IDEAS AND CULTURE
GEIST 7 0
IDEAS AND CULTURE
MADE IN CANADA
H A I D A MA N G A
GEIST 70 Edith Iglauer Stephen Osborne W R I TI NG & W A I T I N G F O R RA Y M O ND CA R VE R Ann Diamond PHOTO ALBUMS AND T HE ECOLOGY O F M EMORY Faith Moosang
Culture-crossing & the art of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (page 49)
D I S T A NT VO I C E S , L O S T D E VI C E S
THE O RWELL E FFECT & T HE 3-DAY NOVEL
D ANIEL FRANCIS
GI L L I A N J E R O M E
A ND R E A J OH NS T ON
GE ORGE FE T H E R L ING
A L B E R T O MA N G U E L
MADE IN CANADA FALL 2008
A Group of Seven Awkward Moment ( Jack Pine) 25
T O M T H O M S O N I N P U R G A T O R Y (page 33)
$6.95 CDN / $6.95 US / VOL. 17 NO. 70
published by The Geist Foundation publisher Stephen Osborne senior editor Mary Schendlinger executive director Patty Osborne associate editor C.E. Coughlan assistant editor Sarah Maitland advertising sales Trevor Battye office manager Kristin Cheung accountant Mindy Abramowitz, cga administrative assistants Ian Bullock, Alison Dowsett, Erinna Gilkison Brodie Noga, Kate Reid interns Ross Merriam, Mary Alice Elcock, Lear Pires, Josh Wallaert editorial board Kevin Barefoot, Jill Boettger, Marisa Chandler, Carla Elm Clement, Brad Cran, Laurie Edwards, Melissa Edwards, Robert Everett-Green, Derek Fairbridge, Daniel Francis, Helen Godolphin, Lily Gontard, Michael Hayward, Gillian Jerome, Michal Kozlowski, Brian Lam, Sarah Leavitt, Thad McIlroy, Billeh Nickerson, Eric Peterson, Leah Rae, Craig Riggs, Kris Rothstein, Norbert Ruebsaat, Jane Silcott, Paul Tough, Michelle van der Merwe, Carrie Villeneuve, Kathy Vito, Kaleigh Wisman, Barbara Zatyko first subscriber Jane Springer web architect David Egan
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Stephen Osborne 11 The Orwell Effect Bryan Zandberg 14 City Lectures David Albahari 15 Bird in the Willow Ann Diamond 16 An Awful Thing Edith Iglauer 18 What? Gillian Jerome 20 Apiary of Underclothes Katharine O’Flynn 21 On the Track Andrea Johnston 22 The Fallen Man S. Taylor 23 Wet Dragonflies FINDINGS
Miriam Toews, Terence 27 Road Trip, First Day; Battle Ready; Savage Love; Byrnes, Rafael Goldchain, Close Door, Push Away Moon; Mark Anthony Jarman, Plaster de Paris; Reincarnations; Douglas Glover, Sarah Sports, Sterility, Stonewall; Maitland, Kim Goldberg, Louis Dudek; Wing Yee; Domenico Capilongo, Sarah’s Excellent Weekend; Troy Jollimore, bpNichol, I Thought Elvis Was Italian; George Webber, Joshua Tom Thomson in Transit; Start Glenn and Mark Kingwell, Anew; The Art of Doing Nothing Jack Mitchell POSTCARD LIT
Mary W. Walters 24 Machisma Christine Lauter 25 Hiss Taylor Wilson 26 So Far So Good COMMENT
Alberto Manguel 65 In Memoriam: Mahmoud Darwish George Fetherling 66 Adventures in the Nib Trade
design consultant Rick Staehling
Stephen Henighan 68 Urquhart’s Choice
composition Vancouver Desktop
distribution Magazines Canada printed in canada by Hemlock Printers www.geist.com
6 Letters The Usual Gang 71 Endnotes Meandricus 87 Puzzle Melissa Edwards 88 Caught Mapping
An Ounce of Civet 41 An Evening in the Yorkville Marriott Bill MacDonald Dinner with James Reaney—poet, playwright, professor—who is mistaken by a pair of Irish ladies for “that decadent writer Mordecai Richler.”
Middle of Nowhere 46 It’s northern Ontario, not Siberia. Katie Addleman Polly and Ruth can probably survive their teaching jobs in the middle of nowhere. The placements are only temporary— like a bruise.
RE ME MB ER 49 The hybrid art of Haida manga Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas Brilliant new work from the master of Haida manga, who remains determined to “see memory not as a distance but as a post-it note.”
Futile Gestures 57 Photo albums and the ecology of memory Faith Moosang Precisely because they flourish in domestic life, photo albums and their contents suffer the erosion of neglect, destruction, vandalism and loss.
A Group of Seven Awkward Moments (Jack Pine), by Diana Thorneycroft. From a series of dioramas incorporating paintings by Tom Thomson, Emily Carr and the Group of Seven. The series explores “Canadian consciousness” as expressed in iconic landscapes that have come to symbolize a nation— combined with scenes of accidents, disasters and bad weather. Diana Thorneycroft’s work has been exhibited in Canada, the usa, Scotland, Russia, Japan and Australia. Her portfolios may be seen at dianathorneycroft.com. She lives in Winnipeg.
Geist is published four times a year by The Geist Foundation. Contents copyright © 2008 The Geist Foundation. All rights reserved. Subscriptions: in Canada: Individuals $24/year (4 issues); Institutions $31; in the United States: $32; elsewhere $32. Visa and MasterCard accepted. Correspondence and inquiries: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org. Include sase with Canadian postage or irc with all submissions and queries. #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Guidelines are also available at geist.com. issn 1181-6554. Geist swaps its subscriber list with other cultural magazines for one-time mailings. Please contact us if you prefer not to receive these mailings. Publications Mail Agreement 40069678 Registration No. 07582 Return undeliverable Canadian addresses to: Circulation Department, #200 – 341 Water Street, Vancouver, B.C. Canada v6b 1b8. Email: email@example.com Tel: (604) 681-9161, 1-888-geist-eh; Fax: (604) 669-8250; Web: geist.com Geist is a member of Magazines Canada and the B.C. Association of Magazine Publishers. Indexed in the Canadian Literary Periodicals Index and available on microfilm from University Microfilms Inc., Ann Arbor, Michigan usa. The Geist Foundation receives assistance from private donors, the Tula Foundation, the Canada Council, the B.C. Arts Council and the B.C. Gaming Branch. We acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada, through the Publications Assistance Program (pap) and the Canada Magazine Fund.
special thanks to the tula foundation
Michael Hayward hand-delivers a copy of Geist to June Leaf in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
LONG LIVE THE LONG SENTENCE was delighted to finally stumble upon a publication that does not shy away from long sentences! So here is a note of praise to Stephen Osborne for taking the road less travelled in “Sleight of Hand” (Geist 69). It’s so refreshing to read a long (really long) but perfectly clear and rhythmical sentence, especially given the holy mantra of creative writing courses that seems to have taken modern literature hostage: keep sentences short, move action forward. Readers are willing and able to follow a sentence consisting of more than ten words, and what’s more, they may be grateful, as I am, not to have their memory, intelligence and reading skill insulted. For all such readers, pieces like “Sleight of Hand” come as welcome and much-needed reassurance that we won’t have to keep rereading Hemingway, Dostoevsky or Samuel Johnson ad nauseam to come across beautiful long sentences, as there are still authors and editors who are willing to take a risk. —Aleks Molnar, Toronto
Page 6 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
T H E THE, OR NOT T H E THE? n his column “The Definite Article” (Geist 69), George Fetherling states that only Americans say “in the hospital” rather than “in hospital.” I was born, raised and educated in Alberta, and I always say that someone is “in the hospital”—although at the ripe old age of seventy-two my main concern is not how the statement is phrased, but how to make sure I am not the person about whom the statement is made! —Charles Crockford, Waterloo ON
I’m a medical resident in St. John’s, and after reading George Fetherling’s article on articles, I took a poll to see what some of my favourite English speakers say about being “in (the) hospital.” Here’s what I came up with: From a medical student and historian: My boyfriend and I say in the hospital. From a community health researcher: I have a feeling that we always use the when referring to a specific hospital, but sometimes omit it when using hospital in a more generic sense. For instance, my neighbour was worried that if his chest photo: jean karlinski
condition got any worse he could land in hospital. His brother had the same thing last year and ended up in the hospital in Carbonear. From a psychiatrist: As an American (perhaps even the American) in the group, I can confirm that south of the border people say “in the hospital” (as in: “Sorry, Doctor, but I have determined that your patient no longer meets the Blue Cross medical necessity criteria to be treated in the hospital and will be decertified as of yesterday”). To my ears, most people here in Newfoundland also say “in the hospital” (or “ospital”), though I think my friends and colleagues from Quebec and Ontario say “in hospital.” Probably another example of things being different on this island. From a poet: I say the for sure, though I may qualify as a special case, as I’ve got Yankee parents. From a historian of medicine of Scottish extraction, after I said I use the: Yeah, but you’re from Alberta, which is really the U.S. of Canada. On reflection, I would say “in hospital.” From a poet and professor of literature: I—and all my family—say “in the hospital.” But then, is that due to the influence of American bases in Newfoundland? Both my parents worked on the base in Argentia when they were young. On the other hand, is it that “in the hospital” is a British phrasing that survived in America and in Newfoundland but not elsewhere? A wily lass, the language. From a general surgery resident, originally from Bosnia: Why do you ask me? English is not my first language? I say “in the hospital.” That’s six votes for the, one for no the and one qualified response. This poll is considered accurate nineteen times out of twenty and is my contribution to helping Geist answer the burning questions of our time. —Monica Kidd, St. John’s
SLEI GHT OF DATES leight of Hand” by Stephen Osborne is a beautifully written piece and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. However, when I came to the part about “Edward vii, the British king who died in 1908,” I thought, “Wasn’t that 1910?” My trusty Webster’s Encyclopedia Dictionary confirmed this date. (If “1908” is engraved on the fountain, it may be a memorial of a visit to Canada by the king, rather than a posthumous tribute.) Maybe I’ve always remembered this date because 1910 was my father’s birth year. Or perhaps it’s because the grandmother of a high school friend recounted to her granddaughter and me her memories of watching the funeral procession of Edward vii pass her on the street. It was 1910, and she was thirteen years old. Her memory was jogged by the tv coverage of jfk’s funeral cortege in 1963. “You are witnessing history, girls,” she proclaimed. —Anne Miles, Gibsons BC
but not their lives. I am not entirely sure the beast is real and not Photoshopped into that depressing place, but it doesn’t matter: the image is the story. —R.E. Maitland, Waterloo ON COVERT OP he human resources department at my office regularly posts inspirational quotes on a board. Today I went on a covert op and erased their original quote. In its place I wrote the Frederick Banting quote, “No one has ever had an idea in a dress suit” (from “Ideas in Dress Suits” by David Pratt in Geist 69, from his book The Impossible Takes Longer). It’s all part of my underground “no dress code” movement. Thank you Geist for the wonderful quote. —Megan Dietrich, Calgary
ELEPHANT ON THE EDGE he photo of the elephant on the cover of Geist 69 (Summer 2008) is terribly sad. The elephant, chained at the leg on a ledge that seems to drop off, the barrenness of the building and the absence of greenery make him look like a slave, so very far from his natural home. I did go to the wonderful website of the photographer, Brent Lewin (brentlewin.com), to read more, but the initial impact of the picture stabbed my heart. I put the magazine away for some time because I couldn’t bear to look at it. —Pat Newson, Comox BC
SECOND SPRING s I updated my reading diary to include Geist 69, I noticed it was your second issue labelled “Spring 2008.” My wife recently brought home Geist 1 and 2 and a number of other early issues that she discovered at the thrift store where she volunteers. I was pleased to see how far your format and content have come since then and am concerned that you are now attempting to make time stand still. I encourage you to keep moving forward. —John Goossen, Delta BC Much as we like your generous explanation, we must admit to having printed spring large as life on the front cover of our Summer issue (Geist 69) as well as on our Spring issue (68). Please don’t ask us how many proofreaders missed it. —Ed.
That poor, apparently neurotic elephant on your stunning Geist 69 cover seemed to me to epitomize, even more than the story of the crumbling suburb of Bang Bua Thong, the dislocation that Thais and other Asians have suffered as Westerners have globalized their economies
LIKE A FOX fter hearing Adrian Michael Kelly politely slam the Canadian writing establishment on cbc radio one night last August, I Googled his essay “The Imprint of Foxes” from the Canadian Notes & Queries and New Quarterly Salon
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 7
des Refusés. Kelly talked fire and rage about how the written word no longer sings in the realm of CanLit, and about The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, contrived by Jane Urquhart, whose motives are completely suspect. I was excited by Kelly’s blatant disregard for the powers that be: Margaret Atwood hates men, what happened to Coming Through Slaughter, etc. We all know it’s fixed, right, Heather? But “The Imprint of Foxes” is nothing more than a lame foot-in-the-mouth apology from a wasp wannabe who seems to have been dealt the out card by the publishing industry. There’s no point in splitting hairs. Kelly’s essay is wrong and it’s boring—a lousy attempt at sincere writing. It’s the reference to Yeats that sinks him. Yeats was planted in Ireland by the British government to help with the eradication of Irish culture. How Kelly could cite Yeats for anything but Nazi-like propaganda is beyond reason. Yeats was fronted by an Englishwoman, Lady Gregory, who transcribed his poetry. Coincidentally, her poetry is exactly the same as his (read it and see). And Yeats’s poetry was published, on the condition that he establish the very first printing press in Ireland, the one they used to reprint the King James Bible. Kelly, claiming to be an enlightened spokesperson for non-mainstream Canadian writers, went on at great length, name-dropping left and right, repeating his friends’ names like a well-trained pr man. On the bright side—well, there doesn’t seem to be a bright side. Call in Leonard Cohen, the fix is in everywhere. —Patrick Larkin, Vancouver ALL I WANT FROM CANADA y brother, who builds ships and designs guitars as a hobby, and recently moved from New Zealand to Singapore, has made a request: all he wants me to send him from Canada is a Canadian T-shirt and a Geist magazine.
Thanks for publishing something he can call home. —Diane Antonangeli, Bolton ON DAMN, BUSTED s a long-time World War ii film buff, I enjoyed reading Michael Hayward’s “Water Over the Dam” (Geist 69) on The Dam Busters and its DVD resurrection (and possible remake), which may bring this intriguing bit of military history to a new audience. But as an equally buff sci-fi fan, I have to quibble with Hayward’s note that “Steven Spielberg based a key scene in his Star Wars IV: A New Hope on the dam-attack sequence.” While Spielberg has used wwii as the setting for a number of his blockbusters—notably Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, 1941 and the best two of the Indiana Jones series—and has borrowed liberally from earlier cinematic epics, I’m afraid he had nothing to do with A New Hope. That was the (best) work of his California film school pal George Lucas. Viewers looking for a different and more contemporary take on the development of the “dam busters” bouncing bomb will enjoy the “Casualties of War” episode from the fifth season of Foyle’s War, yet another damn fine mystery series from our friends in jolly old England. —John Threlfall, Victoria Michael Hayward replies: Of course it was George Lucas who directed A New Hope! Sometimes the obvious errors are the ones that prove to be the most elusive.
CANADI AN ACCENT egarding the title “Chiquita Canáda” (Stephen Osborne, Geist 7, recently posted at geist.com), why put the accent on the second a in Canada? In Spanish pronunciation, the verbal stress is always on the penultimate syllable; in this case, the second a in Canada. Accents are used when the stress falls on any syllable other
than this penultimate one. So in Spanish, Canáda is redundant, but Canada is pronounced Canadá. Say both out loud and you can hear the difference. One more thing about the title: is Canáda a sweet evocation of Kanata, the Iroquois village that inspired the name of our country? —Megan Stewart, Montreal Stephen Osborne replies: As a monolingual Canadian, I was following the rhythmic pattern of the once ubiquitous “Chiquita Banana.” OOPS helley Kozlowski’s name was spelled wrong on the cover of Geist 69. As we couldn’t persuade her relatives to change the spelling of the family name, we can only offer profuse apologies. Sorry, Shelley! —Ed.
artists in this issue Rachael Ashe is a photographer and mixedmedia artist. She lives in Vancouver and at rachaelashe.com. Jeremy Bruneel is an award-winning illustrator whose work has been published in Seattle Magazine, Canadian Business, National Post Business, Saturday Night, B.C. Business, Vancouver, the Globe and Mail, the Georgia Straight and other periodicals. He lives in Toronto. Rebecca Dolen is an illustrator and the co-founder of the Regional Assembly of Text, a handmade-stationery and miscellany store in Vancouver (assemblyoftext.com). Claire Milne is an illustration and design student. “Library Square” was originally printed in the Reflections Vancouver 2009 Calendar, published by Capilano University. Julie Morstad is an illustrator and a mother. She animated a music video with her brother and is an accomplished soup-maker. She lives in Vancouver and at juliemorstad.com. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 9
NOTES & DISPATCHES The Orwell Effect So you want to write a novel in three days STEPHEN OSBORNE
n the last week of June 1978, I fell into an argument about George Orwell a few days after my photograph appeared in the Globe and Mail next to a photograph of Anne Murray, the singersweetheart of the nation. Anne Murray had just flown into Toronto from Vancouver, having completed an advertising campaign for the Bank of Commerce worth a million dollars in today’s money—enough “to keep the wheels rolling financially,” she told the reporter, who, under a headline reading “Success is no strain for Anne,” noted that she was “paler and slimmer than she’s looked in a long time” and that her nose was “red to the point of peeling.” In the photograph, Anne Murray’s perfect nose looks just fine: how could it be otherwise? The nose in my photograph goes unmentioned in the story accompanying it. I too had just flown into Toronto from Vancouver, after a sleepless night on the red-eye, which cost about two hundred dollars in today’s money and included the complimentary half-dozen double vodkas, the half-dozen cups of coffee, etc., required to sit up all night waiting for the sun to rise over Lake Ontario. I had a lunch date with William French, the book critic at the Globe and Mail, who took me photo: rachael ashe
up to the rooftop cafeteria at Globe and Mail headquarters and bought me a sandwich and several more cups of coffee while
I described to him the (possibly ludicrous) idea of a Three-Day Novel Writing Contest, which was set to begin on the following Friday at midnight and run for three days through the Canada Day long weekend. The story and my photograph appeared under the headline (in a smaller font than that used for Anne Murray’s story) “Pulp Press looks for quickie books.” Earlier in the year, Pulp Press (the precursor of Arsenal Pulp Press) had been attacked in Parliament by Tory mps as a terrorist organization in receipt of public funds, which made it possible for William
French to fill two columns with ruminations on parliamentary slander, freedom of expression, the short history of Pulp Press and the challenge of writing a novel in three days—a topic that, without the added lustre of the terrorist charges, might have made for thin copy or perhaps no copy at all. The essay closed with a mock report of the fulminations of an outraged Tory mp (Howard Retch, Mud Flats) against cbc radio for broadcasting an interview with a naked book publisher “at 8:45 a.m., the family breakfast hour.” Later that day an interviewer from a private radio station asked me “on behalf of any would-be novelists who might be listening,” as he put it, why I should expect anyone to send their three-day novel to the company that published the Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla and other suspicious books, a surprisingly long list of which he then read aloud as his gaze burned into mine above the microphone. What did I say in reply? I remember only that he blinked before I did, and that he cut off the interview as soon as I stopped speaking. My reply, whatever it had been, so impressed the postmodernist literary critic John Bentley Mays, known at the time for an attack on the poetry of Phyllis Webb in the pages of the journal Open Letter, that he sought me out and invited me to lunch at the Peter Pan on Queen Street West as a reward for having silenced a troublesome media personality. The Peter Pan was a high-class bistro with tablecloths and cloth napkins, and haughty servers, and a soup-and-pasta Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 11
NOTES & DISPATCHES
combo plate, and imported beer in bottles—all signs of a life that until then had eluded me, and that erased any vestiges of the sandwich provided by the genial William French in the Globe and Mail cafeteria. I never spoke with John Bentley Mays again, and fear now that I might have had too little of suitable weight to say to him in the Peter Pan, where I felt more intensely what I had been feeling since I had arrived: a growing sense of impostor syndrome. As the week progressed, there were more interviews and at least one ceremonial dinner, with a publishing collective in a basement, consisting entirely of nuts, peanuts, marijuana and fruit juice, but I failed to convince myself that anyone out there was going to write a novel in three days. I was staying with my friend Walmsley and his girlfriend Michelle in an apartment on Wellesley Street, where I shared the sofa with Rocky, an overactive
black kitten who used the sofa as a launching pad from which to throw himself into the drapes gathered at the balcony door, which he seemed to think were, or ought to be, trees. He would hit them high up by sinking his claws into the fabric, then tear and flail his way to the ceiling and fling himself back over to the sofa. This performance went on intermittently day and night, and I learned very quickly to avoid being ripped to pieces while sleeping by covering myself from head to toe with a sleeping bag and striving to lie motionless beneath it. In the evenings I recounted my adventures in the media to Walmsley, who had written two books of poetry and several plays; I wanted to persuade him to try to write a novel in three days so that I might be certain of at least one entrant in the Three-Day Novel Writing Contest, but Walmsley remained aloof to the suggestion.
