this is not a review: ‘ebb and flow’, by heather smith

Written in free verse, Ebb and Flow took a few moments to fully enter into but once I did the rhythm had me and the dread of a free verse story disappeared into pleasant reading (reminding me of the same apprehension followed by pleasure with Pamela Porter’s wonderful book, The Crazy Man).

Ebb and Flow is the story of twelve year old Jett who, with his mother, moves to the mainland (from their home in the Maritimes) after his father is sent to jail. This, his mother thinks, will be a fresh start, for both of them. But what happens instead, Jett meets a lad his own age, Junior, who lives in a small shed with a father who is both physically and emotionally abusive. As a result Junior has become angry and destructive, getting into constant trouble and is disliked and distrusted by the community. Soon Jett is getting into trouble with him and eventually he finds himself stealing money from the one decent person he’s befriended, Alf, a grown man who is gentle and trusting and has the mentality of a toddler. His betrayal of Alf fills him with shame, and yet he continues his petty crimes and misdemeanors with Junior until his mother sends him back to the coast to stay with his gran to try to forget about everything bad that’s happened and because she doesn’t need the chaos as she gets her own life back together. Happily, his wonderfully eccentric grandmother has a way of helping him without him realizing it, and rather than forgetting, Jett finds himself recalling the truths of his rotten bad year and begins to heal from it.

Piece by piece
she filled my hands
with the sea glass

Teal
Emerald
Olive
Cornflower, my favourite….

This one’s from the fifties, she said…

It spent years
caught in the ocean waves.
It was tossed around
and beaten down,
until finally
it washed up on shore.
Now look at it—
what was once a piece
of broken glass
is now something better—
it’s a gem.

Even after all that battering?

Grandma smiled.
Because of all that battering.

One very big truth Jett comes to realize is that Junior’s real name is Michael after his father… but, Junior says….

“When I’m eighteen, I can change my name. Legally.
When I’m eighteen, I can be someone new.”  

It’s a beautiful moment and the turning point of the story as Jett realizes there are reasons people are the way they are. A powerful lesson for any age.

And all of it told without a hint of saccharine.

There is much to love here.

 

david thingy’s green ink, & other recollections of a pink day

♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥♥

Loving my discussions this week with friends about Valentine memories from their own childhood… like those of a pal who grew up in the UK and says how it was always such an exciting time, wondering if she’d get a card… (wait for it)… in the MAIL. Says she’d sometimes get two, which was a huge deal, even though one of them was always from David Thingy who wrote in green ink. You sent out only a very few, she says, and always unsigned, no identifying marks at all. After which came the fun of classroom chats about who got what and from possibly whom and maybe even a bit of show and tell with the cards. She ends by asking if I have any tips for making pastry.

Another friend thinks it’s possible she gave a card to everyone in her class because her mother thought it would be a good idea, but she’s not sure if that’s why she did it and doesn’t actually have other memories about the day.

Someone else says that while they were not forced to give every classmate a card, she thinks it was encouraged, not that it made any difference, she says, and then remembers there being a sort of tacit competition in terms of how many cards one got. (She closes by saying that since she’s not feeling particularly traumatized by the memory she probably got enough to see her ‘down the middle of the road’ as it were.)

The friend who says her family moved so often during grade school that she was always the outsider and she was grateful for the ‘everyone gets a card’ rule otherwise it would have been just another devastating thing.

Another person’s memory was giving everyone a card but making or choosing the nicest valentines and/or writing special messages for the friends she liked best so there was still an element of doing something extra for special friends, but presumably the others didn’t realize that.

Someone says the day always made them sad, a reminder of who is popular and who isn’t and regardless of cards because that didn’t change reality.

Only one person mentions edibles. They would include in the envelope with the card, a heart-shaped candy that had a little message on it. Not sweetarts apparently, but some other kind of message’d bon bon.

And a friend with lifelong mental health challenges (who I’ve written about before) begins by talking about the advances in awareness of childhood trauma and then says despite those benefits there is still the giant problem of society… and that while he doesn’t have any special memories of valentines day, he does believe that the number of cards a child gets isn’t the cause of trauma… that the cause of trauma in this case is the way society views the number of cards received, the way it defines winners and losers, and how it teaches us to be defined by that.

