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Writing in the shadow of Mt. Doug.

Someone said it was beyond the size allowed for a city lot. Does this mean all the neighbourhood 60 year-old trees can be cut down? Not what Faulkner meant dear darlings.

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Lilacs

Backyard lilac

In Greek Mythology, Pan, the god connected to fields, fertility and spring, was smitten by the beauty of Syringa. To escape his advances, Syringa turned herself into the flower we have come to know as the lilac.

Lilacs are often available around Mothers’ Day. You may love their pungent aroma or send them to a far corner of the house after a day, but their lush and majestic totality in a vase cannot be denied.

Rochester, New York is the lilac capital of the world hosting a two-week long Lilac Festival each spring. Highland Park in Rochester contains over 500 varieties in 1200 lilac bushes over 155 acres. Cornwall, Ontario, and Spokane, Washington also call themselves lilac cities. Cornwall’s collection rivals that of Rochester, and Spokane hosts a lilac parade and festival.

If you want to smell or bathe in the fragrance of this flower, Pacific sells French Lilac deodorants, soaps, and perfumes, and many will be familiar with Avon’s French Lilac bubble bath. Many handcrafted olive oil soaps also mix lilac into their base.

Growing Lilacs

The Syringa (the Lilac’s botanical name) is a hardy deciduous needing sun and well-drained, preferably alkaline soil. They are easy to grow and easily thrive. Remove flower heads from newly planted lilacs and deadhead them for the first few years. The plants are upright when young, spreading into a bushy shrub. Plan your lilac bushes for edging, privacy, and fragrance.

Lilac leaves are heart shaped and green with flowers that can be white, pink, or deep purple. Their time of blooming is said to indicate an early or late spring. I think this is an early spring on the West Coast.

White lilac

Lilac Trivia

Purple lilacs symbolize first love, while white lilacs are said to represent youthful innocence. The Lilac is also the flower of wedding anniversary number eight.

The following books contain Lilac in the title:

Under the Lilac by Louisa May Alcott, White Lilacs by Carolyn Meyer, The Lilac Tree by Helen Dunmore, The Lilac Lady by Ruth Alberta Brown, and Lilac Moon by Sharon Butala.

Lilac movies:

Lilac Time- 1928 and The Lilac Domino-1937

Famous lilac paintings:

Marc Chagall’s Lovers in the Lilacs and Lilac Bush by van Gogh

http://www.arthermitage.org/Vincent-van-Gogh/Lilac-Bush.html

In One Rainy Wish, Jimi Hendrix wrote about a dream being “misty blue and lilac too.”

The lilac is related to a class of anti-diabetic drugs, Martha Stewart has a lilac named after her, there is a Lilac Street in London, and on a recent episode of House lilacs attracting bees were related to a patient’s complicated diagnosis.

Lilac Superstition

There is some superstition surrounding the lilac. The idea that lilacs bring bad luck may have originated in the belief that fairies were once associated with the lilac tree, and if brought inside, fairies could disrupt the household. The way to keep fairies away, though, is to hang a wind chime, so they say.

The white/pink lilac I planted many years ago under the shade of a Japanese maple is now over eight feet tall, and one of the purple shrubs did not bloom last year, so I think these can be fussy as well.

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A version of the above first appeared in Suite101.

 

The past few months I’ve been neglecting facets of my life while I focus on people and situations that require my full care and attention. In other words, consciously and unconsciously, I have set priorities, because my human body and mind has only so much life energy to expend.

I’ve neglected my writing and my walks in these woods. Luckily, I can see this mountain from my window, and even when I can’t be in it, I can look toward its green and rocky back and, however brief, the sight of it in the sun or through the fog puts me at peace.

But yesterday the sunshine called and just like that, I slipped on my hiking boots and took to the deep forest.

Spring is awakening here.

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I ran into one of the Friends of Mt. Doug and he gave me a brief update. Perhaps because of that, reminders of the important work being carried out by so many people caught my attention and mingled with drifting thoughts.

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Due to the flooding of an area east of Shelbourne and the harm to trees, a tributary to drain off the water has been dug. Here you can also see a replanting of native species and a notice that when you are here to mind where you set your foot.

