Sunday, August 25, 2013

Salinger vs. Fitzgerald in the Quest for Inter- Cultural Interest (or Thoughts after Killing a Whole Sunday with the New York Times)

I just finished reading the New York Times article on the release of new Salinger works and I thought "ehh". Now, before anyone gets up in arms, before Salingerologists  call for my head on a platter, I mean no great offence. What I mean is simply that I have a lukewarm response to the author's published works (fingers crossed for the new work!). In fact, I voiced the nefarious 'ehh' at the kitchen table during breakfast and so, there it was- hanging in the air between the toast and tea and I had to address it, since my husband questioned its existence.

I have to clarify the expertise of my opinion here- I admit the obvious fallacy of having only read Fran and Zooey and (of course, collective eye roll) The Catcher in the Rye. So my response is based on this limited intake. I explained that I read The Cather in the Rye with a voracious appetite, waiting for my life to change, and it didn't. In fact I was bored. Its not that I didn't read beyond the lean prose and into the dense alienation or the undertones of loneliness and disenfranchisement with an inherited identity; it was just that simply, it didn't 'speak' to me or my experience or really, my worldview. I talked myself into a corner and found myself arguing my way back out, though my husband had said nothing to my reply at all. 

"Its not that I think that literature belongs exclusively within and for the culture in which it was created, I just can't find the link into this privileged, caucasian, American world."  Jesus, did I really say that? I did. And its true. I don't agree that First Nations authored literature is for our communities only or that Italian operas are for Italians exclusively, for that matter (on this, my friend Tomson Highway and I agree). So why was I finding it so difficult to penetrate the cultural settings in Catcher? 

I blame Salinger. (Ok, call for the knife and platter now.) I think that if you  are going to each beyond the immediate layer of culture and nomenclature that surrounds your understanding of the world, that you need to be an exacting and profound writer. The first thing that comes to mind is the book I always hold forth to students when illustrating the beauty and magic of a great edit 'The Great Gatsby.' What the hell do I care about privileged, caucasian Americans frolicking, fucking and killing in the 20's? Except that Fitzgerald makes me care. The words in this novel are one of the most carefully curated collections I've encountered. The way each consonant clicks at the right time and each vowel pours when they should. The way the scenes are illuminated first by the moon and then by the glare of noon-day sun is purposeful and emotive. And I suddenly give a shit about this motley group of degenerates and socialites- often one in the same. 

Be great or stay home... or rather, be great or those at home with be your biggest fans and others will find you lukewarm. 

The important thing that happens with Gatsby, for me, is that Fitzgerald never lets the thread of this particular community slacken; never veers from the worldview, language, political and highly problematic racial standings, yet manages to present this world in such a beautifully crafted frame that I linger at the portrait long enough to be drawn in.

So, I will give Salinger another try, I promise (suggest more of his work to sway to skeptical here, fans), but in the mean time, I'm going to re-read Gatsby.

Monday, August 19, 2013

a new manuscript.....


Anything to get away from here, that’s what she would give.

Lucky collected travel magazines filled with velvet hills like sheets of folded fondant and clear waters dotted with candy coloured fish flashing like jewelry on smooth blue cleavage. Sheep grazed in front of castles made haphazard with dilapidation, and women strolled down cobblestone streets in improbable heels like stilt walkers picking their way across pebbled beaches.

The magazines were stacked in precarious columns against the living room wall underneath the big window, organized according to featured destination. So far Mexico was in the lead; a good six inches taller than Australia and stretching a foot above South East Asia. Just recently she divided up Europe and the United Kingdom because they kept toppling to the ground, too tall to be structurally sound.

Her days were hard and beige, bones without flesh. Lucky knew with a certainty that nestled in her guts like a rat in a pile of socks that 'somewhere else' was where she was supposed to be. Somewhere else was where the days would be filled in with smell, sound and texture. Somewhere else was where her life was waiting. She searched the pages of her magazines to find this life, certain that it would be neatly labeled, spelt out in black letters underneath a bright photograph of cliffs melting into the sea like slabs of white sugar, where houses were painted pink and green, where the sky was so bright it hurt your eyes to look at it. It would be called ‘Lucky’s Cove, New Brunswick’ or ‘Coeur de Chance, Monaco’.

Of course, her grandmother would happily pack for the nursing home; they’d drop off the wretched cat at the Humane Society on the way. It'd give Lucky the stare of death with its one eye as they drove away, leaving it on the sidewalk in front of the shelter with a water bowl and a ziplock of kibbles. Lucky wouldn’t care.

“Au revior chat mauvais!” She would wave out the window, flipping him off one last time before burly staff members in clean white uniforms carried it inside.

When she stepped off the plane the air would be warm and fragrant, the people attractive and polite. She would be invited to dinner, offered jobs and shown a charming house needing a woman’s touch. The elderly owner would gladly give it to her if only she would promise to care for it, being without any heirs, as it were.

She’d grow gardens of lush flowers that smelt like homemade soup and complicated perfume. She’d put out an ad for a handyman in the local newspaper, someone who could help her install a fence around her burgeoning gardens and the man who answered it would appear on her doorstep, naked from the waist up and oiled down, tool belt dangling from angular hips. They would fall in love over a long summer full of meaningful glances and awkward discussions about wood and hammering. Their children would be smart and precocious with golden limbs and superior intelligence.

Anything and everything. That’s what she would give.

Of course, those were the days before the world cracked open like a skull and everything she knew to be true and real spilled out like alphabet soup.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Optimism of a Random Afternoon

First of all, go to youtube and watch/listen to Elani Mandell's 'Girls'. I'll wait here....

