Making it better

I’m finding that making things helps. Last week I made a cake, an entirely unnecessary cake, but one H. would have liked and one I could share, not to mention eat slowly myself. I’ve also been “making” in the form of a visual grief notebook, pasting and painting and noting, the book getting fatter as the pages stiffen and crinkle with watercolour and glue. I’m not sure why it helps, maybe it’s the fiddly effort of it, which makes grief “work” tangible, or maybe it’s the fact of a record (allowing me to trace where I am/was), or maybe it’s just that it holds down, however temporarily, something otherwise internal and unpredictable and uncertain. Also, the doing is enjoyable. (And as I’ve said before, having finally grasped this for myself, it’s not the artistry that matters but the process.) Whatever the psychology involved, it reminds me of lines from a Sandra Birdsell story in Night Travellers:

…crying made everything worse. But she’d discovered that crayons and paper made it better. Drawing was a bird moving against a clean sky the way you wanted it to.  

Here are a few pages from the book to show what I mean. One early page contained “ordinary little” reminders of him.C1C6E3BB-8AB2-4361-A791-E7215D30841F_1_201_a

Another told a story about his clothes. (Yes, I’m afraid I actually went to the thrift store and bought back a shirt I’d donated!)379E668D-6CC3-439E-9406-9D450757AD32_1_201_a

 

There was a small regret to note. During the last years, he wasn’t allowed grapefruit because of a heart medication he was on, so we never had them in the house, though we’d both previously liked grapefruit a lot. Once in hospice, off those meds, why didn’t I bring in some juicy triangles of grapefruit to let him taste again? It never occurred to me! Now that I’m back to eating grapefruit myself, I wish, oh I wish, I had!

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The most recent page I made was prompted by something I saw in an illustration of Covid loss, which I recognized immediately as a powerful description of absence — space filled with a life summed in obituary. I worked from happy photos of our 46th anniversary last August when we had our morning maté (yerba tea) at the bay, sitting on our favourite log. I walk there still and sometimes sit on that log beside the unbodied shape that memory makes.

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Thin Air

Last week, which seems a long while ago already, was Thin Air week in Winnipeg. Thin Air is the city’s annual writers festival. I was honored to have a small part in the event, with a campus reading of This Hidden Thing, but mostly the week was about listening to and engaging with a great variety of other writers from across the country. As the event’s subtitle says, “it’s for readers.”

I took in four of the evening events, and two of the afternoon book chats. Here’s a few highlights.

From the festival opener, a line by Ismaila Alfa, traffic reporter for CBC Radio and poet/musician:

Long live the figures of speech before and after me.

Long live indeed, figures of speech!

Since I'm not much of a coffee drinker, my sleek Thin Air mug has top spot as pens and pencils holder.

The festival featured many wonderful writers and their books, and I hate to single some out, but… I enjoyed hearing Richard B. Wright (perhaps best known for his Clara Callan), whose new book is Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard. Wright had some interesting things to say about how he works, including the comment that reading poetry unblocks him when he’s stuck, reinvigorates him. And, finding myself once again involved in the terror and joy of a new novel project, I certainly  resonated with what Wright said about that:

You’re sitting in a room talking to yourself — it’s almost a form of madness… You hope what you’re indulging in will be liked and indulged by others… [But] I seem to need another life. A writer needs this other imaginary world.

And the books I’d like to read because of the festival? Wright’s, yes, and also David Bergen’s latest, The Matter with Morris, which landed on the Giller prize long list as the week opened. Opening reviews have praised it and the passage Bergen read from it intrigued me. (Another festival author and Winnipegger who made the long list is Joan Thomas, but I’ve already read her Curiosity, so I’m up at least one!) I’m also looking forward to Sandra Birdsell’s new book, Waiting for Joe.

Every time I attend readings I realize again what a pleasure it is to listen to ideas and words crafted with care. Poetry, especially, shines when read aloud; the genre almost requires an oral presentation. Novels are trickier to judge from their performance, I think, because they turn and deepen on extended development. But the fragments we hear are an invitation, and we honor authors when we take them up on it.