Kiyooka Ohe Art Center (KOAC) on July 4, 2020

I was, just now, sitting on the red couch sipping coffee, Max sprawled out on the cool floor beside me.  I was listening to an old Live From Everywhere session with Craig Cardiff on Instagram.  He was writing a song for a couple from Milwaukee, as they shared their story of meeting and falling in love and staying in love.  I got really emotional and as I came down the stairs, strangely, big tears were plopping down my cheeks and falling off my chin.  What?  What is going on?  I think they were blessing-tears.  I just feel so blessed.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to take a morning drive out to KOAC, in order to do some yard work with a group of wonderful volunteers gathered together by wonderful connector, Alice Lam.  I was surrounded by mostly younger folk and it gave my heart such joy to see these people working so hard to make something beautiful even more beautiful.  I hope to work alongside these people again.  Thank you, Alice.

Alice is seen, here, on our lunch break, eating a fresh lively salad provided by a fantastic start up that has its own magical story.  Through the pandemic experience, Inspired Go has been a company that stepped up and connected with community, in order to make things better.  In April they announced the #feedthefrontlines campaign, providing free meals to local healthcare workers. For each box sold they donated a meal, for a total of 6714 donated meals. What an epic moment in Inspired Go’s history! It is a beautiful thing to see people in our community do great things.  Over two volunteer work days, Inspired Go provided lunch, served up by my dear and respected friend, Wendy Lees.  Thank you!

Upon arrival, Katie,  Harry and Ricardo were there to welcome volunteers.  We received a lovely overview of the studios and the expanse of sculpture garden, beginning with a gathering in Katie’s studio.  There, she richly described her process as she works on pieces connected with the concept Cluster.

I was most intrigued by Katie’s description of the selection of materials and the process of editing, along the way.  I loved her description of vessels that might contain the cluster and her process of discovery.  In the raven piece above, I especially loved the creation of the nesting materials in the bottom section.  All the while, Katie is holding strapping that will be required to pull a new bench into place.  She is always and forever thinking and solving spatial problems.

Off we headed for our various assignments.  I couldn’t wait to get to work.

Below, we head out, passing Queen of the Night, Michael Sandle.

Joe brought the gravel to fill up the space where the bench would be installed.

I enjoyed Katie’s back story on the evolution of the bench.  My readers must take the opportunity to visit the Kiyooka Ohe Art Center.  Sit on this bench!  After shutting down mole/ground squirrel activity under the Ray Arnatt sculpture, Binder, and cutting out invasive weeds, we had our break for lunch.  It was during this time that I had the opportunity to look at the gardens and some of the mid sized sculptures.

Thanks, Wendy Lees, for your homemade chocolate chip squares.  They followed our Inspired Go salads.  Yum!  Then, off to the woods in our mosquito net apparel!  What a fun bunch of hard working people!

It was at this point of the third huge pile of dead wood that the first loud boom of thunder began.  Our day was cut a little bit short by the huge foothills storm that raced through.  I’m sad that I didn’t grab a photograph of the dramatic sky at this point in the afternoon.  I hosed down my footwear and hopped in the car.  I had a chance to say good bye to Harry, but Katie was busying herself somewhere else on the property.

What an amazing day!

Through Covid-19, I have tried to support one visual artist, one musician and one gallery.  It was all I could do, although I wanted to do so much more.  As a result, I have purchased Janet’s Crown by Katie Ohe for my 65th birthday gift.  I am also, over time, purchasing Weeping Bees 2007, Brother Pear 1996, Monsoon2, 2006 and Untitled, 1977.  I’m over the moon about these acquisitions.

I don’t have a lot in the resource bin of life…but, I’ve always had enough.  I’m blessed that I was able to give my three children and myself what we needed, that we had food and shelter and I was, as a teacher, always able to make ends meet.  Often times it was the sale of my own art that provided us with what we needed at the end of the month and when things were really tough (I wasn’t always able to purchase art. lol), friends and family supported me.  Regarding visual art,  a lot of people don’t know that they can create an art collection if they budget a little bit over time.  Arrangements can be made with galleries so that the collector can surround themselves with beautiful art.  I have purchased works from various galleries in town including Gorilla House and Rumble House.

