Thanks for the Memories….The Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading Series

March 30, 2011, Mill Woods artists from various disciplines under the leadership of poet, Jannie Edwards, and rap artist, Rod Loyola, (The Peoples Poet) met in the multi-purpose room of the local library in the town centre.  We called ourselves the Mill Woods Artists Collective (MWAC) and envisioned building our community through art and culture, and bringing awareness that Mill Woods was a vibrant, diverse community—a place where art, living history and culture flourish. Our mission was to “implement activities and programs that engage Mill Woods artists of all ages and artistic states; encourage membership and involvement; work towards short, medium and long-term goals consistent with our vision.” We found a logo, developed a mandate, defined artist and relied on our volunteers to make things happen.

We threw out ideas, sorted them into short, medium and long-term goals: to build a drop-in and a performing arts studio, a dedicated youth space, a community coffee house; to display our art in public buildings, multicultural restaurants, and to beautify our spaces with installations. We wanted to organize an arts cabaret, community suppers, and we wanted to give our artists outlets to create murals from Mill Woods stories.

We held an Arts Cabaret on June 1, 2012, at the Southwood Community Hall showcasing a diversity of multicultural talent, music, dance and readings by Mill Woods artists. We told our stories. Gordie from the Koffee Café served a mix of culinary treats, both Canadian and East Asian. We allotted a room for our visual artists to exhibit their work and under Jannie Edwards’ encouragement, I showed two of my canvases and, suddenly, this gesture unleashed my interest in painting which had lain dormant for thirty years when writing had become a priority.

My suggestion at that first meeting was for a literary reading series similar to the multicultural, multilingual poetry reading series I was involved with, in Montreal, in the early eighties. My idea was filed under a long-term goal but changed quickly to short-term when Jannie Edwards approached me to say it could be done—she had found a venue—The Koffee Café. We bantered back and forth for a name, something that would reflect the diversity that was Mill Woods and, finally, settled on The Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series because the venue had a glass door but, more appropriately, a glass door reflected every culture, language, gender that entered its premises. There was the metaphor. And so the first Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series launched at the Koffee Café on Thursday, October 25, 2012.

We aimed to present both young and senior emerging authors alongside the more established, and to fill the room with the sound of music. We also believed every artist deserved to be paid but because we had no resources, it was only through generous door donations that we were able to offer our headliners a token of our appreciation plus provide an opportunity to sell their books and CDs, and to introduce their work to a new appreciative mixed audience. We did this for three years, nine months out of the year, September to November, January to June, give or take a month. I calculated (math is hard) that we held 25 readings with four headliners per evening for a total of 100 headliners.

There are many readings around Edmonton— at bookstore launches, festivals and conferences—but what set us apart was that on any given night we welcomed an array of writing: fiction in all its forms from novels and short prose, mystery and crime, literary, YA, children’s, poetry, and creative non-fiction. We didn’t discriminate. And we co-partnered with the annual Poetry Festival every April introducing poets from outside Alberta. We thought it important to give everyone a chance and held an open mic for writers and musicians (the good, the bad and the ugly) to share work-in-progress. We even booked a comedian. We held our second MWAC art exhibit at the café April 18-25, 2013, and featured works by (alphabetical order) Dolly Dennis, Kathy Dyck, Bess Rassmussen, Sophia Shaw, Marjorie Thomas, Ardith Trudzik, Theresa Wynn and Lorraine Young. We weren’t afraid to take risks. The Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series became the engine that fueled the Mill Woods Artists Collective.

I want to honour and thank all those who read and played at the Glass Door. Some appeared more than once.

Wendy Joy, Trevor Duplessis and Dolly Dennis were the original headliners. We realized we could add a fourth headliner and still stay within our time-limit of ending at 9 p.m. when Gordie and Harjit, the proprietors, would start cleaning up and want to head for home.

So here, in no particular order:

Braden Gates, Rhea March, Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, Ardith Trudzik, Audrey Seehagen, Campbell Wallace, Liam Coady, Colin Matty, Deejay Cardinal, Angelique Bebe, Lindsay Walker, Evelyn Lau, Marty Gervais, Naomi MacIllwaithe, Andy Northrup, Deborah Lawson, Wayne Arthurson, Barbara-Galler Smith, Alexis Kienlen, Billie Milholland, Marty Chan, Diana Davidson, Susan MacGregor, Eric Papsdorf and the Wingmen, Sandra Martin, Caitlin Crawshaw, Myrl Coulter, Rebecca Lappa, Jannie Edwards, Robin Young, Jay Lewis/Enochian, Anna Marie Sewell, Lora Jol, Aydan Dunnigan, Caterina Edwards, Olivia Rose, Katie Bickell, Fran Kimmel, Jennifer Quist, Pushpa Raj Acharya, Rashmi Kumar, Kadrush Radogoshi, Maitham Salman, Natasha Deen, Elizbeth Withey, Mary Pinkoski, Rayanne Doucet, Hendrik Slegtenhorst, Jeanette Lynes, Michael Gravel, Kaz Mega, Megan Keirstead, Steven M. Sware, Robert Lutes, Chinenye Obiajulu, Eileen Bell, Christina Hardie, Marina Hale Reid, Rebecca Lappa, Laurie MacFayden, Jim Hepler, Lori Hahnel, Tracy Hamon, Carrie Day, Astrid Blodgett, Bobbi Junior, Strawflowers, Audrey Whitson, Kessler Douglas, Mark Kozub, Nancy Mackenzie, Donita Wiebe-Neufeld, Erin Kay, Leanne Myggland-Carter, Theresa Shea, Thomas Wharton, Catherine Graham, Blaine Marchand, Peter Midgley, Julia Nicholson, Karen Bass, Leslie Greentree, Blaine Newton. Dymphny Dronyk, Inge Trueman, Michael Hingston, Ella Coyes, will play our final Glass Door June 25, 2015.

Much gratitude to all our volunteers and hosts, too many to mention here, but you know who you are. A special shout-out to Kaylan Winter Berry, a Mill Woods artist who designed our logo, banner, and monthly posters. Free of charge. Check his website: winterstudios.ca and give him your business. To Rhea March and her School of Music for providing so many outstanding young singers and songwriters, many went on to win awards. We heard them first. And to Jannie Edwards. I bow to her with deep respect. She said we could do it and we did. Thank you so much for your support, intelligence and energy! We were ambitious but enthusiastic and some of us followed through on our commitments; others, left for greener, more lucrative pastures, because, well, that’s human nature.

For me it’s been quite a ride, a labour of love. Some things cannot be measured by a bucket of money.  I grew as an artist, discovered my worth, my abilities, my talent; connected with the literary and musical communities; formed friendships, and gained knowledge on several levels. A shy introvert (I know some people will dispute this) but my preference has always been to make things happen quietly in the background rising to the occasion only when absolutely required. Jannie and I always agreed on the headliners with her leaning heavily towards gathering the poets, because that is her expertise. She was the hands-on person. We made a good team.

