HST will have on purchases I make. Apparently, books won't be subject to the tax (fingers crossed, they're my biggest vice), but newspapers will. Groceries won't be, but restaurant food will. Clothing? Office supplies? I think so.

My question for today is, what about magazines? Did I just buy my last magazine with a tax of 5%? Will the next one be subject to 12%? Or, better yet, will I simply pay the cover cost?

I guess, if I buy a magazine tomorrow, I'll find out.

Friday, June 25, 2010


Last night I went into Vancouver to attend a reading. The double-bill consisted of what seemed like an odd combination – Steve Noyes, a writer known mostly for his poetry, and Des Kennedy, known best for his varied writings about gardening. About all I could see as a point of commonality was the fact that both men live on islands.

Steve lives on Vancouver Island, in the city of Victoria where he works for the province’s Department of Health Services. Rising each day at 4:30 (a regimen he described in response to a question), he thinks and reads and writes before heading off to his job.

He read from his most recent book, Morbidity and Ornament. The poems he shared (and the voices he did them in – c’mon, Steve, get with the program and make that CD!) covered a range of topics and styles, yet all exhibited a deep respect for and understanding of the nuances of words. Because he also speaks a dialect of Chinese, the presentation was even bilingual. Talk about stretching the boundaries of language!

Steve’s first novel is scheduled to come out this fall, so he’s moving beyond past accomplishments and poems and into a whole brand-new genre. Considering the power of his previous work, I'm curious about this next phase of his career.

And the idea of more than one genre was also true for Des, who read a piece from his memoir, The Way of a Gardener and then read the opening section of his newest novel (his third), Climbing Patrick’s Mountain. Even though rose-breeding (the gardener strikes again) seems to be a key element in the novel, it’s clear that Kennedy’s capable of writing about much more than gardening. Apparently, both Ireland and ghosts feature prominently in this new book.

As Des described his life on Denman Island, it sounded much more idyllic than Steve’s. He rises at a more normal-sounding time, then spends the morning writing before heading out onto his 11-acre property to garden or do whatever else might be required in the afternoon (with roof repair sounding like part of his ongoing roster of duties).

Jill Margo, host of the long-running Robson Reading Series, conducted a stimulating Q & A with the authors after they’d read. Her questions did much to highlight the fact that two writers who might seem to write in such different directions can have such a lot in common. She asked about the differences between writing fiction and non-fiction, and even applied the query to Noyes and his poems, some of which seem to be grounded in fact, while others seem to be products of his imagination.

And those thoughts lead me even today to think about those differences -- what’s real and what’s made up? Especially when, as Kennedy pointed out, events in our lives are coloured by the cloud of long-term memory…

Just how much of what we present as real is made-up, and how much of what we think we're making up is based in some niche of ourselves?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Solstice, belated

Even though Solstice arrived here at 4:11am yesterday, the angel who usually announces it for me was late.

Okay, she's not really an angel (though who really knows what those creatures might be?), more an inspiration from a movie I loved when I was a kid. The story referred to a character named Arne Saknussemm, apparently a fictional alchemist. Since then, Saknussemm's apparently become a kind of cult figure, as now he seems to even have his own Facebook page.

Anyway, in the story of the film, he'd left a coded diary, one that revealed the route to the earth's core. The clue to discovering the passageway? Go to a particular volcano (luckily, one that was nicely cooled down) and watch for where the first beam of light falls on the summer solstice.

The idea isn't original. After all, it's what the design of Stonehenge is all about. That the dawn's light will shine in a certain spot on Solstice. A big calendar made of stone, one that never needs to have its page (or for that matter, batteries) changed.

My 'angel' is a lovely fluttery light that occurs when the first beams of sunlight come through a stained glass window in my living room. She usually lands smack dab in the centre of the door at just about 6:30 on Solstice.

This year, the morning was too overcast, but at seven -- and for only a few seconds -- she appeared. Thankfully, I guess that means we'll be getting a summer after all. Even if like my 'angel', it appears to be a bit late in arriving.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Reading by the Salish Sea

Thursday night was the final event in the local Arts Council's series of readings.

Our guest, here from Saskatchewan to help us with our month-long celebration of National Aboriginal Day, was Louise B. Halfe.

Besides reading from her three collections of poetry (Bear Bones & Feathers, Blue Marrow, and The Crooked Good), she told stories. These ranged from her family's experiences in residential schools to the meaning behind her Cree name, Sky Dancer.

It seemed appropriate to have her with us this week, the same time Canada's Commission on Truth and Reconciliation is meeting in Winnipeg. The day was also auspicious for being the same day the residents of Haida Gwai officially 'returned' the old name for their home, 'Queen Charlotte Islands'. Even this posting today feels as if it offers some kind of closure, as today is the final day of the Truth and Reconciliation events, with Michaelle Jean in attendance.

It was evident from all she said and did that Louise is a firm believer in crossing barriers and continuing dialogue. To summarize her performance, I need to steal a line from her -- "the people were filled with mystery and magic." Yes, we were.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Burmese and Other Lessons

Last night saw a different sort of literary event. This public event saw two highly intelligent authors in conversation – Nancy Lee interviewing Karen Connelly. Lee is the current Writer-in-Residence at the Historic Joy Kogawa House and the questions she posed made for a lively exchange.

