“But so many voices filled that space”

readingtalewind window

Last night we drove down to the Arts Centre in Sechelt to hear Ted Chamberlin read from his forthcoming book, Storylines: How Words Shape Our World. The Centre was full. Ted’s reading was inspiring; he drew together threads of his life pursuing stories, listening to them, teaching them, and how we understand the world and its diverse histories by paying attention. After his reading, there was time for questions from the audience and more discussion.

The first reading we attended at the Arts Centre was in spring of 1985. I know that because we’d been invited to the dinner for the author, John Newlove, beforehand; and I remember I was pregnant with Angelica. (So much of my own personal history is brought to mind by these details!) In the years that followed, we were both invited to read as part of the series hosted by the Sunshine Coast Arts Council at the Arts Centre, a beautiful log building which is a gallery, a performance space, and a warm venue for book launches and other events. We hosted an evening there to celebrate John’s Governor General’s award in 2006. Over time, when the committee organizing the reading series was chaired by the wonderful Dick Harrison, we became involved in a deeper way. Not as involved as many–I think of Eleanor Mae, Paddy Blenkinsop, Anne and Geoff Carr, and others–but John helped to decide on potential readers, poets in particular, and we hosted some of those over the years at our home overnight: Sarah DeLeeuw, Evelyn Lau, Kevin Paul, Pauline Holdstock, David O’Meara, and more. A dinner was held before the readings, with all of us preparing a main course or a salad or dessert, a clever way of ensuring both an audience and a work-crew to set up the Arts Centre for the events and then to put away chairs, tidy the kitchen afterwards (because we all contributed baked treats to have with coffee and tea during the break), and turn out the lights after everyone had left. A lot of work, more for some than others (which you’ll know if you’ve ever filled out funding forms for the arts agencies), and a really valuable gift to the community at large. Bev Shaw at Talewind Books would arrive early to set up a book table featuring the author’s work. She’d also paint details on the window of her store a week or two beforehand.

Last night, listening to Ted, I was following his strands of thinking and telling, the ones that detailed the Rastafarian story traditions, the Indigenous ones (including Kalahari, Australian aboriginal stories, those of Mongolian horse cultures, and more), and I was glad we’d driven down the coast, under stars, to come. So it was a little unsettling to hear one of those who organized the event announce that the reading series was being terminated after this season. (There are three more readers over the winter and spring: Nicole Markotic, Sam Wiebe, and Tolu Oloruntoba.) No reason was offered but the one making the rounds is that a new Arts Council intends to “decolonize” the Arts Centre and its offerings. Think about that. It’s a careless use of language at the very least. Decolonize a venue that has always been welcoming and inclusive, has become even more mindfully so as our thinking about inclusion and diversity has evolved? Last night Ted’s wife, Lorna Goodison, was with him, Lorna is former Poet Laureate of Jamaica, the author of multiple award-winning poetry and short-story collections and a gorgeous memoir, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island; she was part of the reading series a few years ago. Eden Robinson came one spring, not long before Son of a Trickster was published, and I remember I introduced her and put a little jug of salmonberry blossoms on the podium.

I think of the diligence and hard work and grace, yes, grace devoted to the reading series at the Arts Centre over more than 37 years, with crisp press releases, generous intelligent introductions, good questions after, and I can’t help but think those who did this work deserve more than a careless wave of the hand in the grand scheme to “decolonize” the place. I don’t know these people with these plans, apart from one or two. I haven’t seen them at readings over the years, again apart from one or two. But so many voices filled that space, over more than 37 years, so many lines of poetry, stories (including Ted’s last night), so much laughter (if you’ve heard Eden laugh, you’ll know what I mean), so much community. On the dark drive home, we were quiet, and then we weren’t. By Middlepoint, we were sad, angry, hurt at the work we’d done over the years, with others, being so casually and thoughtlessly abandoned. I was awake, thinking about the ways stories can save us, salvage us, take our broken parts and put them together again. How they can take us out of a bitter place for a time and give us the sweetness of human connection. That sweetness, what’s happened to it?

