Monday, April 28, 2014

line, please

In the writing group session that I have been helping with, we have been toying with muse, in its various forms. I had recently shared a piece of flash fiction that uses conversation only -  a strictly one-sided conversation - to tell the story. I was completely humbled the following week to be told by one of the participants that she had been silently suffering through a panic attack and had considered leaving the room until I read that story. She found it funny and the laughter helped her suppress the panic. 

It is pretty powerful to hear something like that about something that you wrote. Of course I am pretty sure that my story just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but it was still so gratifying to hear.

Most recently, we used a writing prompt that one of the participants, a former teacher, used to unleash upon his class. For ten minutes we scribbled madly, expanding upon the opening line: "I am the one who ..."

Here's mine:

I am the one who walks along these streets at night. When you are gathered with your family watching a late movie, I am passing your house. When you are gazing at the screen in your hand, ignoring the pile of books beside you, I am slowing down to get a closer look. When you are holding court in a room full of well-dressed beautiful people who sip fizzy drinks and nibble canapés, I am stopping on your sidewalk, half-hidden by your well-groomed trees. 

I am the one who fights the urge to make my way up your sidewalk, to turn the handle of your door, to confront you. A startled you, who does not know that I only want to tell you that you would be much happier if you moved your couch over there.  

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

lines between the notes

Wednesday afternoons have become somewhat of a highlight of my week. Wednesday afternoons I leave clear of other committments in order to spend time in a sun-drenched room on the second floor of a seniors' club. I am not a member - although I am now old enough to legitimately be one; rather, I help out with a creative writing session that is geared toward the many marginalized people who live in the area - the elderly poor, the homeless, those struggling with mental health issues. 

We read writing that we have brought along with us. We offer observations, encouragement. We drink coffee, we talk and we listen, about writing but also about fears and hopes. I usually bring along a listing of free upcoming literary events that are easy to reach by bus or train. 

Recently, after a session that ran uncharacteristically short of literary focus, the facilitator/creator/brains-behind-the-program suggested that we try some in-class writing. I started compiling a list of writing prompts and we have been dipping into it for the odd bit of inspiration. 

It's surprisingly freeing, this scribbling madly amongst others for ten minutes at a time. I think I need to incorporate that method into my work writing on occasion. Although perhaps not. Stream of consciousness may work for the odd album review, but I doubt it will be looked upon too kindly when submitted for a corporate eblast.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

feel the paper, turn the page

 Around these parts, at least, I suspect that all but the hardiest of Easter Bunnies will be hiding the chocolate eggs in the family room instead of the back yard. Personally, I think it would be a lesson in character building to send the wee ones out between snow squalls to hunt for eggs. Make them work for that chocolate.

You, however, do not need to work for a thing. Unless you want to brew yourself a cup of tea first or perhaps pour yourself a shot of something a little more bracing, there is no need for you to do anything more strenuous than to click on the links. Through the magic of the internetz you will be taken to a treasure trove of engaging reading material to enhance your long weekend. 

Perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but I do invite you to read some of my latest publications, such as the column in today's Calgary Sun (above), where you can learn about the National Music Centre's collection of Garnet amps and the role they played in developing The Winnipeg Sound of rock n roll.

For more recent music talk, you can check out my review of Thus Owls' stunning new album, Turning Rocks. Have a listen to some of the gorgeous tracks while there.

And if neighbourhood planting/community building is more your thing, please read my article in the spring-summer issue of EVE Magazine. The fabulous photos that accompany my words are the work of photographers much more talented than I. And for that we can all be grateful.  

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

pointed lives

Nine Inches - Tom Perrotta

Prior to receiving this book of short stories in a care package from a dear friend, I had never heard of Tom Perrotta. I have since learned that he is an acclaimed novelist and Academy Award nominated screenplay writer. But for today's purposes, all you really need to know is that Tom Perrotta writes damned satisfying short stories.

Perrotta masterfully gets inside the heads of the characters that populate Nine Inches. Not all of these characters are particularly likeable (although many are), but they are all understandable. From the teacher who turns an online slagging on its head, to the little league baseball coach relying on a final win to keep his life from fully unravelling, to the weary volunteer who makes an unlikely alliance, these are all people who would not be out of place in your own neighbourhood. They can be unspeakably cruel, they can harbour secret hatreds, they can lead lives of quiet desperation, and sometimes they can rise above their own frailties. 

Just like the person down the street to whom you may nod as you walk by, but whose name you will never learn, the characters in Nine Inches lead lives that remain largely invisible to the world. Tom Perrotta gives them all voice. 

Most heartily recommended. 

