Archive for the ‘Home Thoughts’ Category

Shit Fire And Save Matches

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Today I’m wandering through my notebook. Memories of living two months in Archer City, Texas. Uh huh. Told you I’d go back. Sitting high up in my attic in the late afternoon sun, toy boy next door receding in importance to my Texas tunes. The lawn mowers, the desultory sounds of life in this small Canadian town, kids kicking home from school, all background to Archer City. Archer City again. Lucinda Williams and James McMurtry will help me cross the border to all things Southern. Turn ’em up. Flippin’ through the pages.


January 3rd, 2009. 32 degrees.
This is my sojourn. I will soak it up. Universe, Creator, God of mine who wants me to be me. Throw it at me, lead me, give me, show me. Try me, challenge me, teach me, gift me. I will accept. I will watch for. I will lay myself open to whatever comes to me and enfolds me.


Mary and I settle into a routine at The Inn. I loved to go out first thing in the morning and cross the yard, searching for the Wichita Falls newspaper. Could have been thrown on either side of the fence. Some mornings were nippy indeed, a thin sheet of ice on the back porch, had to watch my step. Always reveling in the clean air. Sometimes the chimes hung from the porch roof rang night and day, and that meant a biting north wind. Mary liked her fire. I loved to bring in the wood and get it going in the fireplace. If there were guests there’d be a table to set and breakfast plates to prepare. Mary is the consummate Southern hostess; laid back and welcoming, sly wit and a wickedly funny gift for story telling. Her guests love her.


January 5th, 2009. 50 degrees.
Lay in the bath daydreaming. Gazing at the shampoo and conditioner bottles on the side of the tub. With a start I realize I’ve brought Dove to The Lonesome Dove Inn. What’s next, Willie Nelson in the bath bubbles?


Christmas had been taken down and packed away. The days spread before us. Mary would get engrossed in her crosswords and I would gear up to shape my day. In Archer City there are three eateries – The Sonic, The Dairy Queen and The Wildcat Cafe. For other sustenance there is the Archer City Library and Booked Up. A day would not go by that I didn’t walk through one or all of them. Cheryl the librarian became a friend and shining star in my day. The library was also the town video store and it took going to Texas to get me to relax and watch a movie. What a fantastic opportunity to catch up with fine films that had passed us by. Mary and I luxuriated in a movie a night for most of my stay. (Psst, for Southern – A Texas Funeral, and A Love Song For Bobby Long.)


January 6th, 2009.
Four hunters arrive from Alabama at 1:00 in the morning. They tie their dogs to the poles in the yard.


I found the state of decline in town shocking. There were all types of structures, from board to brick to trailer, but on each and every street there were four or five houses that had been abandoned and left to the elements. Mary told me that some of them had out of state owners that had left and eventually the county has an auction and sells them for the cost of the back taxes. Sometimes as little as five thousand dollars. Oh, never tell me that. I’m not attracted to pretty, and as I roamed the tree-named streets I’d daydream over which house (hovel really) I would pick. Which one mine? My dreams didn’t extend past where I would earn my keep, but I loved the thought of experiencing the extremities of Texas weather. A Texas storm. I could picture myself sleepless and scared, laying in the middle of a big bed in a little old inadequate house. (Auntie Em! Auntie Em!) But thrilling to some fury outside, trembling at the wind hurling across the flat plain. I’d creep to the window and watch lightning crack open the magnificent empire of Big Sky. The heat I don’t know yet how I’ll cope with. So far I have spent a September, October, January and February in Texas. There were some days even in those winter months when I saw the air ahead of me shimmering in heat waves in the distance. Often people stopped, friendly, and offered me rides, concerned about my pedestrian state. But I was fine out walking, walking. In the summer though I think they’d be hauling my crumpled ember off the side of the road.


January 7th, 2009. 58 degrees.

…trashed out little town, some areas better than others but not unusual to see many houses within a mile caved in boarded up piled high with metal junk heaps rusted out messes broken window Venetian blinds still broken down in a V-shape, picture some lard-bellied redneck peering through it, scratchin’, scratchin’…


Wooing Archer City, one dog at a time. Heading up Oak Street, causing quite a furor. Going to the Dollar General, the friendly eyesore on the edge of town. We need lunch fixin’s.

Sm. can of chili
Line bowl with fritos
Layer of chili
Layer of shredded cheese
Chopped up onions

I’ll be having seconds.

Good Life

This post is lovingly dedicated to Ellen Cox who never swears. She will be horrified at her contribution of the title.

