Trust everyone. Everyone behaves better when they feel they're trusted.
Writers intent on finding themselves through their craft may want to take a cue from Canadian author Lisa Moore and get lost instead. “When I am in the midst of writing, I never know what I am doing,” she says. “I am hardly present at all. I really feel like I am lost in the world of the fiction.”
The worlds Moore creates speak to this sense of loss, blurring the lines between then and now. Her story, “All Zoos,” which appeared in the summer issue of Maisonneuve, embodies Moore’s interest in “the elasticity of time: how the main character experiences time, all of time, ever, since the birth of humankind. I thought to myself, I'll try to put all of that in a story, and see what happens.”
Moore published her first collection of short stories, Degrees of Nakedness (Anansi), in 1995. In 2006, her first novel, Alligator, was nominated for the Giller Prize and won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Caribbean and Canada region). Most recently, her 2010 novel, February, was nominated for the Man Booker Prize. The Selected Short Fiction of Lisa Moore, featuring old and new stories, is forthcoming this fall.
Erica Ruth Kelly: You’re both an accomplished short story writer and novelist. How does creating the universe of a novel differ from creating the universe of a short story?
Lisa Moore: I approach both forms the same way when I begin. I try to capture scenes that show my characters speaking, moving, acting. I also want them to experiencing the world they are in through their senses. I want the world of the story or the novel to be alive with smells and images and sounds and textures. The way a character experiences the physical world tells the reader who the character is. This is true for novels and stories both. I have a vague sense that a short story allows for subtler connections, less plot, a more delicate construction; perhaps it is more graceful. And a novel demands support beams and iron girders and math and sledge hammers. But I am guessing at this. Some of the most beautiful novels are delicately constructed...And some short stories are as dense and rich and full of history and social nuance and political satire and humour and heartache as any novel.
ERK: In an interview with Prism, you said that "everything about writing a story has to be learned over and over, each time I sit down to write a story." Does writing a story remain a process in which you still feel as though you're figuring out how it works from the beginning? Or do you no longer feel like you're starting from scratch each time?
LM: Still starting from scratch. I had the great fortune of teaching the short story at UBC's online Creative Writing program over the last few years, and when I saw how fantastic the stories of my students were I became even more scared to start. I kept thinking, How are they doing it? What I love about writing short stories is how intense the experience is. How deeply I get lost in it, how much it matters to me, how much the world of the story matters while I am writing, how real it becomes, and then, pouff, it's over. A novel has to be grappled with and pushed around and made to work.
ERK: In "Melody," from Open, your collection of short stories, there is a passage that refers to memory: "...for the rest of my life, while washing dishes, jiggling drops of rain hanging on the points of every maple leaf in the window, or in a meeting when someone writes on a flowchart and the room fills with the smell of felt-tip marker—during those liminal non-moments fertile with emptiness—I will be overtaken by swift collages of memory." This notion of supposedly innocuous events happening in the present while events from the past creep in repeatedly make its way into your work. Does this point to your understanding of how memory functions? Does your background in visual arts influence the development of this "collage"?
LM: I think it's the way memory works, but it's also the way fiction works, I think. Meaning accrues as the scenes accrue and float over each other in the reader's memory. I think it's one of the ways we create meaning. I studied painting and I still paint. It requires looking hard at an object and trying to discover what makes it what it is. Why it caught my attention in the first place. What makes it, say, an apple. What elements of appleness are essential? How ambiguous can an apple be? What if the most essential characteristic of an apple were its colour? Would a slash of red paint capture it? Capture it better, say, than a photograph that might contain extraneous information obscuring its appleness?… These kinds of questions somehow help me when I am writing, or at least I think they do. I think they are concerns that translate into narrative too. What about this character is most essential? Is it the print of her teeth in a piece of French bread when she bites off a hunk? Is it the reflections of houses and telephone poles on the passenger car window sliding over her own reflection, when she is a child, going away from home for the first time? I have to believe as a fiction writer that images, smells, and textures and sounds, voices, contain some kind of meaning that makes stories.
ERK: "All Zoos" is also strongly connected to memory, since the story is based on a video you saw of a gorilla that had escaped from the Rotterdam zoo. How did your memory of the video infuse itself into the development of the story? How does memory work within the story?
LM: What was most important to me about the experience of the video was the dead time in it, when nothing happened. The stillness, in which intense suspense accrued. It seemed to me that the stillness must be such a huge part of being attacked by a wild animal… since the actual attack would be very quick.