I did surrender a couple of times to host and to read from my book, Loddy-Dah, because it forced me out of my comfort zone. Most of all, my enjoyment came from discovering fresh talent and publicizing the Glass Door—something I truly believed in. We were moving towards being even more inclusive by reaching out to authors from other parts of Alberta. Before the rest of Canada can know us, we have to know each other. There still remain many writers on our radar whom we wanted to invite but this reading series is coming to an end.

What next? A MWAC member had suggested publishing an anthology of the Glass Door readers and that is definitely a possibility once we start breathing normally. I’d like to see the book also include work by our visual artists, but for now we will let the idea simmer over the summer months while Jannie and I take a break and attend to both personal and literary projects. In the meantime, I remain a member of the MWAC. Much work still needs to be done. I envision in our community a theatre, a bookstore, an art gallery, a…well, you know what I mean.

Final thanks to YOU, the Glass Door audiences for supporting us over the years with your presence, your applause and buying our headliners’ books and CDs, or dropping some change in the hat. You all made a difference. Thanks for the memories! Now where’s that manuscript I’ve been working on…

Here’s my painting, 9 x 12 acrylic on canvas, “Home of the Glass Door Coffeehouse Reading series, Waiting for the Audience”

.IMG_1109

REVEALING SPLENDORS

                                                               Sit. Feast on your life…Derek Walcott

Every year on my birthday, I reflect on my accomplishments and set new goals. I’m 67 years old today! I’ve always been a late-blooming boomer so in my mind, I’m still somewhere around 37. My creaky bones tell me otherwise! A writer friend recently remarked that I’m always talking about my age. Yes, because the whole point of aging is change and with change comes growth. I’m not afraid of change. I’m not the same woman I was a decade ago and, truthfully, I’m not even the same woman I was last year.

I‘m glad that every day I wake up and can still breathe, still put my feet on the floor and sing. I get another chance to get it right. So many of my friends didn’t make it to 60 so why am I still here? If the average life span of a woman, according to statistics, is 80 (no promises, just predictions), then I have 13 good years left and, therefore, I won’t squander them.

We boomers filled the schools and highways to Woodstock; we changed the look of the work force; and now we are changing the lifestyles of those on the other side of 60. We are the majority who never trusted anyone over 30. We are still the majority but now we don’t trust anyone under 30—they want our jobs. Some of us already have an immoveable passion for what we do to keep us in a style we don’t want to abandon. I recall working for a large company in Montreal whose Vice-President finally agreed to retire only to drop dead at his desk the last day on the job as he was packing up. His secretary broke down in a fit of youthful tears and panic.

I retired in 2010 to finally follow my childhood dream to become a full-time writer and visual artist (not everyone wants to just travel and golf). Alistair MacLeod and I published our first book at the age of 66 so I’m in good company. Like him, I always wrote in between the spaces of holding down a full-time day job to pay the bills. Although not a prolific writer, everything I did send out, even after receiving rejections, eventually got published.  I never surrendered to failure because writing for me, as well as painting, was my oxygen. I read somewhere that the true measure of courage is not whether we reach our goal—it’s whether we decide to get back on our feet no matter how many times we have failed.  I hung on to the trinity of success: patience, perseverance and persistence.

When Oprah turned 60, she said: “Please don’t take any offense—I no longer have to be concerned about what anyone thinks of me! (You know the old “Am I doing it right? “Am I saying it right?” “Am I being what or who I’m supposed to be?)”  It is so liberating to be me finally.” Over the years, some people have tried to silence me: you never know who might be on a jury for awards or grants, so play nice they have told me. But as a writer, I need to have the freedom and courage to say and write what I think whether anyone agrees or disagrees, whether anyone likes me or not. I have to be true to whom I am, where I come from. Author Mordecai Richler is someone I have always admired because he is an example of a brave writer, unafraid to say what was on his mind. Only when we require no approval outside ourselves, can we own ourselves. We have nothing to prove to anyone but ourselves. For me it took almost a lifetime to arrive at that realization. Forgive me if I follow Oprah’s lead and say what I think. You either like me or you don’t.

Today I sit and feast on my life. We all carry a history with us: all the people and experiences, good or bad, in our past have paved the way for us to become who we are today. In my novel, Loddy-Dah, which is as semi-autobiographical as any first novel can get, Loddy at one point says that people make their lives what they want it to be by the decisions they make which are based on their values. We decide our lives every day and no one else.

On this my birthday, I celebrate the remarkable people who have weaved in and out of my life. Some are gone and some still here, like my best friend for 62 years; my husband who makes me laugh; my son who thinks I am the best mom ever. I remember my childhood friend from grade 5, Gayle, who always encouraged me to write my debut novel but didn’t live long enough to see it published. I wrote a Gayle scene in Loddy-Dah to honour her memory and our friendship. As a child, her mother and father would take me in whenever my own home situation became unbearable with its violence and abuse. They showed me there was a better way to live. They showed me what a family looked and felt like. They showed me unconditional love. And that saved me many times from pursuing a different path.

A little side story here. I was brought up Catholic but lost the faith somewhere entangled in the robes of nuns whose fierce teaching habits made me question my religious beliefs.  So I am an agnostic. (Please don’t send anyone to my door again.) In any case, Gayle’s cousin and goddaughter, Donna, had driven all the way from St. Eustache (an hour’s drive) to my Montreal book launch. We were standing in the hotel lobby. A grey, bleak, rainy May as only the city can deliver on a late spring afternoon. As we were about to leave, Donna, Gayle’s goddaughter, handed me a gift in a tiny silk pouch. “She’d want you to have this, Dolly,” and she placed Gayle’s baby ring in the palm of my hand.  I recall looking up, out the large hotel window, and at that very moment it stopped raining. The sun was shining over the building, and then just as quickly, the sky shut down as if there was a door up there and someone closed it. It became bleak and grey again and the rain returned. I thought that must be Gayle giving me the okay sign, to say you did good girl, and I could hear her usual giggle. I almost started to believe in…in something…or was it serendipity?

Today I celebrate the memory of Denis, my mentor, a multitalented writer, actor, director, who believed in me when no one else did. He would phone from New York to see how my book was coming along and supply memories of our theatrical experiences. He too died before Loddy-Dah was released. I miss his wisdom. Three years later I still am unable to erase his phone number from my directory. I recently found a postcard from him which I had been using as a bookmark. In 2011 he was visiting the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake and had written “…confirmed for me your originality and talent”.  I cried because on that day, I was encountering a great deal of self-doubt and self-pity. We need to surround ourselves with people who provide us with positive energy. It’s so easy to wave away praise like so much fluff but criticism sticks to us like Velcro and won’t let go. Why? I’m learning to just say thank you.

For all the “toys” we pursue over a lifetime: the big house, the vehicles, the designer clothes, the careers with the high salaries, the vacations to exotic places, the awards and prizes, books published, the level playing ground is always death and it has no age limit. As I get older, I think of it more and more.  Not to sound maudlin but that is the reality. So I won’t waste my time any more on toxic people who strip my spirit with their own historical/hysterical baggage. I am not a door mat. I can only do so much.

