22 April 2006

Sitting in the peat blog; or, Ladies & gentlemen, Ethel Ermine

Dana just sent me a couple of links: the first was to an article in the Calgary Herald, from January, which contains a sidebar listing Bloggamooga as one of 10 worthwhile writer's blogs. I was shocked, and in weird company. The other was some kind of "Best of the Blogs" listing, which I think listed just about every writer's blog, but it identified me as a "Latin American writer." Success, at last.

Woke up early this morning, as I always do here in New Denver, and finished watching Amélie on my iBook. Started watching with last night's rain beating against the cabin's metal roof and finished with this morning's tenuous sunshine pouring in the windows. Nice movie, and I'll want to watch it again. Really delightfully weird, though I miss the dark edge that a movie like Delicatessen has. There's a bit where Amélie gives a video montage to a neighbour, and I believe one of the clips is of the black gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, maybe from the late 50s or early 60s. But she has a guitar slung around her neck, so maybe it was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I wish I had some Rosetta Tharpe to listen to right now. Man, her twangy guitar sound was brilliant: and I think it predated Pops Staples' guitarwork. I wonder if it influenced Kristin Hersh.

Yesterday I took a trip into Nakusp to check out the used bookstore and Time Warp Records. Well, Time Warp is gone now, a real shame. Nakuspers'll have to travel a couple hours now to find a good selection of music. The used bookstore wasn't too bad: picked up a copy of Patricia Highsmith's The Two Faces Of January. She's always worth re-reading, and I think I've read every one of her brilliant novels. Also picked up a copy of the classic New American Poetry anthology from the 1960s. That red-and-white-covered one: do I have the title right? Anyway, I have it at home, but thought it would be a nice addition to the cabin's small book collection. Happy also to find a worn copy of Diana Hartog's 1983 Coach House collection, Matinee Light. Be fun to read it here, just across the highway from her property, and down the hill from her writing studio.

Wednesday and Thursday's workshops with the teens from Lucerne Secondary School and Nakusp Secondary School went really well, though I was unsure of them at the time. I always get a little antsy while they're happening, or right after they're done, because, well, teenagers are teenagers, and they don't always seem as engaged as adults in a workshop. Wednesday we did all poetry and Thursday was fiction. There was some amazing stuff produced. I enjoyed seeing some students I'd worked with here last year, and also meeting a bunch of new ones. With a couple days' distance now, I feel really good about the workshops. But really I knew it went well when 13 of the 21 participants showed up for the Writers' Festival High School coffeehouse on Thursday night, which I hosted. They all read well, and there was so much variety. Man, I felt proud of those students. I hope at least a few of them give this writing thing a real go.

Some fireworks on Thursday morning when I read a short story story by American writer Alison Bundy. Just a little tale about a beefsteak on a white plate. Andrea, the teacher from Nakusp, said it wasn't a story, and she'd never accept it if it was handed in to her, and she'd wonder if it was "just written on the bus to school." I was a little shaken, because it was the beginning of the day's session and I've never before been so strongly challenged by a host teacher. Anyway, I went through the story sentence by sentence, and explained what I thought the piece was doing, and I also asked her if she really thought great writing couldn't be produced on a bus. I said I thought the story was as good as Poe or Alice Munro. So we had some back-and-forth about it; the students didn't say a word. I really admire the teacher, though, for speaking her mind. I just didn't agree with her.

We bumped into each other Friday in Wylie's Pub in Nakusp, where about half a dozen of the teachers were having an end-of-week pint, and we discussed it some more. I had wandered into Wylie's thinking I could get some work done on my novel, but ended up sitting with the teachers for a few hours. Andrea said I was a really good poet, but not a fiction writer; hence my judgement about Alison Bundy's story. I wonder what's become of Alison Bundy anyway: I love her books, especially Dunce Cap.

Earlier in the week, I woke up to see a sleek white rodent peering at me from a metre away, beside the woodstove. It was really cute. I though at first it was a mouse, but it was too long. It looked like an albino weasel. Or was it a mink? Discussion with locals later that day resulted in a consensus that it was an ermine. I'd never really known what an ermine was before, but I remember that number from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes when Jane Russell and Marilyn Monroe sing about "ermine and pearls" in "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend." Anyway, this ermine was amazing: when I moved, it dashed away, and then appeared poking its head out of a cupboard. Then it disappeared again and in a flash was peering over a shelf on the other side of the room. It was like a cartoon character. Tess the dog put in some time in the cabin that night, and the ermine never came back.

Over and out.


At April 23, 2006 1:47 am , Blogger Warner Family Views said...

i always thought my spirit animal would be an ermine.

At July 28, 2006 6:30 pm , Blogger Jens Fredslund said...

I very much agree that Alison Bundy's "Story of the Beefsteak" is most certainly a story - and a wonderfully poetic one, at that. I wrote my PhD on Bundy, by the way, and Jane Unrue and Thalia Field. Absolutely fabulous writers, all three of them.


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