Category Archives: Personal

On the Canadian writers’ blog tour

Sally Ito tagged me for a stop on the Canadian writers’ blog tour. More about the tour in a moment, but first about Sally. She’s  a Winnipeg writer of poetry (most recently Alert to Glory), memoir, and non-fiction, as well as teacher, translator, and artist (see her “tour” posts at Sally’s Visualandia). She often writes a haiku as her Facebook status, like this evocatively colorful one:

On the window sill
replacing ripe tomatoes
empty blue bottle

Now about the tour. Someone described the Canadian writers’ blog tour as a chain letter for writers–except that there’s no threat of misfortune should it be broken! I don’t know who started it or all the places it’s gone, though a google search uncovers some of its  pathways. Essentially one answers four questions, and then tags another writer or two for a further stop.

So, welcome to my place on the tour, and here goes:

1. What am I working on?

I’m finishing a novel that’s been some years in the making. Finishing, for me, is a rather flexible concept. I think I’m finished, and then I discover, no, it’s not ready yet. But soon, soon, I hope, this manuscript will be on its way to publication. I dread this next stage, which may take months or years, but I don’t think about it much when it’s off my desk. — And, you may ask, what’s the novel “about”? An archivist, an odd uncle, a mysterious death, shame and loss.

Between the stages of the novel, there have been and will continue to be other projects. I’ve been fiddling with some more short stories and working on some creative nonfiction pieces. My goal for 2015 is to explore the nonfiction genre. I plan to write an essay on our two-and-a-half years in Paraguay, from which I’ll read a few excerpts at Mennonite/s Writing VII: Movement, Transformation and Place in Fresno, in March.

2.  How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m not sure I can assess my work comparatively. I’ve been writing literary fiction. I’ve sometimes mined my Mennonite background for content. I’m interested in women’s lives. My style probably tends to the reflective end of the spectrum rather than quick-paced drama.

3. Why do I write what I do?

Another hard question. I don’t really know why one idea rather than another grabs me. Not just grabs me—for I start more than I finish—but holds me tight enough to carry me to the end of it. In the case of the novel This Hidden Thing I wanted to set a story in Winnipeg and I was curious, for a number of reasons, about secrets (their positives and negatives). Maria and her story grew out of that.

It seems that when I open myself to the possibility of a new idea, something is always given. In the case of the recent novella “Mask” (published in The Malahat Review), it was a single sentence in a book about the quest for Everest—that there were camps or retreats or something like that for men who had head wounds from the First World War. This stuck with me, and before I knew it, I “saw” this girl chancing upon her father without his mask on (if the men couldn’t be repaired properly, they were fitted with masks) and the shock for her of that. Which became a way to consider not only the effects of war but the dynamics of woundedness within a family. And perhaps, in a larger sense, about how we “uncover” our parents in the process of growing up, yet want to love and protect them. I’ve always been fascinated by people and how they manage, sometimes well, sometimes not so well, within the circumstances in which they find themselves.

4. How does my writing process work?

I let myself write a terrible beginning or first draft, not thinking about it too much but just getting it out, usually with pen and paper, often sitting warm and cozy in bed. If these scribblings continue to interest me, I transfer the best bits to the computer, adding and improving as I go. From then on I work at the computer. I revise a lot. I have to. I use various tricks to see the thing freshly, like the print preview option or changing the font or margins. I always read my work aloud, to myself and often later to H.  More than once I’ve had this crazy experience where a rejection will clarify a piece for me. I don’t know if I just get stubborn about it then, to make it work, or what. I’d just as soon leave that step out, however.

Okay, that’s the end of my stop. I’m tagging an up-and-coming poet whose work I  admire and who is also a wonderful reader/performer of it: Angeline Schellenberg. She has a book in her future, but she can tell you more.

