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Innsbruck, Austria EACLALS conference

April 17, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Events, On the Road

Firstly, thank you to my hosts, the University of Innsbruck, for inviting me here. It is a privilege to visit this beautiful city in the Alps, and meet with the many scholars and writers from many lands!

Flight from Vancouver arrived in Munich, the first shop I encountered outside the airport was a Starbucks. The air, however, was distinct– flavoured with unfamiliar cigarette smoke, the hoarse cry of a crow speaking Austrian. The Japanese crows caw in Japanese. All over the world crows speak in their native tongue.

The awe of Autobahn…. our shuttle *bus* was hitting upwards of 150 km/hr when a motorcycle whipped past us. “Holy shit,” I muttered. I sat in the front, seat belt buckled, feeling mildly frumpy and somewhat alarmed.

The freeway moved quickly to countryside. The Alps soft behind the grey of rain. Fields of green and the rounded humps of trees. Brilliant patches of early canola.

farmlands

Innsbruck a small mountain city, yesterday morning snow. Staying in the Goldener Adler, a hotel since 1390. Now owned by Best Western there’s a little sign on the front desk exclaiming Mozart would have joined as a member too…. The collapse of the historical into a material commercial. I wonder at the medieval arches in the dining room, imagine it filled with smoke of fire, the rich smell of fat and scorch bittering the air. The stench of seldom-washed winter bodies, the persistent coughs of sickly lungs. A figure-ground interplay of time.

Easter holidays and the complicated signal of bells. A taxidermy culture’s not a surprise in the mountains. But a strange interaction when icons become mixed metaphors.

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There’re a lot of tourists about– both local and international. When I went to the outdoor market I wandered from stall to stall. One wagon sold lovely table runners, tablecloths, cross stitched with details of flowers and leaves. How charming, I thought.

“Where were these made?” I asked the tall blond middle-aged attendant.

“In Singapore…,” she said, and moved away from me although there were no other customers to attend to. The awkward little experience of the simulated tourist interaction collapsed between us, made even more ironic by my Asian body in the face of my desire for an authentic Austrian memento.

Three days of conferencing! I’ve ducked in and out of panels and every evening readings from international writers. When I return home I’ll be looking up the writings of Kei Miller, particularly, The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright, and That Deadman Dance, by Kim Scott.

Two more days of conference remain. I read tonight, and tomorrow a round table. Thinking a lot about representation….

The seen and unseen. The unseemly. Theory. Praxis.

I am a daughter of mushroom farmers, far from her ancestral home.

 

20th Anniversary Reissue of Chorus of Mushrooms

April 01, 2014 By: Hiromi Category: Blog

Chorus of Mushrooms 20th

https://newestpress.com/books/chorus-of-mushrooms-20th-anniversary-edition

What an honour and also bemusing to think that twenty years have already passed….

Larissa Lai so generously wrote a thoughtful and historically contextualized afterword and Smaro Kamboureli conducts an interview with me. I think this reissue will be particularly good for students and instructors. Although I like to think it will be good for everyone….

Excerpt from the interview:

SK: All this draws attention to the enduring power of storytelling. Do you think that being able to tell our own stories is crucial to figuring out who we are, how we have come to be where we are?

HG: The telling of stories is a way for people to articulate their histories, their realities and dreams on their own terms. It’s an act of empowerment and imaginative vitality—a creative resistance against forces that may otherwise distort or misrepresent. Stories can speak back. They can be a springboard for a new kind of discourse, or a momentary resting place for the weary. They can be a kind of food for our spirit and soul. It is so important for us to be able to speak our own stories, and to understand our realities through a language and culture that is specific and contextualized within our histories and to the land where we reside.

© 2014 Smaro Kamboureli and Hiromi Goto

Thank you, NeWest Press, for this lovely book!

It should be out by the end of April!  Arcs and preview copies available. Please contact NeWest. info@newestpress.com

On the Backlash Against the Writing Advice: “Write What You Know” :D

November 05, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft, Thoughts on Writing

So many writers. So many developing writers. So much advice…. >__<

I hope I can be forgiven for joining the fray. This isn’t so much advice but just some thoughts that’ve been percolating the past few months.

For a long while, “Write What You Know” had/has been a refrain that made its rounds among certain writing circles. It rang with a kind of truth that spoke to many of us in different ways.

Lately I’ve been seeing comments in my twitter feed, links to articles, which suggest that the idea,”write what you know,” is a creatively limiting space. Uninteresting, perhaps. Unimaginative. A narrow platform from which to develop story.

First of all let me state that all writing advice should never be taken as an absolute truth (Yikes! I think my head will explode, now….). I’m certain most writers have a healthy measure of skepticism that will serve them well. But sometimes we long for a magic formula that will see us fulfilling our dream or reaching our goal. There is no magic formula– only the persistent development of craft, the daily of labour of writing, and the moments of brilliant creative connection that can solar flare inside your mind.

