Wednesday, June 28, 2017

the eyebrow post

I get annoyed when R comes home from the barber who's trimmed his eyebrows. I like wild and shaggy eyebrows on men.

So... what about women?

When I was growing up, I remember that my mother had a steel comb for grooming her eyebrows. She was brunette. Maybe because my eyebrows were white-blond, she didn't bother to pass along eyebrow advice. Not till I was in my 20s did I realize that some woman plucked their eyebrows. (Ouch.) I decided I would never have to do anything like that because mine were hardly visible. Even if I shaped them, who would notice?

It never occurred to me that I might make my eyebrows more visible with eyebrow pencil, but a few years ago, a friend's mother told me I should. I was curious enough to buy an eyebrow pencil. I chose light brown because that was as far as I wanted to venture into Frida Kahlo territory. Except then, in front of the mirror, I balked. Was I supposed to draw an eyebrow over my unruly eyebrow hair? That would look crazy. I would have to shape ie get rid of some white-blond hair first. So no, that wasn't a good idea. Also, when I did draw eyebrows, I looked ridiculous. Frankensteinish.

I used to get comments from women, where I worked, who were more makeup savvy. They experienced much pain to shape and groom their eyebrows and felt that I should too. There were stories about tweezers. Wax that ripped out the hair (plus a layer of skin). There was threading. I'm still not clear how threading works, but it's apparently less painful. I'm not sure if threading is related to one woman's eyebrows that they were entwined with metal thread. I believe that was decorative. It didn't look comfortable, but she was glossy-magazine-cover beautiful.

So I've never done anything with my eyebrows. More recently, however, as the hair on my head is turning white, my white-blond eyebrows are also turning white, and age-white is more wiry than blond-white. I'm going wild and shaggy! Not yet sure what to do about that, but I suspect I'll do nothing.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Gaspé June 2017

A dusty gravel road marked by hydro poles with antique porcelain insulators. (Antique as in the age of electricity, not Greek mythology.)

We came to the Gaspé for a few days. North of New Brunswick, north of Maine, west of Newfoundland. It's a 9-hour drive from where we live in Montreal. About halfway along the drive, the St. Lawrence River is so wide that you can't see the other side of the coast.

Our house isn't in the town of Gaspé, but a smaller village nearby. In the 2011 census 130 people lived there.

There have been a few deaths since, one our neighbour who lived for 78 years in the cedar shingle house where she was born. As shingles needed to be replaced, she made new ones. Those are the larger shingles on the bottom half of the side wall. There's no doorstep at the front door, because who would be so uncouth as to go in by the front? During the time that we knew her, she lived in the kitchen where she had a wood stove, a table and chairs, a cot to sleep. She liked R and gave him a pair of thick wool socks she'd knit.

When another of our neighbours called this past winter, it wasn't to tell us how the winter storms had washed away part of the highway and damaged the coastline, but that she had passed away.

Our visit to the coast was short, and given the vagaries of Maritime weather. we were lucky to see a magnificent sunset every evening. We walked down the low cliff to the shore and found a washed up log for a front-row seat. Or sat against a granite boulder that was still warm from a day of sun. It was low tide--with the advantage being that it was high tide in the night, so we heard waves smashing in our dreams.

The waves wash in litter--always so much plastic--but some of what we found was clearly lost, not tossed aside. 

When I came home, I googled Dong-A-Pharm and discovered that Bacchus is an energy drink. They also market one called Garglin. Don't want to know what that one tastes like. The company is in Seoul. I doubt a brown glass bottle would make its way intact from South Korea to the Gulf of St. Lawrence. More likely it got tossed off a ship. That, by the way, is not my large hand but R's.  

The child's red boot above? We saw it on our first evening. On the last day we found it or its fellow farther along the shore.

We walked by the water, we walked in the hills.