This has been the year of Katie. I purchased Katie’s prints through the Herringer Kiss GalleryKatie Ohe’s retrospective exhibit is now available to view by appointment at the Esker Foundation, until the end of August.  Do not miss this opportunity. I will always remember this year with gratitude.  Strange times often bring to the forefront of our imaginations what is beautiful about life.

It was a fantastic opportunity to spend the day out at KOAC.  What a privilege.  I highly recommend volunteer hours spent at KOAC and thank you, Harry and Katie, for this day.

Two Good Books

Two books that I highly recommend for their strong writing and amazing narratives are Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens and the memoir, Educated by Tara Westover.

I think I was very late to the ‘Where the Crawdads Sing’ party.  I had heard the title kicking about for quite some time.  This pandemic has provided an opportunity to read, probably, a little bit more than I usually would, sometimes staying up turning pages way later than is really acceptable, given that I babysit an almost-three-year-old most days.

Coming to books with my own insatiable appetite for the outdoors and for wildlife, particularly birds, this book filled me to the brim.  And while I appear to be quite an extrovert to most, I feel inwardly uncomfortable being in groups of people and feel awkward in the world of conversation.  As a result, this book by Delia Owens, retired wildlife biologist, is strongly appealing to me.

We see this part of the world, intimately, through the eyes of Kya.

By description, the protagonist has a most amazing collection displayed inside her primitive cabin, located in a remote marshland in North Carolina.  More than anything, I wish that I could feast my eyes on this.  Surely it was an image that I carried in my imagination throughout the reading.  I loved the idea of leaving feathers tucked away in secret places, treasured gifts from a special visitor. I think I know how Kya felt as I feel the same way when I discover a feather nestled in the tall grasses by the edge of the Bow River.

The story, suspense, character relationships read as believable and there are no moments of disappointment, at least not for this reader.  I was completely absorbed by this book and the hidden world of life on the water and in this magical place.  The fact that the protagonist becomes a writer causes me to look at some of the books on my book shelf differently.  This is one.

I highly recommend the book, Where the Crawdads Sing for its rich description and charming story.

Next, the memoir Educated by Tara Westover is a powerful true-life reflection.  This is another page-turner that totally engrossed me in a circumstance that is foreign and in so many ways, unbelievable.

Taken directly from the New Yorker review written by Alexandra Schwartz….this.

Westover was born sometime in September, 1986—no birth certificate was issued—on a remote mountain in Idaho, the seventh child of Mormon survivalist parents who subscribed to a paranoid patchwork of beliefs well outside the mandates of their religion. The government was always about to invade; the End of Days was always at hand. Westover’s mother worked as a midwife and an herbal healer. Her father, who claimed prophetic powers, owned a scrap yard, where his children labored without the benefit of protective equipment. (Westover recounts accidents so hideous, and so frequent, that it’s a wonder she lived to tell her tale at all.) Mainstream medicine was mistrusted, as were schools, which meant that Westover’s determination to leave home and get a formal education—the choice that drives her book, and changed her life—amounted to a rebellion against her parents’ world.

What I took from this novel was an astounding resilience and huge lessons about “education”.  We encounter the brilliant truths about the stories we are told in our childhood and subsequently, the truths we tell ourselves.  It is then a very complex process to integrate these truths with the lives that we live, the knowledge we attain and environmental impacts that come our way.  Tara makes a stunning effort to communicate what this journey entails.  This is such a powerful memoir.  Please do read it.

 

Reading in Covid Times

Oh my goodness! I am not going to write individual reviews for the books that I’ve read during this pandemic (so far), not for Goodreads or for any other reason because generally, I’ve not been pleased with the selection thus far.

I was reading Hope Matters by Lee Maracle, Columpa Bobb and Tania Carter when all of this began.  I know this because our March book discussion was canceled at Fish Creek Library.  This was all new and at that point I think I shrugged my shoulders and thought this would be over before we knew it and that all would go on as usual.  But now, all these weeks later, I realize how blessed I was in our group.  I miss the group very much.

When I began Hope Matters, I was really excited about it, but as I read further in, I struggled and I came up against a lot of walls.  Poetry is a tricky genre for people, generally, and this writing I found difficult to tunnel into.  I think that there needs to be a hook for the reader of poetry.  I am not saying the book is strong or weak.  I’m just saying that something about me would not let the words in.  If you’ve read the book, let me know your thoughts.

