Wednesday, February 24, 2021

New Review

A lovely review of my book is up at Prairie Fire, the home of a few of the essays before they were collected.

Here's a link to the review by Judy McFarlane, author of Writing with Grace: A Journey Beyond Down Syndrome.

Judy calls Reverberations "a poignant and eloquent tribute to the power of paying close attention." 

I love this observation, in part because the writing I enjoy the best, whether fiction or nonfiction, comes from a writer who pays close attention. And when I'm struggling with a piece of writing, returning to something concrete--an act, an item, a smell--helps me figure out what I really want to convey.

A rock shaped like a heart. Just lying there. As they do.  

Many thanks to both Judy and Prairie Fire for this review and for all the rest of the work they do within the greater writing community. 



Wednesday, February 17, 2021

I Read Canadian

Today, February 17, is I Read Canadian Day. 

I'd love to say something flip here about "every day is 'I Read Canadian Day' in this house," but it isn't. We read our share of books written by writers who live and publish elsewhere. 

Still, as I'm considering books as background or models for a project, I look to be sure I'm including Canadian writers. 

And when I'm trolling for something new, I look at 49th Shelf--a website whose sole function is to call attention to Canadian books and writers. It's a great resource, today and every day. 

For more about I Read Canadian Day, click here.

To go to the 49th Shelf, click here. 

And now, I'm going back to working on books by Canadians--my own writing, and a new novel from my husband. It's THISCLOSE to going live, which will be a day of celebration.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Let it Lie There

Some twenty-five years ago, I had a disagreement with a friend and former colleague, who had moved away to live and work--slightly too far to see frequently, but still close enough to intend to see at least regularly

He and I communicated by email (near-instant contact in those heady days), and in a rare case of actually valuing a relationship enough to be forthright, I took the time to write a careful explanation of my perspective in the dispute. 

In response (a few days later; how valuable that time!), he said, "I'm going to let your 'explanation' just lie there...." and changed the subject. 

At the time, I was annoyed (by the quotation marks--"explanation," geez--and still irked from the original dispute). However, I let it go and allowed the change of subject. We never referred to the subject of disagreement again, and that was fine with me. Our friendship subsided--his life got busier, I moved, etc. We're still in sporadic touch, with apparent goodwill on both sides. 

But I think of him often, especially since the political, social, and religious climate has shifted and I find it difficult to be quiet when my conscience prods me.

I also thought of him on Sunday. A difficult day, though not as difficult as it could have been. 

From our beach, December 2020

Sunday, I locked myself out of my phone. I'm still not sure what happened, but it seemed to involve an update and a passcode that I didn't write down and somehow was then locked away from. Promises that I could access contacts and settings stored in the cloud turned out to be empty, because that required the passcode. 

But still, no big deal. It took a couple of hours, but I downloaded and reset logins and did All The Things. I'm still finding an occasional thing to re-set, but it's mostly resolved. 

It became a non-event because I just let it lie there. 

I wrote a personal essay--one of my favourites in my collection--about picking up a piece of driftglass on the beach and hearing my mother's voice in my ear. From there, I go on to examine lingering memories (and pillowcases). The essay shows my (ongoing) experience of communicating with my (long-dead) parents--how affectionate and puzzling thoughts of them are triggered by nothing, by everything. 

As is true of the genesis of most personal essays, picking up a piece of glass from the beach turned out to be a situation I most emphatically did NOT let lie there. Instead, I picked it up and worried it, the way dogs chew a toy for a while, then lick it, then take it elsewhere to gnaw and lick for a while. 

I could have done the same with "this whole phone thing," as I labeled it. I could have allowed it to be A Lesson, a time to seriously re-examine my relationships with phone-mediated forms of communication, with social media, with my thousands of photos, blah blah blah. I'm sure I've shared, in the past, times when I was inadvertently out of touch and recognized anew my relative unimportance.  

All that introspection can be extremely valuable. As is true of most people I know, I'm engaged in some of it already, given pandemic and political changes. Thoughtful consideration of the stuff of our days--where and how I want to spend time in the public eye and contribute (as they say) to a public conversation--yes, useful. 

But that introspection is also, frankly, exhausting. So, "this whole phone thing"? I let it lie there. I changed the subject and considered instead new and old fiction projects plus an essay revision.

And I'm a better person for it. 

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Reading for Resilience

What have you been reading this lockdown? Or perhaps re-reading?

I've written about re-reading and reading here a few times. What's worked well: Mary Stewart's Merlin trilogy. 

What hasn't worked so well: older fiction set in the south. 

And Jane Austen apparently always works, for many folks. 