There’s a lot of writing advice out there and some of it may be useful for your practice/development, and some of it may not be of any use whatsoever. Writers in the early stages of developing their voice, skills, discipline may hear a particular kind of advice at a sensitive time and find that they are affected in a negative way. This is what I’m worried about with the current trending of dismissing the advice, “Write what you know.”

The uneasiness I had felt toward this trend became clear to me when I read a marvellous interview with Sherman Alexie in The Atlantic. In the interview Alexie speaks about reading a line of poetry by Adrian C. Louis, a Paiute Indian, that changed his life. That it was a moment when Alexie realized that he could write about himself, his emotional life, and not emulate the writing of white men. That moment of recognition– of being able to see yourself when you have lived your entire life only seeing the faces and words of a people not your own– that is a moment of power, freedom and elation. For many people, writing what we know is the first step toward reclaiming our voices, our cultures, our gender, our bodies. Writing what we know can be a shout of resistance against systemic oppression. Writing what we know can save someone’s life.

Writing only what we know may not serve a writer well as she travels the long path of learning and growing. For in learning and growing we need to tread into places we do not yet know.

But I will speak out against the outright dismissal of writing what we know. Your subjectivity, your history and your embodied experiences matter. From this site a marvellous story can grow. Believe.

Prairie Road Trip circa Early 21st C

August 22, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, On the Road

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How a person chooses to travel is not free from considerations about environmental impact. The effects of global warming caused by human actions cannot be ignored. I am far from leading a low-impact life in terms of my carbon footprint. Very few of us are in car culture North America. It is difficult to reconcile…. Most of us live within a cushion of rationalized dissonance in order to have the things we desire.

Have I offset my levels of pollutive actions by composting organic waste products? If I never buy bottled water and hand-make cards and use recycled paper shopping bags to wrap gifts am I balancing my carbon debt to future generations?

I own a car. Some of my friends have stopped owning cars and cycle, are members of car-sharing co-ops, and take public transit. I think about doing the same, but have not committed to this yet. To live a more environmentally responsible life I think the time is nearing when I make this transition.

Perhaps this summer’s road trip is the last time I will be driving my own car. (Does this apologia allow me to recount my road trip without imploding within the storm of rationalization, guilt and dissonance?)

(My hands are slick with oil….)

My girlfriend and I had been wanting to go on a road trip for a long time. It was on our bucket list of things to do together. There is a sense of freedom as you drive away from daily routine and cares. The heart expands and the eyes sweep the horizon. The air is sweet in the mountains. The rivers run icy with the kind of blue that catches the breath in the throat.

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We had packed the vehicle full with Useful Items including a small portable stove, a rice cooker, an electric kettle, bedding, a large cooler, Healthy Vegetable Snacks With Miso Dip, Emergency Instant Ramen, and other sundries. We are both mothers and with the kind of pragmatism that many mothers develop we’d organized our trip to be both economical and comfortable with an eye toward avoiding dreaded Toad Belly (caused by high-fat roadside fast food and long periods of time sitting in a single position >__<).

We’d decided to not to burn headlong to our destination (Saskatoon), but to stop along the way. To duck into locations that tickled the fancy, bemused, or aroused curiousity. I’d always whipped through the Rockies between Calgary and Vancouver on my annual family visits. One of the strange locations I’d never explored was 3 Valley Gap. I’d always had the oddest feelings when passing this area. The misplaced faux Swiss rendering of the resort located so near the highway looking all REDRUM resplendent…. Daughter never allowed me to stop there because she deemed it excessively creepy.

It was late afternoon, curving toward dusk when we pulled up in the parking lot. The man selling tickets to the ghost town was closing shop, but he kindly shared with us a chit that we could use to get through the gates.

GhostTown3ValleyGap

The “ghost town” was a reconstruction: the houses were trucked in from various other locations and rebuilt at 3 Valley Gap as a recreation of a “pioneer town”. Shops, houses, church, school and hotel, all the buildings that could be found in a community were collected and displayed. The mannequins were made by a homey hand… the results rather monstrous.

Mannequin3Valley

The ghosts of children felt as heavy as the dust that covered the floors. We were voyeurs of a simulated past and the photographs we took were the tokens that bound us to our perceived timeline.

Schoolhouse3Valley

We stopped in Lake Louise and Banff and stood appallingly close to elk eating saplings by the side of the road. Clearly I have not learned my lesson from my sea lion days…. Stopover in Revelstoke.

One of my favourite moments is when the mountains transition to foothills and the prairie spread. We drove through the dusk as the skies began dotting with stars. Stopover in Calgary.

From Calgary we journeyed to Drumheller. I thought it important that D saw the Tyrrell Museum. The fossils of a greater past and an uncertain future. All that has ever lived and all that lives share the same water and air, our cells made of the same matter.

