Writing Guild Call for a New Member

Wanted: one new member for the Thunder Bay Writers Guild. The Guild is a well-established writing group of 12 members who meet monthly to critique each other’s work and to support and encourage each other in the writing process.

Requirements: to be actively writing and able to produce a polished piece of work (fiction or non-fiction, not poetry) to be critiqued every few months. Able to attend meetings at the college on the 2nd Monday of each month.

Interested? Please send 2 pieces of your work (fiction or non-fiction—between 1,500 - 3,000 words, no poetry) to Jack Shedden at no5rdnorth@gmail.com

Deadline: Wednesday 31st October 2018

Great Opportunity for Writers

Great Opportunity for Writers
For more information, see article below

Monday, September 17, 2018

Giller Long List 2018

Patrick DeWitt

The longlist for the 2018 Scotiabank Giller Prize is:
Paige Cooper for her story collection Zolitude, published by A John Metcalf Book, an imprint of Biblioasis
Patrick DeWitt for his novel French Exit, published by House of Anansi 
Eric Dupont for his novel Songs for the Cold of Heart, translated by Peter McCambridge, published by QC Fiction, an imprint of Baraka Books
Esi Edugyan for her novel Washington Black, published by Patrick Crean Editions, an imprint of HarperCollins Canada

Esi Edugyan
Rawi Hage for his novel Beirut Hellfire Society, published by Knopf Canada

Sheila Heti for her novel Motherhood, published by Knopf Canada

Emma Hooper for her novel Our Homesick Songs, published by Hamish Hamilton Canada

Thea Lim for her novel An Ocean of Minutes, published by Viking Canada

Lisa Moore for her story collection Something for Everyone, published by Astoria, an imprint of House of Anansi 
Tanya Tagaq for her novel Split Tooth, published by Viking Canada

Kim Thúy for her novel Vi, translated by Sheila Fischman, published by Random House Canada

Joshua Whitehead for his novel Jonny Appleseed, published by Arsenal Pulp Jack Pine Press

Sheila Heti
The longlist was selected by an esteemed five-member jury panel: Canadian writer and journalist Kamal Al-Solaylee (Jury Chair), playwright and Vice President of advancement for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Maxine Bailey, American writer John Freeman, English novelist Philip Hensher, and Canadian author Heather O'Neill.
Fall 2018 NOWW Readings: Dates & Themes
Mary Black Library Community Room
Thursday 18th October @ 7:00pm
As always, there will be an open mic for poetry.
Mary Black Library Community Room
Thursday 15th November @ 7:00pm
Let three local writers warm up your evening with their “comfy” works.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Film, Angelique's Isle, by Michelle Derosier at Sudbury Cinefest, September 22.

Based on the novella Angelique Abandoned written by James R. Stevens, which was inspired by the true story of 17-year-old Angelique Mott, Angelique’s Isle is a harrowing tale of perseverance and survival set against the backdrop of the great copper rush of 1845. It follows a young Ojibway woman named Angelique (Jones) and her voyageur husband Charlie (Carrick) who are stranded and left for dead by copper miners on an island off Lake Superior’s Isle Royale after ignoring the warnings of her grandmother, Green Thunderbird (Cardinal). Angelique is forced to face her inner demons, as the treacherous winter wilderness threatens to keep all natural, physical, and psychological odds of surviving against her.

Angelique (Jones), une Ojibwée de 17 ans, et son mari Charlie (Carrick), un voyageur, sont abandonnés par des mineurs sur un îlot près de l'île Royale, sur le lac Supérieur. La jeune femme avait quitté malgré les avertissements de sa grand-mère, Green Thunderbird (Cardinal). Angelique se voit confrontée à ses démons intérieurs alors que, dans un environnement hostile et un froid intense, toute chance de survie semble nulle. Ce film inspiré de la nouvelle Angelique Abandoned, de James R. Stevens, qui à son tour fut inspirée de l'histoire vécue d'Angelique, est un touchant récit de persévérance et de survie ayant comme toile de fond la grande «ruée vers le cuivre» de 1845.