Two Kites High

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

It has been some time since I’ve followed the curve of a river, sound of an engine, wind in my hair. Town life left behind. Mountains in the distance that I had forgotten existed. That particular freedom of rolling down a road, on one side verdant lushness, fields and the rise of trees. The river runs beside me, a reminder that it leads elsewhere, as does this road. I’m not in Texas anymore. It’s been three months since I’ve come home to the attic. Three months today. And I cannot seem to settle down and write. The stories are there. My notebook with me always as I walked those roads and sat to write in my favourite place on the edge of town, the Archer City Cemetery. Quiet and alone. There is a lot of love in a graveyard. It is a good place to take your own emotion and look back and ahead. Here on my high porch at the attic, behind the sentinels of cherry trees in bloom that line the wrought-iron fence, I view the cemetery of Fort Langley. A lot of love there, too.

How to gather it all up, hold it out, say what it feels like to come from the solitude of afternoons like that, to gunning down River Road in an old Saab convertible on my way to a horse farm? There are blanks to fill in. I sit and dream. The breeze stirs the purple lilacs into scent. I try again, sit and spring back up. If I’m ever going to get back on the page again it will have to be by climbing in a window. Today. I’ll open the door to Texas another time. There are still tales to tell; of the Wildcat Cafe, walking a mile in Cathy’s boots, waiting for an armadillo, a tornado watch, inauguration day at The Lonesome Dove Inn (hallelujah and goodbye Bush!) and all the days wandering in between.

I always wanted to be listened to. Always wanted to live out loud. Ted asks if I’m still searching for self-discipline…under the fridge? Janice said it feels like she’s waiting six weeks for the ship to cross the Atlantic with the latest letter. How lucky am I! There are so many friends cajoling me, reaching out to pinch me with their smartass comments, pat me, soothe and encourage, and probably wanting to slap me up one side of my head and down the other.

Thank you. I’m back.


I was given a kite for Mother’s Day. My son Joseph said he could picture me in a field trying to put it up. Today as I drove down that winding river road, off in the distance up high I saw two kites suspended in a spanking blue sky. Twirling, flashing, in a dance, a dream. I felt my heart contract, and expand. So much hope in a beautiful day. The kites dip, rise, soar.

We have these dreams, they are seeds inside us looking for our sun. We can feel them growing, making themselves known. Looking for room, for faith and belief, trusting we’ll recognize them and know of their existence in the dark where they’re born. They whisper to us in a language outside of time, outside of place. Promising to nurture us if we will nurture them.

I am two kites high,
I am in a car,
I am in a dream,
I am letting the light in.
I am watering me.

Good Life

The Taste Of My Luck

Thursday, January 1st, 2009

I welcome surprises. Why not find myself in Archer City, Texas on the first day of the new year, 2009? Third day of my arrival and I am working hard. Mary sits on the bench on the front porch with her coffee and the New York Times Crossword and I with my notebook and pen, distracted by the occasional traffic going by, mostly pickups. Bewildered by the sun, boggled by air travel that has deposited me in another environment, culture, climate, way of living. Some trips into Vancouver from Fort Langley have taken me longer than to this one way destination.

Mary took me out yesterday on my first scouting mission, driving through the neighbourhoods and criss-crossing down all the back roads. From here on in I walk.

All the streets around the Inn are named after trees. I find it so ironic that, coming from the rain forest myself, to find this in what I perceive to be such a treeless place. At the end of the driveway is a hackberry tree with a sight I’ve never seen before but will see everywhere. In the joints of the barren and leafless trees are clumps of greenery that look like birds’ nests that are thriving. It is mistletoe. But mistletoe is a tree parasite and it is taking its nourishment from its tree host and ultimately killing it slowly. The kiss of death. Eventually the signs on these Archer City streets will mean “in memory of trees.”

The hunters have left. The bibliophiles too. No one got shot, just a heated exchange between the readers with favourite books debated back and forth, and trading lists was the only crossfire. Mary and I do have work ahead of us but there’s a delicious slowness to the plan. We have to take down Christmas and the Inn is resplendent still with all things red, green and of the season. There are three Christmas trees. There are poinsettias everywhere, strings of indoor and outdoor lights. Each and every room has candles, knick-knacks and garlands. I foresee many tubs of Tupperware bins filled for storage, and copious amounts of tea breaks.

But for now we are setting a spell. I am under it already. Tonight we are having a Southern tradition for supper, black-eyed peas and cornbread for good luck on the first day of January. And I can hardly wait to taste my luck.