In the woods we came across footprints in the mud. The only animal I can imagine this large in these forests would be a moose, though this looks like a moose with added accessories: more toes, even a hoof on the side? We found moose droppings, also on the path, close to here. 

Here's me watching terns dive-bomb into the water for fish. They hovered high up, then plummeted with their beaks like arrows into the water. They seemed already to have swallowed the fish when they surfaced again. 

You might not guess but this is my happy face as I'm eating frîtes in Marsoui. That's one reason why I don't use emoticons. There aren't any that translate my particular range of expression.

Other random sightings...

A homemade clapboard trailer. There's a hitch on it so I assume it could, at one time, have been attached to a car. Why pay good money when you can make it yourself?

And when you don't have a hoist to work on your car, an old washing machine will do as well.

Filmy and glittery. Bling-bling and rust.

This is a storage shed now but it used to be the home for a family of eight.

The St. Lawrence didn't freeze this past winter and there was damage along the coast from the winter storms. The beaches are wider, more sand and stones thrown up, the shoreline gouged away. These picnic tables, which used to be several metres from the edge of the beach, are no longer even on solid ground.

Climate change, yes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Banff Writing Studio 2007

Ten years ago this month I was at the Banff Writing Studio.

My time there meant so much to me personally and professionally. At Banff I made friends who are friends to this day. In the ten years since Banff, there have been meetings in cities across Canada, book publications, weddings, travels, names hailed on the street and at parties, joint readings, babies, prizes, book launches. At Banff I met the editor of my first and second books.

The Banff Writing Studio wasn't my first experience of a writing community but it's been my deepest.

There was the astounding landscape that I associate with the memories, five weeks of work with no other distractions, the great gang of people I was there with.

These shoes were bought in Paris because (I was told) who goes to Paris and doesn't buy shoes

Guitar at dusk, followed by a bonfire.

Group hikes were organized. This one to Stanley Glacier in BC.

I believe this was a yoga consultation. Aka: what to do about "writer's back"?

Here's the path up Tunnel Mountain where I went for a hike most days. We were told to be wary of the elks who were pregnant and irritable. I never saw any on the path, though a herd used to hang out beside the cafeteria.

A demonstration of book binding.

The writers formed two groups identified by their disciplines, narrative or poetry. The narrative group had met for an afternoon discussion when this poet arrived with a strudel she'd made--crossing the form divide.

We had a clear warm day for our hike into Johnston Canyon.

On May 24th it snowed. No one had brought mitts and hats.

Writers tend to stick to themselves. We do what we do best when we're alone, be that in a busy cafe with background chatter or in a solitary room with a door that's closed.

I had that precious alone-time at Banff, but what I also felt was the nurturing experience of companionship among writers. The conversations, the listening, the drinks, the walks, crossing paths on our way into the gym, even just doing nothing together.

Happy memories!
If I'm still around in twenty years, I'll post pics of faces to show how endearingly young we were in 2007.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

saving the planet at the grocery store and other city encounters

I had to buy pressed cottage cheese which I can usually only find at a kosher or "ethnic" grocery store. I use it to make Topfenknödel aka cottage cheese dumplings.

I was two people back in the express checkout. The young woman who had just paid was still talking loudly to the cashier. I assumed she was a friend who wasn't thinking that the cashier was at work. She speaking and doing something... packing her groceries in a cloth bag? all the while talking emphatically. I wasn't listening. I had my earbuds in.

Then, as I got closer, I saw that the cashier was trying to ignore her, as were the other people who had paid and were passing behind her. Her movements were too energetic for simply putting fruit and veg into a bag. She was tearing the plastic wrapping off several packages of pork chops and slapping the raw meat on the cashier's counter. One by one -- three, four, five, six pork chops. She balled up the plastic wrap and tossed the styrofoam trays back to the cashier. It was a crime! How much packaging the grocery store used! And she was mindful of ecology! And saving the planet! More people needed to think about ecology! Weren't they concerned about the planet? Well, she was! Her vegetables already in her cloth bag, she shoved her stack of pork chops on top.