On this day I feast on a life that includes true friends who just appear with words of encouragement when needed, the ones who accept me even if we differ in outlook; those in the Edmonton literary community who have befriended me and made me feel welcome since I arrived from Montreal in 1993. You know who you are. I have done things here I could never have achieved had I stayed. Life is an adventure. Take risks.

So with 13 years left to live, if that, I better get down to work. My second novel is done, a rough first draft needing more research and refinement. In between, I dip into a memoir that includes my sketches, prose and poetry, and I am already thinking of my third novel. There is a play on the horizon and after 30 years, I have dusted off my acrylic paints and have come full circle, writing in tandem to painting and sketching.  I self-identify with these creative cravings that have never left me. This is who I am.

This summer I fell into a well of depression because of various health issues that resulted in mobility problems and an inability to write or sketch without pain, a husband and best friend with a cancer scare and the accompanying anxiety at the possibility of losing people I love. The worry debilitated and frightened me. But to move on, to grow, there must be fear. True meaning of courage is to be afraid but still go on. A seventeenth century poet, Mizuta Masahide said it best: Barn’s burnt down/Now I can see the moon. Resilience.

I have slowly climbed out of the well—someone had tossed me a rope and I have returned to my Gratitude Journal and have resumed counting my blessings.

So today this 67th day of my birth, I again celebrate that little five-year old girl, a war refugee, who arrived with her family by boat then train from Hamburg, Germany, to a Montreal winter. She took a determined walk on the slippery sidewalks of Briand Street in Ville Emard, snow banks three times her height; arms swinging full throttle ahead, not knowing what the universe held for her. She is here today, a survivor, a later blooming boomer, still determined to be her authentic self.

A former colleague recently remarked that it doesn’t matter what your bloom; the most extraordinary flowers take a long time to reveal their splendors. It’s been quite a journey so far.  No regrets. Ever. I can hardly wait to flower and finally reveal my splendors.

PERENNIAL

(Dedicated to all the strong women out there who keep bouncing back no matter what is thrown at them)

 

Running to catch my bus, I’m shocked by my reflection in a storefront window. My God! Who’s that frumpy middle-aged woman? Certainly not me. That isn’t my body. The one in the window is my mother’s, short and stout, a little teapot with thinning hair, bleached blonde, and coat flung open, revealing a stomach in search of a waistline.

I hurry as best I can, and hobble with the weight of bad feet, damaged knees—injuries from a past life as a dancer. Frantic hands wave at the bus driver to wait. If I miss this bus, it’ll be another hour, and then how do I handle a rebellious bladder? He frowns but waits nonetheless.

“Thanks,” I choke, barely catching my breath.

I slide into a seat near the driver and open the window. I feel sick, nauseated, several shades of perspiration stain the back of my shirt collar. A heart attack? Another power surge? Hot flash is not part of my vocabulary.

Someone sitting behind me taps my shoulder.

“Could you close the window, ma’am?”

It’s a chilly September morning with the temperature a robust 15°Celsius.

“No,” I snarl back. “I’m having a heart attack.”

The teenage girl darts out of her seat and finds a place in the rear of the bus. Fine! I’m not offended. I’ve earned the right to be a bitch. I drape my head dramatically out the window to demonstrate how truly sick I am in case anyone was watching. At my age I have no shame or guilt left. I’m 50. Half a century. I’m older than anyone I know. And I’m always cranky. Hormonal?

”You’re not menopausal, dear,” my doctor assures me. He’s a male so what would he know.

A dance teacher once admonished me for a five-pound weight gain and proclaimed that my body is the temple of the soul, so take care of it. Thirty years later, this temple is in need of major renovations. Unlike that TV commercial where a series of senior women extol the virtues of aging, I don’t want more laugh lines, or wrinkles, or grey hair. I’m afraid of growing old, of having a body ravaged by disease, of being a burden to my family and society, of dying alone, of dying. There. Say it out loud. I’M AFRAID OF DYING. I’m afraid that time is running out for all the things I want to do, for all the books I want to read and write, for all the landscapes I have yet to see and paint.

I close my eyes.

* * *

I’m 24, and my waistline is the size of my age. I spend nights in dimly lit bars popping ‘dexies’ like so many handfuls of salted peanuts to keep me awake and thin. I dance with strange men who snap their fingers in an urgent rhythm and feed me lines.

“Has anyone ever told you, you look like Goldie Hawn?”

And I giggle like her, flaunting my blondeness, and wiggle onto the dance floor, wide-eyed and innocent, a kooky waif waiting to be discovered in thigh-high white go-go boots, and vinyl pink mini-skirt. I tell everyone she is my sister and they believe me. I’ve burnt my bra, wear tight black turtle neck sweaters, and paint my eyes in careful layers of black liner sketching “Twiggy” lashes to give me that startled Carnaby-Street look. If I’m not tripping on LSD, then I’m tripping on platform shoes that make me look taller than my 5’3” frame. I’ve never looked so thin, so, so. . .HOT. (Now I am always hot.) Sometimes I dance alone. When I do my turns, everyone leaves the floor and gawks. I’m lost in my own world of stardom. I smell of baby’s breath and Charlie perfume. Everyone thinks I’m innocent. And I let them.

* * *

“Achhho!”

A strong, unpleasant odour makes me sneeze and springs me back to the bus. A high-school girl has taken the seat beside me, her overstuffed knapsack bumping my head, a rude awakening.

Her hair is the colour of the beets in my garden, a pointed ballistic weapon spiked with glue. She carries the scent of a beauty salon on a busy Saturday afternoon, sprayed by Calvin Klein’s Embrace and Tiger Balm gel. Purple lipstick and nails complete the narcissistic fashion statement. Something is plugged into her ears and all I hear is a wash of shrill static, garbled music.

“ ‘Scuse me. EEEXXcuse me.” I touch her arm.

We are both taken by surprise as her face snaps towards mine.

“Please lower the volume,” I raise my voice. Everyone is staring.

I may wake up every few years devastated by another body part gone missing; however, my hearing is still intact. I once read in a seniors’ magazine that your hearing is the last to go. How comforting.

The girl gives me a haughty, contemptuous look and readjusts the audio button while I once again close my eyes feigning sleep. As soon as another seat becomes available, she jumps for it. Again, I’m not offended; instead, I sigh and gratefully spread my hips and bags on the empty space beside me.

I’m 50 and my waistline is still the size of my age. I disappear into crowds unnoticed. My ankles swell at the end of the day, and I no longer dance. I’m dating Ben Guay and reek of Oil of Olay in the morning. I fall asleep to the 6 o’clock news. I’m no longer innocent.

There was a time when everyone I knew was getting married, having babies, getting divorced, re-marrying, having babies—the ebb and flow of life. There was always a celebration, a shower, a party. Now everyone seems to be dying. There is always a funeral or memorial—the ebb and flow of life continues. I’ve become morbidly obsessed with reading the obituary page every day, and have failed in my attempts to eschew the idea of dying. Instead, I make bargains with a God who abandoned me at the most crucial moments in my life. Please God, give me another 30 years and I promise to go to church every day. Okay, maybe every Sunday.