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Someone I was once very close to suddenly passed away in January and I did not find out until this past week. This kind and talented man, whom I had not seen in decades, found me through these words. He told me how proud he was of me and several emails passed between us in 2012.

I was busy with editing and sending out my manuscript and my correspondence with him dwindled and then stopped. These past few days, I’ve been thinking about neglect, wondering if my connection with another human being came up short.

We carry on with our busy lives and sometimes we just aren’t able to give 100% to our families, every friend, our health, our communities, our work. When our attention needs to focus on the immediate, we can miss other things going on around us and afterwards, in hindsight, foolishly pass judgment. I thought about that this week as I mourned.

The woods are a good place to take grief. Happy memories, the past cloaked in music, words, and unique shared moments arrived amongst the new blossoms.

Regret does not heal or feed the soul, and as I walked this morning, the forest seemed to take away what I do not need. This is not a solipsistic conjuring of mine own, analyzing away regret or renegotiating time and neglect. To paraphrase Ralph Waldo Emerson, nature is medicinal. The trees sway above, a woodpecker picks over yonder, the mud squishes underfoot, the sunshine accentuates the green moss, I breathe in mushrooms, and I come away renewed.

The least amount of work in this place will help protect and sustain it.

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And however brief our genuine care and attention to one another may be, it can be powerful and long lasting.

Thank you mb and Rest in Peace.

 

 

Spring is my favorite month, and many days these past few weeks have felt like March. There are new shoots of perennials poking their heads through the old growth, as I take down the garden and plant bulbs. I haven’t spent much time on the mountain, but yesterday was too beautiful a day to miss––bright, crisp, cool.

As with writing goals, sometimes the path is difficult to see.

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I didn’t go looking for them, but there was a crazy abundance of mushrooms everywhere. I used to pick and eat wild mushrooms as a kid, but none of the ones I saw resemble those. I suppose one day I should make a point of consulting an expert on whether or not any of those in Mt. Doug are edible and also why they grow where they do.

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These posts try to connect my writing life to the woods where I hike. Some observations may be products of my own imaginings, but in my wanderings and encounters with this mountain, I sometimes have insights that I can apply to my writing life.

I’ve started to shop my novel around to agents and publishers. I even received my first rejection. What next? Can I figure out where the path is leading despite the heavy leaves? Is that one lone mushroom in the woods like my own work waiting to be discovered?

Lone mushroom

 

Many of us are gearing up for our annual trip across the water from Victoria to the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival in late October. Six days with some 80 events and over 100 national and international writers is word glut for the literary consumer. It is a costly venture when you add up ferry, hotel, food, tickets, books, and let’s not forget the wine they sell at some of the venues.

Lat year’s reinstated Victoria Writers’ Festival, as well as the ones on Denman Island and in Campbell River, come around once a year, but for Sharon Hope and Wendy Picken this just isn’t enough, and they took up the idea of bringing back a literary festival to Sidney, BC.

‘There hadn’t been a festival in Sidney for seven years and readings at the Red Brick Café ceased about three years ago, despite the events always being well attended,’ Sharon says. ‘We wanted a grassroots movement that would involve avid readers, librarians, teachers, writers, supporters of literacy, and business people. We also wanted to feature youth and reach out to educators.’

Sharon is a retired forest ecologist with publications in major scientific journals and two non-fiction publications, and Wendy brings her talents as an artist to the design of posters and other promotional material, but where to start to convince the local literati to participate. Sidney has given itself the moniker Book Town, but there have been no recent opportunities to celebrate local authors while at the same time benefiting local merchants. With no seed money in the initial stages, one of the other challenges was to anticipate how much they could potentially raise and how to tailor the scope of the festival accordingly.

Every author she spoke to immediately said yes. (Although that is not a complete surprise, as there are few opportunities here for writers to present their work.) The festival has received grants from the Town of Sidney and the Capital Regional District. Local businesses donated items for silent auction, offered venues and promotions, as well as website design, and they also received support as members of the Peninsula Community Arts Council. Each of the fundraisers, since the first on April 26 with Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane, sold out, and to their surprise, the silent auction and fundraisers have raised enough money to cover all of their costs.