I am not quite sure what it is about today. Here I am, sitting in my magazine office in Cabbagetown, blaring music and drinking Red Bull, (sans vodka... its barely noon after all), and I feel, well, kind of euphoric. That kind of euphoria leftover from youth when the day is stretched out in front of you and you have options, and a few crushes, and a reasonable curfew, and a couple bucks, and its the right time of the month so your face looks less shiny and minimally bumpy.

I'm not sure if its because I just launched a book I love very much, or because I can work in a cool office where I blare music and drink Red Bull, or because I walked by the St. James cemetery on the way in this morning- the cemetery that inspired the manuscript I am working on now 'The Lithopedian of Winterson Cemetery'. I'm not sure if its texting with my best gay all morning about vaginas, and drag queens and literature. Maybe its because I'm going to the ocean in a week or because I rediscovered a Radiohead song I love (How to Disappear Completely) or because I fell asleep wrapped around a man I find incredibly hot and happen to be married to (I win!) It is probably just  because in an hour my best friend will stop by with a menthol cigarette we'll smoke on the roof, and because I am reading a biography of Jean Genet, and because my children are strange and beautiful and happy. And also because I have a reasonable curfew, and a couple bucks, and its the right time of the month so my face looks less shiny and minimally bumpy.

Its like this; there are times when the day splits along a seam and you fall into a place time doesn't know exists. Its the opposite of anxiety; a freedom boxed in by the term 'happiness' where something animal emerges, the kind of animal that appreciates chai lattes with espresso shots and the Marigny bars of New Orleans. There's no telling when it'll come, and no way to make it last. Just walk. And take in the click and crack of each rib's stretch to allow the possibility of seam-slipping afternoons. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Press Release: The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy press release and Toronto Launch details

Award-winning Toronto author releases anticipated new novel
Theytus Books is proud to announce the arrival of ‘The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy’, the exciting new novel from University of Toronto First Nations House Writer in Residence, Cherie Dimaline.

The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy
Ruby Bloom has a lot going on; her mother is eating herself to death, her museum job is soul-crushing, and her flamboyant best friend humiliates and saves her in equal doses. Then there’s that screeching galaxy spinning around her head to make things more interesting. When Ruby’s sent to New Orleans for work she finds an astronomer in an attic that just might be the way out of her chaotic solar system. From award-wining author Cherie Dimaline comes a tale of struggle, hope and the kind of magic that can only happen when you mix the Mississippi and the Georgian Bay.

Title: The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy
Genre: Literary Fiction
Trade Paperback, $18.95
Page Count: 317 pages
Review Copies Available: Yes


Join us at a unique and exciting Toronto event to celebrate the book’s release, in partnership with the launch of Issue #4, MUSKRAT magazine (
WHEN: Friday, July 12, 2013, 7-11PM
WHAT: A reading from the novel, presentation by MUSKRAT, guest appearance by poet Giles Benaway and a burlesque performance. Further entertainment to be added.

Advance Praise for Girl:

“Cherie Dimaline writes like an angel. One tough, hard-edged angel, but an angel nonetheless.”
-Governor General Award Winning author and celebrated playwright, Tomson Highway


“Ruby Bloom is the smartest, most resilient and most beautiful character ever created in Indian country.”
- bestselling author and international speaker, Lee Maracle 


“Cherie has written an amazing book. Her character’s journey into womanhood is funny, heartbreaking and powerful. She’s definitely a writer to watch.”
-New York Times Bestseller, Eden Robinson


“Her words-worlds are tough, tender and terrifying; she’ll tear your heart out, and you will be better- and grateful- for the experience. The Girl Who Grew a Galaxy will grace you with its beauty, touch you with its truth, and haunt your imagination.”
-author and academic, Professor Daniel Justice

Contact Name: Kailene Rage or Greg Younging
Phone Number: 250-493-7181
Publisher Contact:
Phone Number: 250-493-7181

Monday, May 27, 2013

Is isn't real until its caged by words

Keeping a diary is equated with youth- childhood, even. Its juvenile, often histrionic and most certainly not a sophisticated form of writing. But every time I try to make my diary into a 'log' or a 'journal' or- god forbid- a jaunty 'idea book', I fail. Why? Because I want to write a goddamn diary, thats why. I want to be unreasonable, I need to exaggerate, I long to provide uneven details and be one-sided with unsupported conclusions and Narniaesque conspiracy theories. I need a place to be unreasonable, besides with my children (according to them) and my workload (according to me).

Because the awful and geeky truth of it is, nothing is real, nothing happened until I have collected the one-sided details like fireflies in a jar held up to the scene of the breathing moment. I am just narcissistic enough to think that I deserve to live twice; once in the moment, and again in the caging of it in words.

It does help that 2 of my most favuorite authors- Anais Nin and David Sedaris- are life-long diarists. I feel vindicated, stealing away minutes- well, hours- to scribble and vent as I do, to know that diary writing can be considered a high form of art. That it's a part of the overall process, or as Anais Nine recounts in her letter to an aspiring youth (as detailed in the Brain Pickings article: "You must not fear, hold back, count or be a miser with your thoughts and feelings. It is also true that creation comes from an overflow, so you have to learn to intake, to imbibe, to nourish yourself and not be afraid of fullness. The fullness is like a tidal wave which then carries you, sweeps you into experience and into writing. Permit yourself to flow and overflow, allow for the rise in temperature, all the expansions and intensifications. Something is always born of excess: great art was born of great terrors, great loneliness, great inhibitions, instabilities, and it always balances them. "


Because Sedaris' writing relies so heavily on his own life, it's not surprising that many of his essays begin as entries in his journal, which he has been keeping obsessively since Sept. 4, 1977.

