Friday 30 November 2007

November 30

Today I was sitting in the cafeteria, writing in a notebook. An old friend walked by, leaned toward me then pulled back, saying "Oops, I don't want to interupt your train of thought."

Note, I was writing, but her concern was for my thought.

So I went back to the classroom and asked my students "What's the difference?"

No answer yet.

Tuesday 27 November 2007


This afternoon I get an update on my students' final projects for the creative writing class. I've tried to ban "my project's on the back burner" and "I won't lie to you--my project's taken a back seat to [insert name of other assignment in other class]". No back burners or back seats, I told my students, meanwhile shifting tasks from burner to burner in my own life. Heating up right now is my Joe Fafard material, which promises to both touch and not touch.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Dream / Event

I woke up just now. In a dream, I'd been sitting beside a young man, not my son, a paratrooper, flying to his drop point. "D-Day started this way," I told him. Just before that, my daughter Lucy had become the new proprietor of a confectionary that had been run by a Korean family. And well before that--hours earlier, maybe--I experienced a scene out of Huck Finn: I was trapped on the raft that had been taken over some nasty figure. I decided I might as well ride along for a while, make my escape later.

At the Book Awards last night--this is no dream--I was happy for my friends and for the community as a whole. But what silliness: toast to the queen, some guy singing "Impossible Dream" onstage, endless unnecessary intros, thank yous and self-congratulations. It's fun to get together, celebrate some books, celebrate some money getting into writers' pockets, but the rest is getting tougher to sit through every year. Grain bought my ticket; I'd never buy one on my own.

There was also a torture scene in the dream (that rambling, serial fragment of a dream): a bunch of us are in a ballroom, the floor of which is slowly pressing toward the ceiling, us with no means of escape. The only question is, whom do we want to die beside. Somehow, later there is one possible escape: a door that opens onto an alley on which a company of Nazis have pointed their machine guns.

Friday 23 November 2007


I had fun this morning in my first-year class re-reading the first poems we'd read in September, a season ago. At certain points in the poem I stopped, waited for someone to fill in the next word: "slipshod" or "love" (in Ralph Gustafson's "The Sun in the Garden") and "canary" and "shawl" (in Dorothy Livesay's "Green Rain"). Jason K. was all over the pauses, filling in the correct word. Earned himself a piece of chalk.

Wednesday, Jason had trouble, who wouldn't, with this lead sentence from a Globe & Mail article written by Marina Strauss and Paul Waldie: "The federal Competition Bureau is examining the entire industry of eco-friendly materials and how they are touted in the wake of a controversy at Lululemon Athletica Inc. that pounded its stock yeaterday after the yoga-wear retailer was forced to drop its seaweed-related health-benefit claims from a line of its clothing."

Thursday 22 November 2007


Tough to keep the energy going through to the end of term. I know students feel the same way. The other day in one of my classes I tried out some football coach-type motivation: hard-ass, stern, driving. Make the players mad enough, maybe they'll perform, is how the coaches see it. I returned one essay, assigned another, handed out preliminary classwork marks (which could be adjusted, I noted, between now and the end of term), and laid a rare lecture on them. Any one of those four acts tends to induce silence; the four of them at once scorched all sound from the classroom for the full 50 minutes. For the next 48 hours, I fretted over how to take the edge off, now that I'd put it there. Which I did, next class, with the more familiar fumbling, bumbling and fooling around. All in all, it was a useful wake-up for my students, I'd say

Saturday 17 November 2007

Can "History" in Western Canada Exist Without "Land"?

I've been a tad disappointed in not being able to get the Sweatman text across better. Not that my students' reading is entirely my responsibility, of course. What worked best were the parodies they wrote, stories (in contemporary settings) leading to a major purchase, something like the 160 acres along the Red that Alice and Peter purchase in Sweatman's story. In my students' hands, a GMC truck was the big score. An entire meal for thirty people. A ring.

Next Friday we'll all see the Joe Fafard show. I want them to consider using it as the basis for their final essay (other options: developing their parodies further, doing a walk/think/write around Wascana Lake, reading/writing "history" and "land" in various historical fictions, including Sweatman's).

Speaking of Fafard, I have to come up with some writing for the 30th. Lots of leads, including: the PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH labels--highly ironic, considering that touch is everything in Fafard's work--mounted near every work.

Monday 12 November 2007

Ready for Reading Sweatman

These days I get to enjoy the pleasures of Margaret Sweatman's When Alice Lay Down with Peter. A version of its Chapter One appears in that Banting anthology I've been using. In that version, the story, called "1869," begins, "It is time for me to be born." The novel version has it this way: "These are my beginnings." Either way, we're getting into it, although a few of my students expressed reservations about Sweatman's writerly tactic of having of a 109-year-0ld woman narrate the moment of her conception. (Not to give away the moment, but think bolt of lightning in just the right place.) This happens in 1869. A man and woman have just bought "160 acres of bush by the Red." (The rest, as I'm going to go ahead and say, is truly history--with jolts of landscape, play, storytelling (the best kind of history, in my opinion) written in.) And I haven't yet mentioned the best part: the voice of the woman, who is not afraid to throw her language around.

Thursday 8 November 2007

In Class Today

Madonna 'n me, both bloggers today.

My creative writing class handed in proposals for their last major project (after a suite a poems, a short story). Everything from more poems and stories to music and words, reading, children's verse, chapbooks--neat stuff they've got a month to pull off. It'll be like Santa's workshop in there at the round table, with all sorts of stuff going on.

So today was last read-throughs of their stories. With an odd number present, Heather C. had to go one-to-one with me, swapping short stories. She pointed out that my Leon piece, called "Leon's Time," was a tad wonky, time-wise, among other useful comments. Her story, on the other hand, was a first-person account of a girl who wears one of her mom's vintage dresses to school and finds a condom in the pocket. Which the girl keeps, just in case.

Leon (in case you're among the 0 followers of my earlier notes) ends up remembering fondly his movie-showing days out at Grin Valley, how the entire community was rivited by "Red River" and "Dial 'M' for Murder." He's drinking a smoothie while he remembers, in one of three tumblers from the four he'd bought at IKEA in Calgary on his way out to Grin Valley with Claire, his beautician friend. That was six months ago.

Saturday 3 November 2007

Writing Joe Fafard

Now I'm on the Joe Fafard trail, having to come up with (by the end of November) new writing based on Joe's show at the MacKenzie. Lots to consider, both about the work itself and--after the tour he gave five or six of us (including Bruce Rice, Joanne Weber, Gillian Harding-Russell, Sally Crooks and a woman from Saskatoon whose name, other than Martine, escapes me at the moment)--about Fafard's general approach (assuming there is one).

I'm going to start by formulating a few statements and questions to run by my "writing the western landscape" class prior to taking them over to see the show.

Like this: If you work as simply as possible, what exactly do you do?

Thursday 1 November 2007

Leon III

My creative writing students are handing in first drafts of their stories today, while my Leon exists only in fragments--as a pair of eyes on a morning's grey sky, another dream (this time he hadn't ordered the water, posters, wine--anything--for a panel on "writing and history" due to start in an hour), a few choices for breakfast.

Leon had better get it going. Problem is, he couldn't imagine a page less interesting than one about him or in his voice. If there's one thing he learned from decades of running films at the Luxe (he'll explain the extra e), it's that he'd choose image over text anytime.

An hour or so later:
Ok, he's visiting his home town with his sister Claire. They're having coffee in the cafe two doors down from what used to be the Luxe. Took him a page and half to get there.