Random Person: What are you giving up for Lent? Me: Nothing!
RP: (brightly) So you’re adding something then? Me: Not that either. (Self-deprecating smile.) Though I do keep trying to improve myself in various ways, more of this and less of that, if you know what I mean.
Patterns in the sand, Long Beach.
(Thought bubble above Me‘s head: “And whether giving up or adding, I shouldn’t be announcing it, should I? It’s a fast, and the point of fasting is the inward retreat, not looking gaunt and obvious about it, unless of course it’s a community-wide fast as it was during Christendom, which is over now, or a group-or-twosome-covenanted thing for reflection and accountability, in which case the question with its implied individuality is still unnecessary.) Continue reading
Son P., who happened to receive a book by Henri Nouwen from us for Christmas, alerted me to a 3-part radio documentary “Genuis Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henry Nouwen,” coming up on CBC Ideas. I listened to Part I on Wednesday and commend it to you. (Parts II and III follow on Jan. 16 and 23.)
There’s a line in the first part of the documentary I can’t forget. The documentary speaks of how Nouwen came from his native Netherlands to study in the U.S. and how while there was drawn into and became supportive of the civil rights movement. On March 21, 1965 he attended a rally in Montgomery, Alabama, where he heard Martin Luther King speak. Nouwen later wrote, “I felt my skin turn black…” Continue reading
My work priorities have shifted somewhat for December and January. Two weeks ago, N., the 17-year-old daughter of my husband’s nephew (which makes her our grand-niece I think), came to Canada from Paraguay to stay with us for two months, with the goal of improving her English. So we’re speaking our very best English and enjoying her being here and also setting her up with various local volunteer experiences.
“Papa’s Tagebuch” — 5 notebooks brought by N. for me to transcribe.
What this has to do with my priorities isn’t so much the presence of a teenager, however, but a time commitment I made on account of her coming. H’s father, who died before we were married, kept a diary for several years in the 1930s and then again for several years in the 1950s. His oldest sister had begun the work of transcribing these diaries for the benefit of the entire family. Thanks to her work, I’ve read the first two years of it in typed form — from Heinrich Dück’s leaving Russia in 1929 through the early years of settlement in the Chaco, Paraguay which included the deaths of his parents (his mother by lightning) and also his marriage. I confess I’ve been itching to read the rest of the diaries but my sister-in-law isn’t well and so she hasn’t been able to proceed. Continue reading
1. I bumped into numerous web “shares” of Miriam Toews’ keynote speech at the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference in Toronto on “Is there such a thing as a national literature?” but want to lodge it here as well because I think she’s making such an important point, familiar as it may seem: “A writer can only serve her nation [or other 'nationalisms'] by serving her story.” Toews began by talking about “national literature” from the perspective of people’s curiosity about her as “Mennonite writer,” but in both Canadian and Mennonite — and probably in any category concerning identity to which we belong — there are expectations and wishes by other members of those groups or identities about how they wish to be portrayed. This is as true for her from secular Mennonites as conservative ones, Toews said. Group authorities and narratives promise “certainties and definitions and boundaries,” but “[t]he imagination is inherently subversive and cannot be mandated.” Continue reading
I’d anticipated writing a cheery post this week about Saturday’s trip to Dauphin, a small city about four hours northwest of Winnipeg. I was quite sure there would be something interesting to share — about the drive up, perhaps, or the afternoon reading I was doing at the Dauphin Public Library together with aboriginal writer Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair or the planned tour of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church or dinner and lodging with friends.
But, unless I write fiction, there’ll be none of that. We didn’t go. All the highways to our destination were closed because of severe icy conditions, so there we sat Saturday morning just outside Winnipeg, which was as far as we’d been able to drive, making phone calls, making our decision to turn around (not a real decision, though, since there was no option but to cancel) and feeling disappointment seep into our spirits. Continue reading
Friday evening, H. and I enjoyed a show of Miriam Rudolph’s work at Fleet Gallery, featuring some of her autobiographical work — her “visual diary,” she calls it — including scenes of Paraguay, Winnipeg, and rural Manitoba. It was the closing reception of the show, and the artist was in attendance from Minneapolis, where she currently lives. We’d met her before, at the launch of her book, David’s Trip to Paraguay, and I’d viewed her work at her website, but this was a chance to see it “for real” and also to chat with her again.
Miriam Rudolph with print version of “Holding On” at Fleet Gallery, Nov. 23, 2012
Rudolph grew up in Paraguay, then moved to Canada to study. Her overarching theme, she said in an interview at Branch, is “the experience of places.” She develops a deep connection with places where she lives, but is “also always an…onlooker or outsider.” In her work, one gets a sense — sometimes whimsical, sometimes deeply serious — of what it means to leave places one loves, and to come to love the places where one arrives. Continue reading
“I love the oddity of historical incidence, the ethical muddiness,” Emma Donoghue (of Room fame) has said, and it’s oddity and muddiness she digs into in her latest book, Astray, a collection of 14 stories set in places as various as London, the Yukon, and Louisiana, in years ranging from 1639 to 1967.
There’s a keeper’s persistent chatter to his elephant Jumbo in “Man and Boy,” and the voice of Nigger Brown as the slave conspires to murder his master and run off with his wife in “Last Supper at Brown’s.” There’s a series of letters to the New York Children’s Aid Society by the birth mother and adoptive father of Lily May with their competing claims upon the child (“an epistolary duet,” Donoghue calls it) in “The Gift.” In “Daddy’s Girl,” a young woman has just discovered, upon his death, that her father was actually female. Continue reading
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