Category: Travel

Vancouver Writers Fest: I was there! And now I’m home.

IMG_2868.jpg
IMG_2867.jpg
over the Rockies

Is this going to be a long post? I have a funny feeling that it might be. However, the process of writing it is being somewhat interrupted by a very chatty four-year-old who is sitting in the rocking chair in a patch of sunlight beside me. And so I am attempting to compose this post while simultaneously maintaining a conversation on a variety of topics. Right now we are on the seasons: “And it goes round again and again, again.”

Don’t it, though.

IMG_2881.jpg
Granville Island hotel

Travelling is such a strange thing to do. Being somewhere else. Being away. There is the transition, the waiting, the getting there; and then there is the being there, when home feels like a dream. Travelling solo is particularly strange, and, I must admit, quite easy to get used to, at least for short patches. On my own, I’m only myself, with only me took after. The responsibility seems so light.

It was an especially lovely trip, from beginning to end. It seemed blessed with lucky moments. I walked into the airport in Toronto on Thursday morning, and the first person I saw was my friend and former boss Noah Richler. What are the chances? He was off to Alberta (have you heard? — his new book, What We Talk About When We Talk About War, is a finalist for the GG in the non-fiction category). I then met up with Heather Birrell, another literary friend (Mad Hope); but that had been pre-planned. We were on the same flight to Vancouver, and managed to get seats near each other. Neither of us are happy fliers, and our flight experienced a lot of turbulence. She was seated behind me and she reported that every time we hit turbulence, my head would pop up: apparently my spine stiffens when fear strikes. But we survived. I brought headphones and watched three movies. I’m not ashamed to report that two of them were children’s movies: Brave, and Madagascar 3. Brave was EXCELLENT, plus I cried (I was in the middle seat; and I think we’ve now established I may be the kind of fellow passenger you’d rather not be stuck sitting beside, what with the weeping and the palpable terror). I dozed off during Madagascar 3, after which I started a very long melodrama called People Like Us, but then the plane landed and I missed seeing the last ten minutes (and it wasn’t the kind of movie I wanted to experience twice). Heather filled me in on the plot.

We were in Vancouver!

Okay, let me interrupt to explain that nearly an hour has passed since I first began typing this post. Maybe this should be a two-parter, a multi-chapter saga? I’ve only just gotten to Vancouver, for heaven’s sake. And it’s nearly time to pick up my swimming child from the pool.

I’m going to speed this up by doing some name-dropping. Walked into the hotel, first person I saw was Sheree Fitch (Night Sky Wheel Ride): big hugs. (But then we didn’t see each other again; this happens at festivals, with people coming and going.) Good thing I had Heather to introduce me to some more writers: we were soon headed for dinner with Jessica Westhead (And Also Sharks) who was travelling with her husband and their brand-new seven-week-old daughter (whom I never got to hold, dammit). We were also joined by Emily Schultz (The Blondes), whose book I’d reviewed for the Globe back in August.

After dinner, Heather and I went to see Anne Perry and her biographer Joanne Drayton being interviewed on-stage. We were both toast at this point, our bodies telling us that it was nearly midnight, so we debriefed in the morning over breakfast at the Granville market, after which we got very lost, after which it was time for our morning events. I’d woken at 4am, been unable to fall back to sleep, and got the front desk to open the exercise room for me so I could run/spin.

IMG_2873.jpg
outside my hotel room, Friday morning

My first event was with Riel Nason (The Town That Drowned) and Marjorie Celona (Y), moderated by Shaena Lambert (Radiance). I had a moment of panic while prepping and felt incapable of choosing the right section to read, but it all turned out fine. We spent the hour and a half reading and talking about child narrators, among other things, and the feeling in the room was just lovely. Afterward, I signed books, and one of the women who sat down to talk to me said, “I’ve never wanted a character to win an award before, but I just really want Juliet to win.” Nice, hey.