Connelly’s a writer whose life got shaken up at 17 when, thanks to a Rotary Club exchange program, she lived and went to school in Thailand for a year. Two books that resulted from that experience were The Small Words in My Body which won for its then-21-year-old author the Pat Lowther Award for Poetry and Touch the Dragon which also earned prizes, notably the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction.

The focus last night was Connelly’s newest book, Burmese Lessons, but moved well beyond the words on the page. Lee guided the conversation so Connelly could also talk about The Lizard Cage, her novel about life in a Burmese prison. Both books were inspired by her experiences in Burma and by the many people she interviewed both in Burma and along the Thai-Burmese border.

Among comments she made, Connelly challenged writers (specifically Canadian ones, though I'm sure she'd include all artists) to "Be daring" and to follow the advice of June Callwood who said, "If you see injustice, act."

She reminded us that this Saturday, June 19th, will be the 65th birthday of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist and Nobel Prize Laureate who remains under house arrest. Perhaps a good day to be daring, to act against injustice, even if that action might initially seem small.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Fake Lake Flake

Ah yes, here comes our very own prime ministerial Steve, defending the creation of Lake G8, Ontario’s most recent water feature. But for Pete’s sake, it’s not even worthy of being called a lake.

At only 10 centimetres (4 inches) deep, it’s more like the fifty-seven-thousand-dollar puddle.

Now, if someone would only toss in a packet of yellow dye, we’d be able to show the world another of the many ways our government keeps pissing away our tax dollars.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Creative escapes

Just before GWB started GW II, I wrote an essay that proposed it was time for peace. In it, I used the daisy as a symbol for peace. Unfortunately, even though the article was published, peace did not prevail.

But it was with the same sort of optimism that I took the photo above. You might not guess it, but those wildflowers are growing just outside the walls of Matsqui, a federal penitentiary here in western Canada.

Once again, I was part of a group of writers who dedicated Saturday and Sunday as a time to work on – and share – our writing. The writers included both 'insiders' (those who reside in the prison) and 'outsiders' (those who get to return to their families and homes once the retreat comes to an end).

It seemed ironic to learn that while I was ‘in prison’ this time, Afghanistan’s president Hamid Karzai, as follow-up to a "peace jirga" held in Kabul, announced a review “…of Taliban-linked prisoners and other militants and said [that] those held without grounds should be released.” And in contrast to this positive-sounding initiative, I consider Barack Obama’s pre-election promise to close Guantanamo. Yet sadly, a year and a half after his inauguration, that institution remains in operation.

This mishmash of thought was compounded today by an op-ed piece in this morning's Vancouver Sun. In the article, SFU criminologist Neil Boyd points out that our government’s current “get tough on crime” policies are continuing to get stricter, despite the body of logical evidence suggesting such actions as backward steps.

I hate the fact that when it comes to our policies on prisons and prisoners, we seem to be drawn only further and further into the vortex of the U.S., a country with the highest-per-capita rate of incarceration in the world, hardly a model to be admired.

Because cameras (aside from those of the surveillance variety) aren’t allowed inside the prison, I couldn't take photos of the workshops. If cameras had been permitted, I could have shown you a group of men and women reading their work aloud, asking questions, laughing, exchanging ideas. But instead, you get flowers.

If you look again at the photo, you’ll see that besides those daisies standing tall in the grass as a symbol of peace, there's a preponderance of springtime lupins. And I've learned that in the symbology of flowers, these are associated with imagination.

So as I come away from my weekend at the penitentiary, what better image could I offer? Today I am filled with thoughts that even those of us who live on the ‘outside’ may not truly be free. But those lupins remind me to turn to my writing, just as the ‘insiders’ do, as one sure way of really being free, through the creative powers of imagination.

Friday, June 04, 2010

By the Salish Sea

It's been a few months since the nearby ocean waters have been designated (or, some would claim, re-designated) as the Salish Sea. Our local Arts Council took that as a theme for an observance of National Aboriginal Day that will last for the entire month of June, By the Salish Sea: A Celebration of First Nations Arts.

Last night's opening of the Gallery show attracted over 100 people. The event included a blessing, led by Joanne Charles, chief of our local Semiahmoo band.

With lots of great food (especially the locally smoked salmon) and plenty of little kids running around, the event felt so inclusive, like family. The title of the piece at the top of this post said it well, "Be Reconciled". Standing beside the work is the artist who brought it to life, Quentin Harris.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010


How long has it been since you ate something?

Unless it was overnight while you slept, probably not more than a few hours.

I'm blessed enough that I've never had to go to a Food Bank, but too many Canadians have no other choice. I remember when Food Banks first opened, they were supposed to be a short-term emergency measure to get us through a blip in the economy. Funny how that wasn't quite the case. They've become an institution in pretty well every city and town.

Today is Hunger Awareness Day. Although I usually try not to show brand name items, today I am showing what too many people think of as a square meal for a Food Bank recipient.

But that's not the reason I've presented the image. Kraft Canada will match every donation made to a Food Bank between now and June 11th. If you've never donated to one before, this might be a good time to start.