“When the gift moves in a circle…”

I’ve always loved the idea of gifts and reciprocity. The circular pattern of that process. What you give, you receive. This time of year I fill our pantry shelves with preserves, more than we can ever use. But when we are invited to dinner with friends, we take wine, yes, and often a jar of jam or pickled beans or a herbal jelly. I remember the time I spent living on Crete in the 1970s and how I would accompany my love interest of the time, Agamemnon (yes, that was his name!), to dinners with friends of his family. At the door we would be greeted with a small tray holding a glass of water and a jar of quince or cherry preserves. A long spoon. We would take a spoon of the preserve, called “spoon-sweets”, followed by a drink of water. Sometimes a tiny cup of coffee. This practice was part of an ancient code called Xenia. The guest was treated well in part because he or she might be a god or goddess in disguise. And if that didn’t prove to be the case? Well, no matter. The host had done the right thing. And a guest treated well was unlikely to behave badly.
“When the gift moves in a circle its motion is beyond the control of the personal ego, and so each bearer must be a part of the group and each donation is an act of social faith.”– Lewis Hyde, from The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property
When people come to us, they bring flowers or books or wine; I feed them; John keeps our glasses replenished; they tell us stories and we share our own. Sometimes they leave with a bag of kale or a rooted cutting of wisteria or scented geranium. It’s the world I want to live in so I do my part.
Someone who does not know the Tigris River exists
brings the caliph who lives near the river
a jar of fresh water. The caliph accepts, thanks him,
and gives in return a jar filled with gold coins.
                 — Rumi, from “The Gift of Water”, trans. Coleman Barks
Someone once said as she arrived for dinner and put a jar of beautiful raspberry jam on the counter, “It’s like bringing coals to Newcastle.” But it wasn’t. Not at all. We grow wonderful raspberries but I never make jam of them. I don’t know why, quite. It seems there are always other things happening when the raspberries (cherished, for sure, but also called “the frigging raspberries” late in their season when they have to be picked, yet again, almost always by John, and arranged on trays for the freezer. In peak season, there’s a bucket a day….), anyway, when the raspberries are ripe so I never make jam of them. And hot buttered toast, with raspberry jam, in January? Oh, man.
So this isn’t entirely about jam. It’s about exchange. John printed these keepsakes on our Chandler and Price platen press to give out at my book launch and yes, we did that. Or Bev Shaw did. She owns Talewind Books and is the gracious bookseller at so many literary events on our coast. (Those who attend the Festival of the Written Arts in Sechelt will recognize her name!) She is a true friend to writers and readers. We have copies of the keepsake left. I’ll take some to Munro’s in Victoria for the reading I’m doing there on October 4th with Bill Gaston. But in the meantime, send me a photo or maybe just a confirmation that you’ve bought a copy of Euclid’s Orchard (my contact info is in the menu on the right-hand side of my home page) and I’ll mail you a copy of this lovely little letterpress keepsake. I can’t offer you a spoon of jam at the door and a glass of our delicious well water, not unless you visit us here, but I can offer something else. And I’m very happy to do that.
keepsake with linocut

some brought flowers

So, Euclid’s Orchard is well and truly launched.Maybe it began to feel like it was actually in the world when I saw the sign in Talewind Books earlier in the week,


and certainly when my publisher Mona Fertig and her husband arrived for lunch yesterday on their way back from Savary Island,


and, well, the day before that, when I baked the desserts that were waiting to be packed up for transport down to Sechelt.

just desserts

Two apple galettes (“One apple tree remains under my care. It’s a Merton Beauty, bought as a tiny plant at a produce store in Sechelt.”), a peach and blueberry galette (“…that road led back to the foot of Poignant Mountain, forgotten and then found, lard pails stained by blueberries…”), and a dense chocolate torte that uses 2 Tbsp. of flour so it’s easy to make it gluten-free with rice flour for those who don’t eat wheat. A round of Brie, a jar of last year’s pepper jelly, fierce with Vietnamese peppers, and a few Merton Beauties to have with the cheese.