Good Life

The Card That Says…I’ve Arrived

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

First morning. What to do? I lay there in bed and recalled the only thing I remembered from science class, the principle of displacement; a body immersed in a fluid is subject to an upward force (buoyancy!) equal in magnitude to the weight of fluid it displaces. So here I am plunked down in a room called Cadillac Jack, in an inn called Lonesome Dove, in a town called Archer City, population 1800. And that’s Texas, don’t you know. Whatever spills over I’m leaving behind. First thing that’s got to go is the metric system. I’m going to walk miles and miles. And Celsius? It’s 75 degrees Fahrenheit, which means T-shirt and a breeze. I walked up the back alley, bare branched pecan trees waiting for their leaves. The winter grass, dry coarse stalks, in the subtle palette of brown to sweet pale golds.

Right there, top of the alley is the Archer Public Library. I go in and introduce myself and within minutes I’ve been issued my very own card. How can I liken what this means to me? A traveller, a dreamer arriving on Ellis Island? Having my hand stamped at the coolest club in town, the velvet rope taken down? Whispering the secret password and the hidden panel sliding open…welcome.

As Archimedes stepped into his full bath and the water ran over, I emerged from the library and stepped onto the street. I surveyed the still broken down town that I’d first laid eyes on more than one year ago. On the corner one blinking red light swung suspended from a wire. I looked to the north. I looked to the south. Archimedes ran naked with his discovery, “Eureka! Eureka!” he cried. I started laughing, my feet walked liked dancing. I looked up, “Azure, Brandeis, Indigo! Dodger, Majorelle, Royal! Cornflower blue!

And that sky sang the high notes.

Good Life

Losing Time

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Of all the airports in the world, Dallas/Fort Worth seems to be mine. Even though I am directionally challenged, I just cannot get lost in that airport. But I did lose track of time. Not what you’re thinking! I did not miss my flight. But somewhere between the last washroom stop and walking directly through the security door exit to the shuttle van outside, my watch went missing. I was partial to that watch, too. I never wore it on my wrist, but it was always tucked into the side pocket of my satchel. My fellow booksellers had gifted it to me when I retired from the last bookstore. And it was engraved – Loyal and Dedicated – on the back. I thought of phoning the airport’s Lost and Found and inquiring but then changed my mind. Just as I’d read something into it that I’d lost it, wouldn’t the someone who found Loyal and Dedicated give pause to wonderment, too?

I had decided to take a shuttle van from Dallas to Wichita Falls to save a bit of money. The other option was a puddle jumper that took less than an hour. By sitting in a van and looking out the window as we drove the roads further west, I thought I could process that I was really here. Really here in Texas again. Considering that the plane from Vancouver to Dallas took only 3 1/2 hours, I had processing time indeed, as this ride took more than 2 1/2. I didn’t care. Along for the ride was exactly what I had in mind.

Rick the Skylark driver seemed a little befuddled. At one of the last pick ups at the airport he drove away with his fold up portable steps still sitting by the side of the road. This was only discovered at the first washroom break when all of us in the van had to help (some pulling, some pushing, in some rather ignominious places), a very large, elderly woman get up and out and down to the pavement. And then reverse the process.

I looked about at my fellow passengers, seven in all. Two young fellows, one in uniform, both under headphones. Two older women in pantsuits and pearls. The woman beside me worked at Shepherd Air Base and was returning from two weeks in Paris. The last passenger began talking non-stop from her first sighting of the van pulling up to the curb, to my slamming the door shut (up!) when I exited at Wichita Falls. Too loud, too friendly, and an unattractive cackling laugh. When she wasn’t discoursing with the driver she inserted at least four cell phone calls into the mix – daughter, workmate, sales pitch, relative. Public transit, you are a work out.

At the Bowie Exxon with adjoining Burger King everyone went in except me. They all brought out bags of food. I stood and breathed that fine clean air blown free across the flatland. As we drove out of the parking lot still making our way west, as one they opened their crinkly bags and the smell of fast food filled the van. I slumped low in my seat, the sky filled in blue black. I saw the oncoming headlights through the white spun cotton candy of the woman ahead of me. Her hair a perfect hive, the back of her neck a wadi, the patchwork sun-dried skin lifted between the creases.

We drove on. I thrilled to see a roadway sign, an arrow pointing to Gainesville and could hear Lucinda singing “Go back to Gainesville,” in that husky Southern voice she owned. Low new moon, the unmistakable raked silhouette of mesquite against the biggest star flung sky. Beside me the woman snored and dreamed of Paris, the yacker never paused.

Mary was there to meet me in the deserted lot of the Skylark Office in Wichita Falls. Hello Mary! I couldn’t believe it. I was back in Archer City, where I’d felt that first tug. On October 27th, 2007 I had stayed one night at The Lonesome Dove Inn. I had kept my tired eyes open, sat up in bed in Hud’s Library writing out the biggest, bestest, grandest wishes on my Golden Mean. I sent those words out into the night sky of a town I couldn’t see, I didn’t know. And now I was back. (So now are y’all going to do your Golden Mean, too?)

