Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Happy Book-iversary to Reverberations!

Monday was the one-year anniversary of the official launch of my book, REVERBERATIONS: A DAUGHTER’S MEDITATIONS ON ALZHEIMER’S.

The whole world looks a lot different today, in many respects. Pandemic, unprecedented, year of the weird, couldn’t have predicted, etc.

But some things haven’t changed, and I want to talk about some of them.

First: Family. Families may change in their makeup, but the concept of family—people with whom you belong—stays the same. I’m especially grateful to my family, especially my siblings.


It’s difficult to write personal essays at all. It’s especially difficult when you’re writing about family experiences, which other people may (or may not) have shared. My sister and brothers have been as kind and considerate as I could have hoped, letting me say what I believed to be true while keeping their muttering sotto voce. They’ve been kind advocates for the book, too, which I appreciate.


My launch anniversary coincides with a birthday. This year, Pete’s new age ends in 5, so it’s one of the “big ones.” Happy birthday, Pete, and thank you to Lee, Hugh, and especially Sue for your support. And a special thanks to the next generation for being pretty great folks.


I know it’s sophisticated to be “so OVER” Zoom, and I understand it’s fatiguing. Thanks to Zoom, my siblings and I can stay in touch, even though we are no closer in geography than we were last year at this time.


Second: Publishers. Signature Editions helped make this book available to people who need it—people who feel alone because of dementia. Previous versions of several essays appeared in lit journals, and I’m grateful to those whose (often unpaid) work connects writers’ work with readers. Specifically, thank you to Malahat Review, The Grief Diaries, Room, Full Grown People, Prairie Fire, NOWW Magazine, Atticus Review, Pithead Chapel and The New Quarterly.


Third: The Local Writing Community. The Northwestern Ontario Writers Workshop has morphed through the years, but its volunteer labour always tries to provide opportunities for writers to learn and share their work with readers.


Many individual writers in greater Thunder Bay provided companionship, prodding, expertise, and a helpful ear. My essays, to say nothing of this book or the launch event itself, wouldn’t have come about without the support of Susan Goldberg, Marianne Jones, Maureen Nadin, Jean E. Pendziwol, Rebekah Skochinski, and Cathi Winslow.


Fourth: the larger community of writers. I learned a lot from joining the Creative Nonfiction Collective, a professional organization for Canadian writers of creative nonfiction. Specifically, at a conference I learned about Susan Olding’s wonderful essay collection, PATHOLOGIES, and her mentorship proved invaluable in my writing journey. And writers are a generous group. Cathie Borrie, who wrote about her own mother’s Alzheimer’s, agreed to read and blurb my book, even though we hadn’t met. That larger community also includes the Canadian arts infrastructure: A grant from the Ontario Arts Council helped me finish this book.


Fifth: The community of people whose lives are touched by Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. I especially appreciate AlzAuthors, a clearinghouse of information by people who have dementia and those who love them, in various forms, including a new podcast. Care partners, grandchildren, people with dementia—all people interested in finding an understanding ear can find it there. And if you’re interested in ending stigma around Alzheimer’s and dementia, you can find resources to help you start conversations there, as well.


Sixth: Readers. Probably the most important group of all. People from all of the groups I’ve mentioned have read my work, and I’m grateful for them all. I extend a special thanks to the A to Z Book Club, with whom I met to discuss my work at the invitation of Liz Pszczolko, for donating their copies to the Thunder Bay Public Library. It’s great to know that other book clubs can check out my book and discuss it.


I say this nearly every time I mention my book, because it’s true: writing a book can create connections and conversation. Almost every person I’ve talked with about my collection eventually shares a story about their aunt or grandparent or neighbour. Dementia isn’t going away. We owe it to our elders, and our peers, to learn how best to support them.


Thank you, everyone.

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Antiracism Books (Canada Sandwich)

Folks, the books. They are coming--all kinds of books. Almost as if everyone recognizes that we will gratefully receive them, coming into winter (as we are in the northern hemisphere). 

I've been reading them, and commenting, and thinking, and even posting about them here and on Instagram (where I am spending more time, and where I am, unsurprisingly, marionagnew. Come say hi).

I will have more to say about the books below (I've written about one here, and another one here), and I will share thoughts here in the coming weeks. 

For now, look at this lovely stack of books. And not for Americans only! Canadians, the books at the top and bottom are by Canadian authors. 

In order, top to bottom:

* Black Writers Matter, edited by Whitney French. Regina, Saskatchewan: University of Regina Press, 2019. Twenty-five Black Canadian writers consider so many subjects. So much to be learned from these pages.

* How to be an Antiracist, by Ibram K. Kendi. New York: One World, an imprint of Random House, 2019.

* Me and White Supremacy, Layla F. Saad. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, 2020.

* So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo. New York: Seal Press, Hatchette Book Group, 2019. 

* The Skin We're In, Desmond Cole. Toronto, Canada: Penguin Doubleday Random House, 2020. A chronoicle of just one year--2017--in Canada. 

Order them from an independent bookstore if you can! These are just for starters--and not the only books I've read; just the ones I recommend. I'm still reading daily. I have much more to learn. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Chatting at a Dinner Party (Or: Holding Hands)

What if the world of books were one big dinner party? Or perhaps I mean some other metaphor—perhaps holding hands?*


Let’s stay with the dinner party for now. Sometimes a book is like a new guest at a dinner party of otherwise familiar people—a new energy that creates and directs energy into conversations in new ways.


Of course, that’s always true, in a sense—books live in a context. They’re produced by individuals who live at specific times when specific things are happening. Entire literary theories and theorists debate whether a book can be extracted from its time, and how to handle books that once expressed the best thinking of the time but that now are obviously (and painfully and dreadfully) flawed. But I’m not talking about that, today.