Saturday, November 15, 2008. 1:30 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. For details: geist.com/sentence Page 12 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
he argument about George Orwell overtook us in a restaurant near Allan Gardens on Thursday, the day before I was to return to Vancouver. It was a warm, clear evening; we set out on foot with Michelle and stopped to collect their friend Erika, who had broken her foot and rode along with us in a wheelchair. Neither Walmsley nor I was prepared for the argument, which, when it erupted, proved not to be about Orwell himself but about the title of his novel 1984. According to a story that one of us had read, the title had been given to the book not by Orwell but by his publisher; Orwell had wanted to call his novel 1948. We settled into the restaurant and arranged ourselves so that Erika was comfortable in the wheelchair, and ordered something to drink, and then dinner. We ate something delicate, interesting: crepes, which were new in
NOTES & DISPATCHES
1978, and little steaks and shrimps, and sauces; drinks, of course, and then without hesitation we plunged into the argument, my good friend and I, the argument to which there were at least two sides: that the change to the title of Orwell’s novel was significant, and that it was not significant. We must have started there, with Walmsley perhaps taking the significant argument (so to speak) and me taking the other side, or the other way around. We plunged on into the debate through the main course, wine, whiskey, beer, coffee, dessert. Michelle and Erika were patient for a while; for too long, perhaps; for most of the dinner, as Walmsley’s voice rose and mine rose with it and vice versa. Eventually even the waiter began to show uneasiness, if not a species of unprofessional anger. Erika demanded to be taken home; we paid the angry waiter, or more likely Michelle paid the angry waiter, and the four of us stumbled and wheeled out onto the sidewalk. The argument waned as we took our bearings and began walking along the edge of Allan Gardens toward Erika’s place, and then it began to wax again, the argument that would not end and had even embraced a meta-argument about whether it was possible to have an argument like this one, about something as trivial as the title of a novel. We left Erika at her place, to her evident relief, and argued intensely all the way to back to Wellesley Street. I had abandoned hope of persuading Walmsley to write a novel in three days; it seemed to me that honour might require that I relinquish the sofa to Rocky and find a hotel. By three in the morning, long abandoned by Michelle, we turned to drinking coffee at the kitchen table, and the levels of argument, the arguments about the argument, began to collapse in on themselves. The next day Rocky woke me up on the sofa by batting fiercely at one of my feet, which had slipped out from beneath the sleeping bag. It was Friday, my last day
in Toronto. I called Pulp Press in Vancouver and learned that nearly a hundred people had registered for the Three-Day Novel Writing Contest. I had underestimated the power of William French.
n the evening I had a quiet dinner with Walmsley and Michelle, and I don’t recall that any of us mentioned Orwell. After dinner I went for a walk. When I returned to pack my suitcase for the flight home, Walmsley and Michelle were sitting at the kitchen table, with a typewriter in front of them and several pads of lined paper. I’m going to write a three-day novel, said Walmsley. Michelle is going to type it up as I write. He was making notes, he said, from an idea that had been forming all day. They were going to start writing and typing at midnight, when the contest started. I went out to the street and found the Airporter, and caught the last flight home. On Monday night at midnight, Walmsley called. We finished the novel, he said. A month later I called him to say that his novel had won the first Three-Day Novel Writing Contest. The title was Doctor Tin. Six months later, Walmsley called again. Rocky had taken one of his flying leaps, missed the drapes and sailed out over the balcony and down five storeys to the ground. He had survived. Five years later, William French wrote another column about the threeday novel, which he described as “a uniquely Canadian contribution to world literature.”
Stephen Osborne is the publisher of Geist magazine and an award-winning writer, author of Ice & Fire: Dispatches from the New World. The Three-Day Novel contest passed from Pulp Press to Anvil Press and then to Blue Lake Books and finally to the stand-alone International 3-Day Novel Contest, where it thrives today: 3daynovel.com. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 13
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City Lectures Strangers in the night B R Y A N ZA N D B E R G
he organizers of tonight’s talk have branded it as a “raw exchange”—part of a series of uncensored literary gatherings around the city—and so they’ve invited three biting B.C. writers to get down to brass tacks for a group of strangers in the basement of the Vancouver Public Library. By some freak of programming, a punk-metal band is slaying the kids in the room down the hall tonight, which means every time a bookish-looking latecomer wades into our midst, a foul-sounding wave of hellish power chords does, too. But the authors hold their own in the rawness department, thank you very much. Susan Musgrave, for instance, an exquisite Canadian poet-author with a bank-robber husband, reads a non-fiction piece called “You’re in Canada now, motherfucker.” The panel as a whole—Musgrave, Stan Persky and George Payerle—is really good. They talk about themselves and about the late Peter Gzowski, wounded sparrows, Diderot, drug runners, jail matrimonials, house cats, ferries, Margaret Atwood, mounties, creativity, George W. Bush, notions of truth and of fiction, mothers and daughters, norms, Berlin, the alphabet, the publishing industry, non-writers, order, the Vancouver Sun, the Queen Charlotte Islands and a miracle having to do with the word oddment. From the audience, George Bowering announces that he has little love for the psychological realism genre. The rest of us, non-laureates, nod our heads each time we hear something we Page 14 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
like, to the point where it’s clear that what we chalk up as literary marrow varies greatly from person to person, whereas the raucous bits make everybody laugh all at once. On the street afterward, the city crawls with activity. A white kid pedals past, a hipster on a low-riding cruiser trolling Georgia Street. Then a black teenager bikes by with the longest, most ostentatious pair of monkey handlebars I’ve seen in my life. He veers left and right along the sidewalk, and his eyes sift and weigh the pedestrians. Both of them advance aimlessly, as if separately searching for the same thing. I imagine them resistant to going home, reluctant to hear the clap of a screen door behind them, even though houses don’t have screen doors in this town. I catch a bus heading east and scribble down notes from a conversation taking place in the unlit space near the driver. I don’t believe in anything he’s saying, a man says, before his voice is drowned out by the electric moan of the trolley. The voice of a woman surfaces. She says she doesn’t go to church any more, and hasn’t for years. They use each other’s names but it’s clear they just met a few minutes ago. She tells him she has family down here and that all of them are on drugs. It’s the intention of your heart that matters, all that other stuff just screws you up, she says. I think she’s referring to church. She punctuates each phrase with a nervous laugh. Take care, God bless, the man says as
he clambers off at a stop still pretty close to downtown. The bus drones on down the street in silence until a voice says, I understand how bad life can get. It’s the woman again, Veronica, talking to a forty-something man, someone she must have met while I was staring out the window at homeless people and thinking about the forum. Is she lonely and looking? Her laughter is getting louder, a piercing, high laugh that the whine of the electric motors can’t mask. We stop at a red light. Life is damn good she says. In the darkness, I can’t tell if the man agrees. But it isn’t, I think, not on the other side of the glass, where razor wire runs along the contours of each building and the shops are locked down for the night with battered shutters, iron grilles and steel grates. People resembling gaunt, shaky weeds bob down the sidewalk on East Hastings Street. Veronica shakes the man’s hand, and now it’s her turn to wish someone God’s blessing as she ducks down the two steps through the folding door and steps onto the street. I get out a few stops later. On the way down to my house, I get a clear bead on the outline of the city, a glittering form beneath a handful of stars stretched above the roofs and treetops. What can hold together the scraps of rawness jotted down this evening? My newly adopted city has no physical heart, hub or centre, and tonight it has the aspect of something too diffuse to pin down, a disconnected form with too many loose-end lights, concrete, steel and desires that clamour for attention. It feels late. Walking down the hill I’m reluctant to go home, almost afraid to hear the two doors close behind me when I get in, as if some voice in me is saying what I need right now is a bike, not a pen. Bryan Zandberg is a reader of French literature living in Providence, Rhode Island. illustration: claire milne
Bird in the Willow There is no better place in the world to feel sad DAVID ALBAHARI
esterday, when I looked through my kitchen window, I saw a strange-looking bird sitting on a branch of the willow tree in our backyard. I went to my study to get the camera, but by the time I got back to the window the bird was gone. I closed my eyes and tried to visualize it, then I found a book on birds in Alberta, but that bird was not in it. I went outside, walked around the tree, and looked all over for a feather. If I find a feather, I thought, I can reconstruct the whole bird. But there was no feather, no bird droppings, nothing. That bird was gone for good, and although it was small, the emptiness I suddenly felt inside me was huge. So I sat under the willow tree thinking that there was no better place in the world to feel sad. Willows, I thought, are symbols of sadness and their hanging branches are like the long hair of maidens crying above deep water. There’s no water in our backyard, just our old concrete garage. A long time ago the willow tree was planted too close to the garage and now it’s pushing against one of the corners. The main trunk has already grown around that corner, and from a certain angle it looks like the willow is devouring the garage. The willow has six trunks. It is too big, we were told by the arbor care people, and it should be cut down or trimmed down to two trunks. When we moved into this house, the tree had ten trunks. In the last five years we have had four of them cut: two were growing too close to the roof of our house, and the
photograph: julia melnyk
other two threatened to fall onto telephone and hydro lines. That means, I thought under the willow, that it’s losing one trunk each year. In six years, I thought, there will be no trunks left; only a huge stump will remain. And I pictured
myself sitting there, and I remembered Shel Silverstein’s book The Giving Tree, the saddest book in the world, and I felt like crying a little, but I told myself that I shouldn’t cry because our neighbours could see me, and I never, ever cry in front of neighbours. My mother always thought that men should not cry; only weak men cry, she would say, and weak men are not men anyway. On the other hand, the Four Seasons had a hit song many years ago, “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” So, who does cry? Small girls and weak men? My mother didn’t cry; she was tougher than many men, my father included. As for him, his eyes would fill
with tears every time he heard an unpleasant weather forecast. I am somewhere between them, and if there is a gene for crying, I inherited half of it from each of them. In other words, I am neither strong enough nor weak enough, just like a willow. Willows are dangerous, the arbor care men told us, because their branches and trunks break easily, so when strong winds blow outside, we shouldn’t stand under them. But there was no wind the day I saw that bird; there was only that terrible feeling of emptiness and loss when it disappeared, as if the world were out of balance. It is strange, isn’t it, that such a small event, apparently unrelated to us, has so much influence over our beings, touching us somewhere deep inside and perhaps changing us forever. I closed my eyes again but the image of the bird had completely disappeared from my memory. Soon, I thought under the willow tree, nothing would remain of that bird. No history, I thought, would record its flight and the way it had landed on a branch of the willow tree in our backyard. No history would record the sadness I felt when I realized that the bird had gone, although that’s what this world is made of, and it doesn’t matter whether you see it as fiction or nonfiction, as an invented story or a real account. There’s always something that’s not included, something that remains, and that small thing is what all stories are about, including this one, if this one is a story at all.
David Albahari has written several pieces for Geist, including “Dangerous Times” (Geist 69). He is the author of twenty published books in Serbian; five have been translated into English, most recently Snow Man (Douglas & McIntyre, 2005). He lives in Calgary. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 15
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An Awful Thing “Never write a line you don’t mean,” said Carver A N N DI A M O N D
knew nothing of Raymond Carver until January 1978, when he and John Irving and Grace Paley read their work at Goddard College in Vermont. Carver was the last reader that evening. He stood up awkwardly to read “Fat” followed by “Why Don’t You Dance?” and when he stopped, the room seemed to go still. Everyone seemed to want to study with him and I doubted I’d get into his workshop. The following day, though, I was in. The frozen sunlight in Carver’s office nearly blinded me on that winter morning when we had our first conversation. We talked about what I would do over the semester. We talked about writers we both liked: Kafka, Isaac Babel, Milan Kundera, Rainer Maria Rilke. He was generous with encouragement and sparing with advice, and he seemed to see that we all had to find our own way in this business. Whatever business that might be. “Never write a line you don’t mean,” he said. “And don’t ever imagine drinking will make you a better writer.” I didn’t drink, I told him. He seemed surprised. We said goodbye and I went home to Montreal to take care of my mother, who was chronically ill, and to work at my job as a secretary. On my way, aboard the Greyhound, I started reading his first collection of stories, Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?, published two years earlier and nominated for a National Book Award. By the time I reached Montreal, I’d had a taste of what it might feel like to be born suicidally depressed. Maybe
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I should have chosen another mentor, I thought. His bleak rooms were not the same as my bleak rooms. I had to force myself to finish the book. In Vermont, Carver had said, “Always try to write a story in a single sitting. Even if it’s only a first draft, put it all down. When you get to the end, you’ll know.” I sent him a piece I had been working and reworking for more than a year, and within a week I had his response—the first of many three-page
single-spaced commentaries, which he typed the way he talked, piling up impressions and questions—sometimes groping for phrases and worrying a topic until he had pinned it down. He was concrete in his thinking and repetitive in a rhythmic way, like a character in one of his stories. He said parts of my story—which had been shortlisted for a prize in Toronto—were interesting, but overall he found the piece “mawkish.” He advised me to get to work on something new.
or the next six months, Carver and I worked by correspondence, communi-
cating every two weeks. I would mail him my writing and reports on my reading, and he would send me comments and recommend new readings. During that time I tried to write about my life in Montreal, but the more I wrote, the less fascinating it seemed. My characters babbled and did inexplicable selfdestructive things, and I had no idea why. Carver commented that I was stuck at the surface, not going deep enough. I needed time to find my real material, he said. I’d just have to allow my life to unfold. He recommended that I read a southerner called Barry Hannah, for his gorgeous natural style. The first story of mine that Carver liked, “A Journal of Mona,” had been accepted by a Toronto magazine. “Now that Mona’s gone,” it began, “I feel the need to reconstruct her.” It was about a self-conscious nightclub dancer who couldn’t get her act together. “Write more about that world up there, where you’re from,” he had said at our first meeting. “It’s sophisticated and fascinating. Don’t be tempted to get involved with theory, though—it will distract you. Just write your stories.” Carver told me he was heading out to Port Angeles, not too far from Yakima, Washington, where he grew up. I tried to imagine such a place, a blank far corner of America. How could people live there? How did they write? Montreal surrounded me with its gyrating mysteries—which, when I tried to put them on paper, lacked form and direction. I was trapped in a mansion crammed with layers and textures, but with little natural light.
he second and last time I saw Ray Carver was in early July, when I returned to Vermont to wrap up the semester. I thanked him for all his letters illustrations: rebecca dolen
NOTES & DISPATCHES
and comments. It had been a great experience, I said, but I could no longer afford to continue paying the high tuition at Goddard and I had decided to drop out of the program. It was hot. I wore a dress that looked like a nightgown. He seemed worried about me. I had been working as a secretary, taking care of my mother, writing in my spare time and trying not to let my writing be too influenced by Ray Carver. He was finally done with drinking, he told me, having fallen in love with a poet named Tess Gallagher. That was why some of his letters to me had been mailed from Texas, where she lived. And from other towns in America, where he had been invited to give readings and lectures. By then I had come to admire his stories, how they reveal a tiny cosmos feeding on deep currents of malaise. Many of his characters seem handicapped by a spellbinding ignorance, a crippling fear of the unknown. Each seemed to be a living pebble in the desert of the greatest country on earth. I told him I could never write like that, and wouldn’t even try. I’d leave it to him to squeeze the world into a space the size of a diner. Some of the other workshop students had started to sound like Ray Carver, I told him, but none of them were. In his understated way he could overwhelm you, and it was dangerous. Silence in his stories suggested great depths, but students were falling into the trap, perhaps hoping to absorb his secrets by imitating his style. “Never mind,” he said. “They’ll never know what you know.” It sounded like a compliment, but I had no idea what I knew—only what felt true and false in the moment. Carver may have stopped drinking but he still smoked, and his voice was muffled and hoarse. We sat in the noisy cafeteria for that final conference. I had to strain to hear what he was saying. He was a mum-
bler; I was a jumbler. His words dissolved before they reached my ears. Several times I asked him to repeat himself—he acted as if communication were a frustrating, painful thing, not his forte. He was really a very shy man, built large like an extrovert who’d abdicated the role. At one point, when his lips began moving inaudibly, I leaned forward to hear. “You know, it’s an awful thing . . .” he said. The rest of the sentence rang clear as a bell, but made no sense. I asked: “Did you just say, ‘It’s an awful thing to take a bite out of an old Arab’?” It could have been an opening line for a Ray Carver story, like “A man with no hands came to take a photograph of my house.”
“No,” he laughed. “No, I didn’t say that.” He started to repeat what he’d actually said, then stopped to laugh some more. And so our last meeting dissolved in wave after wave of silly giggling. At least I’d made him laugh. Before we said goodbye for good, I brought up one further item of business. Because he had moved around so much over the semester, he’d turned in his official evaluation a few days before he received my final package. One sentence in the evaluation suggested that my course work was unfinished. He told me to contact the Records Office and get that note deleted. He said he could get me a scholarship
to Iowa, if I wanted to go there. He thought I should. All the best young writers graduated from the mfa program at Iowa. If I enrolled, I’d have it made, he said. I said I’d think about it. I never did get that comment removed, so it’s probably still there on my record. He was right—something was unfinished. And my mother was dying; I would not go to Iowa. Anyway, where was Iowa? I was a city girl, from Montreal, where there were plenty of exotic tales to be written, that could light up all the diners of America. Or so I thought. A few years later, when Carver was very famous, I tossed our entire correspondence into a black plastic bag and left it out on the sidewalk for the garbage truck to collect. I didn’t want Raymond Carver’s influence—or anyone else’s— in my life. Early in 1988 I sold my first novel, based on that first short story. The publisher asked me if I knew someone who could write a blurb for the back cover. I found a paragraph from Carver’s 1978 evaluation, which had survived the purge, and wrote to him for permission to quote from it. I never heard back, though he appeared to me in a dream one night. Yes, he remembered me. No, he couldn’t be of much help. He waved as if to say, Good luck! A few months later, I heard he was dying of lung cancer. Come to think of it, I never wrote a short story after that. I wrote personal essays, book reviews and novels. “Never write a line you don’t mean.” The few times I repeated that advice to my students, I tried not to make it sound like a death sentence. “When you get to the end, you’ll know.” He did. I’m not quite there. Not yet. Ann Diamond’s latest book is A Certain Girl, a memoir about secret Cold War experiments on children, and is available at lulu.com/ diamondback. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 17
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What? Hearing aids have a life of their own EDITH I GLAUER
onsidering that the combined age of me and my friend Frank (now my husband, Frank) is 185 years, it’s no surprise that hearing aids play a dominant role in our daily lives. We both wear them; I in both ears, and Frank in the ear that works. That one has forty percent hearing, and still does its job better than my two. Long before I knew Frank, a renegade nerve in his face that causes suicidal pain, known as tic douloureux, required surgery. On the first try the surgeon severed the wrong nerve, and when Frank woke up from the operation he was deaf in his right ear. Deafness is congenital in my family. In her later life my mother became “stone deaf,” which she described by saying, “I can’t even hear the sound of my own voice.” Lip-reading lessons enabled her to tell us what a person sitting at the next table in a restaurant was saying, a marginally interesting exercise not worth the sin of eavesdropping. We communicated with her mostly by writing on a lined note pad that she carried around; for example (during a visit to a zoo): “Does this camel look like Aunt Belle?” She thought it did. At that time, the 1970s, hearing aids had a nasty habit of buzzing unexpectedly. After my father died my mother, urged along by the rest of the family, continued timidly to attend the Thursday night performances of the symphony orchestra in Cleveland, Ohio, as she and my father had done since it was founded in 1918. Whoever sat next to her in what had been my father’s seat was instructed to tell her right away if her hearing aid was buzzing so she could turn it off. In
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the middle of a performance I attended with her, it buzzed while the music was playing, and I had just tapped her elbow and pointed to her hearing aid when she received an anonymous note, delivered hand over hand from several rows forward, which read: “Your hearing aid is making so much noise that it is ruining our enjoyment of the music. Please turn it off.” She had done that already, at my signal. She felt so humiliated that she never went to another concert. The hearing aids available now are much better, even though the racket of my automobile tires rolling on the road and the background music in restaurants are so mind-boggling that Frank leaves his one hearing aid at home with suspicious frequency. At home Frank and I are mutually sympathetic to the obligation to face one another and speak loudly; or, when we are away, to supply each other with new batteries when we forget them; but we have no defence against the independent wandering behaviour of our hearing aids. They are always someplace else. I probably have spent one percent of my life, close to a whole year, looking for the damned things. First comes the chilling revelation that we don’t know where they are. All other activities are put on hold until we find them. When we are about to go out and I suddenly say, “I can’t leave until I find my hearing aid,” I am touched by the way Frank immediately joins my search; tearing the bed apart or getting down on the floor to look, an act of supreme nobility since neither of us can be sure of getting up again without calling 911.
