When Vancouver kids Visit Moose Jaw (Saskatchewan)

Twenty years ago I came to Vancouver to go to grad school at UBC.  I never left, Vancouver that is (I did, however, finish my graduate studies). To me, Vancouver was a postcard perfect place, so why would I ever leave? The weather is warm(ish) all year round, so much so that parkas are relegated to skiing or snow-shoeing. Cold is ten below, not thirty … No one has to plug in their car, unless it is electric. So there is no need to dangle an extension cord from house to tree to parking spot to attach one’s block-heater; our cars don’t have block-heaters. There are almost no mosquitoes, not really, not prairie mosquitoes who feast like starving vultures on unsuspecting children. And the wind … well, it’s light, predictable, and infrequent. But what about the rain, people ask … it makes things green, I say, and besides you don’t have to shovel rain.

The first week of our summer vacation, I took my two youngest children aboard a very small and movie-barren flight to Regina where my parents greeted us and drove us all back to Moose Jaw, the city I grew up in. The first night it was thirty-three degrees, the wind shrieked around the trees and lightning lit up the night sky in a blaze of fire-works. It was fantastic. Far more drama than what we are used to at home, and for me, it smelled and felt like my childhood. For the kids it was a great and fantastic show.

All that was familiar to me, is exotic to my children … a giant concrete moose …

… wind that drives the leaves of a tree sideways,

And horizons and sky like no other.

New to them were pocked roads, insect spray, and gopher holes. Finn found three gophers too, but they wouldn’t sick around for a photo. And then they walked my dad’s dog Twinkle.

We took them to the Natatorium where I’d cool off as a child on scorching summer days.

But mostly, being there was about the people, not about the landscape, the weather, or tourist attractions (which they have quite a few). This trip to the ‘Jaw’, was about connecting with our prairie roots, reminding them where some of their people are from.

It is good to be from Moose Jaw, from Saskatchewan; just as it is good to be home here in Vancouver.

(A link to more 2011 Moose Jaw Photos here.)

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Lessons in Bleeding

When Alex, the marine mechanic said to me, “a lesson in bleeding,” I loved it. It was just what I needed to know. I, in many ways am an expert in such things. I have bandaged many skin abrasions, birthed many children, and watched far too many movies with swords and hacking (I now close my eyes when I have seen too much). But the bleeding Alex was teaching me was bleeding air from the line of my motor, my Yanmar. When I thought about becoming a sailor, I didn’t know that it also meant becoming a do-it-yourself mechanic, that I’d get grease under my nails and have to acquire a whole new toolkit. I was prepared for salt spray in my face, and wind in my hair. Today, I learned about bleeding, and I am a happy woman for it.

(tall ship sailing link here)

Catalina 30 vancouver

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What do you mean DRAFT ONE???”

Kids helping to research the novel... on site.

“Draft one?” That’s what my daughter said to me yesterday morning over breakfast. I’d just announced that I was preciously close to finishing my first draft of my novel. My first novel. She looked at me in utter disbelief, or disgust, or dismay, whatever it was it was dis … “You’ve been working on that for, like, a year!” She’s ten, and sound like me in the 1980s. It’s disturbing and almost cute.  Her sing-song lilt, thankfully, nowhere near Valley-speak.

Our son, who’s six, chimed in, “Ya, and you’ve been working on it every day!”

I couldn’t help but to smile over my bowl of fruit and slices of toast and marmalade. “Yes, I’ve been working on it every day for like a year, and that is why I’ve been able to finish my first draft.” They shook their heads and like I was nuts, or something, more like something;( they don’t use the word nuts unless it is playground talk and someone’s been kicked.)

And so the day came and went. It was Robert Burn’s Birthday, Virginia Woolf’s birthday, and the day I finished the biggest writing project I’d begun since I finished my doctorate 9 years ago; at least I don’t have a defence to look forward to.

I thought about this book for a good year before I put any words down about it, then I researched for a about six months then I vowed to write a page a day until I finished.  That mostly worked. I wrote, for good or bad. 301 pages over the course of a few weeks plus a year. During which time, I took some time off to travel, to injure my knee, to get it fixed, and to learn to sail! Oh, ya, and my day job and raise my kids.

I read the final pages to Wolf and Graham after dinner, despite the ‘you’ll ruin the ending for me!’ mock protests. They know how it ends, they’ve heard it all before. I pulled a tear from my not-at-all sentimental husband. I win. That wasn’t from the pages I read to him, I read the rusty climax. What moved him was the epilogue, the pages I can’t read aloud, not yet. Maybe after draft 2 …

Let the fun begin!!!!