Friday, September 14, 2018

A word to writers about which

by James Thurber (1894-1961)
The relative pronoun “which” can cause more trouble than any other word, if recklessly used. Foolhardy persons sometimes get lost in which-clauses and are never heard of again. My distinguished contemporary, Fowler, cites several tragic cases, of which the following is one: “It was rumored that Beaconsfield intended opening the Conference with a speech in French, his pronunciation of which language leaving everything to be desired.”

That’s as much as Mr. Fowler quotes because, at his age, he was afraid to go any farther. The young man who originally got into that sentence was never found.

His fate, however, was not as terrible as that of another adventurer who became involved in a remarkable which-mire. Fowler has followed his devious course as far as he safely could on foot: “Surely what applies to games should also apply to racing, the leaders of which being the very people from whom an example might well be looked for . . ." Not even Henry James could have successfully emerged from a sentence with “which,” “whom,” and “being” in it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Chapter Ten

In this engaging memoir, Jackie turns thirteen. Her life is a mix of light and dark but her love of animals provides the brightness in this chapter.
Hovering Above Myself
A Memoir
by Jacqueline D’Acre
Chapter Ten
I look awful. Got a glimpse of myself in the vanity mirror: I am ugly. I have come full circle. After being ugly as a prepubescent and pubescent girl, I’m now ugly as an old lady. I marvel that people just talk to me not in the least bothered because they are talking to an ugly person. I imagined they would shun me. Nevertheless, I don’t feel like transforming myself. After years of obsessive fussing, I just don’t feel like wearing mascara.
            When I find myself telling a story in which a man is attracted to me, I know that looking as I do now, it’s impossible to believe that I was ever the least bit attractive. So I ask them to step around the corner and look on the wall. There is a black and white poster-size picture of me there. My hair is long and blonde and falls in tendrils along the sides of my face. My eyelashes are thick and black. The most common comment to this picture is: “Were you a model?” “Nope,” I reply. “That’s my author photo for the back of my first published novel, Between Extremities.”
            Today is Christmas. Very quiet here in my apartment. I was fighting a touch of depression when Vickie showed up, full of cheer. I am hoping for a call from my son Tripp, already heard from sister Jennifer via phone, and a brief text from Jane. Vickie brought what may be my only gift. I saw something brown in a large colourful bag. I whipped it out of the bag. A mat for the hallway for people to wipe their feet! Perfect! Vickie and I howled with delighted laughter.
Everyone shows up in big winter boots, soles imbedded with sand and grit. They stop by the side of my bed to interact with me, depositing grit. I swing out of bed a while later, and my feet land on nails. At least that’s how it feels. Then the grit sticks and gets transferred to my bed where it scratches my bare legs. It makes me mad. But I used to have a little green carpet out in the hall just for that purpose: To wipe feet. It had mysteriously disappeared. I’m sure it’s lost somewhere in my crowded closet. I’m not up to looking for it. But Vickie has solved the problem with her brilliant gift.