NOTES & DISPATCHES
For those fortunate enough never to have seen hearing aids, they are roughly the size of a small thumb, ranging from less than one inch to almost two inches, depending on the style. Some are so small that they fit neatly into the ear cavity, while others, like mine, consist of machinery in a small curved container behind the ear, connected by a plastic tube to a custom-designed mould in the ear. The moulds are thoughtfully skin-coloured, which makes them even more difficult to locate once they have escaped. Three cheers for the batteries that make the whole thing work, but they are untrustworthy. Their slippery round quarterinch size invites trouble. Putting them in and taking them out of the tiny receptacles in the hearing aid requires delicate finger work and furious concentration. Once the battery has made its getaway to the floor, usually among the dust bunnies under the bed, or into the netherworld under a car seat, forget it. My first encounter with vanishing hearing aids was sinister. I went innocently to bed, turned out the light as usual and, as I laid my head down on the pillow, I removed my hearing aids. I reached over in the dark toward the familiar small table by my bed and dropped them there. The following morning I could not find them anyplace. The search ranged throughout the house: under seats and couch cushions, over and under rugs, on desks and tables, in the laundry basket, in the refrigerator, stove, garbage. Frank and I were both exhausted and I was in tears. Where oh where had they gone? I went back to the bedside table to get a Kleenex and shrieked, “Here they are!” My hearing aids were just where I had dropped them in the dark—in the glass of water that I kept by my bed. Goodbye hearing aids. Much too soon after that, I bade fareillustration: max brodel
well to another hearing aid that made an unfortunate laundry trip in the pocket of a skirt. It met its end either in the washer or in the dryer; I will never know which. I do not leave liquid by my bed any
more, and I check all pockets at the washing machine, but it has taken me years to stop dropping my hearing aid in my lap when I use my cell phone in the car. That phone is an old instrument, without frills, on which I hear better than any other telephone I have; but first I have to remove my hearing aid and press the phone to my ear. I am absent-minded, so I was not too surprised one afternoon when I put my hand up to my right ear and found it empty, after I had been sitting in my doctor’s waiting room for an hour. I ran down to the street, saying a small prayer in the elevator that my hearing aid was still in one piece wherever it had fallen from my lap when I got out of the car. Was I ever lucky! The hearing aid had been sitting for an hour about two feet from my car on the open street, and nobody had driven over it or stepped on it! After I did the same thing on a ferry boat, I decided not to push my luck further. I have made a firm rule that when I use my cell phone, I never take my hearing aid out of my ear without dropping it into my open purse. I would like to say that I have kept to that rule, but I am trying.
At least that’s better than what I heard in the locker room at the swimming pool from a friend whose fisherman husband is as deaf as I am. “Ray was tying up our boat the other day,” she said, “and both hearing aids fell out of his pocket overboard.” Another friend described an anguished search of her mother’s apartment for a lost hearing aid. “It was suspected that Mum’s Boston terrier had eaten it,” she said, “and in the end, it turned out to be true.” Frank’s one hearing aid is as crafty as my two. One of his grandsons got married last summer, and as we left the house with plenty of time to arrive for a 3:30 p.m. ceremony, I said, “Have you got your hearing aid?” “No I haven’t,” he said, and the frantic search began. A dear friend had been supervising our preparations for the great event and all three of us began looking through every inch of the house. When the clock hands reached 3:30 p.m., I said in a low voice to our friend, “I haven’t got the nerve. We’ve looked everyplace else. Find Frank, wherever he is. Don’t ask him. Just look in his ear.” And that’s where it was. When we arrived at the wedding, both of Frank’s sons were standing in the driveway with their arms outstretched as if to catch us as we flew in. This was a large outdoor wedding and the guests were seated on the grassy hillside beside the road, with all heads turned toward us. We were literally lifted from the car into our seats, and the ceremony began. The most eccentric and, yes, fearsome confrontation with my freespirited aids occurred when one of them took advantage of me on a hospital operating table last summer to leave while I was having surgery, a total hip replacement. I needed to talk to the anaesthetist, a shadowy creature I had met only once, and the operating table was my last Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 19
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chance. After a satisfactory conversation, I curled up on my right side on the table and took a snooze while the surgeon did his work. I woke up still on the table and touched my right ear. Empty! As the attendants were preparing to remove me, I said as loudly as I could, “One of my hearing aids is gone.” One of the nurses patted my hand gently. “Too late,” she said. “It must have been swept away. There’s no way to find it.” My son Jay came to see me in the recovery room. “Run, don’t walk to the Hearing Centre where I bought my hearing aid,” I said. “I think it’s still under the warranty but there’s no time to be lost.” I was right. It had one more week to run. Recently, Frank and I were sitting in a restaurant in Vancouver on a rainy day and I casually said to him, “I don’t see your hearing aid. Did you forget it?” He clapped his hand to his ear. “Oh! I left it at home,” he said. “Do you know where?” He looked a little funny. “As a matter of fact, I do. I left it on the deck on a rose bush.” “What’s it doing there?” I said. I looked out the window. “It’s raining here. I wonder if it’s raining at the house. Might I ask why you left your hearing aid on a rose bush?” “I forgot to take it off when I went in the pool this morning at Aquafit. So when we got home I thought I’d better give it a chance to dry out. I put it on a rose bush in the sun. When we left, I forgot all about it.” “Which rose bush?” “The one in the big pot on the deck, just under the living room window.” I took out my hearing aid, carefully dropped it in my purse and pulled out my cell phone. I called my wonderful neighbour. “Hello Vera,” I said, “Is it raining up there?” Page 20 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
Apiary of Underclothes Gillian Jerome
fter the beer parlour, we set off for the islands drinking whiskey from Tupperware cups. We jimmied the radio for baseball—Expos were up. I didn’t know what day it was, or the year. Finally, I thought, a good-sized man, and held the wheel. Strands of silence floated up between us like duck shit in the lake water. It happened right when the days held ’til ten o’clock. Fireflies. June Bugs. Every few miles we stuck our heads into the slipstream to whet our eyeballs. Both of us taken with the lights flickering on the dash. We felt ghosts hovering over the scab of last year’s abominable fires. Have you heard so and so’s having a baby? Well no. Well yes. I hummed my favorite Bo Diddleys, rattled off some names of local birds. Jays scooped it finally. When the car stopped furs of dandelions flew around us & we hastened like they did into that broom.
Gillian Jerome’s first book of poems, A Spectacle of Trees, will be published by Nightwood Editions in 2009. She lives in Vancouver.
“It was such a beautiful day,” she replied. “But it’s raining now.” “I have a rather odd favour to ask,” I said. “Frank thinks he left his hearing aid on a rose bush under the living room window.” I could hear Vera laughing. “Please, would you mind running over and taking it out of the rain?” “I watched Frank do that,” Vera said. “I saw him put his hearing aid carefully on the rose bush, so I know which one it is. I asked him what he was doing and he said, ‘I’m leaving it there to dry.’”
Vera still laughs whenever she tells about how she found the little hearing aid on the rose bush, innocently swinging from a branch. It was quite dry, in spite of the rain.
Edith Iglauer is the author of five books, most recently Inuit Journey and The Strangers Next Door, and many articles in The New Yorker and other publications. Her most recent piece in Geist was “The Prime Minister Accepts” (Geist 65).
NOTES & DISPATCHES
On the Track Pumped—as long as the knees hold up
started walking, seriously. It was the bone scan that got me going. The healthy solid green was spongy with rotting black holes. In them I saw the littleold-lady-stick-legs with the wrinkled stockings sagging around them. I saw the dowager’s hump. I heard the shattering hip bone. “Weight-bearing exercise,” the doctor advised. So I walked. At the Westmount Athletic Grounds. Eight times around the cinder track. Two miles. Forty minutes. It was autumn, and the poplar trees along the track glowed like golden flames against a clear blue sky. I looked at the trees and got mixed up counting laps. I could have shifted pebbles from one pocket to the other, or made a mark each time I passed go, but I was always sure that this time I’d remember where I was. Then I’d get to thinking, daydreaming, hypnotized by the continuity of the circle, as I went round and round. Was this lap six or seven? I did two more circuits. Then another, just to be certain. By November I was doing twelve laps, three miles. The poplar leaves withered and loosened and drifted down to lie in tarnished gold-brown heaps on the path. Dark clouds formed, scattered, billowed up again in the grey sky. Snow came. The stiff bare trees creaked in the wind. The tennis courts were a minimalist painting: hard-edged white rectangles on a white background. The snow melted to slush, froze over. More snow fell. The track was a treacherous ring of slippery, hummocky footprints. It was difficult to walk on it, but I wasn’t giving up.
die. Thank God. Now let’s do just one more length of this hallway,” I said.
n February my sister’s husband called me from Regina. Stacie had had a heart attack. Stacie was only sixty. What was she doing with a heart attack? My brother-in-law called again. It wasn’t such a bad attack. Stacie was doing okay. But I flew out to Regina any-
way. I had to see Stacie for myself, and talk to her. “It was a near-death experience,” she told me. “I saw a bright light. It was very peaceful.” We walked up and down the hospital corridor, slowly. “It was beautiful,” she said. “I felt like I was floating free.” I don’t believe those near-death experience stories and I said so flat out. “What comes after the radiant light and the floating feeling?” I asked. “Nothing, that’s what. And nothing is not so beautiful, I bet.” “You don’t know that,” Stacie said. No I don’t. But I know that near-death is not the same as death. It’s like a 5k runner telling you how a marathon feels—she doesn’t know what she’s talking about. “The fact is, you didn’t
hen I got back to Montreal, walking was no longer enough. I needed to run. Is a sixty-five-year old woman running a contradiction in terms? Not if she runs slowly enough. I ran. Sixteen circuits. Maybe more. I still got mixed up in the counting. I got new shoes with gelled soles and reflective tape along the sides that flashed as I ran. It could be that I was responsible for melting the snow on the track. Anyway, the snow did melt. The drab, grey-white field greened to grass, and pale yellow buds softened the stark crowns of the poplars. The sharp white lines and taut nets reappeared on the tennis courts. I got to know the other habitués of the park: the gardeners digging in their little plots at the corners of the track, the dog walkers, the dogs who believed that running was a game devised for their pleasure. I met other runners. Sleek young women in Spandex and earphones skimmed along. Young men bounded by me, their feet barely touching the ground. They passed me; they lapped me. So what? I was still moving forward. After our runs, while we stretched and rehydrated in the narrow shade of the poplars, we talked. We talked about shin splints and plantar fasciitis. We compared shoes. We discussed carbs and sports drinks and hitting the wall. In full summer the poplars blurred into the hazy milk-white sky. On the red tennis courts, green balls thudded and players called scores. Gardeners watered their lush plots, where morning glories tangled with cucumber vines and marigolds glowed orange among green cabbages. Dogs fetched sticks for their owners and mostly kept out of my way. I ran. Stacie wrote and said she was Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 21
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walking a mile three times a week. “More,” I wrote back. “Go for two miles. Four times a week.” The other runners talked about races. “Try one,” they urged me, “it will pump you up.” So I signed up for a 5k. Within the first hundred metres, everyone had passed me. I plodded along, alone and far behind. I wished I hadn’t got into this. “Looking good, number 147!” a kindly spectator called to encourage me. I wondered if I really was looking good. For my age, I mean. I felt better with each kilometre sign I passed. By the time I crossed the finish line, I was, just as they’d said, “pumped” with a sense of my own speed and strength. Everyone clapped, and one runner—I had no idea who she was—hugged me and said, “I love you, girlfriend!” I tried a 10k next, and then another. And another. I was almost always last, but starting and finishing were what counted, or so all the runners said. “I love you guys!” I told them when we thumped each other on the back at the finish line and compared times. I discovered I did love them, too. Whoever they were, they were runners, like me. I couldn’t make myself go any faster, but I could go farther. As long as my knees held up, and my will power, I could run. Thirty times round the track. More. It was too annoying to count. Round and round I chased the power of the circle. I would enter for a half marathon, for a marathon, for an ultra-marathon. I would run till my feet no longer touched the ground, till my body burned itself away and all that was left was pure will to move forward. Round and round I would spin, driven by my own necessity, like the seasons. Katharine O’Flynn’s work has been published in In Other Words: New English Writing from Quebec, published by Véhicule Press (2008). For more, visit vehiculepress.com. Page 22 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
The Fallen Man I tell him it’s okay and he asks me if it’s okay ANDREA JOHNSTON
t’s dark when I get off the bus by the corner store. Not the best area of town. The only other person in sight is lying on the sidewalk. Groceries and two plastic bags are scattered around him, and a wooden cane lies a few feet away. “Are you okay?” He doesn’t say anything, so I squat down. He lies on his side; jeans and white runners; one leg looks too skinny; the daypack on his back is full. His dirty olive-green ski jacket is half open, and a plastic bottle of Chinese cooking wine is tucked inside. Two more bottles of the same wine lie among the spilled groceries. “Are you okay?” He raises his head a little. He doesn’t look old, maybe thirty-five; hasn’t shaved in a few days. “Are you talking to me?” “Yes.” “You’re talking to me.” “Are you okay?” “I’ve talked to you before,” he says, “a long time ago.” “Oh yeah?” He doesn’t look familiar. “Yeah,” he says, “we’ve talked before.” “Do you want me to help you get up?” “Okay.” I’m not sure how to proceed. Will he even be able to stand? I give him his cane to hold on to. The man from the corner store comes to the rescue: “It’s okay, I’ve called an ambulance. They’re on their way.” “It’s okay,” I say to the fallen man, “someone’s coming for you.” He looks up at me. “Is it okay?” “Yeah, they’re coming to help you.” As I start to move away he says some-
thing else, and I turn back: “Eh?” “Do I have to?” “It’ll be fine. They’ll take care of you.” “Do I have to?” “Yes.” Backing away, nodding. “It’ll be okay.” I turn and go into the store. When I come out again, the ambulance has arrived. The two attendants have turned the man over and propped him up on his daypack, as though he were lounging on a canvas beach chair. One attendant is getting the stretcher ready; the other is squatting beside the fallen man, who says, “Not the hospital!” as if hospital is code for hell. “No,” says the attendant, “not the hospital. We’ll take you to detox, okay?” “Don’t take me to the hospital!” They lift him onto the stretcher. “We’re not taking you to the hospital.” “Don’t take me to the hospital.” One of them slips the man’s pack off his back and hands it to him. He hugs it and lies back, but keeps his head up as if calling to his feet: “Don’t take me to the hospital.” “We’re not taking you to the hospital.” They’re patient, almost cheerful, as they manoeuvre the stretcher into the ambulance. “We’re taking you to detox.” “Detox,” the man says. “Okay. Just don’t take me to the hospital.”
Andrea Johnston’s work has appeared in a number of Canadian publications, including Geist (most recently “Harley” in Geist 54). She is currently writing short fiction and translating the latest collection by the Quebec poet Patrick Coppens. illustration: rebecca dolen
NOTES & DISPATCHES
Wet Dragonflies Love and beer on the longest night of the year S. TAYLOR
hen I met you, one floor up from the acute psychosis ward, you were wearing a paper shower cap and green pyjamas just like mine. You glared at me through the crowd because you thought I had your hoodie on. But we just had very similar hoodies. The thing I replay over and over in my head (they call that an obsession) is the moment when we walked out the door of that place on Main late at night and without looking I knew you had turned your hand behind you to hold mine. You wouldn’t throw out your whole arm, just rotate it slightly at the shoulder to expose your palm. And I took it without looking or moving my arm and we walked like that only for a few steps because your car was right there on the corner. Too soon. I remember the exact feel of your hand. Soft and small.
don’t remember much of what we said before that because I was pretty drunk. But I remember that we both stopped talking once and stared at each other across the beer because we realized we were the same. I said I never thought I would like someone like me. You said it too. Who said it first? I wish I could remember that conversation.
I was impressed when the British pediatrician was talking about some movie and nobody could agree on a detail—the year or the actors (why can’t I remember anything any more?)—and you looked it up. You glared at me and you looked something up. I watched you in room 10 through the special window once, did you know that? The shower cap really brings out your long eyelashes. When you look down, your eyes look closed. Like you are finally sleeping. After you disappeared I thought you would come back when you were better again. I wish I’d told you that I understand how much worse loneliness is when you’re lying awake next to someone else. So much worse than being alone. When you drove me home the morning after the longest night of the year, all the buildings were golden. I felt such relief then. That I had found you in all that madness and that we were leaving. You drove and fiddled with the music with such competence. You knew what a kibbutz was, and you rescued wet dragonflies. I really remember relief.
S. Taylor writes and works in Vancouver in a caffeine-fuelled delirium. If she has any spare time she spends it plotting her getaway.
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Machisma Mary W. Walters
he did her best but when her stepson Eddy Jr. (he of the dark blue eyes with the mica flecks in them) lost his licence after getting a dwi, which meant she had to drive him everywhere, and her stepdaughter Emily (small-breasted, narrow, firm—at least for now) got knocked up and quit school so she could “zone in on the fetus”—never mind she had no job or skill or any other system of support—and her boss made yet another production change that it fell to her to incorporate and then somehow atone for to everyone else down the entire chain of corporate command, and her own kid finally got in to see the school-district psychologist, who diagnosed him with Asperger’s Disorder (as though labelling his total inability to get along with anyone was going to go any distance toward resolving the problem), which her husband between farts and snores on his Barcalounger pointed out was no concern of his, she totally lost her grip. She slammed right out the door. Never to return. Page 24 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
Well, no. That’s not exactly how it happened. First she gave her employer two weeks’ notice and spent the balance of her tenure doing all the legwork and paperwork necessary to replace herself. At home, she cooked casseroles and put them in the freezer, and stocked the fridge and cupboards with enough food to sustain them until it occurred to Eddy Sr. to get his aunt from Sudbury to come and help—or until he sleep-walked over to Shooters and found himself another suckerbroad. Then she bought a bus pass and put it in an envelope for Eddy Jr., along with every bus schedule he might need no matter where he happened to find work, plus a note explaining the transfers he’d have to make if he went to his girlfriend’s place. She stuffed another envelope for Emily with the pamphlets about prenatal health she’d collected on her noon hours, and a printout of a list of links to sites for government support and even abortion counselling in case it should come to that. Then she bought a book about Asperger’s and packed it into Billy’s suitcase along with Billy’s clean and neatly folded clothes, and she handed them to his father on a Saturday morning when, perhaps due to the court order she’d finally got her lawyer to threaten to initiate, he showed up for a scheduled weekend for the first time in six months—passing over the suitcase with one hand and the screaming kicking skinful of their commingled genes with the other. After that, and a great long sob in the bedroom—which only four years earlier she’d decorated in chintz and bamboo with such faith in new beginnings—she showed them all what she was made of and she slammed right out the door. Never to return.