The Parcel by Anosh Irani was sitting on my bookshelf.  I purchased it while attending the last Wordfest event, here in Calgary.  This is a powerful and essential read.  It was a solid piece of writing that evoked a great deal of emotion and brought social consciousness to the forefront as I read.  I had heard similar stories before.  I think, also, that movies and Hollywood has given us a picture of what life is like in Bombay.  However, I feel that this author, having his own life rooted in Bombay, gave the reader an authentic experience of the subject.

My heart went out to the protagonist, Madhu.  I entered into her life and felt her exasperation.  While I’m grateful for having read this book, I must warn other readers that this is a dark story and it is very sad.  It pulled me down.  I thought to myself, at the time, “Lady, you need to find something a little lighter for these times.”  As these types of novels typically are, this is a story of redemption.  I recommend…but, with a warning.  This author is talented and honest.  You will like his writing.

I decided to read the next book that was on the list for our Book Discussion in April.  The book was also on the Canada Reads list, From the Ashes by Jesse Thistle.  Bravo to Jesse Thistle who gives us this powerful memoir, a story of human strength and an inspiration to anyone who feels that life has dealt them a very difficult hand.  The writing is good. But, a little voice kept needling me…”Why don’t you tackle some light reading, Kath?”  These books, while eventually reaching the resilience of the human spirit, are so darned sad, for the most part.

From Goodreads, 

In this heartwarming and heartbreaking memoir, Jesse Thistle writes honestly and fearlessly about his painful experiences with abuse, uncovering the truth about his parents, and how he found his way back into the circle of his Indigenous culture and family through education.

An eloquent exploration of what it means to live in a world surrounded by prejudice and racism and to be cast adrift, From the Ashes is, in the end, about how love and support can help one find happiness despite the odds.

On my friend, Hollee’s, recommendation, I next read Starlight by Richard Wagamese, published after his death and with the support of his estate.  I loved this book…the protagonist was a wildlife photographer living on a beautiful piece of land.  Here, he intervenes in the protection of Emmy and Winnie.  It is written with such eloquence and heart that I was so totally engaged.  As I was running out of pages, however, I became disarmed because I felt that the ending was not going to be tied up comfortably for me…and it wasn’t.  I highly recommend this book.  It didn’t have the same impact on me as the other books I had read to this point of the pandemic experience, and beginning in March.

It was at this point that I picked up The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.  Because Atwood was my first born’s favourite author during high school and beyond, at some point I decided that I would read all of Atwood’s writing in order to understand my daughter a little more.  Isn’t it funny that I think that might happen through books?  Erin was my BIG reader in the day.  I couldn’t keep her stocked in L.M. Montgomery books when she was younger.  She read them all.  And I haven’t.

Previously, I read Bluebeard’s Egg, a collection of Atwood short stories and really really enjoyed those!  I also sailed through The Handmaid’s Tale….maybe every one does.  But when it came to The Robber Bride…oh, my!  I crashed into a wall.  This book felt somehow surreal and it amplified my mood surrounding the epidemic that we were learning to endure at the very same time.  In this book, Zenia exercises such power over three different characters; Toni, Charise and Roz, that I felt a huge frustration at their naivety.  I was absorbed by certain sections where Atwood explores the particular motivations of her characters, but as a whole, it was just a really hard read.  After the book, I read various reviews and discovered that the author intended all sorts of connections to be made about the 60s feminist movement and a review of this writing even compares it to the grisly tale of the Brothers Grimm.  I found the book to be too raw in its subject.  It made me squirm. I haven’t decided which of Atwood’s books I will tackle next, but having used three weeks (WHAT??) to read this one, I thought I’d look for something ‘mindless’.  On this one, consider yourselves warned.

I enjoyed Ken Follett’s first trilogy back in the day, so I looked at my collection of Follett books on my shelf and chose one that dealt with the theft of a virus (NO, I’M NOT KIDDING) called Whiteout.  Sheesh!!  This one is one that you will whiz through.  It is mindless.  There’s a bit of a romance.  There is a series of cheesy good guy bad guy stuff happen in a very bad storm.  I really did give this one a try…finished it in three evenings, but it wouldn’t be one I’d recommend.  Goodreads mentions that it has startling twists.  Hmmm….I would beg to differ.

