occasionally locally social


I’m not a social person. Let’s just get that straight, because what follows may lead some to believe I am. But… I am not. Blips in scheduling sometimes occur, blips that have me gadding about in ways completely alien to my true nature. Happy blips in this case.

Thursday: Writing workshop at the shelter and there is talk of a spaghetti dinner on Saturday to celebrate the birthday of a one year old. I am invited.

Thursday Night: Eve of International Women’s Day and I am at the Robert McLaughlin Gallery eating scrumptious Berry Hill Food kabobs and food in various other forms and quaffing free red wine. (Also being one of thirty five women honoured for commitment and support of the Denise House shelter. Still feeling a little emotional about that one.)

Friday: International Women’s Day and I am at Soebys buying bunches of tulips for a couple of gals who inspire me with their passion in all matters of art and life and kindness. We sit down to lunch over bowls of seafood bisque, crusty bread, and endless, truly endless, chat.

Saturday: I am at the Visual Arts Centre in Bowmanville, listening to Jane Eccles tell the stories of women from all walks of life, women whose dresses she’s painted over the past fifteen or so years. There’s something about a disembodied dress that begs story, that reminds us of the difference yet sameness we all share. I have a soft spot for textile (including upholstory), the way fabric holds things, the essence of memory it conveys.

Saturday night: I drop by the shelter for a spaghetti dinner that is nowhere near ready and I can’t stay until it is but I chat for an hour anyway with a couple of residents and so begins a series of spaghetti sauce secrets that takes me to something called passata which is so apparently ubiquitous that I’m not sure I know how I’ve managed all these many decades without it.

Sunday: I have been invited to a UAW hall in Oshawa where I listen to women speakers, women affected by the loss of the GM plant, who with brave voices encourage both women and men to find ways ahead, to remain positive but to challenge governments, to question when necessary and, (my favourite bit) to be not only trail blazers, but path wideners for each other. Path wideners.

Monday night: I am at the shelter again where I bump into a few of the women from last week’s writing workshop. There are hugs and stories about birthday cake (and spaghetti dinners that may or may not have materialized) and visits to Ripley’s Aquarium and I have to bite my tongue because I have strong feelings about how I’d like Ripley’s to better use their power to more accurately portray the oceans, i.e. how there are areas of plastic twice the size of Texas, and how wildlife is dying from ingesting it all, not to mention the lingering effects of oil spills, but there is a child who’s recently had to leave its home under the worst kind of circumstances and whose future is up in the air and who lovingly embraces a stuffed blue shark as I speak to his mother and so I smile and simply say nice shark and then I have a brief chat about fish, generally, with a couple of kids. No mention of plastic. Not yet.


whoa nellie!


I’m not a joiner of things, not a clubbish person generally. This has always been the case, although when I was about ten I invented The Boogie Woogie Club and invited friends to join. Amazingly, on opening day, a few showed up in my parents’ basement where we sat around until someone… Kathleen Erickson possibly… said so what’s this club about… I mean what do we do?

Good question, Kathleen, I thought. But I didn’t have an answer. To this day I have no idea what the Boogie Woogie club was supposed to be or why I’d thought of starting it. I do remember seeing the words boogie woogie  in a song title in one of my lesson books for accordion and, knowing me,
I probably just wanted to incorporate it… somewhere. A club with no purpose would have seemed as good as anything.

The club disbanded shortly after Kathleen’s unanswered question and we headed over to the school to do long jumps in the sand pits. Or similar.

Which more or less brings me to 2018.

Where I find myself part of another group, only this time I’m not the inventor (which bodes well for the group’s future).

Also, this group has that essential ingredient: a purpose.

The Wild Nellies is the result of two women having coffee one day and wondering what they could do to benefit the lives of other women, specifically women moving on from abusive relationships. What they landed on was the idea of women celebrating women through various disciplines — visual art, music, literature, sharing their own work or the work of someone that’s inspired or influenced them in some way. The event would be free, they decided, and held in one of the area’s most wonderful spaces, and all of it would be done to bring attention to the needs of a local women’s shelter.

That they take their name from Nellie McClung — writer, legislator, suffragist, activist, public speaker, one of Canada’s original feminists, and a member of The Famous Five, who met over tea to change the political shape of this country by having it declared (after extraordinary campaigning) that women were indeed ‘people’ — is most fitting and wonderful (not the least of which wonderfulness being the coffee/tea origins).

Women have always found ways around being invisible, of having no voice, of being ‘talked over’ and told to be quiet, that their passion and their interest in fairness is too ‘shrill’—

(A woman who knows what she wants and gets it, is often seen as headstrong, difficult, a force of nature, while a man who knows what he wants and gets it, is a man who knows what he wants and gets it.)