"That's how I start the day — by writing about the day before," he tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross, "but every now and then I read out loud from my diary. ... I wouldn't open it up and just read, but every now and then something happens and I think, 'Oh, this might work in front of an audience, so I'm always hoping that something interesting will happen ... but I don't try to force it."

But most of his journal isn't for public consumption. In fact, Sedaris says his public persona as a famous writer is quite different from the person he is — and has been — in private, and the journal is where those two versions of David Sedaris collide.

"There's the you that you present to the world," he says, "and then there's, you know, of course the real one and, if you're lucky, there's not a huge difference between those two people. And I guess in my diary I'm not afraid to be boring. It's not my job to entertain anyone in my diary."

While Sedaris says his partner, Hugh, sometimes wonders whether the impulse to write almost exclusively about one's own life is a sign of narcissism, Sedaris understands his compulsion to journal and compose personal essays differently.

"I mean, I think everybody thinks about themselves," he says. "This seems to me like a part of the obsession with it is just as a writing exercise, really: I write in my diary, and that kind of warms me up, and then I move onto other things."


"I learned that a crazy young woman in her 20s can become a joyful, wise woman in her 60s. It was her [Nin's] belief that we can transform ourselves and our lives through self-creation. And that diary writing was a way."

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Excerpt from a Story for Shaun

This is a love story I wrote for my husband Shaun, or at least the first 10 pages. Its about a man trapped in a loveless life who falls ill and dreams up a new life through his fever and pain, a kind of male version of labour. Its not finished yet, but is another tribute to New Orleans and the electricity we cultivate in our life together. 

A Story for Shaun

Let us go then you and I
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table


The air spun itself into the evening like cotton candy off a metal drum, sweet and sticky. The click and skip of his shoes was muffled, as if Drew were stepping exaggerated and deliberate on broken down cardboard, like a grade school tap dancer performing for apathetic drunks.

He thought for a moment, his first moment of clarity, “Am I drunk?” He thought he must be, beset as he was by a nauseous uncertainty of origin. To test the theory, he took a step to his right and walked along the edge of the curb, arms thrown out for balance like a tightrope walker. The slippery bottoms of his two-toned brogues threw him off and he splashed into a thin trickle of warm Bourbon Street mush. “Gross.”

He sighed. Drunk enough to try something foolish in inappropriate shoes; sober enough to recognize the stupidity of it pretty damn quick. He decided another drink was needed. It was made all the more urgent by the feeling of dread slowly lacing-up the back of his neck like a corset of tiny hairs. Something was wrong, and he didn't want to give it audience until he had a shot and a beer in front of him.

There were no shortage of bars here, stacked one against the other like uneven dominoes pushed from both sides, their balconies and awnings like architectural elbows and fingers thrown playfully into one another’s space.  He didn't bother with these; he was headed for someplace in particular, somewhere he couldn't give shape or name to yet, but one that drove him along the street to its darker corners.

He turned up a narrow street, the sign told him it was Toulouse, and walked with his shoulders thrown forward and inwards, crafting an ineffectual shield of bone and cotton. It was raining somewhere close by; he could feel it in his joints. Since when did his joints give out meteorological predictions? The corset on his neck tightened and his throat closed just enough that breathing became a conscious act of rebellion. He returned to his earlier decision, to refrain from thinking until he was at the bar and well equipped to handle the situation. Clearing his mind was not as difficult as it should have been, the panic had yet to sink in.

Drew felt the soothing sense of belonging as he approached an open glass-paneled door at the corner. A wooden Jack of Hearts insignia dangled above the sidewalk off brass-coloured chains. Inside, the air conditioner fought with the humid breezes wafting in from the street and the result was comforting- an exhale of organic humidity and mechanical chill.

The bartender smiled, and the corners of her red-lined mouth pulled against the cracking powder of her cheeks. It was a familiar smile.

“Jaeger, PBR.” He reached in his pockets, (Why were these pockets so deep? What pants was he wearing?) pulled out a five and a one, and tossed them on the bar. A one? Since when did the one dollar bill come back? No wait, this money was American. What the fuck was he doing with American money? Hold on, where was he anyhow? Dread filled the tips of his fingers making them clumsy and skittish so that they found nowhere to comfortably be and jumped about from his collar to his hair to his thighs like a blind assessment. And then, in the specific light of the three-prong candelabra that he saw his wedding band was gone.

Panic was just barely held down by the Jaeger, then disoriented by half the bottle of beer he pulled down in one go. He sat where the bar smoothed itself into a wooden elbow by the blackened front window. Drew placed his anxious hands on the bar in front of him, almost scared to look directly at them but still he glanced at the collection of veins and popped knuckles he found there, and verified that, yes, he had indeed lost his wedding ring. Jesus Christ. The consequences of such a thing he didn't even want to consider, not while he was this sober. Now it was time to freak out. How had he gotten here, and in these clothes? This wasn't his usual print press uniform.

Calm, Drew. Stay calm. You can figure this one out.

He needed to start at the beginning: who was he? That was easy, kind of. He was Drew England, thirty-one, married to Connie England, no children though she was trying. He lived in his hometown of Toronto, Ontario and he worked in the print press room of the  Star where he drove his eight-year-old Jeep five sometimes six days a week. No pets, though he was contemplating defying Connie and adopting a mutt to ride shotgun, a Bandit to his Smoky, if you will. He liked drinking alone in dive bars after work, picking blisters with his exacto-knife, and the way a woman’s neck looked from behind. He did not like bulky winter jackets, reality TV or the way his wife wouldn't let him go down on her for more than a minute. Whew. Okay. It all seemed to check out with his gut.