Onward and outward…in search of the five star pandemic novel, I saw plastered all over social media, a book title of interest to me, A Life Without Water by Marci Bolden.  Not only that, but the reviews were over-the-top, positive.

Sorry, guys.  This was a let down.  Another three evening read, A Life Without Water feels like the writing is diluted.  There is flavour, but it’s so weak that it’s disappointing.  While the premise might provide opportunity for a good story, I think that the writing has to really power up.  Amazon says...An unputdownable, heart-breaking, but ultimately uplifting story about the power of forgiveness. 

No. Don’t do it!

Again, Hollee posted something about this book, You Are an Artist by Sarah Urist Green.  I ordered it that day through Amazon and really like this book.  I highly recommend!

I think this book would provide some creative connection for high school students and for adults, spending time at home. It provides unusual approaches to making art in your own spaces and in your own communities.

My readers knew that eventually it would come to this, right?  Of course I’ve picked up my Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds identification book!  This morning, for the first time, in my neighbourhood, I saw a Thrush.  This was a very cool experience!  I also received a photograph in my messages from a friend who snapped a photo of a beautiful yellow and orange bird that she saw in Carburn Park yesterday!  I knew what it was!!  Seven years later, I’m very excited about identifying birds.  Get yourself a Bird Identification book!

My sister gifted me the Atlas of Breeding Birds of Alberta…also, highly recommend.

Last night, I opened a page turner.  I’m already heart broken for the protagonist, little six-year old Kya, in the book, Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens, but the syntax, description and opening up of the story are eloquent.  Thank goodness!  I’m living in hope that I’m now on the right track for the remainder of my pandemic reading.  I’d love you to let me know what books you are picking up through these times.  Leave me a message.  There was a great little CBC program on just after lunch today, asking folks what they’re watching on television…what they’re reading…what they’re listening to.  All good questions.  Again, I’m coming from a place of privilege, that I should have the time and ability to read.  I’m always grateful.

 

 

Tanya Tagala and Sheila Watt-Cloutier at Convention

Thursday was a beautiful day. Cayley and I attended Teacher’s Convention together.  I’m proud that my daughter has chosen the teaching profession and prouder, still, that she takes her profession to heart.  She is a strong woman.  We share in a lot of the same concerns for our planet and its people.  We also really believe that there’s a lot of power in education and that it is essential to change, healthy perceptions and strength of character.

I have been blessed that over the last while, I’ve had a number of strong women coming into my circle,  These include artists, writers, mentors and friends. I feel in awe of their abilities to inspire and build up communities, families and their own experiences in so many impacting ways.  Strong women have always been in my life; don’t get me wrong.  But, recently, I’ve been really looking at what these women have done to influence me.  I’m noticing them more.

Our sessions in the afternoon began with a talk by Tanya Tagala, author of Seven Fallen Feathers and All Our Relations.  (No photos for any convention sessions, so, I’m sharing one of the Massey Hall lectures delivered by Tanya…very similar content.)

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This was a very powerful talk, delivered with humour, honesty and generosity.  Tanya’s first hand experiences and personal narratives increased our understanding of our story as Canadians.  I know that many of my readers do not feel as I do on issues of Indigenous peoples and their rights.  We are willing to fight for the rights of others, but so often neglect our responsibilities to our Indigenous, Metis and Inuit neighbours across the nation.  I just don’t see how we can walk away from the treaties that our ancestors signed, in good faith.  We are all treaty people.  This is not an imagined past.

I value Tanya’s work; her writing and her voice.  She is strong and positive and she speaks the truth.  Every child deserves safety, clean water and shelter….it is not a child’s fault that they were born under the weight of history!

Cayley and I went for a movement break after the talk.  We were quiet for the most part, but talked a bit about the open mic question session and what questions we feel are still unanswered for us. We were reviewing, in our minds, what needs to happen to shift our delivery of content in our classrooms.  It was lovely to meet up with Lana and Heather during the break.