A5mDjSMCMAAjrsb.jpg
Chris Cleave, me, and Annabel Lyon, backstage (photo taken by Marsha Lederman)

I had about twenty minutes between events to freshen up and eat a banana, and then I was back at it. This one was in a large theatre with Annabel Lyon (The Sweet Girl) and Chris Cleave (Gold). We were each interviewed by Marsha Lederman, and then came onstage together at the end to answer questions. What can I say about this event, other than it confirmed for me that I really love being onstage. I’ll admit it. Onstage is a great place to be. It requires the burning of lots of energy, and there’s an element of risk to it, but if you know me, you’ll know I like burning energy. The risk part, well, maybe I’m drawn to that too, a bit.

Something else about being onstage: I’ve learned that it’s no good wishing I were different. To be comfortable, all I have to be is myself. I love watching those performers who are quick with witty anecdotes, but that’s not me; and that’s okay too. We’re all different. When I’m in the audience, I want to see a real person up there, not someone pretending to be someone they’re not. I think that’s the only secret, honestly.

IMG_2877.jpg
outside my hotel room, Friday afternoon

After that happy shiny event, I went for fries and a beer with Marita Daschel (Initiation Trilogy); we met through the blog a few years ago, and though we’d never seen each other face-to-face, nor spoken, it was like being with an old friend.

Walking into the hotel, the first person I saw was Sarah MacLachlan (my publisher at Anansi). We were meeting for dinner in less than an hour. I grabbed a quick rest, took a hot bath, and let myself come down from the day’s excitement, to unwind, though not completely.

IMG_2883.jpg
this is how much I unwound

Sarah had invited Anansi people out for dinner at the Sand Bar. I knew no one except for her. Seated around the table were (more name-dropping ahead): Rawi Hage (Carnival), Madeliene Thien (Simple Recipes), Anosh Irani (The Song of Kahunsha), Pasha Malla (People Park), a young woman named Thea whose story collection with be published by Anansi soon (sorry re lack of details), me, A.L. Kennedy (The Blue Book), Graham Gibson ( The Bedside Book of Birds; he’s also known as Margaret Atwood’s husband; she was stuck in transit and couldn’t be there), and Dennis Lee (Alligator Pie). I was seriously crashing at this point, glazed eyes and brain, and thankful for light conversation from the women seated near me. After dinner, Sarah and I dashed off to hear A.L. Kennedy read (and I do know her name is Alison, but can’t help but think of her by her initials).

IMG_2890.jpg
at dinner; and an accurate illustration of how my brain was behaving, at this point in the day

The evening ended in the writers fest hospitality suite where thankfully Heather came after I texted her an SOS — I knew no one and was feeling like a wilting wallflower. But I also didn’t want the day to end. Of course, it finally had to (I’d been up since 4am after all). All that was left was a short night’s sleep, a morning walk in a hailstorm to fetch breakfast at the market, and the packing up.

I spent yesterday travelling. I enjoyed a quiet peaceful flight with no spine stiffening moments. On the ride home from the airport I met an international trade specialist and an expert in honeybees. And now I am holding my sad four-year-old whose sister just stepped on him, probably because I am writing this blog rather than paying attention. So it is time to stop typing and to pay attention.

Tomorrow (Monday) I’m in Toronto for a reading at IFOA. Anyone coming?

Problem solving with hair

DSC_1477.jpg
DSC_1466.jpg
DSC_1472.jpg

I got a haircut!

And then I came home and took photos, but of course. This reveals a possible narcissistic tendency, but hey. It’s a nice cut, and I only get these done semi-annually, usually just before some big event when I realize that my ends are all split and I’ve been jamming the mess into a hairband at every opportunity.

Problem is, I can never duplicate what the stylist does with the blow drier, in part because I have no blow drier, and in part because I have no talent executing most of the beauty rituals which are supposed to be second nature to women (that may explain why I have no blow drier).

Getting ready for a trip makes me anxious. Once I’m out the door I’ll be fine, but meantime the smallest details seem overwhelming. There is something about getting a haircut that gives me a sense of control, of being on top of things, of taking charge. I’ve gotten the same basic cut for years (you’re looking at it), and I’m extremely cautious when it comes to length, probably due to some really unfortunate shearings back in my teens and twenties, including the time I shaved my head (age eighteen), which is an experiment I would recommend to no one.

