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Monday, February 28, 2005

THE JOURNEY

"One of the pleasantest things in the world is going on a journey, but I like to go by myself."
William Hazlett (On Going on a Journey)

It's true, and I usually travel solo, just as I did this weekend when I made a bus trip to the Interior to visit my friend and family members. In spite of earlier disappointments, it turned out to be an excellent weekend. The weather was perfect, balmy enough to go without coats. Vernon is in an arid 'desert' area of the Interior, between two lakes and brown rolling hills. The Interior is much like Southern California with mountains nearby that have popular ski resorts. There are orchards and vineyards all down the Valley where the best B.C. wine is produced.

My grandson Mike was supposed to come up for a weekend of skiing with him Mom, my daughter Alex, but unfortunately due to having his green card stolen, and the slow process of getting a new one issued, he was unable to cross to border. It was a huge disappointment for everyone, especially him and his mom and of course me, because I haven't seen him for eight years due to one thing or another. Now it looks like I might have to try and figure out a way to go down to California if I want to see him, although my daughter will fly down next week to try and sort things out and activate an application for him to get U.S. citizenship. It's all part of the hassles these days due to the extra securities etc. Travel to and from the U.S. isn't as easy as it used to be.

I got to Vernon about 5 p.m. on Friday and in the evening Rosie and I drove the 45 mins. south to Kelowna to the Blue Gator Lounge where my son Steve's band was playing. (See the band's website at http://members.shaw.ca/westcoastblues ) The place was already packed when we got there. My daughter-in-law Sue had come up too so there was a nice little crowd of the band's relatives. We had a great time dancing.

The next day we drove around Vernon sightseeing: went to Planet Bee the honey place and got some delicious honey. In the evening we went to see an excellent ballet at the Arts Centre. "Merlin", performed by the Atlantic Ballet Company from New Brunswick, Canada. Most of all the dancers had been trained in Kiev Ukraine or Russia. That was my cultural treat. It's been ages since I'd attended a ballet. At one time in my life I would go to every one and had aspirations of dancing myself, though I started much to late in my teen-age life.

Sunday my daughter drove down from the town where she lives and we went for lunch by the lake and had a nice visit. She's best friends with Rosie's daughter so it was good for the girls to see each other too. Of course, Sunday night was the Academy Awards. This year I enjoyed the gorgeous gowns and glamour. And thank goodness no more of those long, tedious thank-you speeches!

The drive to and from the Coast is spectacular, through the mountain pass. There's still snow on the peaks, but Spring has arrived early to the Coast and the Valley. Driving back into town I noticed more trees in blossom though it had started to rain in the city.

It was a much-needed rest and change of scene for me this little get-away. I had a lot of things to sort out, soul-searching, coming to terms with the end of a friendship that had been important to me, seeing my daughter and enjoy the little time I had with her. And, of course, my friend Rosie has been one of my best pals for many years so we always have fun together. She's another traveler like me, and we've been through a lot of life's experiences together, our families very much extended families through the years.

Now I'm back and it's time to get into the groove of writing again, back to the journey with Alexander's little son and his Successors. And a time of planning too. As soon as I get my tax refunds figured out I'll be able to start planning my next big trip. Destination: England, Wales and Greece sometime in late May. Keeping my fingers crossed!

"The longest journey
Is the journey inwards
Of him who has chosen his destiny." Dag Hammarskjold



Thursday, February 24, 2005

CHERRY BLOSSOMS

"For winter's rains and ruins are over,
And all the season of snows and sins:
The days dividing lover and lover,
The light that loses, the night that wins;
And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins."
Algernon Charles Swinburne.

When I went down to the West End this morning for my Memoir class, I noticed that all the side-streets were lined with blossoming cherry trees. The froth of white and pink blooms were a cheering sight, a sure sign that Spring is very near. A time for a new beginning.

I felt my spirits lighten. It's hard to stay sad when you see the flowers in bloom in the gardens and the lovely trees starting to bud. It was another day of bright sunshine and mild weather. Time to come out of my semi-hibernation and enjoy this beautiful city.

As usual my Memoir ladies wrote amazing stories. There were laughs and tears and many hugs. This is a special group. The way everyone has bonded is so heartwarming.
Afterwards I went for lunch with my friend M. and we had one of our intensely interesting talks. By the time I walked all the way back up Robson St. in the sunshine I was beginning to feel my spirit taking flight. The sun was warm. I was still dressed for winter. I shed my scarf and gloves, opened my jacket and breathed in the sweet Spring-filled air.

I went to the Virgin Store and bought a replacement for one of the CD's that had disappeared from my apartment. Because it was a Cuban CD it cost me a lot. By the time I replace both of them it will be around $60 and there goes the new cross-trainers I needed so badly. But at least I'll have it off my mind and can return the CD's to my Havana Buddy who had loaned them to me to record. No use fretting any longer over their loss, though I still feel upset to think a guest took them in the first place.

I thought over the dilemma about my grandson and realize my daughter is probably even more disappointed than I am. Not to speak of the money she's out for cancelling his flight and the hotel rooms they had booked. I still don't know whether I'll see her but have suggested she come to my girlfriend's where I will be staying for the weekend as my friend's daughter is one of her pals. It's a closer drive for her than attempting the longer journey down to the town where my son will be.

She has suggested that I might consider going down to Santa Barbara to see my grandson. I really had never thought of that, him being a college kid and all. But it sounds like an idea worth exploring.