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Things that Inspire

Inspiration can really come from anywhere,

so long as it is something that is noticeable, something that you can fixate on.lavender

It matters not that it is beautiful, nor particularly awful. This has been my case, this week. Now I am not saying that what I have created is at all a work of literature, it’s not. I am not saying that I am a poet. For certain, that I am not.

But I was inspired, to explore colour, the inherent meanings of colour, the complementary nature of colours in the spectrum.

And so …  To a knee … following reconstruction.

Complementary:

Purple and yellow find their homes along the arc of a rainbow in an ozone-scented sky.

Secondary Purple: forever between depression and blood.

Primary Yellow: the base of both grass and orange groves.

Amethyst, mauve, lilac and wine.

A spring violet, with shades of purple on her velvety petals with a spark of sunshine in her eye.

Oh, so Complementary.

Plumb: a fruity hue trimmed with a golden glow.

Lovely.

(If it weren’t on flesh.)

Backed by the angry shade of a storm cloud, the kind that conceals lightning,

A bolt of pain within sagging folds of forgetful tissue,

where strands of hamstring masquerade as ligament.

A jaundice field spreads across a shin, reveals a slow healing.


Oh, so Complementary.

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‘Life is Laughing’ you said.

I came across a photograph today, it was of you. Though it is only the silky brown of your hair we see in the photo, I remember the look in your eyes, so serious, so happy. I was lifting a green ribbon from around your neck, a ribbon you carried your father’s ring on before I gave it to him. You took your job so seriously, and you didn’t drop, nor lose it.

I leaned low to touch your check with my satin gloved fingertips, to kiss your forehead. There I can see the lines creased at the edge of my eyes, not from weather, nor years, but from a deep joy that pushed its way out through my skin.  You had those lines too. You said to me, ‘life is laughing.’ Maybe you didn’t say it right at that moment, maybe not even that day, but you said it often, and I believed you. I still do, nearly twelve years later.

Now it is you who leans ever so slightly and kisses my cheek and I feel your whiskers brush against my skin. A year from now and you’ll join the ranks of adults of the world, and still you will remain my son who reminds me to laugh, and that the lines around my eyes are a good thing.

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ROOM 33.3 is out!

Cadwallader Creek

Lorrie Miller,

I am thrilled with the release of ROOM magazine’s latest issue.  Issue 33.3, edited by Janet Nicol, is historically themed and subtitled: Past and Present.  My copy came in the mail last week, yet I haven’t seen it on the shelves of the magazine shops and book stores.  Soon, I am told; they will be there soon. The link on the title above, will take you directly to the story as a sample from the issue!

So I thought I’d read through some of the issue before blogging about it, though I have to admit I wanted to blog right away.

Two very cool things I noted about this issue is that the featured author is Pearl Luke, author of Madame Zee, and mentor extraordinaire! When I first started writing (post PhD and post fourth/last baby) I met Pearl through UBC’s on-line writing program, Booming Ground.  She offered me fantastic critique, writing guidance and encouragement. A big public thanks to Pearl! I kept at it and keep at it!

Second very cool thing about this issue is that poet Bronwen McRae and I attended Moose Jaw’s Central Collegiate together.  Her father, poet extraordinaire (my word of the day), Robert Currie, was also my high school English Teacher!  (And a very fine English teacher, I should add.)

It was enough of a thrill to have my short story and first chapter of my novel-in-progress, Cadwallader Creek, gracing the pages of ROOM, but even much more so when I’m in the company of these two women among the other fine writers.

I hope my mom gets her copy in the mail soon as I heard a rumour that Moose Jaw no longer has a book store. I hope that isn’t true.

Buy Room Now: You can order it directly from Room’s subscriptions page. Now that issue 33.4 is out on the newsstands, you will have to order from the back issues section at the bottom of the subscription page. Just write in ISSUE 33.3. and you will get this lovely magazine delivered to you home!

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Author’s Tent At Vancouver’s Word on the Street

Besides having a whole lot of fun chatting with people who stopped by the Room Magazine tent, talking up this really amazing literary magazine, I read along with two other lovely writers who have graced the pages of Room, Casey Wolf and Ashley Little.

The three readings differed in the themes, tone and content, however they were linked with the various stages of life, from youthful naïvety, to the convictions of adulthood, to honouring and grieving the end of life.  It was an honour to read with both Casey and Ashley.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the bustling of the day’s events had quelled to a dull roar, and fewer seats were filled than had been just an hour earlier, but with the fluttery twist of nerves in my belly, I was okay with a friendly audience even if it was a little one.