The long line of highway 9 heading ever east the fields of wheat and smack of insects against the windshield. Listening to Be Good Tanyas and k.d. lang. We stopped to watch the sunset over vast spaces clicking with the wings of grasshoppers.

Wheat Sask

The agricultural vista is beautiful but the appearance of things are not the complete story. Is this a field of genetically modified wheat patented by Monsanto? Was this farmland once owned by a family that could no longer compete with big business and sold below value to a corporation? When was the last time a herd of wild bison migrated across this land? Which Indigenous Nation called this area home before they were forcibly removed? There are layers and layers histories all enfolded with the present.

A stop for fuel and sustenance converged with a sign, perhaps a portent, of the ills that plague this land.

Petroleum and Agro in Sask 2013

We arrived, late, in Rosetown and stayed in a motel that resembled hastily constructed barracks for itinerant workers. Not the most comfortable night we eagerly hit the road to Saskatoon where D wanted to search for info at the Saskatoon archives at the university. The afternoon had us stopping in several small towns and then heading south west toward Medicine Hat then Brooks.

If you ever need a stopover in Brooks the Plains Motel is lovely. Clean, affordable and extremely comfortable I’ve never had a bad stay. I also had the best baked potato, ever, at Gus’ Steak & Pizza House.

Brooks is an interesting and troubling city– in the past 15 years there’s been a significant change in demographics because of hiring and employment practices of the XL Lakeside Packers meat processing plant. On the surface what can be viewed as snapshot of “multicultural” Canada hides a far more complicated reality. The machinations of corporations are global and the victims are always the disenfranchised.

Dinosaur Provincial Park is a wonder. I never tire of visiting (although the mosquitos this year were especially bad). The endless stretch of prairies suddenly drop into a canyon river valley, the subterranean a weird garden of hoodoos, gullies, sand and stone. Lichen. Not only the fossils, old spirits linger. The rock formations dream long throughout the scorch of day.

Hoodoos

 

SandstoneForms

 

LichenDPP

The marvel of plant life growing under such extreme conditions.

Cactus

A few snapshots of a summer journey…. Two middle-aged women travelling to the Canadian Prairies (un)easily by automobile in the early 21st C. Appreciating the present, making connections to the past, and moving toward an ever-expanding future.

Dana and Hiromi Sask 2013

 

Three Months, Ten Days and a trip to PEI

May 30, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Events, On the Road

Sounds like a torrid affair! But it’s only that I’ve been so very busy…. I’m hoping to get back to more regular blogging. We shall see!

Much has happened in the past three months. I’ve conducted a webinar for the WIR at Athabasca University as well as critiquing submissions and working with my mentees. Attended a conference (which involved writing a presentation), conducted readings, sat on  a panel, ongoing mentoring through SFU’s The Writer’s Studio, presented the keynote at The Trudeau Foundation Summer Institute, while, of course, being involved with family, lover, friends and community…. Whew! It’s been a very busy spring!

When I was invited to deliver the keynote for the Trudeau scholars I knew very little about the Foundation. Of course I looked it up online. I must confess to feeling uncomfortable in highly academic spaces. Although many of my books are taught in academia, I am not an academic. I have interest in aspects of feminist theory, or post colonial theory, or queer theory, etc. But I’m not a practicing scholar and my interest is that of a generalist. I suspect that a great many writers of fiction are generalists. We are curious about many things. We like to figure things out. And then we like to make something brought together of many different component parts.

I was required to write a speech that would, in some way, inspire scholars who are among the best in their field. Really, I thought. What do you know that would be intellectual enough as well as inspire??? (This is a form of “bad voice”, the voice of impostor syndrome, etc. And, yes, counselling does help!) I was plagued by the ever-nearing date of delivery, and the writing of it troubled me over many months. I had numerous false starts, bouts of painful procrastination and bad dreams. Finally, instead of writing what I thought might be important to the audience, what I thought I ought to write, I focussed on what was core and important to me. I linked my creative and political process through familial and historical interactions, how they all converge…. As an individual, a writer, and as a part of a broader community, I am influenced upon, by the social  and cultural that exists around me. Simultaneously, I play my small part, through action and writing, in influencing the social and cultural that enfold me. A great unending spiral of effect and response, taking in and producing, perpetually breathing in and out….

(I was also very lucky to have the support of my girlfriend and friends who provided feedback and moral support, otherwise the entire process would have been exponentially more challenging.)

The speech was delivered. I breathed a huge sigh of relief. Positive feedback received. Phew! After the pressures of the presentation had fallen away I could enter into conversations with the most interesting people! A chance, also, to catch up with old friends made in Edmonton when I was at U of A. So lovely to share meals and conversations with Libe and Lisa. Make new friends like Danielle, Kyle and Laura. The entire conference impeccably orchestrated by Jennifer and Josee! Interesting panels and challenging talks. A range of voices and ideologies. I wrote pages of notes on little tabs of paper and even had a go at my first live-tweeting!

