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Room 35.4 Labours

We at Room are wrapping up our 35th volume with the Labours. We are having an anniversary party and issue launch at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Vancouver on December 9, 2012 at 3:00pm. Do check back with the website to r.s.v.p. Here is a sneak preview with the cover and editor’s letter.

EDITOR’S LETTER

Labours

LORRIE MILLER

Every issue of Room is a labour of love, and for this reason I chose labours as the theme of the final issue in our special thirty-fifth anniversary volume. The volume opened with Journey, followed by Shaping the Spark,

and Duality. Now, Labours, in all its iterations, celebrates the past thirty- five volumes in which Room’s collective members have brought to you the labour of women writers and artists.

In this issue, we present a voice from the past, from the very earliest days of Room—then Room of One’s Own—and a new collective member, a voice from our present and future. It is women just like these who have supported us in our labours, and will continue to do so in the years ahead.

With my own understanding of labour, which includes years of university, my four children (no longer all still children), home renovations projects, my teaching load, and picket-line experiences, I hoped writers and artists would push my understanding of labour even further, and they did. The submissions, in all genres, coalesced around several emergent themes: the labour of writing, conventional and unconventional work, labours of the heart—nurturing, caring, bringing life, and letting go. And in the mix of it all was the messy business of life with all its discomforts.

In researching for this issue, I turned to our archives for inspiration. There I found Eleanor Wachtel, longtime member of the collective in our very early days. We are thrilled that she granted us an opportunity to turn the table and interview her. And given our original name, Dori Luthy-Harrison’s artwork of the same title was a natural fit for the issue.

Many artists and writers, at one time or another, turn to unconventional work to support themselves. Andrea Hoff writes about her work as a nude participant in an artist-driven performance art piece. Amber Dawn, our commissioned writer, presents “Lying is the Work,” in which she turns her astute eye first inward to her experience as a sex worker, and then and then outwards to Room, to the reader, and then to society at large. The work of Bren Simmers, Janette Fecteau, and Anna Maxymiw also focuses on atypical work environments.

Our issue’s cover image, The Other Dress, by Katelyn Di Giulio, with its contrast between an Italian starlet subject and her pattern collage landscape, introduces the tension between work and identity in a shifting landscape. This dynamic is continued in the work of K.V. Skene, Kirsten Donaghey, and Susan Braley. Colleen Young takes us to an elegant and tactile moment of sewing and fitting. Amanda Schoppel continues this thinking around domestic skill and art, in the line knots of her art, in which she brings labouring detail to work that is more than a simple nod to traditional women’s handiwork; it is laborious in itself, refined in its quality, and still loose in its edges. Artist and writer, Monique Motut-Firth tells us about her yearlong art project constructed from her late grandmother’s treasures.

The jobs that women have often expected to take, domestic or service-based, are well represented in our fiction. Debra Martens, who first appeared in Room in 1987, now brings us the plight of a young waitress. Janna Payne highlights the vocal and the silent in a woman worker as she manages work and being true to herself. Vivian Demuth’s poem takes us on a metaphorical vertical wilderness journey.

Stevi Kittleson creates whimsical botanical wonders from discarded irons and pencils. Colleen Gillis takes readers into the workday of a traffic officer, and the work of the heart, caring and nurturing, comes through the fiction and poetry of Eliza Victoria, Marilyn Gear Pilling, Janet Hepburn, and Sadie McCarney.

Liz Laidlaw and Jann Everard both connect to the complexity of bringing about new life, celebrating it, acknowledging its fragility, and also letting go of life all together. The tangle of life is a knot that binds tighter as it is tugged—as there is no easy solution.

Closing this issue are two complementary pieces. Morag Hastings’s photograph The Lioness shows the power and vulnerability in the labouring of an experienced midwife who is a first-time mother. Shannon McFerran’s piece tells her own story of birth, the common miracle that has brought us all here. It is a story that many may know from their own experiences, a story that is not a radical departure, but rather a place that is tangible, real, and a time to reset perspectives on life as she comments on both endings and beginnings.