Then it was February, my birthday month. I would become a teenager! Thirteen. I woke up as usual on my birthday, this year—1956, a Saturday. I hadn’t heard anything, but maybe the surprise party planning contingent had gotten sly. I went through the day in tense anticipation. Anytime, people would leap out and shout: “Surprise!” They were being especially nonchalant about it—I saw no preparations taking place in the kitchen. Was anyone baking a cake? Had it already been done and hidden?
I resisted actually asking someone about it.
Mother put platters of food on the table for dinner, as usual. I inspected the fare and saw nothing unusual, just an ordinary pork chop, applesauce, mashed potatoes, carrots, peas and cabbage salad dinner. The surprise must be coming for dessert.
Silent, I sat down with everyone. People handed me dishes of food, but I passed them on to the next person. I had no appetite. In fact, I felt a little nauseated. I stared down at my plate and listened to the inane conversation that buzzed all round me. It was getting pretty late. If they were going to do something they better do it quickly, or dinner would be over and…? What? Nothing? Nothing for my birthday? Mother began handing out dessert: Not birthday cake, but apple pie! Tears exploded in my eyes. I stood, shoving my chair back hard so it fell onto the floor.
“How could you?” I sobbed. “It’s my thirteenth birthday and you forgot! How could you?”
Mother was apologetic. The next day she made me a birthday cake, but it just wasn’t the same.
The house in the country was finished sufficiently to move into. It was the night before the big move. Father wanted to take me and go to the farm (we now called the two and a half acres in the country ‘the farm,’) spend the night and get ready for the movers the next day. We were all gathered in the kitchen when Father made an announcement. “Jackie. Come with me. I need your help.”
Spend a night alone with my father? I’d rather be dead.
I was so scared I couldn’t speak.
            “Jackie,” he said, “you coming?”
            “No,” I said.
            “What?” yelled Mother. “What do you mean ‘no?’ Your father wants you there and you will be there!” And she came over to me and began to slap me. The first slap knocked me up against the kitchen door. The next slaps caused me to slide down the door until I was sitting on the floor. I caught a glimpse of Father in the midst of this slap melee: His arms were crossed and he looked on in satisfaction. I knew I was in for a very bad time.
            We got to the farm in short order. Jeffrey and Jennifer came with us. Maybe their presence would slow him down. Our beds were already moved in so we scampered upstairs and bedded down for the night. I didn’t notice at first but after I was in the bed for a while I wondered where Lisa was: She should be in bed with me. I waited for a while, just listening. I heard nothing. Finally, I called.
“Lisa. Lisa. Come here girl.” Silence. I waited. “Lisa! C’mere girl!”
            Then: Father’s voice. “You better come downstairs, Jackie, Lisa is sick. She needs you down here.”
What a dirty rotten trick! I was sure Lisa was not sick. But I did not want to go
downstairs. “She’s alright. Send her up.”
            “Nope. You come down.”
            I waited for a long while. If I went downstairs, he would get me. I didn’t think he would actually hurt Lisa. The silence was broken by the sound of his heavy footsteps, coming up the stairs. I stretched flat out on my back, pulled the covers up to my chin, and breathing shallowly, waited. I listened to his heavy breathing. His footsteps. He arrived upstairs. I think the girls were asleep. I hoped so. At any rate their presence was not stopping him. He walked over to my bed. My eyes were shut tight. I was scared to breathe. Suddenly, he jerked the covers off me. Then he pulled my nightgown up, so I was lying there naked. He ran his hands all over me. Breasts, private parts. I didn’t move. I played dead and wished I was. He shook me trying to get a response, I suppose. I was limp. I never opened my eyes. He stopped. I waited. Then abruptly he left and went back down the stairs. In seconds, Lisa came scampering up the stairs. She climbed into bed with me. I hugged her and cried.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Joan's Recommendations for Autumn Reading

Here are my picks for autumnal reading. The leaves are falling, the elections are dominating the media, and winter is in the air. I read close to a hundred books a year and here are a few recent goodies. I did include my favourite type of reading: short stories. I read some over and over. Good short stories never die but float around forever. I must have read The Dead by James Joyce two dozen times. Here are good short story writers I recommend: Lucia Berlin, Mavis Gallant, William Trevor, Edna O’Brian, Joan Clark, Mary Lavin, Stephen King, Ernest Hemmingway, Margaret Atwood, Amy Jones and of course the divine Alice.

Thunder Bay's Amy Jones author of "What Boys Like and Other Stories."

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer. This book, with its telling title was last year’s  Pulitzer Prize winner. It’s a masterpiece. Arthur Less is a medium-level writer who dreads turning fifty. His love marries another. Less seizes on a literary trip around the world to ease his mind but because he is the bumbling sort, unforeseen happenings gang up on him. A wonderful book with an upbeat ending.

I’m Right and You are An Idiot By Jim Hoggan. Hoggan looks at modes of communication particularly recent political conversation. The book presents ideas on how to have civil discourse in a time of division.