The Summer Institute was held in PEI! I’d never been to the island province and so I tagged on extra days to have a holiday with my girlfriend. (This is one of the perks of being a writer– invitations to places you wouldn’t have been able to afford out of pocket. At the risk of sounding greedy I’m hoping that one day I’ll be invited to Iceland, Peru, Mexico, Turkey and Nunavut! 6__6)

Before leaving for PEI, my Mi’kmaq friend, M, stated in a dry voice, “It’s flat.” Indeed, it was! The spread of field and sky reminded me of Alberta. I don’t mind me flatlands! Only in PEI the edge of red earth/sand met the blue of the ocean converging with the sky at the horizon. So beautiful!

PEIbeach2013

The trees are smaller than out west. Mixed deciduous and coniferous. And much farmland, the red soil producing 25% of Canada’s potatoes! Girlfriend and I spent some time arguing about whether or not the word, “bucolic” was patronizing or not. I voted, no. She, yes. I had called her on, “quaint”, before, you see…. >__<

And holy EPIC LAWNS! Why sooo lawn when it could just be a FIELD? D: There were massive lawns everywhere in the countryside. Families could have their own football fields. Forget putting green. They were driving range size! All that time mowing the lawn when it could be hay. Or why not a goat? A couple of goats?

Epic PEI Lawn 2013

(I don’t know if you can see tiny white dot to the left of the house but it’s dude on riding lawn mower who was mowing for over 1.5 hours as Girlfriend and I had lunch in Georgetown. When we drove past dude was still mowing…. This was, by far, the biggest lawn I’ve ever seen in Canada.)

Of course a trip to PEI meant that some kind of nod to Anne of Green Gables was required. We went to Anne of Green Gables Recreation (as in, re-created, although it does dovetail with play and leisure…) Land (this is not the official name of the place, fyi…). Unfortunately it was closed for the season…. (Early May was a nice time to be in PEI. Tourist season hadn’t started yet. The roads clear. But this also meant some places weren’t open or hours were reduced. Note: couldn’t find a car rental place open in Charlottetown on the Sunday. Not sure if it was because it was a Sunday, or because it was low-season. Happily, Girlfriend had the brilliant idea to inquire at the airport rental. Voila!). Happily, the park area was not gated so we slipped in and viewed the main re-creation “house” of Anne!

FakeAnneofGreenGablesHouse

“I don’t think her house was this big in the book,” I said. We peered through the windows, catching the threads of the liminal between fiction and material replication. How a story starts out as fiction, and ends up as a house, in a park, on the north shore of PEI….

But before the fiction was a writer. And before the writer came the child. Lucy Maud Montgomery’s mother died when she was still very young and she went to live at her maternal grandparent’s home, much like Anne went to live with the Cuthberts….

While Girlfriend and I perused tourist maps and brochures, we discovered, to our great joy, that the foundation to L.M. Montgomery’s grandparent’s home was just .6 km away from the fake Anne House! This was the house where Lucy’s imagination began to bloom. Where she wrote Anne of Green Gables! This was the place where story began. We drove to the site (whilst getting slightly lost despite it being so nearby) and discovered it wasn’t yet open for the tourist season. How awful to come so far and be so near and not get to tread upon the very place where Lucy Maud Montgomery had trod…. Happily it wasn’t fenced off either so we dropped money into the suggestion box and we entered the grounds.

The foundations of the house, tucked inside stands of trees, seemed modest. How small it looks, I thought.

Foundations of L.M. Montgomery's childhood home 6 copy

How the branches of the trees must have brushed against the glass of the windows. A hush in the air, inside my chest. I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, and I was so taken with the exuberant red-headed orphan, her mishaps with her heart on her sleeve, always. Uncynical, believer of good and fanciful imagination.  A world and several generations away from my childhood in Langley, BC in the 1970s…. Yet I was there, an avid child reader who grew up to be a writer. L.M. Montgomery and I have little in common. <grin>. Histories, cultures, timelines, so many things which cast us at farthest points of a spectrum. But stories…. Stories can bridge some of that gap. And imagination. If you agree to walk with them down that lane.

The Lane behind L.M. Montgomery's home. copy

 

PEI, apparently, is a province full of foxes! You can see them all over Charlottetown, our first cabbie told us. When I asked him if the coywolves had come over to the island as well, he said, “Oh, yah! They’re here alright.” He went on to tell a bunch of stories that began to roll into yarn…. And so GF and I began disbelieving him about the foxes. When we caught another cab and asked about foxes again, the 2nd cabbie explained there were two kinds: the red fox, and the ones that were originally imported from Russia, but were set free after to collapse of the fur industry. “I know where they are,” he said. “I can show you.” GF and I started to wonder if he was yarning us as well, but they he called out, “There’s one.” And there it was! On the outskirts of Charlottetown. A grey-black fox, skittishly trotting behind a house. After that, GF and I were on a constant look-out for more foxes. They are magical creatures– so clever and rather ghostly.