Is this haircut preparation enough for the next couple of exciting, jam-packed, out-of-the-ordinary days? Well, I hope so.

See you in Vancouver. (Here’s a link to my schedule of events, both of which happen on Friday.)

Good morning, good Monday

DSC_1418.jpg
this is what the sky and leaves look like today

Oh boy. It’s scheduling crunch time at our house. Indoor soccer season starts this week. Rep tryouts for next summer’s soccer season are ongoing, and now include two children and one dad. I’m off to the Vancouver International Writers Festival on Thursday. And I think I need a hair cut too!

This was one of those weekends that does not replenish, to revisit last week’s word.

(Although my poetry book club on Friday evening falls into the category of replenishing the interior resources while possibly depleting, ever so slightly, the bodily ones, due to surprise champagne and scotch to toast The Juliet Stories. We’ve chosen Lorna Crozier’s Book of Marvels for our next read.)

Here’s how our weekend progressed, in soul-sucking fashion. Kevin was at a conference in Niagara Falls on Saturday, while I went to AppleApple’s first swim meet in Etobicoke (ie. not nearby), with two children in tow. The meet was well-organized, but there were hundreds of swimmers and seemingly endless heats for each race. For four hours, I entertained two small children in the crowded pool gallery, in order to watch their big sister swim two races that amounted to less than two minutes in the water, total.

IMG-20121013-00098.jpg
IMG-20121013-00099.jpg
big smiles for the camera!

The little kids were very very good, but I can’t say it was fun for the three of us. I had to ration our food supplies, not wanting to lose our coveted spot by making a long trek back to the truck for more. And I couldn’t even read to them because of the noise. I’m not actually sure how we made it through those four hours. But that evening, both played “swim races” with toys in the bathtub.

Toronto-20121013-00104.jpg
she’s the blur in the green suit

AppleApple is new to competitive swimming, and had only learned to do her turn on Tuesday, and her start dive during the warmup at the meet. Neither served her very well, shall we say. She was in tears when we met her in the changeroom after the second event. Turned out her expectations had been rather high, and she was terribly disappointed in her times.

Given that dives and turns in short races make a huge difference, I assured her she’d done her best, and could only improve. But here’s the thing: she’s not one to be discouraged. After she’d cried it out, she cheered right up and said she’d just work harder and do better next time.

Kevin and I improved on the day by driving safely home from our respective locations, despite the rain and the distance. And by ordering take-out Viet-Thai food, including a fiery soup that soothed my scratchy throat. And by snuggling with the doggies and the kids, watching bad tv. A snuggle with those doggies would improve any day.

Sunday’s non-replenishing activities included more swimming (a practice for AppleApple), during which I ran 15.5km, and decided to shelve my plan to do a marathon in a few weeks’ time. I haven’t put on the mileage required, and I’ll be busy with the Wild Writers’ Festival the day before. Instead, I’d like to aim for some winter/spring races, and keep doing these longish runs on Sundays to stay prepared. There is only so much a person can do. You know that fashion advice to look in the mirror before leaving the house and remove one accessory? I feel that applies to my life, sometimes. I look at the day’s schedule and I think, one of these things needs to go. Sadly, it’s usually something fun.

We also took everyone shopping for indoor soccer shoes, including me and CJ. And then I took Albus shopping for a new winter coat, which was not something either of us wanted to do. So …. I baked bread when we got home. It made me feel like I’d done something other than be a consumer.

DSC_1436.jpg
more sky, more leaves, today

Uh oh. I’m beginning to suspect this a grumpy post. Maybe it just matches this weather. Wet, dull, windy, colours draining away.

Winnipeg: Thin Air Writers Festival

IMG_2860.jpg
IMG_2838.jpg
IMG_2847.jpg
IMG_2852.jpg
IMG_2823.jpg
IMG_2856.jpg
I took our old digital camera on my trip to Winnipeg, and figured out pretty quickly why we’d stopped using it: the battery runs dead after approximately a minute of use. But nevertheless it allowed me to capture fuzzy moments of my whirlwind adventure. The first photo, above, shows the Museum of Human Rights, still under construction, which was my view out the window when I ran on the treadmill in the empty fitness room (I never saw anyone else there). I stayed at the hotel for less than 24 hours, but still managed to run twice, and nap once.

