Margaret Laurence Lecture: Lorna Crozier

large crowd
Last night Writers’ Trust had their 27th annual lecture by a leading Canadian Writer.

Mary Osborne  Executive Director Marilyn Simonds introduces Crozier
Executive Director, Mary Osborne welcomed the 190 or more people to the Museum of Nature auditorium. Marilyn Simonds introduced this year’s lecturer, Lorna Crozier who published her first book in 1976 and 15 books and many mentorees since. She was given the Order of Canada in 2011. She talked with CBC All in a Day on May 31 and the podcast of that should be up shortly here.

Crozier gave an entertaining and poignant talk, weaving quotes and anecdotes from other writers and her own life, from Margaret Laurence to Rumi

The nearly hour-long lecture was held inside the structure of a letter to a younger writer. I can’t condense or relate it all. Some is in the phrasing that I couldn’t both transcribe and keep up with what comes next.The details make up the whole and the room which was pin-drop quiet in admiration, ready for a standing ovation from at least midway. But here are a few things.

Each section of focus started with “Dear younger poet” of important things to know. For example, “books will not be the children that you didn’t have”…they won’t keep you awake a night worrying where they are. They won’t hold your hand on your deathbed. They will never give you that hateful look of your younger self as they walk out the door. On the other hand she related a story of a writer being told by the nurse that upon giving birth she had just achieved the most creativity that it is possible for a woman to achieve. The writer sat bolt upright and fierce and declared no, no, it wasn’t. She has made books.

Other things young writers should know is the sense of place, its impact, or your own placelessness and its significance. And your own name, that name that you would give yourself, not the name passed from your parents or your spouse by birth and legality, but your true name if you were to choose for yourself. Who do you write to? “I see my reader as the better part of me, braver, wittier and funnier.”

Dear younger poet, tell what you must. She described the story behind her story in the Dropped Threads Anthology of going public with the repercussions of the silence around her father being an alcoholic. Many people wrote to her and said that story reflecting their own story allowed healing by opening up solitude for some understanding company. At the same time, she expected her mother would never see it. Her mother lived in a small prairie town with no bookstore. She amended (to chuckles from the crowd), a town that had only a Coles Bookstore. Most anthologies have a short print run and disappear.

This one took off. This one was bought by the minister of her mother’s church where she had attended for 40 years. This one was read from the the pulpit to her mother and her peers who didn’t know the secret. Instead of bringing her to healing, it pushed her the opposite way into shame and exposure. In the weekly phone call with her mother, she found out what had happened that she can’t undo. Was it not her story to tell, she asked herself and the audience. Despite the pain it caused, she would urge that we must dig for the most important truths, the most true stories of self to write about. As her husband Patrick Lane’s said in his memoir, you have to write what you see, that obsession, your own conviction. As Rilke said, “a work of art springs from its own necessity.” She added, “somewhere there is a reader who is waiting for your words so her heart will not break”. As Anne Michaels said, “I write and read to hold another close.”

What else is key came though someones Hungarian grandmother. She said you have 3 ears. 2 ears to hear what is being said, and 1 ear to hear what is not being said. That 3rd ear is the poet’s ear. Crozier related that over a life she doesn’t regret awards not achieved, grants not received but when she didn’t pay attention.

When she was with her parents, “hundreds of stories passed back and forth across the table like salt and I let them slip by as if someone else were there to collect them.” Sobered by the loss of details, is she reformed. She asked, If I were asked to draw my husband’s feet, could I? Could I draw the black patches on my 15-year-old cat?

The Writers’ Trust was founded by Margaret Atwood, Pierre Berton, Graeme Gibson, Margaret Laurence, and David Young. It has been doing these lectures since 1987. Past speakers include Alistair MacLeod, Dionne Brand, P.K. Page and Roch Carrier. The first 25 lectures have been collected into A Writer’s Life by M&S. Next year’s lecture will be by Guy Vanderhaeghe. The organization also provides financial grants (almost a million dollars through The Woodcock Fund), a writers’ retreat (Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon with four writer-in-residences per year) as well as scholarshps at the Humber School for Writers.

6 Apr 2013, 4:32pm
Creative Writing Ponderings
Comments Off on Trophies from the Struggles

Trophies from the Struggles

breast pocket protector
I’ve heard the stories but I’ve never seen one in real life before – the body of the text of a breast pocket Bible caught a bullet.

It’s been preserved since the Boer War by the family of John C Denmark.

It’s a statistical rarity. It’s the physical text of a captivating story.

