Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Quips, tragedy and wisdom from Sherman Alexie

Image from the New York Times

Sherman Alexie is a stunningly clever wordsmith. Like that of Thomas King, his work is shocking, tragic and hilarious. One story in War Dances portrays a film editor who bludgeons a black teen home intruder. Mistaken in the press for a white man, the editor calls the TV station to clarify: he's a Spokane Indian.

"The pain Olympics" is a pithy encapsulation of a whole mindset. Alexie's ironic self-descriptions include "Indian du jour," raised in a family with a spirit animal of poverty. Frightened by recent death threats, he attributes these to being a"Commie liberal brown dude." The latest work of this hydrocephalus survivor is a memoir of his mother, the toughest lady on the reservation. Reading it, I found myself eager and terrified to see what this talented writer's sleight of mind will next expose.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Light and shadow with Louise Penny and Hal Wake

Hosted by the Vancouver Writers Fest, Louise Penny greets fans after an interview with Hal Wake at St. Andrew's Wesley church, setting of many such literary conversations.

Less than a year ago, Penny lost her beloved husband, the original model for humane policeman Armand Gamache.

When an audience member suggested the author herself is the model for artist Clara Morrow, Penny did not argue. The inspiration for Ruth, she added, came from three other people. Once created, her characters develop on their own.

As always, skilled interlocutor Hal Wake asked beautiful questions, evoking seriousness and jokes and vulnerable self-revelation.

Penny shared an astonishing saga that revealed some cheering details about a famous fan. Hilary Clinton hosted the author at Chappaqua, and later returned with Bill (and a lot of security men) to visit her in Quebec.

An inspiring evening in a beautiful venue. Afterwards, descending the stone steps to the street, I was struck by a wall of nearly tropical heat, even though it was 9 pm and dark had fallen. Very un- Vancouver. If only we could relieve Houston of a bit of that crazy rain. But, as Louise Penny said tonight, life is full of surprises; we don't always get what we want or expect.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Total eclipse of the sun and the heart?

Solar eclipses are hard to miss even if, like yesterday, they aren't total. Among nature's most spectacular phenomena, they're rarely seen, and all the more impressive for that.

We sat out on the back porch after breakfast while morning dusk came on, followed by another dawn. This view seen through the skylight at the height of the eclipse shows how much light even 15% of the sun casts on earth.

The speed with which the shadow passed across the sun (it took only about two hours) made me think about how fast our planet is moving, all the time.

It also reminded me of a Bonnie Tyler song popular in the eighties: Total Eclipse of the Heart. May this solar eclipse cleanse us, refreshing our energy and bringing new light.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Great quotes from Dick Francis

Second Wind is decidedly a thriller, related, of course, to the world of horse racing. As well as action, Francis does great characterization and tidbits of social commentary.

Alluding to the dominance of commercialism, he comments on the meteorologist "trying to complete the weather bulletin as quickly as possible, so as to get back to the commercials, always...more important than the formation of gale-force winds."

In a different vein, the protagonist speaks of the power of intuition, which sends impulses that seem "to come from nowhere." These, he decides, are "not really impulses at all," but "decisions made but waiting for the opportunity to be spoken aloud." No doubt such hunches are important to those buying, training and betting on racehorses.

Even Money, a collaboration with his son Felix, touches on the phenomenon of linguistic change as it connects to our human efforts to reduce past pain and suffering by creating new words for them, while making other terms "archaic and taboo."

'We must be mad,' shouted Larry Porter, again our neighbouring bookie.

'Bonkers,' I agreed.

I thought it was funny how we use certain words. Here were Larry and I, in full control of our mental capacity, using terms like 'mad' and 'bonkers' to describe each other, while the likes of Sophie, and worse, institutionalized in mental health facilities, were never, any longer, referred to in such terms, even in private.'

Such human vagaries are well-noted by the late ex-jockey-turned author, Dick Francis, and his talented son Francis. For this reader, such passages are icing on the thriller cake.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Unintentional flower harvest

In the Ikea parking lot, I picked up a buggy that had been left by someone else, just at the edge of a clump of black-eyed Susans.

Only when I disentangled it from the curb of the flower bed and pushed it toward the store did I realize it contained a flower, presumably picked by accident as I claimed the shopping cart.

This golden daisy accompanied my shopping trip -- I was buying only a single item, so it didn't take long.

I felt bad about separating it from its roots and fellow posies, when I had no vase or water to offer, so before leaving, I dropped it off where I'd found it, close to its fellow blooms.

Monday, August 14, 2017

My Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith

Paul, a gentle food writer, is depressed when his live-in girlfriend runs off with her trainer. Then his faithful editor steps in, arranging a trip to Italy so he can finish his latest book and use travel as an antidote for heartbreak. Paul has "always been rather good at suppression," yet fails in his efforts to "delete" his love for Becky. Poignantly, he thinks there are "no flowers or letters any more, just...the faded leaves of the virtual world" to serve as love tokens.