“Machisma” won honourable mention in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Mary W. Walters is the author of two novels, The Woman Upstairs and Bitters, and a collection of short stories, Cool. She lives in Saskatoon and at marywwalters.com.
Hiss Christine Lauter
hat’s how it happened. There was no way anyone was caging me in. I’m the baddest mother bleeper you’ll ever know. Nothin’ holds me down. There was this one cat. Yeah, he thought he could take me. He was posturing and throwing me the whisker. Had this black patch over his one eye, probably thought it was all bad ass. Might have fooled some. I knew he was a wuss. So he was eyeballing me, circling me, fronting. Tryin’ to get me to bristle. Damn, it was almost too easy. I let him do his thing for a while. Then he showed me some fang. He raised one of these colossal paws of his, but I was cool. Maybe I threw an eye roll in there too, but otherwise I didn’t move a muscle. So he had no way out after that big show of his. He had to bristle—didn’t have any other cards left. He looked like a complete tool, dead giveaway. Chump. I stared him down. Yeah, he backed off. I watched his fat ass walk away. So the other day was kind of rough yeah. My old lady threw me out. She gives me this attitude like I can’t go out all night if I want to, like I can’t leave for days on end with my crew if I want to. So I like to hang out in alleys! Who brings the rats home, huh? She’s just sitting around all day, hissin’ at the air, lazy and fat with another set of kittens—just got rid of one litter and she’s pushing out another—did I say anything when half that last batch came out Siamese? Well, I didn’t, because that’s the kind of cat I am. Anyway, the point is I had a crap day so yeah this tall freak gets the jump on me. There I am, at the bus terminal, watching things the way I like to do, minding my own freakin’ business. And then, scooped up by the neck like a stupid kitten! Hey Pallie, watch the fur! Who the hell does he think he is? I was pissed and I let him know it. I can deliver when I
need to. Gave him a scratch that’s gonna hurt like hell later—you know the kind. So he shoves me in this big old suitcase. But I’m a cool cat. What did I do? I busted out is what. The fastenings were crap so I waited until he tipped the case just a little backward, then I made good on the broken zipper and poof ! I’m flyin’! Damn close too. Almost had me in the slammer. Gave him the slip real good. Chump. Nobody’s got my number.
“Hiss” won honourable mention in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Christine Lauter graduated from Simon Fraser University in 1998. She is an executive assistant by day and a writer by night, writing everything from haiku to rap songs. She lives in Vancouver.
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So Far So Good Taylor Wilson
he stupid car wore out and me and Gordie have to stay in this gross rooming house close to a highway and a factory where they make poison. Maybe the poison is a by-product of some other thing they make, it’s really bad stuff that turns the air brown and stinks and makes me cough all the time. Even the old ladies here have jailhouse tattoos, you can see them on the bus all the time on their way to the grocery store or to church. I swear, if a dog died in the alley, nobody would even bother to go find out what the stink is.
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Gordie keeps talking about moving to Saskatchewan because the land’s really cheap. I told him that even if it’s free we can’t afford it but he says he’ll get work. He says I’m just freaking out because we don’t have any money to get the car fixed. He says it’s okay to be stuck now because the weather will be too bad for travel until April. He hasn’t done any needles and hardly any pills since we’ve been on the road, he keeps talking about a new clean life and you’d be really proud of him, if you ever wanted to speak to him again. Yesterday the power was off for three hours and then a guy in a room downstairs died. I knew he was going to, I passed him in the kitchen in the morning and he was grey. I could see through his skin to the black core and it smelled really bad, like the rot wasn’t wasting any time waiting around. One of the paramedics gave me a cigarette and his phone number, so it wasn’t all bad. You know me, always flirting. This year has been so far so good for us. I hope you’re good too. I’m sorry about that fight we had, I didn’t want to steal your boyfriend and I never meant any of those mean things I said and I know you didn’t neither. He’s really pretty nice, especially now that he’s cleaned up. Say hi to Ma for me, and Jill too. I don’t know if we’ll get to see you this spring, but maybe soon. I’ll make sure to write if we ever get to Saskatchewan, ’cause that’s when Gordie says he’ll get a job and everything will be good. “So Far So Good” won honourable mention in the 3rd Annual Geist Literal Literary Postcard Story Contest. Taylor Wilson lives, works and writes in and around Hamilton, Ontario. His interests include family, friends, computer technology, punk rock and a rusty 1964 Ford Galaxie.
ROA D T R I P, FI R ST DAY Miriam Toews Excerpted from The Flying Troutmans, published by Knopf Canada in September 2008. In this excerpt, Hattie is driving through the United States with her teenaged niece and nephew in search of their father. Miriam Toews is also the author of Summer of My Amazing Luck, A Boy of Good Breeding and the Governor General’s Award-winning novel A Complicated Kindness. Toews lives with her family in Winnipeg. To read her short pieces published in Geist, visit geist.com/author/toews-miriam.
woke up before the kids and noticed that Thebes had left a small silver notebook by the bed. Logan had covered himself up completely with his blanket. I couldn’t see him but I could hear him snoring softly, humming, like a little airplane lost in the clouds. I picked up Thebes’s notebook. Road trip. First day. We are in America. I’ve been profiled at the border as a retard, by Logan. They still let me in. Hattie is sad about her boyfriend in Paris. He doesn’t like her any more. Logan told her Internet dating was making a comeback and I told her to try to meet a whale, they mate for life. Ha ha. Logan hit me in the face with the Frisbee. The good thing is we’re all saved. I miss you. I love you. I won’t forget the important things. I went to the lobby again and phoned the hospital
and asked to speak to Min. The nurse said that wouldn’t be possible right then . . . could they give her a message? Why isn’t it possible? I asked. Are you family? she said. Yeah, I’m her sister, I said. The woman didn’t think she had the authority to talk about Min’s situation right then, but I could leave my number and she would get the doctor to call me back later in the day after rounds. Well, I said, I’m not . . . I don’t have a number. I’m at a pay phone. Well, said the woman, will you be able to be reached later on in the day? Well, I said, no. Is there a good time to call back? Then she told me that she believed the patient was having some difficulty speaking. That she was not quite ready to participate in normal daily routines. Yeah, I could understand that. Hey, I said, my sister is alive, right? I immediately regretted it. Yes, of course! said the woman. I appreciated her emphatic confirmation, I did, but I asked her again if she was sure about that. Like, had somebody checked on Min in the last hour? She’s resting at the moment, said the woman. It’ll take some time. She is alive, don’t worry. I thanked her and hung up and briefly considered turning right around and going back. I felt like the kid at the end of the five-metre diving board. I didn’t really want to jump but there were twenty kids behind me lined up and yelling at me to go. Thebes was loading the stuff into the van and Logan was picking and rolling around the parking lot with his basketball, periodically banging it off stuff like the van and the window at the Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 27
R E I N C A R N ATI O N S Rafael Goldchain From I Am My Family: Photographic Memories and Fictions, a collection of self-portraits of the author, transformed through makeup, hair styling, costumes and props into his ancestors, both real and imagined. Published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2008. Rafael Goldchain is a photographer and he teaches at the Sheridan Institute of Technology in Oakville, Ontario.
front desk. The woman inside banged back and then came and told us to clear on outta there. There was a large black oil slick under the van. Shotgun, said Thebes. Already dibsed it, said Logan. I hate you, said Thebes. We were back on the road. Thebes rooted around in the cooler and made us all peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast. Logan let her use his knife to cut them up but made her promise not to lick it. She wiped it on her filthy, rotting terry cloth shorts. Did you bring other clothes? I asked her. How do you get so dirty anyway? Just by way of my life, she said. What did Min say? She said hi and sends big hugs and kisses, I said. Hopes we’re having fun. Thebes smiled and moved her purple head from side to side like her favourite song had just come on the radio. Logan glanced at me, sideways, briefly, entirely hip to my bullshit. I honked the horn for no reason and whispered, Murdo, baby. Let’s go. It was my turn for a cd. I put in some Lucinda Williams and Logan said noooooooooooooooooooo. He covered his face with his hands. Please, no, please, he said. I’m begging you. C’mon, I said, it’s not country. Check out the lyrics. I tossed the cd case into his lap. He screamed and tossed it back at me like it was a shitty diaper. Just put on your headphones then, Page 28 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
I said. I’m playing it. I might play it on my next turn too. I’ve got a broken heart. Logan took out his knife and started carving in the dashboard again. I wasn’t going to try to stop him any more. I wanted to figure out what all his carvings meant. If the dashboard was his canvas, so be it. Who cares if it lowered resale value. It was a Ford Aerostar. If I was a band I’d be breaking up, he wrote. The glove compartment door fell open and all the stuff inside fell out and he cursed and picked it up and rammed it back in and it wouldn’t shut and for the next five or ten minutes he kept kicking it, over and over, trying to keep it closed. Hey, said Thebes, from the back, how’s morale up there? She asked Logan if he needed an oversized novelty cheque because she sure could make him one if he wanted, she had all the art supplies necessary. I peeked at her in the rear-view mirror. It looked like she’d cut her own hair along the sides. Logan took a roach out of his pocket and stuck it in his mouth. Hey, no, you can’t do that, smarten up, I said. Give me that. I tried to grab the thing out of his mouth but he moved his head and then grabbed my wrist in mid-air and held it there for an improbable amount of time. And I realized he wanted to be holding my wrist or at least holding something warm and human so we drove awhile like that, him holding up my arm like it was a big fish he’d caught and he was eight years old and having his picture taken.
We flew past animated families enjoying things like waterslides and go-karts and minigolf. My cd was over and it was quiet in the van. Nobody was talking and it was making me nervous for some reason. I couldn’t stop thinking about Min, about what I should be doing, about how I had answered her question, her request, Help me die, and if it had been entirely wrong. The alternative seemed insane. Was I supposed to have agreed to kill my sister? Would that have bought her a little more time and made her happy? Just knowing that she had an out if she really, truly needed one? That her little sister would come along and knock her out with a hammer or something? Put a pillow over her face? What was I supposed to have said? Was it the least I could do considering that from the day I was born my sister had wanted to die? None of us moved in our seats. We were all paralyzed, lethargic and irritable. Like we were a bunch of recently beached whales who hadn’t known each other in the sea and weren’t about to hook up out of the sea, but there we were, together, incapable of moving and stuck with each other. Then Thebes spoke. What does it mean when a person asks, Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see me? Are you stupid? asked Logan. Don’t call her stupid, I said. I didn’t call her stupid, said Logan, I asked if she was. Then he paused and said skaaaaa in a
voice that meant he thought she was a loser for playing the sax in a ska band at school. What does that have to do with anything? she asked. Are you clueless or didn’t you know that ska is all the rage in Mexico City? So go there, said Logan. Want a ride to the airport? Hey, said Thebes, what does “Do Not Siphon Gas by Mouth” mean? There was a sign at that gas station. It means don’t steal the gas with a siphon, with your mouth, I said. What do you mean? she asked. I don’t know. I think just don’t suck the gas from the nozzle, like with a tube or whatever, and then spit it into your own car? Maybe. I’m not sure. There was actually an official sign that said that? I asked. Who would do that? said Thebes. Like, who would suck gas from a car? I don’t know, I said. People who really want gas. Godspell, said Thebes. What’s so great about gas? Just say “god,” Thebes, said Logan. Hey, said Thebes, what does “Gonna Git Me Some” mean? I don’t know, I said. Copyright © Miriam Toews. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 29
STA RT A N EW Mark Anthony Jarman From My White Planet, published by Thomas Allen Publishers in 2008. Mark Anthony Jarman has published a novel, Salvage King, Ya!, three short-story collections, Dancing Nightly in the Taverns, New Orleans is Sinking and 19 Knives, and a book of non-fiction, Ireland’s Eye. He lives in Fredericton.
n their knees the paramedics bend to their brusque work. Pulse in the neck—yes or no!? Is she coding? Clear! A keening muscular ambulance smashes into Barbara, smashes my neighbour’s sedan moments after the live power lines fell on her car roof. The Region 3 ambulance lured out on a false alarm, hood shooting out under the overpass like a train out of a tunnel, fender introduced to fender, metal slicing plastic, then everybody and their dog pinned in a wreck or staggering and holding their head or turning up to meet firefighters at the acci-
Epistolary Apologies A list of template letters for occasions on which one ought to apologize in writing, from Great Personal Letters for Busy People: 501 Ready-to-Use Letters for Every Occasion by Dianna Booher, published by McGraw-Hill in 2005. For not having written For forgetting someone’s name For failing to invite friend to party For making embarrassing remark For behaving inappropriately For a friend behaving inappropriately For missing anniversary For missing birthday For missing funeral For missing deadline For bouncing cheque to friend or relative Page 30 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
dent scene, the hope of a date later. How much of life is bad theatre? How much is lack thereof? And I know exactly what they mean by the word “date.” Clear! The paramedics bicker like bakers. Still no pulse in the neck? I think I would have told you if there was. Is she coding? Yes. Clear! Up here. Get up here. Nothing? Nothing. She’s gone, nothing I can do. Rebecca’s mother Barbara declared dead on Union Street, a has-been with a good hairdo. Then a woman stirring, alive, Rebecca’s mother asks directions back to us, Barbara travels back to her can-do laundry lists and photography classes (yellow maple leaf on wet dark gravel), travels back to her lady-like bottles of Gilbey’s Lemon Gin secreted in the Vauxhall glovebox and musty garden shed. “Where am I?” Barbara asks. They slam the ambulance doors on the passenger, on her prior world, and she starts anew. The neighbour’s body now havering in the hospital bed and I volunteer my services. “Anything you need?” I ask. “Rebecca,” says her father at the massive oak door, “could certainly use a ride to the hospital once a day or so, if that’s not too too inconvenient.” Her father an older colleague who looks down his nose at me, and Rebecca his brooding daughter home from decoding things at an eastern college, Rebecca back in the family world, a red-haired daughter bent like an absent astronaut into honeybees and dripping trees and clutching tendrils of ivy full of green blood and the lovely irritating sound of piano and family servants. The mother’s car stopped on Union at the stop sign as you’re supposed to. “But why was my mother over there?” asks Rebecca.
Yes: Why was her mother hovering on the low-rent side of town by the Glimpse Point Redemption Centre, said Redemption Centre recently robbed by someone of no fixed address with a lighter that looked like a pistol. The same side of town where they found a man shot dead in his pickup at 9 a.m. in the bay of the carwash beside the ballet school, water on the carwash floor, his truck window shot out. High winds rumbling up the river valley as if they have a tourist map and the high voltage lines choose that moment to drop on Barbara’s car legally stopped at the legal stop sign.
SAVAGE LOV E Douglas Glover From “Savage Love” published in CNQ: Canadian Notes & Queries 74. This issue and TNQ: The New Quarterly 107 were published in 2008 as a Salon des Refusés, a critical and artistic response to The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories, edited by Jane Urquhart. The Salon was curated by Daniel Wells and Kim Jernigan.
CLOSE D OOR, PUSH AWAY MOON Kim Goldberg From Ride Backwards on Dragon, published by Leaf Press in 2007 and shortlisted for the Gerald Lampert Memorial Award in 2008. Kim Goldberg is an awardwinning political journalist and non-fiction writer.
hen the winds came, we lashed ourselves to fir trees because we knew what they were and where they stood. When the waters rose, we packed sandbags faster than jack rabbits to save the bankrupt farm. When the thundering maw of canyon fire clawed the flesh off our bones, we encased our charred skeletons in asbestos coffins with plexiglas lids so we wouldn’t miss anything. We wanted it all. Kept all we could. We’re still waiting for that one transcendent moment, waiting for you to show us the magic, the secret, the reason for hanging on.
n Tuesday Ona Frame went to see his friend Shelby to discuss the Betsy Edger affair, which had erupted in the spring just when he was getting over what they both referred to as the “Regrettable Incident” involving the drugaddicted, emotionally intense but self-centred, one-time small-time movie actress with the luminous face, who had attracted both Ona and Shelby, briefly, into an insanely competitive if not vicious romantic triangle that threatened the foundations of their friendship. Ona Frame had initially regarded Betsy Edger, a would-be author and part-time booksracker at the local public library, as a transitional love object, someone whose tranquil, no-affect disposition promised little drama and fewer demands and also seemed, prudently enough, the antithesis of Shelby’s type (dramatic, histrionic, large-breasted blonds with unfinished doctorates and fetishistic erotic tendencies were the usual). But then Shelby fell harder than ever for Betsy Edger, and the same situation had developed as before. Quiet, calm, immature, undemanding, monosyllabic, untalented, plain, auburn-haired Betsy Edger had turned sexually voracious overnight, it seemed, and would leave Ona’s narrow bed in the moonlight, dress quickly and carelessly in the clothes she had just slipped out of, sometimes leaving a soiled intimate article apparently by accident, and rush, with neither apology nor excuse, across town to Shelby’s palatial, adults-only condominium with the hot tub-and-pool combo and the wet bar beside his computer workstation where he did his day Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 31
I TH O U G H T E LV I S WAS I TA L I A N Domenico Capilongo From I Thought Elvis Was Italian, published by Wolsak & Wynn in 2008. Domenico Capilongo’s writings have appeared in The New Quarterly, Descant, Acta Victoriana and other Canadian literary journals. He lives in Toronto.
pictures of my father slick-haired & sideburned my uncles had all his albums older cousins played the hawaii concert whenever I was over thought he had to change his name like dean martin did the leather the rings & gold chains the way he moved his hips his lips the leather the sicilian black of his hair the way he borrowed the tune of “o sole mio” for his song “it’s now or never” his best friend named esposito the leather his fixation with cars the way he looked at women the way he put on weight how close he was to his mother the leather
the black velvet posters in everyone’s basement movies dubbed in italian he was played at weddings after tarantellas the leather the rings gold chains if he’s still alive he’s in his 70s eyeing his blood pressure sitting in the courtyard of his villa in some tiny southern italian village deserted by emigration a new graceland talking sideways since the stroke he sometimes plays the mandolin sings in an ancient dialect known only to farmers he smiles at chickens who peck at his feet cats dance in the shade his eyes moving slowly under a mediterranean sun
trading and wrote poems he published in national journals. Ona, it must be said, made a spare living writing a horoscope column for the local newspaper and, occasionally, doing private readings for individuals of his acquaintance. Betsy Edger would tell Ona she loved him but could not erase her desire for Shelby who made her feel pampered and filthy and expected her to do things she had only read about in books or peeked at on the Internet. When she left Shelby to return to Ona Frame’s apartment, she would roll her eyes in an agony of guilt and say that she loved Ona for his unimaginative steadiness, that she thought he would be the one to father her children, that with Shelby it was Page 32 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
only about sex and the fact that he could help her get her stories published. To both men, she said her behaviour was uncharacteristic, that she had never been with two men at once, that she knew she had to decide. Ona Frame loved her honesty. He felt that no one had ever levelled with him in such an extraordinarily forthright manner. But then her eyes would dip, she would cross and uncross her legs and adjust her bra straps, and he would know that she was thinking of Shelby, would in fact soon abandon him for some outré rendezvous. While love-making between Ona and Betsy had dwindled to an occasional hasty encounter in the dark between his foetid sheets,
often so mechanical and dispassionate as not to disturb Twinks his cat sleeping at the foot of the bed, Shelby and Betsy had embarked on a fugue of compulsive exhibitionism and public sex. Ona Frame himself had recently spotted them fingering each other in the Family Passive Recreation Area at the corner of Rte 67 and Middle Line Road while apparently engrossed in doing the Sunday crossword on a park bench. He had also seen them fondling in a booth at the Dunkin’ Donut and having torrid intercourse only half-hidden behind the hydrangeas in Congress Park at dusk. He had, in fact, developed his own compulsion for following Betsy and Shelby, spending long hours watching Shelby’s darkened windows for signs of movement or trailing Shelby’s late-model, atrociously undependable bmw as it wound through the streets, watching the two heads in front of him combine and separate then combine once more in a dangerous dance of eros and imminent pedestrian death (or so he thought). Once he trailed them to the public library where Betsy worked and came upon them masturbating together in the fiction stacks by the letter M for, as Ona Frame thought, mischief, menopause, malicious and mad. They paid no heed to Ona or the four or five other readers gawking at them over their books, their eyes fixed on one another, on their pulsing fingers, the convulsive movements of their thighs, Betsy’s left hand wandering strangely over the books at her back, her mouth whispering unintelligible words. When she arrived at his little bachelor apartment, with the Edvard Munch prints, the dried field flower bouquets and his grandmother’s yellowing lace doilies, for their regular Thursday night peppermint tea and Scrabble date, Betsy was as prim and collected as ever and made no mention of the afternoon’s assignation. But at half-past-eight, just as Ona had assured himself of victory with an eight-letter triple word score (“oxymoron”), Betsy emerged from the bathroom clutching at her wristwatch and anxiously announcing that she had to leave. She said Shelby had turned frantically jealous of her relationship with Ona and that she had to get back to him before he did something desperate and self-destructive. “Self-destructive?” Ona Frame repeated.