As for my own memories… in my class we put our names on envelopes and attached them to our desks or possibly in some other part of the classroom and you’d walk around, ‘delivering’ cards into whatever envelopes you wanted. Some kids got a million, others did not. I was not among those who ever got a million, but I don’t recall being sad about that. At all. In fact I do remember thinking, wow…. I got five! or whatever… when I was expecting two. And only some were signed, most were not. All of it quite thrilling indeed.

But the best part was always the cards themselves. I loved the goofy pics and sayings, loved choosing who would get which. Not sure if they still sell them. They looked like this:

I love the diversity of memories and how the day resonates with everyone in different ways, the way it has been, and continues to be, experienced with a wide variety of emotions… because what’s for sure is that this day is not in any way merely about the fluff that marketing would have us buy into.

Here’s to spreading some quiet joy… in whatever way you choose.

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday with words (aka: let us talk about trees… )

I’ve written about trees before.  Trees I’ve loved. And my love of trees.

Trees that replace old (tree) friends.

And I’ve occasionally ‘not reviewed’ books about trees… a couple of my favourites are mentioned here. Also here.

Of course I adore the Tree of the Week feature in The Toronto Star and the way trees are these subtle but enormous parts of our lives that we hardly even think about until someone asks.

So I’m asking.

What’s your tree history?

For instance, was there a beloved tree in your childhood? Was it a pear tree and did you read Nancy Drew and eat potato salad in it? Did your father knock down the apricot tree at the end of your driveway because he stepped on the gas instead of the brake, after which your mother no longer made apricot jam because she never found apricots that were as good as her own? Did you read James Michener in a quiet leafy park while eating stolen peaches from a nearby orchard? Do you have any tree stories at all that don’t involve fruit?

Feel free to share even the tiniest wee memory.

Also… I would love to know what I’m missing in the way of literature where trees feature prominently, including kid lit, poetry, and essays.

if you were a tree, what tree would you be?

 

 

 

the story of rebecca of sunnybrook farm begins with bingo

 

Actually, it begins with a precocious eleven year old girl arriving in a small country town via horse and buggy, driven by a soft spoken older uncle type who is charmed by her precociousness. (Yes, she is poor and has lively big bright eyes and braids. No they are not red, but black. More about that later.)

But the story of how Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm came to be in my house in the first place begins with bingo.

The Briny Books Book Bingo Challenge, to be precise. A new thing created by the wonderfully bookish mind behind the blog Pickle Me This (and in partnership with the simply wonderful Blue Heron Books).

I love stuff like this.

So I started with the first square (you don’t have to go in order though… it’s bingo for god’s sake!), which happens to be “A Book From a Little Free Library” and wouldn’t you know it but that very day I happen to pass a little free library I’d never noticed before.

This is how the universe works.

Unfortunately it was crammed with stuff that held zip interest for me but I was committed to THIS Little Free Library and from THIS ONE I decided I must take a book and read it. Because if I was going to get all choosy then I’m controlling things and that is NOT how I want to play my bingo. But Robert Ludlum? Um, no. And tekky books, macrobiotic diets… egad, what was the universe trying to tell me? And then… squished to one side, there was Rebecca. She was the best of what was on offer but I was still not very happy about things and I seriously considered leaving her there and trying another little library. But it was too late. I WILL NOT CONTROL MY BINGO had already become my mantra and so I took Rebecca, who I knew nothing about except wasn’t she supposed to be some overly cheerful chick like Polyanna?, home. (note to self: read Polyanna)

Well.

Turns out that not only is Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm delightful and the story perfectly fine and not intolerably sweet and, in fact, very funny even, but it led me to a whole THING insofar as its connection to Anne of Green Gables. The parallels and samenesses cannot be missed. I mean it’s REALLY very similar, not only in storyline but snippets of dialogue are word for word the same, characters (including Anne being a red-haired version of black-haired Rebecca), also voice, tone, descriptions, settings, relationships. I had no idea of the Rebecca story before this and as I read my jaw kept dropping further and further.

