Three Months, Ten Days and a trip to PEI
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!
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?
(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!
“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.
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.
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.
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! ^__^