After the Fire by Hemming Mankell Fredrik Welin, a 70 years former doctor, barely escapes from his burning house. As the story goes on, we learn he is not really a nice person, but rather distant, a liar and a snooper. His daughter arrives and she is not much better. Eventually, through various events, including his daughter’s arrest for pickpocketing, our recluse opens himself to the world.

Library Cards Made Easy and More, Much More!

I joined the local library when I was four years old. In memory, I can still enter the dark and shadowy building on Court Street where a treasure trove of books awaited - but only two books at a time please! I usually took out the same books: Madeleine and Freddy the Pig. It seemed pointless to get any others when these were so good. I also remember story time with the librarian, Miss Brownlee. 

Later when I was a teen, I checked out records of classical music. Swan Lake was my favourite. It came in a book style album of several discs. Then tragedy! I left the records spread out on the living room rug and my father stepped on one, breaking it. I do not remember if my parents had to pay but I do remember my father saying "No more records"! Maybe he was getting sick of Swan Lake day in and day out. But a few weeks later, I returned to the library and took out another folder of records. I noticed that Swan Lake was no longer on the shelf. I felt guilty. I was a killer of phonograph records. This feeling lasted about five minutes, the usual amount of time teen agers feel guilt. I snuck home with Chopin under my arm. My dad simply ignored the whole thing. I kept the records in their folders. All was well. 

The library is a Thunder Bay treasure and always has been. This new season starts with a long list of activities for all ages.  Their newsletter, Connect Here, which seems to get bigger every season, reveals a lively forward looking organization. (you can subscribe to Connect on line at newsletter@tbpl.ca. )

Here are a few library notes:

Hello students! Our Thunder Bay Library has news for you! Library cards are free to all students in elementary, secondary or post secondary schools. You no longer need to provide proof of  a Thunder Bay address. If your home address is outside the city - fine!

Also if you have over due library books, breathe easy. September is Amnesty Month. All fines and charges will be cleared.

Wait, there's more! Elementary and secondary students will not be charged late fees going forward if they are a bit late in returning the borrowed books.

Free faxing at your library.  Free to all local and 800 numbers. Long distance fax however, costs a buck for the first page and 50 cents each for additional pages. You can also print, photocopy and scan stuff there.

As a long time library customer, I appreciate Customer Appreciation Day coming up on October 16. Drop in to any library from 11 pm to 8 pm (5:30 at County Park) to share in refreshments, meet the staff and check out the door prizes and give-aways.

The Library also runs a second hand book store, one of the few remaining in town. It's in Victoriaville  and books are cheaper than cheep, a buck a book. Lots of magazines too for 50 cents. Hours are Monday to Friday 10 am - 4 pm and Saturday 12 pm to 3 pm.

And to sum up, an increase in library hours and that includes Sunday hours at Brodie and County Park. Yeah!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Book Review by Margie Taylor

American Rust by Phillipp Meyer

Since his debut novel was published in 2009, Philipp Meyer has been likened to Steinbeck and Salinger, Faulkner and Hemingway. In 2010 the New Yorker rated him one of the 20 best novelists under 40. The accolades are appropriate, keeping in mind that Meyer, writing at the tail end of the Great American Dream, has a different take on what drives us to be who and what we are. I wouldn’t call him cynical, exactly, but his unsentimental clarity makes for a pretty grim read.

American Rust takes place in what used to be the industrial heartland of America. The fictional town of Buell was once a thriving Pennsylvania steel town; now, like communities throughout the northeast, its old stone houses are boarded up and abandoned, its shops are empty, its factories shut down. Many of the residents have fled, hoping to find work in other parts of the country. Those who have jobs, even minimum wage ones like those on offer at Wal-Mart, are lucky. Others live on welfare, deal drugs, or both. Still others go back to the bush, living much as hunter-gatherers did hundreds of years ago. The whole town, for the most part, is on “the other side of the tracks”.