We drove out to the Cavendish area and through the national park. When out of the trees sauntered a fox, as if on cue. Unfortunately the cue was the sound of our car. Some assholes have been feeding this fox (my sea lion story notwithstanding, coff, coff, Quick! Look over there——>!) and it was completely habituated. I did not feed the fox!!! But I was able to snap several photographs.

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Despite being such a small island (tho relative, scale, etc!), we had to leave so much of it unseen. Three days is nothing– I would love to go back for a longer stay. I would love to ride a bicycle along Confederation Trail. But so grateful for the opportunity to have visited “The Gentle Island”. Thank you to the Trudeau Foundation for making it possible, Pierre-Gerlier Forest for inviting me to the Summer Institute.

Finally, yes, it’s the food porn moment. Yes, there be plenty of seafood out east! My last lunch at Clamdiggers in Georgetown. Free wifi! ^__^

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Writing Craft: Conveying Narrative/POV

February 20, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Craft

For a great many of developing writers we often begin writing a story intuitively. We have a character, an idea, a vision, and a goal. And we begin. We don’t necessarily have the knowledge to name the component parts that make up a story. We don’t necessarily understand what, exactly, it is we are doing. We can do a great deal of writing without knowing the names of the elements of fiction. However, developing an understanding and a vocabulary for  the actual mechanics of a story can strengthen your capacity to further your craft.

I would suggest that you finish your first draft before thinking about the technical elements of your story. If, however, you have a writing process that is systems-driven and revels in design, by all means start out with the analysis to blueprint your tale.

When we think of story we often think about the all-important characters and the conflicts they encounter; the causal connections. But in order to move these elements forward there is the means of conveyance. How is the story conveyed?

A narrator conveys the story.

The narrator can be:

1) In the first person: the “I” tells the tale from within the story, and can be the main character or a secondary character. This is the most common modality of the first person narrator.

The “I” narrator can also be located outside of the story but “tells” the tale to the reader as an omniscient narrator and can come very close to being the writer’s voice (but does not have to). This is infrequently seen.

2) In the third person, limited omniscient. Often from a vantage point that has access to the main character’s thoughts and emotions but not the thoughts and emotions of the other characters although these can be surmised via the main character within the habitat of the story.

3) In the third person, omniscient. The narrator has access to everyone’s thoughts and emotions and reveals them as desired.

4) The rarely used second person. A slippery person– very interesting. (I recommend experimenting with it.)

Most stories are conveyed in the first and third person. Both narrators can have varying degrees of proximity to the characters.  This is a matter of intimacy: how close do you want your reader to get?

If the narrator is outside the story (i.e. the third person narrator), how close is the narrator to the emotional centre? Is this third person  rendering the telling as if “neutral”– cool and uninvolved, an “observational” tone? Or is the narrator positioned right inside the main character’s head, seeing out through her eyes, relaying all thoughts and emotions?

Compare:

“Several emotions flickered across her face. She swallowed hard. She slid her hands along the outside seam of her skirt.”

to

“Something wobbled inside her throat. She clenched her teeth, sealed her lips to stop the fragile thing from being born. When she swallowed it was all broken glass and twisted metal. Her moist palms throbbed with the pound of her heart. She slid her hands down the cloth of her skirt to wipe the wet away. Oh god, she thought. My thighs feel disgusting.”

Once you’ve decided upon the distance between the narrator and the character/rendering this distance needs to be maintained consistently throughout the tale. Any sudden shifts will be noticed instinctively, if not consciously, by the reader.

Another question you need to consider is the role the narrator is meant to play in the conveyance of the story.

Is the narrator meant to be, mostly, a transparent filter through which story is conveyed? Or, is the narrator meant to be an active component of the story experience– i.e. you’re meant to notice the narrator’s presence and it’s as if the narrator is almost an character (though not a player) in their own right? A lovely example of this can be found in Carmen Dog, by Carol Emshwiller. This is also a novel that tells, tells, tells from beginning to end and in the most successful of ways. Yes, stories can be told instead of primarily shown, for all that I ask my mentees to show more ;)! Or is the narrator somewhere in -between these two extremes?

Finally, whose story is the narrator telling? Is the narrator telling their own story? Is the narrator telling someone else’s story? Is the narrator telling someone else’s story but in doing so, is actually sharing a story about himself? I.e. The Great Gatsby.

The first person narrator is also capable of differing degrees of proximity. A first person narrator can be emotionally remote in his telling insomuch that the narrator never tells the reader what he really feels, i.e. Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro (Although those feelings can be conveyed in different ways such as compulsive thoughts, denial, saying one thing and doing another, etc. This becomes a psychological study of character.). A first person narrator can also share every emotion she feels, the experience of the story felt viscerally by the reader as if inhabiting the space just as the character does, i.e. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, by Sherman Alexie.

Narrative POV both limits field of vision (how much of the story is shared), and how close the reader gets to the emotional centre. It functions a little like blinders on a race horse, as well as the tether.