As Mary and I drove along Hwy.79 the 20 miles to Archer, the siren and lights of a Texas cop overtook us and we were pulled over by Lewis. Funny thing was he came to the passenger side and politely ma’amed us through my open window. I introduced myself as Canadian and thanked him for the official welcome to Texas, but he didn’t get my joke. We didn’t get him either because after some bullshit about one of the lights being out on the license plate, politely again and with a tip of his hat, he bade us goodnight. My only brush with the law in Texas. Pretty tame, huh?

Mary and I began our talking. She told me that the Inn was full, we were going to be busy, nine hunters and four bibliophiles. When she’d been talking to her sister and groaned, “What oh what am I going to do with them all?” Ceil had said, “I’d shoot the hunters and quote the readers!” And on that joke we pulled into the driveway, and I remembered this place, even in the dark. There were the two doves in their cage on the porch, Lonesome and Not So. There was the sign on the fence – We Don’t Rent Pigs. And then more arrivals; Ted from Virginia with daughter Dorothy from L.A. and her daughter Wendy, bringing the bibliophiles to seven. Rocking chairs before the fire, a glass of wine, taller tales and much laughter and sharing. My first night at The Lonesome Dove Inn, not so at all.

Good Life

Out Of Attic AutoReply

Sunday, December 28th, 2008

I have left the attic.
I am leaving town.
I am limping, laughing, blowing kisses.
Catching a jet plane.
Crossing the border to Dallas, Texas.
Climbing into a shuttle van and going down the roads to Wichita Falls.
Mary will pick me up there. Mary the innkeeper who has become my friend.
Turning then to Archer City, we’ll be pulling in the driveway of The Lonesome Dove Inn by 8:30 tomorrow night.
I had such a feeling about that place. Then I got the invite, Mary said, “Come on down!”

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.
– Lao Tzu

I’ll let you know how the letting is going…

Good Life


Sunday, November 30th, 2008

Before us the oil-soaked dirt road known as the Vía Auca snaked into low hills, and far in the distance it dropped into an arboreal quiltwork that looked to be four billion shades of green.  “Abundancia,” Enqueri said. – taken from Savages, by Joe Kane, written in 1995.

This Christmas season highlights and contrasts more than any time of the year, the plight of the have nots and the insanity of the haves. A lot of the haves think the sky is falling.

The Huaorani people are 1300 nomadic Indians living in the Oriente, the Equadorian Amazon. The territory they roam is the size of Massachusetts. The Huao call the petroleum hunters, THE COMPANY. And THE COMPANY has been trying to extract what they know is more than 200 million barrels of raw crude from Huaorani territory. To do this they would have to destroy the Huao source of life, the forest itself.

I bought a newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, Saturday, November 22nd, 2008, and I’m not liking us very much. The headlines fill me with shame. The haves are killing each other too, not to preserve their life but to conserve their way of life.

BLACK FRIDAY – The day after the U.S. Thanksgiving when the stores are open and the early Boxing Day sales begin. In Long Island, New York a Wal-Mart employee is trampled to death by shoppers breaking through the doors. A shooting in the parking lot of Toys ‘R Us, Palm Desert, California.

South Park got the ball rolling for Kick-A-Ginger Day. Redheads in various schools were swarmed, kicked and hit. November 20th, mark that on your calendar.

Watch me die. A suicide note posted on an internet site and more than a thousand people watched for hours the unmoving body of a teenager in Florida.

Death by obesity. I’m not just killing me, I’m killing you if I land on you. The courts are now trying to decide if overweight people are using their weight intentionally to kill their victims.

I am thinking of the G words. I am rhyming off Greed, Gratification, Gluttony. When is enough enough?

For the Huaorani, hunger defines life. The Huao value self-reliance. Their culture revolves around the ritual of food sharing and the fruitful forest is their provider. The Vía Auca is a sixty mile long road that has been the deepest penetration by land into the Amazon watershed. For the sake of enough oil to meet U.S. energy needs for THIRTEEN DAYS, the Huaorani way of life would be destroyed. Headline – ETHNOCIDE.

Joe Kane and Moi travelled to speak before a Washington commission. Moi roared like a jaguar, “The Huaorani are the bravest people in the Amazon and would defend themselves with spears from all sides.”

The Huaorani are warriors, not traders, merciless to their enemies and generous to their friends. Within five minutes Moi had given away all the bags he’d brought. He gave away a spear, too, to the commission’s executive secretary. “When your sky falls, ” Moi said, “this will hold up the clouds.” – taken from Savages, by Joe Kane.