I signal the bus driver to stop. Lousy driver! The bus lurches and tosses me against the beet-headed girl. She gives me that scornful look again. I make no apologies and pretend I’m Gloria Swanson descending the stairs in Sunset Boulevard, her final scene. I waddle off the bus, both feet taking one tread at a time, my head held high like Gloria’s. All right, Mr. Bus Driver, I’m ready for my close up. The world can wait for my exit.

* **

I measure the fleeting years by the height of my 13-year-old son. He is 5’9” and thinks his Mom is cool. I enter his world whenever I can. We watch Much Music together and I pretend to like Metallica. When I mention my favourite band, The Beatles, he rolls his eyes and says, “They suck, mom.”

I tell him about my crush on Paul McCartney when I was 16 and how I screamed my head off when The Beatles played the Forum in Montreal. From where I was sitting, the band looked like four moving stickmen, yet I was certain that when Paul tilted back his head and waved to his fans way up there in the seats earmarked for heaven, he was looking only at me.

“Mom, that’s sad.”

“Have you ever heard Paul sing Long Tall Sally?”

He ignores me but I continue, “No one sang it better than Paul McCartney, not even Jerry Lee Lewis.”

“Who?”

“No, not The Who! Oh, never mind. I hear that song and I just have to move.”

“Yeah, Mom, I know. I’m trying to watch my show.”

The other day I screamed at him for leaving his clothes on the floor, and not making the bed. While I was tucking in the corners, he snatched the sheets from my hand and said, “Geez, Mom, don’t make me feel guilty.” I started to cry (I cry a lot these days) because I sounded just like my mother, and he leaned over, squeezed my shoulder and whispered, “That’s okay, Mom, we’ll get through this together—my puberty and your menopause.”

* * *

The day George Harrison died, Much Music did a tribute to him and The Beatles. I was reading the newspaper slouched on the couch in a middle-aged slump. George Harrison was dead. I couldn’t be that far behind. I heard the first bars of Long Tall Sally, looked up, and there he was—my teen idol—gray hair, double chin and wrinkles.

I don’t know what compelled me but, all of a sudden, I was on the floor, shaking those hips, wiggling that gelatinous butt, re-discovering my body. Couldn’t help myself. The droopy breasts, the pregnant-like belly, the viscous thighs bounced, shook, shimmered. I did a quick pirouette for old times’ sake, followed by a leap into the air (not too high), then gyrated even harder as the music accelerated.  Oo-o-ooh baby!

“Wow, Mom”, my son said, “Didn’t know you could move that way!”

I ignored him and continued feverishly to pound my hips with my fists, lowering my upper body, bending, twisting, shaking my booty, flaunting my blondeness like I used to do. Yeah, baby. I could feel that fat mobilizing, vaporizing. I saw Goldie Hawn’s sister giggling in the reflection of the living room window, wide-eyed and innocent. I was 24 again and my waistline was the size of my age.

FACEBOOK, OUR LOVE AFFAIR IS IN TROUBLE!

We became a team, dear Facebook, in 2007. That’s seven years ago and maybe my son is right: I take you too seriously, or maybe I’ve got the seven-year itch so common among married people but you are not a person. You are a cold impersonal machine, a screen without a heart, without empathy most of the time, displaying a one-sided narcissistic view of your world. Everyone should know what a wonderful person you are; all the good deeds you have done to save the world. You hide your true nature behind your security blanket, the selfie. Have we come to this that we are so immersed in ourselves that sometimes we forget that a real person, who is posting, has feelings and has had different experiences from you?

Oh, at first I thought it wonderful, liking and responding to all your posts. And then I noticed that you did not reciprocate mine. I understood if you were away or busy but when I knew you were there and didn’t respond, well, I wondered why I was wasting my time.  I tend to treat people like they treat me, so you may have noticed that I haven’t replied to some of your posts. I understand that you may be shy but I heard that you enjoy being a peeper, a voyeur. There is that other side to you. You need to get a life. You are not a popularity contest…or maybe you are…so you don’t always speak the truth.

I thought you would give me an outlet to express my opinions, my views about the universe, empathize with my world as I did with yours. We had some wonderful discussions most of the time as long as I agreed; otherwise, you became argumentative, belligerent, disrespectful, sarcastic, a mean bully. I would go on the defensive. So I silenced myself like an abused housewife.  Honestly, at my age I don’t care if you like me or not, and I have moved on. I’ve started to date another man, Mr. Blog. I can rant and rave and he listens.

Over the years as you grew more pompous, you began to believe your own hype. I sensed a competitive meanness in some of your posts; I’m intuitive that way.  I no longer “liked” whatever you posted if you never “liked” my stuff. I sighed when the same bleak posts repeated themselves like a faulty reel of film: dead bodies in a war zone, missing children, injustices against humanity, political corruption, and the pervasive pain and ugliness that only humans can inflict on each other as if I didn’t already know, as if I didn’t care, as if I could do anything about it.

I have a life so don’t send me stupid games like this last one asking me to list three things I am grateful for. Why would you want to know and why should I tell you?  This latest is indeed another one of your games, a disguised survey perhaps for advertisers, hackers. Call me suspicious. These posts usually carry viruses because you don’t even know where they originated. I have been writing in a gratitude diary for years now and prefer to keep those things private. But if you need a feel good moment, go ahead, if it helps.  I don’t believe sharing my good fortune will uplift others, as you say, because doing so makes it about me and NOT about them.

I have no time for these games in all of their disguises and, don’t make me feel guilty if I don’t want to go public in my support for the latest trending diseases.  Of course all diseases are awful, only a monster would think otherwise. But let me give you a pat on the back and put a bid in to the Vatican for your canonization.  I cringe when you share a tragic story and the next post is a lightweight series of photos providing a blow-by-blow description of your day-to-day activities as though you were Kim Kardashian and I should care. You must be kidding!

You do have a good side Facebook. I like that I can connect with family and friends who are far away, that I can network and meet other writers who are serious about the writing life and generously share their experiences and support with me. I like hearing about your successes both personal and professional. I like being notified about book launches, author events, reviews, laughing at your jokes. I like hearing about your recipes, your projects, your garden. I like viewing photos of places I will never visit because I am running out of time for everything I want to do and see. I like to celebrate your birthday, anniversaries,  and will weep with you for your losses, rejections, your sorrow, even your complaints.

I’m taking a summer break from you to mull over our relationship. I’ve gotten a lot done in your absence (except today). Sure I’ve popped in occasionally to share news about my book because I am so proud of it and want to send positive messages to other writers both young and later bloomers like myself to never give up; otherwise, I haven’t missed you one bit. Maybe I will have a different opinion in the fall. Maybe we just need a separation. Maybe I’ll give you another chance. Maybe my son is right: I take you much too seriously. Maybe you are just a fling.

