Saturday 23 August 2008

Wild Luck


As if my nation had pinned its medal hopes on me and I had lost, I hang my head, find myself down 3-0 in best-of-nine backgammon. I buoy at the sight of double fours bringing me wins in the next two games. But the only reason I'm here right now is that I lost the match in about five seconds after that. Barely had time to lecture my opponent on how to sit at the backgammon table, even a virtual one.

I'm leaning toward naming luck as one of the elemental forces of the universe. A profound shaper of character. Better than weather for turning a day around. Because it's luck (best of all), you never know where its boundaries are, and you have to consider your own. No point in getting too satisfied. Before long, things are going to change.

Part One: Bad Luck

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Two Ideas

How's this for an idea: Just as folk festivals have main stages (concerts by single acts) and workshop stages (gatherings of groups of banjo players, say, from several main stage acts), why not try something similar at literary festivals. In addition to their regular readings, three or four poets, for instance, would appear onstage together, talking about poetry matters. The degree of exchange would vary, as it does at folk festivals, from a succession of individual presentations to all sorts of instant collaborations, harmonies, accompaniments.

Here's another one: I've been spending afternoons in the City of Regina Archives, looking through all kinds of stuff relating to the development of the Hillsdale subdivision of south Regina 50 or so years ago. "Are you finding what you want?" the Archivist asked me yesterday. "Don't know what I want, for sure," I told her, "but I'm finding lots that's interesting." Thinking of that conversation this morning as I rode home from the grocery store, I thought it might be fun to pick five addresses in south Regina, and do some kind of longitudinal study of their inhabitants. Track down the people, track down the stories.

Monday 18 August 2008


Family seems to take a lot of rethinking these days as my kids get older and my mom and sisters too. Because all of us are linked to place, a bikeride through, for instance, the Hillsdale subdivision of south Regina becomes a laying down and picking up of memory and observation about family.

"Oh, we sure used to have fun in that house," Mom told me a few years ago as we drove past a house on Massey Road. Some old friends, very frail themselves and not so mobile anymore, will never see Mom again, is the kind of thing I'm trying to say.

And my youngest daughter, formerly a regular at the pool just east of here on a hot summer day like this, has gone to audition for acting work in another city.

Saturday 9 August 2008

4 hours, 230 km, home in time to meet Tom and Emmaline for lunch

Aiming for a trip around Old Wives Lake yesterday, I made it as far as Mortlach then turned back, looking for Ardill, which I'd just missed on one of my shortcuts. I saw a sign pointing toward Ardill, and a billboard advertising the Ardill Hotel, but it took a guy at the Co-op in Mortlach to draw me a map and send me back in my tracks.

Funny how words gouge at our experience. First I'm digging the way highway 2 turns SW into the coteau, then I'm spending an hour at Ardill (hotel open 11:00-12:00 Tuesday to Thursday, till 3 Friday and Saturday, 12-6 on Sunday).

I had an aunt and uncle who ran a store there, is all (late 30s). A town like Ardill--by some definitions, already a ghost town--may not represent deep connection, but getting there and back does, as soon as we put it to words.

Wednesday 6 August 2008

The opening of south Regina

I think it's time to get after where I am now, and where I was as a teenager. On the edge of Hillsdale, and in Hillsdale, respectively. Just the way things work out.

The whole subdivision in south Regina was the brainchild of a real estate firm, of course. For my parents, the house we bought on Anderson Avenue was the first new house they'd ever owned.
That didn't matter much to me, but now I'm kind of interested. What this part of the world means to me and my history, and in the trajectories of my family's lives.

I look for a long and fruitful writing experience, ever-heedful of this exchange from The Graduate:

Mr. Maguire, a wealthy suburban neighbour: "Ben, I've got one word: Plastics.

Ben, who is worried about his future: "Exactly how do you mean?"

Tuesday 5 August 2008

Prairie Edition: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whenever I need something to talk to my English students about, I pick up the daily newspaper--the Leader-Post, if I hope we can learn from the crappy writing of an ex-columnist, or the Globe & Mail for something of interest on pretty much every page.

Today, for instance, the business section refers, over and over, to stagflation, an awkward portmanteau word. Reminds me of what was a fun exercise (for me at least) with the Sage Hill teens recently. Listing as many ordinary compound words as possible--tunesmith, wallpaper, hand signals, skydome--and switching around the parts, as in tunepaper, skysignals, handsmith, and so on.

The top story in "Life" is a review of a book called Good To Go: A Practical Guide to Adulthood, by Sharon McKay and Kim Zarzour, who is described as a "parenting journalist". What I would do with my first-year English class is try to talk about the experience of being, or having, a parent of a first-year university student. And turn it into writing somehow.

"Review & Sports" yields, in a column by television columnist Kate Taylor, this hyphen usage discussion-starter: the "traditional sex-kitten pose" (supposedly evoked by Pamela Anderson in her reality-tv show called Girl on the Loose). Perhaps not much would come of talking about that hyphen decision--the one between sex and kitten, I mean--made in Taylor's column, but many students seem surprised to learn how much choice they actually have every time they write a word or choose (not) to use a hyphen. Awareness of choice first, "correction" of choice maybe later.

How about this for an article, by John Ibbitson, at the bottom of page one: "People look warily at the Anglo in the good clothes, carrying a notepad and knocking on doors along this ramshackle row of trailer homes." Reads more like a column, doesn't it? What does this language do? While we talk about such matters, it might be fun just to imitate the sentence, slotting in replacement nouns, verbs, and modifiers.

Any of these ideas could lead to useful writing assignments. Also lucky for me, tomorrow's paper will be new.