Undertaken with reluctance, his journey brings strange developments: surprise meetings and even a brush with the Italian police. When a rental car proves unavailable, a new friend helps him engage a bulldozer. This machine raises his perspective and his spirits as it carries him at a sedate pace to his hotel high in the Tuscan hills.

Speaking through his characters, McCall Smith treats readers to hearty doses of the his gentle humour and philosophy. His beloved Italy is described as a complex culture in which people give importance to la bella figura, a sense of the value of doing everything beautifully, in the conviction that "they, like everyone else, were being watched."

It is also a collective of subcultures. As Onesto remarks, while politicians in Rome are "busy fighting with one another...all over the place there are people using European Union money to build things we don't need, and then other people come along and knock them down." Hmm, that's a good job for a civic-minded bulldozer driver.

We also learn that "love is a souffle that [can] only too easily collapse," and can rarely be revived. As Paul comes to terms with his loss, the author shares his surprising arrival at the view that sorry was "something he now needed to say to bring the whole matter to an end." He feels compelled to apologize to Becky, even though she left him for someone with more muscle.

The priest brother of a local wine grower routinely argues with the rationalist schoolteacher. In their perennial difference of opinion, Stefano points out that the same problem arises for the man of reason as for the one who chooses faith. "You can't point to something that I can touch or feel and say, That, you see, is Reason...yet you expect me to be able to show you God."

Smith's charming prose is sprinkled with potent philosophical commentary: In case of emotional undercurrents, casual conversation can "cover the things underneath" and "good deeds should never be paraded by those who do them, no matter how strong the temptation to do so might be."

What else do we need to know? Alexander McCall Smith has done it again: another irresistible title and another great standalone tale, filled with the moral solace his readers have come to expect from his work.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Another Southbank has flown

Ten writers committed to Southbank, and all of them upped their game during the short weeks of this summer intensive writing program. On Tuesday, our practice night, the readings were great. They were even better at Saturday's performance.

By Southbank tradition, we celebrated with photos on the stairs of the Surrey library, then adjourned to the Central City Brew Pub to share libations and snacks. Keep in touch and keep writing, everyone!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

A feel-good evening with the Ocean Park Wailers

It was a fun evening at Blue Frog Studios in White Rock. Ex-journalist, bass player and vocalist Russ Froese described The Ocean Park Wailers as a "garage band that graduated to become a rec room band." I first met Russ in high school English class in a small northern town I'd rather not name. A few years back, I struck up a friendship with his wife, local writer Margo Bates, who is, as it happens, from the same home town. So there we were tonight, dancing to old songs, some from the repertoire of the Jurymen, the band Russ played with in high school. Funny how things come round.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Mt. Baker rediscovered through plane window; smoke casts weird glow on walls

Camera compensates for red coloration of the Super moon

Last night, the heavy forest fire smoke in the air made the Super moon glow deep red. However, my cell phone camera, thinking it knew better than to photograph a red moon, decided to filter out the coloration.

A super moon is a full moon that makes its appearance at the time the moon's orbit brings it closest to the earth; hence, it looks larger than usual.

Yesterday's super moon was coloured by a thick layer of the smoke that's drifting over us from interior wildfires.

Super news follows the super moon. Here in hot, dry Surrey, we're expecting some rain by Monday. How welcome that will be, and how great to see the mountains again.  Even better, Williams Lake is expecting rainfall next Tuesday, and so is should Cache Creek. How they need it!

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Meaning trumps linguistic precision on sign

Second language learners share an unconscious assumption that L2 must follow the rules of the native tongue, which of course, it never does. Linguists call this first language interference.

That's why adults who learn second or third languages usually make typical L2 errors.

Whoever created this sign didn't bother checking the precise English wording or spelling. They were confident in the sign's ability to convey the meaning, which is clear, in spite of the obvious mistakes.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Forest fire smoke and dry weather create August autumn


Midsummer looks like autumn here, but we're lucky. BC's interior has been burning for a month, causing massive disruption to occupants, including loads of livestock. The people of Williams Lake were on evacuation alert for weeks before having to go. They've just recently returned. The airport reopened on Tuesday. Now Clinton is under severe threat from the fires. Over sixty BC parks are closed due to the extreme fire hazard. We need lots of rain, and we need it now!

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The corsage that got left behind

The wedding was Sunday afternoon. It took us all of Saturday to prepare the flowers. Our final creations were the corsages and boutonnieres. Of course they had to be refrigerated overnight.

These flower arrangements were in several containers, and in the rush, this wrist corsage got left behind. I found it still fresh in the fridge, when we got back from the wedding.

We were late to distribute the chocolate favours too, so not every guest got one.

Besides these small and unimportant flaws, the wedding went beautifully. The ceremony was lovely, with the expected guests there to witness and support the marriage. The weather cooperated too -- the day couldn't have been more perfect.

Congratulations, Yasemin and Chris!