Does she need a second word for dress?

Recent visits to see our grandchildren, both east and west, impressed on me again that most miraculous and mysterious of matters: children acquiring language. How in the world do they process vocabulary and grammar and everything else in those little brains of theirs? It’s a delight to watch and participate in, to read aloud to them and hear the nursery rhymes and songs learned so effortlessly, it seems.

The adult reader realizes that the little Miss being read to can’t possibly know all those words yet. Gown, for example, in a story about a girl who delivers a dress through a snow storm. But set into the story, which charms her for any number of reasons, and heard numerous times,  gown, which is another word for dress will probably stick. Does she need a second word for dress? Well, yes of course she does. The two are slightly different, and she will need a lot of words for everything. Differences, nuance, precision, sounds of various kinds enrich our lives. Continue reading

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Filed under Family, Personal

Running on Repeat: the death of JFK

It being the 50th anniversary of John F Kennedy’s death, we’re bombarded with retrospectives of various kinds. I’ve been tuning in to many of them. I don’t know why I’m drawn back so intensely. Perhaps I’m reaching for a time I lived through, unbelievably half a century ago already, and to a 13-year-old Me.

John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy

John F. and Jacqueline Kennedy

Last evening, for example, I watched “Letters to Jackie: Remembering President Kennedy.” The assassination happened Friday and by Monday some 45,000 letters had arrived to Mrs. Kennedy at the White House. Over the next two months, the number reached 800,000. Among them was a letter from me. Handwritten. In green ink as I recall. Continue reading

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Filed under Current events, Personal

Narratives of place

H. and I took a short road trip through parts of the Dakotas, Wyoming, and Montana recently, in connection with my participation at the Billings (MT) Bookfest and the High Plains Fiction Awards on Oct. 25-6.

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near Thermopolis, WY

We enjoyed it. We were impressed by how dramatically terrain can shift in a matter of hours (we covered more than 4000 kilometers) and how much of what we passed was interesting or wondrous in some way. Okay, there were a few patches — in  Wyoming — almost too desolate-looking for words, but I was reading Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories – a collection I highly recommend – and for that, the patches were perfectly necessary. For the connection between place and art, I mean, which is what this post is sort of about. Continue reading

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Filed under Art, Books, Writing

In defence of what you’re trying to do

Before I get completely submerged under the ripe tomatoes, ditto the grapes and the five-gallon pail of apples, plus the story I’m writing, I want to say something about last week.

I spent it at the Banff Centre in an intensive focus on short fiction led by Alexander MacLeod, literature professor and author of the Giller short-listed collection Light Lifting. I’ve never taken a writing retreat or week-long writing course, so I’m still feeling like a girl on her first trip to Disney. It’s a bit of a wonderful bubble one goes into, for sure. But the Disney analogy ends now: there’s nothing Minnie Mouse about carefully, brutally workshopping others’ writing (that is, learning to read), or being workshopped just as carefully and brutally. We all knew, of course, and tried to remember, this was where the benefit (a.k.a love) lay. Continue reading

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Filed under Personal, Writing

Catch-up, camping, Coetzee

Oh friends, I’d so hoped to be a regular blogger all summer, emphasis on regular, and I didn’t do so badly there for a week or two. And through the lovely days, things gathered in my head that I wished to tell you, but I didn’t get them spoken after all! Not that this is a tragedy of any proportion whatsoever, not for you or me; there are words enough swimming into everyone’s daily net and the ones that get away are rarely missed! A good thing, that. Continue reading

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Filed under Books, Personal

The intriguing life of Hans/Ivan/Johann/John Werner

He was born to a German-speaking Mennonite family in Siberia in 1917 and named Hans. As the changes wrought by the Russian and then Stalinism penetrated his community, he became Ivan. He served in the Red Army during World War II. When captured by the Germans, he was recognized as German and naturalized as a German. Now his name was Johann and he joined Hitler’s Army, serving on that side until he was captured. After release from an American POW camp, he applied to emigrate to Canada. It was a long, difficult process, but he and his bride Margaretha eventually got permission. In Canada, he became John. Continue reading

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Link to VICE article on Mennonites in Bolivia

August 19, 2013 update: Please read this interview with journalist Jean Friedman-Rudovsky in connection with the article below. It’s a good and frank look at how Jean worked at the story; it also offers some suggestions and signs of hope.

The Ghost Rapes of Bolivia | VICE United States www.vice.com For a while, the residents of Manitoba Colony thought demons were raping the town’s women. There was no other explanation. No way of explaining how a woman could wake up with blood and semen stains sm… Continue reading

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Filed under Current events, Mennonite