“The work was all in the Midwest now, taking down the auto plants in Michigan and Indiana. And one day even that work would end, and there would be no record, nothing left standing, to show that anything had ever been built in America. It was going to cause big problems, he didn’t know how but he felt it. You could not have a country, not this big, that didn’t make things for itself. There would be ramifications eventually.”
These are the thoughts of Billy Poe, former high-school football star currently in jail, waiting to appear in court for a crime he didn’t commit. In a stream of consciousness style reminiscent of Faulkner, Meyer presents the narrative from several points of view, alternating between Poe, his friend, Isaac English, Isaac’s sister, Lee, Poe’s mother, Grace, and Bud Harris, the town’s police chief and Grace’s sometime boyfriend. Each of these characters, vividly drawn and intensely real, gives us insight into what happens when market forces drive a community into the dirt.

The book opens with 19-year-old Isaac heading out of town, on his way, he thinks, to California. Recently graduated from high school, Isaac is a mathematical genius and should, under normal circumstances, be studying at one of the Ivy League colleges, like his older sister, Lee. But 5 years ago his mother committed suicide, his sister left for Yale, and Isaac chose to stay home to care for his father, who is confined to a wheelchair after a workplace accident. Now Isaac is on the road, like Kerouac, with $4,000 in his pocket – stolen from his father’s desk. His plan is to ride the rails west and become a student of physics at UCLA Berkeley.

Phillipp Meyer

Friday, August 24, 2018

AniAnihinabek Employment and Training Services (AETS) and Thunder Bay Public Library (TBPL) Partnership

Exciting changes coming to Waverley Library
Libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication. They are about education (which is not a process that finishes the day we leave school or university), about entertainment, about making safe spaces, and about access to information.

Under the direction and collaboration of both the TBPL Board of Directors and AETS Board of Directors, AETS has made the transition into the TBPL through a partnership which has enabled the TBPL to realize its ambition of transforming Waverley Library into a Community Hub.

AETS is an incorporated, not-for-profit organization, celebrating its 21st year as part of a national network delivering an Indigenous Skills and Employment (ISET) Training Program.  The objective of the national program and each of the regional agreement holders, is to increase the participation of Indigenous Citizens in the Canadian labour market.  Within the North Superior Region, AETS delivers continuing education and training-to-employment programs which build capacity for First Nation Citizens from the following nine communities, and sometimes beyond, under special circumstances:

    Animbiigoo Zaagi’igan Anishinaabek (Lake Nipigon Ojibway)
    Biigtigong Nishnaabeg (Pic River First Nation)
    Biinjitiwaabik Zaaging Anishinaabek (Rocky Bay First Nation)
    Bingwi Neyaashi Anishinaabek (Sand Point First Nation)
    Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek (Gull Bay First Nation)
    Michipicoten First Nation
    Pays Plat First Nation
    Pic Mobert First Nation
    Red Rock Indian Band
The AETS Board of Directors has a vision to develop the organization through various strategies, including enhanced co-operations with local, regional, and national partners.  Over the last decade, AETS has increased services and programs as well as strategic partnerships with employers and other stakeholders.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Local Authors at Chapters

Lots of action at Chapters on Saturday. Fiction, non-fiction, poetry and even a how-to book on giving a public talk. Here are a few samples from a fun day.

Out camping, Shannon Robertson told stories to her kids. The tales became two delightful books touching on forest spirits, lake guardians, ghosts that guide, rock giants, tree sirens and other common denizens of the north.

Samantha Convey crafts poems. She studies the deepest emotions found in movies and uses that emotion in her poems.

Michelle Krys writes fantasy books about witches for young adults.  Plus she has a mystery thriller titled Dead Girls Society. Creepy!

Eva Kakepetum writes a variety of books. Above, Eva holds a children's book and I hold Woodland Art and Wisdom of Artist and Elder Abe Kakepetum. All her books dazzle with colour, wonderful art work and photographs.

