September is here and it’s a beautiful morning out there. I have to go back to working in an office next week and I am, honestly, not looking forward to this. I have enjoyed working from home these past months. And of course, going back to work while COVID is raging through my province, does not thrill me. I don’t know who has been vaccinated, or unvaccinated. I know a guy who is unvaccinated and he will not be complying anytime soon. He’s worried it will make him infertile. Or, down the road, all those who are vaccinated will suddenly die. He’s done his research on YouTube and is unwavering. He’d rather find a good counterfeit vaccine passport than get a shot, so he can go to a hockey game. This behaviour is reprehensible. Yes. I am pissed off at him. I find this behaviour to be selfish, egotistical, and beyond stupid. But, it is of course, impossible to argue with stupid. This guy hasn’t gotten sick, yet. And I do not wish that on anyone, but I can see it happening. I did not mean for this to be a rant. This morning, my province’s government is offering $100 to any unvaccinated or single-vaccinated person who gets a first shot, or second shot. Enough. I’m tired of this. I never stopped wearing a mask all summer. And I won’t now.
“Never argue with stupid people they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience.” –Mark Twain
I know I am late to the party, but I will sometimes shun something that is universally popular until I’m ready. I waited ten years to watch the movie Ghandi. I never watched Friends, either; though, I get the gist and have watched a few full episodes. This is the case with The Sopranos. It was so popular I just wasn’t interested. But I recently started watching it, and five minutes into episode 1, season 1, I was hooked. Here’s the thing: the other night at dinner I was talking about how fascinating it was that when Tony, exasperated, mentioned to his therapist that his uncle and mother were like little children, she said it’s a good thing to let children have the illusion of control every now and then – and Tony did just that with his uncle. There was a young man at the dinner table, and he’d watched the entire Sopranos series at least six times. He said he’d never noticed that detail before. “I remember that detail but I never put it together,” he said. The next day, I began to wonder why.
It’s not because I think I’m some sort of genius. I am not. Not even close. There’s something else going on. Keep in mind this is only a theory, but I think it’s because I read. I read novels, literary novels, written by writers who are interested in a conversation about the human condition — not just a snappy plot, and this young man does not. I like novels that will make these kinds of connections because the writer is a curious bastard (“bastard” in the most flattering, complimentary way) who can make subtle connections between unrelated things. She has that kind of devious, clever mind. She would see that conversation between Tony and his therapist as more than just an expression of Tony’s exasperation with his mom and uncle — she would see the possibility of it reverberating further into the show. So, this is quiet argument for reading literary novels. Not only will you become more empathetic, this activity can develop comprehension skills that will enrich your viewing of movies, television and so on. I fear there’s a generation of young humans out there who are being raised on YouTube, social media, and gaming, many of whom who will go forth into the world dumbed-down and shallow. Like I said, this is just a theory. But for me it would have been impossible for me to not see that connection in The Sopranos. For my young non-reading friend, it was never going to happen, and I think that’s sad.
“Never start a book with the weather.” That’s one of the writing rules from Elmore Leonard. Do you think he meant website posts too? Because it’s December 3 today and it’s going to be PLUS 7C here on the high plains boreal forest. December 3 is more likely to be -25C than anything above zero. So, it’s extraordinary weather, in an extraordinary time. It’s been a while since I’ve written here. My attention has been on a new book, with a working title: “Death will Follow the Blonde in Red High Heels.” I know it’s a little long but I can’t worry about that right now. It has a nice beat to it. That’s important. And it’s got a great hook. Does it do what novels are supposed to do? I think so. It offers up a mystery, and an exploration of the human condition, and it entertains. Ya, I think all great novels are mysteries. And they shine a light on what it is to be human. And they must entertain.
I think novelists will always say their favourite book is the one they’re working on right now — and in this case, I would not disagree. I love the feel of this book. It sits in a sweet spot.
It’s a simple idea. Make a garden along the fence in the back lane and on that fence, mount bits of poetry, so when people walk the neighbourhood, they’ll pause, perhaps read something that moves or inspires them, and then, continueStefa on until next time. It’s a simple idea, but Stefanie Ivan not only had the idea, she followed through. There are perhaps a dozen poem fragments mounted, from Rumi to Margret Atwood, to Alice Major and Charles Bukoski. This year, Stefanie invited me to send her a line or two, so, I’m there too. If you’re ever walking in Griesbach, keep your eyes open. This is one of Edmonton’s hidden gems.
This is another example of a Sorbet. I love the prompt of “Imagine this,” because that is what writing is about. We imagine this and then a story comes to life. It is a joyous way to enter story.