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

bachelor soup

What do you do when you overcook the salmon that you were planning a few meals around because the Spousal Unit is away all week and you want some easy meals that you know he won't eat? Well you choke down the original meal, of course, but then instead of throwing away the leftovers (as I almost did), might I suggest you make spicy salmon soup instead? Chances are you can clear some stuff out of the freezer at the same time. Win-win.

It was a really nice piece of salmon, so I was loathe to toss it, but I also didn't want to add a lot of mayo or cream cheese or other high-fat ingredients to make it less dry and more palatable. Soup seemed worth the gamble, especially since I had a small baggie of leftover cooked bowtie noodles in the freezer that needed eating. Or tossing. (It was a toss-up.)

I was pleased to find I had both broccoli and spinach in the fridge, since no soup is complete without those, so I sauteed broccoli, green onions, and some strips of yellow pepper that needed using. I then added chicken broth, spinach, those leftover noodles and chunks of salmon. And here's the important part - I also added quite a bit more cayenne pepper than seemed wise. Oh, and I tossed a splash of white wine from the glass that I was sipping, because I figured it could use a touch of acid and that was a lot faster than getting the lemon juice from the fridge.

I heated the whole mess up for a few minutes and by then the salmon had once again become juicy and tender and even the noodles were no longer freezer-burned. I happily slurped it all down while reading the newspaper and listening to As It Happens.  

Friday, April 04, 2014


There are few right angles in the reinvention of oneself. Mostly the changes involve a more sweeping slope, a gradual veering toward one direction or another.

Lately, though, I have made some right angle changes in my volunteerism. I stopped reviewing albums for a record label which shall remain nameless, partly because I didn't like any of the albums, but mostly because I didn't think that a major label needed my charitable hours. I also dropped a  volunteer gig last year because I wasn't getting any love for my efforts. Primarily, though, I simply need to keep things interesting.

After eight years,I will be taking this summer off from volunteering at the Calgary Folk Festival. Although I get lots of love and perks as a Record Tent co-ordinator, it's time for a rest. Originally we thought we might be travelling during festival time, but even if we are not, it will be rejuvenating and very freeing to don the Birkenstocks, sling our festival chairs over our shoulders, and assume no responsibilities for the entire festival. No close-toed shoes, no keeping an eye on my watch, no putting out any fires, and no abandoning the family tarp while filling a shift. No free admittance and meals or hanging with musicians backstage, either, but I am willing trade in those perks to be a civilian again for a year.

A few weeks ago, I started a new volunteer gig, helping out with the creative writing session of create! in the East Village. This is a wonderful program, started by one amazing and very caring woman, who was concerned about the lack of creative programming for marginalized people in our city. Single-handedly and with virtually no funding, she started offering two visual arts and one creative writing session each week, in addition to hosting two evenings a month - devoted to Artists' Trading Cards - at a neighbourhood cafe. All sessions are free, drop-in, and open to anyone in the community.

I've been to a handful of creative writing sessions now and am always taken aback by the quality and the passion of the writing that people share. Many of the participants have not had an easy life and many of them face a lot of challenges. They inspire me.

This week I led a tutorial on Blogging 101 during the creative writing session. I am by no means a teacher, but these students were so kind and accepted my bumbling explanations with good humour. I hope to see a few of them start their own blogs. Not only does the declining blogosphere need an infusion of fresh blood, but I have a suspicion that my highly engaged students are just the writers to inject that much needed passion into the art. 

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

running out of fools

I remember an April Fools' Day years ago, when the Offspring was quite young and just beginning to realize the limitless potential of the day. The Spousal Unit and I had been reminiscing the night before about April Fools pranks from our university days, pranks that usually involved plastic wrap and toilet seats or dorm-room doors and duct tape. 

In the morning, the Offspring greeted me with a big smile and the announcement that she had made breakfast for me (which had never happened before, or since for that matter). She could barely contain herself as she handed me a plate with a slice of toast on it. Perhaps if the toothpaste that was smeared liberally on the bread had not been blue, I might - just maybe - have taken a big bite. I had to give her points for optimism, though.

This year, I got pranked by the cat, although I have to suspect it was unintentional. When I woke up this morning and couldn't move my arm, my first thought, of course, was that I had had a stroke. Frankly I was surprised that I felt as good as I did after my stroke. Rested, even. And then I realized the cat was lying on my arm, and had presumably been sleeping there for some time. No more looking at the Grumpy Cat wall calendar for her!

In shameless self-promotion news, please check out my latest Canadian Bands You Should Know article on the National Music Centre blog. This time I tell you all about the former folkie turned chanteuse, Jill Barber