Category Archives: Stuff to do

SFU Writer’s Studio Reflections

            It should have been a difficult year.

            On January 28, 2020, the British Columbia government announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19, when a traveller returning from Wuhan, China tested positive for a virus the world knew little about though rumours swirled of an epidemic flu type illness alarming in its ability to not just spread quickly but to kill.

            Two months later, the Health authority in British Columbia, where I live, announced the first community, non-travel case of COVID-19. Three days later, the first of too many deaths occurred in a care home in North Vancouver. BC declared a state of emergency that is ongoing as I write this.

            Six months into the virus, September 2020, I embarked on a ten-month writing program at Simon Fraser University. By then, I’d become accustomed to C-19 protocols, not surprised, but disappointed to find out the course would be online. I’d miss the opportunity of face-to-face learning, though I looked forward to filling the long Covid hours pursuing my writing.

            On the first day of ‘class’, I felt both excited and nervous. Excited to meet the group of people I’d be sharing the next ten months with and nervous, afraid my unfamiliarity with the tools of COVID-19 might prove daunting. Slack, Zoom, BB Collaborate, online forums, online discussions, an alternative way of learning for me. What if I couldn’t figure out the audio on my computer? What if I actually looked as awful on their video feeds as I did on mine? Instructions about how to look good on zoom contradicted each other. Background is important, put a beautiful painting behind you, advised one website. Background is a distraction, sit in front of a plain wall, advised another. Correct screen height is essential to your appearance, as is lighting. Different experts recommended different techniques. Look up to the camera, look down to the camera, look straight at the camera. Use natural light, or back light, or sidelight, or dimmed light or bright light. Mute when someone else is talking, mute when you chew, mute when you cough, and mute at any hint of bodily function sounds. Triple check that your video is off. Horror stories of people unknowingly leaving their camera on while undressing during zoom calls went viral.  

            Already challenged by the intensity of the program, I tried not to think about all the things that might go wrong, but I needn’t have worried. Our first meeting, led by our talented scribe, Claudia Cornwall, and assisted by our wise and kind TA, Maryanna Gabriel, set a tone of encouragement and support that would last the duration of the course.

            The speed at which our cohort absorbed our new reality astounded me. Humans are adaptable, whether it be normalizing runs on toilet paper or debating the merit of cloth versus disposable masks. In this viral world, new phrases and words entered our vocabulary: Social distancing, airborne spread, Covid bubbles, variants, VOCs, isolation, quarantine, N95s, Long Haulers, mRNA, lockdowns, herd immunity, vaccine passports, virtual happy hours.

            In that first year of Covid, many people, cut off from family and friends, became lonely and depressed. Some faced job loss, illness, and hospitalization, as the virus claimed lives indiscriminately, targeting the most vulnerable in society.  

            None of those things happened to me. Instead, in the first year of COVID-19, something magical occurred. The magic of building new relationships.

            With age, making friends becomes more difficult. As the bonds formed in childhood, high-school and university strengthen, forming fresh relationships becomes challenging and living in lockdown, withdrawing into our private bubbles, means the opportunities to meet and foster new friendships are scarce.

            There are nine of us in Memoir Writing, bringing our total to eleven. All are women, some younger, some older, from a variety of backgrounds and countries. We meet virtually, two or three or times a week, on Zoom or BB Collaborate to workshop our stories, to provide feedback and encouragement to each other as we mine our memories to bring our past to the page.

            Mental time-travel is hard. Some stories bring joy, some tears. Every time I hear someone read, I’m awed by their talent, their survival skills, their sense of humour, their courage in telling their story. Initially, we knew nothing about each other. We still know less than if we’d met in a classroom or a bar or a café. These have been slow-growing relationships, where every week, every reading, every word adds a piece to the puzzle of the whole person.

            Through our stories, we’ve come to know each other, to trust each other, sharing intimate chapters of our lives, usually for the first time.

            Our Tuesday morning chats, our Saturday mentor readings, and our Tuesday evening workshops have become the highlight of my week.