Tonight I went to my travel writing class. As usual, it was a happy time. There's something about travel writers and their stories...So light-hearted and fun! One of the men brought me a small hand-held tape recorder and tapes (free) and offered me a ride home right to the door, saving me the long bus ride. So I got here less exhausted than usual, and in a much better mood than when I had begun the day.

Shit happens, as they say. And I realize there isn't anything I can do about it, so no use grieving over what is out of my control. I'll see my grandson - eventually. I'll replace the two missing CD's. If the 'lost' friendship was really a true friendship, he'll come around again one day. Tomorrow morning I'm boarding a Greyhound and heading for the Interior. No matter what it's going to be a fun-filled weekend. I love bus rides. I have sorted out appropriate music to listen to; stocked up on the usual traveler's junk food; packed my bags with all my party clothes; and somewhere along the way I'm sure the Muse is going to catch up with me.

Later, then...Until I return with tales of another adventure.

"This day on which
the cherry blossom fell
has drawn to it's close..." Anon. Haiku




THOUGHTS ON A FULL MOON NIGHT

"The moon shines on all of us,
It knows what we can not.
Binding friends together
With ribbons of forget-me-nots."... Anon.

That little poem was left on my message machine a few years ago by a friend I have long since lost track of. Oh Victree, where can you be?

The Moon. Luna. Selene. She's shining brightly tonight, bringing back memories of other full-moon nights.

I submitted a story to an anthology a couple of years ago, titled "One Full Moon Night in Athens". It was accepted. Lonely Planet was going to publish the anthology, a collection of stories for first-time back-packers to Europe. I was thrilled when I got the contract. Though it wasn't a lot of money, it was going to be published in a book by a reputable publisher. So I thought. A few weeks after signing and returning the contract, I got an email saying that they had decided not to use the story. Their 'target market' had decided it might 'discourage' travellers. Why? The story was a cautionary tale warning people about date-rape drugs. A true story about something that happened to my friends and I who are well-seasoned travellers.

It was a July full moon night in Athens, Greece. My three friends, a Finnish architect, a Danish linguist and a Norwegian classical scholar and me, decided to have a moonlight picnic up on Filoppapou Hill, which is adjacent to the Acropolis. We were sitting under the monument on the Hill enjoying the balmy evening when a strange character appeared in our midst. We'd seen him earlier down at the To Kati Allo taverna where we all hung out. He was a young man, European or American, with long fair hair, oddly dressed in a Biblical
costume. He apparantly was a deaf-mute and we had been told he lived somewhere in the caves on Filoppapou.

Curious, we invited him to join us, offering him our wine and food. In turn, he offered us his bottle of ouzo. All but my Norwegian friend A.B. declined. She took perhaps two or three swigs of it. We tried to engage him in conversation (it didn't take long to figure out he was probably faking being mute). Not long after, A.B. went to stand up and couldn't. She asked him what was in the ouzo. He laughed and poof! as magically as he had appeared, he disappeared.

The rest of the night and all the next day became a nightmare. A.B. was in extreme distress, paralyzed and vomiting, unable to move. I had to run down the hill to find help. Two Greek men assisted us carrying her down to the parking lot, half-way down the hill and called an ambulence. The trip to the hospital (where, we didn't know) and the hours spent there were like something out of a horror movie. The doctor refused to believe A.B. was anything more than 'drunk' even though we tried to explain she'd only had two or three swallows of the ouzo and obviously it had been laced with something potent, perhaps lethal. Several hours went by. They refused to treat her. I eventually phoned a friend who had lived in Greece for some years and who could identify the weird character from the Hill. He drove out to the hospital and insisted they pump A.B.'s stomach. Several hours later she revived enough to leave. We spent the entire day following this frightening episode trying to make a police report. Nobody wanted to listen. It had been obvious this character planned to drug and rob us and no doubt he was lurking around the Hill waiting for other victims. The Greek police simply weren't interested. All they would say was "We have strong drinks in Greece."

So, I wrote the story, a valid one I thought, to inform naive travellers of a very common risk, recalling what our mothers told us as children "Never take candy from strangers."

I think of that episode sometimes on full moon nights. But fortunately, not all full moon memories are so traumatic. I once had a lover who always showed up on the night of the full moon bearing a bottle of wine and a bit of exotic tobacco. We'd sit for hours talking. He mesmorized me with his stories. Khadar was Palestinian and could transport me to the exotic world of the Middle East. He became my Muse. For days after our trysts, I'd write and write and write. He used to tease me not to put him into my stories. I didn't need to. He was my story.

This full moon seems to lack some magic. In fact, it has brought some strange and melancholy vibes. Not only I have felt unsettled and edgy. Others have expressed similar feelings.

I stayed home all day today, did some work on my novel, tried to centre myself and regain my spirit. The cold virus is bringing me down and I can't seem to shake it. Then tonight I went off to my class and for awhile things lightened up. There were excellent stories read tonight, some very poignant, nostalgic. My students are starting to write from their hearts.
I was touched, almost in tears, by a couple of the stories, pleased too, that everyone was sharing, communicating with each other. This is so important in a writer's group.

I left the school feeling much better and decided to drop by my usual bistro to catch some jazz. But there wasn't any music tonight. The singer was sick with a virus too. I sat awhile with a friend who bought me some wine. I talked briefly to an actor friend I hadn't seen in awhile. Then I walked home in the chilly night with that big silver globe of a moon beaming down on me.