Imagine this: When she Bernice Upton announces she would like to tell Robert Janes a story, he is intrigued. “What kind of story? A story with a happy ending? Love? Romance? Adventure? Will there be swords?” “No, I expect it will be like asking the waitress in your favourite café about her life and finding out her great-grandmother slept with Ernest Hemingway, and that this great-grandmother had a sister who posed as a man to get into the army in the Second World War, and this woman’s son became a speechwriter for one of the presidents of the United States – one of the good ones, not the horror they have now – and that the speechwriter’s daughter is a dancer with the New York City Ballet and that she worked on a cruise ship for a year before she auditioned for the ballet; and that ship came close to hitting a massive iceberg off the coast of Hawaii. And on that night in August, when the iceberg – all 200,000 tonnes of it – was a few metres off the starboard hull of the Albatross, the dancer – who was standing on deck, on the port side looking out into the warm tropical night, despondent because two married men had hit on her that night and this must be a sign her dance career was going nowhere – felt suddenly cold.” Bernice Upton stopped. Cleared her throat. “It will be something like that.”
This was a Sorbet a few weeks back. A sorbet is a bit of prose/poetry/or a riff that is raw and fairly new, delivered to your mailbox weekly. If you’d like to get things like this every week, there’s a form on this website. Join the Sorbet family:
The clown in moonlight
Tonight, in the back of my mind, there is a man wearing a red clown nose, and he is confused about something simple. Like why doors open one way but not the other. Or why his trousers are on backwards. Or why he sometimes feels as if he is standing on the narrow ledge outside a window, 36-storeys up looking down at everything small.
But what if the clown is standing on the balcony of a small hotel room in Mexico, looking up at the moon and the moon is wrong. It’s tilted, as if it’s not the same moon as he remembers. As if it’s fallen over. He knows if he tries hard enough, he can right the moon with just his hands and his powerful mind.
Perhaps he is confused by the moon’s silence, which it owns so thoroughly. The clown stops and listens, and the moon is silent. Hello? the clown thinks. I see you have fallen over and I will help you. It is the least I can do. For all you do for us, it is a small thing. And the moon says nothing. And the clown listens, his hand up to his ear. Waiting.
Then, the clown is, again, trying to open the door the wrong way. He pulls on the push side and fails. Perhaps he tries so hard, he falls down. Gets up and tries again, this time, turning his back to it. And fails again to open the door. Then, he crawls toward the door and sneaks his hand up the frame and still, the door won’t open.
He removes his trousers and stands on the beach in his red polka-dotted briefs as if this is normal. He will twist and turn his trousers. Unfurl, and shake them out. And then put them on backwards again, as if everything is fine. He will go to shove his hands into his pockets but they won’t be where they’re supposed to be. He will act as if this is how he prefers it.
The clown will look up at the tilted moon, and out at the ocean. The moon is still watching, listening, marking the seasons in its own sweet way. And the clown is determined to hear. He listens beyond the ocean. Beyond the breeze in the palms. Beyond the refrains of flamenco guitar coming from an open door. He will stand in the sand and he will never stop listening to moon.
The new book is called (tentatively) The Forensics of Loss and it’s coming along!!! I’ve written three endings so far, perhaps more to come. Perhaps they’re all the same ending. It’s nice to write toward an ending. Even if that ending may change. Here are the locations so far — Macon and Lyon, France — London, England — San Francisco, Palm Springs, California — Sanremo, Italy — Osoyoos, BC, and Jasper Alberta. So, all over the world. A bit of a travel mystery. I hope to top it off at 75-80,000 words.
This isn’t the elevator pitch but it’s the book in a nutshell:
Bruce loses his wife. She goes missing in Macon and he’s on the hunt to find her. The only evidence of where she might be is a story she told just before she disappeared. He uses this story as a launchpad to find her.
Yes!!! I have a poem/riff being published in an anthology of pandemic poetry this August. Thank you to Kevin Solez, who edited the collection, and certainly made my piece better. I will keep you in the loop about when it’s available. I’ve heard a few of the names of other poets, and my God, I’m in great company. The publisher is Kendall Hunt. Stay tuned.
Here I am, in the finishing movements of the perfectly paced (less perfectly written) “The Testaments,” by Margaret Atwood. There are moments of awkwardness in this text that I am not sure were on purpose. Nonetheless, it’s a fine novel — not that you need me to tell you this. It co-won the Booker for god’s sake. (along with “Girl, Woman, Other,” by Bernardine Evaristo — which I have not read yet). Spent a few days in Banff after Christmas, reading in the hot tub, drinking wine, hiking, and eating. It was delightful. A welcome break from…well, everything. Now it is a new year and I am reminded of the quote from the movie Whatever Works. “That’s why I can’t say enough times, whatever love you can get and give, whatever happiness you can filch or provide, every temporary measure of grace, whatever works.” — Boris Yellnikoff
If I was going to make a New Year’s resolution, it would be that quote. To be open to anything that could provide a temporary measure of grace and grasp onto it!
This December darkness sits on the city like a beautiful, brooding woman wearing a flowing, grey satin dress that is dropped to the ground. Under her dress is a layered white crinoline.