I could have tried to interrupt her lecture to ask why she wasn't eating lower on the food chain if she wanted to do her small yet not insignificant part toward saving the planet, but I didn't get the impression there was a Q&A.


This morning, as I waited for water to boil for tea, I stepped into the backyard to see what was growing. Buds on the columbines, ferns spreading, clematis only starting to send out leaves. We have a small, inner-city backyard with a mismatched wooden fence. The neighbour on one side nailed up boards. The other neighbour asked us to split the cost for a fence with a trellis along the top. We haven't done anything with the weathered planks that face the alley, even though after every winter it becomes ever more impossible to shove open the gate to wheel our bikes out.

Then I noticed the thinning stubble of a man's head over the top of the back fence. I thought he might be walking his dog and the dog had stopped to pee, but a few moments passed and he kept turning his head to the right, then the left, then back to look into our yard again. It felt like a scene out of my novel, Five Roses. I didn't know if he could see me, but he didn't know I could see him or -- I'm assuming -- he would have moved along. I didn't see his shape through the spaces between the shrunken boards, as my character did, because the light wasn't behind him. My character runs to the gate to challenge the man in the alley, but  I didn't want to do that at 7 am, not sure how big the man was. That he stayed there felt threatening enough.

I called out, "What are you doing?" (En français.)

He didn't seem surprised that I knew he was there. He said he was very thirsty and would like a glass of water.

Geez! How can you refuse a person water? I told him to wait.

I still didn't want to open the gate, so I reached the glass over the top of the fence. He drank with loud glugging gulps, then told me that what he would really like was a cup of coffee.

I said there was no coffee. I didn't drink coffee. He suggested I give him two bucks to buy one.

I could have. I should have? But where would we go from there? I didn't want to find him there again tomorrow.  I would have given him money if we weren't having this conversation where I live. I'm not sure I like how I reacted. Or didn't react. I have to think about that. Maybe I was spooked by what happened in my novel.

He thanked me and returned my glass over the fence. We wished each other a good day.

Monday, May 15, 2017

walking and writing / life balance

Years ago, when I was too impatient to wait for the bus to go to work, I realized that I could leave home only 10 minutes earlier and get to work by walking. Ditto the return route. That was how I started: 8 k/day, 5 days/wk.
That was a couple of decades ago. I no longer work in the same place. I still walk.

Walking clears my head. I like that it's gentle exercise. I couldn't sustain anything more aggressive. Moving my legs and body is a good antidote to the stationary hours I spend at my desk writing.

In the sense that walking progresses at a slow pace, walking mimics my slow movement through narrative.

The act of walking balances the act of writing.

My words stay with me too -- even when I don't set out to think about writing while I'm walking.

I replay dialogue. I consider adding a flashback to help with a plot conundrum.

Or I decide to describe the place that I'm walking through.

It often isn't a conscious decision.

Of course, I'm not the first writer who appreciates walking. I belong to a tradition of writers who trudge. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce to name a couple. More recently, Rebecca Solnit has written a book, wanderlust: A History of Walking.

I have friends who are writers with whom I go on long walks.

A good friend and writer, Elise Moser, suggested we do a walking/writing workshop to introduce others to the benefits that we experience.
Last Saturday, Elise and I conducted the workshop under the auspices of the Quebec Writers' Federation.

We planned a route that would take us along the edge of the upscale Montreal neighbourhood of Westmount, then down past the Lachine Canal to Pointe St. Charles, where I live and where I set my novel, Five Roses.

Between walks, we wrote.

Thank you to the Quebec Writers' Federation, the venerable Atwater Library, and the small but welcoming Café Lalli for sitting-down space. Thank you to all who participated for making it an enjoyable day.

This sweetie played a role too, because I saw her while I was walking -- so who knows where her red dress, red shoes, and the two red balls might appear next.