Next, where was he? A flash of recognition and he appeared as a red blip on some GPS system. He knew with a strange certainty (also originating in his gut) that he was in New Orleans, Louisiana. This was odd, considering he’d never been there before, had he? He’d wanted to, tried to convince Connie once that they should spend a weekend there, but she was less than enthusiastic. “Why would I want to go to a broken down town rotting with crime and water?”

It was all so confusing. He couldn't recall ever having been to New Orleans, but the memories that told him so seemed so far away, from another room or on a different channel. He was sure he was in the French Quarter part of town, and he was even sure that he had been here before, in this bar, at this seat, in front of this particular bartender, but he couldn't recall when or even why. Okay, well, at least he wasn't lost. But was he crazy? It was something he had never doubted before; his sanity.

But it didn't seem to be an issue, after all, here he was, rationally taking inventory. (Maybe he had the kind of crazy that makes you think you’re rational.)  He felt fine though, could recall what he did on his last birthday (Connie took him out to a restaurant and was a bit adventurous afterward, after a shower, of course- even special occasion blow jobs had parameters). He even felt a pang of homesickness when his father’s kind face popped up in his mind when summoned. Good ole Ed England, always there when you needed him, even doubting your sanity at a bar in the deep south.

“Okay, I just need to remember what I did last. How did I get here?” He whispered it into the collar of his black linen shirt and the bartender, mistaking his reverie for an order, brought him another bottle of beer, which he accepted with a nod. The doors swung open on the other side of the room where the dance floor and a second bar were segregated, and a loud blast of retro music, Depeche Mode maybe, spilled in on a wave of cigarette smoke. That was a good idea, a smoke. He reached into one of the cavernous pockets and pulled out a box of Lucky Strikes.

Hmm. So apparently he had started smoking again. He took inventory, step by step.

I worked a double shift on Friday. Connie bought a new ice-dispensing fridge and the payments are fucking insane. Then I stopped for a drink at Marley’s before heading home. I talked to Tom, sat at the bar… they were playing some old Snoop Dog, I remember that. I still felt sick from that never-ending flu, but nothing too bad. I had one drink and then…. Wait, did I head home?

He searched for the answer at the bottom of his bottle and found only a murky recollection of not feeling well, of nursing his Guinness and moving very slowly to the bathroom, down a narrow set of stairs into the dank basement.

Did I fall down the stairs and hit my head? Or did I leave? Am I lying in a ditch somewhere on a November Canadian night with a head injury or internal bleeding?

He reached up to rub his head, noticing the lack of a cold, thin weight against his skin usually provided by his wedding band. The memory of the ring’s absence made him vigilant to remember. He closed his eyes in an effort to turn them inward and find some answers.

“Hey, look who it is.” A large hand clapped him on the shoulder and he jumped a bit at the sudden contact.

“You all right there, buddy?” An older man with a graying beard and wire rim glasses sat down beside him, using the hand still perched on Drew’s shoulder to lower himself onto the stool. He called out an order while digging out his wallet. “Gimme a Miller there, sweetheart.”

“So, Drew, how’s it hanging?”

He looked up, managed a smile and nodded. “Good. It’s good.”

The man straightened his plaid fedora and tipped back the clear bottle placed in front of him, wiped his mustache and set it back down. “Alright. Well, are you gonna tell me or are ya gonna make me ask?”

Oddly, the man had a New Jersey accent, which ordinarily wouldn't have caught notice, but cushioned on all sides by the long, low tones of southern drawl, it became unusual.

Drew wasn't sure why it seemed imperative to act like nothing was out of the ordinary, as if he weren't in a time and place he couldn't recall getting to, but he went with the feeling. He could indeed be laying in a ditch back home, his broken body slowly being covered with cotton ball sized flakes, or perhaps he’d drank to black-out and somehow managed to make his way to Louisiana, but no matter what happened, he didn't want to seem crazy, even if he was. He decided out of pride, or stubbornness or something left over from a primordial survival instinct, that he would pretend to know exactly what was going on; at least until he could be sure of his safety.

“Tell you what?

The man laughed big and loud, clapped him on the back and took another drink. “Yeah, okay buddy. Did something other than you meeting the most beautiful woman in the world happen last night?”

Panic needled him in the lower gut. Shit! Did he cheat on Connie? Not that the thought or urge hadn't occurred to him in the past... many, many times in the past, mostly when she was busy organizing his money and his errands into neat little piles on that oak kitchen table she and her mother had picked out. But he was after all married and that meant something to him. He was a man of his word.

“Oh that.”

His drinking companion swiveled in his seat and threw his hands out. “Oh that? Are you serious? Dude, you were freaking out last night. Wandering around the streets until like five in the morning, carrying on like ‘John, man, my life just changed!’”

John, his name was John.

“Well, John, it seems a lot has changed since last night.”

“Uh oh, what happened? She blew you off?”

 Wouldn't that be a good thing if I got blown off?” So he still had a sense of humour here in this in-between space.

“Oh, you dog.” Another clap to the back, then over his shoulder to the bartender rolling her eyes at a table of rowdy college age tourists near the door,  “Another round here, please.”

“Is she still coming out tonight, or what? Chloe’s waiting to meet the woman who changed ole’ Drew England’s life.”