            Writing is often described as a lonely occupation, but because of my cohort, I’ve never felt alone.

            As I sit and write, these women sit with me, poised on the edge of my imagination, their fingers flying over the keys, tapping out their hearts in beautifully crafted sentences. I am thinking about them now, as the course nears its end.

            There is Engeli, who brings me sunshine and warmth, both in her lyrical words and her tropical travels. There is Jenny, coyote whisperer who has taught me to understand and appreciate the dedication and passion of a field scientist. There is Ellen, whose brilliance shines a dazzling light, softened by the golden glow of her commitment to saving lives. There is multi-talented Leesa, whose extraordinary ability to capture my imagination takes me on the wings of fantasy into her world. There is Kate, the Truth-teller, who stories tug at my heart long after I’ve heard them. There is Kae, whose tales of discord and harmony accompany me on a musical journey into a world of sound. There is Karen whose courage to write and fight for the environment reminds me I can make a difference to the planet. There is Nuia whose courageous story of upheaval and beauty reminds me the importance of kindness and love.  

            Lately, aware that our time together is waning, we talk of the future. Words like ‘seeing’ each other creep into our vocabulary. The possibility of ideas we once took for granted resurface. “Maybe post Covid, we could all get together.”

            We reminisce of the past, when humans sat together, touched, shared meals, and inhaled the same air. We imagine talking to each other, not on a screen, but in person.

            That intimacy, once familiar, now seems distant. On Zoom, spontaneity is lost, while our ability to listen mindfully improves. Online we dress from the waist up, run a quick brush through our hair, and if we remember, a bit of mascara, but in real-life we’ll toss our slippers and pajama bottoms, dress again as whole people.

            There will be no more props. When I picture the writers in my cohort, each one has a personalized backdrop. Leesa triumphs for pure aesthetic value. Ellen for her well-stocked library, Kate for her house-in-progress, Jenny’s blue walls, and affectionate dog, and Kae’s softly painted office, Karen on a boat or in an Airbnb, Engeli’s sun drenched abode, and Nuia wrapped in a warm housecoat, puppy at her side, Maryanna haloed by yellow light, Claudia, with large, black ears. The background’s we chose is a part of how we now visualize ourselves and each other. Imagine Mona Lisa backdropped by a kitchen, instead of a landscape or The Lady of Shallot backdropped by a high mountain, instead of a green and blue Lake, or the girl in Manet’s Bar at the Folies-Bergere without the bar?   

            I long for the time when I can meet my writing cohort, my new friends in person, and I hope they will forgive me, if I forget to say “Hello,” and instead shout, You’re muted. I can’t hear you. Your screen is off.

            If so, it will only happen once. After all, we are human and we adapt quickly.



Filed under Events and Readings, residencies, Stuff to do, Writing Tips

St. Peter’s Abbey: Day Four

St. Peter’s Abbey is oldest Benedictine monastery in Canada. It was founded in 1903. In the early pictures, there is a distinct lack of trees, but over the years the Brothers have created a green oasis in the middle of the sweeping prairie. I have not done much outdoor exploring though. I enjoy the greenery mostly from my window and that’s because this whole area is tick-infested and I don’t want one of those creepy parasites digging into my flesh. When I do walk, I stick to the gravel roads, which are apparently safe from creepy crawlies. There are always surprises on residencies, but this was one I could have missed.

A great surprise was discovering that my Old friend Art Slade was here for three days giving a workshop on writing YA fiction. All of us enjoyed talking to and teasing Art. I love reconnecting with writers, especially those who write in the same genre!

Last night, Father D gave us a tour of the Abbey, including the college, and the cellars. I’ve posted a picture of him below. The Abbey is always on the lookout for fresh Monks. Male, over eighteen, Catholic, Find out information here. I can actually see a lot of advantages to being a monk, of which I won’t list at the moment. Of course, I don’t qualify on so many levels, but others will.