The Sechelt Library opened its doors, set up chairs, long tables for those desserts, tea and coffee, and lots of posters of Euclid’s Orchard‘s vivid cover. I wondered to Margaret Hodgins (the Chief Librarian) if anyone would actually come but by the time she introduced me, people were spilling out of the doors. It was so wonderful to talk about my book and read passages to people I’ve known forever and new faces too. To talk about how math came late to me, after a visit to Brendan when he was at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute above Berkeley in 2013—he’d told us that he and Cristen were expecting a baby and I saw for the first time how we move forward in time, how we anticipate the future and how the past is hovering still, as potent as anything, that we are everywhere and nowhere simultaneously, and that Brendan knew equations that might help me to know this more deeply. To know him more deeply, as a man, as a father. And it was the Sechelt Library that had the copy of Joy of Math dvds that I brought home and diligently watched on my computer screen, understanding about 30% of the material but realizing how beautiful the structures are. (At least one person came to me afterwards to say that he was going to have a look at the Joy of Math. T. Kishkan, math recruiter?) I’d asked for a screen to have behind me as I read and on it a series of images passed quietly, some of them photographs from the book, and others of those strange presences who hovered as I was writing the essays: my grandmother and her first husband in the early days of their marriage; my grandfather’s sisters (I think they must be); the dusty streets of Drumheller, circa 1913, when my grandmother arrived with her 5 children after a long ocean voyage; an ultrasound of a beloved grandchild; my mother in a garden as a small girl; a funeral gathering by the house my father grew up in, though three years before he was born. I felt them in the room as I felt them last fall.

Anyway, it was wonderful, all of it. Some brought flowers.

jane's bouquet


harrisons on the woodstove

After the reading, Bev Shaw sold books and tucked a copy of the little keepsake John printed into them. (It helps to have a husband who is a letterpress printer, among his other accomplishments.)

keepsake with linocut

People ate and talked and I thought how the whole evening was a gift. A year ago, I wasn’t sure how the future would unfold because of what tests and scans had revealed. That’s all in the past now, part of the never-ending story that I am constantly listening to, trying to tell.



“the spiral at its very heart”

Now that the launch date has been set for Euclid’s Orchard—September 8th, 7:00 p.m., at the Sechelt Public Library (desserts to follow reading!)—my husband John has just printed a little keepsake to hand out to those who buy books that evening (book sales courtesy of Bev Shaw at Talewind Books). If you think you recognize the spiral image, it’s because it’s the same one we used for one of our Christmas cards a few years ago. a linocut, created by me. I’m not an artist, obviously, but Euclid’s Orchard, particularly the title essay, has spirals (some of them featuring the golden or logarithmic spiral, though this isn’t one of those), so it seemed a good graphic element for this keepsake. Two runs through the press (the big Chandler & Price) because it’s two colours. For years I’d look out the blue-framed window at the north end of the kitchen and see him out in the print shop, leaning over the press or the table where newly-printed pages were drying and so it was nice to pause there again and see him. Because all the doors and windows are open, I could even hear the thumping of the press working away—it’s treadle-driven— and I thought of it as a pulse. A heart-beat, a printer placing paper against the friskets on the bed, bringing the inked type-filled chase down to the bed so that the type could meet the paper and impress itself into the fibers.

keepsake with linocut

Does it feel a little like we’re coming to the end of summer? I know there are weeks of it left but the weather has changed, the smoke’s gone, and there’s a cool thread running through the warm air. This coming weekend is the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, something I’ve been involved with off and on for 13 seasons. It’s going to be a good one. We’re sold out and the excitement is high. Tonight is a dinner to welcome the musicians (who arrive early for rehearsals) and to thank their host families. I’ve made an apple galette and have picked a handful of nasturtiums to garnish it. The programme is spectacular this year, with many Canadian composers woven into each concert. The Harbour’s own mezzo-soprano, Rose-Ellen Nichols, is singing “Ships of the Night” from the Tobin Stokes opera Pauline; Rose-Ellen premiered the role with Vancouver City Opera and I’m looking forward to hearing her again. She’s part of our Rising Tide initiative where we invite young performers for an afternoon concert and it’s free (though with limited seating so only the first hundred people will be able to sit in the performance space, though others can sit on the grass outside).