I just received and opened my Christmas stocking. My sister and I have been filling stockings for each other for some 25 years, ever since we finally acknowledged that our mother wasn't able to manage it anymore. 

I now have quite a wardrobe of masks, including this one, with Jane Austen quotes. 

A mask! And a built-in Austen quiz!

A friend on Instagram sent me to this article by Heloise Wood on the BBC site: What Jane Austen can teach us about Resilience. 

Oh, I don't know, how could we relate to someone whose life was largely out of her control and who experienced financial dependence and instability while refusing to cave to her culture's demands on her time? What could we possibly learn?

TL;DR: a lot.

And also: whatever you can read, read it. Whatever sustains you--whether what you need is a challenge or comfort--read it. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

January is Alzheimer's Awareness Month

This January has been a full year in and of itself. And it remains Alzheimer's Awareness month. 

I posted this photo and caption on Instagram on Monday. (You could follow me there, if you're so inclined. I'm @marionagnew.) 

How do you handle fear?

Denial was my go-to. I ignored my mother’s confusion and anxiety, her memory lapses. Then I tried to pretend it wasn’t serious—surely not Alzheimer’s. She was still okay. My parents were still parents, still “the grownups.”

It wasn’t true, of course. My mother was sick—afraid, disoriented. My father was just keeping up. And it wasn’t fair to them to pretend nothing was wrong. I had to face my fears around disease and loss to forge new relationships with them both.

Some people handle fear by cracking jokes—“I forget what I came in here for, it’s probably that Old-Timers.” “I tell you what, if I ever lose it, just take me out back and shoot me.”

Some in their audience laugh along. Haha. Ha.

Many “haha” through tight smiles, because honestly saying “ouch” and crying is too hard. It’s too big a risk—the stigma around a dementia diagnosis is real.

January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month. People with dementia, and those who love them, overcome their own denial every day. They may choose to live with grace and hope—and humour. They don’t need your jokes or your denial.

They especially don’t need your absence. When someone shares a diagnosis, their entire community can disappear. “Friends” say, “I don’t know what to do, I don’t know how to act, it’s too hard.”

People with dementia deserve better. We all do.

So how do you support people with dementia? The Alzheimer Society (Canada) and Alzheimer’s Association (United States) have tips. An information clearinghouse, AlzAuthors, also has resources, including a podcast.

Mostly: be a friend. Ask. Listen. Overcome your own fear. Someday, you may need a community to do the same for you. 💜
Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Indefinite Hyperbolic Numerals

How many is 400,000? How many is 20,000?


In days, 400,000 would be more than a thousand years; 20,000 would be almost fifty-five years.


400,000 pieces of ice? Maybe 20,000?

But these numbers represent human beings. Currently, more than 400,000 people in the US have died of COVID-19. The total in Canada has not yet reached 20,000—it’s between 18,000 and 19,000 today.


It feels so impossible to understand 400,000 people. Even 20,000. How do you convey that number? How do you transform numbers—embody them, literally give them skin, bones, breath? Show the people they were?


We’re writers. We should be able to do this. But 400,000 and 20,000 are big numbers. We might as well be using indefinite hyperbolic numerals—words that sound like really big numbers: eleventy-million, a jillion.


Does it help to focus on the little things? Do you talk about the birthday candles each person blew out, their favourite donut, the songs they sang along to and knew all the words? The stories behind each tiny scar on the knuckles of their left hand. When they’d planted those hyacinth bulbs in the side garden, and what colours they were supposed to be. Their favourite brand of chain saw, gas station, pickup truck, wheelbarrow.


Whether they preferred mittens or gloves, sandals or flipflops. Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby, or even Louis Prima. English saddle or Western, mountain bike or road bike. Pierced earrings or clip-ons. Windsor knot or bowtie. And okay, fine—boxers or briefs. Sock-sock-shoe-shoe or sock-shoe-sock-shoe.


Their favourite snack—Cheez-its, Jolly Ranchers, popcorn, or a handful of walnuts and chocolate chips, mixed. Beef jerky, bologna rolled up around a slice of cheese and dipped in mayonnaise, ketchup-flavoured potato chips.


Their favourite pet: that parakeet, the gerbils, Buster, Percy, Chicken the dog, Alabaster the cat.


But 400,000 lives, or 20,000. In total, how many hours, minutes, days, months, years were lost, unnecessarily? How many people did they love—how many people loved them? 

How much grief those numbers encompass.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

No, no, nope, no

Sometimes the only words I have are that I have no words. 

Just kidding. I have these: "Remember: 'no' can be the most loving thing to say and do.'"

Related: Enough. Consequences. 

Here is a birch tree.

Stay home, stay safe, wear a mask, and hold elected officials accountable.