Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cold December Nights and Tips on Playwriting

It has been cold. We're into the minus 20's and most of us aren't quite ready for it. But ready or not, we're in for the ride. With these temperatures, everything takes more time: more time to dress, more time for shoveling, more time for the car to warm-up. When it's this cold, the car seat in my car won't move forward so I spend the first 20 minutes of the drive with pillows piled up behind my back so that I can see out the windshield. And yet, I find myself enjoying winter. It's a perfect time of year to stay home and write or sew or bake or read. And as long as I avoid the commercial rush of Christmas, December can be a truly enriching time of year. The snow makes everything so beautiful. Though the cold air stings our faces, the landscape is soft and soothing. Though we may miss our loved ones during this time of year (as I often have in past years), we can imagine them with us; in the stark, still winter skies when the stars seems brighter than other times of the year and in those not-so-early mornings when the sun slowly draws its brush of colour across the sky.

Last night, I facilitated a workshop on playwriting titled "From the Page to the Stage" (sponsored by 10by10 and NOWW) and given the weather, we weren't sure what the turn-out would be. But the room was full. We all braved the cold; each of us making at least one comment about the cold upon entering the warm building. And, as the evening progressed, we created our own environment in the room; an environment of exploration, questioning and sharing. The group, though mostly strangers to each other, shared their sources of inspiration. What struck me was how much we have in common. And how storytelling is a basic human need, whether or not we are writers by trade. We look to story to make meaning, to probe, to reminisce, to inquire, to laugh, to ignite, to disturb, to comfort, to inspire and a thousand other reasons.

Some of use may need the world to first give us permission to tell our stories. Some jump in and if the world happens to respond in kind, that's wonderful. But if the larger world fails to respond to our story (in whatever form we chose to tell it), we may choose to remain undaunted. Because, perhaps in the end, it is the act of telling the story that matters most. We're better off for forming that story in our hearts and minds; our winter skies may seem clearer and brighter because of it.

And for the playwrights and writers who happen to be reading this blog entry, here are some tips on playwriting that I've comprised. I would be remiss if I did not mention the many wonderful directors and dramaturges who, over the years, have shared their knowledge with me (Jan Henderson, David S. Craig and Thomas Morgan Jones to name a few). I cannot say that I've invented most of these ideas. I've just gradually made them my own over the years. They may or may not be valuable for you but here they are:

  1. Whatever your initial impulse is for your story, do not lose track of it. (And I am not the first writer to say this.) Your script may go through eight or nine drafts, but the essence needs to remain true. This is a difficult thing to describe but when you've compromised that initial impulse, you'll likely feel less connected to the story. It usually carries the seed of why this is important to you; why you need to write about it. I remember being in a playwriting workshop and an actor was emphatic about a change he wanted to make in a character he was playing. He wanted the character to become physically and verbally abusive, upon discovering his wife's alleged affair. However, it was very important to me that the affair (which later is revealed as an affair of the heart), was not spurred by an abusive husband but by her own circumstances of poverty and her own unmet needs. For me, if the husband had become abusive, it would have changed the essence of the play and I therefore could not make the change. In that same workshop, I made all kinds of other changes, some of them quite significant, but those changes did not shift the essence of the story.
  1. This is an obvious point but writing is very time-consuming. It means carving out time, whether or not I feel inspired; whether or not I'm in the mood. Sometimes, I'm full steam ahead and other times, I need prompts to get me started. There are many excellent books that provide ideas for prompts. One of my favourite prompts is to take a deck of archetypal cards and draw one from the deck. I then write a quick monologue from that point of view. If you don't have a deck, you can simply make your own list of archetypes: the fool, the mother, the innocent child, the kind/queen, the warrior, and so on.
  2. Pay attention to how people talk. Listen for the rhythm in the way people speak. Then find the rhythm in your own characters. Read aloud your script. Notice when the words don't sound natural to your ears.
  3. Ask pertinent questions about your work. A good dramaturg will formulate a number of perfect questions to urge you towards that next draft. Here are a few samples: “Who is the story about? What are the themes? What visual images are in the work?”
  4. What challenges do your characters face? Through challenges, characters make decisions for better or for worse, and this will give your play a forward thrust.
  5. Ask yourself with each line of dialogue “Is the character hiding or revealing?” In other words, what is the sub-text. What are the characters really saying?
  6. Some writers begin their story by exploring character and some begin by developing a plot. (I've tried both and vacillate back and forth between the two.) I find that when I begin with a character, the process is slower but it is also very enriching and tends to access intuition. When I've drawn out a map of the plot in advance, I can expect the plot to shift as the characters develop.
  7. It is helpful for me to know what my threads are. By threads, I mean a significant object or the themes behind the play or a plot thread. I like to map out my threads. It's important for me to notice when I've dropped a thread and equally important to notice when I've picked it back up again.
  8. Many playwriting workshops have put forth the question: “What does the character(s) want and how far is he/she willing to go to get it?” A dramaturge friend of mine, Thomas Morgan Jones, once asked me, “What is the character most afraid of?” And what is their greatest wish?” Both of these questions, though similar, will give the writing greater depth. Another useful tip from Thomas was to read the first and last line from each scene and than ask myself, “has anything changed?”
  9. What are you, as a playwright, trying to say with your story? Whatever it is, it shouldn't be obvious. It should be carefully concealed in the work. Most often, a playwright is trying to say something; if only “take a closer look at this issue” or “take a look at these characters and see what they're struggling with.” Be wary of writing a play that falls under the category of “Sledgehammer Theatre.” Audiences do not want to feel preached to.
  10. Invite actors to sit around a table and read a draft. It is amazing what can be revealed just by this process.
  11. I write many drafts. By drafts, I mean that I make significant changes (without losing the initial impulse for the work). I may experiment with time period, I may introduce or remove one of the characters, I may change the plot, I may introduce a new challenge. I often say to myself, while I'm rewriting a draft “If I don't like it, I'll just go back to the old draft.” But funnily, I've never returned to an old draft. I get attached to the new one and that becomes my new reality.
  12. There are certain things that have become helpful for me, in terms of re-visiting the work. Sometimes, I focus on one character only and re-work the piece with that one character in mind. I follow all of their lines through the play and it also helps me to see what their journey is. Then I switch to another character and go through the process again. The other thing I've done is create a visual map of the entire story. It's a bit like creating a storyboard, I suppose. However, rather than focusing on the camera angles, I focus only on the journeys of the characters.
  13. It can be helpful to go through the draft and mark the motivational beats. This is a tool that actors use while deconstructing a script. It involves going through a scene and marking the places where a character's motivation shifts.
  14. A short play has the same components that a full-length play has. It just happens to be shorter and more concentrated.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Stark Beauty of November and Transformative Leadership

November is here. November the remembrance month; November the just-before-December month; November the month my father and his twin brother were born 89 years ago. There are many things I love about this month but the thing I'm thinking about today is how under-appreciated the month of November is. Perhaps because it stands in the shadow of bright and glittery December, it claims so little fame. Yet it has a full moon like every other month, each day brings its surprises in weather (in the countryside, the snow now clings determinedly to the ground), it has more or less the same number of days that the other months have. So why do we relegate it to a place of so little importance?
I just returned from Vancouver where it was less stark than my own Northern terrain (as seen in these photographs). There, it rained for three days yet leaves still clung to the trees. I saw a bush with tiny purple-beaded berries. I walked in the district of Strathcona and enjoyed the colours of the clapboard houses. I found a tea shop where a lovely young woman explained the various teas and treated me like I was royalty. I attended a wonderful conference titled “Transformative Leadership” led by two friends. Throughout the three days, the facilitators asked us to reflect on our own learning, but somehow I found that a challenge. I was still so immersed in the experience and it was too early for me to say. But now that I'm home, I have a better idea of my learning. True learning, as we all know, happens outside of the classroom, outside of the conference, outside of what we normally associate with learning. However, if the classroom or the conference room successfully engages us, we will then take the ideas that cling to our minds and our hearts and move towards planting those seeds. And yes, this conference most definitely did that for me. It filled me with ideas for communication and helped me connect with my own values. From what I could observe, the experience was equally enriching for the others as well. And what a wonderful group of “others”, I must say. This was a group of genuine-hearted people who are looking to lead from a place of service and kindness. Wow! This could change the world, could it not? Imagine if all of our politicians, all of our teachers and lawyers and spiritual leaders and so on, led from a position of kind service? This is no small thing. This is taking our world and seeing it through a kaleidoscope, where broken pieces become patterns of beauty. Yes, seen in this light, leadership is of the utmost importance.

