Monthly Archives: September 2008

Word on the Street — Year 14!

Yippee! It’s time again to hop on the bus and head down to Library Square for a whole day dedicated to all things books. Whether you are 3 or 100 years old, there is something for absolutely everybody — My favourite venue, every year is the main stage, but I always take in a few of the panel discussions, every possible reading and of course I love to wander through the literary market place checking out new publishers, educational programs, writing opportunities and much more.

This year, look for a suite101.com table. I think it is being manned, (not womaned), by a couple of our inhouse staff — a friendly bunch, so if you are interested in leaping into the world of web writing, talk to them and don’t be afraid to tell them I sent you 🙂

See you at Word on the Street — Sunday, September 28th, 08, 11 am – 5 pm

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I Always Knew I had Rock Star Potential

When I feel blocked and can’t write, there are several things I will do to overcome this, including exercise, movies, listening to music and browsing book stores. In a previous post, I wrote about my lack of will power in book stores, so a few weeks ago when the weather was shite and I needed something to do, I wandered into my local electronics store. I love everything electronic, from cell phones to computers to flat screens to mp3 players…so this wasn’t much of a stretch for me.

The first thing I saw was a huge stack of boxes with a big sale sign on the top: Only $99.00! Rock Band!
I looked, I looked again and I talked to the sales guy and he told me all about Rock Band and I couldn’t believe there could be anything so amazing that I didn’t own.

I called home from the car and asked James (the 18 year old) to meet me outside “’cause there is something I need you to carry inside.”

His eyes lit up when he saw that big box in the back of the car and within half an hour we were jamming. I like the bass guitar and I’ve given up on the drums — I can’t even pass the tutorial, but I am a great bassist.

What I’ve noticed, is that people under 20 are naturals, those between 20 – 25 are pretty damn good. 25 – 32: still okay, but not amazing and 35 and up — need to practice daily. I guess the ys and pre ys (whatever they are called), who grew up playing video games are at a greater advantage when it come to rock band.

That said, I might be a slow learner, but on the happiness scale, I can’t think of a single person who is more thrilled than I am when on stage and rockin out 🙂

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Recently Read and Enjoyed

Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
the post birthday world by Lionel Shriver
Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane

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Perfect Cut Reviewed in Globe and Mail

Good mourning
The Globe And Mail
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Page: D15
Section: Book Review Special Report
Byline: Sherie Posesorski

THE PERFECT CUT

By Julie Burtinshaw

Raincoast, 308 pages, $11.95

‘You can’t sit shivah forever,” the narrator of Andrew Holleran’s novel Grief is told by
friend, exasperated by how long he has been grieving the death of his mother. “Yes, you
can,” he replies.

So too would reply 17-year-old Bryan Bianchi, still consumed by grief two years after the
death of his adored older sister Michelle, in Vancouver author Julie Burtinshaw’s fourth
teen novel, The Perfect Cut.

His father orders his wife to remove all pictures of Michelle from the house. He seldom
mentions her name, doing so only to shame Bryan over his inability to move on, and to
imply contemptuously that, in his eyes, the wrong child died. While his mother seems to
go along, she has turned Michelle’s room into “The Michelle Shrine,” as Bryan puts it,
retreating there with her anguish, regrets and memories that she is unable to share with
Bryan, as he is unable to share his with her. Each is isolated in his or her sorrowful
fortress of solitude.

Bryan remains the little brother who admired, idolized and emulated his big sister even
more in death than he did in life. The rebellious, defiant Michelle was his protector,
defending him especially against his father’s verbal bullying. She was also his companion
and teacher, jump-starting his interest in music and guitar playing. The corrosive
cocktail of anger, grief, loss and longing for Michelle is intensified by the guilt he
feels for his complicity – unwilling though it was – in the circumstances of Michelle’s
death, a secret whose weight only grows more crushing as time passes.

“Death ends a life, but not a relationship,” U.S. psychologist Therese A. Rando has
written. In many ways, Michelle’s relationship to Bryan is even stronger in death – it’s
his closest relationship still. He is so haunted by her that he believes he hears her
voice and can see her ghost, egging him on.

The most intriguing element of the novel is Burtinshaw’s acute rendering of how Bryan
keeps Michelle alive in his life by living life as she did. Just like Michelle, to
express rage and relieve tension and stress, and as only Bryan knew, he begins to injure
himself by cutting and burning himself with cigarettes. When the fleeting endorphin high
that comes with cutting dissipates, Bryan numbs himself with vodka he steals from his
mother’s stash, and with drugs.

