With thanks to Kate DiCamillo who writes wonder-inspiring FB posts (as well as perfect books). I love a poem that I can understand:) Hope you all make time to get out and find peace in Nature every chance you get!
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
– Wendell Berry
We had some proud Canadian moments while on our annual writing retreat in Port Joli last week. While on a working holiday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sophie Grégoire Trudeau paid a visit to Keji Seaside, part of Kejimkujik National Park, and we got to meet them (and take lots of pictures.)
JT (as we like to call him) and Sophie chatted with the Parks Canada people and two women of the First Nations, then hiked down to the beach, possibly the most beautiful in all of Nova Scotia. A small group of us went along for the stroll (plus a few dozen security people and paparazzi).
On the beach, he approached us to shake hands and exchange pleasantries (he’s taller in real life than I’d thought and has a super-firm handshake), and we got to chat with Sophie for about 10 minutes while he talked to the Parks Canada people. She’s not only naturally beautiful, but very warm and friendly, including asking what we’d written when she found out we’re writers. I was sure to mention THE KING OF KEJI, wishing I had a copy on hand to give her kids.
Back at the house we were renting, we sat by the roadside to wave as the stream of black vehicles rolled past. We didn’t think much of it when a guy jogged past – we’d seen him on the beach and assumed he lived up the road. Then we looked again, and the PM was right behind him! “Nice to see you again ladies,” he said as he jogged past (in very colourful shorts), a female security person and two RCMP officers on bikes flanking him. I couldn’t help but point out our flag and tell him we’d made it (like he couldn’t tell…). Sadly, we couldn’t collect ourselves enough to get a picture. Only in Canada (and on an extremely rural NS road). Gave us lots to giggle about on the final evening of our retreat!
I don’t know about you, but I have a thing about shoes. I suppose I collect them, really. My go-to footwear usually consists of slippers, sneakers, flip flops, or rubber boots, depending on the season. Since most of my clothes shopping happens at used clothing stores (a teenage habit I’ve kept for life), it doesn’t cost me a lot to have a closet full of footwear, and I almost always have the pair I need, whatever the occasion. I like red leather, so I have three or four pairs of red shoes. (I also scored a red leather Ikea chair and footstool on Kijiji the other day for $60, but that’s another story).
A few years ago, when my nest was emptying, among other things, I started thinking about shoes. I’ve always loved perfect little baby/toddler shoes. In particular, I longed for the days when I’d pass through the front hall on my way to the bathroom, always stopping to check for my son’s shoes on the mat; I needed to know that he was safely in for the night. Toddling, running, skipping, hopping, pirouetting, stumbling and prancing; so many kids shoes have passed through the house over the years. I still miss them (the shoes and the kids who, in the blink of an eye, turned into young adults).
And so, I wrote an ode to those shoes on the mat. It’s unlikely to ever find a publishing home, but I thought I’d share a few verses here.
Baby booting from chair to stool to floor;
teetering , toddling, wobbling.
Bumps and boo-boos, sweet monkey grins.
Tiny white work boots shimmer like moon snails.
Safe on the mat; day is done.
Sleep well, my baby son.
Soaring, roaring, tree-climbing, velcro-flying superhero;
misty moonbeams dance like silver capes waving;
upside down heap of sneakers, asleep, waiting…
Safe on the mat; day is done.
Sleep well, my big-boy son.
Dribbling, leaping, slam-dunking, scoring;
B-ball shoes bending, bounding, crowd roaring;
shooting star wishes, dream-come-true swishes.
Side-by-side, standing tall; night defencemen guard the hall.
Safe on the mat; day is done.
Sleep well, my growing-up son.
I’m a tad jealous of my friends who are already grandparents. Maybe one day, I’ll have baby boots sleeping on my mat again… I can always dream, can’t I?
Before my dad died, it was important to him to have his (and Mum’s) headstone in place, designed to their specifications. Fortunately, he had the time to make those arrangements, and I think it made his leaving a little easier for him.
Lately, as I’ve travelled about, I’ve been noticing memorial benches. I first saw them in a Toronto park, part of a commemorative program administered by the City of Toronto Parks Department. You can purchase a hardwood tree for $738, or a bench with a personalized plaque for $2530. I’ve seen these benches while biking the rails-to-trails system here in Nova Scotia, and more recently at the Village Pier Park on St. Simon’s Island, Georgia.