Okay, he was still fully himself here, at least in name, but it occurred to him that he might look different, and his hands jumped to his face and felt around. He turned slightly to the left and caught a familiar reflection in the darkened glass: short, messy brown hair, longer on the top than the shaved sides; a strong, hard jaw; better than usual cheekbones and lips too sensuous to have been gifted to a man. Yup, everything seemed normal.

“Jesus man, what are you doing? Checking yourself out, there? Not to worry, you’re still the most handsome devil in town.”

He laughed it off. “Well, honestly, I’m not really sure what’s up for tonight. Where are we meeting again?”

“Well, I can see you got no sleep last night. Did you get any work done today at all? You got that big contract coming up, don’tcha? The restoration project up on Esplanade?”

Restoration? As in houses? He’d always wanted to work on houses. He’d spent his weekends holed up in the den watching home-reno shows with beer he’d sneak in from the garage. “Uh, yeah. No, to be honest, I’m not really feeling like myself at all today.”

A couple sips from the new beer for both of them.

“Hi Ho.”


“We’re meeting at the Hi Ho Lounge. You remember?  Up on St. Claude.” He was being sarcastic, but Drew was just grateful for the information, like the fact that he seemed to be a long-term guest here. “Speaking of the Hi Ho, we should head over there soon.”

John grabbed two plastic to-go cups from a stack beside the register, handed one to Drew and left some damp bills on the bar. They poured their beer into the cups and left the empty bottles when they stood to go.

“See you later, Drew.” The bartender sang her good-bye, waving coyly with only the top joints of her fingers on a cupped hand.

“Uh, yeah, see you soon, I guess.”

John wrapped an arm around his companion’s shoulders and guided him out the door. “Man, I’m surprised you remembered to meet me in the state you were in. Good thing too; I had a rough day on the job. I need to relax.”

Outside the street was quiet, not enough for crickets or scraps of newspaper to be heard whispering along the gutter, but enough for Drew to notice. John was still speaking, about installing cable at some seniors’ home and a new driver who didn't know his shit, so Drew took the opportunity to look around. This is what he saw: two-story houses with iron balconies and hairy ferns leaking rain water onto the cracked sidewalks below; sidewalks that meandered in and out along the seam of the street like wrinkled ribbons of concrete; concrete pock-marked with thumb-sized roaches motoring along the sides of buildings like robotic vacuums, sucking up air and moss and comfort; garbage bins tattooed with black grime and stuck with wrappers and papers like greasy feathers on fat green birds.

And, strangely, awkwardly, in the middle of these odd circumstances, Drew felt better than he had in a long time. He felt unfolded, unfurled, unfettered. This made him slow down, until his new friend (he assumed they were friends, and as for the age of their relationship, well, everything was new to him) turned around and called, “Would you hurry up? You’re pretty slow for a guy in love and about to see his lady. And by the way, dude, not to be crass, but my God, the body on her.” He outlined the rounded angles of an hourglass in the humid air.

Drew smiled and decided to fish for details. “So what was your take on last night, anyways? I mean, I was a bit wasted.”

“Really, cause I’ve seen you a lot worse. But, I mean you remember the Circle Bar, right.”


“Jesus, alright, well, after you and me left the Co-operation and met Tom over at the Circle Bar things got a bit crazy. There were shots, and that shrieking woman from Shreveport who kept telling everyone you were Brad Pitt, oh, and you remember the band? Ho boy, we danced our asses off.”

He put a hand on his stomach and extended a bent arm, waltzing himself off the sidewalk and into the empty street.

Drew had no memories of this, but something in his legs twitched like they recalled steps and sways.

“We took that cab to the Quarter, member that? And ended up at the Golden Lantern for that queen’s birthday. Missed the second line, but not the champagne. And then suddenly, you were gone, buddy.”

“I left?”

John stopped dancing and put both hands on his hips. “Okay you’re scaring me now. No, you did not leave, you saw Ann and that was that.” He clapped his hands together like fleshy cymbals. “Game over.”

“Ann.” Drew said the name, a common name, and as if the word itself had snapped open a vein, blood flooded into his cock. He grabbed at the front of his pants, a bit alarmed at his enthusiastic reaction.

John chuckled. “Wow, control yourself. We’ll see her soon and you can err… relieve some of that tension.”

Drew gave an embarrassed chuckle and removed his hand from his crotch, hoping that his sudden thickness wasn't obvious.

On Rampart they jumped in a cab. John talked with the driver, about local traffic, the trend in scooping up residential parking spaces, and the coming storm. Drew concentrated with his eyes, trying to focus in on the world skidding past his window like a seasick man grasping at the horizon to keep from throwing up. Traffic now, and empty houses, and gas stations with out of order pumps, and po-boy shops with broken windows, and hostile faces, and wandering strays, and beautiful girls in kilts and braids, and incredible cars on enormous tires, and a sky that made room for a thicker shade of dark to streak across the bottom like sediment in a bottle of merlot.  And then, after a quick U-turn, they were there, pulled up in front of a low, boxy building lit by Christmas lights. It might have been a jail built from Lego. Drew felt a combination of reactionary caution mixing with in-born comfort. The result made him want another drink. He drank a lot here.

“I drink a lot here.” He said it out loud, standing in front of the swinging front door. John shut the car door and tipped his hat back on his forehead.

“Every week, sometimes twice. We always manage to get you home, though.” John put a heavy arm across Drew’s shoulders and guided him inside. “All these years and not once have you not made it home.”

