Parks Canada is looking for artists for the Chilkoot Trail Artist Residency Program. What an amazing opportunity if you love nature and hiking. Check it out over the holidays – applications are due February 1, 2013.
Since returning from my summer trip to our family farm with a pack of my great grandmother’s letters and journals, I’ve read two novels that resonated with my connection to the past. In fact, if I were to write a novel inspired by my own ancestors, these two novels were examples of the type of story I might end up with.
This week, I’ve literally been hibernating in Myrna Dey’s “Extensions.” I chose it from this year’s Giller Prize Longlist. The main character, a police officer on the Burnaby-Vancouver border, becomes engrossed in the life of her great grandmother through letters. The letters take the reader back to the late 1800s on Vancouver Island, during the early mining days of the new colony. I’m very interested in this history due to my work at a national historic site in BC. Having grown up in Eastern Canada, I didn’t learn very many details of the history of British Columbia, so it’s especially relevant. Plus, the great grandmother’s story is full of intrigue. I also found the book interesting because having lived in East Vancouver for five years, I knew most of the locations in the novel firsthand.
The other novel I read and enjoyed was “Alone in the Classroom” by Elizabeth Hay. This book was even more introspective and meandering in the second half of the story, but still interesting to me since it was about a Canadian school teacher in the Depression years. I had just finished reading my own great aunt’s letters home during her year at Normal School in London Ontario in 1939-1940.
While these letters from my ancestors leave a lot out a lot of details, it is interesting to imagine what story could be developed between the lines. I really liked the way Myrna Dey dealt with what was going on between the lines of her great grandmother’s letters by bringing those mining town days to life in narrative form.
For book reviews see:
Extensions – review by Christina Decarie
Alone in the Classroom review by Aritha van Herk
On My Nightstand:
While I didn’t actually read Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, or even read it in the past five years, I lived it every day in Ontario. The first night we stayed on the farm, blanketed in humidity, ears ringing with the overwhelming buzz of insects, blocked from my grandparents’ old house by thick and wild overgrowth, I thought of Annie and her knack for describing the awe-inspiring beauty and horror of her rural landscape. Case in point, the sheer number of cicadas my 2-yr-old son and I found on a single tree one day (about 5 and then more later), emerging from their skins:
- Elizabeth Hay’s Alone in the Classroom – not as engaging as her Late Nights on Air, I still appreciated the Canadian literary qualities of the book. I also enjoyed reading a book that showed me how a writer could link together stories from an ancestor’s life in the early 20th century.
- Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock: New Thinking about Children – a fascinating book featuring eight topics like praise and self esteem, why kids lie, sleep deprivation, etc. I love this kind of book – lots of interesting research that is already changing my perspective and practices with our kids.
- The Bible – it’s always on my nightstand but it’s been open more than usual this month.
- Little Princes – orphans living in terrible conditions in Nepal after being sold by their parents, who were deceived by traffickers…it was a truly moving story. A young man goes down to volunteer and ends up starting a charity to help reconnect the families.
- Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants – just started it – so far pretty light reading.
- Great Grandmother’s letters & journals
- Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen – light summer reading for my vacation – I got right into this story but at the end of the day, knowing it is fictional (but based on some facts) makes it intrinsically disappointing.
We don’t have cable, so the most TV I watched was on the flight back to BC from our family vacation in Ontario, when I watched 3 consecutive episodes of What not to Wear. It is worth noting that my plane TV screen only worked on one of four flights. And earlier this summer I watched (and surprisingly really enjoyed) the first season of Gilmore Girls.
Movies I’ve Seen: We actually took our two preschoolers to a real movie in the theatre: Winnie the Pooh. I borrow quite a few DVDs from the library such as Monsoon Wedding, the Red Balloon, Exit Through Gift Shop, Roman Holiday, etc. I watched Kandahar last week and it’s really stayed with me.
In My Ears: I listen to music a lot to help me concentrate at work, and have finished about five months of going through my ipod songs in alphabetical order! Now I often go for shuffle songs, though I don’t like being surprised by all the Raffi and children’s music that ends up interspersed! Enjoying Broken Social Scene, Downhere (old college friends of mine, who have just released a new album), Bjork, Feist, Stereolab – the usual.
Newest Blog Reads and/or Internet Interest
- Dahlhaus – dear (yet far-flung) friend of ours who’s career as an artist has been advancing in leaps and bounds!
- My photographer husband, who is starting to embrace the marketing necessity of blogging (many great new posts to come).
- MelbourneMumma – another mom with lots of inspiring ideas and images.
- Other people who do similar types of art, such as artandtreasure, serendipity, knit the hell out (love that “vision” sweater thing! I hope I find time to knit this year), phrogmom, and more!
What I’m Looking Forward to Next Month:
The beginning of autumn, my favourite season – the crisp air, the morning mist that crouches over the riverbank where I work, apples from the orchard, curry, stuffed pumpkins, preschool (for my daughter), flannel sheets, fall leaves, purple asters. For me, autumn is like New Year’s Eve for some – I am often struck by a sense of renewal and artistic inspiration.
- My beautiful daughter’s fourth birthday next week. Watching her grow and learn to print, read, be kind. It is so much fun being a mom.
- A welcome return of Saturday brunches with friends…look forward to reconnecting with lots of you!
- A short trip to Victoria later in the month.
- Lots of fall events at work, which I am planning and designing ads, posters and promotional material for.
I’ve been reconnecting with nature – at least through art. Nature has always been a key source of inspiration, and during my Mixed Media Painting II course with Diana Kubicek, I had the chance to explore some abstract landscape concepts.
Mirroring the Landscape
I have never really delved into landscape painting, despite my early infatuation with watercolour. I didn’t appreciate the simplicity of landscapes, thinking them plain. But the process of achieving tonal variation is more difficult than it appears. Anne Stahl has a great collection that shows the type of paintings I’m talking about (like Roscommon – Anne Stahl, 1999).
It’s been a delight to use painting to process my seasonal melancholy. Winter is a time of stripping away – a time of withdrawal, bareness. Two of my painting exercises contrasted Canadian winter landscapes:
To the left, I am creating a very bleak, windswept field, where you can see the soil through the snow, and a heavy sky. It speaks of my childhood in Ontario, where it didn’t snow much but it was cold in November. (I always felt betrayed by this weather – if it was going to be cold, couldn’t we at least have snow to play in?) As children, we had to walk across the frozen ruts, stumbling over corn stalks down our half-mile lane way to the bus. We had a tin hut to huddle in on the windiest of days.
In the painting to the right, a lush, green forest scene emerged from the (originally horizontal) mixed media surface. The forests in British Columbia boast many huge old growth stumps like the one featured here. The moss, like fur, covers everything even in winter. While very different from the other painting, this depicts a winter scene – one that I have become familiar with in the last six years on the coast.