Next, we heard, in the same hall, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a beautiful woman who I had met a Mount Royal University some years ago, with my sister-friend, Karen.   I feel blessed to have had a second opportunity to hear Sheila speak and encourage my readers to take the opportunity when you can.  Please read her book, The Right to Be Cold.

Sheila shared a great deal of information and global concern for the melting north and the melting permafrost.  We need this global cooling system.  There are species that now arrive in the north, never-identified by the Inuit peoples.  This strikes me as a manifestation of our consumption and greed.  It is so easy to forget Canada’s north, abandoning her for all of the social and economic concerns of the south.  We need to make these connections and be more deliberate in our protection of her.

There were such stiff rules about picture taking…and procedural rules around book-signing, but Cayley managed to grab a quick photo from a distance of Sheila and me, together, in conversation.

This is not a very becoming photograph…but…I took an opportunity to chat, give a context and express my interest.  Sheila is a beautiful, authentic and very smart woman who has accomplished great and wonderful things in her life.  Thanks, Cayley for sitting on the sidelines and capturing this engagement.  Does it seem like anyone around me is concerned?

After the session, Cayley and I went To Bar Anna Bella’s for a cocktail and to bond.  It was a lovely relaxed atmosphere and we were all on our own.  I had the Osmoz Gin from France.  Yum!!  Magic!

As we left, the winter festival was setting up.  I found it ironic and a little sad that this is what met us just around the corner.  Interesting that a great big ‘plastic’ igloo should appear out of nowhere.  Calgary moved on to the Glow Festival.

 

 

 

 

An Hour With Anna Gustafson

Sometimes it feels like I’m flying in to the evening programs at Esker Foundation.  The trek north on Deerfoot Trail is never optimal around the dinner hour.  It seems that the folk who have struggled their way south through rush hour traffic have made their way home for their wardrobe changes and are then all headed back to the core for their evening events.  Calgary is such a sprawl!  All that aside, when the program lists are published for the Esker Foundation, I always try to log on and register and fill in my calendar for the coming months.

Today, Anna Gustafson delivered a ‘making’ workshop at the Esker.  These programs are especially inspiring.  Because I wasn’t able to fit this one in, I was really motivated to listen to her talk last night and to see her work in Esker’s Project Space.  This exhibit, titled Object Lessons is accessible from the huge picture windows on street level 9th Ave SE.

Anna spoke about her transition from a piece titled Ghost Salmon (very serendipitous) into her shrouded works.  Initially, the image that she projected on to the screen of her Ghost Salmon work brought me back to some ideas I had once explored in my own studio.  My brother, Cliff, who runs a salmon charter in Comox named Cliff’s Chinook Charters, now has this piece at home with him.

Anna described her connection with other species and her sense of urgency around having a deep regard for sustainability.  I felt as though we were connected in our thoughts through some sort of umbilical…I was captivated.

Enjoy Anna’s beautiful website and click on this link in order to read through her process.

As she spoke about shrouding objects that represent our full-on consumption, I thought very much about the bags of litter I picked for such a long period of time at a single pond here in south Calgary.  Nothing ever seemed to change about the landscape that I picked….after months and years of clearing the flats, new litter would just move on in.  It came in waves.  It was no wonder that Anna’s fish nets filled to the brim with shrouded single use plastics hit me in the gut.

The exhibit is happening, in partnership with the New Gallery and Anna Gustafson is extending an invitation to the public to help her with the harvesting of particular household objects including remote controls, film and slide projectors, film cans, slide carousels, flashlights along with white cotton and linen fabric for shrouding. Donations can be brought to The New Gallery from 3 February to 19 April.

Anna has a very detailed record of where she is gathering these objects, as seen below.

I find it interesting that as I attended a second event last evening, I should still be thinking about Anna’s work as I encountered this display.  Well done, Anna, and thank you.  Thank you, Esker Foundation.

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay

The Virgin Cure was Ami McKay’s second novel, after The Birth House.  I’m still looking forward to reading The Witches of New York.

I would include the book, The Virgin Cure, in a list of beach reads.  Let’s face it, Ami McKay is a fabulous writer and she certainly does a fantastic job of consistently representing female characters and their challenges in her writing.  So, why read this on the beach?  This book reads seamlessly, apart from the use of margins and abrupt breaks in pages, every now and again, to insert Dr. Sadie’s notations, quotes and memories.  This book didn’t challenge me and it did not cause me to connect so deeply with the protagonist, Moth, that I would cry at any point.  The Virgin Cure was a good book, but not a strong book, in my opinion.