Years? He’d been here for years? How could that be? There went the blacked out-grabbed a Greyhound south theory. He hadn't been out of Toronto since college, save for that Cuban vacation Connie booked; a week of sitting around on the beach while she complained about the service, to the service. So he was pretty much sure he’d had some sort of stroke, maybe an aneurysm, but what to do? All in all, it wasn't such a bad thing to be here in New Orleans where he had a life and friends and what sounded like a dream job working on old houses. Jesus, was this heaven? Or maybe it was hell… Oddly, he wasn't so alarmed. If that was truly what was going on, what else could he do but to just go with it.

For a moment guilt punched him in the colon. How could he not want to fight to find a way back to Connie, his wife of six years? How could he be so blasé about being in another country, and one that may or may not truly exist in the same universe? Maybe he was just a bad man.

“Drew, you bad man you. How dare you keep me waiting until eleven o’clock?” A grinning blonde behind the bar waved him over. “Get over here.” She lined up three shot glasses and filled them, opened two new bottles of beer and pulled herself a pint.

John and Drew sat on two wooden stools, more rickety than the ones at the last place, and folded their elbows up on the bar. Drew looked around him. Walking in the door he’d noticed an empty go-go cage and a row of pleather booths on one side of a dance floor set up in front of a small stage inset to the back wall. The bar ran all along the other side with a small hallway to the back kitchen. The mirror behind the bar was almost completely covered in notices and specials. “MDG $2” “Red Beans and Rice, so Nice $1” “Act How Your Mamma Raised You”

 It was dark and filled with the insect-sounds of the bluegrass players collected in a circle on the dance floor, each tightening strings, or tuning instruments, or shuffling feet, or unpacking cases, there arms and legs and necks bent at awkward angles to facilitate the playing of guitars and banjos. A few of them were strumming out the beginning pecks of a song, others waited to get in, like little girls watching double dutch ropes, waiting for the perfect time to jump.

“Alright, we’re all set.” The bartender, his friend apparently, slid two shots towards them and picked up the third, smiling so big he caught the glimmer of gold in her teeth. “To miracles.”

FRINGE, by Rebecca Belmore

What is the role of an artist?
an excerpt from Joseph Conrad
"A work that aspires, however humbly, to the condition of art should carry its justification in every line. And art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect. It is an attempt to find in its forms, in its colors, in its light, in its shadows, in the aspects of matter and in the facts of life what of each is fundamental, what is enduring and essential — their one illuminating and convincing quality–the very truth of their existence. The artist, then, like the thinker or the scientist, seeks the truth and makes his appeal. Impressed by the aspect of the world the thinker plunges into ideas, the scientist into facts — whence, presently, emerging they make their appeal to those qualities of our being that fit us best for the hazardous enterprise of living. They speak authoritatively to our common-sense, to our intelligence, to our desire of peace or to our desire of unrest; not seldom to our prejudices, sometimes to our fears, often to our egoism — but always to our credulity. And their words are heard with reverence, for their concern is with weighty matters: with the cultivation of our minds and the proper care of our bodies, with the attainment of our ambitions, with the perfection of the means and the glorification of our precious aims.
It is otherwise with the artist.
Confronted by the same enigmatical spectacle the artist descends within himself, and in that lonely region of stress and strife, if he be deserving and fortunate, he finds the terms of his appeal. His appeal is made to our less obvious capacities: to that part of our nature which, because of the warlike conditions of existence, is necessarily kept out of sight within the more resisting and hard qualities — like the vulnerable body within a steel armor. His appeal is less loud, more profound, less distinct, more stirring — and sooner forgotten. Yet its effect endures forever. The changing wisdom of successive generations discards ideas, questions facts, demolishes theories. But the artist appeals to that part of our being which is not dependent on wisdom; to that in us which is a gift and not an acquisition — and, therefore, more permanently enduring. He speaks to our capacity for delight and wonder, to the sense of mystery surrounding our lives; to our sense of pity, and beauty, and pain; to the latent feeling of fellowship with all creation — and to the subtle but invincible conviction of solidarity that knits together the loneliness of innumerable hearts, to the solidarity in dreams, in joy, in sorrow, in aspirations, in illusions, in hope, in fear, which binds men to each other, which binds together all humanity — the dead to the living and the living to the unborn."

Sulu Makes Me Lazy

I don't get enough work done in the day because of George Takei. That's right, I blamed Sulu for my procrastination. He of the chiseled cheekbones, legendary television role and pee-your-pants hilarious Facebook page. And then there's things like this:

Friday, February 22, 2013

A story I forgot existed...

Here's the beginning of a rather dark story I forgot existed. Its one of those strange pieces I can't trace the genesis of. It almost sounds like someone else's work. 

A Curious Position

Time is a hell of a thing to mourn, so I don't bother. It's not solid like a person; it never dies like a loved one leaving you with your dignity and a justified weeping finale. Instead, it keeps dying, every day, every time you open your eyes.

Wake up.
Wake up.
Wake up.

There's three more funerals you'll never find the time to attend.

You can sit at its bedside while it wastes away.


Wring your hands and click your tongue, but nothing will stop the procession; it marches along whether you sit on the grassy hill and sun yourself ignorant to its passing, or balance the coffin on a padded mourning suit shoulder; the sad, sweet serenade of fabric and wood in measured tone.



Most nights, I sleep on the couch. Why bother moving to the bed when the couch is more than adequate? Its big enough, my feet barely make it past the second cushion even with my legs stretched all the way out. One of the first quilts I ever made, a child's blanket with a patchwork kitten batting a real piece of yarn, hangs over the back during the day and is the perfect throw to cover my toes at night. Besides, if I mess up the bed it means I have to make it, and I hate making beds.