Initially, Burtinshaw provides an intensely close-up focus on Bryan’s cutting. Described
in such an excess of detail, it soon feels claustrophobic emotionally and dramatically, a
bell jar with the reader also underneath the jar, with no air or vision of the outside
world, for too long a stretch.

The novel springs to life in a gripping interlude where Bryan befriends a runaway,
homeless meth addict named Chris. Chris is vividly and touchingly captured; however, the
other characters are flatly executed types (particularly the therapist with the cutesy
eccentricities and cloying therapy sessions), giving Bryan no other character of
substance to play against.

Burtinshaw switches back and forth between third- and first-person narratives,
obtrusively slipping in expository snippets from the points of view of Bryan’s mother,
therapist and housekeeper, to supply the counterweight of mature viewpoints on his
self-destructive path.

While the treatment of cutting is clinically correct and plausibly handled, the
trajectory of Bryan’s pain, catharsis and recovery is less absorbing and persuasive than
it might have been. He is sympathetically drawn, but defined too narrowly by his
pathology and grief. In Margo Rabb’s YA novel Cures for Heartache, teenage Mia’s
perspective on the death of her mother comes across as uniquely hers: a blackly comic,
genuinely poignant evocation of her experience and a wistful mediation on it.

“What is the point of mourning?” Andrew Holleran writes in Grief. “Just this –
faithfulness. And love.”

Only when the tenacious pain of grief evolves into mourning is Bryan finally able to let
go of his grief and guilt, realizing that doesn’t mean having to let go of loving and
missing Michelle.

Sherie Posesorski’s teen novel about 16-year-old grieving the death of her mother will be
published next year.

© 2008 CTVglobemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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Frost/Nixon at the Playhouse Theatre in Vancouver

Looking for something to do between now and October 4th? Peter Morgan’s Frost Nixon, the Playhouse’s season opener is well-worth your while. I went on opening night. We had great seats in a full house, where all of the seats offer an excellent view of the stage.

Frost/Nixon takes place from August 1974 — April 1977, covering the time between President Richard Nixon’s resignation to just after the interviews he did with the flamboyant Limey TV personality, David Frost.

In the London version, (Donmar Warehouse, 2006), Frost was played by Michael Sheen and Nixon was played by Frank Langella. In the Canadian play, David Storch (Frost), and Len Cariou (Nixon) received a standing ovation for their brilliant and convincing performances of two men in a series of conversations that revealed the personalities of two of histories most intriguing and self-serving characters. The rest of the cast were equally engaging, in particular I loved Michael Healey as Bob Zelnick. and the intermission-free performance captivated the whole house. There were emotional moments that evoked laughter, sadness and sometimes just disbelieve at the arrogance of Nixon — “When the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” Or: “I’m glad I’m not Brezhnev. Being the Russian leader in the Kremlin. You never know if someone’s tape recording
what you say.”

So, go and see this play — it’s a great way to spend a cool September/October evening.

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Open Letter to Stephen Harper from Wajdi Mouwad

Here is the text of a fantastic letter from playwright Wajdi Mouwad to Prime Minister Stephen Harper. It was published in Le Devoir a >> few days ago. The translation below is thanks to John van Burek.

An open letter to Prime Minister Harper:

Monsieur le premier ministre,

We are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. You are Prime Minister of the Parliament of Canada and I, across the way, am a writer, theatre director and Artistic Director of the
French Theatre at the National Arts Centre (NAC). So, like you, I am an employee of the state, working for the Federal Government; in other words, we are colleagues.

Let me take advantage of this unique position, as one functionary to another, to chat with you about the elimination of some federal grants in the field of culture, something that your government
recently undertook. Indeed, having followed this matter closely, I have arrived at a few conclusions that I would like to publicly share with you since, as I’m sure you will agree, this debate has
become one of public interest.

The Symbolism

Firstly, it seems that you might benefit by surrounding yourself with counsellors who will be attentive to the symbolic aspects of your Government’s actions. I am sure you know this but there is no
harm in reminding ourselves that every public action denotes not only what it is but what it symbolises.

For example, a Prime Minister who chooses not attend the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, claiming his schedule does not permit it, in no way reduces the symbolism which says that his absence
might signify something else. This might signify that he wishes to denote that Canada supports the claims of Tibet. Or it might serve as a sign of protest over the way in which Beijing deals with human
rights. If the Prime Minister insists that his absence is really just a matter of timing, whether he likes it or not, this will take on symbolic meaning that commits the entire country. The symbolism of a public gesture will always outweigh the technical explanations.