All of this peace has given me some much needed time to reflect on loss and love and out of that I’ve remember that the pain never outshines the love. Not in the end. Love is too strong. We won’t ever replace our Kitty Moffat, but one day we will all be strong enough to bring another four legged friend into our lives.

Just not yet. But a friend said to me, “Pets are temporary. They are given to us for a short period of time. During this time, they need a home and love, just like anyone else. That’s what we give to them and we get so much more back.” So, if you are suffering the loss of your four-legged friend, close the door for as long as you need, but keep it unlocked!

Yikes, metaphors… that’s what happens at a writing residency.

I’ve been working hard on new ideas, researching those ideas and getting about a thousand words a day down on the page. Not all good words, mind you, but I’m forcing myself to do what I always tell new writers to do. I’m showing up at the page EVERY morning. Something great will come out of all of this work, I know.

One of the poets asked me what it felt like for a West Coaster to be way out here in the prairie. I replied, “I feel safe and protected like I’m in the middle of a soft, King-sized bed and no matter how much I roll around, I can’t fall off the edge.”

Saskatchewan is like that. Our nearest village is Muenster, a five minute walk up the road. The abbey is surrounded by huge farms; fields of purple and yellow and green and gold. The nearest town, where there is liquor store (which we all care about), is Humboldt. Humboldt is a city recovering from terrible tragedy, filled with warm and friendly people.

The Brothers and Fathers here at St. Peters’s were and continue to play a large part in their acceptance of the bus crash that took so many young lives from this area.

Next time, I hope I get to tell you about the wind.




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You are invited to a special one night encore screening of THIS MOUNTAIN LIFE in Vancouver.

Hi movie lovers out there. There are still some tickets left for Demand Film tonight and I think it’s going to be a fascinating show, especially if you love the mountains. Start time is 7pm tonight at International Village, downtown Vancouver. Follow this link for more information. Demand Films This Mountain Life.

Oops, just checked again and Sold Out. There are some other great movies coming though, so still check out the website.


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Uni of Iowa: How Writers Write Fiction

I enjoyed Assignment 5 – basically I took assignment number 1 and fragmented it. Lots of fun experimentation.

Between the offer of a cup of tea and her departure there exists a lifetime of untold stories.

You don’t want to hear my stories either. When I was young, I didn’t care about much about my grannie’s blue-haired friends. I knew how to be polite though, how not to scrunch my nose up at their smell, or recoil in horror if my hand happened to brush the surface of their thin, yellow and blue skin.

She had no concept of decorum. I can see the dislike in her green eyes and cat-like smile. You know, it’s unnerving when she stands behind me. If you find me in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs one day, look to her. One push is all it would take. It would be a gentle shove, so as not to leave even the tiniest bruise on my skeleton.

Of course she has no idea that I am afraid of her. Please don’t breathe a word, Mutter.

But you can’t. I buried you in the ground, after you buried yourself in the politics of war. Mutter, I always understood why we had no visitors. I played along with your stories and pretended to understand what you meant when you said it was okay to tell lies. Sometimes. Sometimes you said, it could be a matter of life and death.

And Papa.

We are in the kitchen and Papa is behind me. He watches me put on the kettle and my hands are shaking. We drink coffee, not tea. Tea is for them.

But it’s not Papa whose critical eyes burn a hole in my heart. I buried him in the ground after he buried us in the lies.

Don’t tell, but I hated him for what he did to Mutter. He made her cry. Even after they took him away. We got a teapot and Mutter taught me to make tea the English way. Boil the water. Warm up the teapot. Use loose-leaf tea and let it steep for ten minutes. Not nine or eleven. Milk, not cream and sugar into the cup first. Pour the tea. Pretend to like it.

My daughter-in-law is pleased that I make tea properly. At least I won’t ever embarrass her again by putting the milk in after I’ve poured her tea. It was a terrible day, the day I sinned over the teapot.