It scares me how petty we are. How to get to that G word – Gratitude? A letter to the editor admonishes stores that carry Happy Holiday cards instead of focusing on what Christmas is really about, Consuming. Oh, I mean Christ’s birthday. The letter writer encourages other Christians to not worshop at these stores. We are all trying to do each other in and there is no shame, and why are we not crying out in rage about this?

I dedicate this post to Mr. Zaidi, Iraqi journalist. I applaud his outrage. I shudder at George Bush’s shameless joking about the shoe size thrown at him. Mr. Zaidi roared, “This is a farewell kiss, you dog. This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq.” The shoe fits, Mr. Bush!

Getting to gratitude. I hear Willie P.’s song in my head, wish you could too. But I share with you the lyrics…

The hardest part Baby is smiling
when your plans don’t work out,
and still count yourself a lucky one.
With a God so smart we were born with
two hands reaching out,
a heart that knows the joys of love,
the stars above, the lucky ones.

Oh, the bigger picture! How to put a frame around it. Hafez was a Persian mystic poet, thought to be born around 1310. His thoughts on the party?


I don’t want to be the only one here
Telling all the secrets –

Filling up all the bowls at this party,
Taking all the laughs.

I would like you
To start putting things on the table
That can also feed the soul
The way I do.

That way
We can invite

A hell of a lot more

These pieces fall into my lap and I sift through them like shards of broken glass, the painful shattering of my optimism. I know, I know. There are angels everywhere. There is heroism and there are remarkable acts of dignity and kindness being acted out every second, every day, everywhere. I know.

Willie, sing to me…

Oh, the lucky ones,
to have these dreams to dream at all.
Wino wakes up on the street,
and he counts his feet,
sees there’s two, counts himself a lucky one.

Oh, the lucky ones
who never stumble and fall.
They don’t know nothing at all.

God’s so smart we were born with
two hands reaching out,
a heart that knows the joys of love,
the stars above, the lucky ones.

Joe Kane’s book was written back in 1995. I googled the Huaorani people, wondering about their fate. The estimation is that there are now less than 1,000 Huao, scattered back in the jungle, away from the Vía Auca. Moi still fights the enemy that would destroy their right to stay alive in the forest that feeds them.

I have adopted as a reminder to myself a salutation that the Huao use to greet each other. And that is GOOD LIFE. These two words never mean the same thing to me, depending on which filter I hear them through. Sometimes it is a statement of gratitude, fact that I know my life is good. Sometimes it is my moral compass to guide me to living good. It will remind me forever of what abundancia is to the Huaorani people.

It is party season. The party within the party. Where do we stand? And where will we fall? What do we bring to the party, and what oh what do we take?

Good Life

A Bouquet Of Balloons

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I have been going through my papers, and have come across a correspondence that I hold dear to my heart. I worked as an author’s escort in Vancouver for five years. Had the privilege of taking care of writers that were having a publicity day on the advent of the publication of their books. My job was to escort them through their itinerary, whether that be picking them up at the airport, or a hotel, or their homes if they were local. Making sure they were on time and feeling good for scheduled radio interviews, print interviews, TV spots, book signings or any kind of literary event. I fed and watered them, found washrooms, telephones, snacks, addresses, parking spots. Ditched the car in alleys, raced them through hallways for live shows, opened doors, made introductions. Schmoozed, bonded, smiled, gritted my teeth, fell in love, listened, learned, paved the way. But most of all, this was their day and I was their helper, their ally, their contact, their support person.

In April 2002, esteemed author Carol Shields published what would be her last book, “Unless.” She would pass on from this world the following summer, July 16th, 2003. When I held it in my hand, it struck me hard. Carol’s story was of a writer named Reta, whose college-aged daughter Norah, suddenly and inexplicably drops out to live on the streets of Toronto, to sit with a begging bowl and a cardboard sign attached to her chest with one word on it – GOODNESS.

I felt compelled to tell Carol something I had seen, knowing that she would, yes she would, understand. And with grief in my heart, I knew I was using this as an opportunity to thank her, hopefully to entertain her, and to say goodbye.

The following is the letter I wrote to Carol Shields in May of 2002…

Dear Carol – I am writing to tell you a story. I am writing to tell you something that startled me so much. First I should re-introduce myself. A few years ago I was your publicity escort for your media tour in Vancouver and the launch at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre for “Larry’s Party.” What a party! The whole building festooned with streamers and balloons. Hi Carol, it is me Diane. My last name then was Taylor but I have since returned to my original name which is Toulmin.