‘Creating the magic synergy of readers and audience is really what the festival is about. Budding writers and avid readers always grasp opportunities to meet their favorite authors who may have inspired or moved them through their work. We wanted to create an intimate atmosphere with a number of smaller venues, the opportunities for individuals to talk to the authors one to one in quieter settings, and to ask questions.’

Authors will also have the opportunity to talk to each other through a potluck dinner, which the festival hopes will nurture a comfortable easy relationship of authors to the audience.

It is too soon to project the economic benefits that this festival may generate through participants taking in restaurants and shops or by buying books, or if Sidney will enlarge its image as Book Town. The impact on the cultural community and the social benefits of inclusion, supporting youth, pride of participation and accomplishment by way of the written word are not easily measurable. More obvious is that readers gain insight and perspective on writers, their personalities, and how they write. Writers get to mingle with their peers, show their appreciation to readers, and of course sell their books. And, as anyone who has gone to Granville Island for the week’s festivities will tell you, it’s just a lot of fun.

I suppose Sharon and Wendy hope that fans of Arthur Black, Mark Zuehlke, Sylvia Olsen, and Patrick Lane, to name a few, will cross the waters from the Mainland to take in the Sidney Literary Festival, stroll the streets of this quiet little town, and leave a few dollars on this side of Georgia Strait. Their theme, ‘Authors at Home,’ proposes something for everyone, and as the Vancouver International Writers’ Festival has done for years, brings authors, youth, and educators together in workshops and contests.

For now they are happy to report that tickets are selling well and their eight-member board is already tossing around ideas for next year’s event. Not bad for two women who set about to create a writers’ festival in their hometown.

http://www.sidneyliteraryfestival.com/

When I look up at the date of my last entry I cannot believe those many months have gone by. Nay, not only months, but entire seasons.

Summer of 2012 had me completing my portfolio and thesis––defending the relevance and use of landscape in fiction. Tip #1, for any undergrads or MA students reading this–– start practicing the art of footnotes now. The bindery in Lancaster did not accept email word docs. Ever try to find A4 paper in your local, non-UK stationary shop? While most Canadian and US universities use the standard 8 ½ x 11, The International Standards Organization of professional presentation is 8.27 x 11.69. Of course, I knew this from being on campus the year before. Needless to say, I could have saved myself a lot of aggro by ordering the paper months in advance.

Paper received, thesis printed, mailed (80$ to the UK), well in advance of due date. Tip #2––work ahead of schedule whenever you can.

I am proud to say that I have earned my MA in creative writing. Finishing was bittersweet, and to extend writerly classmate relationships, we’ve started our own Facebook page. Alex O’Toole is also creating a site where we can continue to critique our work, offer tips on writing competitions etc., and generally inspire and prod each other. After all, as the man said, ‘the hardest thing about writing, is to keep doing it.’

Dissertation safely in the hands of the lovely Elizabethan-era printing press, I set out on holiday. First stop, visiting farming friends in Saskatchewan and walking the land. On an old homestead I visit now and then, there are seven sloughs where once there had been only two, and I wondered about the topsoil that had washed away despite eco-friendly farming practices. My thoughts on farming will appear in a longer piece down the road.

It rained while we were there, and after taking some photographs of houses falling back into the earth, we pushed back the seats of the rental car and let the wind through the grass and green wheat lull us to sleep.

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Next up was a trip to Boston and Concord Massachusetts. Concord was the home of Louisa May Alcott (Little Women), Ralph Waldo Emerson, and is of course the home of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond. I signed the guestbook in his cabin, dipped my feet in the waters of his pond, and also visited the house where transcendentalism began.

Thoreau lived and wrote in a 10 x 12 cabin, often hosting as many people who could stand and spill out of its space. In the humidity that dragged on that afternoon, I could understand a need to escape to the woods.

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The grave sites, as you can see, are places where pencils, coins, and notes of thanks are deposited.