Now, she watches me, waiting for mistakes. No, I’m not being paranoid. She’s waiting for me to trip or spill or choke or forget my way into a Home for the Aged. You know, what I tell myself? Remember not to trip on the carpet. Six steady steps to the kitchen, or six unsteady steps to the Care Home.

Don’t kid yourself. Being old is a lot like being young. You have no say. I am not the boss of me.

“Do be careful,” she orders. “You don’t want to break your pelvis again.”

I demure but inside I shout at her. “This is where I plan to die. Broken or whole, you’ll never get me out of here again.”

Her watchful eyes narrow. Oh My. Did I speak out loud again?

Tea? Is she deaf?

“Don’t bother. I’ll pour.”

That I ignore. It’s very rude. She’s not polite for such a proper woman. Mutter would scold me if I’d behaved that way. Sometimes Mutter could be strict. She admired the man with the toothbrush mustache and he preached law and order, rules and regulations.

Mouth washed out with soap. Never say that word in our house. Never say Nazi. Do you want to get us arrested?

Of course, you know the camp they sent Papa too was an internment camp? The RCMP deemed him a danger to Canada.

What? Of course he was. Papa was a danger to Mutter and to me and to our poor cat.

She can be critical too. Where is my son? Why am I stuck with his snotty wife every day?

While we wait the requisite ten minutes for the tea to seep, (not nine or eleven) my son’s wife bites her nails. My poor son.

Will he visit me?

For a brief moment, I think she looks sad. He’s very busy. He sends his love.

She casts her eyes around the small room. Her left leg bounces up and down. Why won’t she look at me? Finally she settls on the six plants that line the windowsill. “Have you watered those this week?”

“Yes,” I say, meaning no.”

“Oh,” she says, “I’ll do it before I leave.”

You think she is kind to visit me? If you think that, you don’t understand. She doesn’t care about me. She always makes the tea too hot and it burns my tongue. Too hot and too strong.

Of course I don’t complain. It’s wonderful, I say while the scalding liquid burns the inside of my mouth and scorches my throat.

Wonderful says my daughter-in-law. I let her pour the tea. It’s a small concession, but I won’t risk a life sentence in a care home over Earl Grey. “That hits the spot,” she says.

She tricked me though. She gave me my tea and it was cold. I spat it out. You know she pretended it hadn’t happened at all. Sorry is what she said, as if it had been an accident. I didn’t want you to burn your mouth.

I pretended not to hear her, just like I did if I heard people speaking German on the streets in Toronto. Muter said never let anyone know that you speak German. I am never allowed to speak German, even at home, even if Muter and Papa whisper to each other in the old tongue, when they think I can’t hear them. Walls are thin when ears are young. MuterPapaWhereismySonandwhatisthisfatgirldoinginmylivingroomwedidintdrinkteawhenIwasagirlwedrankcoffee.

Get your hands off me I told her. She said I was slurring my words and that she was concerned about me. Ha. Any excuse to shuffle me off to a home. Why are you areyou wearing a uniform?

Papa loved his Instant coffee. Here, Papa. Nescafe. Drink it while it’s hot. Papa why did you go away for four years that seemed like forever?

My daughter-in-law doesn’t drink Instant. She has a bad-tempered machine that spits out droplets of dark coffee into tiny cups, that she throw back like a shot of schnapps.

I caught her wiping my face as if I were a child. I pushed her hand way. Don’t touch me. Then there is a teardrop on my face. I’m leaking. Everywhere. But I hide the private leaks. A grown woman shouldn’t be in diapers.

Will you have a biscuit? Chew carefully. I miss teeth. What, it’s not old. Those past due dates mean nothing. You know, she smells her food before she puts it in her mouth, as if I’m going to poison her. Muter would have never allowed such rudeness.

They all throw out food, that generation. Even my son. Dear boy. Mutter did not approve of wasting food. What’s that thing? It doesn’t look much like a phone to me. My daughter-in-law has one. Is yours a cameral too? Did you now that she can tell the time and take pictures with hers?