First Review of Loddy-Dah

There is something to say about firsts: first love, first kiss, first baby, first book, first launch, first review. And so here is my keepsake—the first review of Loddy-Dah which appeared in the June 15, 2015, Mill Woods Mosaic. The paper is the multicultural voice of Edmonton Southeast so my book is quite fitting. Montreal was always the center of Canadian multiculturalism. It’s what made that city special. I had a lot to say about a lot of things in that era. Copies of the Mosaic will be available free at the Koffee Café tonight where I will be reading.

MILL WOODS WRITER RECALLS “SUMMER OF LOVE” IN MONTREAL

By Jannie Edwards

 

Edmonton writer Dolly Dennis’ debut
novel, Loddy Dah, is a romp through
the tumultuous zeitgeist of the late
60s/early 70s. Set in Montreal, the
novel starts in the so-called Summer of
Love, 1967, when the world came to
celebrate the Terre des Hommes spectacle
of EXPO, and it ends in the winter
of 1970, just after Trudeau’s invocation
of the War Measures Act and the
October crisis.
The eponymous protagonist, Loddy,
struggles with demons and fantasizes
in dreams. She’s hugely fat; the pathology
of childhood sexual abuse and her
Lithuanian mother’s weirdness have
driven her to overeating, a trait that
becomes a vehicle for a nostalgic culinary
tour of Montreal eateries from
smoked meat to poutine. Loddy leaves
her emotionally claustrophobic working
class home in Verdun, where her
anorexic sister tangos with their mother
who pushes food and guilt. She
joins an avant-garde theatre troupe
whose director stages outrageously
hilarious “Happenings” aimed to
shock and awe audiences. Loddy
dreams of singing with Mama Cass
and Janis Joplin, and nurtures a secret
hope of her own singing career.
The novel is a wide-ranging, dramatically
comprehensive catalogue of the
era’s preoccupations. Feminism and
gender issues, identity politics and the
self-esteem movement, youth culture,
Quebec separatism, the FLQ, Franco-
Anglo tension, language laws, social
protest, music – Dennis doesn’t miss a
beat in this regard. As we venture with
Loddy on her journey of self-assertion
and expression, the novel becomes a
kind of 1960s Where’s Waldo experience
in which Loddy is spliced into
breaking news events. Here’s Loddy
watching the St. Jean Baptiste parade
where Pierre Trudeau’s stubbornly
refuses to budge from the parade
stand, even when bottles are hurled
directly at him; there’s Loddy at John
and Yoko’s Bed-In for Peace at the
Queen Elizabeth Hotel singing Give
Peace a Chance along with the assembled
coterie of 60s celebs such as
Timothy Leary and Alan Ginsberg.
There are bra burnings, draft dodgers,
Woodstock, Janis Joplin’s death – and
more. We are all, as Shakespeare
exhorted, players on a stage, and
Dennis’ characters are a wonderfully
eccentric, flamboyant lot who improvise
against the backdrop of history in
the making.
The novel tracks a growing sense of
both English and French frustration
and alienation. For example, one of the
Francophone theatre group members
becomes a separatist committed to violence
and shuns his erstwhile English
friends. The English characters talk of
leaving Quebec, feeling pushed out by
Francophone anger and exclusive language
laws.
On the light side, there is a love affair
straight out of Harlequin. Loddy is
courted by a gorgeous hunk, Furio or
Fury, who loves – and paints – her
Rubenesque beauty against her protestations.
For me, however, the more
convincing love affair is the one the
novel plays out with the city of
Montreal. Dennis knows this city intimately,
and like all really great love
affairs, her relationship with the city is
complex, both committed and critical.
At EXPO, Montreal performs a national
coming of age spectacle for the
world: “No matter what side of town
was home, everyone, but everyone,
was ready for a party and damn the
expense. And everyone spoke English,
or kept quiet.”
Along with music and painting, food
figures strongly. Loddy favours the
smoked meat on rye at Ben’s on de
Maisonneuve Street, enjoying the
deli’s vibe of “postwar time-warp and
kitschy charm.” She knocks back a
double of Black Forest cake at Dunn’s
before heading past St. Lawrence
Boulevard, “crossing the invisible
divide that defined cultures” and gorging
on a hot dog and fries at the
Montreal Pool Room. One could use
this novel as a culinary guide to
Montreal, sussing out how many of
these eateries still exist.
Loddy Dah is a rarity in the Canadian
literary world outside of Quebec. It is
one of only a handful of novels that
explores the social and political tensions
in Quebec that erupted in the
FLQ and the October crisis and continue
to foment in the culture. There is
humour and love in this novel and a
sprightly style that carries the narrative
well. It would make a great movie.
Dolly Dennis has lived in Mill Woods
since 1993 and is an active member of
the Mill Woods Artists Collective and
an organizer of the Collective’s monthly
Glass Door Coffeehouse. She will
be a headliner and read from Loddy
Dah at the June 26 Glass Door at
Koffee Cafe, 6120 – 28 Avenue.
Jannie Edwards is a writer and editor
who has published three books of poetry
and is a founding member of the
Mill Woods Artists Collective. She was
born in South Africa and has been living
in Mill Woods for more than 30
years.
The Multicultural Voice of Edmonton Southeast Mill Woods Mosaic – June 15, 2014 15

THE EDMONTON LAUNCH, JUNE 12, 2014

After Montreal, after Toronto, one would think I wouldn’t be crazy nervous for the Edmonton launch of my book, Loddy-Dah. Not so.  A reporter asked me later how I felt and I said: I looked out at the faces in front and there was my life. Indeed.

A crowd, standing room only, players from various stages of my life, came. Let me count the ways:

Members from the Canadian Authors Association and Writers Guild of Alberta, first writing organizations I joined who guided me in my quest to become a writer; ex-Montrealers, strangers  to me, who had read the article in the Edmonton Journal and came to shake my hand and buy the book. I will always remember the 88 year old woman, tall and beautiful as only a tall 88 year old could be beautiful, who came alone to share her story with me about leaving Montreal in the eighties. A Japanese friend of a friend, now living in Edmonton presented herself, “Remember me?” and then I squealed, Miacko!  Former colleagues from my years as a public servant while I wrote in between the spaces of working at a day job came to give me hugs; strangers off the street; people I hadn’t seen since I had moved to Edmonton in 1993; friends from the Mill Woods Artists Collective; and my husband and son, always there for me. I was overwhelmed.

Poet, Jannie Edwards, my co-partner in organizing the Glass Door Coffee House Readings in Mill Woods, introduced me. She, of anyone in the Edmonton literary community, knows me the best and so her remarks were flattering and yet embarrassing as I tend to withdraw into my own little world of denial as I did as a child. But today was different. I’ve come a long way, baby, so shower me with praise I thought! I’ve worked long and hard to make my dream a reality. When Jannie finished her remarkable introduction, I asked her for a copy so I could read it on the days I felt like shit, my insecurity slip still showing.