What I’m describing is a slightly different experience. While reading Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s To Speak for the Trees, I felt that this book could happily chat at a dinner party (or hold hands) with two other books I’ve read recently.**

One is Anne Bokma’s My Year of Living Spiritually. Both Beresford-Kroeger and Bokma are Canadians (and women), and both books talk about spirituality without the apologies some progressive societies and readers seem to expect. Bokma’s book is structured as a quest, during which she “tries on” various forms of non-religious spiritual belief and practice. Underlying the humour and game face with which Bokma tries singing, forest bathing, and magic mushrooms is a serious story of finding herself and evaluating her marriage.


The first half of Beresford-Kroeger’s book narrates her odd and lonely growing-up years in England and Ireland, and how her Celtic relatives embraced her presence and gave her--invested in her, really—the ancient wisdom nearly lost through colonization. In the last half of the book, she presents the Celtic Alphabet of Trees. Working her way through the ancient Ogham script, she shares why related trees are considered sacred and the properties for which they’re venerated.


To Speak for the Trees is also in conversation with my beloved Braiding Sweetgrass, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I wrote a review of this book for Brevity five years ago, and my admiration of this book is unlimited. One of my favourite elements of the book is that it inspired me—and seems to inspire in others—an interested in learning NOT about some OTHER place, but about the place we live. Here. What’s out our own doors? Who has protected this land through the millennia, and whom has it sheltered?


Both writers speak from science and from deep wisdom. Both share indigenous knowledge of a specific place—knowledge that’s in danger of being lost and has long been dismissed. Knowledge that has much to teach us today as we ignore and wreck our one planet.


I don’t mean to say “If you liked this, you’ll love that.” I’m not an “others who bought this also bought” algorithm. But I do think that if you liked Braiding Sweetgrass, you might enjoy learning from Diana Beresford-Kroeger’s book. And if you’re generally leery of religion and spirituality (and even if you’re not), give Anne Bokma’s book a try—it’s a chance to spend time with an honest, adventurous writer.


This isn’t the first time I’ve described books in relationship to other books (sometimes including my own). For other times, clickhere.

I don’t have a deep or meaningful insight with which to end this post. Except, I guess, that in difficult times, like this past year and the past four years and all the years, even those extending into the future, sometimes it’s uplifting and energizing to think about ways human beings can live differently—with even more integrity, with love for each other and for our home, this one planet we share.


* Sometimes books seem to “hold hands” with other books. I know that books don’t have hands, Michael Dorsey from Tootsie, who said a tomato can’t sit down.

** This summer, Susan Scott, a consulting editor at The New Quarterly and community builder extraordinaire, led a workshop about Spiritual Memoirs for the Creative Nonfiction Collective. It gave me a new “dinner party” to consider.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Today's Focus

Sometimes it feels as if growing older requires consistently lowering expectations of others. Or maybe it just feels that way today.

Today, some people are determined to live down to the few expectations I had left for them--I'm looking at you, election officials in Oklahoma, to say nothing of half of the voters who live there. 

But. I have a choice. Today, I choose to celebrate people who are doing their best in impossible circumstances. 

Random slightly fuzzy photo
of a beautiful flower/weed 
from the most beautiful place
on the planet.

Today, I'm celebrating public health officials who are saying hard things in rooms of politicians, and who continue to say these hard things, day after day after day. These people are giving good, science- and experience-based advice. 

Their advice is too often ignored and wished away, lalala if I pretend to be responsible, if I raise my voice and tell people to get it together, maybe something good will happen, lalala. I can't imagine the frustration of experts whose expertise is denigrated and ignored.* 

We may never know the names of these scientists--epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists of all kinds, people who have lived through and squashed previous pandemics, those trained in public health. But they're there, and they're doing their best for us, and today, I'm celebrating them. 

Today, I'm celebrating workers in laboratories around the world who run experiments and crunch numbers, who use their training and expertise to investigate drugs that will--and drugs that won't--serve as a vaccine against COVID-19 and end our pandemic. 

Most of these people will find out what DOESN'T work, science being science. Most will have only the satisfaction of doing their jobs well--we'll never know who they are, though their bosses may win Nobel prizes or get huge pharmaceutical stock options. 

But those workers are out there in the world, in their laboratories, and they're working for the rest of us, and today, I'm celebrating them.  

Today, I'm celebrating people who care for elderly people, people who bring breakfasts, who clean bodies, who elicit smiles, who sing old songs, who lead exercise, who button cardigans, who find glasses and hearing aids and dentures, who bring cheer and care to our parents and grandparents, our aunts and uncles, our cousins, our neighbours.

These care workers see far too many people, for too little pay, at great personal risk. They are blamed and censured and ignored. Whatever they do, they know they could do more--there's always more they could do.  

But they do their best work, they care for our loved ones with hands and heart, and today, I'm celebrating them.

Today, I'm celebrating people who care for patients in hospitals, who give reassurance and use the best practices known at the moment to treat COVID-19. I celebrate those who treat patients with other conditions, and those who make the institutions run--specialists in computing services, record-keeping, imaging, housekeeping. 

While politicians stand in formation behind podiums and pontificate about how "we should all do better," this army of anonymous-to-us healthcare providers are already doing better. They work long shifts, at great personal risk. They serve us, even those who deliberately flout public health advice--who know better yet choose to risk the lives of people they profess to love. 

But these front-line healthcare workers serve us, even those of us whose actions endanger their lives--and today, I'm celebrating them. 

Today, I'm focusing on people who are achieving impossible things for people they don't know. Because they're holding together a world with little more than hope and their expertise, and I'm grateful to them. 



* Oh wait, yes I can imagine having one's expertise dismissed, because I'm a woman with expertise in my own body, yet many people without my expertise would say I'm not entitled to make decisions for my body.