Sunday, September 22, 2019

finishing a manuscript

I took a break from blogging because I was deep into the final edits of a manuscript. I've now done what I can do with it and sent the pages away.

Slowly I've been getting around to all the things I let pile up. Top on the list is clean my desk. Lots of scraps of paper with sentences, scenes, details that were cut and that I never did figure out where to put but was loath to throw away. They've now been swept into the recycling bin. I don't write in pencil so I don't know why there are drifts of eraser rubbings. Or maybe that's what dust looks like when it's been left to accumulate and gets shoved around. I believe I only use one pen--a fountain pen--though there are dozens of pens and coloured markers when I finish picking them all up.

My desk is a boardroom table that I inherited from a friend when he left Montreal. The shelf structure up top is adapted from the design of the desk I used at the Banff Writing Studio in 2007. I was working on a novel with nine points of view. The shelves helped me keep the paper narrative chunks separate. I came home and asked R to build me something similar.

The shelves look sparse now but I've packed away the notebooks and research material I was using. Before long they'll be full again as I start toying with ideas for what I want to work on next. There are already a couple of notebooks and folders. A tantalizing book with "object-based research" in its subtitle.

For a while now I've been wanting to sew some pockets inside my knapsacks. They're never the right size or where I want them. Easier to add them myself. I cut up squares of funky upholstery material, silk, velvet, corduroy.

A friend gave me one of his mother's sarees since she cannot wear them anymore. He thought I might make myself something with the silk, but it's very fine and I worried that my sewing machine would chew it. Ideal would be as little stitching as possible. I backed it with cotton to make a duvet cover.

His mother made the best flaked shark curry. Once we spent a morning alone together when I'd been there overnight. She was unsure what to give me for breakfast. She had no bread. We finally settled on sliced mango.

Dr Alphoneyous Nitpicker needed a new beard since he will be exhibiting paintings at an upcoming group show in October. Originally from Greenland, Dr Nitpicker had an illustrious career as a surgeon and short order cook at the Hospital/Snackbar at the University of Gimli, Manitoba. He's now put his scalpel aside and left Gimli in order to live in Montreal and paint. He is known for his many inventions including a barbecue that also works as a respirator in the ICU, as well as his chickenless nugget machine. The chickens feed chick peas into it. (I am not responsible for Dr Nitpicker. I only make the beards.)

I haven't gone through my filing cabinets for years and thought I would try to thin them. Among the stack of folders I found two would-be novels that I wrote in the 90s. It's been interesting to read them and see what I thought made a story when I was younger. They're mostly interconnected character studies that progress along a faint narrative arc. One is set in Toronto in the mid-80s, details taken from when I lived there as a grad student and later worked in restaurant kitchens on Queen St West. The writing reminds me of the places and the people I knew then. Annex apartments, restaurant kitchens, bars, Queen St W in the 80s, trying to teach bored students who hadn't read the material. I may end up keeping all the folders for nostalgic value.

Another task I'm slowly getting to is painting my very small sewing room. You would think a small room would take no time at all to paint but there are two doors and one long window and wood trim around the ceiling and baseboards. The ceiling is 11' high so there's a lot of climbing up and down the ladder. Rolls and rolls of masking tape. I'm painting the walls pale winter straw. That was the colour I was looking for. The paint name is something else. The pic is before I started.

The list of things-to-do is still longer. Eventually I'll hear about the manuscript I sent off.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

overheard phone conversation 2006

I've been clearing out my office, emptying drawers, leafing through old notebooks, finding notes for story ideas I'll never get to, though it's fun to imagine the directions possible stories could take.
This was scribbled on a bus and pasted in a notebook. Not dated but the previous scribble is from 2006. An overheard phone conversation. Fellow about 20.

Do you have to point out every single thing I did wrong to make me feel bad? I said I'm sorry.
I don't know what you want. I don't know what to say to make you happy.
Like I mean right now.  This fucking conversation we're having. You yelling at me.
Okay, so I'm not very smart. Do you think the way you're talking now is helping to make me smart? It doesn't. You're just making me feel bad. Does that make you happy?
What the fuck! What do you want? For me to chase after you? Fuck!
No, I'm not a daycare. I don't want to take care of you.
You know what, I hate this. I hate that whenever you get pissed off, I'm the one who has to back down.
Yeah, you keep poking me. Digging, poking, digging, poking. What is this? Poke the angry bear?
I'm very angry. You're not making me feel better. I said I'm sorry.
Yeah, right.
No, it doesn't.
Hello? Hello?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

when I am gone...

One day somebody is going to be sorting through my debris and wondering what some of it meant. Or maybe no one will wonder because everything will be dumped into bags and get tossed. Why would anyone but myself feel attached to or nostalgic about a rhomboid of amethyst crystal; a blown glass dish; a stone from a beach in PEI sorta shaped like a heart; a piece of wood from a beach in the Gaspé sorta shaped like a footprint? For sure, I'm the only one who's ever known (or cared) where I found the dry bean pod, why I kept it, or that it's on a piece of weaving I made myself.