On Monday, I had dinner with Sheree Fitch and took no photos. I knew her instantly though we’d never met in person, and I mean knew her knew her, not just recognized her. Maybe it seemed so natural to be with her that I assumed we’d have lots of time to pose for photos together, forgetting for the moment that she lives in Nova Scotia, and I’m here in Waterloo, and that mere fortune had allowed us to overlap in Winnipeg. Now I’m plotting to bring her to Waterloo to read in some schools — especially in my kids’ schools. How do such things get arranged?

At the table behind us were Bill Richardson and Karen Levine. Sheree knew them both. I’d met Karen eleven years ago when I recorded a story for a CBC radio program — I was just striking out on my own as a writer, and I was also massively pregnant with Albus, and for some reason had chosen to wear gigantic maternity overalls that day. (Why???)

For my mainstage reading on Monday night, I chose to wear my pretty red high heeled shoes that get compliments every time (which my sister Edna has now given to me to keep), and the cute/countryish/suedish jacket that makes jeans look dressy. (I hope.)

That’s me (and my poufy prairie hair) with the the festival’s director, Charlene Diehl, whom I first met when I was 20 and I walked into her CanLit class at the University of Waterloo. What a festival she’s made in Winnipeg. I’m so proud of her. The venues are terrific, the audiences come out (at our book chat on Tuesday afternoon, someone counted 95 people!), and the writers are treated, oh, so well. The hotel was a haven, and I loved every peaceful minute I spent there. What a gift.

I slept soundly. I woke refreshed. I sat and wrote. I read. I ran on the treadmill. There was space to retreat to — I appreciated having that space, as well as having opportunities to connect. As something of an introvert, I need alone time to balance out the meeting and greeting.

Tiny side anecdote: One of the writers on Monday evening was Jess Walters (Beautiful Ruins), who was very funny — and thankfully last to read. He told a story about his dad, who just couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of a reading. “What — you wrote the book, now you gotta read it to them too?” Ha!

On Tuesday morning, I did not sleep in, but I got a nice cup of coffee, I wrote, and ran, and at 12:30 on the dot, with great regret, I checked out of my room and went for lunch. I decided to order a glass of wine with my meal. I sat alone at the table, and read. It was a strange luxury, not one I could imagine getting used to — not one I particularly would like to get used to, when it comes right down to it. But it was good because it was so unusual.

Then I went up to the hospitality suite and discovered a small frenzy, lots of people. Being a bit thick, I didn’t figure it out right away, plopped down on the couch, checked my phone, gazed around, and went, duh! That’s Richard Ford, Pulizter Prize winner, he of the steely blue eyes. We introduced ourselves and shook hands. The general atmosphere was of people excitedly dropping things and attempting not to sound ridiculously giddy or silly.

I missed his reading that evening. I was on a plane back to Toronto, which sounded disconcertingly like its muffler had fallen off.

When I walked through our front door, after midnight, I snuck around to every room and squeezed and kissed and hugged every child. In the morning, in the whirl and bustle of getting us all ready for school and work, nobody even asked: hey, Mom, how was Winnipeg? I though that was funny. It was a short trip, and I enjoyed it immensely, and I’m glad that it was so easy to slide back into home life, so easy that no one seemed to notice much that I’d come and gone. Or maybe they just accepted me back, as if I’d never left.

There’s a bit of that to travelling too. Being present in the moment. And then it’s gone, and it reverts to being almost dream-like in memory, vivid snippets, densely packed. I wonder which vivid snippets from Winnipeg will stick with me most strongly? There’s no telling.

Home again, home again

cauliflower curry, green beans, rice with lentils
home

I really want to do nothing more than blog … but I arrived home after midnight last night, and I’m on deadline for a couple of stories, which means I’m off to do research in exactly nine minutes. Seriously. I often budget my time in terms of minutes.