So, since some of my favourite people were not gracing the white stacking chairs, I will tell you what I said — more or less.

Lorrie’s Word on the Street talk from the Author’s Tent:

Lorrie’s word on the street talk notes:

Seventy years ago fifty-five young men went down into the belly of a gold mine and then refused to come out.  They went down over 3000 feet into the workings of Pioneer mine.  They didn’t go down to mine for gold, not that day. February 27, 1940 was the date of Canada’s first sit down strike.  They where there to exercise their rights.  They were there to avoid further violence as they’d had enough of that.

The murder of union leader, Ginger Goodwin was still fresh in people’s memories, and so they were scared.  It had only been five years since the Battle of Ballantyne Pier where police gassed and beat demonstrators, and helped employers to run the waterfront with scab labour.   They still had good reason to not trust management, nor the police.  Premier Patullo was moved by this act of union defiance to send in 80 police into Pioneer war ready with gas and machineguns.  The area was described as being hills of khaki.

The first time I heard about this time, I was hooked. Though it was legal in 1940 for the men to organize, to form unions and to meet and negotiate with them, it was still resisted by many companies to the point that management would conduct surprise searches of homes looking for union membership lists.  It had gotten so bad that the wives of the organizers would carefully wrap the lists in wax paper, fold them up and then bury them deep of the swill of diaper pails.

You won’t find that fact in any union minutes, or telegraph, or other letter carefully filed in the archive fonds.  But I believe it was so, because my husband’s grandmother was one such woman, and it was she that retrieved the lists once the coast was clear, and it was her husband, Bill Cameron, that led the miners to their sit-down, and kept them hopeful that the strike would settle, that the ventilation wouldn’t be filled to gas them out, it was he, apparently that kept the men from blasting the mine to bits in retaliation for the beatings that they’d suffered.

Graham, my husband had been told by his grandmother about the strike, and how she had been on the surface holding the picket line with other miners, and other wives, waiting for negotiations to settle, waiting for the men to emerge.

This is what inspired me to write this story, Cadwallader Creek that will be published in the upcoming issue (issue 33.3) of Room Magazine.  It is also the first chapter of my novel-in-progress.

The one issue that I came up with this story is how do you write about your mother-in-law, and I came up with my answer, and that is to completely fictionalize it.  And that is what I’ve done.  Although the events accurate and the struggles are real, the characters are not; they are representative of character types of the time.

I spent a fair amount of time at the UBC archives reading historic minutes of union meetings, telegrams from government officials, judgments from magistrates, arrest warrants and personal letters; all this was revealing and interesting, but what I failed to find other than the fleeting reference in between the lines were the voices of the women.

One line in on particular interesting set of union minutes thanked the ‘fiery red-head’ for her efforts on the picket line.  There was family housing in the company residences and so presumably that included women.  In a local newspaper, there was an advertisement for women’s fitness class at the community hall, and so I know that there were women there, but what they thought about the strike, what their personal struggles and stories remain a bit of a mystery.

After searching more, I learned of British Columbian author, Irene Howard, who grew up in Pioneer, generously shared with me her interview tapes from some women who’d lived there in the early days.  Their descriptions are in her book, ‘Gold Dust on his Shirt,’ the tales of Scandinavian immigrant life in the beginning of the 20th century in Gold Bridge area, BC.  These accounts were most helpful in gaining insight to their experiences.  Though few of them discussed the strike at all, but I learned that kitchen cabinets could be constructed with the fine mitered dynamite crates, and that everyone had a silver tea service for hosting tea, even if they lived in a reclaimed pioneer cabin, it was just what one did, even if it meant laying out the tea service on a hewn table with an oil cloth canvas for the tablecloth.

These were great details, but I wanted to learn more about the strike, about what it was like to be afraid of your home being fire-bombed, to have your blankets stolen in the night to wake you up to toss you out of the residences in December, to wonder if your husband will make it out of the mine alive when the timbers failed and everyone above ground knew there’d been an accident, but didn’t yet know who’d been killed.  And more, I wondered about the struggle between the social classes, so I brought one of the two central characters from a privileged life and tossed her into the grand mix of it all—into the turmoil and struggle in these early days of the labour movement in BC.

And so this is where my story begins– on the picket line.

——————-

To Read my  short story, Cadwallader Creek, pick up a copy of Room Magazine at Chapters (I think), but your best bet is to subscribe on line!;)

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