True be told, there's a tension in me around the word “leadership.” I want to be able to share my passion for creativity with others and so I find myself in leadership roles. But not because I crave it. If anything, I crave time alone; to reflect and daydream. If anything, I would rather not feel responsible for others (unless those 'others' happen to be my own family.) But this discomfort with leadership may be that I've narrowly defined the word “leadership.” And this is my new true learning from the conference: that we are all leaders, after all. Do we not have someone in our lives— a child, a parent, a friend, someone who is interested in what we have to say? Interested in our actions? Interested in our stories? If there is one single person aware of our words or our actions, then we are a leader. My sister once said, “Everything you do is a statement.” And I would add “the things we do not do are also a statement.” November is a perfect month for dancing with such thoughts and ideas. The sky is grey, making colours of thought or feeling seem all the brighter.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The Advantage of Moods & The Mother Who Gives up her Eyes

It just so happens I am an emotional creature because I am a human creature. Period. That's the story of being alive for all of us. Sometimes we feel this and sometimes we feel that. Naturally, I'm interested in the things that make me feel good but I also must not overly invest in those things because most are 99% out of my control. So why not enjoy this emotional roller-coaster journey? Why not be keenly interested in the world around me as well as the emotional world within me? And if I approach my emotions with curiousity rather than judgment, often that curiousity translates into fuel for my creative life. The trick is to be curious without drawing too many conclusions.... “I am depressed because..." or “I am sad because...” As soon as I draw conclusions, I've lost my curiousity. It's a done deal. It lacks energy. The fuel is gone. 

Art-making and entering into an art piece created by someone else are cathartic in a way that defy the intellect. My artist friend Alanna and I were having a conversation and I was telling her that when I read a story by Hans Christian Anderson, illustrated by Kay Nielsen, I find myself transported into an understanding of loss and love; an understanding that I could never get from reading a thousand self-help books or even books on spirituality. Why? Because Hans Christian Anderson does not try to give me an answer for my grief. He does not say “If you just take this step or that action, all will be well.” Alanna brought me to see that the author drew me into a world of beauty; a world where characters experience what I experience. And as I read, I feel as if I am the woman who gives up her eyes to the lake to become pearls in return for the lake transporting her to the other side where she believes her child is. I feel as if I am the one who has chosen to trade my hair for the old woman's greying hair. 

The story is something I experience directly. I am at the lake with the woman. My hair has gone grey. My eyes are at the bottom of the lake as pearls. I enter the story from my heart and not from my head. My head is far to cluttered at the best of times to receive a direct experience of truth. This is what I look for, I suppose, in art. And the thing that I look for in art, I also look for in life. That is: a beauty, a ringing truth, a journey into a place of magic that reminds me that this earth is also a place of magic. Things are too layered with emotions to be answered simply with words. We need our stories, our illustrations, our films, our music, our loved ones, our memories, our emotions, we need it all. And when I emerge from the story, I notice the world around me looks a bit more wondrous; a smidgen of magic enters the place. Below is one such magical place. My daughter stands in the distance. And I stand watching.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Under the Pearl Moon film project

It's taken a village to make this film and I can't express enough my gratitude to everyone who so generously contributed to bring the project to this point.

Firstly, I want to share with you that the wonderful, dynamic, generous-hearted, talented Jennifer Garrett, who played the role of Aunt Birdie, passed away unexpectedly this summer in Croatia. The way she lived her life was, in fact, the impetus for the story behind Under the Pearl Moon. She was fiercely committed to the environment and her love of the natural world could be seen in her beautiful and vibrant works of art. For Jennifer, the expression of her creativity knew no bounds. She was a singer-songwriter, theatre artist, visual artist, jeweler, healer and the list goes on.  Jennifer demonstrated by example that as long as we are alive, we can contribute to the world through art-making and through opening up the creative possibilities in ourselves and each other, as she did so effectively and powerfully.  We were so blessed and fortunate to work with Jennifer Garrett last summer on the film. She left us with beautifully performed footage of her role of Aunt Birdie as well as audio recordings of her songs. I cannot express enough how grateful I am for what she gave this project and how excited we are to share the film with the world.  In fact, without her, there would be no Aunt Birdie and there would be no film.  

