borrowing bones

The occasional weblog of writer Dora Dueck

Category: Personal

Besides grape jelly

IMG_5272While the grape jelly lids pop and seal in the kitchen, a quick note from my desk to say what I’m up to on the writing front, as promised in the previous post. I’ve got that novel that I seem to have been working on forever more or less done (again) and cooling in a corner, but in the meanwhile have been venturing into some creative non-fiction. I’m pleased that one essay-length foray into CNF has landed on the shortlist of The Quarterly Review‘s Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest, and will be published in that most excellent journal some time next year. It’s called “Return Stroke” and weaves together the father-in-law I never knew, lightning (he was struck by it and his mother killed), and the making of biography.

But the project I’m busy with at the moment (the grape jelly a minor and necessary distraction, me being constitutionally unable to let that many grapes from our own vines go to waste) is a memoir. I described it this way to the Manitoba Arts Council: “A memoir about two years in the Paraguayan Chaco–on the themes of belonging and identity as immigrant, mother, writer.” I’m very grateful that the MAC subsequently awarded me a grant; the plan is to work at this until the end of the year. I had drafted the narrative last winter after re-reading my letters to my parents (which they had kept) and my sporadic journal from those years, 1982-4. Now the work of improving–by adding and cutting, finding the right voice and structure, and fun things like that. Unlike fiction, I can’t make anything up, so my only option is to make what happened interesting. And yes, when it isn’t hard, it’s fun.colour (2)

Last notes: my review of Rob Zacharias’ book Rewriting the Break Event: Mennonites & Migration in Canadian Literature is online here; my review of Rudy Wiebe’s Come Back appears in the current issue of Rhubarb magazine.



Tidying Up

Recently, and almost back-to-back, I read two non-fiction books that are quite different, yet about the same thing: tidying up.

51GcOr7cfuL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Plum Johnson’s They Left us Everything: a memoir, which won the RBC Taylor Prize for non-fiction earlier this year, is a compelling account of Johnson’s attempt to clean up the large family home, which was crammed to the rafters, after the death of her mother. What she expects will be a task of weeks stretches into years; there is so much to sort through and get evaluated and dispose of or divide among the siblings. A book about stuff may sound boring, but it’s not, because in handling the possessions of her parents, who seemed unable to dispose of anything themselves, this eldest daughter also remembers and confronts their past, and hers. Most of all, she attempts to sort through her fraught relationship with her mother. If ambivalence about that relationship remains at book’s end, the journey proves necessary and beneficial for the daughter and is a pleasure to share as a reader.

51Kz4zmXqbL._SX345_BO1,204,203,200_Processing the past is exactly what handling possessions is all about, states Marie Kondo, author of The life-changing magic of tidying up: the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing. Hers is an easy-to-read self-help type book. It seems to have taken our possession-heavy North American culture by storm, at least if its “millions sold” is any indication. I found it chock-full of insights, some that I argued with and will probably not implement, others that resonated immediately, but all of which, if not changing my life, have at least partially changed my surroundings. (For someone who by personality needs to be in tune with her environment, that may amount to the same thing.) Read the rest of this entry »

What was the highlight?

“What was the highlight?” I’m frequently asked this question about my recent trip to Europe with my daughter C.

A good question, and a completely reasonable one too, even its built-in hint for the Coles Notes version, please, not the Complete Works Of… And I do love to answer it. But honestly, it’s difficult, because once again I realized–more forcibly than ever this time–that travel accrues intensely and steadily in a long series of experiences, moments not huge in and of themselves perhaps, but memorable in their combination. Read the rest of this entry »


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