I wonder if Mao’s Little Red Book also caught bullets? A Nokia phone may have. (See, our technology could save us.)

Symbols becoming real protectors is a potent metaphor. The Guardian did an article on literally bulletproof books. (Kindles and pulp fiction would fared less well than sturdy cotton fibre hardcovers.)

One worn in a heart-covering pocket makes a better story than one that deflects a minor flesh wound of a waist-level-pocket. A Christian habit of wearing a new testament on one’s person like a talisman helps the probability, compared to say, a Guru Granth Sabib, which treated as a physical manifestation of the guru, is given accommodation(s) not given to other books. Not thrown into a rucksack. If you can afford it, a shelf to itself on a pillow. Or a room of its own as an honoured guest you are entrusted with.

Among Hassidic tales of the Holocaust, there’s this one where the bullet whizzed past the Rabbi but lodged in scriptures and where it landed was taken as a particular message to look after the Satmar Rabbi. That book eventually migrated to Brooklyn NY.

The brain wants significant order against the chaotic data that streams in unceasingly. Even if it is superstitious. Which ones you choose may affect outcomes. Or may not as much as it should. For example, less-my-ideally-aimed organizations, for example, Anti-Catholic groups, may keep troubled people occupied, guided in global ways, socialized and less harmful overall than if left loose to their own devices.

It feels like it should mean and that’s enough. We are creatures of, if not sense, sensation. Daisy Fried spoke on how what we create has an echo of life, creative output with its distinct nerve centers, pulses.

Maybe I can divest myself of dreck I write to revert to the ancient who held no responsibility, being a conduit to the muse nor generator source. Here’s T.S. Eliot on Creativity:

To me it seems that at these moments, which are characterised by the sudden lifting of the burden of anxiety and fear which presses upon our daily life so steadily that we are unaware of it, what happens is something negative: that is to say, not ‘inspiration’ as we commonly think of it, but the breaking down of strong habitual barriers — which tend to re-form very quickly. Some obstruction is momentarily whisked away. The accompanying feeling is less like what we know as positive pleasure, than a sudden relief from an intolerable burden.

It’s a dire look at things. To pathologize the dead, there’s a medical test for depression coming to market in the U.S.

On the other hand (and I must have at least a spare baker’s dozen) that’s not to say that process of splitting open isn’t effective even for not being permanent.

The calcification is moved. And quickly is relative.

If fossilizing arthritic joints aren’t moved past their discomfort points, they don’t lose range of motion, shrink and take the body shrinking with it.

Maybe if I spent less time avoiding causing worry to people and more time admitting and moving on, I’d be further ahead.

Some days I feel like Jacob wrestling, but if I wrestle with myself then it is up to me to relent, bless and rename myself.

The quote came via, I believe, Rosemary and it unhatches for me Buddhism’s Buddha in all concept. In it Oriah talks about her book Dance

Notable Quoteable: “”It’s about getting off the treadmill of questing for continual self-improvement.” It made me ponder (once again) how difficult that can be. There’s nothing wrong with learning about ourselves & healing & living more fully & deeply…but, it can so easily slip into doggedly looking for what needs to be “fixed,” or what new method or health regime or exploration might just make us “better” (healthier, wiser, more compassionate, more connected to ourselves & others…)

And that continual quest can postpone enjoying life as it is & appreciating ourselves for who we are (with all of our strengths & weaknesses.)

We are not “projects” or works of art. We are organic, continually changing & unfolding mysteries.

Today, may I catch myself where I am looking for things to “fix,” and opt instead to move toward that within & around me that delights.” ~ Oriah Mountain Dreamer

Popsicle Perplexities and other Stories

If you take away enough context, all you have left is the richness of your life against the abundance of absurdist comedy. Take for example these sketched comedies of recent days:

Hubby enters the bathroom to see me running a popsicle under the tap — admittedly, sometimes it’s hard to know when to ask and what to just let pass. I explained (as I’m so wont to do) that I dropped it and then accidentally kicked it under the bed it got covered in hairballs.

The phone rings and I head away from its ringing. It’s not that I don’t want to to answer. It’s that over a month after we’ve moved it from the usual jack my feet go on autopilot to the room where it used to be plugged in. At which point I usually look at the blank wall, disoriented until I notice the ring is coming from back from whence I came so I double back, by which point it had been picked up by the machine.

It’s evening. I register that I’m hot and thirsty. I go to the freezer, tear open a popsicle bag, set it down to get a glass of water. I drink the water. The next morning hubby wakes up to a counter covered in a sticky goo that has spread into the mail, the cotton shopping bags, but, by mercy, has missed the book there.