ERK: In “All Zoos”, Harry, the narrator, muses that "People mistake evolution for cosmic design, but it's actually pure accident. It was not that man stood up because it would help him survive, but that the standing men were able to step to the side when the glaciers rumbled through"? To what extent do you agree with Harry? Do you think our being here is somewhat accidental?
LM: I am not sure, but I guess so. Another way to say it is that we are just lucky to be here. But this passage also points to the kind of man Harry will turn out to be. It is a shadow of the him to come. Is he the kind of guy who just steps out of the way when trouble rumbles through, or does he act? Does he stand up? Stand up to the ape, stand up and be responsible?
ERK: I noticed that while Harry knows about many things about the world, like philosophy or the tourist attractions of every city he stays in, he doesn't seem to trust his own sense perception. For example, when he saw the gorilla, "he thought he could smell it"; when the gorilla kisses the glass after a teenage girl puts her mouth to it, "Harry heard the teeth clink against the glass, or thought he heard." Is this a comment on the way some of us are disconnected from our sensual understanding of the world, to the point where we do not fully trust it? Perhaps to the point where what we've experienced intellectually supersedes that which our bodies are experiencing in the present tense?
LM: This is a good way to read it. Very insightful. I think I also meant to suggest a distrust of notions of truth: what is true, what is actually happening. Harry is a bit of an unreliable narrator in that he is unsure of his surroundings. Or, perhaps that makes him more reliable. Perhaps he is being honest by questioning his experience. Maybe that is the central conflict of this story. Is Harry reliable? Will he pull through, overcome his selfish life and behave like a hero, or like a human being, at least an ordinary human being. And do the right thing. Has he evolved? Can he overcome the ape in himself?
~ Erica Ruth Kelly, Maisonneuve
This painting measures 6x8 inches, is framed and includes 'Comfort' on the front and 'Annie's Too' on the back. It's now available at Bluerock Gallery in Black Diamond along wth another interior 'double' and my 'Get-Away' camping minis and my first round mini 'Bees'. I'm so excited to be catching up on my Art History classes (now that they're almost done!) and am also looking forward to visiting some of my favourite places...especially with the holiday season just around the corner. These small reversible interior paintings have been really special to create over the past year, especially since home has become such an important place. As tired as I've been with school, teaching, writing and painting, I'm also extremely happy - doing my favourite things and knowing that my girls are safe and healthy, too.
Recently I was honoured to be the recipient of the Cultural Ambassador Award at the Amazing Airdrie Women Awards Gala. It was a such a surprise...I feel very privileged to have been able to contribute to our community in this way throughout the years. The businesses that have supported arts & culture in Airdrie, like Vitreous Glass who sponsored this award and AirdrieLIFE magazine who hosts the event every year, are the reason we've been able to do anything all this time. We are also fortunate to have City of Airdrie staff who support our projects and who gave me the opportunity to work in arts for many years. I am grateful for the ongoing support & encouragement of my family and friends, without whom I would not have been able to be involved in the way that I have been.
I see litarature as a space of equality, a vast field of sound.
Do Not Say We Have Nothing opens in 1990 in the home of Marie, who disarmingly informs us that her Chinese nickname means “charming mineral”. It was given to her by Ai-Ming, the daughter of mysteriously connected friends of her father, who has been adopted by her mother after fleeing the repercussions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.
Ai-Ming’s arrival in Canada opens the door on 60 years of catastrophic history involving the families of two talented Chinese musicians, one of whom – Marie’s father – defected to the west, while the other stayed in China. Both men are now dead, leaving their daughters to piece together their story.
Like Marie, Thien is a child of several cultures who grew up in Canada. Her mother was a Cantonese speaker from Hong Kong while her father is Hakka, ethnically Chinese but born in a part of Malaysia that was once the British protectorate of north Borneo.
Her parents met as students in Australia then settled in Malaysia until the region became dangerously unstable. They emigrated to Vancouver in 1974 with two small children and a plan to open a Chinese-Canadian diner, “which would serve chop suey plus bacon and egg sandwiches”. Thien was born two months later and the diner failed, which, she says, was just as well as she was diagnosed with a life-threatening kidney condition which kept her in hospital for six months, with her parents keeping vigil at her bedside.
After that, “it was a very typical immigrant story in the sense that they struggled for a long time and my mum had three jobs. I remember not seeing her. My dad was the one who was at home with us, but we did, as kids, spend a lot of time alone,” she says.