I then spoke about the book and how I came to write it, where I found the character and name, Loddy, and then I read a bit of the fire scene at the Limelight a-Go-Go. I don’t believe in long-winded readings as I am the writer and feel the audience should be the reader. Give them a taste, whet their appetite then let them go buy the book and find out for themselves!

I opened for questions and there were a few: are you writing a sequel; what are you working on; any part of the book autobiographical.

First question. It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about a sequel. Never wrote the book with a sequel in mind but I suppose the way I finished it, there could be. Does Loddy do what she says she will? I’ve written the book as a play within a novel which can easily be adapted for the stage or screen. I have visions of Loddy-Dah, the Musical, on stage at the Citadel. or maybe the Centaur in Montreal, with all those dance and musical numbers, or on screen, The Apprenticeship of Loddy-Dah. Can you tell Mordecai Richler has influenced me?

Second question. I’m working on my second book which is the total opposite of my first. Set in Mill Woods, June 1987, before the tornado hits, it doesn’t end there. Working title is Adeen Whitlock, the nosey manager of an apartment building who interferes in the lives of her tenants. As I said, my writing always starts with character. I’m taking the summer off to finish the first draft. Almost there. I am also fiddling with a book that includes my poetry, prose-poems and drawings. Working title: Still Standing: Portraits, Prose and Poetry. And I’m adapting a short story, They Burn Forests, Don’t They? into a one-act play. I am also influenced by Flannery O’Connor. My characters are disgusting. Oh, and did I mention the essays I am writing about a later blooming boomer writer? Ten thousand words so far. How can any writer complain of Writer’s Block?

Third question. The story as I wrote it is fictional except for the political events of that time. There is one scene that I wrote as it happened and I won’t tell what that is. Because of my theatrical background, I tend to pretend I am all the characters as I write—the Method which I studied and which I transferred to my writing. I placed Loddy in a Lithuanian family and living in Verdun because that was my experience and saved a lot on research. I had a lot to say—Quebec, the FLQ crisis, art, theatre, hippies, feminists, draft dodgers, war, eating disorders, immigrants, religion, self-image, gender identity, molestation, love and friendship. The book covers a four-year period so a lot of things happened during that time and I wanted to record them before anyone forgot, before I forgot. The world and Montreal was a quick change artist.

There is a scene in the book where Loddy without her knowledge gets stoned on hash brownies and so my friend, Joyce Van Scheik, baked brownies with hemp seeds, best we could offer legally, short of getting arrested. I shared the story about how in the early days of working in an underground, avant garde theatre, to get over my shyness, I was cast as a hippie who threw grapes at an unsuspecting audience as I chanted peace and love. So in memory of my first theatrical experience, I brought grapes and invited everyone afterwards to  run upstairs and get “high” on the hemp seed brownies and with Sharon Budnarchuk’s (bookstore owner) permission toss grapes at each other in the name of peace and love.

I kept getting interrupted as I threaded my way upstairs towards the signing table. The reporter stopped to talk to me and when I finally made it, there was a line up half way around the room waiting for me. I was stunned and scared because I had no idea.

Someone tossed a couple of grapes my way as she left the bookstore and I shouted, “Hey, you forgot to say love and peace!”

I don’t know if this is how a launch is supposed to look. I always say ignorance is bliss so my launch was bliss.

The next day I was told Loddy-Dah was #4 on Edmonton’s bestseller’s list and there were four holds for my book in the library which pleased me no end because the purpose of writing is to have readers. Posts on FB said I spoke with feeling and humour; another said that it was the best launch ever and they loved my voice and I should produce an audio version of my book. I swallowed all the praise and this time digested the words.

Thank you to everyone who came and supported me and Loddy-Dah.

FRIENDSHIP AND THE TORONTO LAUNCH

My fear of flying is superseded by my fear of speaking before a live audience. So I was a parcel of nerves as my husband and I left Edmonton for the Toronto launch of Loddy-Dah, May 25th.  I had already read earlier that month in Montreal at the Blue Met International Literary Festival so one would think I had overcome this phobia.  Although I had worked as an actress for ten years in Montreal in my younger years, this fear never leaves you. Ask Barbra Streisand. We learn to contain it as we age. Throwing up in the wings will not endear you to the venue’s clean-up crew!

I hadn’t been to Toronto in a hundred years and as we taxied from the airport to the hotel along the shores of Lake Ontario, I had forgotten the vibrations of a big city, its smells, its tastes, and its speed. I had been living in Edmonton since 1993 and always snickered at Albertans, especially from rural areas, who coloured Edmonton as the “big city”.

“I like to live in my little bubble”, a young woman hungry for conversation and customers said as she tried to lure me into applying for a credit card. Working at the Edmonton airport was her limit if you exclude the trips to the family’s winter residence in Arizona. Her bubble. What would she say about Toronto? Here is the real Canadian metropolis with its colourless rubik cube glass structures re-enforcing each other against the next windstorm.

Our hotel was in the vicinity of Kensington Market, the location of the launch that Sunday. We were both famished as husband and I had not succumbed to the cardboard pizza and stale chicken sandwiches served on board. After tossing our baggage into our room, we headed for the Bistro downstairs. I had forgotten how expensive hotel food could be. A small bottle of lemonade went for $4.99.  While ruminating on the cost of either satisfying my thirst vs dehydration, a pair of arms encircled my waist from behind and, when I turned around, there was my best friend, Jane, who had flown in from Connecticut just to be there for me.

“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” she had said. Our friendship goes back sixty years where we met in the sandbox at a neighbourhood playground in Ville Emard, a slummy Montreal borough, home for many European immigrants after the war. We have always been there for each other in celebration and in sorrow. No questions asked. Acceptance always. Non-judgemental. Our friendship has lasted longer than a lot of marriages. I had not seen her in ten years and that night we carried on as though we still lived across the lane, waiting for our mothers to call us in for dinner. Jane is a College professor in Connecticut having moved there after she met her American husband while he was a McGill student. We have always stayed in touch and over the years she has taught me a great deal about life and English literature which she teaches, suggesting books to read, supporting me in my quest to become a writer.

The next day while Jane spent the afternoon touring the Ontario Gallery of Art and hubby scoured the downtown for inexpensive meals, I stayed behind to prepare for my reading and to nurse a flare up of my hip flexors caused by sitting too long in an airplane designed for canned tuna. I vowed I would never fly again unless it was first class or by private jet!

Sunday, the day of the reading, we met in the hotel lobby, where Jane pressed into my open hand a polished burgundy stone with the word STRENGTH engraved on its smooth surface. “I wanted to give you something and saw this at the art gallery and thought you might need it.” How did she know?