And why would I have a prayer book? I'm not religious. I went to a Catholic school from Grade One to Eight, but my parents didn't go to church and there was too much weirdness at the school for the Catholic stuff ever to stick or make sense. 

Yet there's a prayer book with a carved ivory cover, silver filigree clasp, embossed silk endpapers. The book is in German and inscribed to my great-grandmother, Anna, at her christening in 1892. She was about twenty. She'd converted from Judaism to marry my great-grandfather, Jakob.

There are several possible stories here. What did conversion mean to her. What was it like for her living in a small village in Austria during the 1930s and 40s. What happened to her family back in Prague. I know one of her siblings was sent to Dachau because I contacted him in the 1980s and we corresponded for a while. His daughter found me on FB a few years ago. There's also the story of the book itself. I don't mean the prayers but the physical object. The carved ivory cover is hard like heavy china. Who did the carving? Is it hard to carve ivory? Does it crack? How did the ivory get to Vienna where the book was made? And yes, the story of the elephant--probably slaughtered only for the tusks.

All the untold stories like a ghost aura around this book. A puzzle for whoever finds it. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

summer in the city / montreal

Had a great day yesterday, topped with a rainbow over the St. Lawrence as were heading home from a three-hour cycle. The rainbow is faint because the rain was somewhere else. We had a few clouds, mostly blue sky. There was an ice cream at halfway point because I needed the calorie boost to get me home again.

And who's to say you have to go to Mexico to watch dancing on a warm Saturday evening at dusk?

And here, from earlier in the day...
I don't often eat jam, but when I do, apricot is my favourite.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

la Gaspésie July 2019 / paean for low tide

We like waves that swish, swash, swirl and splash. They're hypnotic, sweeping in as they do. We try to guess which wave will be the largest and come the farthest. The roll sweeps in, the undertow tugs back. There's drama in waves and there's more drama at high tide.

But I like low tide too. I can see what lies under the water. I can walk up next to rock walls that I usually only see as a lichen crust in the waves.

We walk farther out--over where we can't walk a couple of hours hence when the water's too deep again. The rocks are crusted with barnacles--those white patches--that crisp and crunch under your shoes. It's like stepping on broken china, except these don't break. Seaweed floats in the tidal pools. Bright green moss. Fronds. Smaller marine organisms. A fellow bent close tells me he sees baby shrimp. I see what looks like a fish with many legs. 

These are barnacles--as well as I could zoom in on them. If they look fuzzy, that's my camera. They're hard as cement and as tenacious. You can't pick them up.

On one of our usual walks along the beach, we come to a river. To get to the other side and continue on the beach, we have to walk along a wharf, up a driveway, over the bridge on the road, down the road for a while, and only finally back to the beach again. The detour takes about 20 minutes. But at low tide, we can walk across the river. Easy! Or so R assured me, standing in the very cold water rushing along at a clip. What you don't see, because we're not standing side by side, is that I'm a few inches shorter. So that very cold water...

But I did it. Gooseflesh legs, feet numb, but saved us the detour.

This isn't rippled water. The receding tide has sculpted the sand. This is low tide.

Here's another day, another beach, also low tide. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

by the sea/ work nonetheless

We're on vacation from the city but working nontheless. At home in Montréal, my office window faces a tree and brick row houses. Here, in la Gaspésie, my office faces the road and the sea. 

R is upstairs with various power tools I try not to hear. He's working on the bedrooms. For a few years now our bed is in a construction zone. Walls had to knocked down, new ones put up. There's still a way to go. The walls have been insulated, drywalled, plastered, sanded and painted with primer.

R has just installed the doors because he wanted to know if they would fit. Both were recuperated from Montréal--one from the sidewalk garbage outside a funeral home, another from our house when we replaced it with a French door that was also recycled.

My work goes more slowly. But the view is grand.

Monday, July 8, 2019

edge of the continent / la Gaspésie / neighbours

R groans, Not another picture of a sunset... So many times I've left my chair and glass of wine or the table just set with supper to dash outside to take a pic of the sun as it's setting. This moment seems perfect, better than any other, and even though I know a camera never gets the full splendour of the sky over water. Then I'm sitting again but this moment looks more perfect and I reach for the camera again. Can't help myself.

In September the sun sets while we're eating. In July the sun still has a way to go, the kitchen where we eat is sideswiped by apricot light from the west. I've understood more about grade school explanations of the sun and the tilt of the Earth's axis from sitting on the edge of the continent, watching the sun go down over water, than I ever did in grade school.

Back at the table, I take another pic of the sun going down, but this time the light is reflected off the covered plate our neighbour has brought because we've just arrived that afternoon and she guesses I might not have made dessert yet. She's right, I haven't. We don't usually eat dessert. She calls what she's made tourbillon, which means whirlwind or vortex. It's saucy and messy with rhubarb, strawberries, and chunks of baked biscuit. I should have taken a pic but it's eaten.