When this spring we hosted a “Vintage Tea Party” fundraiser,  Jennifer wasn't there in person but she sent me a lovely angel painting which we raffled at the art raffle.  We also had art works from Alanna Marohnic, Marianne Brown and Linda Brown.  And, of course, we had tea in the garden and tea in the house.  I felt Jennnifer's support, even though she was across the ocean at the time.

As well as teas and deserts, we offered tea-leaf readings, a vintage clothing and collectables sale. Thanks to all of the helpers, it went off very smoothly and by the end of the day, we had raised our goal. (We will plan one other fundraiser prior to the launch to help raise funds for the sound recordings.)

The film has now been edited and is thirty minutes in length. We have entered into partnership with the Thunder Bay Symphony Orchestra and in December, we hope to spend a day recording live chamber orchestra music for the film. The sound track has been composed by Lise Vaugeois. To include a live orchestral recording for the film is something we could only have dreamed of.  the recording, we will need to add the music as well as final sound edits and “colour correction.” And then, in March of 2014, voila!, we will have a film to present to our community and well beyond. Our plan is to send it out worldwide to environmental film festivals as well as festivals for family audiences.

We have also completed a series of lesson plans for teachers to use in the classroom in tandem with the film. These are experiential arts-engaged lessons that allow students to explore the themes in the film in a deeper way. Once the film in launched, we will take the next step of planning a series of workshops in the schools.

I would like to close with this beautiful photograph of Jennifer taken by Paula Thiessen.  Jennifer is wearing one of the Aunt Birdie costumes and gazing into the just-before-dusk sky.  "Under the Pearl Moon" will be offered in tribute to Jenn.  

Saturday, August 31, 2013

A Three Berry Pie Day

These were the very first berries I picked in the season. Since then, my garden has offered me gooseberries, raspberries and red currents.  The 3-berry pie I made used raspberries from my garden, wild blueberries and wild saskatoons.

As the summer comes to a close, I can't help but feel how summer has been a turbulent blend of joyful family visits, lots and lots of rain, a new garden I started in my mother's back yard, writing in the early mornings, the loss of a dear friend, visits with my sisters, a back yard bursting with peppermint, bergamot (to make my own Earl Grey Tea blend), and oregano. All of this adding up to a very intense summer. And before the tail end of the season sweeps away, I've gone out picking blueberries, saskatoons and raspberries to make a Three-Berry pie. I invite extended family over and we eat the pie in the early evening. I've thought about so many things this summer. There were three deaths in my circle of family and friends and much loss to deal with. The summer has left me with more questions than answers.  Answers are so definitive but questions open up a myriad of possibilities.

 When my youngest child was home-schooled, I couldn't believe his endless list of questions he barraged me with on a daily basis. At first, I tried to guide him to pay attention to the task at hand. But later I realized that the questions were the task at hand. And so I began to shape his education around his questions. For the most part, I did not know that answers to his questions. We had to explore or discuss or search for a book or find someone who was experienced in that field. This is years before Google or Wikipedia. Searching for answers was always an adventure.

I'm wondering why we often relegate the world of questioning to children. Children are naturally curious but so are we, if only we would step aside from thinking we always need to provide answers. Why do we think that if we don't know something, it makes us weak or vulnerable? Children don't worry about these things. They take a chance. They ask questions.  I, for one, am going to begin to embrace questions this end of summer. When I picked the three types of berries this week, I asked myself, “What can I make to share that would keep the distinctive flavour of all three berries?”

And now, here on this end-of-August-night, I'm going to invent new questions to take into my month. Questions like “How is a September moon different from an August moon?”
“How will I balance my need to make a living with my soul's necessity of creating art?”
“How can I keep the friend I 'lost' inside me and around me?”
“What worries deplete my energy and what inspirations fill me up?”
“What is the small difficult-to-notice pleasure in my day?”
“What places in my home (chairs, windows, rooms) offer comfort? Stories old and new? An invitation?”
These will be my questions that lead me to curiousity and exploration... whether or not they lead to answer is of no consequence.