Kate Douglas Wiggin’s Rebecca came first (1905), and Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne in 1908, which is heart-breaking and makes you wonder: what was Montgomery doing, essentially copying Wiggin’s story??

I researched various reviews and discussions on the subject and while there is no doubt the books are bizarrely similar, there seems to be no broadly accepted WHY. At least no one’s daring to come right out and use the P word.

To make matters worse, Anne, of course, went on to become an international superstar and icon and entire industry. Whereas Becky was pretty much a non-starter outside the U.S. and over time even fizzled away there.

Hardly seems fair, right?

One theory has it that the Rebecca story is more overtly patriotic and American, while the Anne story focuses mostly on the oh-so-quaint village of Avonlea on Prince Edward Island, and while Canada is named and there’s no doubt where the story is set, the overall emphasis is more on landscape than ‘nation’… thus making the argument that the Anne story was more widely and internationally relatable at the time of publication.

All of which doesn’t explain what Lucy Maud was thinking. My personal theory is that she made her book so BLATANTLY the same as Wiggin’s as an homage, as her Canadian version of a story she loved. Because surely she could not have supposed it would be taken as a completely original tale.

Pure conjecture. I haven’t read anything to this effect so it remains a mystery. But if my theory is correct, it would have been a classy move to acknowledge Wiggin’s book right up front, even putting it in the dedication. Or at least have gone on record afterward and explained her reasons for ‘using’ so much of it.

That said, I’m thrilled with my first bingo pick. Who could have guessed it would lead to the discovery of what amounts to a possible literary scandal brushed under the literary rug.

Next up… hmmm.

Not sure.

Because I don’t have to go in order…

… it’s BINGO.

Might just see what comes my way.

Will keep you posted.

 

 

 

 

this is not a review: ‘falling for myself’, by dorothy ellen palmer

 

A few years ago on this site I told the story of watching a short man emerge from a large truck and how my mother, seeing the same thing, saw a handicapped man and how I just did NOT see the handicap. On the contrary, I saw resourcefulness in a world that was not built for his height. (And that if it were built to his height, well then, we’d be the ‘handicapped’ ones.)

I remember also a time when my sister, who had ALS, was confined to a wheelchair and the looks of outright peeved annoyance as I rolled her about some store or other, taking up, I guess, more room in the aisles than ‘normal’ people. I was shocked by these looks and later wondered if the people giving them were possibly the same people who, in a different situation, one that wasn’t inconveniencing them, looked at my sister with pity and prided themselves on their ‘compassion’, which probably more often than not translated into gratefulness for not being her.

My sister was also asked to please not attend the wedding of a close family friend (formerly close) because her wheelchair and generally emaciated and twisted appearance and inability to talk in anything more than grunts and slurs, was not the vibe the general wedding decor/party/event was going for.

Judgement.

All this, and more, comes to mind after reading Falling for Myself, by Dorothy Ellen Palmer, a memoir that addresses ableism and judgement and what Stella Young termed Inspiration Porn, (a reference to the way the disabled are treated differently, referred to as ‘inspiring’, and used to make the so-called ‘normal’ people feel better about themselves for a) not being disabled, and b) being ‘kind’ to those who are.

“In inspiration porn, the disabled person is reduced to the object, the silent prop. The heroic captain of the football team leans down and asks ‘a wheelchair girl’ to prom. A brave tech entrepreneur takes the ‘risk’ to hire a disabled programmer. A mega-millionaire basketball star drops by with cameras and has lunch, once, for ten minutes, with a  bullied, autistic child. In inspiration porn, the abled person is the hero; the disabled person is the second banana, the sidekick.”

Inside the cover (cleverly designed as an accessibility sign) Palmer writes from the place of someone who was born with the challenge of walking and staying upright. Her feet, as an adult, are size one and half, and two and half. She has given each foot a name. She also names her walking tools, her crutches, etc. She has done/continues to do much in her life as a teacher, activist, union executive, writer, and member of the Accessibility Advisory Committe of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD). For starters. She is also a daughter and mother and citizen of a city and country that (like so many cities and countries) needs to take a look at how public spaces are built in order to accommodate both the disabled and able bodied equally.