There are dozens of these wooden benches scattered around the grounds, in the shade of live oaks or this 100 year-old cedar tree, or in the glorious sunshine, overlooking the ocean out front of the library building. Lots of weddings, and also funerals, are held on this lawn, or in the atrium adjacent to the library. I read most of the plaques, and had to take pictures of some of my favourites. To me, this is a perfect way to honour someone’s life, while providing a beautiful resting place to sit and remember that person (if it’s someone you knew, or just sit and reflect if not). Here are some of the most poignant epitaphs:
Don’t you just love the idea of “Dayclean” – the time before dawn when the world is made fresh again?
If you ever get a chance to sit on one of these benches, maybe you’ll catch a glimpse of these guys, keeping watch over the pier. Have you encountered any interesting memorials in your travels?
While I’m feeding my soul and enjoying the sunshine and endless Vitamin D here on beautiful Saint Simons Island, Georgia, I’ve been thinking a bit about the pile of manuscripts I’ve accumulated over the past 15 or so years. Of course, it’s not really a pile, but rather folders full of dozens and dozens of manuscripts and ideas. When you write every day, that pile is bound to grow, and grow… At this point, I’ve come to accept that there are a few, okay maybe more than a few, in that pile, even novels, that will never be published, but yet I keep writing. I can’t not write. It seems like I have new ideas every day; part of the challenge is definitely sticking with an idea, as Rick Riordan has said:
For some reason this year, I’ve also started drawing. I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun with a pencil and piece of paper, but it was probably back in elementary school. I’ve created so many picture book characters from words, and trying to bring them to life with my pencil is a very cool (and often frustrating) experience. I got to spend some time in Blick’s, a huge art store in Savannah a few days ago – so much to see, and none of it is cheap! Savannah has a big art college; can’t imagine how students afford to acquire materials. It’s doubtful I’ll ever see my “art” in a book, but enjoying the process is what it’s all about, right?
Whenever I travel, I always try to visit the local library. Here on Saint Simons, you can get a six-month library card for $12 – what a bargain! Sadly, I’m only here for one month, but I’m spending hours going through picture books, trying to figure out the appeal of certain illustrators’ work. It seems to me it’s really about having an original style – many of the most popular illustrators aren’t producing “fine art,” but it’s art that appeals to both kids and adults, art that enhances the story being told through creating people who seem real and organic to the story.
Hope spring has arrived in your corner, and that it brought a new burst of creative energy your way, too; hopefully something beautiful and satisfying to feed your soul. A quick middle-grade novel recommendation – NIGHTINGALE’S NEST (Nikki Loftin) – magical, perfectly imagined and written from its cover to its last words. And here’s some food for thought from Steve Jobs:
Don’t know what happened to February, but it seems it’s March already. We got snow-dumped a few times last month, but it’s almost all disappeared due to double digit temperatures this past week or so.
In late January, I visited two schools in Toronto as part of the All-Star Reading Challenge for grade 5 students. It’s sponsored in part by basketball star, DeMar DeRozan. The students had amazing questions for me (including one girl who suggested I might want to use more speech tags, and questioned my comma placement:) The students at H.J. Alexander Community School gave me these great gifts:
Jessica O’Malley, the enthusiastic grade 5 teacher at St. Michael’s Elementary, worked so hard with her students, reading, doing book reports, and tweeting as the Challenge progressed. Her class didn’t win (the main prize was class tickets for a Raptors game!), but I so enjoyed reading some of what her students wrote about ROCKET MAN, and have this Twitter photo as my desktop background – love her expression!
I went snowshoeing a couple of times last month;
a few things made me pause, reflect, wonder and take a picture. Wherever you are, hope you’re seeing some signs of spring, too!
My little town of Wolfville, Nova Scotia, is having its own version of the Women’s March on Washington tomorrow, with participants, as one voice, reading Maya Angelou’s poem, “Phenomenal Woman.” (Performed so beautifully by Ruthie Foster in this video.)
The basic principle behind the March is that:
“Women’s rights are human rights, regardless of a woman’s race, ethnicity, religion, immigration status, sexual identity, gender expression, economic status, age or disability.”
I got to hang out with young people yesterday, one of my favourite parts of being a writer. The diversity of Toronto city schools is inspiring, and it was great to see and hear the many vibrant, engaged and engaging, girls in those classes – the future. Rise up and stay strong! Let your voices be heard!