By the way, the recipe for my pie included:
1 cup of each type of berry
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
1 T. lemon juice
1 tsp. corn starch
 Butter pie crust
Crumbled gluten-free coconut cookies sprinkled on top with a bit of butter and flour.
Makes one pie.  Double up the recipe to make two pies.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Month in Italy

My first evening in Florence.

My son said something to me the other evening, shortly following my return home from a month in Italy. He said “Travelling doesn't really change people. It's a good experience to be able to travel but we're still who we are when we come home.” Since then, I have thought about what he said. When I travel, I'm open to new experiences; open to meeting strangers, open to trusting the world (otherwise, I would not be plunking myself down in a new country where I don't speak the language all on my own, would I?) Travel is a bit like putting myself in an altered state. The trick is to somehow, some way, keep the spirit of that altered state upon arrival home; to sustain the expansive feelings that come with travel. Sadly, the tendency is to come home and immediately pick up all the old habits of worrying and fretting.

Perhaps if I back track into the adventures of my travel in Italy, I will know what exactly it is that I want to preserve. I spent three weeks in a rented apartment in Florence. I didn't know a soul so I prompted myself to speak with strangers (usually people who were travellers though I also spoke to the locals whenever possible.) I met travellers who were open-minded, generous people and I also met travellers who were entitled and demanding. That was a surprise to me. I always had this idea that people who do a lot of travelling are somehow more enlightened that the rest of us poor souls slugging it out on home soil. Not so. However, I must say that the entitled and demanding sorts were definitely in the minority.

I took an Italian language course for two weeks, which prepared me for small exchanges with Italian people. I was thrilled when Italians responded by chattering away with me in Italian, perhaps knowing that I was catching their meaning only partially, but still allowing me that immersion experience. Once, while choosing produce at an outdoor market (ah, the glorious outdoors markets), an elderly woman enthusiastically began telling me something about the zucchini. I thought perhaps she was giving me lessons on how to cook the zucchini flowers but in time, I realized that she was warning me that the zucchini flowers were full of ants. Perhaps this was a good thing or perhaps this was a bad thing. I had no way of knowing. Either way, the conversation ended in a huge hug for reasons unknown to me.

For the entire time I lived in my apartment, I got to know my neighbourhood; the woman who practised opera arias every evening at the end of my street, the vegetarian restaurant that had an “organic” sign outside the door and just below the sign an ashtray full of cigarette butts, the bar in the Santa Spirito Piazza that had a salad to die for and a Calabrese owner who assumed that because I'm short and his manager was also short, we were destined to be together. (The fact that I'm happily married did not seem to phase his thinking on this matter.) The piazza was populated with the exact ingredients that every piazza should be populated with: the lovers who are smooching at the fountain, the Nonnas who are gossiping with their neighbours, the children who are chasing pigeons, the men who are whistling, the tourists who fill the seats of the outdoor patios and eat pizza, the lone Roma (gypsy) who hangs out at the church steps rattling a cup bothering no one, the church bells that toll every hour, the artist that sits on the grass sketching or painting. It's a place where everything changes but nothing changes.

Following my three weeks of living in the apartment, my daughter joined me and off we went on our travels. Perhaps in a different blog entry, I will write of our adventures in Rome, Pisa, Cinque Terre and Florence. (Finally, I became a tourist, visiting the sites and staying in guest houses and hostels.) My overall sense, from wearing the tourist hat for eight days is that the Italian people are perhaps less organized than Canadians. But whatever they lack in administrative ability, they far make up for it in sincerity. The Italians were friendly and helpful beyond the call of duty. Once, when my daughter and I were catching a train, she crouched down at the side of the train platform, trying to soak up the sun. An elderly man kept looking at her and walking back and forth. Finally, seeing that I was her mother, he approached me and told me in broken English that he was worried she was too close to the tracks and that it was dangerous. The same man also helped us haul our luggage onto the train. It was very sweet and I will always hold the memory of his protectiveness towards us.