I’m not giving anything away in regards to the story.  The inside book jacket did a disservice to Ami McKay when it says way too much!

So, what were the book’s endearing qualities?

There were certainly elements in the writing that kept me connected with the novel.  I loved the protagonist, Moth.  Her story is endearing, particularly in the opening chapters.  At some point it feels like the story abandons Moth/Ava and I felt a real disconnect between the events she was living and her emotional self.  The most tragic moment in the book happens with a lesser developed character, Alice, and for that moment, I took pause to feel revulsion.  Would the story have been better had these circumstances happened  to Moth?

The setting was certainly interesting…late 1800s in New York City.  Having read so many books recently, set during World War II, this book provided a different, rich and many-layered world, describing, in depth, the scenes and life on the streets of New York.  We are very familiar with the streets of east London from this same period, in many literary works, but to be transported to New York City was refreshing and well-done.

I love Ami McKay’s attention to objects and detail in her writing.  For example, I was really curious about the tear catcher.  Such a tiny element as this seemed to create an important thread through the handling of grief, power and relationship. McKay’s descriptions of period costumes and of the vaudevillian characters was superb.

So, what was not to like?

Doctor Sadie is telling this story and her relationships with the girls is handled, but not to the depth that I would like.  I wanted to dig deeper into her character.  Instead, I felt that her life was reported, not lived.

The narrative, while a very intriguing tale, does not go far enough.  I was appalled, but not emotional.  I didn’t feel the injustice in my bones and I think that is what is necessary for this to be a truly successful book.  It feels to be spreading out onto the surface of things.

This book can be read easily in three sittings.  It has very beautiful moments.  I love Ami McKay’s writing.  While this is a weaker novel, I am looking forward to working my way through her list.

 

 

 

 

Archive Your Work!

As I sort and toss, a practice that seems to be going on forever, I am getting to the end (I THINK) and I might have some valuable advice to give to young artists.  I may not have a hope in Hades of ever really getting my art on a roll, but for you young sprouts, now that you live in a digitized world, please try to keep a record of your progress.  Second to that, take quality photographs.

An artist who really inspires me with his practice is Mark Dicey, on Instagram. @paddlecoffin If you don’t follow his work, he is absolutely breathtakingly amazing.

Part of this revisit, just last week, included digitizing my grade nine-eleven sketchbook from 52 years ago!  Cough! Sputter! It’s never too late, right?

Today, I came upon a white envelope filled with some very poor quality glossy photos of some flower paintings I did for a Tribute Show for my parents.  The subjects were all based on their country gardens in Frankford, Ontario.  It was an exhibit dating back a lot of years, hosted by the West End Galleries in their Edmonton location. (I have that date in my art archives somewhere.)  I remember, at the time, hearing other artists poo poo painting flowers, as a subject.  One person gave me permission and that was Ed Bader.  Thank you, Ed.  At the time, I was painting my own series of poppies as a response to losing two former students to a tragic car accident.  Ed pulled together a series of books featuring a number of very significant paintings created by important historical artists, dealing with the subject of flowers.  He was covering for another teacher at ACAD back in 1997.

This morning, I took photographs with my phone of some of the these teeny photographs.  Now, I can toss them as I’ve got a bit of a record.  As more flower paintings/sketches surface, I will post them here.  If you paint flowers, I give you permission.  There are a myriad of subjects for art and through any subject, you can address the ideas that are floating around in your head.  It’s all valid, representational or not.  Make art…and keep a record of it.

These images are all fuzzy/unfocused, cropped badly to replace their original wonky formats…likely bad colour…but, they are illusions of the originals and they make me happy.  I learned a lot painting these…and they are a mere sampling of the many works present in that show.  I wonder where they are now.

Down the Rabbit Hole She Goes! This is How it Began

This morning, I sat with coffee.  Soon after, I told Max that I’d get dressed for a walk.  And, this is what happened.  (The LOOK ON HIS FACE!)