Deanna Ford holds her book Command the Stage: A Speaker's Guide to Using Notes Strategically to Develop and Deliver Speeches. (You can see a preview at deannaford.ca/free chapters).
Mackenzie Fisk runs Mischievous Books. She has published children's books and the poetry of Atikokan poet Jameson Kooper, Canadian Shorts, a short story compilation  and a mystery series she wrote called the Intuition Series with titles such as Just Intuition and Burning Intuition, both good reads plus many more.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Chapter Nine

Jackie has reached the invisible border line which all girls experience. As a child, she plays with boys as friends but then, eventually, the boys drop the friendship and see her as a sex object. Jackie is comforted by her dog, Lisa, who she is training to be a show dog.

Hovering Above Myself
A Memoir
by Jacqueline D’Acre
Chapter 9
I could not get enough of Lisa. I rushed home from school every day to feed, walk and train her. She learned “sit,” “down,” and “stay” brilliantly. We didn’t do so well with “come,” and “fetch.” On “come”—she galloped right past me, then it became a game when I chased her and failed to catch her. I didn’t know then the power of feeding treats to get results. So I hollered “Fetch,” and Lisa ran after the stick just fine. She skidded to a stop, grabbed it in her mouth, turned and started back toward me, me desperately crooning “Good girl.” Then she’d drop the stick. But I got very good at posing her in a show stance and so did she. She stood quietly while I arranged her body, made sure her front legs were straight under her. I had to hold her tail and her head up, she wanted to droop. She didn’t have that spark that makes a great dog a great show dog. She had the looks though. Unlike myself. (Did I think having this beautiful dog would somehow make me beautiful too? I just had to have some beauty in my life.)

Some days I took lunch to school. There was one other person who also brought his lunch. Brent. He was a man of some mystery. According to scandalized whispers he had failed two grades and naturally, he was quite a bit older than his classmates. He had white-blond hair. Striking. So we fell into eating lunch together and talking.

Because of the close proximity of Brent each lunch hour, I worried more than ever about my looks. Instead of getting better-looking, I was growing uglier. My face was covered in freckles, my eyebrows and my eyelashes were still blonde, and my long red hair was skinned back (so my face looked like someone who’s had a face-lift at the age of sixty) and braided. I had a little pot belly, quite prominent developing breasts, and slender arms and legs. Mother had long since abandoned my dreadful diet and paid no attention to what I ate. I cut back on the Sally Ann’s and the Persians at Grampa’s store. And, only one Pepsi a day.

Brent and I talked and talked. I looked at him closely studying him for signs of mental incompetence, because after all, he had supposedly failed two grades. I couldn’t see anything: He seemed quite normal. I felt flattered this “older” man liked talking to me and I eagerly looked forward to lunch hour every day.

During those Junior High years—1954 to 1956—there was a darker interaction between boys and myself. I don’t remember exactly when it started but one day I walked into the classroom’s cloakroom and several boys grabbed me and shoved me up against the wall. Coat hooks dug painfully into my back. I squirmed and fought to be free of them but they were too strong. All of us were breathing hard. With me pushed up against the wall they ran their hands over my body, squeezing my breasts and belly. I fought silently. I was terrified Miss Loney would catch us and she’d blame me. Every day I waited until the last possible moment before entering the cloakroom. Every day it was no good, they caught me. They hurt me. They scared me. When I got away I struggled into my coat and winter boots and ran from the cloakroom, knowing my face was red. As I exited, Miss Loney beside her desk, arms folded, frowning at me. I ran from the school and when I got home to Lisa, I ran to her.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Denman Island Readers and Writers Festival

I'm happy to be here.

In July,  I attended this small but mighty literary festival, one of the best ever. Perfectly organized, the festival offered a fine selection of authors, great food, friendly people, good acoustics, and a relaxed atmosphere with time to talk to the writers, buy books, meet and mingle. Next door to the main stage is Abraxas Books, one of those browse- able indie book shops which should be in every Canadian city and town, but alas isn't.

Abraxas Books

Denman Island, a ferry ride from Buckley Bay south of Comox, B.C., is itself a prime destination, a place to wander, birdwatch, admire the ocean views, the huge trees and stop for farm produce where  you pay on the honour system. The town is small (the coffee shop is in the hardware store) but full of interest. The local bumper stickers advise "Keep Denman Weird" and that says it all.