Understanding these aspects of narrative POV can enable you to write a stronger story. Having the capacity to selectively alter elements of narrative POV can have a huge effect on the editing process.

 

Contemplative Life

January 29, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog, Thoughts on Writing

Water Snake Year neither bobs nor floats– it’s undulating side to side even as it moves forward. I’m doubled up with work, then doubled up once again, a coil of responsibilities and deadlines.

Luckily Daughter is a cool young cat sauntering in and out of the apartment, her fake lashes and black-liner lending her a sloe-eyed nonchalance as she re-imagines and shapes her life beyond her mother.

Son is mostly a voice on the cell phone, a sometimes text message. We meet, occasionally, for supper or lunch, catching each other up on the major events of our current lives.

I remember when they were small, and needed my attention every day. When it was difficult to find the time to write. There was scarcely time to think. The night crying fevered sweats the impacted bowel chicken pox scratching the cold snapping my temper frayed the blinds, the string, I was often in a state of slight unravel….

There is time, now, to be busy with work and work. Daughter is perfectly happy, even if I’m not, with eating spicy Korean instant noodles for three nights in a row. Son is making his way in a room of his own and a mile away.

With more space and time for work, work has taken up more space and time in my life. It presses, so, upon the shoulders, the tightness at the temples, the muscles in my neck. My T-rex arms that are perpetually bent at the elbows, even when I’m sleeping.

But I am not confined to a 9-5 job. I am not confined to an office dress code or monitored by the Bradford Factor. All that is required of me is to meet my deadlines, meet the expectations of my contract jobs. (No! Not THAT KIND of contract job!)

Even in the midst of work and snake and ladder creativity, if I really need to I can close the laptop. Put on my coat. Just leave. There is space for contemplation if it is desired or needed.

A few weeks ago it was my Oba-chan’s death memorial day. I wanted to do something that honoured her. Something that reminded me of her. Something nice, quiet and beautiful. I decided to go to the Bloedel Conservatory. My grandmother loved plants and animals– she was the one who taught me through example the wonders of gardening. She always looked so peaceful working among the plants, the evenly mounded rows of soil. It was the only time she was alone, I suppose. She raised me and three of my sisters. What noise and clamour we must have been….

D joined me that late afternoon. The air was saturated with peaty wet moisture. It smelled brown. But it was far from quiet for the birds. The dark green stems and leaves of tropical trees and palms, great banana plants and the flicker chit of brilliant finches. The raucous  screechings of parrots.

The overlapping mesh of green. My grandmother was there. In the space between. In the fractal array of stems, in the tightly knotted red of a frond ready to breach. It looks like an angel being born, D said.

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Oba-chan in the brilliant feathers of the golden pheasant. In the softly dimpled down. In the seeds that hungry finches devoured. In the minute droplets of mist that fell upon our faces. I breathed her in and breathed her out. Come closer, I said. Oba-chan, I miss you.

Oba-chan Memorial Jan 17 2013 copy

 

Ucluelet Retreat Moving Forward

January 04, 2013 By: Hiromi Category: Blog

The New Year Snake slid into our home while I was away and a lot of work to be done! The desk is messy once again and so many things to be filed, small projects to be tidied up. Luckily I took a bit of a retreat over the last few days of December in order to restore, replenish and dream. It’s amazing what a few days away can do for a body and spirit. Especially if you’re lucky enough to be beside gorgeous nature.

A great many of us live in cities and our lives are framed by mechanical noises, urban clamour, and an artificially induced tempo. The night is never completely dark. We can feel our neighbours living close beside us, humming, vibrating, like so many ants inside a mound.

How amazing it is to move toward a quieter and darker space. Where the daily pattern of sound is not the swelling rush hour traffic, but the tide.

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Our breath changes. The air is sweet and tangy with salt. In the distance the surf booms into a grotto. The shoreline is littered with tomorrow’s story.

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How to describe this beautiful monstrous? The shiny cartilaginous curves of the kelp root, smooth, wet, the colour of tea-stained teeth. The tendrils that grip around rocks, the long gleaming strands that undulated under water. How powerful it looks. How alien and remarkable.

We see with our eyes. We feel with our skin. The tiny hairs upon our bodies. Cold air enters the lungs and we warm it with our blood and moisture. The distance dissolves beyond the limits of what can be seen.

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At my feet an anemone blooms, its mouth its anus a hole I want to poke with my finger. (Not to worry– I didn’t! Don’t want to molest the anemone minding its own business.)

