What a thrill to be shortlisted for the 2018 WordsThaw Poetry Prize, sponsored by The Malahat Review and judged by Governor General’s Award winning poet and author Arlene Paré! It was a delight to read among so many talented poets at the Victoria Public Library during last weekend’s poetry prize event. My congrats go out to winners Zoe Dickinson and Terra Hawk, whose works were simply wonderful. There are more WordsThaw events coming up this weekend, so if you’re in the area, be sure to check it out.
Cast your peepers upon these beautiful gifts I received for being shortlisted:
My sincere thanks go out to Arlene Paré, WordsThaw, and The Malahat Review.
I also want to extend special thanks to Shana Cordon of The Moxy Labs, to whom I turn each time I have a reading coming up. Like many writers—especially poets!—I can be a bit shy about reading, but Shana’s public speaking coaching gets my moxie flowing big-time. If you have a speaking engagement coming up and you’re a little nervous about it, please look her up. Shana has developed and implemented programs for organizations from Fortune 500 corporations to non-profits. She’s warm, fun, professional, and offers concrete tools to help you channel nervous energy into excitement and empowerment.
Here’s to finding your moxie—whatever form that takes.
There’s nothing quite like the feel of a fat package in your mailbox—especially when it contains contributor copies of Grain Magazine. I’m thrilled to announce that my essay “Brahman is the Charioteer” is in the Spring 2017 issue of this eclectic Canadian literary journal.
Editor Adam Pottle has dubbed this issue “Relativity of Zen,” and it features writers and artists exploring, in Pottle’s words, “many different approaches to achieving Zen.”
His editor’s note begins:
Finding peace has become a vital endeavour. Not just between nations and people, but in the small morsels within our daily routines, those in-between moments where we transition from one activity to another: when we take the bus home, or after we put the kids to bed, or when we’re doing the dishes after a big dinner. It seems that peace within our own lives is difficult to find and almost impossible to sustain, so to hope for a better future appears fantastical.
This Zen-themed issue feels like the perfect home for my essay, which is about my late mother’s love of Sanskrit and our complex relationship with spirituality—and each other. The essay contains chapter segments of a book-length memoir I’m working on; it’s a coming-of-age story about a girl with cystic fibrosis struggling to live up to the utopian ideals of her spiritual community in Iowa, and the mother who brought her to live there.
More on that later. For now, I hope you’ll head to your nearest bookstore and get Grained!
My Northern Ontario birthplace was formed 1,849 billion years ago when a 10-kilometre-wide meteorite—actually, now they’re saying it was a comet—travelling at 8 times the speed of sound crashed to the earth. The massive impact formed what is now known as the Sudbury Basin, the earth’s second-largest crater at 62 km long and 30 km wide.
That sucker punch from outer space filled the earth’s sunken face with molten rock containing nickel, copper, platinum, palladium, gold, and other metals. It took centuries for the pulverized rock to cool, and until the late 1800s for settlers in the Sudbury Basin to figure out they were sitting on, literally, a gold mine.
By the time I was born in 1974, the city’s mines—Inco and Falconbridge—were two of the world’s leading producers of nickel. I grew up playing under giant plumes of sulphurous smoke belched by Inco’s massive smokestack at the refinery. My friends and I scrambled over the lunar landscape of rocks turned black by the copper smelting process. Some nights, Mom would drive my sister and me to see the slag being dumped by the mines. We’d sip milkshakes and watch the hot, lava-like substance spill down the side of a hill, mesmerized by its beauty.
That’s right. I said beauty.
For that’s what Sudbury was to us, then: the magical, pockmarked backdrop upon which our imaginations could roam freely. With a little creativity, rocky outcrops became British boarding schools. Grassy backyards became stages for elaborate dance recitals. Graveyards became sites of espionage and intrigue as my sister and I hid behind tombstones, pretending our pointed fingers were guns.
OK, we were strange children.
But as Ray Bradbury puts it, “Trains and boxcars and the smell of coal and fire are not ugly to children. Ugliness is a concept that we happen on later and become self-conscious about.” (That’s from the introduction to Dandelion Wine).