Then when I got home, the final blow to bring me down completely. I'm going to the Interior this weekend to visit my girlfriend. My son is playing at a Blues Club there and my daughter had planned to come down too, and had sent a ticket for my grandson to fly up from California where he goes to college, to stay at the same hotel as my son. I haven't seen my grandson for 8 years, since he was 11. He's a young man now, nearly 20. I had dared to hope that this time we might finally meet. So many times in the past things have happened to prevent it. So tonight, when I got home, there was a message that because he has lost his green card they have to cancel the trip rather than risk him being barred from re-entering the U.S. Once again, I will not see him. And sometimes I honestly feel I will never see him again in my lifetime. Needless to say I am devastated. I don't often see my daughter either. She said she'd let me know when she'd be there ('if'). I'll go anyway, and try to enjoy my weekend, but the anticipated joy of that rare family reunion has been denied.

I've needed this break, hoped it would lift my spirits. I wanted to reach for the stars, dance in the moonbeams. But I feel as if a big wave has just washed in and dragged me out into the depths.

"We are the music-makers,
and we are the dreamers of dreams,
wandering by the sea breakers,
and sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
on whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
of the world forever, it seems."
Arthur William Edgar O'Shaughnessy, 1844-1881

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

ENDINGS

"...so we see some chapters of our lives come to their natural end."
Sarah Orne Jewett 1849-1909

Today I finished reading "Tides of War" by Steven Pressfield. I had lingered over each chapter of this book, savoring the rich cadence of the prose, the heroic characters, the magnificent story. When I reached the final lines I almost felt breathless and paused for some time letting the words resonate in my mind. I didn't want it to end.

But, as the saying goes "Everything has an end." (African/Masai)

I've felt melancholy for days now and today especially I was overcome with despondency.
Even though I was working at the daycare I couldn't shake the sadness. To make it worse, the kidlets were overly rambunctious at nap-time and my patience was at a premium.

It's devastating when a friendship that you valued and enjoyed comes to an end. There's a void in my heart right now. No, it wasn't a romantic relationship, but rather an intellectual connection that meant a lot to me. Maybe I cared too much. And now it seems like it is over.

And then, finding things are missing...'disappeared'... from my apartment. Wondering who took them? The saddest part, knowing that person had been a guest friend here. Not that these items can't be replaced. But the point is, why were they taken? And it leaves me with an uneasy feeling because I am by nature so trusting.

"The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy,
the building of a house, the writing of a novel, the demolition of a brdige
and, eminently, the finish of a voyage." John Galsworthy "Over the River".

Endings are difficult. I've got to end my novel and it seems to be taking forever. I worked
all day Sunday (in spite of the sunshine didn't leave the house); sorted out the chapter segments I want to rearrange, made up the 'story cards' and shuffled the order of the episodes.

Monday I read through some of the MSS to see how it was going to work, but I didn't get the cutting and pasting done. I had to do some editing for my class and in the evening the writer's group met here.

I intended to write today, but got called to work. So I'll try tomorrow. This system makes it look easier to get to the end of Part IV and then I think the rest of the book will fall into place more quickly too. It's definitely time to wrap it up. End it.

Today the day was bright with sunshine. Spring flowers were blooming in the daycare yard. Tonight on the way to my class, the city sky-line was silhouetted against a blazing sunset. Behind me in the Eastern sky, a silver-white full moon hovered. I know, in spite of the cold frosty night, that Springtime is very near. A new beginning. Something to look forward to.

"Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. Butit is, perhaps, the end of the beginning." Sir Winston Spencer Churchill.

Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit (If the end is good, all will be good.)
Gesta Romanorum 1472

"All is well that ends well."
John Heywood 1497-1580

Sunday, February 20, 2005

THE GREEK CONNECTION

"The isles of Greece, the isles of Greece
Where burning Sappho loved and sang..." George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron

Although I became interested in Greek history many years ago when I was a teen-ager, it took me until the late '70's before I actually met any Greek people, and not until 1979 did I make my first trip to Greece.

Around '76 a friend introduced me and some other girlfriends to a local Greek taverna called the "Greek Village". It was the first time I'd ever seen Greek dancing, with plates smashed under the dancer's feet. The dancers were mainly Greek sailors on leave in town, and the GV was a veritable gold-mine of handsome men which appealed us single gals. It soon became a regular hang-out.

Through my several years of visits to the GV, I became friends with a number of Greeks, with whom I kept contact by mail. Often they would make returns visits to my city and we'd get together. Through them I learned a great many things about their country, and even started to learn the Greek language.

By the time I went to Greece for my first visit in 1979 I had already established a couple of friendships. I stopped first in Thessaloniki, because I wanted to explore Alexander's world and then took the train down to Athens. It began a long a wondrous love-affair with that country, and in particular with that city.

"Maid of Athens, ere we part,
Give, oh give me back my heart..." Lord Byron

By 1982 I knew I must go to live there, so the following year I went back for good. For nearly five years I lived there in the old Plaka district, teaching English to young children, and living the zoe.

It was one of the best times of my life. I was writing travel articles at the time, pounding them out on a little portable Brother, and selling every one to a newspaper back in Canada.
And I was working on an Alexander-themed novel too.

A Greek family I knew from home (they also operated a taverna where we used to go), invited me to their village in the mountains of Evvia. It was Antonia who allowed me the use of the little shepherd's cottage where I lived on and off for the next two years. And that's where I became friends with my very special shepherd, Mitso.

Those early days of the GV provided me with an open door to a whole new world, one that has become very much a part of my life, and provided me with opportunities that I'd never have had otherwise. Because of my Greek connections I have been able to research my current w.i.p. and have met many wonderful, interesting people along the way.

