this is not a review: ‘when we were alone’, by david a. robertson (pics, julie flett)

 
A little girl and her grandmother tend a garden and as they do the girl asks simple questions about the beautiful clothing the grandmother wears, the luxurious style of her hair, the language she whispers as she feeds a bird…

The grandmother tells what life was like when she was the child’s age and still lived at home, in her “community”. She talks about friends and traditions and then refers to the school she went to, described only as being “far away from home” where things were very different. The child asks why they cut her hair, why Cree was a forbidden language and each time the grandmother offers a gentle sliver of truth, ending with some version of: “They wanted us to be like everybody else.”

The title is a reference to the instinct for their sense (and survival) of ‘self’, the small pleasures they found in things like the colour of leaves and braiding grass into their shorn hair.

I love this book for its story of courage and strength, but also for its structure, the rhythm of the questions and answers, the repetition of certain lines, especially the reference to a school that was “far away from home”… (which surely begs the question from any young reader/listener as to why  it was so far away). I love the beautiful illustrations by Julie Flett (the colour palette, all rich earth tones and vivid brights alternating with the institutional monotones of muted greys and brown). But mostly I love this book because it invites children who know nothing about the history of residential schools to ask questions of their own, and so maybe, and gently, we can begin a conversation long overdue.

When We Were Alone  can be purchased on-line from Blue Heron Books and Hunter Street Books, which I only mention because they’re two of my faves.

Support indies!

this is not a review: ‘mitzi bytes’, by kerry clare

 
Whether reading her blog Pickle Me This, her essays or short fiction, The M Word  or trash writing... I’m never disappointed with Kerry Clare’s style… that kind of literary voice that feels conversational, as if what you’re reading is something you could also be hearing over lunch with a friend.

Mitzi Bytes  is no exception. You lean forward into the pages, waiting for the next thing, the next laugh (Oh my god, the No Angle tatoo!), the yes yes, I get that!,  or the next bit of outrage and when it comes you lean back, take a breath and wonder how you’ll figure it out, this problem, this mess of a situation, whatever it happens to be, because by this point you are totally signed on.

Pass the bread.

Order some wine.

Keep talking.

Clare excels at writing about the ordinary, which happens to be one of my favourite subjects. She draws the reader in with wide open, honest emotions and isn’t afraid to say this is the truth as I see it  in exactly the way you hope the best of your friends will always say things.

In Mitzi Bytes  she writes about blogging, which is really about noticing.

Sarah Lundy is someone who notices. She’s the person behind a popular blog called Mitzi Bytes. She’s also the author of some very successful books, compilations of her “domestic tales”. But it’s the blog where her notoriety lives, along with her candid, often bitchy posts, which she writes anonymously and which mostly centre around the people in her life, none of whom, including her husband, have any idea that Sarah and Mitzi are one and the same.

Until a comment comes through the site saying she’s been found out.

This is where we meet Sarah, on the verge of her world imploding. She has no idea who would want to do such a vile thing… no idea mainly because the options are many. After all, she’s made a career, literally, of mocking and judging others. (But to be fair, she has also mocked and judged herself in the process.) The *who* of this threat is only one part of the mystery the book sets out to solve. The other is how Sarah’s world became this vulnerable to attack in the first place… not to mention what, exactly, she’s hiding, protecting, and afraid of losing.

But, really, it’s about so much more. It’s about living online, the need to share every thought through a keyboard, the way of virtual friendship and the reality of remaining angry, afraid and alone IRL.

It’s about children and marriage and the effort of not losing oneself (or one’s melon baller). It’s about the history of blogging and the way history is recorded.

“She was thinking of the mother of the baby in the bathtub… Of all the men in towers supposing they were conducting the business of the world, imagining themselves to be the foundation civilization was resting upon–financial markets, circuit boards, and machine guns. Systems to which libraries of multi-volume encyclopedias had been devoted…. while women’s real lives, the stuff of life itself–blood, milk, sweat, tears, and the burn of fevered foreheads–was deemed inconsequential, or even worse, these stories weren’t acknowledged, weren’t even written down, let alone read, reviewed, history continuing on as it had ever been, delivered by the pens of men.”

And it’s about the kind of insecurity society breeds and the way the internet is a place to pretend we’re someone other than we are. Sarah Lundy represents all of us in a way, the part of us that’s just trying to clunk its way through life. What Clare does so well is show us this process in a way that we see Sarah and also see ourselves in  Sarah. We recognize the insecurity in her railing, know that it’s the frustration of powerlessness. The question then becomes: why do we give our power away?

A lovely read. And so discussable. Book club or lunch, you choose.

Mitzi Bytes is available online

at Blue Heron Books and at Hunter Street Books.

Two of my favourites. (Support indies!)

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday (summer postcards)

Greetings from a crow’s nest in Naufrage, PEI.

No colour enhancement on this pic, I swear. First time I’d seen a yellow sky.

A tiny fishing village that’s going under due to Big Fishing.