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D and I had learned that there were sea lions in the area. We had opted for a cabin in Ucluelet instead of Tofino, and it was lovely– so quiet, laid-back and gorgeous. I was eager to see the local sea lions so we criss-crossed the town site and looked at every wharf, ducked onto many beaches. Ne’er a sea lion to be seen. One afternoon while we walked through town I swore I heard one barking. I dragged D down to the wharfs again but no– the elusive mammal was not there. On the evening of my birthday we went out for a lovely homey dinner at Matterson House (big portions!). We ate so much we needed to walk off some of what my daughter likes to call a “food baby”…. D suggested we walk toward the quietest wharf we’d seen, tucked away from Boat Basin, just off of Hemlock St. It was so very dark. So very quiet.

“Where is everyone?” I whispered loudly. “Why aren’t they celebrating New Year’s?”

“Shhhhhhhh!” we giggle-shushed our way down the paved road.

The night pressed heavy and dense against the edges of light that curved above the two docks. A large fishing boat moored. When from the darkness,

“Puh-fffffffffftssss!”

“Listen! Listen!” my eyes round with hope and wonder.

Great exhalations of mammal breath, we peered out into the darkness, the oily black of the night ocean.

A young bearded fisherman called out from the boat.

“Is there something out there?”

“We can hear breathing! It’s going, ‘Pffffsssssttt!’” I said.

“Oh, the sea lions,” the young fisherman said. His face was flushed. “I was just feeding them fish from the net.”

“Do you have any fish left?” I asked unashamedly.

“It’s her birthday,” D said. “She’s been looking for sea lions all day.”

“I can check to see if there’s anything left.” The fisherman poked around the great net spool and came back with a mangled fish the size of my forearm. He held it by its open mouth. I beamed with delight.

“Can I feed it?” I asked.

“You want to hold the fish?” he asked, mildly surprised.

“Yah!” I said and held out my hand. He handed the fish over to me a little dubiously. I held it from the crook of its mangled jaw. I couldn’t stop grinning.

Then the sea lions roiled in the water.

“Oh my god!” we exclaimed. Not the fisherman.

Eyes gleaming, light edging their wet fur with brief halos. Slick, supple, they twisted and dove in the dark water. The surface grew still.

“Should I toss the fish, or should I dangle it in the water?” I asked.***

“Uhh, I wouldn’t dangle it,” the fisherman said. “They can jump up right onto the wharf.” He receded into the boat.

“Just toss the fish!” D exclaimed. She was standing several meters behind me, and well away from the edge of the wharf. “Just toss it from behind this post!

“I want to dangle it,” I said. (I have no idea what I was thinking…. Clearly, not very much and not very well. I think I wanted a photo. I think I began thinking like my mom, who has been known to feed wild elk mandarin oranges from the car window….)

The sea lions were underwater. I wanted to see them better. But some strand of reason remained and I tossed the mangled fish (rock cod).

A mature sea lion twisted to the surface and opened its maw. Jaws lined with sharp triangular teeth. It clamped down hard on the ragged fish and twisted back down into the cold dark. I peered over the edge of wharf. Hoping to see it twine up again.

A second sea lion burst upward, jaws open, snapping, toward me, looking for its portion, of fish, of stupid Japanese Canadian flesh, whatever it could sink its carnivorous teeth into. The fear so sudden so fast I could only stare, take two steps backward, and somehow manage to stop myself from peeing my pants.

I don’t know what D did or said. If she cried out. If she ran further away. She wise enough to be behind the post…. That was the closest I’ve come to peeing my pants from fear. Those sea lions…. I think there were three of them…. Over five hundred pounds of sleek muscle and sharp teeth. Oh my god. Beautiful and terrifying.

It was a stunning reality check. There are no photos. Just the echo of fear when my heart pounds. I still love sea lions. And I RESPECT THEM!!!

The wonders weren’t just in and of the ocean. The earth teemed with gorgeous life. Shorepine Bog Trail was a wonderland. It was as if the ecosystem had been arranged with giant bonsai, natural bonsai…. It was so magical, maybe prehistoric…. I kept on expecting small dinosaurs to burst out of the branches. The limbs of the small dense trees created weird low canopies, almost tunnels, near to the ground. If you crawled down those twining paths who knows where you’d resurface? There is magic in the dark places. Much power.

 

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2013 brought in with sea lions and teeth, booming surf and froth, expanses of sand and the shriek of bald eagles. A warm cabin in a dark night. 2013 bodes well…. I move forward with gladness in my heart.

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***I DO NOT ENDORSE FEEDING WILDLIFE! PLEASE DON’T FEED WILDLIFE! They become habituated to humans and lose their fear of them and then accidents occur often leading to the animals having to be destroyed. (I rationalized that it was okay to feed the sea lions at this point because the fisherman had been doing it already, probably after every catch, and my one fish would not be adding to the problem…. O_0 Ohhhhh, the rationalizations…!)

 

 

Absent Blogger In Love

November 25, 2012 By: Hiromi Category: Blog

It’s also been such a full and plump autumn full of events, mini deadlines (mini meaning not book-length projects but essays, short stories, copyedits of material going to publication, etc.), as well as the Athabasca University WIR work and preps for upcoming Writer’s Studio at SFU in the new year.