Because the current tokenism that exists in the form of a designated parking space that is used by people who are not disabled and who justify that use since they’re only going to be a minute …. ditto that one wheelchair accessible stall in the loo… and a host of other issues knowable only to those who use chairs and walkers, who have impaired vision or hearing… isn’t going to cut it.

In a very conversational way, through frustration laced with humour, Palmer sheds light on an issue that shouldn’t exist but is, instead, sadly ubiquitous, and which stays hidden due to inspiration porn, ableism and much of the world patting itself on the back for NOT taking that parking spot.

Essentially, the book is about how she lives as a woman… also how she lives as a woman with a disability. The disability not being her body, she’s very content in her body… it’s the rest of the world that’s a bit of a challenge.

And if anyone reading this says well, heck, are we supposed to accommodate everybody??? The answer is a resounding YES. Because that would be the kind of progress that would actually benefit all of society, not just those who stand to make a profit from so-called ‘progress’.

“We all need to stop falling for the double lie that disabled people can be healed and should want to be healed.

Would love to see this as required reading in schools.

 

 

 

 

wordless wednesday with words (the teachers matter edition)

Mr. Something Something, whose name I can’t remember but who I can still see so clearly standing in front of a grade nine English class in his flannel shirt and cords and the day he handed me back a paper I’d written and said that my work stood out, that I should continue writing. Or something to that effect. It’s possible I’ve overblown it in my mind over the centuries but the point is that’s what it felt like and I can’t begin to think how often this tiny sliver of a tenuously remembered moment has come to mind since then and still does, giving me a boost just when I need it because even though my parents also liked my writing and auntie wotsit too and a few people since it’s his comment that stays with me.  I remember only that he was gentle and soft-spoken, passionate about words, and I have the vague sense that he wasn’t a conformist and therefore not loved by the mainstream and possibly taken advantage of by some of the students. I recall hearing, years later, that he eventually left teaching to drive a cab.

Mr. Bradley who introduced us to Dylan (Bob, not Thomas) by bringing in a couple of albums and a turntable and telling us to just listen. That was the whole class. At the time we were all….  huh????  But we listened. I can still time travel to that moment….

The art teacher who had Parkinson’s (I realize now) and walked the aisles of the class, head shaking, commenting, applauding, encouraging, suggesting.

Ms. Mackie, who was three hundred years old and looked like Santa’s wife, who seemed to live and breathe HomeEc and who shouted instructions like middle it, middle it!!! which had something to do with a gathering stitch and in whose class I made two aprons worthy of any runway. One, light purple with dark purple rick rack, the other paisley. My mother wore them until the end of time.

Mr. Vangeloff, the typing  teacher, who was short and stout and wore tweed suits and always a tie and white shirt and what little hair he had was wiry and long and combed over his bald pate, which, when he was annoyed (which was every day) would rise in a wiry matt to a 30 degree angle like a draw bridge and stay like that as he wandered about the room telling us to stop flapping our ruby red lips in the breeze.

His wife was an art teacher. I wasn’t in her class but she was loved for her grooviness, her long black hair and geometric print dresses and the way she turned a blind eye if she stumbled upon anyone smoking in the loo.

Unlike the French teacher, Ms. Whatever, who would stalk the loos in order to engage in her hobby of handing out detentions for smoking, lunch eating, or Euchre playing. Like wild animals we soon learned how to survive by recognizing the sound of her approaching footsteps, the click of her heel, and flush away any detention worthy evidence. Smoke? What smoke???

Mr. Merrick the gloriously mad science teacher. I hated science but adored him and so quite by accident I learned some science.

Ms. Thingy the gym teacher. Blech blech blech to gym. Made not better by her enthusiasm and muscley legs and assumption that everyone liked climbing rope ladders and what were we supposed to do with the parallel bars because are you kidding me?? She wore culottes and sneakers and drove a flashy green sports car. I saw her once in the real world and heard someone refer to her as Barbara and COULD NOT BELIEVE IT.

Because teachers, whether we adore them or not, seem, especially to our small selves, a little god-like, not only for the power they wield, though there’s that (though that’s less and less), but their influence on us, which I wonder how often we even realize the power of… then, and now.

Hats off to their memory.

And to those who continue to influence the future.

We are grateful.