We took a cab from the hotel through China town and Kensington Market where the open bins of fruit and flowers on crowded sidewalks reminded me of New York’s Greenwich Village. The taxi crawled through the intersections and stalled at Augusta Street, the location of the Supermarket Bar and Restaurant and my book launch. The street was closed to vehicles. “Only a block away,” the taxi driver said in his East Indian accent, “You can walk there easy.” Easy if your hip flexors worked properly; easy if the temperature had not soared to 92°F. But it was my launch, not to be missed, and so we threaded our way through the pedestrian traffic of street performers, musicians, and artists, the scent of foreign food wafting through open restaurant doorways, and me limping behind. “Are we there yet?” I said.  One block turned into three and then like an oasis I saw it. Above the doorway someone had mounted a grocery cart. I wondered if it lit up at night. “That’s gotta be the place,” I shouted above the din of pedestrian noise.

The air conditioned interior reminded me of Edmonton’s Artery with its black walls and the proverbial poetic atmosphere that said “here, creative people ate and played and worked”. The launch was at the back of the room with tables set up before a small black stage. After meeting the Guernica family: Michael Mirolla, publisher; Cristina Rizzuto, publicist; Isabelle Schumacher, intern, I limped first on stage and fumbled with the mic. I squeezed Jane’s polished stone and a crew member came to my rescue and adjusted the height.

I had forgotten how hot stage lights could get. I do not believe in long-winded readings. Too often writers (not all) fall in love with their own words and go over the allotted time limit. I find this rude and inconsiderate as other readers await their turn so I spoke about the book, how and why I wrote it, where I found my character, and I read the first two pages introducing Loddy. I wanted to leave them hungry, wanting more. ‘Buy my book and find out why Loddy is waiting for the van,” I said and then I limped off stage swearing under my breath with every painful movement of my hip flexor.

I had forgotten how in a big city, it was simple to just flag a cab and, College Street, being just 100 breaths away from the Supermarket, a Yellow Taxi halted at my feet as though someone had willed it. While I have a spiritual life and am an agnostic, Jane had toured an old church nearby that morning and said she had prayed for me. I like that people pray for me. So I attribute a wonderful day and launch to my best friend.

Back at the hotel we ensconced ourselves at a table in the expensive bistro. Our friendly waiter inquired about the launch and gave me an enthusiastic high five. My husband, being the gracious man he always is, left to smoke and listen one last time to the chatty old character he had encountered that first night in front of the hotel while Jane and I continued to play in the sandbox.

I keep her gift of strength and friendship near my computer as I write; rub the stone like some magic genie when I am stuck in life or with words. That weekend I may have forgotten the look and feel of a big city but I did not forget the value of a true friend. Here, take my stone. It is a gift to share.

GOING HOME AND THE BLUE MET

I am one of those writers oblivious of most national festivals, conferences, prizes and awards showered on the literary community. Indeed having to attend an event of any kind means I have to take a shower, get out of my pajamas and wear my chitty-chatty bang-bang hat! So I prefer staying home among my paintings and plants and just write. I’m okay with the isolation and being a recluse but when my publisher, Guernica Editions, told me my book, Loddy-Dah, would debut at the Blue Met, I thought it was a bar, like the Blue Angel, from another era. You can tell I don’t get out much! I gulped when I discovered it was the largest International Literary Festival in Montreal and I would be returning to my hometown as an author. I left in 1993 for many reasons, both personal and professional. I left to write Loddy-Dah. If I had stayed, it would have been a different book. I would have been a different person.

My twenty-eight year old son accompanied me and as we taxied into the city via the Villa Marie expressway, he noticed the lack of trucks on the streets (so unlike Edmonton) and I pointed with sadness at the once regal historical buildings, now boarded-up and defaced by graffiti, waiting for the next condo development. Graffiti has no language laws. The gentrification of an area, like St. Jacques Street, which once housed the poorest, was now a place to call home for Montreal’s elite Anglophone population who had remained with determined stubbornness. Other parts of the city crumbled under the weight of roadwork: underpasses, roads and bridges on the brink of sinking or collapsing, and yet in the downtown core, the structures of the Montreal I remembered still remained but under new identities. The Queen Elizabeth Hotel, for example, is now the Fairmont, but Dominion Square is still Dominion Square as is the Sun Life Building where I used to work to pay the bills while pursuing a literary and artistic career after hours.

And then we taxied up St. Lawrence Blvd, blvd. Ste Laurent, or the Main as we used to call the street that divided the English and French population. It was evening so the crack heads and women of the night were out, leaning against storefront windows, shouting and laughing. Some things don’t change anywhere. Later that weekend, my son would confess that he had been propositioned by one of the ladies.

—Hey, you’re cute, half price for you, she had said.

—What happened, I asked.

—Nothing, mom, I don’t need to pay women.

Oh.

—So what did she look like?

—Her face was like a pitcher’s mitt, he said.

Oh.

I didn’t recall the way the street now sloped and The Montreal Pool Room, with the best steamies and fries in town, had relocated across the street. The Main, still colourful as always, sported cleaner sidewalks as though the city trucks were anticipating our arrival and had vacuumed the sand and grind from a long winter of whining.

The Hotel 10, the festival headquarters, located on Sherbrooke Street between the Main and Clark Streets is one of those fashionable boutique hotels now. Although the restaurant and bar were unavailable due to ongoing renovations, all was not lost as the hotel provided room service and a delivery menu from restaurants nearby. Looking out the window that first night, I remembered fondly dating a boy who worked in the circus and lived on nearby Clark Street. I was seventeen. It used to be a street of immigrants and I wondered if it still was.

Saturday, my son wandered the downtown core shopping and discovering the Montreal that all visitors see. He would return to the hotel bearing platters of smoked meat sandwiches, or bagels, or poutine. Nothing like it in Edmonton he would say and our mouths would dive into the dishes as though it were our last meal. I, in the meantime, took in some of the readings and was overwhelmed by the number of books at the Librairie (Bookstore) where Mark Lavorato was reading from his book, Seraphim and Claire. It would be my turn on Sunday. But at that moment, I was in bibliophilic heaven and restrained myself from plunging into all those books displayed on tables. I wanted to smother them with my Mastercard.

Although I take my writing seriously, I don’t take myself seriously. I don’t know if it’s my age but I now feel confident to celebrate and brag about my accomplishments. Having a first novel published at 66 will do that to you. I’m not shy to exclaim, “Yeah, baby! My turn!” I’m a boom boom later boomer! Against all odds, I did it! And so when I read in the Jardin Room that Sunday, I cheered my book and talked about how and why I wrote Loddy-Dah; where I had found her; what were my influences; why that structure. I read the first two pages to introduce Loddy to a crowded room then sent the audience to buy the book and find out for themselves what happens to her. They are the readers after all; I am just the writer.

Once the Guernica launch was over, we all read again at the Librairie. I stood in the same place as Lavorato and read for three minutes; sold books to strangers who came up to me and asked for my autograph. I’ve been practicing my signature. Other authors have given me tips. I just write Dolly because there is only one of me. I embraced my six Montreal friends who came and we all squealed with immeasurable joy. They showered me with love and kisses, true friends forever. We are all a little bit older, but a lot wiser.