Now I return to Greece sometimes for six months at a time to write and visit, once in awhile making shorter trips, always returning to my old neighbourhoods in Plaka and Koukaki. I have established friends there, and Athens has become my second home.

This weekend I got together with two of my girlfriends who were part of the good times at the GV. Both of them married Greeks. I didn't, though I had a serious relationship while I lived in Athens which ended when I moved back home, and later I was 'proposed' to by
my shepherd friend who has since passed away.

We hellenaphiles connected again during last summer. It's been fun getting together again, reminiscing about the good old days of the GV and trips we've made to Greece. As J. said the other night "There'll never be another GV" And there won't be.

Yesterday I had lunch with a friend and she gave me a beautiful calendar of Greece which prompted so many lovely memories. Oddly, this weekend I also received phone calls from two of my Athens friends. One is a woman who now lives back in England who was part of the ex-pat crowd who used to hang out at a place we called "The Dirty Corner" at the corner of Vironos and Lysicrattus Sts. in Plaka. (I lived on Odos Vironos -- Byron's Street). Then,
today I had a call from my sweet friend D. who lives in Plaka. Both of them are hoping I'll make it over this summer for a visit. My plan is to head for England before the end of May, then go down to Greece for awhile. And since all the cards seem to be falling into place, it appears that it's time for me to start planning. Greece is calling me again. I am feeling the ache of homesickness.

"Enclose in your soul Greece...and you shall feel every kind of grandeur." Dionysios Solomos




Friday, February 18, 2005

ROAD BLOCKS: RETRACING YOUR STEPS

"When you come to a fork in the road, take it." (attributed to) Yogi Berra

This has been one of those weeks when I did little writing but accomplished a lot of other things. Mainly my classes took up a lot of time and energy. Most of the week was spent in writing-related activities, but hardly any in actual writing.

Monday I worked at the daycare and in the evening went to my writer's critique group. By the time I got home I was sick, came down with a bad cold. Dragged myself around the next day, errands and other routines. Sat in my favourite cafe drinking a latte while I read more of my current favorite book, Steve Pressfield's "Tides of War". While reading, I had a sudden brain-wave about how to get 'unstuck' from the writer's block that has plagued me since last week. As if a light went on in my brain, I 'saw' what needed to be done -- at least what might 'work'. I'd written myself into a road block and I needed to retrace my steps, possibly put the chapter segements I'd just written in a different order, and hopefully it will open things up for me. Like going back to that fork in the road and taking the other route.

Because I've been teaching classes all week as well as attending to other duties (and pleasures) I haven't had time yet to try out my new plan. But I'm pretty sure it's going to work. Thank god for 'cut and paste'! Remember when we had to retype everything?

A busy weekend coming up but I'm determined to make time for my writing. And I'm sure that once I get over this hurdle, everything will move forward quickly again. It's like the old saying "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again!"

"Do the best one can. Do it over again. Then still improve, even if ever so slightly, those retouches. 'It is myself that I remake,' said the poet Yeats in speaking of his revisions."
Marguerite Yourcenar

Monday, February 14, 2005

CONFESSIONS OF A BLACK SHEEP #26:

To All the Men I’ve Loved Before: A VALENTINE’S DAY REMEMBRANCE
“Love distills desire upon the eyes,
love brings bewitching grace into the heart
of those he would destroy.
I pray that love may never come to me
with murderous intent,
in rhythms measureless and wild.
Not fire nor stars have stronger bolts
than those of Aphrodite sent
by the hands of Eros, Zeus’s child”
Euripides 485-406 BC

I’m not a Romance Writer though I’ve always been a ‘romantic’. I tried writing a romance novel once, but writing to that formula isn’t as easy as it looks. At best, I can only write about my own romances.

Valentine’s Day is here again, one of those times of years that makes me feel melancholy -- the nostalgia of times gone past -- and along with the happy memories, painful reminders of lost loves.

When I lived in Athens, I shared a house with my Gemini soul-brother Roberto, an artist from Buenos Aires. He and I often used to share a bottle of wine and listen to Shirley Bassie tapes. One song always made us cry. “To All the Men I’ve Loved Before”. (As Roberto was gay, the song applied to him as well.) Love songs always provoke nostalgic thoughts, causing me to reflect on my past loves. And days like Valentine’s Day, bring back a tumult of these memories.

Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? The popular custom now associated with Saint Valentine’s Day, originated in the Middle Ages. On February 14, half way through the second month of the year, the birds begin to pair. For this reason, the day was looked upon as specially consecrated to lovers and as a proper occasion for writing love letters and sending lover’s tokens.
“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
Chaucher
“Parliament of Foules”
When I was a kid, I used to looked forward to Valentine’s Day. I loved making Valentines, inscribing them with verses of my own. Sometimes the Valentine’s box at the school brought disappointments as well as good cheer though. There were times when the piles of Valentines on other children’s desks grew larger than mine as the cards were handed out. I was a shy one, and envied the more popular girls.

What is the purpose of Valentine cards? One legend says that a priest named Valentinus, in third century Rome was imprisoned when Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, and outlawed marriage for young men . Realizing the injustice of the decree, Valentinus defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him to be put to death. While in prison, it is said that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Thus came the concept of sending Valentine cards to friends.

Valentine’s Day is a lover’s day. Eros is flitting about and maybe if you’re lucky he strike you with one of his love arrows.