In this issue, we have a multitude of labours, with one’s hands, hearts, and minds, in typical and unexpected places. I do hope you enjoy the fruits of our collective labours!

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Summer is gone, Fall is here, and Winter soon to follow…

For some reason it has taken me until November 2nd to come to grips with the presence of fall. I have had an explosive All Hallow’s Eve, my yard turned into a temporary cemetery, my home turned into Witch’s Inn. And that is just the start!

Then there are the children … namely my children:

He seems calm and sane enough here… but …

And then my darling daughter has taken on the persona of her favourite, rather unfortunate, childhood literary character:

 

 

 

 

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Over the Straight and into the Bay …

Silva Bay on Gabriola was our first destination out of Howe Sound. This involved crossing the Georgia Straight from Vancouver to the Southern Gulf Islands. There was only one way to see if we were up to it …

We took our good friend, a much more experienced sailor, with us. He seemed so calm–and kept saying, “this is completely normal,” in a tone that I knew it was true.

After a night at Silva Bay, we went on our own to Pirate’s Cove on DeCourcy Island, a lovely marine park established since 1966! Lots of trails for walking amid a lovely setting.

Our Catalina 30 at rest, stern tied and anchored in Pirate’s Cove.

I wish i had a wider angled lens to fit the fantastic angle from the water line … but I wasn’t about to jump back into the water just to get the picture as my camera isn’t even water resistant let alone proof.  Would go back to Pirate’s Cove in a heartbeat.

One of the things that I always enjoyed about our camping trips was the challenge to make meals with as little sand as possible, and as much flavour and nutrition as possible. Those meals over a single burner camp stove, with the light grit of shell and sand, are gladly gone when I can dip into my cooled ice-box for fresh veggies, fruit and meat. Can’t say we miss the sand.

After a night at Pirate’s Cove, we ended our long weekend away with a trip back across the straight. With steady NW winds from 10 – 15 knots and clear skies, we couldn’t have asked for better … Okay we could have, the chop grew throughout the day to a full 2m, and the wind grew to 18, topping out at 22 as we rounded Point Grey into English Bay, but just as quickly diminished to 15-17. Only in the bay did the waves cool down to a ripple. It was an intense and fantastic ride across the straight. It pushed our skills and comfort. More waves under our keel …

What you can’t see here is the whites of my knuckles gripped around the wheel as we surfed the waves. Every seventh wave seemed to be a biggie. I thought that we had a max hull speed of 6.5(ish) knots). And yet we were up to 7 – topping at 7.2 (albeit it briefly). We kept an average speed of about 6.4, or there about, with a beam reach, slowing to high fives in a broad reach as we headed into town.

The Sky was so clear that we could see Mt. Baker in the distance behind Vancouver.

 Now to plan our next weekend away …

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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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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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The Word on the Street 2010: National Book and Magazine Festival

The Word on the Street, WOTS, for short, is a big literary deal.  It is a one day festival, held simultaneously in Vancouver, Saskatoon, Kitchener, Toronto and Halifax.  Word on the Street is an all ages free event featuring some up and coming literary types as well as some seriously big-hitters, you know the rock’n-rollers of the book world.  And all that being said, I will be there reading! This is my first ever reading gig.  Sure, I read every week to my adult class of English students, as we go through the stories of Canadian writers like, Margaret Lawrence, Michael Ondaatje, and Gail Anderson-Dargatz, but rarely, if ever, do I read them work of my own.  This is what I will be doing Sunday, September 26th at 4:30 pm at the Author’s tent.  I will read from Cadwallader Creek, the first chapter from my novel in progress (yet to be named). It will be published in the next issue of Room.  I have to admit that I am a tad nervous, but with the right number of Yogi breaths, I’m sure I’ll be alright.

Hope to see some friendly faces there.  I’ll let you know how it went.

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