As the sole member of her family who was born in the west, Thien is the only one whose mother tongue is English. She has no Mandarin, but learned Cantonese as a child, and has “the writing age of an eight-year-old”. As for speaking: “My mother used to say that my tones are all crooked: it’s like hearing a song sung out of tune.”
The novel takes us back from the “1989 generation” who were caught up in Tiananmen Square to the “1966 generation”, who went through the Cultural Revolution. It turns out that Marie’s father, Jiang Kai, was a concert pianist who was tutored at the Shanghai Conservatory by Ai-Ming’s father, Sparrow, a talented composer. The closure of the conservatory in 1966 drove the two musicians into different versions of artistic exile. While Jiang Kai flees first to Beijing and later to Canada, Sparrow is thrown into a no-man’s land of creative silence.
One of the more bizarre facts of the Cultural Revolution was that while western music was being destroyed all over China, Mao had a symphony orchestra in Beijing. Thien builds this paradox into the fabric of the novel: it is structured as theme and variations, taking its cue from Sparrow’s obsession with Bach’s Goldberg Variations, as performed over several decades by the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould.
Thien was an idealistic 14-year-old Vancouver schoolgirl when the 1989 demonstrations began. “It was the first time I saw events outside unfolding in real time on CNN, and it was a parallel world. For a long time it looked as if it was going to turn out very differently: there was so much joy, as if people were finally going to have a say in what Chinese modernity would look like and in directing their country. Instead, a more authoritarian system became entrenched, and that’s very shocking 27 years on.” In the novel, Marie is too young to understand what is happening, but her incomprehension about her family’s plight attaches itself to “those chaotic, frightening images of people and tanks, and my mother in front of the screen”.
She was a talented dancer, winning a scholarship to study contemporary dance and ballet at university, which she lost after becoming distracted by words. “I came from quite a poor neighbourhood and didn’t have access to ideas, so I did this silly thing. I was taking all these fourth year philosophy courses and it was a leap too great.”
Unable to support herself without the scholarship, she abandoned the course, and it was a while before she found a way of financing herself on the new journey of a literature degree. She emerged, aged 23, with “a few short stories” and took a clerical job at an academic press – “the perfect set of circumstances because the job was just the job and I could keep all that creative energy for trying to learn the art of short fiction”.
Then came the offer of a scholarship to do a master’s degree in creative writing, “and that was life changing”. Thrift was one of the habits she is grateful to have learned from her mother: “I wouldn’t have gone into debt. Having enough money is important to me.” She spent the first year working on the seven stories that would become her first book, Simple Recipes, devising a writing system that involved repeatedly abandoning and rewriting whole drafts.
“If a person erases him or herself in order to survive, how can they find that self again? Can survival bring them peace, or is it only madness to remember?”
Do Not Say We Have Nothing makes the surprising suggestion that part of the solution might lie in the act of copying. The different generations of Marie and Ai-Ming’s families are connected by the manuscript of a novel, “The Book of Records”, chapters of which have been carefully copied out, hidden in walls and beneath floorboards, and passed from hand to hand. “The Book of Records” is precious because it represents a narrative that doesn’t conform to the approved version of Chinese history, Thien explains. “It’s a book with no beginning, no middle and no end, in which the characters are seeing an alternative China where they recognise mirrors of themselves and which they write themselves into.”
She considers herself fortunate to have a foreigner’s immunity from political persecution – “I’m not beholden to anyone who could be hurt” – even though she has been outspoken about what she sees as a new authoritarianism in China, publicly criticising the closure of an innovative, intercultural creative writing master’s course on which she has taught at the City University of Hong Kong since 2010. “I hesitate to use the incendiary words of censorship, freedom of speech and intellectual freedom. However, it has become increasingly clear to me, as events have unfolded, that these are precisely the issues,” she has written.
Each [book] took her five years to write and, she says, she hopes her next book will take her somewhere less exhausting, “though my interests have always been political and historical so to some extent that will always find its way into my writing”. In a new era of revolution and mass migration from punitive regimes, there can be few more pressing existential questions for fiction to tackle than Thien’s: “How do you write yourself back into the history that is officially erasing you?”