The literary mix was eclectic. Non fiction, poetry, aboriginal works, fiction along with a focus on aboriginal and enviromental issues made for an exciting selection. Some of my favourite authors were there:Marina Endicott, Emily St. John Mandel and Sarah Dunant, the great historical writer. There was a chance for some talented locals to read their work as well.

Sarah Dunant, writer of historical fiction
I sat mesmerized listening to Sheri-D Wilson's performance poetry. I watched and listened as Sarah Dunant illustrated her talk with slides of renaissance art that reveal women's roles at the time.Bev Sellers tells us that "If you are born Aboriginal, you're born into politics whether you want to  or not." Later she will discuss her personal struggle to survive Indian Residential Schooling.
Environmentalist Christine Lowther
I tried hard to limit my book purchases. But I could not resist  "I'm Right and You're an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse."  by James Hoggan. Hoggan, who was in public relations, set out to find why conversations between people with different points of view often go nowhere or become acrimonious even when the facts are presented. Why do some people resist facts but just shout their prejudices. His book was a feast for thought.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Canada's best reviewer, the marvellous Margie Taylor, has done it again. Here she tackles a novel by Paulo Coelho, Veronika Decides to Die. (A great title and almost as good as my favourite title Margo Moves the Furniture.) Coelho is a popular writer with a large fan following. His early life was strange but Margie lays it all out for us. (self disclosure. I tried a Coelho novel once and could not suspend my disbelief.)

In 1999, Paulo Coelho wrote an essay for the London Telegraph Review in which he discussed he time he spent in mental institutions in the 1960s, during Brazil’s military dictatorship. At the time, he wrote, “the word ‘artist’ was synonymous with homosexual, communist, drug addict, and layabout.” Coelho, who was 18, had artistic aspirations; not knowing where to begin, he joined an amateur theatrical group and began experimenting with drugs and radical politics. When his parents realized this was more than a passing phase – that he was not following the career path they had laid out for him – they had him admitted to a psychiatric hospital, “for his own good”.

“And thus began my journey through various psychiatric hospitals. I was admitted, I was given all kinds of different treatments, and I ran away at the first opportunity, traveling around for as long as I could bear it then going back to my parents’ house. We enjoyed a kind of honeymoon period, but after a while I again started to get into what my family called ‘bad company,’ and the nurses reappeared.”

His mother and father were not monsters; Coelho makes it clear they acted out of love for their son, and in later years never forgave themselves for having him committed. But the three years he spent in and out of Rio de Janeiro’s Dr Eiras Sanatorium provided the inspiration for Veronika Decides to Die, his 1998 novel which, like his other books, was a New York Times best seller and has been translated into dozens of languages. The theme of the book is madness – what is it, and who are the madmen, and women? Madness, he concludes, is the name we give to those who refuse to conform. And the real madmen – and women – are the ones who hide their differences within a facade of normality.

At this point I think I need to self-disclose: I’m not a fan of new-age homilies disguised as novels. When I pick up a book that’s trying to send me a “message”, I get prickly. If I want to be preached at, I’ll go to church. I’m probably one of the few people who has yet to read The Alchemist, Coelho’s inspirational fable about a Spanish shepherd boy who travels to the pyramids of Egypt in search of a treasure – just seeing the word “inspirational” on the cover puts me off.

Having said that, I didn’t absolutely hate this book. (Second self-disclosure: a reader on Amazon.com once started her review of my novel, Displaced Persons, with those words. Safe to say, I read no further.) Veronika Decides to Die is set in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, a few years after the break-up of Yugoslavia. Veronika, a 24-year-old librarian, is smart, educated, attractive, and has had her share of lovers. However, she sees no point in continuing to live, with death waiting for her at the end of a long, meaningless life. And so she decides to kill herself.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Chapter eight