—Yet despite not having their voices listened to, and the sometimes even greater obstacles of being isolated, unable to speak the language, being penniless, afraid for their lives, or tied down with childcare, women continue to find ways to meet, to gather, to band together and bring about change for the betterment of not just themselves, but for all women, for community, the benefits of which ultimately reach beyond gender.

Which brings us to 2018 again.

And the announcement today of new legislation that requires employers in Ontario to pay all workers equal wages for equal work. While it has, for some time, been technically illegal to base wages on gender… until now it’s been okay to pay part-time workers less than full-time for the exact same job. And those part-time workers are often women.

It seems there’s no end of bits to take care of and so the tradition of women gathering continues.

Put the kettle on!

One of the the things I love best about Nellie McClung is that she used her fiction, her writing, as a springboard to discuss relevant issues of the day. This was unusual for a woman at the time. Women were meant to write about fluff and leave it at that.

And it’s what I love best about her namesakes, The Wild Nellies, who propose to do the same thing… use their art to bring attention to important issues.

I’m so happy to be a small part of their first ‘performance’ at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery on April 8th, along with eleven other women who will use their artistic voices to honour and celebrate the power of female creators in sculpture, film, theatre, illustration, literature, music and more, and in the process hopefully be part of that women’s domino effect that continues to try and make this pale blue dot a fairer, safer, and better place for us all.

Note: I have no problem at all making an exception to my otherwise anti-clubbishness ways for these chaps. Also, I think long-jumping  might actually kill me at this point.



spaces designated for art

“Very few buildings [were] built specifically to be art galleries in Canada. The National Gallery of Canada, for example, was housed in the ‘temporary’ quarters assigned to it in 1910, in a wing of the Victoria Memorial Museum. The building also housed the National Museum and the Geological Survey. Elsewhere in Ontario, London and Windsor had spaces designated for art exhibitions in their public libraries and in Oshawa art as displayed in the YWCA. While Montreal and Quebec City had ‘purpose-built’ galleries, farther east, in Fredericton, art was shown in a Quonset hut left over from WWII, Saint John had a gallery in the New Brunswick Museum and in Halifax there was an ‘art room’ in the public library and a gallery in the arts and administration building of Dalhousie University. To the west, the Winnipeg Art Gallery was housed in the Civic Auditorium Building and the Saskatoon Art Centre in the basement of  the King George Hotel; Calgary and Victoria showed art in converted houses, and in Edmonton art was shown in the Edmonton Motor Building. It would not be until the 1960s and ’70s that most Canadian cities would build galleries with the big white walls…”

~ Robert McKaskell, ‘1953, Fifty Years Later’, from 1953  (Catalogue of an exhibition by Painters Eleven, held at The Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa, 2003/04)
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 The National Gallery of Canada


take a city

Take a city. Any city.

Take one that despite its city status has a crazy small town vibe where people still say “Oh, you mean where the Boychyns used to live?” of a house where the Boychyns have not lived for decades. Where everybody seems to have gone to school with somebody that somebody else knows and where possibly one of the best chip trucks in the country is parked on a distinctly unglamorous corner.

And where, because it’s a city, terrible things happen—women and children end up in shelters and young men are sometimes shot. There are daily lineups outside the St. Vincent de Paul soup kitchen and a crowd of smokers huddle outside the Timmy’s. There’s sadness on the streets, insanity too, but if you stop someone for directions chances are you’ll be surprised by kindness, by the thoughtfulness of the answer.

Take a city where you are stuck behind a woman at the corner shop whose husband has a new hip and the cashier wants to know how things are going with Ted. Be prepared to shift about, to be on the verge of muttering unpleasantries when you’re overcome with relief to hear that things are on the mend, that Ted is doing okay. And just as you consider taking up peevishness again, the silver-haired woman turns to you and says “Men, eh! The old farts don’t know how good they’ve got it!”  When she snaps her purse shut with a happy cackle, you can see her kitchen, the apron on a chrome chair, a kettle that’s always just boiled, her whole house smelling of pie and Hamburger Helper… and as she leaves you almost want to shout “Say hello to Ted for me!”

Take this city and its factories, its history of lunch pails, shift work and layoffs, picnics at the lake, fights at the bar, a gallery of fine art. A city where people who live there wouldn’t live anywhere else and those who’ve never visited have crystal clear misconceptions.

Where economic nose dives hit extremely hard. Hard enough to close down small businesses. But not all… people are loyal to old favourites.

And new favourites emerge from the rubble.

Take a city where, among the alleys and row houses, brick bungalows, flats over tattoo parlours, funky cafes, restaurants and thrift shops, among empty storefronts… a group of local artists have invadedfilling spaces behind doors that are normally locked with ‘For Lease’ signs in their windows… filling those spaces with people, art and music.

