Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

How to stain a dream

Posted: November 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

Struggling to wake up from a dream earlier — knowing I dreamt — of lying on rocks this time, lying where I’d fallen (right out of the sky): sharp and crumbling shale hiding one boulder. The rocks had cracked my hips and spine. The tide rose. Mist froze my eyelashes together. All I could smell was salt water and blood. Becoming rock: pain.

Ankylosing spondylitis.

Abuse in childhood might scar the brain: the damage is not just emotional, but also physical.

This is what is going on with several characters in my novels Sky Waves and deluded your sailors, and some of what makes Paulette Tiller vulnerable in my short story ‘Bush-hammer finish’ (published in the autumn issue of The Fiddlehead).

I’ve got a new short story out. It’s called “Bush-hammer finish,” and you can find it in the latest issue of The Fiddlehead. Here’s the opening:

St John’s, July 2013

The trouble with Paulette, Nish Flannigan decided, reaching for his cufflink: she overreacted. The cufflink had fallen beside the wedding photo of Paulette that Nish kept on his dresser. He studied it: Paulette, filling out a sleeveless beige dress, standing on a wharf between wooden lobster traps, and holding not a bouquet in front of her belly, but a red buoy, scarred and beaten. Her red hair tumbled over her freckled shoulders, and her beige high heels stood before her, almost hiding her polished toenails. She’d tucked her chin down and looked up at the photographer, mouth in a smirk, eyes glinting. Mischievous, Nish had called her, wicked.

Faith, doubt: for me, it’s the same damned knot. Faith does not have to be about organized religion. I look at artists and scientists, for example, and think, there’s faith at work here, a belief, a desire to believe, in something greater and more important than one’s little self. Otherwise, why bother? Why agonize over your work and strive for excellence if not to connect with something more than just you? This greater thing need not be called God, or considered only on a Sunday morning when one is hungry for, or perhaps dreading, dinner. It might be called a thirst for knowledge, a connection to humanity, or love, or even just pleasure: I puzzle on the physics of dimension because it pleases me; I paint this portrait because I want to.

Faith and doubt is the big theme in Running the Whale’s Back, a new anthology of short stories by writers from Atlantic Canada, published by Goose Lane, edited by Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris. The St John’s launch is Tuesday evening at The Ship, starting ay 8pm, with readings by Joan Clark, Michael Crummey, and myself. Cash bar. Snacks on hand. The DownHome will be selling books.

In this corner

Posted: July 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

Dreamt this morning I’d gotten wedged against a brick wall, back-first, because my wings had failed and I’d fallen from the sky. I didn’t dream of flying, or falling. My dream started with counting the cracks in my spine and wondering how the hell I’d stand up and get out of the rat-hole I’d landed in. Rough pavement had chewed up my right cheek. A puddle of dirty water threaded toward my face. I couldn’t speak. Footsteps.


Posted: June 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

Goose Lane will put out a short story anthology this fall, edited by Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris, called Running the Whale’s Back. It’s a collection of stories about faith and doubt by Atlantic Canadian writers. I’m thrilled this project exists, because faith — and the doubt that can come with faith — is hardly a fashionable topic in Canadian fiction.  I’m also pleased to be a part of it; my story “The shadow side of grace” will be in this antho.

Contributors: Michael Crummey, Sheldon Currie, Joan Clark, David Adams Richards, Kenneth J. Harvey, Clive Doucet, Deborah Joy Corey, Ann-Marie MacDonald, Michael Hennessey, Lynn Coady, D.R. MacDonald, Alistair MacLeod, Jessica Grant, Michael Winter, Samuel Thomas Martin,  Kathleen Winter, Ann Copeland, Carol Bruneau, and me. The cover design comes from a David Blackwood engraving.

A long fuse

Posted: June 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

I have this stupid condition called ankylosing spondylitis. It’s an autoimmune disease, which means my body is at war with itself. In AS, you develop inflammatory arthritis in the spine, the sacroiliac joints, and sometimes in the hips and other joints. The inflammation can get into your rib cage, your eyes, your gut, and, in some cases, your kidneys and your heart. When the inflammation is bad, the pain gets intense, and the fatigue gets crippling. I have fallen asleep at my desk. I have felt like my blood and mind both are made of cooling amber. I have wept in pain that meds cannot always blunt.

My rheumatologist says I have a ‘heavy burden of disease’. I quite like the poetics of that phrase. I’m less thrilled with its meaning.