I still have that quilt, the one with the creepy kitten (never really thought about the Frankensteinesque effect of stitches across its face while I was making it) because I had no children to give it to. I got married at twenty-three but we wanted to make sure we had enough room, a real house and a backyard, before the children came. Back then the only method of birth control for a respectable married couple like us was the withdrawal method. A little risky, but somehow we beat the numbers game; not even a scare.

By the time I turned thirty I was an orphan. We had the house by then, one with a large, manicured lawn that sloped down to a shallow forest. On the afternoon of my mother's wake, I caught my husband and my sister making love up against a birch tree in that forest. I tiptoed back to the wake, hoping they didn't see me, forcing a confrontation, a slipped moment to become a permanent truth. I remember the square heels of my Sears-Roebuck pumps sinking into the Spring-softened lawn, leaving marks like a path of a pirate's map, leading to the giant X. I recall the way their sounds became the song of an injured bird. I remember telling myself “Grief does funny things to people.”

In an effort to heal my broken heart, my husband decided we could end our habitual precautions, that a baby was just the thing for his quiet, sullen, chain-smoking wife. But it was too late. Maybe out of self-preservation clicked on by the betrayal I couldn't allow to be real, I began the first stages of early-onset menopause. It turns out one of the symptoms was blindness where the increased frequency of my little sister's visits was concerned. There were a lot of birds nesting in the back woods in those days.

One night in mid-February, I awoke to a moan that echoed up the frost-covered lawn like a rolling marble, tapping against my bedroom window. I'm not sure what made that particular night different, but I threw off the covers and slid into my slippers.

The axe was where it always was, leaning up against the woodpile on the outer garage wall. It was heavier than I imagined it would be; heavy as intent could be, and instead of throwing it over my shoulder like a warrior, I dragged it behind me like a biddy with a grocery cart. It left a trail across the grass from the house to my husband. And my sister.

I paused for a moment when I found them, and the adrenaline flashed through my guts like lightening, then rumbled deeper into the muscle tissue like low-lying thunder.

She started screaming, pushing him out of her, holding her hands out in front of her face. I smelled the hot urine that leaked down her bare legs at the sight of her scorned sister in a long white nightgown, hefting an axe; it soaked the panties hooked on her left foot.

“Rose...” Donavon stumbled over each letter, trying to pull his tweed trousers up over his pale ass. “Rose, wait.”

He moved away from Lilly, the coward, and she fell to the ground, screams muffled by moss and snow.

Thats when I swung.

The blade was sharp and it bit through the yielding flesh, wedging itself deep in the denser core so that the metal squeaked as I wiggled it back out. The second swing was easier because by then I'd balanced my legs and positioned my torso just so. She must have stopped screaming at some point, but the absence didn't register; I was consumed by the task.

I didn't know why they always came to this tree, maybe it tilted at the perfect angle for their bodies, maybe they were sentimental, bu when it fell under my axe I had the odd sensation that it was over, that I had managed to end it once and for all. And I was right.

They scrambled up the slippery slope to the house while I finished chopping down their birch. Donavon took the lock-box with our savings and his old pistol from the closet and loaded it into the backseat of the Chevy, along with his good shoes, some winter coats and my sister. I heard they're together still in a retirement villa on the west coast, their doting children making regular visits to bring the rosy-cheeked grandchildren for well-mannered visits. Of course, at sixty-six, Lilly is the youngest there, a bit of a Bingo bombshell. Well, good for them, I suppose.

After Donavon left I took in a few boarders, mainly students from the university. I tried to limit the intake to females, but by the third year I took in a boy. He was a thin specimen, smelling of caramel and mothballs like an old woman. Maybe that’s why I took him in when he showed up on the doorstep clutching the ad for renters in one finely-boned hand, a duffel bag of pilly wool sweaters in the other.

“I know it says female boarders only, but its the only room in my price range and its close to the library. You won't even know I'm here.”

And for the first month he was in the back bedroom the only evidence of Brian Childs' existence was the loaf of cracked wheat bread on top of the fridge, a set of galoshes in the mud room and the grey cloud of chickadees on the front lawn each morning, fighting over the ring of crust thrown from his breakfast as he left for class. The smells in the house stayed the same, his own scent covered by bleach and Chantilly like a woollen sock. The dynamic didn't change either. Besides Childs, there were three women in the house: myself; Ming, an international student out of Taiwan studying pharmacology; and Diane, an obese nursing co-op placement. At first, we were ruffled and moved more cautiously about the common areas. After that first week, we settled back down over the nest, and by winter break we'd gelled as a 4 person unit. We weren't really friends or family; no one was a replacement for an absentee parent or a missed sibling, but it worked. We'd even started a household lending library in the front room. Our taste in literature was almost contrary with one another. Ming sprinkled my Reader's Digest hardcover collection with Russian names and Diane added two or three new paperback romances a week, while Brian contributed slim volumes of carefully curated poetry. I read each cover, every jacket summary and memorized each author. I'd take them down off the three shelves they occupied during the day when the rest of the house was in class or on shift. I was old then- thirty-five and practically a widow. And as an old woman I'd put aside desires and passion, and focused my efforts on the running of the household. As such, though I handled the books twice weekly and ran my fingers over the embossed letters of their spines often, I never once read them. It was too dangerous. Literature, after all, can be a crowbar for a closed heart.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