~ Claire Armitstead, Guardian
I recently had the privilege of painting Cecilia as part of Art for the Frontline, an initiative to connect artists with healthcare workers that was begun by Cherie Serieska who is a Senior Simulation Consultant with Alberta Health Services. When I got in touch with Cecilia, I learned that she was currently working up north on a term contract because of the healthcare cutbacks in Alberta:
"I am a registered nurse working in the foothills emergency department for the past 6.5years. I worked cardiology before this. I am passionate about my job and love the continuous learning. Covid has been stressful on an already high energy emergency room, so I’ve turned to switching things up with some travel nurse contracts. I am currently on travel duty in Nunavut for a month in a community called Igloolik on the Baffin Island! I loooove travelling the world, am very spontaneous and adventurous and am usually booking a ticket to anywhere with no plan! ;) Travel nursing has allowed me to see a part of the world not many do, and advance my nursing skills in many aspects!
My rommmate sitting next to me describes me as gentle, soft spoken, patient, kind, funny, sarcastic and organized (I didn’t realize how tough it is to describe yourself). For hobbies I like volleyball and soccer. I frequently go hiking, back country camping, am an avid runner (was running to and from work 7km one way for 7 months!). I love good exercise and any new challenge. Also love the sun, beach and a good party to dance my feet off! I love bright colorful mixtures. Frida Khalo. The world map. Wine (my dad is Chilean so obviously it’s in the blood). Good vibes and great company. :)" ~ Cecilia
Her nominee wrote that "Day after day Ceci shows up for her full time line, gives her all and remains positive and an inspiration to the rest of us. She keeps her smile despite everything. She is one of the few that has been able to maintain a positive attitude throughout everything-despite being far from her family and experiencing personal tragedy unimaginable to me."
The Alberta Society of Artists is celebrating its 90th Anniversary with an exhibition of works by Life & Juried Members. The exhibition will be held at the ASA Gallery #222, 1235 - 26 Ave. SE in Calgary, on the second floor of the Crossroads Centre from December 1, 2021 - February 19, 2022 with an Opening Reception on December 2, 5-8 pm.
What I wanted more than anything was to be able to look after myself and make sure that every other woman in the world could do the same.
Magazine editor and women’s movement champion. Doris Anderson was a long-time editor of Chatelaine magazine and a newspaper columnist. Through the 1960s, Doris Anderson pushed for the creation of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, which paved the way for huge advances in women’s equality. She was responsible for women getting equality rights included in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. She authored a number of books, including three novels and an autobiography — Rebel Daughter — and sat as the president of the National Action Committee on the Status of Women. Anderson became an officer of the Order of Canada in 1974 and was promoted to Companion in 2002. She was also a recipient of a Persons Case Award and several honorary degrees. Photo: Barbara Woodley; courtesy of Library and Archives Canada/1993-234 NPC.
~ Canada's Great Women
Doris Anderson headed Chatelaine from 1957 to 1977, opening its pages to everyone from the “prairie housewife to the Toronto sophisticate,” said former colleague Michele Landsberg. Under her watch, the magazine expanded its readership to one in every three Canadian women. It led the conversation on issues from divorce to birth control to abortion. Yet as editor, she earned less than half what her male predecessor made.
~ Christopher Reynolds, Toronto Star
The Amazing Airdrie Women Awards hosted annually by AirdrieLIFE magazine celebrated Bert Church High School with the workplace award. I have loved creating these paintings as awards and am so grateful for the magazine and their dedication to local arts and artists. I wanted to capture the celebratory nature of education and educators when milestones are reached and to incorporate their colours (blue & gold) and logo in the design. High school can be a difficult time, but those teachers who encourage and support their students make all the difference and, in fact, it was my high school art teacher, Mrs. Roth, who encouraged and supported me in my creative endeavours. Without her and the support of the school, I would not have pursued this life, which has been absolutely incredible. Sadly she is no longer with us, but I thought of her while I painted and wished I could celebrate my successes with her today.
I've been enjoying painting the birds that flit around our garden for the past few weeks...there is something so soothing about watching these little creatures. For his birthday this summer, I gave my husband a bird bath, bird book and an embroidered bird by artist Lesley Bergen (it's amazing!) so I've really been enjoying learning more about all the little birds that live in our trees. I feel very lucky as I get to sit cozily in my reading nook to watch them in our evergreens out the front bay window.Anyway, these three are headed to Lineham House Galleries in Okotoks (Left: Barn Swallow, 20"x10"; Top: Cedar Waxwing, 12"x12" Bottom: Blue Jay, 12"x12"). I'm really pleased with how they turned out.