While I was downstairs, digging out the next pair of track pants, I tucked away a Christmas box in the closet and came upon my sketchbook…1968-1972.  Oh my goodness!  I propped myself up on my bed and took a look and all sorts of memories came up.  For one, at some point, my sister signed every one of my drawings.  She was just a wee little girl and she must have held me in some sort of esteem…or, the drawings.  As I think about my former Junior High art students, I think these sketches are very rudimentary.  There’s nothing at all impressive about them.  What’s with the solid contour lines?  They look like colouring book drawings.  Hmmm….f

I wrote little poems along the way…sentimental poems…what were they about?  I guess I’ve always been a dreamer.  Sketches and thoughts from 52 years ago…

So my trip down the rabbit hole began.  And Max, patiently waited.

 

Greenwood by Michael Christie

I met Micheal Christie at Wordfest, here in Calgary, this year.  Little did I know that a single reading and a very short little narrative shared about a coin of wood from a tree on his own lot, would lead me to my favourite book of 2019!

Greenwood is exceptional from beginning to end.  If there is any weakness at all, it is in the character Jake and the segments written in the context of 2038.  I wanted to get that out of the way, immediately.  But, as the depth of the other characters emerges, the reader feels as though they have come to know a family and its related friends and enemies deeply.  I was moved by this book so much.

There were some really personal reasons why I connected with this novel, but I highly recommend it because I believe that every reader is going to respond just as positively, and perhaps for other reasons.

First, I treasure the book, Greenwood, because it is well-written.  Michael Christie is a relatively young author, having previously been a skate boarder.  His other accomplishments include The Beggar’s Garden and If I Fall;If I Die.

His debut novel (and of course I will be finding it and reading it) was The Beggar’s Garden.  Apparently this is a book of nine linked stories and similar to Greenwood, it interests itself in characters that are easily ignored and who are experiencing authentic suffering, oft-times brought on by choices they have made.  In other words, his characterization is entirely honest and believable.

I am disappointed that Greenwood was merely longlisted for the Giller Prize.  Reviews on Goodreads are overwhelmingly positive.  I always go there after reading a book, not before.

Recently, I have read some disappointing books.  Picking up The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff, (The Orphan’s Tale) I was left questioning the flat characters, the undeveloped romances and the lack of attention to the actual code senders, highlighted even in the title. The Girls by Emma Cline and The Huntress by Kate Quinn left me equally disappointed, for similar reasons.  The characters had no guts and their narratives felt simplistic.  In The Huntress, I felt that the focus of the novel needed to remain with the female pilots, but taking World War II settings and trying to build romances is always a wee bit challenging.  While my own readers will find a number of positive reviews about each of these three novels, they did not appeal to me and my own sensibilities. I am using them as a contrast to Greenwood because everything that was lacking in them was delivered by Michael Christie.

In Quill and Quire, a review on his book, If I Fall, If I Die, published in 2015, holds true for Greenwood, as well.

…This atmospheric work of gritty realism explores themes of class mobility, self-determination, and the impact of mental illness…

The writing in Greenwood is descriptive, eloquent and the syntax, remarkable.  While the structure is complex, it flows and I found myself buried in what is commonly referred to as a page-turner.  Harris, Everett, Liam and Willow very-much entered into my life.  Their stories were fraught with struggle, lies, omissions and these vulnerabilities built the tension that captured my heart.

I am not going to summarize the book in this review…I don’t like to do that.  I will carry on sharing my personal reasons for treasuring this book.

Having once lost a treasured journal of my own,  and on another occasion, having had someone take my personal journal and read it, the story of Euphemia Baxter’s journal became a thread that was very important to me throughout the book.  The Secret and Private Thinkings and Doings of Euphemia Baxter  is an object of real importance to me in the reading.

The metaphorical/symbolic presence of trees is another element that won my heart.  Both poetic and inspiring this exploration is seldom accomplished by any other fiction writer.

My own interest in the genealogy of my family is also a passion and delight. Once finished this novel, I felt as though I’ve learned about the Greenwood family in its depths.  I celebrate the foibles and mistakes of the family members and found that part of the writing to be authentic and true.

And finally, my interest in trees, the lives of trees and the stewardship that they require is right up there in my concerns and my interests.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Michael Christie and highly recommend.  My new favourite!  Greenwood!