Met some guys and gals who still work the boats when I went down to the dock to see them come in at day’s end. God they work hard. And yet, they insisted on giving me a *feed* to take home — a bucket of fish —“they’re only little’uns”  they said.

(summer, 2015)

 

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

the reason my house and car and pockets are filled with stones

 

They line stairs, window ledges and bookshelves; fill flowerpots and bowls beside my bed. And that little space in my car, the alcove-esque area above the gear shift, is for what if not stones…?

My theory for the why of this (apart from stones are lovely) is the way my dad would every now and then on a summer night after working in a factory all day and after mowing the lawn and after supper… announce that he was heading to the beach to get some rocks.

He didn’t ask me to come with him. I was a skinny kid with noodly arms. Not super helpful in the rock lifting department.

But something in the way he said he was going to the beach… different from the way he said he was off to Canadian Tire… sounded like an invitation.

And so we went.

He and me.

He to collect rocks for alpine gardens, to edge various beds or frame his collection of seashells.

And me, to skip stones, bury my legs in cool nighttime sand and wonder how long it would take to swim across Lake Ontario and what, if anything, was on the other side.

It’s possible he took breaks from the rock gathering. He may have sat on a length of driftwood at some point, lit a cigarette and wondered too about the swimming and the other side.

I don’t remember the details of these beachy missions.

Only that cool nighttime sand.

And my first pocketful of stones.

 

 

 

wordless wednesday (aka: instructions for pretzels)

Go to your local market on market day.

Find the pretzel lady. Try not to get there too late. She leaves when she sells out and she sells out often.

Take a minute, make sure you choose the right  pretzel.

Or just grab any of them because they’re all the same for heaven’s sake.

Use the tongs provided.

Pay.

Put pretzel in backpack and take to your desk to eat later.

OR (better idea) eat while walking in the sun.

Last, but most important point:  the instant you realize you’re too far away to  go back for more, kick yourself for buying only one.

Other (not always) wordless friends:

Cheryl Andrews
Allison Howard
Barbara Lambert
Allyson Latta
Elizabeth Yeoman

 

 

it’s the small stuff that connects us

 

From Welcome to the Hood,  a work in progress.

Glynnis is wearing pink cotton shorts, a striped tee shirt, support hose and brown sandals. Her toenails are painted red. She is only 56 but lives in a nursing home because she is epileptic with brain damage—the kind of brain damage that has rendered her almost childlike. She can’t function on her own. Or even walk. If I don’t visit for a week or two it takes her a minute to remember we’ve ever met. Her parents are close to ninety. Until recently she lived with them. She tells me all this, matter of factly. She thinks the nursing home isn’t a bad place but occasionally has issues with the oatmeal.

She likes colour. So do I. It’s what we talk about. The colour of everything. Look at the bird, I say as I wheel her past a cage in the sunroom, he’s such a beautiful bright blue. She laughs, says that’s not a bird. What is it then, I ask, and she looks at me, back at the cage, then at me again. It’s a bird!  she says, still laughing. I never know what part of her is confusion and what part is just plain smart-ass funny. I think she likes it that way.

I take her out to the courtyard where no one ever goes. Tables and chairs, umbrellas, gardens, a walking path, a bench under an ivy-covered trellis; it all makes for good optics when the inspectors come but in reality it’s too much trouble for the staff to move people outside. Instead they’re crowded around a TV screen near the nurses’ station. No one looks at the set. Most nod off. Some watch the comings and goings in the hall, others beg to be taken back to their rooms.

None of them has the slightest idea there’s a courtyard full of sunshine on the other side of perpetually drawn shades.

There’s a purple hibiscus bush that reminds Glynnis of one her mother has. Her mother’s garden is magnificent, she says, and then we pass a window where we see Marion in her room staring out at something. When she sees us she taps on the glass, points. Marion doesn’t talk much, mostly she sits alone in the dining room and counts her collection of plastic cutlery. But now, this tapping… I’ve never seen her so animated.

At first I can’t tell what she’s pointing at and this frustrates her, she points harder. Maybe she means the hibiscus. I point at the hibiscus. No, no, she shakes her head. I want to tell her to open the window, but it would be too complicated. She may not know how, it may not even open. I don’t want to frustrate her further. She hangs her head as if giving up, then looks at us again, makes a face, annoyed, sad, says something, points. Jab, jab, her finger tapping on the window, intent on getting her message across.

“What’s wrong with her?” Glynnis says.

“She’s trying to show us something.”

“Who cares.”

Glynnis wants to get going.

Marion keeps tapping.

Finally, I see what it is. A bird’s nest tucked into a niche in the trellis. I show Glynnis. She laughs, says her mother has a bird’s nest. Marion smiles, her whole face relaxes and as each of us, from three different vantage points, stare at the bits of grass and twigs, it occurs to me that in this split second of discovery we experience the wonder of this tiny thing in exactly the same way, with exactly the same joy. And in that fraction of a moment I see the connections between us and know that the differences are only an illusion.