I recall some Valentines Days of the past. When I was married, my husband always remembered the day with flowers, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and other generous gifts. In the years after my marriage ended, when I lived in a house full of hippies any reason for a party was seized upon and even burly Dan my boyfriend remember the day with cards and gifts. Later, when I went to live in Greece, bouquets of long-stemmed red roses were presented to me by my Greek boyfriend, Terry. Unfortunately, as Byron said: “All farewells should be sudden” which describes my unfortunate parting from Terry. I returned home to Canada with a broken heart.

I had vowed never to let Eros near me again, but somehow, through a series of co-incidences and strange events, two years later I had a reunion with my first love, Jimmy (the “Johnny” of my play, “The Street”).

It had been years since we’d seen each other and yet it hardly seemed time had passed . For a few weeks we were eighteen again, having fun, recalling old times and renewing our old love. But quickly I began to realize how damaged he was from his years of drug use, how obsessive, how potentially dangerous this relationship was. The epiphany struck me just before Valentine’s Day. We had planned a gala party that weekend so I could introduce him to my friends. He invited a couple of his ex-prison cronies, and I realized it was time to pull the plug. Three days later, Valentines Day arrived with a record snow-fall. We were supposed to go out for dinner, but I breathed a sigh of relief knowing he couldn’t possibly drive all the way to town in the blizzard. Even the buses weren’t running.

I had to walk home from Chinatown where I was working at a daycare centre.
Much to my shock, when I arrived home, there was he was parked out front of my apartment, waiting. There was no way we could drive anywhere to eat dinner. I had no food in the fridge and was in no mood for his company. Perhaps because he had suspected I intended to break up with him, he had brought me lavish presents including a gold filigree cross (to impress my Baptist minister dad, he said) and a wad of money enclosed in a huge card with one of those sappy over-the-top Valentines greetings in which he’d written a long romantic letter to me. At the time, I was not amused nor grateful. Considering what he was up to, and what he’d intended to involve me in, I didn’t want to take anything from him. I just wanted him to leave. He was gone for good by the weekend and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, vowing to not get myself so involved ever again!

The years had made me cautious and jaded. I couldn’t suffer another broken heart. Yet I was born a romantic, and like a school girl yearned for a ‘true love’. But Valentine’s Days came and went and there were no more love notes or flowers from admiring suitors. Returning to Greece, to my village in the mountains of Evvia, I took comfort in the company of a shepherd who had been my friend for all the years I’d been living there. Mitso was the man who came to me in my dreams with words of wisdom and comfort, my dashing knight in a jaunty cap, who rode a white horse. In the summer of 1996, when I was leaving the village to return to Athens, we had a romantic meeting on the roadside beneath the plane trees and asked me to marry him and come to live in the village.

In the end, all things considered, I declined. I was the last time I saw him. The next time I went to the village, he was up on the mountain with his sheep. The following year I planned to surprise him with a visit and possibly reconsider his proposal. Two weeks before I returned to Greece I learned that he had died suddenly of lung cancer. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.

And so, this Valentine’s Day I remember all those men I loved before including:
Roberto, who also died of cancer. I think so often of those days we sat in the courtyard talking about love, life, literature, music, and art and listening to stories about your beloved Argentina.
Hakki, who took me on a magic carpet ride in Istanbul.
Mitso, who taught me about the zoe.
Khadar, who was once my Muse. Old friends are not forgotten.
And T, G & E, who have remained my friends through the years.

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” George Sand, (Letter to Lina Calamatta.) March 31, 1862.

Valentine’s Day is meant for remembering friends too. Emerson said: “A friend is a person with whom I may be sincere. Before him, I may think aloud.” It doesn’t matter whether you send or receive cards and gifts. Remember your friends in other special ways. I think I’ll buy myself a bouquet of flowers in honour all my past loves and present friends.
Friends are like flowers in the garden of life. On this Valentine’s Day I send my love and heartfelt appreciation to all of you. Especially my girlfriends. And, of course, love to my family, my sister and my children and grandson. Thank you for being there for me. As the song goes:

“Oh I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm get high with a little help from my friends.”
Paul McCartney

Sunday, February 13, 2005

CONFESSIONS OF AN ERRANT WRITER

"None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowlege himself in an error."
Benjamin Franklin


OK, OK, I confess! I screwed up the last couple of days of my writing time. Yesterday I slept in. I'd decided to stay in all day writing, but when I eventually sat down and started to make notes, my brain was dead and I seriously felt as though I was slipping into a coma. No kidding! I had to go lie down, and fell into a dead sleep with weird dreams. When I eventually woke up, I was in a dangerous mood.

I decided to go out last night to my favourite Latin-American haunt. Lately, due to personal reasons, it's been difficult for me to go there on the weekends. But, fortified with a little exotic tobacco, off I went. The evening turned out well, though I was in a dancing mood and didn't have a partner. I met up with a girl friend who is just leaving for Cuba (wish I was returning too!) and two other friends who are writers, one just returned from working a couple of years in Korea. So the conversations were excellent, stimulating. But alas! I confess! I drank way too much of the house red which is simply poisonous to the system.
So this morning, waking late again, I felt dreadful.

I forgot it was the Chinese New Years parade today, instead I decided to go to the Park and try to oxygenate my brain and rejuvenate my body. A brisk walk around the sea wall is always a great tonic. And for me, it was the best choice of activities for the day. I came home several hours later feeling 'normal' again and refreshed. So tonight, I've promised myself to do a bit of work on the novel, make notes at least, and sort out the tangled mess I seem to have written myself into. Often stepping back from it helps. Right now I feel like I've written myself up against the wall. But, by tomorrow that situation might have changed.

