Sunday, September 25, 2011

Word on the Street was…

Windy. As you can see, the winds were so strong, the Poetry Tent was deemed unsafe and had to be dismantled. There it lies, collapsed on the ground, and while you can’t see them, the poets are mostly wandering around, wondering where and when their readings will happen.

Wet. Mid-afternoon, the rains began. Booksellers especially were scrambling to cover their wares. Protected venues and indoor exhibits saw bigger-than-ever audiences.

Waiting. This was especially for the poets – still waiting (and wondering) when the readings might resume, as various alternate areas each in turn proved to be unavailable.

Warm. There’s a special kind of bond that emerges when a group is oppressed. And while the 'oppression' involved was hardly worthy of the word, there was a lot of great bonding as the throng of poets gathered in Translink’s Poetry in Transit double-bus. The powerless vehicle served as rain shelter for over an hour while the powers-that-be continued trying to find a venue for the long-postponed readings.

Wonderful. And yes, the poets finally convinced the WOTS volunteers that even without light or amplification, we could each take our turns reading a poem or two.

Wildly successful – an assessment that would likely be echoed by any of the thousands who partook in this always well-attended annual Vancouver event.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Retreat means renewal – of spirit, body and mind

By definition, the word retreat suggests a withdrawing. In my case, it meant withdrawing from the mundane tasks of ordinary, everyday life: dishes, cooking, laundry, newspapers, phone calls, plants that need watering – you know how long the list can be.

It was a withdrawing with a purpose, as a way to make time to focus on writing. While it may seem extreme to get in the car and literally go away for such respite, it can be a hugely valuable experience.

Beyond selecting clean clothes for the day (from the limited wardrobe in my suitcase), there were pretty well no decisions to make.

And being freed up from making decisions is amazingly liberating. Even when the decisions are as small as ‘What should I get from the freezer for supper?’ they take up valuable mind space that could be used towards more productive ends. There wasn’t even the matter of deciding what to watch on tv, as there wasn't one.

It became easy to focus on what I wanted to accomplish. Aside from being lured toward the lake for contemplative walks, there were really no distractions. Besides, moving my feet often helps me move the wheels in my brain. Those walks were the source of many ideas and useful insights.

It probably helped that the site of this retreat was such a calming, peaceful place, nestled beside a lake, in amongst so many trees.

It probably also helped that the food there nourished not only my body, but also my sense of aesthetics, which in turn fed my imagination and creativity. The salad in the picture was only the first course in one of our many fabulous meals.

I also found it nourishing to be in the company of four like-minded companions. During the day we kept silence and worked intently.

After supper, we spent our evenings discussing what we’d written, offering workshop comments to each other.

But those evening also saw us engaged in spectacular conversations, the likes of which I probably haven't had since university days. God, the meaning of life, our views of an afterlife, secrets...These discussions were like the best slumber party I ever attended, and we didn’t even have to stay up all night to get to the good parts.

Getting in touch with ourselves seems a sensible thing to do now and then. Whether we have a specific goal in mind (such as writing) or simply want to relax and un-stress, quiet ‘away’ time can provide a remedy to the demands of everyday life.

Besides being a word that suggests a withdrawal or stepping back, it’s also worth considering the ‘treat’ part of the word retreat. I look forward to the next time I can ‘re-treat’ myself this way.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Still time

If you think you’re at the wrong blog, you’re not. This isn’t What’s fer Supper, it’s still the big limb. And the photo isn’t even supper, it’s lunch.

No, I haven’t gone all fancy with noonday meals. I’m lucky enough to be away on retreat, so there’s a whole staff of kitchen workers pulling off these daily miracles.

And miracles they would absolutely seem to be if any of us were unfortunate enough to live in the drought-stricken areas of Africa.

Yes, this writing retreat is all about being silent and still – experiencing ‘still time’ to quiet the thoughts of the noisy world and focus in on the writing.

But it’s also 'still time' in that there are still a couple of days when the federal government will match donations we make on behalf of the starving children, women and men who had the bad luck to be born across the world from where we live.

The CBC website serves as a clearing house for a number of charitable groups. Of course, you may well already have your own favourite charity.

We have until the 16th to get in on the promised matching funds from the government.