In the middle of the night I find an odd sensation on the back of my hand. What is that? I wake up more and touch it and tug at it and find that it’s a adhesive moustache — I wake hubby with my laughter and semi-incoherant explanation. How would it have found its way into the bedding? And is that where my silver pen is, somewhere at the foot of the bed trying to play the part of the warming pen?

Quote: “Although none of the rules for becoming more alive is valid, it is healthy to keep on formulating them.” ~ Susan Sontag

Friday Fill-Ins

Friday Fill-Ins.

1. Bring your favorite attention span. That one is great. It matches your shirt.

2. In this game, pre-assembled phrases are included.

3. Unlike auto-backup when wifi drops, which is exactly why I should make a habit of composing in text edit not live in wordpress. ach, drat, drat on a polka dot rat..

4. Well, you see, to return to topic that I still hadn’t got to, there’s a lot going on in the local literary at the moment. VERSeFest (March 8-13) which I may want to pull together some haiku for to make a commemorative broadsheet but as is, I’ll be in the next Peter F Yacht Club, a VERSeFest special issue, and the 600th above/ground publication (wow). And as Ottawa Sneezers mentioned

5. I’ve got another poetry book is coming out by me soon!

6. But what if I run out of steam. I might miss something. I must pace myself.

7. And as for the weekend, tonight I’m looking forward to a slow quiet evening at home recharging, tomorrow my plans include seeing mom for lunch and seeing AB Series in the evening with supper figuring itself out and Sunday, I want to catch the other AB series event and host the Dusty Owl!

Quote: “But what if we stopped asking “what if” and simply embraced and celebrated “what IS”?” ~ what Jenn said and the wisest thing I’ve heard in a while.

The Blog Days of Summer: BOLO

Some days are like this: berries, fresh picked, still perfumy from soil-heat.
(The Lindt chocolates made a spontaneous fondue.)

It’s kinda like living under a hair dryer but I could get used to this. Why do I live somewhere that periodically gets winter for 10 months*? [*real-feel time measurement.]

It was lovely to cycle in this heat. I tooled around for a couple hours. I can’t get thirsty, really. There’s so much humidity, to breathe is to slurp.

BOLO 2010 Last night was Blog Out Loud Ottawa, 2010. By time we got ourselves in gear and left home in the right direction, with pause to watch baby duckling chip and chirp in bursts after their mom, we’d missed hearing Milan, Woodsy and XUP. (Crumb!) But I got to see Robin and his wife in person which was kinda neat. Irene’s Pub was packed. When we toddled/dawdled in about halfway though, there were about 60 people.

Lynn posted the links to all the best-of pieces read by the 20 readers.

From touching stories of mommie bloggers to sorting one’s head on whys of internal motivations versus bullshittery requirements with banter with the audience, the room was abuzz with good energy during and between speakers.

Dani’s bra shopping story slayed the room,

Bras are about function and form, about keeping the girls under lock and key and as far out of the way as possible.

I have a feeling that “the girls” as a nickname for breasts will be tidily whisked into my vocabulary.

Spoiler: but all that vexation of the bra hunt changed in the course of that expedition while outsourcing the task. [Read it. You know you want to.]

Lynn Maven
(left) Lynn of Turtlehead organized it all. Super job, lady! (right) Maven of Stay at Home Mayhem read a story from the junk food aisle. Fun wit. I read it when it first posted. Neat to hear it live.

In life, we’re used to familiar strangers, knowing someone’s face but not their story, but with blogging, it’s reversed. I know someone’s story but can’t put a face to many of them. But I’d know their template anywhere.

Don and Jenn
Jenn and Don read from food blogging and the world of twitter making connections in the face-to-face and food-to-face world.

Jennifer of It Ain’t Meat Babe, a vegetarian blog about town, related the story of her ex, Murray, as boyfriends go, was fairly benign, and all he knew, and didn’t, about making rice.

I ended up taking only a few pictures.

People really enjoyed the show. Which is hardly surprising. There’s an amazing amount of talent, as writers, observers, speakers, comediennes, performers. Timing, wit, animation, energy and creativity spilling out of people. A great sort of space to be in.

Irene’s Pub hosts live bands most days of the week. From what I hear, their track record on good music is pretty exceptional. Seems like a nice place to hang out, event or not.

Quote: “I think we’re here for each other.” ~ Carol Burnett

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