Back in my room that night, I thought of the Blue Met and assisting my brother when he initiated the first multicultural/multilingual poetry series, Pluriel, in the early eighties. I thought of Guernica taking a chance on me and my book. I wondered what would have happened if I had stayed in Montreal. I made a note to myself to buy Linda Leith’s book Writing in the Time of Nationalism. I remember that time. I give her credit for starting the Blue Met with all its diversity and for establishing herself as a publisher.

These nostalgic moments were fleeting although, as I looked out the open hotel window that last night and listened to the drunken bachelor party on our floor, I photographed the beautiful old building across the street on the corner of Clark with all its graffiti.

We left early Tuesday with little sleep. Unlike our arrival, the hotel lobby was empty except for the large-built security guard who sat at the glass desk near the check-out counter. The Blue Met was dismantled and all the books in the Librairie returned to their boxes. The room reverted to its former self: a lounge in Plexiglas chairs ready for the next event.

As we headed for the airport, the taxi drove us through the downtown core towards the Villa Marie. The city was waking up, no traffic except for the road construction that blocked our entrance onto the expressway. My son took last-minute flashes of his birth place. I’m coming back he said. And I? Notwithstanding the political chaos that also identifies it, Montreal will always be a great city because of its history, cuisine, art, culture, fashion, diversity, its je n’ai sais quoi. It’s my hometown. Still I was in a hurry to depart because it was no longer my Montreal. The one I wrote about in Loddy-Dah is the one I want to remember. Montreal had changed and so had I.

House across the street from the Hotel 10, corner of Sherbrooke and Clark.

House across the street from the Hotel 10, corner of Sherbrooke and Clark.

JUGGLING THE ARTS

It did my heart good when Jared Leto won Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Dallas Buyers Club. Not only is he an actor, singer-songwriter, musician, director, producer, activist, philanthropist, photographer and businessman but also a visual artist. It confirmed for me once again that a creative soul is not limited to one stream in the arts.

At 16 I had drawn an exact replica of the slain president, John F. Kennedy, and pasted the sketch onto purple construction paper and hung it on my bedroom wall in memoriam. My mother didn’t believe I had done it so I ripped it up and tossed it into the garbage.  When I was 17, I auditioned at L’École des Beaux Arts in Montreal because my high school art teacher thought I should be a visual artist. We were asked to draw a house. I remember sitting there frozen in time watching everyone else scratch their interpretation of a Frank Lloyd Wright structure. I eventually took pencil to paper and drew one of those houses portrayed by kindergarten children. I ran out of there before anyone would notice and never went back.

My ninth grade teacher said I should be a writer and read all my compositions in front of the class. One day we were asked to prepare a speech and share it out loud. I stuttered, forgetting the words and, to this day, I remember her dismissive words: you are such a good writer but such a disappointment when you open your mouth. So I kept my mouth shut until I turned 50. Adults can wreck a child’s confidence.

Still I continued to secretly write and sketch eventually enrolling in the BFA program at Sir George Williams University studying portraiture and life drawing with Phillip Surrey who would approach my easel, study it from an angle, and then run a brush over my painting proclaiming he didn’t want an exact image. I didn’t know what he wanted. I took art classes at the Saidye Bronfman Centre, sat in the car on a colourless winter day and drew dead trees in a forest of tangled black branches. And still I always wrote and sketched in between the spaces of living because something compelled me to do so—like brushing my teeth every day.

In my twenties, I worked in theatre as an actress and playwright, designed and made costumes, painted sets, took up photography and clicked around Montreal through the holes of Henry Moore statues on Sherbrooke Street, traffic cops on Ste. Catherine Street, and people walking in the rain with umbrellas. Everything was black and white and morose. Oh, what was I going to be when I grew up? I loved it all and showed talent in various artistic forms; a Jill of all trades and mistress of none. But the writing always took precedence and I dropped everything else once I moved to Edmonton in 1993.

Poet, Jannie Edwards, rekindled my interest in my art work. She loved the 1966 acrylic painting on my wall, Le Moment, and asked who did it.  When I told her I did, she believed me and said I should show it at the first exhibit of the Mill Woods Artists Collective in July 2011. I eventually sold four prints.

I started to reveal my work on Facebook and noticed other writers coming forward to share this other side of their personalities. Poet Shawna Lemay, whose husband is the amazing artist Robert Lemay, encouraged me and messaged me to check out a book, The Writer’s Brush, which illustrates the art of writers such as Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac, Emily Bronté, Sylvia Plath and many more.

Like Jared Leto, I can do it all. There is something to say about maturity in that through self-knowledge and self-confidence we begin to bloom.

WRITING LODDY-DAH

There was never any doubt in my mind that one day I would write a novel about Montreal and the late sixties. It was the best time to be young and idealistic. The city was changing, the world was changing and I wanted to capture the essence of a time and place before it was forgotten. So I started to write the book in 2006 and, after reading all the books on how to write a novel, after I did all the research, made all the revisions, sent out all the queries, did more edits, and then another year or so (why does it take so long?) to go to print, the book will be released in mid-May 2014. All this while holding a full time day job until June 2010.

Loddy-Dah starts in 1967 with EXPO 67 when the eyes of the world were on Montreal and ends in 1970 with the October Crisis when the eyes of the world were again on Montreal and people started to quietly trickle out of the province. I recalled Shakespeare’s quote: All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances; And one man in his time plays many parts. Indeed. I countered with Sean O’Casey’s quote: All the world’s a stage and most of us are desperately unrehearsed. No kidding! I was working in theatre at that time, and so it was a jumping off point for my book. We follow Loddy and a theatrical troupe as their lives unfold against the backdrop of political events at that time.

My writing always starts with character and I knew I wanted to write about someone not often found in fiction. I was influenced by Ignatius J Reilly, a huge obese oddball in John Kennedy Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Confederacy of Dunces, and I recalled the challenges faced by Lynn Redgrave’s character in the movie, Georgy Girl and Rocky Balboa in Rocky. All losers like a lot of us looking to overcome challenges and find love and happiness.

I found my protagonist at a weight loss group. She was morbidly obese, dishwater blonde hair, waddled instead of walked and always wore the same red t-shirt and shorts to get weighed. In the summer, she went barefoot. Then I had to find a name. I went to my usual source, the obit page, and there she was: this 92 year old Loddy who had just passed. I loved the name and when I researched it, I found it was a nickname for Lotte which was short for Charlotte, a German name which was perfect because I wanted the main character to have a European background. I played around with the sound of the name and la-dee-da became Loddy-Dah.

Some people have asked me if Loddy is me. Even my publisher in an e-mail mistakenly addressed me as Loddy. I suppose it is the juxtaposition of letters that throws people off. The beauty of being a writer is that you can invent characters, and make them do and say the things you would never say or do. It is very cathartic. I admit that one percent of Loddy is me but there is a part of me in all my characters. To save on a lot of research I made her Lithuanian living in Verdun but she could have easily been German living in the Pointe.

Loddy-Dah is not historical fiction although the political events are factual. The rest is a story which explores issues of self-identity, self-acceptance, the magic of friendship and love, and the power of resiliency against adversity. Hope you enjoy it!