While I was in Italy, there was beauty everywhere: Madonna shrines on every corner often with a jar of fresh flowers, buildings in pastel pinks and blues and yellows, churches that are designed to leave a person awestruck, wild poppies in bloom, art, art and more art. There was enough inspiration to last me a lifetime. This is what I want to preserve: a sense of beauty in the everyday. But the question is: will I be able to preserve that inspiration? bring it out of the closet on a grey day? draw from that well when I'm struggling to pay the bills? Will I be inspired to create art, without doubting or fretting? Will I be able to say that my travels altered me in some way? Or will I be the same person I was before I left? Only time will tell. But one thing is for certain, my month in Italy has left an impression; and hopefully a deep and lasting impression.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Day as Recorded by a Happenstance Traveler in Florence

Star Anise; Neapolitan Pastry & Lucia's Puppet Stage:

Today, like most days since my arrival in this wonderful country of Italy, has been a mixture of wonder, surprise, anticipation and the occasional smidgen of discomfort. I spent my day at the aptly-named “Mostra Internazionale dell'Artigianato. Simply put, it was a massive market; booths upon booths upon booths of artisan's wares, food, clothing, inventions, you name it and it was there. I managed to show restraint while passing by the tables of linens and tablecloths and wool scarves and summer cotton dresses and leather purses priced to sell. But when I found myself on the third floor where the food was, all my restraint evaporated in one quick pasty puff. The truth is, no human person alive could have resisted the smells and sights of cheeses, breads, chocolates, spices and cured meats. I wish I could have filled a steamer trunk and sent it home to all my friends and family. But alas, I had to settle for chocolates and star anise. Yes, I came across a spice and tea table that took my breath away. Even though I have a healthy supply of star anise at home (as I often add it to tea or to a pot of cooking rice), I ordered a small bag of it and slid it into my purse. The aroma coming from that little bag I purchased actually floated around me. My next stop was to a pasty table where I purchased 'strogliatella Neapolitan.” The pastry is made with many delicately thinned layers and filled with a sweet soft cheese and orange peel fillings. I normally shy away from eating anything made with wheat as wheat doesn't agree with me but when I saw that pastry, it was as if I fell into a trance. The trance also led me over to a cafe where I completed the perfection with a cup of cappuccino.

After all the excitement of the pastry, my energy was waning but I heard an announcement (in Italian) that caught my attention. It was something about a theatrical performance for children. Being that I write theatre for children, this was of interest to me but I couldn't understand the particulars. And the location of the event is so vast with so many buildings nearby, I knew I could easily miss it (whatever 'it' was). In my pathetic Italian, I approached a young woman and asked her what the announcement was saying. She abruptly answered in English “I don't know what you're saying. I can't help you.” I suddenly felt embarrassment,  not only for that moment but for all the other moments in my week where I clearly botched my attempts to communicate in Italian, confusing “indirizzo” (address) with “adesso” (now) and “insieme” (together) with “sempre” (always). Most Italians I've met have been so lovely and kind even though I'm probably making no sense to them at all, they smile and are ever so helpful.  After my sting of embarrassment, I thought “well, time to call it a day”. When I stepped outside and saw that it was raining, I changed my mind and sat under an awning to watch the rain.

And then “it” happened; the special thing in the day that cannot be planned; the happenstance moment. A woman about my age proceeded to adjust a wooden cart so that it would stay dry, near an entrance to the main building. Her wooden cart was a delightful combination of little doors and drawers and knobs as well as red velvet curtains. It was, in fact, a puppet theatre complete with an accordion and an old man puppet who sat on a miniature stool looking kindly out into the crowd. The performer/puppeteer was dressed in a black bowler hat, black baggy pants and a button up jacket with multi-coloured buttons down the front of it. The portable theatre hearkened back to hundreds of years ago when entertainers traveled from town to town. I was instantly charmed.

When the play ended, I offered my congratulations (again, in my broken Italian). She had a friend with her who translated and we chatted for a bit about life in the theatre. Before long, she was inviting me to a one-day theatre gathering/festival that I may want to take part in. 

And now, I am back at the apartment where I am staying, enjoying my cup of star anise tea and musing on the many gifts of the day.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Dreaming of Berries

Dreaming of Berries:

It's not Spring yet, at least not where I live.  Snow stubbornly hugs to the sides of fences and the back yards.  Soon though, I will be thinking about my garden.  This year, I would like a garden full of berries:  gooseberries, saskatoon berries, red currents, raspberries and strawberries. Never mind vegetables.  I'll pick up fresh veggies at the market.  It's berries I crave.  It's also how I manage to get through our long winters: jam and tea, tea and jam. This year I had the pleasure of tasting berry tea and berry jams from the Arctic and Labrador.  Cloud berry and crow berry are my two favourites.  Considering how these berry bushes manage to survive in such harsh conditions, perhaps this is what makes them all the sweeter.