It is snowing, hesitantly, as if it doesn’t really want to. It’s 3:34 p.m., and depressingly dark. The sun was a no-show. AWOL. Gone behind grey. On the radio, a drive-home host doesn’t know when the Solstice is – she has no idea. “Don’t things turn around sometime in December?” she says. Seventeen days, I say to the radio. How does anybody get a job on the radio without knowing when the Solstice occurs?
On the 21st, the light starts to return. Thirty-four days to get to this exact same quality of light on the other side. When did light become so important? You were aware of the value of light when you put the Christmas lights up on the house last week – you erred on the side of too many, and in fact, went out and bought more. Because light is important. Not because of the birth a Saviour story. Because of light.
Good morning!!! The Elephant onKarlůvBridge is top of mind this week, as it is still with a publisher, and anything could happen. This causes no small amount of anxiousness. I’m open to suggestions about what to do about anxiousness, and twitchiness. Let me know what I should do. You know how to get a hold of me.
Now, this alleged anxiousness raises some important questions in me about writing novels, about telling stories, and where is the “win” when it comes to publishing. Am I really anxious? Or is that just an expected emotion? Maybe I’m not anxious, but rather, excited and hopeful and honoured that my book is being read by a big publishing house – it’s being considered. For sure, I feel gratitude, humility. And it is a risk to put something you’ve worked hard on into the hands of strangers. But at my age, publishing, writing, this game in which I am intimately involved, is beyond ego. It is not about insecurities, or unaddressed damage. It’s certainly not about fame. And it is not about money. It is about story, curiosity, delight, beauty. And wonder – how is it that all of this running around mating, and dating, and falling apart, loving and hating, living and dying came to be? And isn’t it incredible? If you believe, as I do, that we human beings are hard-wired to respond to story, why? Why does “a man falls in a hole and struggles to get out, and then, finally gets out of the hole” work, every single time? The win is in the writing, the act of creating something, the surrender to imagination. There is a quote from Jane Smiley about writing that acts as a rebuttal to Hemingway’s “All first drafts are shit.” Smiley says: “Every first draft is perfect, because all a first draft has to do is exist.” That’s a much more positive take on creation. So, if the win is the creation of a novel, a story, a poem, then what’s publishing?
Well, here’s my theory: Publishing is the woman at work who has dirty blond hair and wears sweaters, a lot, and who barely looks up when you walk past her every day. She doesn’t think she’s beautiful, but you have noticed she is – she is beautiful in the persevering way truth works. On her desk, is a picture of Woody Allen sitting on a park bench with Diane Keaton watching the sun come up over the 59th Street Bridge. No pets. No family. Just that image. You say good morning to Glenys every day and she says good morning back. It is a small dance. But that’s the end of it. You do not make forays into each other’s lives. You do not question, or comment about the weather. You say good morning. Then, one morning in December, Glenys looks up and smiles, and she takes your breath away.
That’s publishing. After all the joy of creation, and imagination, and the work of writing, Glenys smiles – and then, your work will in the world. Your story will enter a larger world.
Here is today’s sorbet. You too can get little packages like this delivered to your mailbox weekly, by signing up on the Contact page of this site.
a marigold in November
will watch the snow. I will play music, sit, and watch the snow as it twists
past the back window. Or falls – maybe the snow will just fall. It won’t serpentine,
or make delicate DNA strands past the garage light, or hush the night, or quilt
the ground. Sometimes snow simply falls, and is beautiful in its falling. Because
the snow has an unmatched vulnerability. There is a healing in snow if you are
wounded, or anxious, or downhearted. It can be a salve if you check any of
these boxes. Maybe it’s not the snow, but rather, the act of stopping, and
watching. I don’t know. I like to think it’s the snow.
Tonight I will watch the snow. Because it is Dia de los Muertos and in this house it is a time for remembering our dead. We gather our reminders – a ballet shoe, a bottle of Rye, a glass of vodka and orange juice, a picture of Harry in the mountains, or Rita in her kitchen, or Marie unabashedly wearing a Mu-Mu. For some reason, I always think of a bass player from a band I was in, who surprised and confused us all when he checked out early. There is even a faded picture of a beloved orange and white cat. I would like to have had marigolds (because the dead are drawn to marigolds) but it is Alberta and a marigold in November is fool’s dream – an absurdity.
will watch the snow. Perhaps, I will play Miles Davis, or Max Richter, and join
the dead in a drink as the snow falls. If
the snow falls. They say it’s going to snow, but it’s weather. Anything could
happen. As I age, the room on such nights becomes more crowded. Some of the
dead are quietly smiling and talking among themselves in corners. Some want to play,
to know things, to be who they were. Others sit and nod, happy to have been remembered.
The dead will draw no pleasure from watching the snow. That task falls on my
shoulders, and I am glad to carry that weight.
Tonight I will watch the snow. As if it is a prayer. As if falling snow is always a prayer.