Hovering Above Myself 

A Memoir by
Jacqueline D’Acre
Chapter Eight

Hurrah! The medical marijuana arrived yesterday afternoon. Purolator delivered two largish bottles: One labeled CBD drops with a yellow label, the other, 1:1 drops, with a red label. I took my first dose of the night-time oil, 1:1, last night. It’s a trifle challenging to read the syringe, the labelling is so tiny. I got up, went to the doorway and turned on the light. I measured as closely as I could to 2.5 ml and squirted it under my tongue. Now this kind puts you to sleep but also gets you high. I hadn’t wanted that kind. I was afraid of getting fuzzy-minded and not being able to write. But that’s what the doctor recommended so I decided to go along. Also, I was told that the initial dosing is so low I probably wouldn’t get high. Well, I did get a little high. Just a barely perceptible change, not enough to get the munchies or the giggles. Next thing I knew I was sound asleep and woke up just minutes ago, at 5 a.m. Time to try the CBD drops. I used the flashlight on my iphone to read the label. Drew up a measurement attempt close to 2.5 ml. Administered it under my tongue. Waited a few seconds, then swallowed. It has a funny taste—sort of metallic. Like sucking on a nickel. It’s such a low dose it probably won’t do much, if anything, towards cessation of pain.

Woke up at 7:48. Amazing! I slept all through the night. Pretty groggy though. But with no pain.

It seemed like an ordinary school day in 1954, Grade 7, Junior High, with one exception. I had been chosen by the home economics teacher to act as hostess for an afternoon tea. All the mothers and grandmothers were invited. The class served little tea sandwiches of cucumber and salmon along with chocolate brownies.
Home Economics Class, 1950's

I was nervous. Why did she have to pick me? Surely someone else would do a better job. Stewing about this I stomped all the way home for lunch. As soon as I entered the kitchen and slammed the door behind me, I knew something was very wrong. Mother wasn’t cooking lunch, she was just sitting at the kitchen table, doing nothing. A moment later Gram came out from the pantry/bedroom (now a sewing room) and just stood looking at me.

“What’s wrong,” I cried out.

“Jackie,” Gram said. “We have some very bad news.”

I started to cry. Now I could see Mother was crying too. So was Gram.

“What is it?” I yelled. “What happened?”

Gram made a ‘follow me’ motion, turned and walked back into the sewing room. She stopped beside a cardboard box, to the right of her sewing machine. Rusty was in the box.

“Rusty?” I whispered. “Hey, boy.”

I knelt down and petted him, then snatched my hand away. He was stiff and cold. Dear old wonderful Rusty was dead. I sat down on the floor, fondled one of his silky ears and wept. Gram cried along with me. After a while it dawned on me: I couldn’t go to school this afternoon. I’d cry all the time. My Home Ec teacher would have to find another hostess.

Gram and Mother coaxed me back out into the kitchen. I sat down at the table and a hot cup of tea appeared before me. I took a tentative sip and resumed weeping. Gram and Mother sat down at the table. Each of them folded their hands before them on the table.

Mother spoke. “Have you ever heard the expression: ‘The show must go on?’”

I shook my head ‘no.’

“Well, they say that about actors. If an actor turns up really ill, still, he or she performs. No matter what—the show must go on.”

I stared at her. Surely she didn’t think I’d—
“Listen to me. You have been picked to do something very important. You—out of all those girls in your class. It’s a great honour. She must really see something in you, Jackie. Pull yourself together. You’re the star of the show. Tell yourself: ‘The show must go on.’”

I sat on the floor with Rusty until it was time to change. Mother drove and Gram and I sat in the front seat with her. We were dressed up. Gram had on red lipstick and I could smell Mother’s Tabu perfume.

At the Home Ec classroom I stood at the door next to my teacher and the principal. We said “Hello, how are you?” to each arriving lady as we shook their hands. To everyone I wanted to blurt out: “My dog died today and he was the best dog in the world!” But I stood and smiled. Later I showed groups of women around, explaining how the classroom operated: Cooking, cleaning, sewing. I kept on smiling and even answered their questions. Finally the ordeal was over. I wanted to faint. Instead I rode home and like a zombie walked downstairs and fell onto my bed where I stayed till morning.