In regards to CONFESSIONS ever since I started teaching the Memoirs class, "Write from the Heart", I've been writing some of my own memoirs. Most notably, a collection called
"Confessions of a Black Sheep." I was writing these on another journal site which has now vanished into cyber space. So I've decided to post some of them on my blog from time to time.
They are all part of this writer's life, stories of my adventures and experiences. February 14 being Valentine's Day, I'm posting a special Valentine memory for my friends, instead of a traditional Valentine card. And here's a big hug for all you lovers out there! (We may not all be Romance Writers, but a bit of romance in a writer's life is good for the soul, don't you agree?)

"...he lives two lives who relives his past with pleasure." Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis)

"When I am dead, I hope it may be said: (her) sins were scarlet, but (her) books were read."
Hilaire Belloc

Saturday, February 12, 2005

POETRY: THE LANGUAGE OF THE WORLD

"Poetry is an act of peace. Peace goes into the making of a poet as flour goes into the making of bread." Pablo Neruda

A beautiful way to spend the evening: In the company of poets.
Tonight was the World Poetry Gala at the Public Library. It was a free event, celebrating the mulitcultural poets in this city, as well as poets around the world. Awards were being given for various achievements, including the World Poetry Lifetime achievement Award which was given to an African-Canadian poet/actress and the World Poetry Ambassador's award which was given to a woman poet from the Phillipines.

I went with one of the women from my novel writing class, but I also knew a great many of the poets and guests who were attending the gala.

Opening blessings were given in various languages: English, Arabic (a reading from the Qaran), Hindi, and Qechuan and a welcome song was sung by a traditional Tibetan singer who had a most angelic voice.

There was music: African drums, a Scottish harpist, Phillipino and Latin American guitarists, and a pianist who sang a beautiful love poem.

And, of course there was the poetry.

All the members of the World Poetry group were dressed in their traditional costumes. The founders and hosts spoke both in Spanish and English. In closing, a poem was read in English/Spanish and then each of the members of the group came up and said something about Canada in their native language.

It was a beautiful way to spend a Friday evening after a day at home writing. Although the weather was gorgeous today, I had made up my mind to stay in and write, and I did manage to do a little before it was time to head downtown.

I always enjoy the company of poets. I don't often write poetry myself, but I'm sure if I went to more of the poetry readings I would get inspired to do so.

Tonight I saw my friends from the Pandora's Collective (check out their website: www.pandorascollective.com )
who were also getting an award for all the fine achievements they are doing with young poets in the city. They've asked me to come onto the Pandora's Collective Board. I'm thinking about it.
It's good to get involved and these are some very dynamic women.

"Touched by poetry, language is more fully language and at the same time is no longer language: it is a poem." Octavio Paz

Friday, February 11, 2005

PROMPTING THE MUSE

"Come Muse, migrate from Greece and Ionia,
Cross out please those immensely overpaid accounts,
That matter of Troy and Achilles' wrath, and
Aneas', Odysseus' wanderings,
Placard "Removed" and "To Let" on the rocks of
your snowy Parnassus." Walt Whitman "Song of the Exposition"

This week at my classes, we've been discussing how to get in inspired to write. I'm having this problem myself, though it's mostly a matter of 'time'. Even the travel writers tonight were appealing to me for some advice. I had to admit to them that I am a prize-winning procrastinator and that lately I simply haven't felt The Muse co-operating.

There are various techniques we writers use to prompt Her into bestowing on us the inspiration, passion, and emotion to write. But for some reason She has abandoned me of late, aside for little scribblings and ideas jotted down for future use. I need a strong surge of whatever it takes to get me motivated again, some kind of literary catalyst to inspire me.

I actually teach a class called "Prompting the Muse" which is designed for people who want to start writing, or others who need fresh ideas. We write for 10 minutes from prompts, such as ideas from one-liners, plot line suggestions. These are spontaneous writings, stream-of-consciousness, and usually have surprising results. This week in each class I was stressing the need to write with all five senses. Sometimes an object or a colour will prompt a memory, often a smell or a taste. Last night, for an experiment, I took a bag of popcorn to class, gave everyone a whiff and a taste and asked them to write whatever that provoked. There were some interesting results (most wrote about movie memories).

The prompt I gave my Memoir group to write about was "What Gets Your Goat". You'd be amazed at the rants that these women wrote! In the Memoir group I usually give them prompts that will jog their memories about past events in their lives. From one prompt there will be so many different perspectives and from each of these stories you can spin off many other ideas. I think 10 minute writing prompts are an excellent way to get yourself started.

Music is also a wonderful prompt. Though I don't usually like noise around me when I'm working on my historical novel, sometimes I will play appropriate music to give me that little boost of inspiration that I need to create scenes in my mind. I have a CD that a friend made with music from the movies and it happens that for some reason each time I listen to it, I am transported into that other world.

When I was developing my play The Street I listened to a lot of jazz music of the '50's, in particular all the music of Chet Baker and sometimes Billy Holliday. I'd often go and sit in my favorite coffee shop on the Drive, The Calabria, which has a distinctive Italian flavour and is the hangout of a great many screen-play and other writers. When I was working on my new play House of the Muses I have a CD of Sappho's songs recorded by a Greek singer.

Often going for a long walk by the sea is helpful in conjuring the Muse. Once your mind is quiet the thoughts will come. Be sure to carry your notebook! I tend to be a 'walking writer' and some of my best thoughts come to me while I'm walking but it's important to write them down immediately or they will vanish.