Once again I will tell you what an honour it was for me to meet you. Back in another lifetime I was a young mother with four beautiful little children under the age of five, in a sad ridiculous relationship and had completely nipped and buried my dreams of living a writing life. But then I read reviews in the newspaper about a woman in Winnipeg with a whole passel of kids herself, who was writing books, good ones, and that made me feel better. Reading your books somehow kept my dream alive. I knew I wasn’t up for it yet, but at least it made me feel connected to know that a woman like you, in a house in Canada, was a writer. (I’m not describing this very well, but I think you know what I mean.)

On the day that I accompanied you Carol, we talked about family and I told you how excited I was because my sister, my estranged big sister whom I had never gotten along with, was visiting me for the first time at my home. And how wonderful it felt to feel “sister.” You were marvelous and supportive and happy for me too, and told me of a famous saying in your family. That one of your daughters, when asked to imagine life without a sister, had said, “What would be the point?”

My sister Janet came to your launch with me and had a thrilling time. And Carol, one of the greatest hurts of my life was healed that night because my sister told me afterwards that she was proud of me. That I had looked in my element and right where I belonged, standing at your side assisting you with the book signing. She saw me! Carol, that is the first compliment my sister had ever given me! And it completely removed all the pain I had not realized I had felt from not having my sister’s love and approval. So you see Carol, you are linked in my mind with sisterhood, healing, creativity, wise women, oh yes, the whole gamut.

In 1995 I picked up the Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko from Vancouver Airport. I don’t know if you know his reputation but after scrutinizing me all the way from the terminal to the car, he announced that my wearing of masculine shoes could not dissuade him from noticing my charms. What a hoot! He spent the whole day trying to seduce me while I very good-naturedly told him he didn’t stand a chance. Once in a while he brooded, but all in all he found it quite intriguing that I was no pushover. He gave me examples of women who couldn’t resist going to bed with him, and he also wanted to know if I was perhaps unaware of how great he was? Aha! Maybe that was why I was so immune to him?

Shall I say it was a challenging day? Our lunchtime interview was on a bistro deck in the hot noon sun, where my Russian companion consumed in quick succession raw oysters and many, many shots of vodka. But I was pleased with how gallant he was in his (temporary) disappointment at his inability to have his way with me. He was very insistent that I should go to his reading later that weekend at the Jewish Cultural Centre where, he said, he would be MAGNIFICENT.

Carol, he was. The theatre was packed, the audience as one, rapt to attention. Onto the lit stage came Yevgeny, one single man, one solitary figure. Many of the poems he recited were in Russian but I swear I understood every word. What passion! The energy extended past his outstretched arms, past us sitting in the darkened theatre, out through the walls, into the very world. Yes, he was magnificent. He was a very charismatic and attractive older man. (Sigh.) So I have a wonderful memory of that day, and still smile at the saucy inscription he wrote in my book, “To make your husband wonder and be jealous.”

I share it with you, inscribed in my copy of his book, “Don’t Die Before You’re Dead.” Put on the most elaborate Russian accent you can, and read it aloud, as he did for me, before he snapped the book shut and ended with the day his pursuit of me…
1995 7 MAY

That is the setting, but this is the story. It was established, I would not be going up to his hotel room with him, so therefore he would like to look at some art. He asked that I drop him off in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery. It was a bright day and the sun was hot. Yevgeny was looking a little petulant, and blaming bad oysters for not feeling so well. There was the usual crowd on the Gallery steps and we were caught in the slow moving traffic between lights. That’s when I saw the sight that I have never forgotten.

Standing alone on the steps was a young man holding aloft a large, hand lettered sign. He wore no distinguishable uniform differentiating him as punk, or hippie, or mentally unstable. He looked like a teenage kid you’d see on his way back from the 7-11, holding a slurpee, loping along in jeans and hightop runners. The heat beat down on the car, my day with Yevgeny was ending, the crowds of shoppers surged along the street, and the silent boy’s sign read – FIGHT FOR HUMAN BEINGS.

Oh Carol. Today I have your book with me and tonight I will begin it. When I realized what the book was about I remembered again the boy and the answers that I’ll never know about him. WHAT COMPELLED HIM TO THOSE STEPS AND THAT PROCLAMATION? I will treasure the unfolding of your questions and answers, as I’ve always learned when I read you.