At least for a short while.
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Take a city that can’t be broke.

my day, in food and words

It begins with a haircut.

Not at the cheap place where you can just walk in without an appointment, where I ususally go—essentially a unisex barber—but to my old, more expensive, hairdresser who I used to see when my hair was long and didn’t need cutting every twenty-five minutes. It still feels like I’m having an affair, this new place; I’ve never accepted that I really left the old place. Just taking a break. I go back a couple times a year for a decent cut, a template for the uni-barber to follow. A little unconventional but it seems to be working for all three of us.

It’s a day of errands and appointments. There is the usual traffic. A bus pulls in front of me at a dangerous angle; I consider making my feelings known but the sun is shining and it’s easy to be nice, so I keep my hand on the wheel.

A woman, sixties, stout in a pink house-coat with permed hair the colour of cardboard, smokes on her balcony, and later, in a different part of town, there is a man, also in his sixties, trying to get on a unicycle. I round the corner and never know if he succeeds.

The appointments and errands go on and soon it’s late afternoon and I haven’t eaten and I know I won’t get any work done even if I return to my desk so I decide to take myself out for a bite, treat myself to that place inside the art gallery, but it’s closed. The gallery itself, however, is open and though my stomach is growling the exhibit draws me in: William Brymner, his own work and that of his students, Prudence Howard, Morrice, A.Y. Jackson, et al.

The Quebec paintings are always easy to spot—all church steeples and snow. Even the houses have churchy elements, even the log cabins alone in their forests of birch— especially the cabins.

In Clarence Gagnon’s ‘Winter, Village of Baie-Sainte Paul’, a wind blows on a sunny afternoon. Lunch has been eaten, slabs of cold tortiere and glasses of cider. The dishes are done. The men have gone back outside, the children too. It might even be a school day. Inside the slope-roofed houses women breathe on the glass as they look out onto frozen gardens, broken fences and knee high drifts of snow.

I like the idea of painting en plein air and vow to do some soon.  Pourquoi ne pas en hiver?  Well, maybe just a quick sketch…

I still haven’t eaten so I stop at a deli on my way home, the one I used to take my mum to on errand days when she’d come with me for the ride, staying mostly in the car, especially if I parked in a sunny spot. She was like a salamander then. I’d stock up on her favourites: blocks of smoked bacon to slice or grind with garlic and eat with fresh rye bread, brandy filled chocolates, sauerkraut and a bag of pfeffernusse—a spicy cake-like cookie. I’d always buy one square of ice-chocolate from a box near the cash register—creamy milk chocolate that feels cool when you eat it. She wakes up when I open the door and all groggy wonders where we are; I hand her the chocolate and like a child, she brightens immediately, fumbles with the gold and turquoise foil, pops the whole thing into her mouth. I hear her dentures clatter and soon she begins to sing crazy old songs about chickens and underwear, songs I’ve been listening to all my life. I tell her I got the smoked bacon, and she hoots, says let’s go home and eat!

That was then.

The last few months of her life, after the stroke, she was in a nursing home and for a while she still ate the bacon and the rye bread, the chocolates and cookies. Surprisingly, it wasn’t this stuff that killed her, in fact it’s what kept her going, all that was left. When nothing else mattered, the bacon was still a small joy, some connection to better times—she always talked of home when she ate it, the mountains, her mother; it even made her sing occasionally, even in that hideous room.

The chocolates and cookies went first, and when one day she said no to the bacon and bread, I knew the last corner had been turned.

All this comes back to me as I stand in the delicatessen, choosing meat for a sandwich, my stomach still growling.

I buy the meat. And a bag of pfeffernusse, a block of smoked bacon, which I’ll put through a meat grinder with garlic, salt and pepper. I buy sauerkraut and brandy filled chocolates. I want to buy more but I leave it at these things, some of which I don’t even like, it just feels good to place them in front of me on the counter. And then even better to carry them outside into the sunshine.

I open the car door, set the bag down on the passenger side. Only the square of chocolate is missing.

I start the engine. It’s time to go home.

assumptions and aspirations

I first read this definition of  ‘critique’ in a gallery catalogue for an installation that included, among other things, a deconstructed piano. What I love best is how it might apply to anything—painting, writing, dance—and how it reminds me that all art is shaped with, essentially, the same basic tools.

“… Taking a thing apart is a critique—a way of honouring the thing, a way of admiring its construction and the many decisions of its designers and makers. It exposes the assumptions and aspirations upon which the thing is made and it reveals the author’s inventions and limitations….

“….Rebuilding the thing is a form of love and respect. Adding to a thing—decorating it, manipulating it, customizing it—is to enter into a dialogue, to talk to the thing and to engage its maker’s spirit, to speculate on its history, to revel in its possibility and to indulge in creative anarchy.”