The shopping list? It’s on the table. That’s what I said, even though it wasn’t. Even though I’d forgot to make one. I don’t care. Things are missing. Like my taste buds, but don’t tell her. Don’t tell anyone.

Secret: I was relieved when Papa went away forfouryearsthatfeltlikeforever. He wears an old suit Mutter found in the second hand store. It smells like mothballs. I know they are lying when they tell me that Papa is a financier.


Wash out mouth with soap. Never say that word. I spy with my little eye. I can’t play that game because I can’t say that word. No wonder the other kids don’t like me. I wish we were like them.

You! You there! Where is Papa’s special book? You can’t touch it. It belongs under my pillow. PAPA TRUSTS ME TO TAKE CARE OF HIS NOTEBOOK.

I’m not shouting, you silly girl. Take your hands off me.

Where am I? It doesn’t matter. Where was I? Ah. I remember. Back then.

Mutter can be bossy. When someone does come over, I have to flip the picture of the funny, mean little man over. “Make sure it’s not crooked,” Mutter tells me. “Be quick about it.”

I am happy to turn it over because I prefer the picture on the reverse side. A tall, leafless tree stands in the middle of field of flowers. A wide river flows beside it and in the distance gentle slopes roll into tall mountains. A lone bird soars in the blue, cloudless sky.

Mutter cut it out of a magazine. She says the original is even more beautiful, but I can’t believe that. She says it hangs in a gallery in Dresden, across the sea and maybe one day she will take me to see it.

Thank goodness Papa is gone for fouryearsthatseemlikeforever.

No more Hitler. Oops. I didn’t say that. Sorry.

Did I tell you that my Papa is away? Yes, he’s away on business.

Where is Papa?

I told you. He is away on business. ARE YOU DEAF?

My daughter-in-law’s voice voice shakes and I know she’s had too many coffees. No. Wrong. She drinks tea. It’s Mutter.

Don’t cry, Mutter.

“You must call me ‘Mama’ now.”

But you are Mutter. Even if you hit me, I will never think of you as Mama.

Wake up! I open my eyes. Mutter. I know you wanted to protect me, but you should have told me. I know who that man in the picture was.

My daughter-in-law hates it when I get mixed up in time. As if it’s a crime to go backwards now and again. “I wasn’t asleep.”

“No matter. I can’t find the list and I have to go.” Gibberish.

Her lips brush my cheek. She winces. I know I’m rotting on the inside. She smells the rot. Mutter taught me to be clean. She taught me to sew when she found out that the girls at school teased me about my clothes.

Do you remember your mother?

Ah, we used to go to the stores on Spadina. Oh, if you could have seen the fabrics. We bought special material for when Papa came home. Mutter made a dress for me and a dress for her. Blue with yellow flowers for her and pink with white stripes for me. On the day that Papa came home forthefirst time in forever, Mutter didn’t have to drink cold coffee in the morning. I never saw her cry again.

The day before Papacamehome after fouryearsthatfeltlike FOREVER, I dusted the picture that hung on the wall over the fireplace and Mutter gave me a cloth soaked in vinegar to clean the glass. Even the man in the picture with the funny mustache that looked like a toothbrush and the bleached dead eyes sparkled the day Papa came home from camp.

You know who that was, right?

How was my mum today?

Drifting in and out. Lot’s of talk about her past and her parents. I hardly understood a word she said.

Thanks for visiting her.

It’s okay. I like your mother. But you know, it’s you who she would’ve like to have seen. Not me.

There is lots of time for that. I’ll try and go next week.

The daughter-in-in-law nodded. The daughter-in-law even smiled.

She’d covered the Old Biddy with a blanket before she left. Then she’d realized her mistake and taken it off. She’d hoped her husband would be the one to find her. But

a week was a long time for a body to laze at the foot of the stairs.

The daughter-in-law said,

Don’t worry, Honey. I’ll pop in and see her in a few days. In the meantime, how about a glass of wine?