So thank you Carol. For the gift of this book I get to read, and for the lovely memories I have of your special day of “Larry’s Party,” intertwined with my sister Janet and I. I am grateful to you for your grace and beauty and you are constant in my prayers.
Love, diane

And into my inbox from the giving and gracious Carol Shields…

Wednesday, May 08, 2002 4:44:52 PM

Dear Diane,
My husband and I read your letter over lunch and just loved it. Your story about your reconciliation with your sister touched me more deeply than I can say. I have had so many letters these last few weeks about estranged family members.
So thank you for making me laugh and cry, and bless you for writing, carol

* * * * * *

Anne Lamott has a clothesline strung up in her writing room, with all her ideas pegged to it. I have stickies. Simple yellow sticky notes stuck to the slanted eaves above the table where I write. Sometimes they fall down on my head. I’m supposed to read them. One of them says – THIS IS MY PARTY.

Carol’s party…Larry’s party…Yevgeny’s party…Don’t die before you’re dead.

This is my party. Have yourself a party, too.

Good Life

Walking My Head Off

Tuesday, September 30th, 2008

“If you travel far enough, one day you will recognize yourself coming down the road to meet yourself. And you will say YES.”
– Marion Woodman.

I am stalking the perimeters of Fort Langley. Walking, walking, walking my head off. I wonder if this is a Buddhist expression. I wonder some days if it will work. Walking more, walking longer. It is my cold bath, my push ups, my Grouse Grind (some days my Grouch Grind). And it is my prayer.

Julia Cameron preaches the morning pages. Three pages of stream of consciousness writing, first thing in the morning before anything. It blows off steam, skims the cream, primes the pump, unearths the dirt so that you can get to the good stuff. I do both. These are my cornerstones: writing my heart out, walking my head off. I do not walk to solve my problems although my problems solve because I walk. I walk to loosen the tight round and round of the thoughts that choke me, and feel them spool out behind me as I go. Sometimes I take one idea with me, and carry it in my pocket. It looks different somehow, after being taken out for air.

“Make more progress on tempering your obsessive side…see what you can do to convert it from a part-time liability into a full-time asset.”
– Advice from Some Smart Ass.

I am restless again. The geese are leaving. I stand at the door when they call and watch them go. But the further I walk the bigger this little town feels. I feel a space opening up inside of me. Nothing new in this observation, just the world. It is the art of paying attention.

Just inside the cemetery gate off Glover Road, there are five old cedars that form a semi-circle. Have you ever stood in the middle and looked up? It is Fort Langley’s Cathedral Grove. In the summer Hayden and I used to lay down right there and follow with our eyes the grand steep of the trunks skyward. Now with the ground wet he knows to stand still with his arms at his sides. I hoist him up and he lays back flat in my arms, and we have our moment. A child will see what we show them.

I walk across the Jacob Haldi Bridge and ignore the Bedford Bedlam. The construction is quite distracting until you enter the trees. All week The Army has been stationed in the campground. As I walk the trail alongside their campsite, I see jeeps and tarps and pup tents. All the soldiers are in full camouflage gear. Sitting on camp stools, stoking fires, chopping wood, the military tableau seems so removed from the Fall day. Golden poplar leaves spiral slowly to the ground. No one looks up. No one turns their head. They are all wearing those mirror shades. “I can see you but you can’t see me.” Whatever happened to, “Don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes?”

I walk on.

People ask me if I’m afraid of bears on the trail. I would be afraid, but what’s a walker to do? But I have a plan. I carry dog treats and a big carrot, enough so that I could get far enough away before it came time for the entrée. Only a snake today, about two feet long. Lengthwise yellow stripes, red dots beside. And it wouldn’t even move, I had to walk around it.

Back over the bridge, I meet Michelle on her break, sitting in a flower bed eating from her lunch bag. She is every time, all the time, happy and excited to see me. I take that very personally and love that quality about her. I ask if I can see the tattoo peeking out the back of her shirt. “The Gentile Soul”…below it the image of a large bumble bee carrying an old-fashioned key, and then underneath…”Inherits the Earth.”

The Gentile Soul Inherits the Earth. The…GENTILE…Soul…Inherits…the… Earth?

“Michelle? Is this a spelling mistake?”
“Uh, yes.”
“OH…MY…GOD. Is this new? When did you have it done?”
“July 4th.”
“I would have killed him!”
“He’s already dead.”

We talk. We laugh. I think of this young woman wearing her special, significant to her, complete with spelling mistake tattoo with such aplomb, and I salute her as I’m leaving, “Michelle, you’re beautiful!”

I walk on.

The goats of Wright Street remain faithful. I call out a hello and the whole trip of goats gallop to the fence, their neck bling ringing. I have nothing to offer, having eaten the carrot and given Rosemary the dog treats on the way. There is one rust coloured mama that stays longer than the rest, sharing particularly intense eye contact with me, and I wonder again about reincarnation.

I walk on.