I have a day without any appointments tomorrow so hopefully the Muse will visit so I can get back to work on the novel. There's been too many disruptive thoughts lately which I must banish from my mind. Alexander's world awaits me. It's up to me to enter in.

"The Muses I loved. For my suffering they gave me a honeyed gift." Leonidas of Tarantium

"LET US SACRIFICE TO THE MUSES."
Solon 638-559 BC

Monday, February 07, 2005

A DAY IN THE LIFE...

"A little work, a little play, to keep us going -- and so, goodnight."
George Louis Palmella Buson du Maurier


So...a day in the life of a writer...
I have been so busy the past couple of weeks, getting lessons started and other appointments, that I haven't had time to go to the gym or waterfit. I did manage to start back on my Atkins program three weeks ago, went to the gym and pool that first week, but since then I haven't been able to get there. So, this week I decided I definitely had to get back into the fitness routine. All work and no play....as they say. And besides, sitting for long hours at the computer is definitely not good for the body.

I had an important errand to run first. Last week I delivered a letter of introduction to two neighbhourhood schools to the English departments to see if they'd be interested in having me come to the Creative Writing classes to talk about being a writer. This is part of the 'Off the Page' program I've been selected to take part in by the Federation of B.C. Writers. As I hadn't heard back from them, I thought I better do a follow-up. Both of these schools, the junior and senior highs, were where I first began writing and thinking seriously about becoming a writer. So I definitely feel that it would be a thrill to go back there and talk to the children about how I carried through with my hopes and dreams. I do have an appointment Wednesday at the school I went to last year, but these other two schools have that special importance to me.

After I walked around delivering my letters requesting an appointment, I went to the fitness centre, worked out with the weights, machines, stationary bike and floor exercises. Then I went up the Drive to do my shopping. By the time I got home it was late and I stopped to make some soup for lunch. Then I was able to get down to the daily business of writing.

I managed to write for a couple of hours, completed another chapter segement of the novel. Good job, as I realized it was my turn to read at my critique group tonight. That meant I could workshop all three of the short segements I've written since Friday.

I had to go away across town to the workshop meeting. That meant three long bus rides. But it's always a joy to be with my critique group so any effort is worth it.

Our group, The Scribblers, was first formed more than 10 years ago when a creative writing class from night school decided to go independant. I was invited in by another friend, and from there the group grew. Some of the original members are still part of the group, but we have new recruits as soon as there is space. (We try to keep it to about 12 members. There are usually about 8 - 10 at the meetings.) I've talent-scouted several of the newer members from my novel and creative writing classes.

We meet every Monday at various member's homes. We have 3 readers each week and 2 spares in case someone can't attend. Two read before the break, we stop for refreshments, and then 1 other reads (usually the one with the longest piece). It is all critiquing except for the break when we socialize.

But the most unique thing about Scribblers is that we go on two retreats each year to a nearby island, always staying at the same motel units so it has become our writer's home-away-from-home. Only the writers go on these retreats and the funds are paid for out of our monthly $10 fees. Added up it generally pays for 2 cars on the ferry and 2 motel units. Members are designated meals and bring appropriate food and snacks. While we are there for the weekends, we do writing exercises and play crazy writer games. Usually there is a 'theme' so we often have costumes. One of the most fun weekends was when we were pirates, a "Treasure Island" theme. We do have social events once in awhile too, mainly our Christmas party, at which spouses and friends are invited to join in the fun. At the Christmas parties, we write anonymous seasonal stories and have a little contest to try and guess who wrote what.

It's important in a writer's critique group to have complete trust and a congenial rapport between the writers. The critiques are excellent, and very helpful. I doubt I would have managed to get myself through this entire w.i.p. manuscript of mine had it not been for my Scribbler's group. They are a steady source of inspiration and encouragement.

So every Monday night is a special night for me as I head off for our weekly meeting. Tonight I read my three chapter segements. Got lots of good advice and mostly encouraging words. A big sigh of relief as I can now go on to the next parts without too much rewriting.

Tomorrow morning I'll rise early, go to the pool for waterfit, and then head home for an afternoon of writing. A great way to start the day! Hopefully I'll be able to stick to my fitness program now as it is so energizing and helps take the tension out of my back and shoulders after all those hours at the computer.

"Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day..."
William James

EVERYONE NEEDS A LITTLE R&R

"If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it." Herodotus, "Histories"

Okay, I was good and got some of my proposed writing done this weekend, so I treated myself by sleeping in the last couple of days, then taking myself out for some fun.

Both Friday and today (Sunday) I managed to write for four hours each day and finished rewriting, adding to and editing two new chapter segments. (Actually I'm writing in some transitional chapter segments to link up points of intrigue and action in my novel.) Tomorrow I will do the same. After that busy week of teaching classes I figured I deserved some R & R on the weekend.

Friday night I went to see "The Merchant of Venice", one of the Shakespearean plays that I had never seen before. The movie is excellent, with fabulous scenes of Venice. I was amazed at Al Pacino playing "Shylock". And of course I always love Jeremy Irons. It's a must-see for sure.
Afterwards I went to my favorite haunt, the Latin Quarter, which is a nice little bistro cafe in my neighbourhood where a good Latino band plays on the weekend. I hadn't intended on staying but it turned out a group of my friends were there so it turned into another one of those spontaneously fun evenings. Of course I am very fond of salsa dancing and Latin music and it was a bonus seeing some friends I hadn't seen for awhile.