“He’s capable of anything,” she said. “He’s been losing in the market. He hasn’t written in weeks. He is totally obsessed with me.” Her eyes gave a little dip, which made Ona shudder. Some hint there, he thought, of self-consciousness, of pleasure taken in the drama she was creating. Oh, to have the whole suicidal world of men at your feet, he thought. But it made him love her all the more. The phone rang. It was Shelby. He asked to speak to Betsy. But Ona held the phone and said, “S, are you desperate and self-destructive?” And Shelby whispered harshly, “Yes, you idiot. I’m standing on a kitchen stool with a noose around my neck. Put her on.” And Ona waited, thinking, before saying, “No, S, go ahead and hang yourself. I found her first. We can’t both love her.” Betsy’s expression of frantic agony turned to despair as she ran out, leaving the door open in her wake. There was a tremendous crash at the
TOM TH OMSON I N TR AN SI T Troy Jollimore From Tom Thomson in Purgatory, published by Exile Editions in 2007. Troy Jollimore is the author of The Solipsist, forthcoming from Bear Star Press in November 2008.
hat train’s not run here for a thousand years.” (He means a hundred, maybe?) “They still sell the tickets at the station, though, if anyone would like a useless souvenir . . .” And Tom is tempted: he do love useless things. Remind him, they, of someone he knows well. His wallet’s stuffed with currency from all manner of countries not in business now; his camera aches for discontinued film. (Ditto his typewriter & its odd ribbon.) And all his maps are maps of continents that sank without a trace some time ago, flora and fauna gone extinct, extinct as Tom himself feel he must surely go.
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other end of the line, followed by a lengthy guttural moan, then silence. Ona Frame hung up the phone, poured himself a thimble of lime vodka from the freezer to calm his shattered nerves and returned to the horoscope he had been preparing that afternoon. “Scorpio: The path you are on will surely lead to disaster unless you learn flexibility and humility. Avoid ropes. Value old friendships.” Shelby was a Scorpio. Ona didn’t need to check the star charts to write that one.
Sports, Sterility, Stonewall From the table of entries in The Dictionary of Homophobia: A Global History of Gay & Lesbian Experience, by Louis-Georges Tin, translated by Marek Redburn and published by Arsenal Pulp Press in 2008 (first published by Presses Universitaires de France, 2003). Louis-Georges Tin is the founder of International Day Against Homophobia (idaho), celebrated in more than fifty countries. He was born in Martinique and now lives in Paris. Sappho Scandal School Self-Hatred. See Shame Sexual Perversions. See Perversions Shame Shepard, Matthew Sin. See Against Nature; Bible; Debauchery; Theology; Vice Social Constructionism. See Sociology Social Order. See Symbolic Order Sociology Sodom and Gomorrah Sodomy. See Sodom and Gomorrah Songs (France) sos homophobie Southeast Asia Page 34 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
Spain Sports Sterility Stonewall Suicide Switzerland Symbolic Order Theodosius i Theology Tolerance Transphobia Treason Treatment Turing, Alan United States. See North America Universalism/Differentialism Unnatural. See Against Nature Utilitarianism Vatican. See Catholic Church Viau, Théophile de Vice
TH E A RT O F D O I NG N OT H I N G Joshua Glenn and Mark Kingwell From The Idler’s Glossary, an examination of words and phrases that describe those who prefer not to work, published by Biblioasis in 2008. Joshua Glenn is a journalist in Boston who has contributed regular columns to the London Observer and Boston Globe. Mark Kingwell is the author of ten books and a contributing editor at Harper’s magazine.
dilly-dally: Dallying is a delightful, flirtatious way to pass the time. To dilly-dally, however, is to seesaw, zigzag, or shilly-shally—in other words, to act with trifling vacillation or indecision. As Dr. Livesey says, in Treasure Island, “There is no time to dilly-dally in our work.” This is as true in our own lives as it is in a pirate yarn. See: dawdle. dissipated: The whole force of this term [from the Latin for “spend or use up wastefully or foolishly”] lies in the Protestant idea that you can somehow glorify God by accumulating stuff. But the idler prefers that part of the Bible in which Jesus asks us to consider the lilies, which toileth not, yet which are more beautiful than Solomon in all his splendor. Remember, too, the moral of Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son: You aren’t more beloved just because you’ve kept your nose to the grindstone. See: sybarite. dissolute: Around the 14th century, actions marked by indulgence in things deemed vices began to be described as “dissolute,” meaning that they tend to somehow dissolve, or disintegrate, the actor’s very selfhood. This proto-totalitarian paranoia about “keeping it together” is, according to some postmodern theorists, the wellspring of such vices as racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. See: dissipated, sybarite, uptightnik. distracted: Although we must struggle against the centripetal forces of traction (all those entities that would hold us back, keep
PL ASTER D E PARIS bpNichol
From Truth: A Book of Fictions, designed by Irene Niechoda and published by Mercury Press in 1993 and reprinted in The Surface of Meaning: Books and Book Design in Canada by Robert Bringhurst (CCSP Press, 2008). bpNichol (1944–1988) wrote fiction, free verse and concrete poetry and was part of the sound poetry group The Four Horsemen. Robert Bringhurst is an award-winning poet, linguist and typographer.
us in our place), the centrifugal forces of distraction (those phenomena that would shatter our hard-won state of mindfulness) can be equally as powerful. See: absentminded, capricious, desultory, inattentive. dizzy: It is every evolved person’s duty to cultivate the voluptuous panic of vertigo, by staring into that void in which all the forms and norms of our daily lives are
revealed as artificial constructs. As if that weren’t difficult enough, you’ve got to revalue your values in light of this terrifying insight, and advance boldly into a new style of life. The problem with dizziness, as Sartre noted, is not how to keep from falling over the precipice, but how to keep from throwing ourselves over it. See: avoidance, distracted, flighty, giddy. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 35
LOU I S D U D E K I N T H E L I V I N G RO O M O F H I S H O M E Terence Byrnes
From Closer to Home: The Author and the Author Portrait, published by Véhicule Press in 2008. Terence Byrnes’s intimate portraits of writers have appeared in solo shows and publications around the world. Byrnes is a writer and photographer, and he is chair of the English Department at Concordia University, Montreal. Louis Dudek (1918–2001) was one of Canada’s major modernist poets, a poetry activist and polemicist, a publisher and member of the Order of Canada, and an anthologist and advocate of local emerging talents in anglophone Quebec.
do-nothing: In politics, a do-nothing is an anti-progressive reactionary; elsewhere, though, he may be a saint. Oscar Wilde described his life’s work as the “art of doing nothing,” and insisted that for the person living in a society that worships action, “to do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world.” See: good-for-nothing, idler. dodger: A dodger shirks his duties and evades his responsibilities neither for purposes of Page 36 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
graft, nor out of fear, but simply out of an overwhelming distaste for labor. Think of Henry Miller ditching his career and family because he believed that “work . . . is an activity reserved for the dullard.” Dodging can be an artful form of idling, and dodgers can be an inspiration to us all. However, the dodger who never quits the job or situation that she detests is, finally, not an idler but a slacker. See: bartleby, kill time, skiver, slacker.
W I N G Y E E , M E D I C I N E H AT, A L B E RTA , 1 9 93 George Webber
Part of George Webber: Portrait, an exhibition of his work at the Art Gallery of Calgary from September 5, 2008, to January 3, 2009, curated by Marianne Elder. Webber is a recipient of six National Magazine Awards (Canada), an Award of Excellence from the Society of News Design (USA) and an International Documentary Photography Award (Korea). His photographs have been featured in many periodicals, including Photolife, Swerve, Canadian Geographic, Maisonneuve and Geist, most recently Geist 66. He lives in Calgary and at georgewebber.ca. Fall 2008 â€˘ G E IST 70 â€˘ Page 37
SAR AH ’ S EXCE L L E N T W E E K E N D Sarah Maitland Webcam photos and excerpts from the journal of Sarah Maitland, who, along with Ross Merriam and Michal Kozlowski, spent the Labour Day weekend in the Geist office writing as participants in the 31st Annual International 3-Day Novel contest. DAY 0
Pre-writing. Drawing pictures, writing outlines, getting nowhere, thinking I’ll never be able to do it. Fighting with boyfriend re support for my plight. DAY 1
9:00 a.m. At the office, ready to go, no full outline or developed characters. 11:00 a.m. Checking chat board way too often, working on characters, researching too much, watching Michal’s word count soar. 4:00 p.m. Coming to terms with possiblity of failure. DAY 2
9:30 a.m. Getting serious about success. Turning off chat board, less email checking. Goal setting: 100 pages total, 3 per hour, 4 hours for sleep, 4 hours to edit. 5:00 p.m. Sleeping on computer. Accidentally typing 3 pages of z’s with pinkie. 6:00 p.m. Changing seats, cutting bangs, watching Ross (also not working) through a hole in the bookshelf. DAY 3
2:00 a.m. Only 35 pages to go, or is that 53? 2:55 a.m. Checking email before waking up Ross and stealing the couch from him. Page 38 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
7:00 a.m. Back at it, using stick of gum for toothbrush. Resetting page count goals. Not comparing my word count to Ross’s and Michal’s any more. 12:30 p.m. Eating peanut butter pretzels for lunch. 6:00 p.m. One scene left to write. Not going for dinner with Ross and Michal because I’m filthy. 9:09 p.m. Done, except for major plot revisions. Hating ending. Editing like crazy. 11:55 p.m. Waiting for computer to reboot after crashing during spell/grammar check. Never want anyone to read the novel but will submit anyway. 11:59 p.m. Finishing redo of spell/grammar check just in time!
1:30 a.m. Locked in the stairwell. Frantically phoning for help before cell battery dies. Waiting for rescue.
Sarah Maitland is assistant editor at Geist magazine.
BATTLE R EADY Jack Mitchell From The Plains of Abraham, an epic poem performed across Canada in 2000 and 2005 as part of the Rhapsodic Tour sponsored by the Dominion Institute. In this excerpt, Wolfe and Montcalm prepare for battle. Jack Mitchell, a Toronto writer, has published two historical novels for young adults. His website is jackmitchell.ca.
wolfe First he put on his woollen trousers • after that his linen shirt And then he found his leather boots • and pulled the silver buckles tight He clothed himself in red • within that tent • and donned his tricorn cap; He seized his sword from off its peg • and slipped it to its golden sheath The sword by which he’d made his vow • to seize impregnable Quebec And last he took the cane of oak • he once had borne at Louisbourg; And yet he did not speak: • on each in turn • he rested his green eyes And terror filled those brigadiers • who did not dare to meet that gaze; For in his pallid face • beneath his brows • there gleamed a ghastly light. As when the sun runs south • in winter months • and yet the snow is slow And clouds let fall a rain of ice • which thickens on the naked wood And one by one the branches drop • and some are smashed and some are snapped And from the broken limbs • across the plain • there gleams a ghastly light And men and women both lament • the ruin of the long-lived wood Just so the English brigadiers • lamented for the red-haired Wolfe As he alone went forth • with silent step • unto the army’s camp.
montcalm So now when all had found their places • by the town of bright Beauport Indeed the Marquis of Montcalm • now brought them to the field of war. As when, towards the west • where in the hills • the wild roses blow A warm wind from the rocky heights • descends to melt the crackling ice A winter wind, and yet to many • welcome as the breath of spring And girls untie their braided hair • and on the grass the brothers box Just so the regiments of France • descended from the Beauport shore Behind the Marquis of Montcalm • the captain of the King of France; And in their midst the singers then • began to chant a cheerful song And they themselves had made the song • to glorify their generals The dark-haired Marquis of Montcalm • and Bourlamaque, and good Lévis And so they gladly sang • upon that day • before the citadel Of how the padre gave a speech • and cleansing absolution preached: His children could advance with pride • with Lord and Virgin on their side; How all were heroes on that day • or if there was a man to say The general had a tragic flaw • they’d break the dirty rascal’s jaw: Just so they gladly sang • upon that day • before the citadel; And so the Marquis of Montcalm • now brought them to the field of war His handsome face was glad • for in his heart • he knew the hour had come When destiny would be decided • ’neath impregnable Quebec. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 39
An Ounce of Civet Bill MacDonald
Give me an ounce of civet, good apothecary, To sweeten my imagination; here’s money for thee. —shakespeare, king lear
james r eaney p o e t , pr o f e s s o r , p l a y w r i g h t 1926–2008
n a drizzly October evening, after spending the afternoon driving around Toronto with him while he tried to recall what my father had been like as a student, I had dinner with James Reaney at Matisse, in the Yorkville Marriott. He would rather have talked about Blake’s biblical symbolism, or rural life in the London area, or his teaching career at the University of Western Ontario. Plus the staging of his plays in small Toronto theatres, and the creative genius of Northrop Frye. Still, he said he remembered how my father had loved listening to him read from his epic poem, A Suit of Nettles, and from various works-in-progress, such as Twelve Letters to a Small Town and The Killdeer. He said the whole class had been intrigued by his dramatic approach to the 1880 Donnelly massacre. As a matter of fact, he thought (mistakenly, as it turned out) that he’d mentioned my father in his book, 14 Barrels from Sea to Sea, which details the trilogy’s cross-Canada performances. One thing he was sure of was that he’d published my father’s offbeat stories in his literary magazine, Alphabet, a publication dedicated to the “iconography of the imagination.” I asked him if it was true that he’d once brought a vial of civet musk to class and let his students sniff it for inspiration. “It’s true,” he said. “They needed poetic stimulus, for which there’s nothing better than a good whiff of civet.” No sooner had we sat down at Matisse that evening and ordered appetizers from Nathaniel, our taciturn waiter, than the maître d’ seated two Irish ladies at the table next to us. They were well-dressed older women, one tall, the other short, and their lilting Irish accents, as they asked for French onion soup and coquilles St. Jacques, were pleasing to the ear. I couldn’t help but notice them staring at Jamie, and thought this quite remarkable, since his plays are rarely performed outside Canada. It’s true that Ireland is a very literate country, but these two matronly colleens looked more like the George Bernard Shaw type. Jamie didn’t seem to mind their scrutiny. In fact, he raised his glass to them and nodded in their direction. “You’ll forgive me, sir,” the taller lady said, returning his salute, “but you bear an Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 41
WE COULD PUT YOU UP AT THE GRESHAM HOTEL
uncanny likeness to that decadent writer, Mordecai Richler. Sure, and it’s a distinctive face you have, with your spectacles and moustache. You could be mistaken for him, you could indeed.” To my surprise, Jamie said, “Well, I should hope so, madam. You’re very astute. I’m flattered to be recognized. Would you care to come and join us? My friend William and I are also contemplating the onion soup.” Which is how we met Dora Dundalk and Polly Roscommon, pensioners from Tipperary. Jamie probably viewed them as potential characters in a play. Polly, a widow since 1967, was tall and thin. She had greying hair and furtive eyes, and wore bifocals. Her friend and travelling companion, Dora, who had never married, was shorter, less noticeable. She had bobbed brown hair and a perpetual though at times vacant smile. The interesting thing about Dora and Polly was that though they differed in appearance, they could have been sisters. They finished each other’s sentences and seemed able to communicate telepathically. When Jamie asked what had brought them to Toronto, Polly said, “Sure, at this time of year, when the crowds diminish and the leaves turn, we always take a trip to Canada. One year we crossed the continent by train, from Halifax to Vancouver. Another year we spent a month in Montreal. We’ve been to Niagara Falls, Banff and St. John’s, Newfoundland. Travel is an Irish obsession, it is. We’re a nation of wanderers, all the way back to St. Brendan in his leather boat. He discovered Canada, you know. He brought shamrocks with him to the New World for good luck. He sailed with Ulysses on the Mediterranean and I daresay knew Columbus and Jacques Cartier. And you yourself, Mordecai Richler, whose skill with a scandalous tale I rank next to
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our own native son, Brian Moore, what brings you to Toronto, which is surely not your home?” It took Jamie a moment to answer. “You’re quite right, madam. I live in London, to which fair city I return tomorrow morning. I’m here being interviewed by my journalistic friend, William, whose father was a student of mine in 1959 at the University of Manitoba. He’s doing a piece on me for his hometown newspaper. We’ve spent the day discussing my recent memoir, This Year in Jerusalem, as well as my unfinished, untitled novel.” Polly put down her knife and fork. “Your unfinished, untitled novel. Fancy that. And what might it be about, if a person could be so bold?” I was sure Jamie would tell her it was bad luck to discuss a work-in-progress, but he fooled me. “It’s about a closet transvestite, Pierre Herbois, presently Crown Prosecutor of Quebec. On his mother’s side, he’s descended from Buisson Pampellone, inventor of the bidet.” Dora put down her knife and fork too. “Faith, now,” she said. “Imagine that. Descended from the inventor of the bidet. Better, I suppose, than from the inventor of that other French device, the guillotine.” “We don’t have bidets in Ireland,” Polly said. “But we’ve seen them in various hotels. We have one here in our bathroom upstairs, as a matter of fact. I’ve never really understood its purpose.” This was met with silence, and I was not entirely convinced that they were telling the truth. Bidets at the Yorkville Marriott? Jamie said, “Unless I’m mistaken, Monsieur Pampellone intended the bidet for the benefit of women. In French, the bidet is also a small horse. One sits astride the bidet, supposedly as one sits astride a pony.”