GRAIN contest- deadline April 1

Grain Magazine's 25th Annual Short Grain Writing Contest

We thank Cheryl & Henry Kloppenburg, Barristers and Solicitors, Saskatoon, for their ongoing support of Grain and the Short Grain Writing Contest.
For the list of past contest winners, click here.
About Grain and the Short Grain Writing Contest: Recent issues have featured the work of such literary luminaries as Xi Chuan, Tim Lilburn, Guy Maddin, Miriam Toews, Zsuzsi Gartner, and Eleanor Wachtel. And you could join them in the pages of Grain.
Short Grain Ad - Small

Contest Guidelines

Contest prizes donated in part by Cheryl & Henry Kloppenburg, Barristers and Solicitors, Saskatoon.
$4,500 in prizes to be won! Each entrant receives a FREE subscription to Grain Magazine!
POETRY: Méira Cook, Author of A Walker in the City
FICTION: Stan Rogal, Author of Bloodline
Categories: Poetry: (to a max of 100 lines) Poetry of any style - including prose poetry - up to 100 lines.
(to a max of 2,500 words) Short fiction in any form - including postcard fiction - to a maximum of 2500 words.
Prizes:3 prizes will be awarded in each category:
  • 1st = $1,000
  • 2nd = $750
  • 3rd = $500
Entry Guidelines:
1. The basic fee for Canadian entrants is $35 for a maximum of two entries in one category. The fee for US and International entrants is $40, payable in US funds. Make your cheque or money order payable to: Short Grain Contest.
2. Every entrant receives a one-year (four-issue) subscription to Grain Magazine.
3. All entries must be POSTMARKED by April 1, 2013. Entries postmarked after this date will not be accepted.
4. Each entry must be original, unpublished, not submitted elsewhere for publication or broadcast, nor accepted elsewhere for publication or broadcast, nor entered simultaneously in any other contest or competition. Work that has appeared on the internet is considered published and is not eligible.
5. All entries in this contest will be judged anonymously, on merit alone. The judges' decisions are final. Judges reserve the right not to award a prize in a given category if no entry is of sufficient quality to warrant publication.
6. Entries must be accompanied by a maximum of one cover page, regardless of the number of entries submitted, and must provide the following information:
  • Your name, complete mailing address, telephone number, and email address.
  • Title of your entry(ies).
  • Category you are entering: Poetry (to a max of 100 lines) or Fiction (to a max of 2,500 words)
  • Word Count (Fiction) / Line Count (Poetry). An absolutely accurate word or line count is required.
Judging is blind. Do not print, type, or write your name on the text pages of your entry.
7. Your entry must be typed (double-spaced for fiction) on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper. It must be legible. Faxed and/or electronic entries not accepted.
8. Entries will not be returned. Keep a copy of your entry.
9. Names of the winners and titles of the winning entries of the 25th Annual Short Grain Contest will be posted on the Grain Magazine website in August, 2013. Contest winners will be notified directly either by telephone or by email prior to the website posting.
10. Make your cheque or money order payable to Short Grain Contest.
11. Send your entry or entries to:
Short Grain Contest
P.O. Box 67
Saskatoon, SK
Canada, S7K 3K1
12. Entries by email or fax will not be accepted.
DEADLINE: APRIL 1, 2013 (postmarked)
Short Grain Ad 2 - Small

Frequently Asked Questions:

1. When you say, "...a maximum of two entries in one category..." does that mean I can enter one piece of Fiction and one piece of Poetry with one $35 entry fee?
No. For each $35 entry fee, you may enter one or two pieces of Fiction OR one or two pieces of Poetry. If you do send one piece of Fiction and one piece of Poetry, we will choose one of them at random to be considered. The other piece will be recycled.
2. Can I enter more than once?
You may enter as many times as you like, provided you include another entry fee for each entry beyond the first. Therefore two Canadian entries would cost $70.
3. If I enter twice (for $70), can I enter two pieces of Fiction AND two pieces of Poetry?
Absolutely! Or you could enter four pieces of Poetry. Or two pieces of Poetry and one piece of Fiction. But not three pieces of Poetry and one piece of Fiction. See how this works?
4. Do I need to send a separate cover page for each piece of writing I enter?
No. Send only one cover page that includes all the information for every piece of writing you are entering. Don't forget to include your complete contact information!
5. And what happens to my free subscription if I enter more than once?
Your Grain subscription will be increased by four issues for each entry fee received beyond the first. So, if you enter twice, you will receive a two-year (eight-issue) subscription to Grain Magazine. If you already have a subscription to Grain, we'll simply add another four issues to your current subscription for each entry fee received.
6. What if I enter something that's over the word count? Will that piece be disqualified?
The contest judge will only consider the first 2,500 words of each piece of Fiction. If you enter a piece of Fiction that is 3,000, for example, only the first 2,500 will be considered. The last 500 words will be discarded. The same rules apply for Poetry entries over 100 lines.
7. Can I enter three or more pieces of poetry for $35 if the total line count is under 100 lines?
No. Guideline #1 above states: "The basic fee for Canadian entrants is $35 for a maximum of two entries in one category." This means that you may enter two poems maximum, but each individual poem may be up to 100 lines in length. If you wish to enter a third poem, you will need to pay an additional entry fee.
8. For poetry, do titles or line breaks count as lines toward the 100 line maximum?
No. Titles or line breaks or spaces between lines of poetry do not count toward the 100 line maximum. Only lines of text count.
9. Will entrants be notified of the winners?
No. Winners and the names of the winning pieces will be posted on this website in August, 2013.
10. What if the postmarked deadline falls on a weekend when the post offices are closed?
Because we are using a postmarked deadline, If the deadline falls on a day when the post offices are closed, we will accept entries postmarked on the next business day. April 1, 2013, however is a Monday and all post offices should be open.