I'm all out of jams; both my own jam and jams from far away.  In the meantime, I look at my bunch of dried berries hanging from my window and remind myself that it won't be long now before spring....

Last year, I wrote a story about my theatre friend Reneltta Arluk.  Her theatre company's name is Akpik Theatre, which translates into Cloudberry Theatre.  If you'd like to read the story I wrote about her, just click below and enjoy.  But make sure you make yourself a nice hot cup of tea first!


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Embroidery for a March Snow & an Unscheduled Life

Embroidery for a March Snow and an Unscheduled Life

The bliss of having a few unscheduled days; the calm that comes with a clock ticking away with no observance on my part; the switch from swarming in the hive along with my fellow drones to stepping back and tasting the honey. It's good for the artist soul. (And somewhere inside, I believe we all have an artist soul.)

I just spent spent three days in the big city where I visited friends and my daughter and coffee shops and a quaint bar on Dundas, with no preconceptions about how each day should unfold. One day I lost my precious (to me) necklace at a Starbuck's and didn't realize it until late that night.  I counted twelve places in total where the necklace might be, retracing my bohemian steps that day. It was coming on close to midnight so I climbed into bed with a sinking feeling that I might not see my necklace again.  The next morning, I made my calls and to my amazement, the server at the Starbucks had retrieved it and put it into a little envelope in the event that I returned looking for it.  There are indeed good people in the world! 

One day, my daughter and I opened up a book on embroidery stitches and on an scrap of red velvet, I began to embroider.  Throughout the remainder of the trip, I added a new stitch or embellishment onto the scrap of cloth. The cloth kept me company throughout the trip, wherever I went.


And on the way home on the plane, I sat beside a woman who had never flown before. She was quite anxious and we shared a few things about our lives, as strangers in passing.  After the initial chit-chat typical of strangers, we both sunk into our own quiet worlds.  I then pulled out my stitched cloth out from my purse to work on it. (I'm not entirely sure if needle work is acceptable on a plane but I assumed if it was an issue, the stewardess would have told me.) Once I began stitching, it just seemed to open up a door between myself and the woman beside me. She told me that she runs programming in beading and traditional Aboriginal crafts in her community and that she herself did needlework. From there, we shared stories about our children and our lives. She felt lonely and out of sorts as she had attended a conference and had been separated from her five children, including her two little ones. We went from two strangers having a polite conversation to two women who found common ground.  The shift towards the personal, undoubtedly, came from the embroidery floss and needle.    

Upon my return home from the trip, my northern city has been transformed into an enchanted winter wonderland. When I took a walk today in the snow, I "saw" French knots in the dried flowers, and chain stitches in the tall grasses and feather stitches in the landscape.  

Friday, February 1, 2013

Cold Winter Days and Nights

It's been a long, cold month.  At first, I was brave.  I bought a used fur coat from Salvation Army, turned it inside out so that the fur became the lining and the lining became the fur.  I layered with down vests and woollens under my slacks and a scarf under my coat and a scarf over my coat.  You get the idea.  I wanted to take on winter with a positive attitude; like a warrior with a purpose.  My purpose was to not let the cold stop me from living my life.  Week one, I did very well.  Week two, I began to weaken.  Week three, and I've given in.  What does this mean?  This means that I'm walking less and reading more; I'm going out to events less and baking cookies more.  And it's not so bad; this slowing down and moving inward.   It's perhaps winter's greatest gift.

Eek! Wake up to minus 30. Car won't start. The battery is dead...need a new one.  Phone rings... appointments cancelled because of the cold...Yes!...an unscheduled day.  I can do whatever I want, bake cookies, sew, write a book, research theatres, visit my Mom but first.... I'll relax for 5 minutes....z.z.z.zZZZZZZZ... 90 minutes later....

So glad it's too cold to do anything except reading.... making risotto.... walking around the block (brrrrrr) ...hand stitch a pillow....Che adventura!.... study Italian words...what a wonderful day off.