AND YOU COULD DRINK THE GUINNESS ALL DAY LONG
This produced further silence, but people at nearby tables had begun eavesdropping. “Really?” Dora said. “Fancy that. I would have thought the man’s name would be Monsieur Bidet. Something else we have upstairs is mirrors in the bedroom. I could never see the need for so many mirrors in the bedroom. Did your Monsieur Pampellone invent those too?” Jamie smiled. “I believe he did, madam. But for use during sex, not after. They say he had a Basque mistress who enjoyed watching the action, especially when she entertained Monsieur Pampellone’s brother Henri, the minister of finance.” “And that’s what your unfinished, untitled book is about?” Polly said. “Oh, no, madam. It’s about the Canadian prime minister, and the premier of Quebec, and the brothels of Montreal. After publication, I may have to go into exile.” Dora reached across the table and touched his hand. “You could always come to Ireland, Mordecai Richler. We could put you up at the Gresham Hotel and you could drink the dark Guinness all day long. We could erect a statue of you beside Brendan Behan in O’Connell Street. Sure, wouldn’t that be grand, with yourself as important a personage as Jonathan Swift. I’m sad to say, the only useful thing the Irish ever invented was the condom. Out of a sheep’s intestine. What puzzles me is why it’s called a French letter.”
he evening ended with Dora asking Jamie if he’d favour them with a reading from his unfinished, untitled book. To which he replied, “No, madam, I never give readings from unfinished books.” “James Joyce gave readings,” Dora said. “So
did Sean O’Casey. So did Samuel Beckett, in both English and French. He taught school in Paris, you know. And in Cork. Polly and I once went to hear him read Waiting for Godot in Dublin. It was a marvellous thing, it was, at Kitty O’Shea’s pub on Grand Canal Street. They took up a silver collection.” “I seldom if ever give public readings.” “Is it that you’re afraid?” “No, it’s that I don’t give readings in bars or restaurants. Not even at Matisse in the Yorkville Marriott. I’d have to go up to your room.” People at other tables were snickering, and Nathaniel and the maître d’ stood off to one side, faking indifference. “If we’ve learned one thing in our travels,” Dora said, “it’s to be wary of men with moustaches claiming to be Mordecai Richler. You could be an impostor, trying to lure us to our doom.” Jamie pretended to bristle. “That’s wise of you, madam, but I assure you, I am Mordecai Richler. I wrote The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. I wrote St. Urbain’s Horseman.” “Well, so you say. But I think Mordecai Richler lives in Montreal, not London, and I don’t believe he ever taught classes at the University of Manitoba.” That’s when Jamie, like an aging athlete, knew he’d been bested. Polly and Dora had beaten him at his own game, although ten years previously they wouldn’t have. Around the room there was a smattering of applause from our fellow diners. I suppose I should have gone to Jamie’s aid, but I didn’t. When the two ladies finally excused themselves and headed for the elevators, he sighed and said it had been a long day and that he wasn’t as young as he used to be. He said he
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SURELY JAMES REANEY MEANT TO PAY FOR HIS OWN DINNER
hoped my article on him turned out well and that I’d send him a copy. Then he got up and left. The last I saw of him, he was asking the doorman to hail him a cab. Moments later, Nathaniel presented me with the tab for everyone’s dinner. “See here, Nathaniel,” I said, “the Irish ladies are staying in the hotel. Their meals should be billed to their room.” Nathaniel smiled condescendingly and shook his head. That’s not how things were done at the Yorkville Marriott. “Sir, you invited them to sit at your table.” “But surely James Reaney meant to pay for his own dinner. And probably mine too.” Again Nathaniel shook his head, but this time he didn’t smile. Neither did the maître d’, who was striding toward me from the other side. This had been an entertaining evening, but now it was turning into a rather expensive one. Fortunately, I already had my train ticket home. With Nathaniel and the maître d’ standing beside me, neither of them smiling, I reached for my wallet. “Tell me, Nathaniel,” I said, “did you know that in French the bidet is a small horse?” His condescending smile reappeared. “Yes,” he said, tapping himself on the forehead, alerting the maître d’ to the fact that he was dealing with an idiot. “I knew that. Everyone knows that. I also know that the man you dined with tonight was not Mordecai Richler.” “Oh?” I said. “And how can you be so sure?” Barely able to contain himself, he laid a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Because, my journalistic friend, Mordecai Richler is dead.”
ut on Bloor Street, I climbed into the rear seat of the first taxi in line. “Union Station,”
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I told the driver. “But take your time.” As we turned down Yonge Street, I wondered how truthful a profile of James Reaney I should write. On the driver’s id card in front of me, I saw that his name was Ismail. “Ismail,” I said, “are you aware that James Reaney is an authority on the bidet?” I couldn’t see Ismail’s face, only his eyes, looking at me in the rear-view mirror. “Who?” he said. “James Reaney, the poet and playwright.” “I am not hearing of this person, sir.” “Do I detect a faint Punjabi accent?” “I was born in Chandigarh, sir, two hundred kilometres north of Delhi.” “Then I doubt you’ve ever heard of Mordecai Richler either.” “Oh, yes, sir. I am hearing of this famous person.” “Do they have bidets in Chandigarh, Ismail?” He pondered this a moment. “I think not, sir. Possibly in certain hotels.” “Did you know that in French, a bidet is a small horse?” “This is news to me, sir. My knowledge of French is limited.” At the traffic lights on King Street, Ismail adjusted his rear-view mirror so that I couldn’t even see his eyes. Then he turned up the volume on his radio, and we rode the rest of the way in silence. Bill MacDonald has worked as a logger, weatherman, immigration officer, schoolteacher and writer. He is the author of many books, most recently Ruby’s Last Ride and Other Stories, Shadows at Sunset, Close the Door Softly and A House in the Country, all published by Borealis Press (borealispress.com). He lives in Thunder Bay.
Middle of Nowhere Katie Addleman
hank god for you,” Polly said one day after work, as she and Ruth sat under the fluorescent lights of the town’s only bar. “You’re the only normal one here.” The bar was too bright. It was clinical-bright. And too many men were staring at them. Ruth stirred her gin and tonic in its plastic cactus. “I’m not sure I can stay,” she said, addressing the novelty cup, “even if it is only a temporary placement.” Only temporary, she thought. Like a bruise. “It’s northern Ontario, not Siberia.” “Still.” This placement in Lenders was Ruth’s first real teaching job, same as Polly. They were replacing a pair of sisters who were off on maternity leave. “Sisters,” Polly had whispered to Ruth when they met on their first day at the school, “working at the same job, at the same school, both about to drop at the same time.” They stood in a corner of the beige staff room, away from the coffee machine and the crowds it attracted. “What are the odds on that?” Her eyes were wide. “It’s disturbing.” “This place is disturbing, all around.” A cluster of older teachers stood around the coffee machine holding mugs and spoons, mechanically stirring. Bits of the paint over their heads had begun to peel and fall because of water damage. The remedial teacher—Mrs. Manning? Mrs. Mingman?—brushed a few beige flakes from her hair. “Someone told me the coffee machine brews a pot automatically at eight,” Ruth said, “and then another one at noon.” “Pretty impressive technology, for Lenders Secondary.” Ruth was soldiering on—that’s how she thought of it. She imagined strapping on a helmet when she got out of bed every morning at six. Down the hall to the bathroom and pull the straps tight under the chin. Page 46 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
When they weren’t working they went over to Polly’s apartment, right in the middle of town but freezing cold even when it was warm outside. The walls had been painted grey and the rooms were huge and nearly empty. The little furniture Polly had was on loan from the school. “They clearly hate me,” she said, nodding toward the fold-out bed, an old gas heater that oozed yellowish grease into the newspapers placed underneath it, which made Ruth nervous, and a card table somewhere under cigarette filters, bottle caps, tobacco, wet tea bags and bowls of coffee. When Polly sat down for dinner she pushed it all aside, but in the five minutes it took her to fork her food around her plate, pretending to eat, everything migrated back across the table. From home Polly had brought a striped rug, cardboard crates marked fresh lettuce and filled with tangles of shiny sequined clothing, and a framed photograph of her brother, a blond with droopy eyes, smirking over his shoulder into the camera. “He’s dead,” Polly explained the first time Ruth came over. “That’s why I have it. It would be a weird thing to carry around, if he weren’t.” Ruth picked up the picture awkwardly and nearly dropped it. “You look alike,” she lied, and put the picture back on the windowsill. At Polly’s apartment next to the river and the train tracks, the two of them would hang out the window smoking cigarettes and remarking on the amount of snow on the mountains, which was always changing.
hy would they ever turn on this many lights in a bar?” Polly complained, shielding her face. Ruth stood up and finished her drink. “You want to come over?” She wanted Polly to see where she lived, because she wanted her to know everything.
illustration: jeremy bruneel
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 47
Ruth rented a furnished room on the top floor of a house thirty minutes from the centre of town, and the walk was uphill on the way home. Polly had never come over. They left the bar together. Ruth imagined owning a scooter, being the type of person who would spend all that money on a scooter just so she wouldn’t have to walk. Self-indulgent. She thought often of being that type of person. The walk was long, and she had a lot of time to think. Ruth and Polly finally turned the corner into the driveway of the square brick house and went to sit in the backyard, which was big and filled with flowers. There was a good view of the mountains from there, and a few chickens that scratched in the dirt but mostly just sat around. Ruth’s T-shirts and tights hung on a clothesline between two maple trees, and a little shelter with a twig roof stood by the back door. Ruth could eat there in the shade if it ever got too hot out. She went inside and brought out two plastic chairs, a bunch of red grapes on a paper plate, and a bottle of wine. “Sorry Polly, the wine’s not very good.” “Don’t worry. We’re all broke here.” They rolled up their jeans and slouched in their chairs. It was the end of October, but the sky was clear and it was hot in the sun. The neighbours’ horse saw them and snorted its way over to the fence. Ruth sipped on the metallictasting wine while Polly rolled some wet grass and dirt into a clump between her palms and tossed it over the fence in a slow underhand arc. The horse lowered its head and ate it. “My brother rode horses,” Polly said, “when he was a kid. I think my parents gave away all of his equipment after he died. It’s too bad. I could have taken up a new hobby, now that I’m living in the middle of nowhere.” Ruth didn’t know how the brother had died. She thought that was the kind of information that should be volunteered, and Polly hadn’t volunteered it. But they saw each other every day and Polly talked about him. His name was Pat, and he had carried her to the hospital the night she had the allergic reaction to shellfish. Ruth wondered if she should change her mind. Page 48 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
Suppose it’s ruder not to ask? What if Polly thought she didn’t care? “How did Pat die?” “He was manic,” Polly said. “He killed himself. I’m the one who found him. Well, I found the cops who found him. They were swarming around outside his apartment, and I happened to pass by. They told me. Then they took me home, and I told my mother.” She snapped grapes from their stems as she talked, and held them in the palm of her hand. She never ate them, just rolled them between her fingers like marbles. “Can you believe that? I was only eighteen. I find out that Pat hanged himself and then the police tell me that I should be the one to tell my parents. I remember standing on the porch with them, and my mother opening the front door, smiling to see me, because she didn’t know yet.” Ruth didn’t say anything. She felt sweaty and sticky. The horse pawed the ground and pushed against the fence, which creaked. The breeze picked up, and Ruth’s clothes on the line snapped like flags. “I’m not going home for Christmas,” Ruth said. “Are you?” “No. My family’s going to Mexico. I disagree with family holidays in Third World countries.” “Oh. Me too.” “Why aren’t you going home?” “I’m Jewish. We don’t care about Christmas.” “Well, it looks like it’s you and me then.” Ruth imagined running blind drunk with Polly through the town on Christmas Eve. It would be dark, the middle of the night. They would pull red foil ribbons from the pine trees and laugh. Small-town decorations are so goddamn ugly. They would make noise—stomping boots, breaking bottles, hysterics. I hate it here! they would scream, laughing. Oh god I hate it here! Then they would go back to Polly’s and force down bread and cups of water, spilling everywhere, and fall asleep in puddles on the floor.
Katie Addleman has recently returned to Canada after eighteen months in Spain, where she worked as a journalist and the editor of a city magazine in Barcelona.
RE ME MB ER The hybrid art of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
ichael Nicoll Yahgulanaas is the creator of Haida manga, a hybrid art form that combines classic Haida design and storytelling with Asian manga (comics). Yahgulanaas learned his visual-art craft by studying with the Haida master carvers Robert Davidson and Jim Hart Edenso, and with the Chinese brush-painting master Cai Ben Kwon. His work is also influenced by Japanese wood-block printing, by contemporary manga and by an ancient Haida form, panel pipes—visual stories carved into argillite, a black slate that is abundant on Haida Gwaii (the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of British Columbia). His artistic vision and practice are informed by his three decades of work with First Nations and environmental groups to preserve the autonomy of the Haida people and the wilderness of Haida Gwaii. In all of his artwork, Yahgulanaas strives to integrate the classic forms with contemporary concerns, particularly the emerging global movements to save the earth and establish connections between cultures.
rom a distance, RE ME MB ER can be seen as a single powerful image incorporating traditional Haida line and forms; up close it reads as a visual story in four panels. The subject of the work as a whole is the connection between memories, or what seem to be memories—of individuals, of a place, of an ancient civilization—and the experience of loss, of longing, of anger, of judgement. What is the relationship between memory and distance, and how does that distance prevent us from atoning, completing and resolving? “I want to find a way to see memory not as a distance but as a post-it note,” Yahgulanaas writes, “a reminder to recover those distance elements. If it is longing, is there a way to revive that element and bring it to the living moment? If it is tragedy, what can I do about it here and now?” Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 49
My grandmother Selena Peratovitch was a mighty strong woman. She wore high heels in the woods. She was so strong that special paddles had to be made for her; the ordinary paddles would break under the force of her powerful stroke. Page 50 â€˘ G E I ST 70 â€˘ Fall 2008
I can still see the stern face of the woman who appeared before me. Somewhere nearby flows the indigo water streaked with the last ascending bubbles of a descending man. If he was falling here, his stillness would be a watercolour puddle seeping into thick paper. Fall 2008 â€˘ G E IST 70 â€˘ Page 51
I suppose that as he was drifting about, he wondered if his gods no longer loved him. But they hadn’t left him entirely. One of them was chewing on his ankle and the other one flew low and slowly away from his wrinkling skin. Page 52 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
He knew that he would soon die, but didn’t realize that he would return after a brief sojourn by the lake somewhere up on one of the ten worlds stacked on top of each other. He saw his mourners in the lake and fell down between the roots of a tree and cried himself to sleep. He awoke as a newborn child cushioned between his mother’s thighs. He remembered. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 53
Notes on Haida Manga Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas
he comics format allows me to recombine simple iconic forms to develop complex meanings—and instant access to readers drifting in time and space. I was drawn to comics as a way of talking about complex things such as relationships between indigenous peoples and settler society. I found manga attractive because it is not part of the settler tradition of North America (like Archie or Marvel comics, for example) insofar as manga has roots in the North Pacific, as does Haida art.
Deconstruct the box
Extract a meaning
Any kind of meaning
In colonial society a small space is reserved for the indigenous person: a space defined as spiritual and sacred, because those qualities are not seen to have much power invested in them: we can be sacred, we can be spiritual, we can be shamanic, we can be artists. But the relationship between indigenous and colonial society is filled with a lot of fear most of the time. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau explained the difference between U.S. and Canadian policies toward indigenous peoples as “you . . . murdered them. We starved them to death.”
From the “Flesh Tones” series Page 54 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
It is imperative that Haida manga incorporate contemporary social issues, that it speak to other people’s needs rather than merely to “mine.” Many of us are still stuck in the old game, the wooden Indian, the abandoned village, the romantic image of the vanishing people. There is a political market for that myth. But we’re here, alive if not always marketready. The market value always depends on what is being sold. I don’t like the Cain and Abel episode where the mythic kills the living. But these days I am
As long as it feels relevant
discovering an appetite for exploring the new, finding new relationships—new types of relationships— and that is where the “practice” of Haida manga has taken me. The comics form encourages me to extract meaning and form where I find it, in the indigenous and the settler cultures, and to flip them upside down, reverse them, recombine them, to allow new meaning to emerge in a renewed form.
Bone Box (detail)
From the “Postcard” series
rchaeological bone collection trays, collected, decorated and repurposed on the principles of Haida manga, in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. The wall can be manipulated by the observer (seen lying down in the photograph), who grasps a lever to flip the bone trays up and down, and to make them rattle. As the trays move, the museum exhibits behind the wall are revealed, and when the trays are wide open, the vista of the museum windows and the distant constructions of sea and mountains can also be seen.
Bone Box (Museum of Anthropology, permanent collection)
n Haida manga, objects, forms that appear to us one way, can be flipped around and rearranged to find new relationships among the parts, and a new dimension for the whole. In a field of wrecked automobiles, I found evidence of an artistic tradition in what used to be the hood of a car. An application of acid bath, plenty of flipping around, some refinishing, and a memory of the traditional copper shields of the Haida, resulted in a contemporary shield of greatly mixed heritage.
Evidence of artistic tradition
A shield: Stolen But Recovered (Glenbow Museum, permanent collection) Fall 2008 â€˘ G E IST 70 â€˘ Page 55
Selena’s Story and the Remember Panels
y great-grandmother Selena’s story is represented in the first panel of RE ME MB ER, by the paddle in hand and the broken paddle as well. She was descended from a man named Sam Davis, who was a relative of George Washington—I don’t know how that came about. She was a girl of about fifteen living in southeast Alaska when an elderly fellow in Masset named Alfred Adams sent his man up to Alaska to talk to Selena’s grandmother and to ask that Alfred be permitted to marry this girl Selena. The grandmother said that Selena was too young. The next year the servant went again, and this time the grandmother said that Selena hadn’t learned to cook yet. The third year the man returned and said that Alfred didn’t care about the cooking: if she couldn’t cook, he would hire her a servant. He really wanted to marry her. So the grandmother said fine. Selena got into a canoe and travelled across the forty miles of open ocean and went to Masset and asked some of her relatives who this guy Alfred was. Selena took a look at him and said, I’m not going to marry an old man. She went to an uncle, who arranged for her to sneak away in the morning with a party that was leaving in his newly carved canoe. So there she is, a young woman in a new, unseasoned canoe that hadn’t been out in rough water before. An older woman was sitting up near the bow of the canoe, and when they were out at the entrance to Dixon Sound the old woman said, My bum’s getting wet. A crack had formed in the bottom of the canoe and water was leaking in. They started stuffing moss and spruce pitch into the crack, but to no avail. The canoe continued to split open. The paddlers started singing death songs. The old woman turned to Selena and said, When the canoe breaks up, take this young child and swim over to that island. You should be able to make it, and the rest of us will perish. Selena said, Dear god, if you save us, I’ll marry that old man. Then she climbed up to the prow of the canoe and wrapped her mighty arms and her mighty thighs around the canoe and held it together. It
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didn’t split apart, and they made it back to the island. And so she married Alfred, and the marriage worked out well. They made some great children. Alfred went on to found the Native Brotherhood of B.C. In the second panel, the canoe is flipped upside down, and you can see a person falling into the water. At this point I started integrating bits of community history, the relationship between colonial society and indigenous peoples, and the horrific elements of that relationship. The third panel deals with a moment that I don’t know in a personal way—I think of people who have endured famine or concentration camps or residential schools or any horrifying moment, the moment when we think we’ve been abandoned by our gods, where there is no hope, there is nothing, no refuge. The end. In some respects, in a theoretical sense, that moment occurs in drowning. The last panel deals with the high concept of rebirth, which is akin to the Buddhist tenet that we are going to keep coming back until we figure out how to do it right. This is rebirth of the child between the thighs of the mother, the rising up of the land again, the recovery, the resilience, the survival, the wonderful things that remind us that despite all those things that have happened between us collectively, we have survived and we’re not beholden to any past action. We don’t have to pack anyone else’s guilt, we have survived, we are alive, we are here, we can do things, we can make up our own stories and make new relationships. That is a lot of what I’m trying to grapple with in Haida manga.
Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas’s most recent exhibition was Meddling in the Museum at the Museum of Anthropology at the University of B.C. (June 2007 to April 2008). His book Flight of the Hummingbird was published by Greystone Books in 2008, and his forthcoming books include Cosmic Haida (UBC Press) and RED (Douglas & McIntyre). His website is mny.com. RE ME MB ER was commissioned by the Geist Foundation with assistance from Arts Partners in Creative Development. illustration from FLIGHT OF THE HUMMINGBIRD (greystone)
Futile Gestures Photo Albums and the Ecology of Memory
ollecting is more than ownership. Collecting invokes the hunt or chase, the moment of acquisition, the quick perusal, the trophy hanging over the wet bar in the basement. How do you know you’re a collector? When the thing itself is secondary to the act of finding it. This is the (shameful) secret of collecting. When I began collecting photo albums, I would take each new find home with me, glance over it quickly and put it away on the shelf. One day a friend pulled what I thought was a favourite acquisition off the shelf and said to me, “So this dead man propped up in the chair must be the uncle.” Dead man propped up in a chair. How had I missed that? (Not to mention the fact that she had sussed out that he was the uncle.) I pretended to know what she was talking about and remained nonchalant. Inside I was reeling. I’m a photographer, after all. How had I overlooked a dead man propped up in a chair? It was time to look at my relationship with the act of collecting and, more precisely, with the question of photo albums. I realized that my compulsion to collect photo albums had to do with the idea of rescue. My only consideration when purchasing or otherwise obtaining an album was that the album had somehow left the confines of its originating family and had magically made its way into the impersonal marketplace of the antique store, the thrift store, the dealer in paper ephemera, eBay,
the back alley, the garbage dump, the basement of a house being demolished. These albums are like shivering kittens. I rescued them from the nastiness of not being wanted and the potential further nastiness of having a price attached to them. How do you throw away or commodify these mundane precious efforts? I pay for albums in order to remove them from the market, to ensure that they are no longer commodities. I own them. (I think I own them.) They will not be bartered, traded or sold in my lifetime. The supreme importance of these albums lies in the moment of their making and the ultimate indifference to their fate. As Stephanie Snyder notes in Snapshot Chronicles: Inventing the American Photo Album, it is precisely because these albums flourished in the domestic sphere, removed as they are from the institutional protection of a museum or gallery, that they are vulnerable to neglect and disappearance. To attempt to forestall the processes of neglect and disappearance is the futile gesture, the essential gesture, of the collector.
found the scrapbook displayed on pages 58–59 at the Vancouver Flea Market. The cover is made of cardboard designed to look like snakeskin. It was unblemished, as if it had been sitting on a shelf for a long time. Inscribed on the spine: “1962–1965.” The inside appeared at Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 57
first to have been vandalized. Pages had been ripped, cut, slashed at and torn out. Photographs, too: ripped, cut, slashed at and torn out. The vendor who sold it to me said that it came to him in that state, from an estate sale. The owner might have been American. On one page, “Canadian International Control Commission” is inscribed above four pictures of Caucasian men drinking and smoking cigarettes in the company of young Vietnamese women. In fact, many of the intact photoPage 58 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
graphs depict men drinking and smoking in the company of young Vietnamese women. Extent of damage to the scrapbook: Pages completely torn out: 54 Pages torn, cut or slashed: 173 Pages intact (images removed): 40 Pages intact (images intact): 32 Images in scrapbook: 153 Fragments of images in scrapbook: 52 Images completely ripped out (estimated): 742
The pages and the images have been damaged in several ways, which is puzzling. Why, if you have started out simply tearing them, would you then feel the need to use scissors? That one would go from tearing out single images to ripping out whole pages suggests a need for haste. The destruction may have been carried out by the creator of the album, someone close to him, perhaps even the disperser of his estate. To suggest a benign interpretation, perhaps a daughter
in grade 5 needed those images for her history project (although the violence done to the pages suggests otherwise). Given the number of women whose photos remain in the album, and the textual evidence of many others who are no longer there, perhaps it was a disgruntled wife, ex-wife or lover, cutting away at her husband’s, ex-husband’s or lover’s sexual history. Censorship may also have played a role. The scrapbook’s subject is wartime Vietnam. It is Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 59
possible that images torn from the book contained “sensitive” military information. They may have been removed as early as 1971, when the album owner seems to have left the country. Remaining fragments suggest that most of the missing images were of people—the scraps show parts of the faces of men who worked in his office, and parts of the faces and bodies of young Vietnamese women and children. Perhaps these images provided evidence of activities that we do not wish to imagine. Page 60 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
The images that are intact document the sporting life of Saigon, particularly the clubs on Tu Do Street, known for its cheap bars, deafening sound systems, Vietnamese bands performing Motown covers, teenage girls selling “33” (a beer also known as “tiger piss”), and a ready supply of drugs and sex. The owner of the scrapbook spent much of his free time in or near the bars on this street, with or without co-workers, with or without the company of paid hostesses, girlfriends or
prostitutes. And when he wasn’t patronizing these hot spots, he was busy throwing parties and attending others. The official and dominant stories of Vietnam are stories of carnage and fear. The record in this album hints at none of these things, in part because of the man’s urban office posting, and in part because no one wants to remember dreary or frightening things. That is the difference between a personal record—a personal photo album devoted to what joy can be wrested from
this life—and the photographs and stories in the official record. Faith Moosang is an artist-photographer with a special interest in the uses of domestic vernacular photography. Her large collection of this photography includes photo albums, home movies, slide collections and other ephemera related to the remembrance of family. She lives in Vancouver. Futile Gestures is part of a work commissioned by the Geist Foundation with assistance from Arts Partners in Creative Development. Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 61
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In Memoriam: Mahmoud Darwish He feared death less than the threat of no longer being able to write
remember him sitting, somewhat uncomfortably, in a square armchair in the reception of a hotel in Mantua, during a literary festival. I remember his long, serious face in a cloud of cigarette smoke, his glasses perched uneasily on a long, inquisitive nose. I remember his bony fingers drawing circles in the air to make a point about the links in poetry, and his deep, staccato voice describing Mural, the elegy he had written for his father but also, providently, for himself. I remember him quoting from another elegy, this one by a medieval Spanish poet (Jorge Manrique, Couplets on His Father’s Death), which Darwish had read a long time ago in a fairly decent English translation (by Longfellow, as it turned out). According to Darwish, the dialogue that Death holds with the Spanish poet’s father echoed somewhere in his own stanzas—stanzas that in turn owed something to the Mu’allaqat, the pre-Islamic ode of the desert Arabs that was later devotedly displayed on a wall of the temple in Mecca. For Darwish, not the style nor the tone but the poetic subject itself created a universal web that poets wove, wherever and whenever, “one figure and many threads.” The image, he told me, was Mutanabbi’s, the most famous of Arab poets of the classic age, and a great favourite of his. In some sense, all Darwish’s poems were elegies, visions of a half-dreamt world. The ancient metaphor that links death with sleep (it appears in the Gilgamesh epic more than four thousand years ago) was for Darwish an everyday fact; he referred to it often, both as the illustration: rebecca dolen
condition of exile and that of life itself. “Being not yet dead” is how he described it during his visit to Beirut in the terrible days of August 1982, when Israel bombed the city. Memory for Forgetfulness was the title he gave to his account of that visit; he was unconsciously quoting one of his favourite authors, Robert Louis Stevenson (“I’ve a grand memory for forgetting,” says Alan Breck in Kidnapped). “Writing poetry is a way of leaving aside the inessential, of grounding the real world in memory, not in the trivialities of documentary fact,” he said to me once. “A poet has an obligation to that dreamt truth.” Darwish stayed away from theoretical pronouncements. “What I have to say about poetry is in my poems,” he said. “I don’t have a talent for theory, so I don’t theorize about the subject.” And then he added with a smile: “Perhaps because I’m afraid of being mistaken.”
ahmoud Darwish was born in Barweh, a small village in Galilee, in 1942 and, after the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and his self-imposed exile from Palestine in 1970, he lived in a number of different places around the world: Moscow, Paris, Cairo, Beirut and London. He died in Houston, Texas, on August 9,
2008. A few months earlier, he confessed that he feared death less than the threat of no longer being able to write. When a poet friend was found dead after two days because of the do not disturb sign he had hung outside his hotel room, Darwish swore never again to hang the sign or lock his door. “When death comes,” he said, “I want to be disturbed.” “I live in a suitcase,” he once said, and spoke of how poets today seem to have inherited the wandering nature of the troubadours. Wherever he read his poems, huge crowds assembled, but those who approached him with the preconception of meeting the poet of the Palestinian movement would have been disappointed. It is true that he was heard as the voice of the Palestinian diaspora and as someone who lent words to the suffering of the Palestinian exile (“I am myself alone an entire generation,” he wrote), but these were circumstantial facts. Darwish was read as a universal poet both in Lebanon and in Israel. (In 2000, the Israeli minister of education, Yossi Sarid, suggested that Darwish’s poems should be part of the school curriculum; Prime Minister Ehud Barak vetoed the proposal.) And though Darwish was steeped in the classic Arab tradition, his poems carry echoes of Dante, of Homer, of Emily Dickinson, of the modernist Europeans. Whenever we met, we spoke of Jorge Luis Borges, and of Borges’s interest in Arabic culture and in the stories of the Arabian Nights (which, for Darwish, proved both their universality and his), of the love poems of Abu Nuwas, the medieval poet who celebrated wine and the pleasures of the body (“less dear to me because they are original than because they are good”), of Flaubert (whom he had first read in English), of Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 65
Nazim Hikmet, T.S. Eliot and Pablo Neruda, for all three of whom his admiration had not diminished since he first read them as a young man. Speaking of Homer, he said that had television existed in Homer’s day, he would only have written the Odyssey, not the Iliad. “He would no longer have seen his role as that of a historian and anthropologist, only as that of a mythographer. Poets today must dream up myths.” “I don’t belong to myself,” is how Mural, written in 2000, ends. Today, the verse reads as a fitting epitaph and as Darwish’s greatest achievement: the recognition that he, the poet, is no longer his individual circumstances, bound by his own suffering and experience, and that he now belongs to the world, to the experience, love and suffering of all his readers. Alberto Manguel’s most recent books are City of Words (Anansi) and Homer’s the Iliad and the Odyssey: A Biography (Douglas & McIntyre). Read his Geist columns at geist.com/ author/manguel-alberto.
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Urquhart’s Choice The table of contents in the Penguin anthology of Canadian stories can be read as a social register
n the autumn of 2006, shortly after becoming writer-in-residence at the University of Guelph, Jane Urquhart sent me an email message asking if we could meet for coffee. The invitation came as a surprise: I don’t enjoy Urquhart’s novels and had stated this in print. When we met, Urquhart told me that her project at the university where I teach was to compile The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories. She asked for suggestions and took notes as we spoke. We met for coffee a second time that fall and exchanged a few emails. I liked Urquhart’s civility and what I perceived as her rural Ontario frankness. She reminded me of the women who had taught me primary school in the Ottawa Valley. In 2007, when The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories was published, Urquhart sent me a copy. As I examined the table of contents, I felt a dull thunk in my chest. Even at a cursory perusal, the anthology’s weakness was evident; but what troubled me more was the sense of calculation in the names selected. The Penguin logo guarantees that this anthology will become the standard reference for Canadian short fiction; yet, although the book is too long at 696 pages, some of the country’s major short story writers are omitted. Ungainly excerpts from novels and Page 68 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
memoirs stand in for stories; some of the stories are uncharacteristically weak: “The View from Castle Rock,” for example, is subpar Alice Munro. Urquhart includes famous people who are not short story writers (Adriennne Clarkson, Charles Ritchie, Michael Ondaatje), people who have barely lived in Canada but happen to be married to influential Anglo-American book reviewers (Claire Messud, who is married to James Wood), colleagues of Urquhart’s husband (Virgil Burnett, Eric McCormack), writers who have invited Urquhart to literary festivals (Leon Rooke), writers who teach in the English Department at the University of Guelph, which has awarded Urquhart, in addition to her writer-inresidency, an honorary doctorate (Janice Kulyk Keefer, Thomas King, Dionne Brand), and successful younger novelists whose apprentice work was in the short story form (Dennis Bock, Joseph Boyden, Madeleine Thien, Anita Rau Badami). The sections in which the stories are grouped are arbitrary and confusing. Urquhart treats the “short story” as any narrative shorter than book length, apparently failing to grasp that since the early twentieth century, thanks to Anton Chekhov, Katherine Mansfield, D.H. Lawrence and others, the short story, in its
compression and suggestiveness, has evolved into a different way of using language than the novel. The Penguin Book of Canadian Short Stories blends intellectual woolly-mindedness with steely-eyed careerist calculation. In the summer of 2008, The New Quarterly and Canadian Notes & Queries published a joint double issue refuting Urquhart’s anthology. The two magazines presented stories by twenty writers excluded from the Penguin anthology alongside essays criticizing Urquhart’s choices. (I wrote the introduction to Douglas Glover’s work for this project.) The TNQ/CNQ publication sparked a media controversy.
any have asked how it was possible for Urquhart, who has participated in Canadian literary life for decades, to have omitted such consistently influential figures in the development of the Canadian short story as Clark Blaise, Douglas Glover, Elisabeth Harvor and Norman Levine. Some of Urquhart’s other omissions are surprising, but these four, in my view, are inexcusable. One explanation, I think, is that the Penguin anthology must be read as a social register prepared by a bestselling Canadian novelist during a period of accelerated commercialization. Urquhart’s table of contents lists people of cultural influence, people who have done her favours, foreign critics whom it would be wise to cultivate, and up-and-coming novelists (not short story writers) with whom she wishes to maintain friendly relations. The result is a diagram of how a successful literary career is constructed: the stroking of big egos and new stars, the payoffs, the striving for the next break—all expressed in code through a long list of names. While condemning the anthology as literature, we should be alert to the insights it offers as cultural analysis.
The twenty writers collected in the TNQ/CNQ riposte to Urquhart exemplify an older variety of literary formation, now passing out of existence: the artistic school, or guild, united around a patriarchal authority figure (in this case the Ottawa critic John Metcalf) and an artistic credo (Metcalf’s “aesthetic underground”). Everywhere in the world, guilds are vanishing before the onslaught of transnational companies such as Penguin. Guilds value craftsmanship but can be chauvinistic and cliquish. Both the strengths and weaknesses of this less commercial form of artistic life are evident in the TNQ/CNQ response. The double issue contains fine stories by writers who understand the possibilities of the short story as a distinct literary form; but it is weakened by the inclusion of Metcalf cronies such as Ray Smith and Keath Fraser, whose pompous prose no sane reader could criticize Urquhart for having omitted. The TNQ/CNQ pose of representing “aesthetic values” against the heartless commercialism of the Penguin corporation is also dubious because one of the exasperating traits of globalization is that the corporate world sucks up good and bad art indiscriminately. The Penguin anthology, in fact, includes writers who were mentored by Metcalf, such as Caroline Adderson, Annabel Lyon and Michael Winter; it also includes stories of undeniable aesthetic worth by writers who launched their careers in a corporate environment, such as David Bezmozgis. The TNQ/CNQ double issue, on the other hand, features writers such as Bharati Mukherjee and Steven Heighton, who were nurtured by the Metcalf guild but have gone on to be published by conglomerates.
e should be grateful for the polemic because tepid Canada offers few opportunities to develop a
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 69
public language of intellectual debate; because this debate shines a light on how the short story collection, once our strongest literary form, has been relegated to a trick that glamorous young writers perform once before settling down to commercially correct big-theme middlebrow novels; because, finally, this spat illuminates the clash, common to all spheres of cultural activity, between craftsmanship and corporate slickness, and the increasing difficulty of telling these forces apart.
Stephen Henighan’s third short story collection, A Grave in the Air, was published in 2007. Visit him at stephenhenighan.com. Read “Savage Love,” an excerpt from a story in the tnq/cnq Salon des Refusés, in this issue of Geist.
ENDNOTES Reviews, comments, curiosa The Big, Bad Wolfe
his own death wish. It was only the incom-
General Wolfe—noble hero, or incompetent fatalist?
to the British. More recently, Stephen Brumwell has
defended Wolfe against his detractors. In Paths of Glory (McGill-Queen’s University
hen General James Wolfe scampered up the steep path that car-
ried him onto the Plains of Abraham and into the pages of the history books, what was he thinking? Given that 250 years have passed since his assault on the gates of Quebec City, one would expect that the answer to that question would be known. Quite to the contrary, Wolfe’s motives and abilities remain as contentious today as they have ever been. Was he a noble hero who fell in battle achieving a great victory for his country? Or was he an incompetent fatalist who was trying in his clumsy fashion to commit suicide? Both claims have been made in recent books about the events that transpired at Quebec on September 13, 1759 and seem particularly apt in this year of celebration of the 400th anniversary of the birth of the great fortress city and the 100th anniversary of the creation of the battlefield historic park. On any list of Canada’s most important historical events, the battle for Quebec has to come near the top. It took only a few minutes to fight but its outcome has echoed down through the years. French and English have more or less agreed to disagree about its meaning. Was it a liberation for the Québécois, as Anglophones used to learn in school? Or was it a conquest from
petence of the French that brought victory
which French-speaking Canada never recovered? And what about the so-called victor, General James Wolfe? Was he a wily tactician who spotted the only path to victory? Or an unstable romantic who knew he was about to die and was determined to go out with guns blazing? Despite Wolfe’s status in the pantheon of Canadian war heroes, historians have never agreed about him. In C.P. Stacey’s biography of Wolfe in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, he dismisses him as “ineffective” and “vacillating,” more lucky than capable. Several years ago the American historian Fred Anderson, writing in Crucible of War (Knopf, 2000), his history of the Seven Years’ War, concluded that Wolfe had no expectation of victory when he went ashore to scale the cliff. He expected, says Anderson, to encounter enemy resistance that would either kill him, in which case he would earn the glorious death he so desired, or drive him back, in which case he could give up and go home at least having given it a try. In the event, French resistance was minimal, and Wolfe, much to his own surprise, found himself in command of the heights. Even so, he should have been defeated. He had led his men into an untenable position, Anderson argues, for no other reason than to gratify
Press, 2006), Brumwell, a British writer living in Amsterdam, takes a more conventional view, concluding that Wolfe was a brave, talented soldier who deserved every bit of the lavish praise that his contemporaries heaped upon his memory. This notion of the tragic hero was taken up by Benjamin West in his painting The Death of General Wolfe. Much of what was believed about Wolfe after his death was mediated through this huge—and hugely popular—canvas and the many copies that were made of it. Unveiled in London in 1771, it shows Wolfe dying on the field of battle in the arms of his men while in the background contending armies clash. Claiming to be a depiction of reality, it is largely a work of fiction. Wolfe died away from the field of battle and only one of the men seen in the painting was actually present at his death. Never mind. West had produced “the grandiloquent lie the public craved,” as Simon Schama puts it in his study of Wolfe and his legend. The artist became court painter to the king, and The Death of General Wolfe was reproduced on teacups, wall hangings and beer mugs across the Empire. In the end, Wolfe’s reputation is less important than the British victory he spearheaded. New France fell to the British invaders and took its place as a colony in the British Empire, and Canada has been trying to work Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 71
out the implications ever since. “The Conquest is the burden of Canadian history,” Ramsay Cook once wrote, meaning, I suppose, that navigating the French-English relationship has been our big historical project. As Brumwell points out, “for Quebec’s French-speaking majority, Wolfe is less a hero than a symbol of oppression.” (Of course, that is assuming he is thought about at all. Former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard, describing the history education he received at a collège classique during the 1950s, said that he and his classmates spent many weeks studying the Conquest from the French perspective. “It was so sad when Montcalm died,” Bouchard recalled, but “we didn’t care much about Wolfe.”) While most Anglo-Canadians believe the French should just get over it, for many Quebecers the Conquest is a wound that only independence will heal. For 250 years it has divided us, right down to the sovereignty referenda of 1980 and 1995, which came close to undoing with the ballot box what
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to celebrate for fear of giving offence. Reenactments of the battle, when they take place, are now politely declared a draw and the two sides shake hands in the spirit of national unity. Victory and defeat are not acceptable concepts in contemporary Canada; better to emphasize the role of the Plains as a civic park—the “Central Park of Quebec,” as one government website calls it. As Robert Fulford once remarked, the Conquest remains “perhaps the only eighteenthcentury battle, anywhere, that cannot be discussed without anxiety.” In this sense it might be said of Wolfe, as it has been of Pierre Trudeau: He haunts us still. Daniel Francis’s most recent book is Operation Orca: Springer, Luna and the Struggle to Save West Coast Killer Whales (2007). See his other writings for Geist at geist.com/author/ francis-daniel. Page 72 • G E IST 70 • Fall 2008
OF UNCLES AND OTHERS
THEIR HEADS Adam Lewis Schroeder
he first time I saw Claude Jutra’s film
warm-hearted review in the Globe and Mail, I bought By a Frozen River, a greatest-hits
Levine’s work (Lester & Orpen Dennys). The stories were not disappointing. Tight, pithy, replete with thinly veiled autobiographical details of a childhood in Quebec and an adult life spent as an ex-pat writer in, of all places, Cornwall, the stories were short enough that I could read two or three on a twenty-minute bus ride and feel that I’d accomplished something. Though many of the stories are set in and around Montreal, there is little in the collection—the work of a Jewish Anglophone—that could be considered typically Québécois apart from Levine’s demonstration of the province’s cosmopolitan tendencies. In one of my favourite stories, “South of Montreal,” the narrator spends a pastoral summer with two Guatemalans who have come to Quebec to learn English. I often present it to writing students as practice for critiquing each other’s work—“Tell us what you think is working in this story and what isn’t”—since every reader stumbles over the passage where one of the Guatemalans beheads a wounded goose with a bread knife; it never fails that we each have different ideas as to why he behaves that way, and we are equally passionate about why our ideas are right. Perhaps that fiery sort of intercourse is typical of Quebec.