So: nine minutes to blog! YAY! I missed you, blog. I also missed the dogs, and the kids, and Kevin, but that goes without saying, doesn’t it? Thankfully, text messaging has changed travel. I knew the kids had made it home from school minutes after Kevin knew. I knew who had practiced piano, and what was eaten for supper — in fact, the lunch I ate yesterday in Winnipeg, and texted Kevin about, inspired his menu for supper last night (French onion soup). The comforting and comfortable banalities of daily living travel via text, and that really made me much less homesick.

I’ve got all sorts of things to tell you. Instead of blogging, I wrote them all down by hand in a notebook. How old-fashioned is that? Here’s hoping I can decipher my writing in order to tell you all about it.

But not this morning. It will take more than nine minutes to transcribe.

This morning I just want to say HELLO! and happy Wednesday! and life is fascinating and multi-faceted and travel is bizarre because I was there and now I’m here, and there was something else I wanted to say too … Oh, yes. I wanted to share with you the bliss of having a hotel room to myself for 21 hours.

I’m out of time. More soon.

This is what a holiday with four kids and two dogs looks like

DSC_0688.jpg
Sunday, day one. Pack up post-successful-soccer tournament and drive east 281 km to spend night in hotel, booked in advance. Eat pizza in truck. Feed dogs by roadside. Arrive after dark only to discover hotel has no adjoining rooms. And the gym is already closed. Split up into two rooms, boys and girls (with dogs in boys’).

DSC_0691.jpg
meeting their new cousin
Monday, day two. Take dogs to vet (it’s a complicated story). Spend morning at hotel, swimming, running on nearby lakeside trail. Pick up dogs mid-afternoon and drive east 111 km to visit new nephew/cousin. He’s only five days old!

DSC_0780.jpg
DSC_0759.jpg
Tuesday, day three. Visiting with family, swimming in the basin of a nearby lock, running/hiking on a beautiful wooded trail, playing badminton and soccer, walking dogs on rocks, staying up late to watch silly tv (everyone) … oh, and doing that 11-year-old specialty: the I’m-bored flop.

cousins
best picture ever
DSC_0818.jpg
Wednesday, day four. Brunch with grandma, aunt, uncle, cousins; say goodbye. Pack up and drive west and north 423 km. Threaten at various points during the journey to pack it in and just go home (arguing children, restless dogs, exhausted parents). Instead, surge ever onward. Until we get here.

DSC_0844.jpg
DSC_0847.jpg
birthday on the boat
Thursday, day five. Dogs cry all night; luckily only Kevin and I can hear them; unluckily, we are running dangerously low on sleep. Luckily, I find on the cottage shelves a light and fluffy book into which to disappear for the better part of the day: The Nanny Diaries. And the children play. And we swim. And we walk the dogs around the rocks and woods. And we celebrate Fooey’s birthday (again!), this time on a boat in the middle of the lake.

DSC_0911.jpg
DSC_0976.jpg
Friday, day six. Dogs sleep better. Kevin and I sleep better. Motorboat and water skiis tested out. More swimming. I disappear into past issues of The New Yorker, discover the journals of Mavis Gallant from Spain, early 1950s. As the writers of The Nanny Diaries would say: “Swoon.” (Only they’d say it about the hunky guy upstairs.)

DSC_1043.jpg
it's a beautiful world
Saturday, day seven. More water-skiing and boating. A long swim out to “Poop Island,” accompanied by kids and Kevin and my dad in canoe and kayaks. More long-form essays in The New Yorker devoured. More food eaten. Dogs happy in shade. Ahhhhhh.

DSC_1049.jpg
DSC_1058.jpg
Sunday, day eight. More swimming, skiing, boating, eating, reading, all crammed in before a late lunch. Pack up. Boat out. Drive west and south 302 km, with interlude by the side of the road due to vehicle trouble. (Should have gotten a photo of that for posterity.) Four kids, two dogs, two parents, seventeen bags of dirty laundry, and by golly, we make it home. CJ: “This doesn’t feel like my bed! It feels different.”

DSC_0825.jpg
‘Til next summer, then.

:::

A brief addendum, applicable only today. I’m signing books this evening at Chapters in Waterloo from 6-8. Stop by if you’ve got a few minutes. We can chat about The Juliet Stories. Or swap summer holiday stories.

Page 11 of 12« First...89101112