I hope you feel this cause is as important as I do. And that maybe you’ll look at your next meal a little differently, perhaps with more gratitude for all you have.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


For too many months, the city of White Rock has felt grey and dreary -- and it hasn't had anything to do with the weather. So many shop windows are papered over, the place sometimes feels like a ghost town.

But today the sun was shining -- and not just in the sky. The brightness was reflected in the faces of the many people filling the walkways and streets.

Musicians played in several venues (in fact, it was difficult to take everything in), vendors were demontrating their wares along the sidewalks. There was even a 'bouncy castle' playground for kids.

One of the day's activities was the official opening of a month-long fibre arts festival, Outside the Box. Lots of art to look at, even a dance in celebration of the medium. 

No one can complain that there isn't plenty going on in White Rock these days. It's a treat to see the place so vibrantly alive.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

An opportunity to be heard

It isn't very often that ordinary people get to play a direct role in decisions about their governance. But yesterday provided just such an opportunity.

This July, Skip Triplett was chosen to conduct a series of public gatherings that would allow such input to occur. The focus of these sessions is the current state of gaming grants to community groups in British Columbia.

Anyone who visits this blog knows that I often write about the arts and that I frequently find myself needing to advocate on their behalf -- especially since there have been such deep cuts to funding. Heck, I've even 'gone out on a limb' and stopped buying lottery tickets!

Yesterday's session, held in Surrey, drew presentations not only from a range of arts groups, but from crime prevention groups, athletic organizations, and associations that offer child care programs or shelter for women and children escaping violence.

In every instance, the message was the same. Our community is assisted or enriched by the services we provide. Our funding has been cut. We don't know how we can carry on.

Nearly every group shared accounts of having to vacate premises, lay off staff, reduce or cancel services. 

But on the other hand, every group offered concrete suggestions for how the situation might be improved.

There was a wonderful atmosphere of cooperation and understanding. It felt as though we were really all reaching for answers.

Best of all, Mr Triplett actually seemed not only to listen, but to care. He's keeping a blog of what he learns at these sessions. And he's also willing to hear from others who aren't able to attend the hearings.

All I can hope is that the spirit of positive change in the air at the session will translate into real change for arts and culture groups in this province.

[Vancouver residents, please note: hearings are scheduled for that city on Saturday, September 17th.]

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

School's in!

Today's the day students headed back to classes. But here in B.C., teachers are in the unenviable position of being without a contract (again). They've initiated a mild-sounding variety of job action, not doing tasks that are considered administrative ones. Among requests from teachers are a pay raise that will bring them to equity with teachers in other provinces -- provinces where it's less expensive to live than here -- and considerations to permit them input on class size.

Neither prospect seems likely to happen, as there's been a wage freeze here for public sector employees for far too long. Oh, unless you're a Member of the Legislature, in which case it wasn't that long ago you got a 29% increase in your pay.

As for class size, that consideration was taken away in 2002, the last time this province had Christy Clark serving as Minister of Education. This time, she's in office again, but as Premier of the province, so it doesn't seem like a good time to be looking for class size consideration. All of this despite the fact that she poses as being all in favour of whatever serves to benefit family.

On another educational front, two of Canada's universities, McGill in Montreal and Toronto's U of T, made it into the top rungs in a world ranking of top schools. Toronto inched at number 23, while McGill earned number 17.

These rankings are based on a number of factors, but one of the key criteria (constituting 20% of the points allotted) is faculty/student ratio.

It's a shame to think such a factor is important to evaluators doing world-wide ratings, but that it doesn't matter much to the powers-that-be around here. After all, the only losers aren't yet old enough to vote.   

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Last night finally saw a BC launch for my novella, Shrinking Violets. The flowers were a gift from a friend who couldn't attend.

It may seem odd to consider that the book was launched in Montreal way back at the end of April, in Toronto and London (Ontario) in May, in Saskatoon and Red Deer in June, and only now (finally) out here on the coast where I live. Best of all, it was at White Rock's Pelican Rouge Coffee House, the site of so many local literary events.

In part, this delay had to do with the fact that so many people (including me) like to get away during the summer.

But it also had something to with the fact I like to think of September as the time for going forward with new beginnings. So, in that light, if September 1st is the 'true' new year, I guess last night was a great time for celebrating New Year's Eve, along with all the promise a new year should always hold.

Plenty of books were sold and signed -- a very nice omen for launching not only a book, but a new year.