Declaration of war

Last week, your government reaffirmed its manner of governing unilaterally, this time on a domestic issue, in bringing about reductions in granting programs destined for the cultural sector. A mere matter of budgeting, you say, but one which sends shock waves the roughout the cultural milieu –rightly or wrongly, as we shall see- for being seen as an expression of your contempt for that
sector. The confusion with which your Ministers tried to justify those reductions and their refusal to make public the reports on the eliminated programs, only served to confirm the symbolic
significance of that contempt. You have just declared war on the artists.

Now, as one functionary to another, this is the second thing that I wanted to tell you: no government, in showing contempt for artists, has ever been able to survive. Not one. One can, of course, ignore them, corrupt them, seduce them, buy them, censor them, kill them, send them to camps, spy on them, but hold them in contempt, no.

That is akin to rupturing the strange pact, made millennia ago, between art and politics. Contempt
Art and politics both hate and envy one another; since time immemorial, they detest each other and they are mutually attracted, and it’s through this dynamic that many a political idea has been born; it is in this dynamic that sometimes, great works of art see the light of day. Your cultural politics, it must be said, provoke only a profound consternation. Neither hate nor detestation, not envy nor attraction, nothing but numbness before the oppressive vacuum that drives your policies.

This vacuum which lies between you and the artists of Canada , from a symbolic point of view, signifies that your government, for however long it lasts, will not witness either the birth of a
political idea or a masterwork, so firm is your apparent belief in the unworthiness of that for which you show contempt. Contempt is a subterranean sentiment, being a mix of unassimilated jealousy and
fear towards that which we despise. Such governments have existed, but not lasted because even the most detestable of governments cannot endure if it hasn’t the courage to affirm what it actually is.

Why is this?

What are the reasons behind these reductions, which are cut from the same cloth as those made last year on the majority of Canadian embassies, who saw their cultural programming reduced, if not
eliminated? The economies that you have made are ridiculously small and the votes you might win with them have already been won.

For what reason, then, are you so bent on hurting the artists by denying them some of their tools? What are you seeking to extinguish and to gain?

Your silence and your actions make one fear the worst for, in the end, we are quite struck by the belief that this contempt, made eloquent by your budget cuts, is very real and that you feel
nothing but disgust for these people, these artists, who spend their time by wasting it and in spending the good taxpayers money, he who, rather than doing uplifting work, can only toil.

And yet, I still cannot fathom your reasoning. Plenty of politicians, for the past fifty years, have done all they could to depoliticise art, to strip it of its symbolic import. They try the impossible, to untie that knot which binds art to politics. And they almost succeed! Whereas you, in the space of one week, have undone this work of chloroforming, by awakening the cultural milieu, Francophone and Anglophone, and from coast to coast. Even if politically speaking they are marginal a nd negligible, one must never underestimate intellectuals, never underestimate artists; don’t underestimate their ability to do you harm.

A grain of sand is all-powerful

I believe, my dear colleague, that you yourself have just planted the grain of sand that could derail the entire machine of your electoral campaign. Culture is, in fact, nothing but a grain of sand, but therein lays its power, in its silent front. It operates in the dark. That is its legitimate strength.

It is full of people who are incomprehensible but very adept with words. They have voices. They know how to write, to paint, to dance, to sculpt, to sing, and they won’t let up on you. Democratically speaking, they seek to annihilate your policies.They will not give up. How could they?

You must understand them: they have not had a clear and common purpose for a very long time, for such a long time that they have no common cause to defend. In one week, by not controlling the
>> symbolic importance of your actions, you have just given them passion, anger, rage.

The resistance that will begin today, and to which my letter is added, is but a first manifestation of a movement that you yourself have set in motion: an incalculable number of texts, speeches, acts, assemblies, marches, will now be making themselves heard. They will not be exhausted.

Some of these will, perhaps, following my letter, be weakened but within each word, there will be a spark of rage, relit, and it is precisely the addition of these tiny instances of fire that will
shape the grain of sand that you will never be able to shake. This will not settle down, the pressure will not be diminished.

Monsieur le premier ministre, we are neighbours. We work across the street from one another. There is nothing but the Cenotaph between our offices, and this is as it should be because politics and art
>> have always mirrored one another, each on its own shore, each seeing itself in the other, separated by that river where life and death are weighed at every moment.

We have many things in common, but an artist, contrary to a politician, has nothing to lose, because he or she does not make laws; and if it is prime m inisters who change the world, it’s the artist who will show this to the world. So do not attempt, through your policies, to blind us, Monsieur le premier ministre; do not ignore that reflection on the opposite shore, do not plunge us further into the dark. Do not diminish us.

Wajdi Mouawad

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