Indeed, I did grow self-conscious about Sudbury in my teens, especially after I moved away. “I’m from Sudbury,” I’d say apologetically to other Canadians, who’d laugh and say, “Ah, yes, the armpit of Ontario” (it turns out other cities like Hamilton share this dubious moniker as well). But now, after a visit back home this summer, I realize Sudbury is actually the heart of Ontario. For me, anyway.
The city’s greening efforts—they’re now growing trees in the mines!—have, over the decades, transformed Sudbury into quite a leafy, picturesque city in many places. Art is springing up all over town, too, thanks to Up Here, an emerging art and music festival. There are hundreds of freshwater lakes scattered throughout the area. And, of course, Sudbury is home to friends and family members—including my father, my wonderful step-family, and my indefatigable grandmother, still going strong at 100.
However, the giant smokestack, now owned by a Brazilian company called Vale, still remains. The weather-beaten roads are potholed and plastered together with asphalt and tar. There are defunct breweries, shambling shacks, and, yes, graffiti-covered boxcars. At its core, Sudbury remains Sudbury—a hardscrabble frontier town built in a crater that was created when the cosmos decided to give the earth a walloping clout on the chin. Sudbury is gritty, tough, and has gold at its core—both the chemical element and the people. And that’s a beautiful thing.
As a child, my imagination sprouted in the somewhat barren Sudbury of the 1970s and ’80s—just like the seedlings that now grow in Vale’s greenhouse, 4,800 feet below the earth. It has taken me several decades to really start mining my creativity and publishing essays and poems, but if I keep going, perhaps I’ll hit gold one day.
Or perhaps not. But if my hometown has taught me anything, it’s the power of perseverance. In any case, I’m enjoying digging deep into my past and present for material. Sometimes, I stumble over subject matter that, at first glance, seems quite bleak—chronic illness, death, mortality, and madness, for starters. Fortunately, Sudbury has trained my eye to see the beauty shimmering beneath the soot.
Who wants to spend their days sitting at a desk, poking around such bleak emotional terrain, you might well ask?
I do. The landscape is incredible.
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As spring turns into summer, I find myself Googling writing residencies. There’s really nothing like spending a few weeks—or more, if you’re lucky—writing and talking shop with fellow writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers.
Last October, I was fortunate enough to participate in the debut Memoir Residency at The Banff Centre, nestled in Alberta’s Rockies. For two weeks, I had the privilege of studying memoir under Karen (Kaz) Connelly, Alison Pick, and Alexandra Fuller—three exceptional Canadian authors who are as warm and encouraging as they are accomplished. The program was directed by the exceptional Devyani Saltzman.
I learned a great deal from my peers, as well, as we discussed our projects and hiked among the hills. The scenery was spectacular, and so well suited for a writing residency. After hours squinting into a computer screen, I’d emerge into the sunlight and find myself awestruck by the mountains; it was just what I needed after all that intense focus.
My memoir-in-progress, if you’re wondering, is about growing up in Fairfield, Iowa, the nexus of the Transcendental Meditation movement. Like many of my former Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment alums, I’ve found myself reflecting upon those unorthodox high school years spent studying Sanskrit alongside Shakespeare while I lived in Utopia Park—the town’s trailer park for meditators.
In recent months, however, my writing—and the book—seems to be shifting in focus as I grapple with cystic fibrosis, a genetic lung disease. During a weekend trip to Galiano Island, in the Southern Gulf Islands here in Canada, I wrote an essay about my illness and what larger lessons it may have to teach me. That essay, “Wild, Salty Body of Water,” will be published in The Rumpus in the next few months.
Meanwhile, I continue to research residencies! I’d like to go somewhere new. My friends at The Luminous Writer are working hard to arrange an autumn workshop in Ireland, near Dublin, so if that comes together, I’d really love to attend. I’m also tempted to return to The Banff Centre sometime. If you’re a writer, a musician, artist, or performing arts professional, I encourage you to look into their programs. I did, and it was life changing.