Studying Language and Science, and Remembering École Polytechnique

dried flower heads in snow
dried flower heads in snow

This might have been one of those few early Decembers in which I may not have remembered being seventeen years old, still in high school, completing university applications and worrying about the program choices I was making:  pre-journalism with an English major.  Not what I wanted.

What I’m going to share next hadn’t happened yet, so it couldn’t justify the decision I was making about my future, to do the thing I was expected to do because I was a girl: Continue reading

Learning from Francine Prose: literature has no rules

Last month I reread Francine Prose’s Reading Like a Writer.  Even before I reached the chapter “Learning from Chekhov” I was again reminded of how learning about writing is also learning about life, that one process mirrors the other.

front door 1
Glass in the front door.

Prose begins this chapter on Chekov by telling us about a teaching job she had taken one winter, two and half hours from her home.  She travelled by bus each week, stayed overnight and taught her class before returning home the next day.  She explains that it was a difficult time in her life, not ideal for prolonged periods away from her home nor for dealing with the station people who “looked like they’d happily blow my brains out on the chance of finding a couple of Valiums in my purse.” Continue reading

Stories within Stories: The Art of Mary Pratt

The MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina is one gallery in Canada to host the 50-year retrospective of Mary Pratt’s paintings, and the exhibition was here May 17 to August 24. I went several times, each visit evoking different feelings and questions, but always there was a sense of homecoming, as though I had stepped through a doorway into something that was both foreign and familiar.

cover image of exhibition book; painting by Mary Pratt
cover image of exhibition book; painting by Mary Pratt

The story of the paintings unfold alongside the story of a life, one who is both artist and woman, including mother, wife and daughter. The exhibition, as a collection, is itself a story of everything:  suffering alongside joy, birth with death, feeding and killing. To see all these canvases together is to be exposed to spectrums of human experience. The viewer is challenged to resist choosing one emotional or intellectual response, for to see only one thing, like the violence and rawness of butchered meat, would be to overlook its potential counter-responses, such as the elegant dining table and the family meal that follows, or the images of the people who are sustained by it. Continue reading

Welcome to White

I think this snow might stay.  Yesterday morning we woke to a thin but uniform coverage.  More fell during the day, the perfect flake–large and floating in the calm cold–which added to the quite of our observance of Remembrance Day.

In one month we’ve travelled from 15 degrees Celsius to -15, the last of the autumn gold slipping into bare-branched monochromes.  To mark the passing of the seasons, one final celebration of autumn and the introduction of winter:

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Last Strategies for Life Transitions

Slough at White Butte Reserve; natural prairie near Regina, Saskatchewan.
Slough at White Butte Reserve; natural prairie near Regina, Saskatchewan.

When the memories are still fragmented and difficult to capture, it can be a challenge to begin the process of speaking about them. I didn’t suspect I had any great personal tragedies lurking in my past—perhaps none of us do—so I remained determined to manage as much of this process as I could without professional help.

From my writing mentor I accepted a copy of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. I know it isn’t a comfortable book to embrace. Right from the beginning, we are confronted with Cameron’s ideology, a mix of Christian doctrines and mystical beliefs. And yes, she seems to land right between God and fairies. My mentor suggested I skip the parts that I didn’t like, and that was how I began. Continue reading

The Processes of Memory Recovery in Trauma Therapy: Stephen Joseph

Natural prairie and aspens near Regina; mid-October 2014.
Natural prairie and aspens near Regina; mid-October 2014.

Stephen Joseph (What Doesn’t Kill Us), in leaning away from neurobiology to generalize people’s behaviours, states there are five stages of adjustment in trauma: outcry, numbness and denial, intrusive re-experiencing, working through, and completion. The phases are not stable stages of progression, especially as we transition between denial and remembering. The phase of intrusive re-experiencing is the stage in which our memories “demand to be heard.”

Joseph notes that actively attempting to repress unwanted memories can paradoxically cause those memories to surface even more powerfully. Their intrusions can increase in their degree of interruption, leading Joseph to caution, “Memories can be painful, but it is necessary for us to process them if we are to avoid this rebound effect.” Continue reading

Excavating Memory

chamomile

It began with triggers, much as Stephen Joseph describes from the research on posttraumatic stress disorder. My triggers were people—their words, sometimes their actions, sometimes a gesture or body language, occasionally an aspect of another’s appearance and attire. They happened while volunteering at community organizations and at home in my neighbourhood, my children’s school, or at work. I had encountered triggers throughout my adulthood, but in the experience of this new community, I encountered them as I had never done before: with astounding frequency.

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Scrivener and NaNoWriMo

Scrivner

At last night’s NaNoWriMo 2014 Kickoff Party in Regina I was introduced to something new to me:  Scrivener.

Whenever people who write get together one of the common topics we seem to bring up is ‘how do you organize?’  Do you write by hand, or do you type?  How do you manage your research and keep track of multiple drafts?  Do you outline, and if not, how do you rewrite your draft so there’s some sort of structure to your work?

I’ve always faced a degree of difficulty in maintaining my paper organization.  Filing boxes and folders, cabinets, stacks of papers.  That was back in the day before the digital explosion and I was limited by the resources of my local libraries.  But now, with the internet, forget trying to keep paper!  There’s too much!

It seems we all are looking for something better, something that eliminates the frustration of maintaining and organizing lots of data and text.  We want to focus on writing without being overwhelmed by this grand heap of raw material available to us via the internet, which we are now spending so much time collecting, curating and organizing.

Evernote has been useful for gathering digital forms–still the best system I’ve found to date–but now that I am beginning to select information and forge ahead into my own writing, I need another level of text management.

So, I’m trying this new-to-me thing called Scrivener.  There is a special trial offer on-going with NaNoWriMo at the moment, meaning I can download Scrivner now and use it up to December 7 for free.  All files can export back into my usual word processor, so if I don’t like Scrivner I’m not stuck later, caught between making either a full commitment to the program or losing my work.

Let’s see how this goes.  Here’s the link if you’re interested, http://www.literatureandlatte.com/nanowrimo.php .

 

Journey into Memory

My daughter had a day off school recently, and with only the two of us, we went out.  Lately my daughters both have been telling me I rarely speak of my life, that they know little of me from before they were born.  I understand what they want and in complete honesty, aside from fragments, I’ve had difficulty remembering the details they ask to know.  There are the family stories that were told when I was young, but these are not of my recollections.  These stories belong to others, and they do not speak of how I felt, or what I know, and the things I saw when I was young like my daughters are now.  I understand that what they want is a connection.

So, we spent the morning exploring some of the places where I’ve lived in this city, pointing out changes in the neighbourhoods, sharing what was important to me and other things I could remember.

University of Regina
from the eastern edge of Wascana lake, looking south toward the University of Regina

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