“In order to achieve escape velocity we must learn to keep our own counsel, to move silently among doubters, to voice our plans only among our allies, and to name our allies accurately.” – Julia Cameron.

When I was a kid I tied things to my arms. Cardboard, sticks and cloths, whatever I could find (I was not particularly adept with my hands), but I had hope. I jumped and jumped and jumped off the front porch, landing in the grass, tumbling and rolling. Then again. Leaping, flapping, dreaming, there was no telling when, and no belief in never, that one of those times I would fly.

In Annie Dillard’s memoir, “An American Childhood,” I read with amazement and delight her description of propelling herself down the street, her arms windmilling, faster and faster, taking the corners, intent on a certain route, convinced, determined, and readying herself for take-off. She caught the eye of a woman walking towards her and saw the look of surprise and then recognition that crossed her face. And Annie was picking up speed then, but appreciated as she flashed by, the knowing look that passed between them. That woman knew she was getting ready to fly!

“Escape velocity requires the sword of steely intention and the shield of self-determination.” – Julia Cameron.

I have a feeling. I have a feeling. I have a feeling and I am going to walk it into fruition. When I was a teenager I’d start to shiver and shake. I called it “nervous fits of anticipation.” I’d pace. I’d go to the window over and over again. The phone would ring. The letter arrive. Someone or some thing surprised. Nervous fits of anticipation. Now I know to get my coat and walk through the door. Go down the road to meet me.

I walk on.

Good Life

Winking At Wenches

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

“She shall be called his wench or his leman.” – Chaucer

What is it about a waitress wiping a table with a wet rag that evokes so much winking? I have been waitressing at The Adobe Grill now for five months and have become fascinated with the phenomena of THE WINK. Never ever in my entire life have I been winked at so often, by so many. The first time it happened, my hands stopped in mid-motion, and I stared, confused.

Wink: a semi-formal communication which indicates *shared, unspoken knowledge.

*Winker: You will get my coffee?
*Winkee: Yo recuerdo que usted toma la nata y el azúcar.
*Winker: And dessert?
*Winkee: Voy a traer su erizo.
*Winker: So, you will come back?
*Winkee: Y voy a tratar muy difícil no derramar nada a usted.

So confusing. I was not sure which unspoken knowledge we were sharing. And when did I start thinking in Spanish? Could it be just amusing, innocent flirtation? Wife’s right there, and I did get his coffee, remembered the cream and sugar, the favourite dessert, and delivered it on time and intact.

Then it happened again. I’ve passed it off to poor lighting, dry contact lenses, mistaken identity, wishful thinking and/or arrival at Margaritaville. But it keeps happening. And there is no pattern to it. Old, young, attractive, not, single, coupled. Last week, my first female winker. The winkers cover a broad spectrum. I am being winked at. I am averaging two or three winks per week.

I went to an authority on waitresses, not that he is one, but Jonah knows all the waitresses on Main Street. He dismissed my incredulity immediately. “A waitress’s duty is to move around and break hearts. And it’s simple. It’s the food. You serve a man food, and you’re going to get winked at.” He has a point. Five years of delivering only food for thought at the bookstore and nary a wink.

I may have to admit that all this winking is tied in to the perception of waitress, or serving wench. A wench is bodacious, unrestrained by convention or propriety. And I know that I am not the better waitress there, but I am the best. A 1912 study based on phrenology revealed that redheads make the best waitresses. Phrenology claims to tell a person’s character from the shape of their skull. Once popular in the 19th century, but considered to be one of the more dubious sciences, it is now a defunct field of study. In 1912 some redheaded waitress had the best head massage ever and walked away laughing. Unspoken knowledge, no winking required.

After reading a Marion Roach book called “The Roots of Desire,” I was especially intrigued by my heritage. Less than 4% of the world’s population is naturally red-haired. It is by far the colour most bought in a box. And red hair is a genetic mutation that emerged 50,000 years ago in Africa. It was only in 1995 that the gene for red hair, MCIR, was discovered.

I read of little known facts, that redheads are harder to sedate, requiring 20% more anesthesia. This has been my own personal experience. When needle after needle did not freeze me at the dentist’s, he persevered until I overdosed. That’s when I chose to have dental work done without anesthetic from then on.

Aristotle’s take on redheads was that they were emotionally unhousebroken. I won’t disagree.

So if you nictate (from nicere, to beckon), I will too (nictitate: briefly shut the eyes). Give me a moment to compose myself and reconfigure my tally. In Nigeria a wink is the signal for children to leave the room. This walking, writing, wench of a waitress will return with your fare.

Good Life

Wendy, le inspiró la diversión con el español. Gracias!
Y Tom, muchas gracias por la clave de acento teclas!