Saturday I slept in late. I needed to catch up and restore my energy. I went for a walk up the Drive and sat in my favorite Italian coffee shop drinking latte while I read a few chapters of my current reading choice, Steven Pressfield's "Tides of War" which is a fascinating book and I'm devouring every word, reading it slowly so I can savour every moment of it.

Afterwards I went home and made a special Mexican dinner of prawns and Spanish rice for a couple of friends who I'd invited who I hadn't seen for quite awhile. After our visit and dinner, when they had left I relaxed and watched a video about Castro which one of my Havana buddies had taped for me. I got so lost in my reveries I ended up staying up far too late, so naturally I had to sleep in again today. But I was rested enough to get quite a bit of writing done just the same.

Once again tonight I treated myself to a movie. This time "Phantom of the Opera". I'd never seen the stage production so the story was all new to me. I loved the spectacle. And that young woman who sings the lead is simply amazing! It was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday evening. On my way home I stopped by the L.Q. again and saw one of my girlfriends. Had a glass of wine and listened to the fine quintet of young Latino guys who play there Sunday nights. Then I walked home in the crisp cold night.

I feel refreshed now. Ready to start a new week of writing and classes. Inspired and encouraged to go on. Everyone needs a break now and then, a time for some fun and enjoyment.

"The fact is I am quite happy in a movie, even a bad movie. Other people, so I have read, treasure memorable moments in their lives." Walker Percy "The Moviegoer" 1961.


Friday, February 04, 2005

SEIZING THE MOMENT

"Inspiration descends only in flashes, to clothe circumstances; it is not stored up in a barrel, like salt herrings, to be doled out." Patrick White ("Voss" Ch. 2, 1957)

The first night of each of my classes I give the students a hand-out titled "How to Get the Most From Your Writing Day." This list contains tips to help them use their writing time more effectively and efficiently. The problem is, how do I apply this to my own writing schedule? What about those days when work and other duties overtake my precious writing time? One thing I do is to keep a "time sheet" not only for my own information (to see how much time I've been dicking away when I should be writing), but in case I ever get questioned by a tax auditor about how much time I actual spend writing on my novel, or making an effort to produce publishable articles etc. This has worked quite well for me. Each month I count up my hours and I can see exactly how much time I have spent, or how much time I have wasted. This includes any writing related activity, and sometimes I add on travel time as I have no car and must go across town by bus to classes which is, in itself, time consuming.

This week in particular has been a hectic one. Starting with Monday, aside from daily chores and errands, I had to make a trip to get some photocopying done, and take in some slides for developing for a travel story I want to send out. Accomplished the first, but have to find a different photo-developer for the second. Monday night I went to my weekly writer's critique group. That took up the evening. Tuesday more of the same, though I spent a bit of time 'thinking' about what I should be writing. That evening, as usual, I taught my novel writing class at night school. Wednesday was particularly hectic. I taught two classes back-to-back at the College for my friend's journalism class. One was for travel writing, one was for using fiction techniques in creative non-fiction. She drove me right from the College to my nightschool. I had time to grab a KFC quick meal and then go to my class where I teach "Prompting the Muse".

By the time I got finished this third class I was exhausted but had to go and meet the director of the theatre group who had produced my play, as I'm on the board and had missed the board meeting. We spent a few hours discussing the theatre company and reminiscing about my play "The Street" which he'd love to remount, but alas! no funding.

Needless to say I was completely brain-fried by the time I got home. Then I couldn't sleep. Aching hip; weird dreams; and mice scurrying about in my kitchen and perhaps behind my computer desk. (Let's hope that Health Inspector arrives tomorrow and puts an end to the rodent problem in this building!) Today I couldn't sleep in as I would have loved to. Had to get up early, go downtown for my Memoir class. Thought I'd come straight home but forgot I had a lunch date with one of the women. Eventually got home, too tired to do any of my own writing or even note-taking, so I had a wee nap. Then it was off to teach my travel writing class tonight. That's always a lively affair and I perked up somewhat. Even managed to catch my buses home quickly. Neverthless arrived home feeling very jet-lagged.

When was there a spare moment this week for me to even think about my own writing?

The weekend's coming up. I don't have any work lined up for tomorrow (so far, unless the daycare calls where I sometimes work as a sub). I am hoping that this means I can spend my day writing. However, I do have to make a trip to two of the local schools to follow up on my request of the Creative Writing teachers to come and talk to their classes. (All part of that "Off the Page" program I am involved in). If it's a productive writing day, I may treat myself to a movie tomorrow night. ("The Merchant of Venice.") Don't know if I'll have the energy to go salsa dancing. Saturday I'll try to stay in and write too, but friends are coming for dinner. Then there is Sunday. That's usually a perfect writing day. Or, if I find I have writer's block I sometimes take myself for a stroll on the seawall.

I quit my full-time job 10 years ago in order to leave myself time to write. But it doesn't always work out that way. The bread has to be on the table and the rent paid. Fortunately I have the night school classes which validate me living my writer's life. However my own writing time somehow seems to become diminished. And I am getting so embarassed when people ask me if I've finished my novel yet. I'm writing as fast as I can. Trying hard not to waste time (though since I've been using a computer I'm finding it the biggest distraction).

Now I've promised myself I won't write another blog until I've written a new chapter segment of The Novel. And at this very moment, I'd best tuck myself into bed and try to get a good night's sleep so that I can rise early and get started.

"Come what may,
Time and the hour runs through the roughest day." Shakespeare, "Macbeth"