I sent the first draft of my first graphic novel to my agent. Got her feedback. Will return to the text to revise– hoping to finish that off in December. We shall see what the writing goddesses decree!

At the end of October I was in Toronto for Impossible Words Reading Series, a writing workshop, IFOA and the World Fantasy Convention. Whirlwind! It was so intensive and exciting and rather exhausting. Whenever I’m in TO and on a hectic work schedule I always make sure to get some body work done at Six Degrees Community Acupuncture! Their community-based model is so inspiring and with a sliding scale rate it’s affordable for so many. My scattered spirit and fast-paced workheart always get calmed and grounded there. High recommend!

I can’t say enough about the lovely time I shared with the Impossible Words folks and the workshop I did with the Toronto Street Writers. The youth were so incredibly keen, thoughtful, energized and creative. I felt so privileged to share that space with them. Marvellous!

The IFOA events were so posh! <wide-eyed>. I had that dissonance thing that happens when I’m in a hotel room with a king-sized bed, Lake Ontario and DT Toronto spread across my window, a bottle of gin on the dresser. Ohboy! I was on an SF panel that was called “From Science to Fiction”. Although I read a great deal of SF I don’t exactly write a lot of it. A couple of distinctly SF stories have been published, but it’s not exactly my area of speciality. So it was with measure of trepidation I approached the panel. Well, I told myself. I didn’t put me on the panel, and I can only speak to what I can about the topic. I’m afraid the panel talk grew a little “heated” shall we say, when I disagreed with one of the comments from a fellow panelist. Yikes! Alas, we can’t all agree with one another and if we can’t share difference of opinions/ideas on a panel discussion (isn’t that one of the points of a panel? to air different ideas/thoughts on a topic?), really, what’s the point of having a panel? Happily I wasn’t upset by the exchange and walked away having learned a few more things about how one might perform a panel:

1) That a panel is still a kind of performance.

2) Don’t get intensely emotionally involved with the engagement.

3) State your thoughts carefully and thoughtfully. Be clear and concise.

4) If someone tries to interrupt you, stop them by telling them you’re not finished yet, and continue speaking until you are finished. This is especially important to do if you are a woman and the person trying to stop you is a man.

So much to learn and grow! ^___^

I stayed at the Westin Harbour Castle hotel during IFOA and one night I was walking through the lobby when I heard the intonations of Japanese. I glanced at the open lounge area and saw four Asian women talking. I continued on past and sent off a postcard. When I returned I saw and heard them again. It was definitely Japanese. If I were my younger me I wouldn’t have done it, but now I’m 45 and there’s very little to be embarrassed about any longer. I walked to their table.

“I’m sorry to trouble you,” (I said in Japanese– the language of courtesy and manners, apologize for being an ass even before you’ve been called one, etc.) “But I couldn’t help overhearing you talking in Japanese, and I wondered if, perhaps, you might be the Japanese Hiromis (there were three of us at IFOA! :D, Hiromi Kawakami and Hiromi Ito) attending the festival? I’m Hiromi Goto, the Japanese Canadian writer.”

And they were!!! Along with the director of The Japan Foundation. I got to sit down with them and share a drink and talk about writing, love, shit, Kumamoto, rifujiku, cultural grammar…. It was so lovely and heartening! It’s lovely to make new connections and I was thrilled to be able to talk to Japanese writers of the same sex. We have so little access to English translation of contemporary Japanese novels written by women in Canada. I think there are far more translation available in the US, but it’s so very hit and miss to find them here. The other Hiromis and I all did book swaps and I’m looking forward to reading their work over the colder season! Yessss!

World Fantasy Convention was busy, thrumming and engaging. I did a reading and a panel, got to meet Jeff and Ann Vander Meer in person (Yay!), attended many panels, wrote notes, and, I must say, it was kinda cool to have David G. Hartwell ask me to sign my book for him…. Talked to so many people! The Cooke Agency (who represent me) had a gorgeous party in their suite. Had lovely conversations there as well.

I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos of these events. I suppose if I switched to a smart phone (as all my friends except Rita Wong entreats me to do) I’d be able to take more photos in a casual and easy way. But whatevs! I still have memory and language. <grin>

Hoping to hunker into writing and writing. I want to live and breathe inside of it as if I were writing inside a womb of my own making…. It will be a womb of one’s own, would it not? Hahahahahahahahaaaa!

(Ha! Agent Sally Harding just happened to send me a photo from the display case at IFOA, so lovely serendipity!)

“Canadian Fantastic Literature”

Athabasca University WIR Details

September 26, 2012 By: Hiromi Category: News

The Athabasca University WIR information is up on their website. Folks looking for information on how to submit writing for consultation please click the “contact” link. You do not have to be an AU student or alumni to submit material. However, you can only submit one time.

I’m heading to Edmonton next week for some events. Some of them will be streamed live and then archived. Will post details as they become available.

Happy writings, y’all!