Mon oncle Antoine was in the mid-1970s, on cbc television. This is possibly the worst way to experience any good film: trimmed to fit the 4:3 aspect ratio of tv and interrupted every fifteen minutes with commercials describing the wonderful dishes that can be made with Kraft products (who knew that Miracle Whip and Miniature Marshmallows were such versatile ingredients?). The new two-disc edition of Mon oncle Antoine from Criterion is a revelation: a fresh digital transfer that faithfully preserves the cool blues and whites of rural Quebec under snow, and the warmer colour palette of the interiors, where a single bulb makes the centre of every room a stage. Having seen the film again after so many years, I understand why Mon oncle Antoine has consistently topped polls of the best Canadian film ever made (take that, Animal House—food fight!—and Spasms—killer snakes!). We observe the events of one momentous— and yet very ordinary—Christmas in the early 1940s, through the eyes of our ten-year-old surrogate, Benoît, who lives with his aunt and uncle in a small asbestosmining town. We witness Benoît’s confusion as he experiences sexual longing and encounters death for the first time; when Benoît discovers the duplicity of the adult world we realize that his once-open gaze has become judgemental and that this is how the world of childhood is left behind forever. Included with the feature film are two full-length documentaries (one on the making of the film, the other on Jutra’s tragically abbreviated life) and A Chairy
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Tale, a short experimental film from 1957 that Jutra co-directed with the nfb animation wizard Norman McLaren. Chris Marker’s 1962 short film La Jetée (Criterion) was the basis for Terry Gilliam’s 1995 feature 12 Monkeys, both set in a post-apocalyptic future where “the earth’s surface and all of history—everything ever dreamed or known—lies irretrievably buried in a heap of radioactive devastation.” A few survivors, the “victors,” huddle beneath the ruins of Paris, subjecting their prisoners to a series of dangerous experiments that attempt to send an emissary through a hole in time “to summon the past and future to the aid of the present.” Someone is eventually selected for the mission, chosen because of his obsession with a single image from his past: a woman’s face seen once on the boarding platform—the jetty—at Orly airport, long ago. This acclaimed 28-minute film is made up entirely of black-and-white still images (with a single brief exception) and a voice-over narration that recounts events. A hardcover “ciné roman” version of La Jetée has just been republished by Zone Books. The pair— film and book—make a fascinating combination: the duration of each static image in the film highlights the time dimension, while in the book version the images (presented singly and in combination on landscape-oriented pages) arrange the same story in spatial terms.
GO FISH Leah Rae
orget Jaws—the greatest fish to appear on screen is in the Québécois film
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Maelstrom, written and directed by
Denis Villeneuve. The Fish (credited as “voix de l’entité”) is an elaborate puppet
code and sent into
will see or hear it. The
Gainsbourg-esque voice while he is repeatedly decapitated (then reincarnated)
way Lepage “stages” the film (he is the
by a sweaty, hairy fishmonger who
whale. Life is a sticky, bloody, treacherous mess, where the end is
space, in hopes that extraterrestrial life
who narrates the film with a husky Serge
appears to be working in the belly of a
writer and the director, and he plays both brothers) is brilliant. Set pieces serve as portals to the past, images transmute—an astronaut in
always close at hand.
space reads as a child in the womb, a child looking into the washing machine
But don’t worry, The Fish tells us, and he recounts “la jolie histoire” of Bibi Cham-
becomes a rocket shooting into space, the snowy Montreal hills are the surface of the moon. Lepage is one of Canada’s greatest
pagne, a fashion designer and party girl whose “pretty story” includes abortion, murder, suicide and bad octopus. Fate
stars. He does it all—theatre, film, opera, the stage concepts for Peter Gabriel’s shows—and he does it all without the aid
plays an important role in this film, almost becoming a character itself, and The Fish comments on this fate. The Fish is a good
argument against the use of computergenerated images and a testament to the ever-creepy power of the puppet (remember The Dark Crystal?), a true wonder of aquatic-robotics. As the film progresses, Bibi moves from darkness into the light, or rather, as the metaphor of water is a strong one in this film, from underwater back to oxygen. The metaphor of fish and motherhood (the womb as fishbowl) can also be seen in Robert Lepage’s film Far Side of the Moon. Philippe’s mother has died and left him her goldfish. Philippe’s brother is like the bright side of the moon—a successful weatherman with a swish flat in Old Montreal. Philippe, the crater-ridden far side of the moon, is a loser—he works as a telemarketer and still lives in his mother’s apartment while he tries to prove his thesis: that the 1960s space race was an exercise in narcissism. On a quest to find meaning or validation, Philippe enters a contest to make a video that will be trans-
THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM Daniel Francis
hen I finally got around to reading Tony Judt’s widely praised Post-
war: A History of Europe Since 1945 (Penguin), published in 2005, I was amused to discover that Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks was reading it too. As mystery fans know, dci Banks is the protagonist of a series of detective novels by Peter Robinson, and in the latest Banks story to come out in paperback, Friend of the Devil (McClelland & Stewart), the inspector is also reading Postwar. Robinson’s hero returns home from his detecting, pours himself a glass of wine and settles down on the sofa with Judt’s book. This is the first time I have found myself reading the same
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 75
book as a character in a novel and, as it were, at the same time. Banks lives in the eternal fictional present and therefore reads the book coincidentally with me, just as he conducts his police investigation at the same time as I read about it. I wanted to know what page he was on. Has he reached the section on the Cold War yet, I wondered? What does he think about Judt’s description of the collapse of Communism? One thing I do know: whereas I was able to finish Postwar (it is every bit as interesting and well written as the critics said it was, though a trifle dense with facts, as such survey histories tend to be), Inspector Banks does not finish it. He is so busy solving his case and catching the villain that Postwar lies half finished on his living-room table, where it will continue to lie for eternity (unless he finishes it in the next novel of the series). My copy will occupy a space on my bookshelves from which I will pull it down and consult it for years to come. This is an advantage reality has over fiction: you get more books read.
TIMELESS AND TIMELY Michael Hayward
ld New Yorker writers never die, they just keep being republished in shiny new editions. In 1939, Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, sent A.J. Liebling, then a new staff writer, to Paris to cover the war, and over the next five years Liebling wrote a regular “Letter from Paris” for the magazine. Many of these letters were later published in book form as The Road Back to Paris (1944), one of the three books included in World War II Writings (Library of America), an
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sumach press omnibus volume that also contains Mollie
professional historian’s account, written
and Other War Pieces (1964), Normandy Revisited (1958) and twenty-six other pre-
decades after the fact. I am a big fan of the
viously unpublished pieces from The New Yorker. Liebling was a keen observer of everything and everyone around him, and he had a good ear for dialogue. Even the minor figures are vivid, such as Mac, the
Library of America, which offers volumes that are well edited, printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth. A note at the beginning of each book states that, thanks to support from various foundations and funds, “every volume in the series will be permanently available.” I’d love to see a Library of Canada built on this model; who would not choose a reasonably priced
Smythe- sewn hardcover collection of
described as “gaunt, yellow-toothed, lim-
(say) Margaret Laurence’s early works, over a mismatched set of paperbacks
ber, and rebellious. He was part Irish, part Canadian, and all Cockney; he played the races, horse and dog, every day and usually came on duty conscious and self-controlled.” It’s much more fun to read this first-hand account of the war and its aftermath observed from ground level than a
doomed to yellow and fall apart? Joseph Mitchell is another staff writer from the New Yorker’s golden era under editor Harold Ross, and his work, along with that of his colleagues and contemporaries A.J. Liebling and E.B. White, is still in print.
Saturday, January 24, 2009. 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m. For details: geist.com/events/comix-workshop
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 77
The Bottom of the Harbor, a collection of six New Yorker pieces (all of which connect to New York City’s waterfront), was first published in 1959 and has just been reissued by Pantheon—in hardcover, no less!—to mark the centennial of Mitchell’s birth. Of course this is the New York of two generations past, and to read these pieces in the early twenty-first century is to experience a feeling of being “unstuck in time.” In the title essay Mitchell describes the lives of the baymen, the men who (in 1951 at least) “work out of bays and inlets and inlets within inlets along the coasts of Staten Island, Brooklyn, and Queens” in search of clams, eels and other fish. In “The Rivermen” we learn about the shad fishery that took place each spring in the small New Jersey communities that lined the west bank of the Hudson River, facing Manhattan. I suspect that much of what Mitchell documents in these essays has vanished from the New York of today, and there is a sense of mild melancholy about the writing, which suggests that Mitchell himself was well aware that he was documenting a way of life that was even then in decline. If fans of what is commonly referred to as “genre fiction” ever try to storm the gates that protect capital L Literature from the marauding hordes, I predict that it will be Michael Chabon who leads the charge. In the sixteen essays contained in Maps and Legends (McSweeney’s), Chabon comes to the defence of (among other things): comic books, science fiction, Sherlock Holmes, fantasy fiction, ghost stories and horror fiction. Chabon’s own genre-defying success with The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel
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from 2001) and The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (an “alternate history mystery” published in 2007) demonstrate that “popular success” and “critical success” need not be mutually exclusive categories. Chabon is an impassioned advocate for the things he loves to read and write. His essays reminded me of an afternoon in 1995, when I sat in a darkened conference room in Vancouver with a few hundred others, listening—rapt—while Ray Bradbury gave the keynote speech. He was like an old revival preacher, thumping the podium, holding us captive as he spoke of the sharp sorrow and the deep sense of loss he’d felt when peer pressure forced him—at age eleven or so—to repudiate his boyhood loves: Flash Gordon, Prince Valiant and their kin. And then in his inimitable Bradbury style he told us how he’d come to see the light and reclaimed these (first, true) literary loves: in a carnival tent when Mr. Electrico had touched young Ray with his sword, made his hair stand on end and sparks fly from his ears, and exhorted him to “Live forever!” Chabon and Bradbury both say the same thing: to hell with labels; read what you love. In a perfect world, the writers we love would have all their stories published as beautifully as The Red Tenda of Bologna by John Berger (Drawbridge) has been: illustrated with simple line drawings by Paul Davis, bound in deep red boards and finished with oxblood-coloured cloth along the spine. In the book, Berger tells of his father’s elder brother Edgar, a man “apparently without ambition” who came to live with the family in his mid-fifties. “According to the standards by which I
Fall 2008 • G E I ST 70 • Page 79
was being brought up,” Berger tells us, “he was a failure,” yet Berger loved Edgar for “his alternative vision, his shabby and royal intransigence.” In his 2005 book Here Is Where We Meet, Berger observes that “the dead don’t stay where they are buried”—and this tale could be another story taken from that generous and tender book. Long after Edgar’s death, Berger encounters his uncle once again: in a small shop selling fabric in Bologna. For Berger as for Dylan Thomas, “death shall have no dominion” over those who have been loved. Stiedl Press has embarked upon an ambitious long-term publishing program that will bring back into print all the work—books and films—of the renowned photographer Robert Frank. As far as I can make out, the only exception to this undertaking is Cocksucker Blues, the rarely seen documentary film that follows the Rolling Stones on their 1972 North American tour (rarely seen because it was suppressed by the Stones themselves). The centrepiece of this project is a new edition of The Americans, published this year to mark the fiftieth anniversary of its first edition. Fans of the Beat writers will know that Frank asked Jack Kerouac to write the introduction to this collection of eighty-three black-and-white images, which show American faces that (in Kerouac’s words) “don’t editorialize or criticize or say anything but ‘This is the way we are in real life and if you don’t like it I don’t know anything about it ’cause I’m living my own life my way and may God bless us all, mebbe.’” I was struck by how well
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these photographs have aged; only the cars
such as the 1998 New Yorker piece that
and the prices seem dated (behind a lunch counter waitress a sign offers “Jumbo Size
attempts to explain the “weird” list of
Hot Dog 18¢ With Chilli 5¢ Extra”); the
lish in the twentieth century, compiled by the Modern Library’s editorial board.
subjects—the ordinary Americans of small towns and cities, factories, sidewalks, parks and backyards—inhabit a territory that seems somewhere outside of time.
the hundred best novels written in Eng-
Several of the essays, though, deserve this second chance at life. My favourite is “I’ll
Havanas in Camelot (Random House) brings together fourteen personal essays
Have To Ask Indianapolis—,” in which
Styron, which he selected just before his death from pneumonia in 2006. All but one of these essays have already
while writing his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness, at a time
appeared in print in magazines that like to feature prominent American men of letters on the cover (The New Yorker,
when “the grand figures of the previous
Vanity Fair and The New York Times Magazine, among others). Many of the essays in this slim volume feel like filler,
were still very much alive, and we young hopefuls were determined to emulate these
generation—Faulkner, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Sinclair Lewis, James T. Farrell—
heroes and stake our claim to literary
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glory”; now that Styron and most of the “grand figures” from his generation have passed on, you wonder which “young hopefuls” are poised to take their place.
BONO UNBOUND Michal Kozlowski
2 3D, shown in imax theatres, is a
concert film of u2 in Buenos Aires, directed by Catherine Owens and Mark Pellington, and produced by Jon Shapiro et al. The film is a huge production with footage of adoring fans singing u2 standards along with Bono and the rest of the band, all of whom look massive in 3d. The cameras capture every fibre of the band’s clothing, their
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freckles, their stubble, the sweat running down each member’s forehead; in fact, the band looks so close and lifelike that when Bono turns to the camera and reaches out, it feels like his hand has come through the screen and will touch you. For u2 fanatics, this may be the most intimate moment they will ever have with Bono; for everyone else, the moment is awkward. Larry Mullen Jr. and The Edge (drummer and guitarist) appear uninterested in the cameras, and Adam Clayton, the bassist, looks uncomfortable, but Bono fully embraces the attention. Throughout the concert he sings, yells, runs around, dances, pounds on a drum, hugs himself, speaks in Spanish and preaches. He comes off less like a rock star and more like a motivational speaker, inspirational leader, political activist, politician, messiah, popular philosopher— essentially all the roles that require a microphone, an audience and a huge ego.
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INTERNATIONAL SAMPLINGS Kris Rothstein
ach September, I plan my life around
the Vancouver International Film Festival. We always get a few big Hollywood films but the festival organizers also choose tons of documentaries, some experimental work and features from countries that don’t make many films. The Rest Is Silence, written and directed by Nae Caranfil, is a Romanian movie about the birth of filmmaking. We follow young Grig Brezianu, who makes silent films and is eager to shoot a movie about the Romanian War of Independence, but he needs a financial backer. An eccentric millionaire, Leon Negrescu, loves live theatre, but he is quickly won over by cinema and agrees to fund Grig’s movie. The last five or ten minutes of the film were a letdown, but The Rest Is Silence is both funny and intelligent, the escapades of the cast and crew are entertaining and the cinematography captures pre-World War i Europe. In All Inclusive, written by Paula Del Fierro and Julio Rojas and directed by Rodrigo Ortúzar Lynch, a Mexican family travels to an all-inclusive beach resort, where their issues bubble to the surface. It’s neat to see a family melodrama, a genre that is so American, set in another culture, but although this film is polished and well acted, the content is pretty obvious. A medical test result is mentioned and we know that someone is dying; the weather channel mentions a storm and we know a
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hurricane is coming. There are surprising moments, though, and enough laughs to make it worthwhile. Tricks, written and directed by Andrzej Jakimowski, is set in a crumbling Polish town. It is the story of Stefek, an adorable but dirty boy whose sister Elka is his hero. Elka teaches him that bargains and sacrifices can trick fortune, which works to help a stranger sell apples, but will it help Stefek manipulate the commuter who, he is convinced, is his absent father? The acknowledgement of the existence of magic in everyday life is charming, and the film is subtle and affecting in its portrayal of the siblings. To read more of Kris’s reviews from the VIFF, visit her Geist blog at geist.com/blog/kris.
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The GEIST Cryptic Crossword
Prepared by Meandricus Send copy of completed puzzle with name and address to: Puzzle #70 GEIST 341 Water Street, #200 Vancouver, B.C. v6b 1b8 The winner will be selected at random from correct solutions received and will be awarded a one-year subscription to Geist or—if already a subscriber—a Geist key chain. Good luck! ACROSS 1 Those towners come from Seattle 5 When he rubs me the wrong way it exhausts me 8 I like to nag Ma, she’s Japanese so it’s funny 9 That laid-back dude has no actual vim, does he? (2) 10 Home I sped, recharging my computer image with my planner (2) 16 Liz is quite an angler but no friend of the lady 17 Did that jet-setter, Brian, clear tables in the wind? 18 One lux fluoresces the arms when you make organ contracts (3) 22 What station had space for the team to have a roll? (2) 24 First seafarers went to the drawing room at 8 26 Those young guys don’t hippety hop when they talk, do they? 27 When they swim to Tibet they get zany DOWN 1 Eccentric Margaret kicked the ball between my legs 2 Sounds like Liz will keep us in check, even in inclement weather 3 Cartoon publisher may know of eighty rhymer
4 One or two are heard in the country (2, abbrev) 5 Don’t worry about stopping the pitch there 6 Things suited him at the marina in Italy 7 Sarah’s favourite funds are for the cows 11 What does Liz do when she’s inclined to get mixed up at 16? 12 Use all the white stuff on the block so you can stay overnight up there 13 She’ll have to train me to eat there 14 Things are fine except for copulation above (abbrev) 15 Alf’s donation was a dynamite prize 16 Sounds like you’re not allowing him to replace the ignition 19 Peak performances can sound like caterwauling 20 Don’t forget me or my mom
21 A scene could be of medium benefit 23 Watch out for the big guys, they can be killers 24 Sounds like she wasn’t the one who was praising 25 Don’t get in a snit just because it’s negative The winners of puzzle #69 were our old friends Jim Lowe and Brian Goth of Elizaville, N.Y. Congratulations! S U B D I V I S I O N
C A R A L O C V I A A I L L P C U R R O F I H I R L W A D I N E B U N G
O U T R D E F A D E O C B C U A P A S R P E Y E O T A R L I S T A F N G P O O A B A L O W S
S K I R O N U L T E H L D E S E F S I S P R A S D E T R I P E A U L T A E L C E A
T S O R S N A C H I W L H D O P R O R O F R S
Fall 2008 • G E IST 70 • Page 87
Go Figure the mathematical map of canada by Melissa Edwards
modified Geistonic projection
Page 88 • G E I ST 70 • Fall 2008
IDEAS AND CULTURE
GEIST 7 0
IDEAS AND CULTURE
MADE IN CANADA
H A I D A MA N G A
GEIST 70 Edith Iglauer Stephen Osborne W R I TI NG & W A I T I N G F O R RA Y M O ND CA R VE R Ann Diamond PHOTO ALBUMS AND T HE ECOLOGY O F M EMORY Faith Moosang
Culture-crossing & the art of Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas (page 49)
D I S T A NT VO I C E S , L O S T D E VI C E S
THE O RWELL E FFECT & T HE 3-DAY NOVEL
D ANIEL FRANCIS
GI L L I A N J E R O M E
A ND R E A J OH NS T ON
GE ORGE FE T H E R L ING
A L B E R T O MA N G U E L
MADE IN CANADA FALL 2008
A Group of Seven Awkward Moment ( Jack Pine) 25
T O M T H O M S O N I N P U R G A T O R Y (page 33)
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