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The autumnal Vancouver Writers’ Festival never disappoints, and the highlights were hearing–– as The Guardian put it–– the ‘mesmerizing,’ Junot Díaz, my constant bench mark Alistair MacLeod, and the inspiring Kate Mosse. In the 30 seconds you are allotted at a signing, I nervously asked Mr. Díaz if he was taking PhD students, and blubbered something to Mr. MacLeod. Student writers are such devoted fans.

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Kate Mosse related the events of an historical evening from which the Orange Prize sprang, and shortly after that presentation, it was announced that Canada would be initiating a women’s prize for writing. I have read all of the pros and cons, so please do not reply with your thoughts on the prize. Suffice to say, I was not the only one surprised by the meticulously gathered stats on who gets read, reviewed, and wins prizes in this country.

In December, I watched my grad via livestream, and by all accounts did not miss anything for not attending in person.

I have finished up a freelance assignment, worked on two short pieces I hope to submit soon, and sadly managed only a few walks in my mountain forest. Within a few weeks, I hope to begin facilitating an adult writing course for those who are looking for a productive and supportive place to explore the writing process.

One of the requirements of the MA was to try and figure out who you are as a writer. I have discovered that I need to stay focused on the big work, and, therefore, have spent almost all of my post-MA time going over the entire manuscript/ novel-in-progress, one leaf at a time.

There is a lot of pressure to publish once you finish a body of work, the urge to just get the thing out there, but I am trying not be rushed. In his Paris Review article, ‘The Art of Criticism No. 4’, John Simon, said, ‘I have to feel satisfied that I have met the challenge of this piece of work, whatever that is.’ These words emphasize my own need to slow down and get it right.

Last, but not least, this has also been a time to catch up on some reading. I highly recommend Díaz’s This Is How You Lose Her and MacLeod’s ‘Remembrance’, Anakana Schofield’s, Malarky (this took her 10 years to complete, and she not only writes beautifully, but also knows how to present her work––we’ve all been to great authors’ inaudible and inanimate readings), Erin Morgenstern’s, The Night Circus, and I am still trying to absorb the disturbingly amazing work of Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s, The Shadow of the Wind.

The man also said ‘all writers have to go it alone eventually,’ and so my last bit of post-grad advice ––

Take your inspiration where you can find it.

I have just submitted my last assignment in my MA. That makes 12 tutorials averaging around 3700 words per tutorial-approximately 2500 words per chapter and 1200 words examining the reasons, literary, theoretical, and creative for the submission. There were also six peer conferences or workshops at 2500 words per conference and 500 words of context, six research modules of around 1000 words per to complete, a journal reviewing term progress, and a continuing bibliography. You can add up the word count.

Was it worth it? I had to borrow the money to do it. But in terms of the writing support, creative inspiration, and expansion of my own knowledge, work and goals, I would do it again with no hesitation. Of course, it has a lot to do with the fact that I chose to do my MA at Lancaster University in England.

My main tutor is the inimitable Conor O’Callaghan, and my peers are Irish and Ugandan poets, Nigerian, Greek, and British short story poets, writers, and novelists.

The outstanding teachers in the program are Michelene Wandor, Sara Maitland, Brian McCabe, Jane Draycott, and George Green. Graham Mort and Lee Horsley coordinate the program. All of these instructors are accomplished award winning writers in their own fields.

There is still the portfolio of 30,000 words and the 3,000 word thesis to tweak by September 1st. So you can see why I have been missing from this blog.

I will post more about the details of the program another time.

My few experiences on stage can be compared to the work I have done in the MA. It is all about the day to day work, or practice and rehearsal. This is where the connections are found, the nuances learned and relearned, the trials and joys are born. Of course, the difference between a collaborative stage production and writing is that 99.9 per cent of the time you are on your own. Finishing the degree is a little like opening night, exciting, but it comes with more of a whimper than a bang. It is too close to the end, and the question what next? looms.

For now I am deep in revisions of not only the thesis, but the entire novel, trying to make it worthy of submission to an editor and agent.

I did get some very nice pictures the other evening of mist over the mountain. It made it look as if the mountain were on fire.

That’s me these days. Misty. On fire.

Fellow MA ers

http://alexandraotoole.wordpress.com/

http://bnpoetryaward.blogspot.ca/

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