 

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Leaving home: two weeks in Turkey

In shallow Tuz Golu (Salt Lake)

In shallow Tuz Golu (Salt Lake)

We’re back from two wonderful weeks in Turkey, a trip we’d thought about taking for some time. Funny thing about me, though, as much as I’d looked forward to the trip, the week before leaving, I could hardly bear the thought of it. Whatever possessed us? and similar thoughts bothered me while I made lists and packed and counted down to departure. H. laughed at me, because it happens every time. I’m such a homebody, that’s the fact of it, and in a strange and completely unnecessary way I feel as  long as one of us is here–in this particular house we call home–our lives and our children’s will keep orbiting as they should. (The children will laugh at this too, for they’ve all circled their own places for years by now!) The minute we’re off the driveway, I’m fine. Nothing I can do about it now, I think, and since there really isn’t, I leave physically and mentally and I don’t worry about the house either. Continue reading

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The experience of being honored

Besides celebrating our 40th anniversary last Sunday (Aug. 10) with food and conversation and stories and a slide show that still chokes me up a little, some awfully nice things were said to and about us in that public setting. Our children spoke generously and touchingly, and H. and I had the opportunity to give tribute to one another.

Later, we talked privately about the powerful effect this experience of being honored has had on our spirits. I find myself still moving within the effect of it, in fact, as if in awe, and have been wondering how to describe it. Continue reading

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Anticipation

I’m re-reading Middlemarch by George Eliot in anticipation of Rebecca Mead’s My Life in Middlemarch, waiting for me on the reserve shelf at the library. I plan to get into that book post my finish of the base book, and post the celebration of our 40th anniversary with family and friends this coming Sunday. All our children and grandchildren will soon be spilling into this house from parts east and west for about a week, and yes, we’ve got enough beds and mattresses for the 15 of us. More on that event, perhaps, in a future post. Though maybe not. I’ve already gushed some nostalgic tears, picking photos for the slide show and listening to the songs they’ll be set to. Generally I find it hard to put into words the deepest and most familial of joys. Or maybe I just like to hold them private. But about the books, for sure, later in August.

But this note to say I’m having a lovely summer, my novel manuscript revisions done and me in full break from writing and the weather quite glorious, the birds frequent to the feeder and bath for their pleasure and ours as we watch, and the tomatoes ripening, and the pink-purple petunias sprawling fuller over the balcony railing of the front porch than any year yet. I’m full of anticipation and I feel blessed.

sc0014f93dP.S. A quote from Middlemarch‘Fred’s studies are not very deep,’ said Rosamund, rising with her mamma, ‘he is only reading a novel.’

I guess Fred wasn’t reading Middlemarch; it’s a fine, deep book.

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Does the First World War belong to me?

The first question Susan Sanford Blades asked me in an e-mail interview about “Mask” was, Was this story informed at all by any of your personal experience (via family etc.) with the war? (“Mask,” which will appear in The Malahat Review this summer, concerns the repercussions of an English soldier’s facial injury in the First World War.) A perfectly appropriate question, perfectly innocent, about the story’s origin. When I read it, however, I reacted with an inner gasp of panic. Does the First World War actually belong to me? 

It had never occurred to me to me that it didn’t, but in that moment, before I went on to answer Susan, it loomed large. Did it belong enough, that is, for me to use it in a story?    Continue reading

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A bow to the past in Kansas

In the spirit of the rather fitful reporting to which this blog has devolved, I’m here this Monday afternoon to say that I was away four days in Kansas, hanging out with historians and archivists. (I believe I’ve mentioned before that these are some of my favorite people.) I’m on the Historical Commission of the Mennonite Brethren (MB) denomination, which meets once a year, rotating between the four archival centers in Kansas, California, B.C., and Manitoba. We hear reports from the centers, undertake various publishing projects (including both scholarly and popular history–last year’s was the fascinating mystery-biography, It Happened in Moscow by Maureen Klassen, which has sold astonishingly well), sponsor research grants and an archival internship, and occasionally plan symposiums, all to foster the preservation of, study of, and reflection on our history. Continue reading

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The strong memory of places

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane's Walk 2014

House on Kildonan Drive, Jane’s Walk 2014

H. and I participated in one of Winnipeg’s 24 Jane’s Walks* this weekend: the one along Kildonan Drive North.  It was a chilly, rather overcast day, but a large group of us gathered to wander along a river street associated with North Kildonan’s rich or famous—names familiar to the Mennonite settlement here like Henry Redekop, A.A. DeFehr, George Janzen, Henry Krahn, and  those connected to pioneering and municipal leadership like J.M. Morton and Angus Matheson McKay. Continue reading

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