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Martha Eleen at the Loop Gallery November 7, 2015

If you live in Toronto, check out my friend, Martha Eleen’s upcoming show. She is brilliant!
The Meaning of Things
Loop Gallery, 1273 Dundas St. West (at Dovercourt)
Nov. 7 – 29, 2015
Opening reception: Nov. 7, 2 – 5: pm

Image: Thank you for making this day necessary, 2015oil on wood, 20″ x 20″

Martha Eleen

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Place Speak: Real Time Polling Results

Check this out: Federal Election Polls Live! I am determined to vote ABC, this time around, again. That means “Anything But Conservative.” As a writer, a humanitarian and someone who is passionate about the environment and believes in a Sustainable Economy, I have little choice but to ensure Canada does not remain in the hands of Stephen Harper and his henchmen. They are out to destroy everything Canada is built on.

I came across this poll at Place Speak, that asks the simple question: “Which Party will you support in the upcoming Federal Election?  Of course, as election day approaches, pollsters across Canada want to know how the answer to this. The amazing thing about this poll is that it shows REAL TIME polling results that are neighbourhood specific in six cities across Canada! This means that I can make an instant judgment based on their polling results about which candidate is the most likely to take down Stephen Harper in my hood! This I love.

Of course, it will only be effective if all of you go there and vote and then spread the word around to your friends, family and workmates. I know I have not come across a Real Time Poll like this one. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to take your eyes off the Place Speak Live Map!  

Anyway, have fun with this. I am.

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I Won Tickets for Bard on the Beach – King Lear

This weekend I am going to re-read King Lear because next weekend I’m going to see the Bard on the Beach Production, directed by Dennis Garnhum. I had asked my friend, Tina if she’d be interested in going with me, and she was pretty keen. It was left to me to buy the tickets, but of course, I didn’t get around to it.

That turned out to be fortunate because I just received a phone call from the marketing co-ordinator at Bard on the Beach and I’ve won two VIP tickets for King Lear and big bonus, gourmet picnic for two! Since Tina is always cooking the most delicious dinners for me, I am thrilled to be take her as my guest for what promises to be an unforgettable evening of culture and good eats.

As am always optimistically entering my name into contests, I had some troubles remembering who I should thank for this evening and it’s finally come to me. Stongs Grocery Store!

Thank you to Bard on the Beach and Stongs for this treat!

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Writers and Artists Please Vote for Culture in the Canadian Election

Many thanks to the Alliance for Arts + Culture for their Election Toolkit, which arrived in my email box just now. I couldn’t wait to share it with all of you.

Although I realize that most of us would rather chew off our own arm before we’d mark a vote for Harper on our ballots, this sentiment is useless unless we get out and vote for Arts, Culture and the Environment. It’s so important to spread the word to friends, colloquies and family. Usually my mantra is “Show up at the page,” but today it’s “Show up at the Polling Station on October 19th, 2015.

Remember to vote with ABC in mind: Anything but Conservatives (Harper). Both the NDP and the Liberals have some amazing candidates and they need your support.

Even writing Harper’s name makes me feel nauseous…


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Adrian Carr Asks Voters to Avoid One Dominant Party

At Hycroft tonight, Adriane Carr asked voters to think about making sure there is NOT one dominant party on City Council – but a mix of many parties.  “Think: who would work collaboratively and who would stand up for the public interest, as we would?” Carr asked. Bob Kasting, an Independent candidate for Mayor, concurred, and said “I’m prepared to lead a diverse City Council comprised of many different parties and work with everyone to build consensus and together make Vancouver the type of city people who LIVE here want.”

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Meet candidates for Mayor and Women Candidates for City Council

Hosted by the University Women’s Club of Vancouver (at Hycroft)

The quality of life in Vancouver will rest in the hands of those elected for the next 4 years

Make an informed choice

Meet candidates for Mayor and Women Candidates for City Council

Tuesday 28th October at Hycroft 6:30 pm – Meet and Greet

7:00 – 9:00 pm – Statements, Candidate Debate, Q&A

Open to all interested voters. No charge.

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