I’ve got some difficulties. My mobility is poor, so I need forearm crutches to get around. The pain can range from a deep nuisance to unspeakable: that is, the pain gets so severe that I cannot speak. The fevers are tiresome. Learning to ration my energy, which can be copious one day and nearly non-existent the next, is difficult.

I am a bloody-minded cuss who just wants to get things done. Increasingly, I cannot do things on my own — cook supper, for example, or buy the groceries in the first place, run the vacuum cleaner, wash the car, mow the lawn, shovel the snow.

The condition is leaving marks on me. My gait is the obvious one. My face is often distorted with either a pain-frown or with some bloat from one of my medications.  My right eye sustained some nerve damage from another med and sometimes needs to be patched; the vision is variable. I cannot get out to most events, parties, readings, concerts, book launches, or plays, because I haven’t got the energy, or because I am in too much pain. My physical world is shrinking: home, dayjob, pharmacy, hospitals, doctors’ offices.

My point?

I’m not sure I have one.

Plenty of people get sick. Many of them die of their illness; an online acquaintance of mine with ankylosing spondylitis died last week. He was about my age. Maybe that’s the spike today, the need to consider not just death but meaning. I’ve been here 42 years, roughly half the lifespan a Canadian woman can reasonably expect. I also have some very long-lived relatives. I do not expect to die of my AS but instead to suffer it out and perhaps enjoy some sort of remission if and when new meds become available.

I didn’t expect to get sick in the first place, either. What we expect has little relevance here.

A friend gave me a book of Latin proverbs, translated into English. One that kept showing up in different Latin sentences but with the same English translation: It’s later than you think.

Another friend quoted Tolkien to me on my birthday:

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Turn your nose up at Tolkien if you like. One thing Lord of the Rings is about is sickness: addictions, complicities, degenerations, sacrifices. The quotation, and the impulse behind it, is charged with meaning for me. My kind friend  went on to say she thinks I’ve done good things so far with the time that’s been given to me.

I’m not sure I’ve done enough. No, I am sure: I have not done enough. I’ve been given a sickness, but I’ve also been given time. I think what I need to do now is distill more of what sickness is teaching me into my work – into raising my children and writing my books.

A worst-case scenario for ankylosing spondylitis is fusion of the spine. The body tries to wall off inflammation and diseased tissue by calcifying ligaments and setting off new bone growth. This is the “ankylosing” part. My spine’s pretty stiff but not fused. This possibility scares me, the fused spine business, but what scares me more is a different ankylosis: a walling-off of heart and mind. I am afraid of becoming some draughty fortress of despair. I am afraid of giving in.

So I won’t give in.

“To Job, or Not to Job,” by Miranda Hill. I don’t quite know what to make of this essay. Its title poses a choice — write full-time, or keep a dayjob and write around that — yet the body acknowledges that such choice is rare. An individual’s situation also defines the viability of such a choice.

It’s all work. While I certainly prefer to be working on my own stuff over working at someone else’s office to someone else’s tasks, my own work, my little books, are not intrinsically more valuable or more important than anyone else’s work. When Hill uses Franz Kafka the Insurance Agent as an example of a writer who kept a dayjob for years yet complained of it, the essay’s rhetoric again sets up the idea of a choice, but then yanks the idea of choice away: “Perhaps Kafka shared the feelings of a painter friend of mine, who returned to work after many months of devoting herself ‘full-time’ to her art. When I asked her why, she said, ‘I made an amazing discovery. I paint much better when the lights are on.’ “

Lights on. Food in the fridge. Clothes on the kids’ backs.

So, I’m sparked to ask: given an economy in deep flux, and given an industry in deep flux (publishing), does the choice paradigm actually exist? Did it ever exist for everyone, or just for a few? And, if it exists, does the choice paradigm automatically presume one’s art work is more valuable than anyone else’s work? Preferable to the artist, yes, but more valuable?

New novelist (her first one is forthcoming) Kate Robbins interviews me here.  We discuss novels versus short stories, narrative strategy, and my new short story ‘Lost-wax casting’, which you can find in the new story anthology Everything Is So Political.

Everything Is So Political gets reviewed here. Everything Is So Political is an anthology of short stories, edited by Sandra McIntrye, just out from Fernwood Publishing. I have a story in here called ‘Lost-wax casting’.