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Imaginairium: Wordfest 2019

The days are getting crisp…things are going to sleep for the winter.  I’m not writing as much, but I AM reading.  When this weather arrives, it’s wonderful to curl up and read.  In preparation for Wordfest, I read Birth House for the second time and loved it just a much or more than the first.

Birth House by Ami McKay is right up there among my favourite books.  I’ve read a lot of books by this time and so, there can never be a favourite, but there are heaps of favourites.  I couldn’t afford the time or the money for a lot of sessions at Wordfest’s annual event, however, I made certain to register for two of the sessions where Ami would be speaking and I purchased her most recent book, a memoir, Daughter of Family G.

The first session was delightful, a Cabinet of Curiosities, and featured a number of writers including Ami.  These authors each brought a single object to share, an item that connected with their books, process or lives.  It was an intriguing grouping, covering a big array of topics and styles of writing.  I picked up a few books that night.

Anthony De Sa shared a GI Joe camo jacket.  He shared a heartfelt story that I will not soon forget about Christmas at home and a loving gesture from his mother.  I don’t think there was a dry eye in the place.  Anthony is writer of Children of the Moon.  This is now in my collection and I am looking forward to reading it.  Eloquent!

Marina Endicott shared her first Greek book.  It was a book that her Greek Teacher gave to her.  “Wherever you go, there you find your teacher’.  Her teacher, she shared, was her first home.

Cecil Foster writes for his grandmother.  His talismans are ideas.  As he writes, he takes pause and contemplates what might make his grandmother laugh or what might make her cry.  The material, he described, doesn’t really matter.  The idea matters.  He lifted a glass at the conclusion of his presentation and made a toast to his grandmother.  His most recent book is on my ‘to read’ list, They Call Me George.

Michael Christie’s new book, Greenwood, is also in my collection.  He shared with us the story of building his new home on Galiano Island and about how, during a huge storm on the family’s first days in the house, blew over a tree that crashed into the family Subaru.  He shared a slice/coin of the big branch that caused the destruction.  His reading caused me to weep.

A magnificent novel of inheritance, sacrifice, nature and love that takes its structure from the nested growth rings of a tree, Greenwood spans generations to tell the story of a family living and dying in the shadows cast by its own secrets. With this breathtaking feat of storytelling, Michael Christie masterfully reveals the tangled knot of lies, omissions and half-truths that exists at the root of every family’s origin story. (From McClelland ​​​​​​& Stewart)

Ami McKay shared something her mother/grandmother said, “All of the flowers that our blooming in our todays are to be enjoyed because of the seeds that were planted in our yesterdays.”

Terry Fallis was very animated and shared several items via Powerpoint imagery; his fountain pen collection, a framed image of Robertson Davies and an old typewriter that he keeps close by.

And finally, Anosh Irani shared a map of one district in Bombay.  His story and the poetic gifts that he shared that evening, were beautiful.  I purchased his book, The Parcel.

What a tremendous evening.  Thank you, Wordfest.

The next day, I had the opportunity to hear Ami McKay talk about her family, in detail, and her struggles and strength as both connect with her life.  The initial disease suffered by my brother was Colorectal Cancer and so I was very interested in what Ami shared about her family’s journey with Lynch Syndrome.  I really appreciated the time that Ami took with me personally as I found myself first in line to have my books signed by her.  This was an inspiring book talk and I am presently 100 pages in to the book, Daughter of Family G: A Memoir of Cancer Genes, Love and Fate

I met Aracely outside of the Memorial Branch library.  Aracely is the moderator for the book discussions that I enjoy at the Fish Creek Library once a month.  She is smart, fun and very generous.  She is also in love with reading!  I was swooped up by her enthusiasm and headed over to the Central Branch for the Humble the Poet presentation.  Am I ever glad I went!  Such a timely and inspiring talk!  While I didn’t purchase it that evening, I’ve added Things No One Else Can Teach Us, to my list.

Good to meet dear friends, Diane, Bill, Catherine and Bob, sitting directly behind me.

Wordfest never disappoints.  I hope that next year I have it in my schedule to take in even more of the book talks.  They open up the mind, the heart and put you in touch with other big time readers!  Thank you, Wordfest!