Four sessions of dozens of kids in one day. No matter where I am, it always starts off the same: What's the biggest library rule? ... BE QUIET they say, in that obedient sing-songy chorus. One kid in the back says NO FLYING SIDE KICKS.
What do you think—should we break it?
If I Were A Zombie—silly little monsters-and-magical-creatures poems for preschoolers and early-grade goofballs, as fantastically illustrated by the award-winning Eric Orchard—is here! Time to crack out my classroom growl, the one that makes the kids giggle. That's all we do, really, when authors write for little ones. We trade tricks for giggles. Sea monsters with bare bums, naughty wood fairies with mud up their noses, mom-mooning pirate ghosts, and of course, zombies with mouldy underpants.
I'll always relish the chance to shoot musicians. They slip into play so easily. We chat about grants and gigs, empty pubs and full barns, albums and half-written snippets of songs. Grassy or grand, they share half-thoughts and works in-progress from every stage. They let us into their experiments, hits and failures alike, as many songs as love affairs and runaways, and we sit there gawking at them, marvelling at how they hold us in trance. They hold up a mirror, that thing they do, and we say aaaaaahhhh.
A certifiable free-for-all tickle trunk! A gross-out makeup station! Either a monster limbo or monster breakdance contest! Yet to be determined. Prizes! Fun! Healthy goblin eyeball snacks! With thanks to all the creative minds at Nimbus Publishing, we've just gotten confirmation today that the launch party for If I Were A Zombie will take place on Saturday, May 21st from 2-4 PM at the world-admired, sparkling-new Halifax Central Library, one of few public institutions that's totally down with en masse growling.
Don't keep yourself from writing just because you haven't found the shape of a story yet. Just play with words. Play and have fun and someday, when you're running through a sprinkler or eating a hot dog or drifting off to sleep, you'll feel a tap on your shoulder, and a voice in your ear like it's being whispered through a tin can telephone. Be ready.
Willie Stratton was one of three musicians who played the third annual Shed Workshop party this September, and he made everything in the woods go really, really quiet. By commanding it, even though he didn't mean to, you know? He's loud. And it made us quiet. Everyone-there-with-their-mouths-hanging-open quiet. He wails and stamps and even on his own, it's blistering. He's a really nice guy. But not when he plays.
They hang so thick from the back of Evan's door that it thumps back at you when you push into the room, recoiling from a ruffled crush against the bookshelf. Tea parties and dance halls and lemon yellow picnic gingham for good girls, mostly, every single one of them made by hand, with little scissor snips where seams were matched. They keep finding me in antique barns and Frenchy's bins. I am their Josephine Baker, and they're my rainbow tribe of orphans.
Old Man Luedecke's latest album, Domestic Eccentric, was recorded in the godforsaken armpit of the longest and gnarliest winter any of us can remember. He hired a backhoe to shovel a path through chest-deep snow to his woodland cabin, where everyone tumbled inside with gourd banjos and mandolins and fiddles and drums, and me and my camera, too, to capture a bit of it all.
Workshop participants gave so many gifts that day. To themselves, each other, and the people who landed in these woods. God, we were beat! We had so much fun, all of us so invigorated to create images together and in parallel. BONG! Go grab a soul.
Until we let go of the need to grip tight onto our stories, those my-truths and being right about it all, we will remain in an endless loop of a You Did A Bad Thing—No, I Did A Good Thing gridlock. It’s an expensive one. It costs energy and turns everyone sour with its touch. It’s a parasite that entrenches deeper, widening the gap.
It's a very pregnant moment, you know? Pregnant beyond a woman. It's a taut, bursting roundness and joy that's about all of us. Time slows for friends and loved ones watching anxiously from sidelines, and these days, time doesn't do that often. It only slides downhill and in blinks, decades passing on great big gulps while we're fussing over supper. That's why it's a pregnant moment. Everyone slows, watching and waiting.
Her English parents fret for her from the motherland, imagining her lugging seven cords of wood in February and coaxing bullish chickens and shovelling her roof. And she does. There's a three-legged cat, a 1960s cocktail bar. She is never without Pimm's. She wears mustard-coloured tights and bright teal pumps and a black and white checkered miniskirt. Inland, she's rare to the point of scandalous. I certainly hope so, she says.
You don't pass into made-it-on-your-own territory with a marching band and a fondant cake. You make it on your own mousetrap by mousetrap, taking it on because there's nothing else to do other than take it on, and because live rodents are more icky than dead ones.
Registration is open! Come join us for the third annual Shed Photography Workshop: Photo Essay & Visual Storytelling. It's all happening again: the best weekend ever, with inchworms, the fire pit, and a great big stomping creekside party. With banjos.
We draw and write through life not only for sanity or play or escape, but because when you make space for art, you become a magnet for other people who make space for art. And people like that are weird and rare and fantastic. They do the best stuff. They throw wood onto our fires and they make the room warm. Oddity fuels oddity when everything else is beige.
The winter is over! This unrelenting winter. I couldn't do much, like all of us in the Maritimes, other than either buy a plane ticket or batten down and wait for it to stop. As I write this, three days from May, it's snowing again. But it won't stick. Like bigotry and heartbeats it knows it's doomed, falling on soft mud and new worms.
"Never didactic but wisely intentional, it is just a matter of time before The Flight of the Griffons takes off and lands in classrooms and homes everywhere. Missy Bullseye oughta rub shoulders with Harry Potter on the world stage. This is not hyperbole..."
I've been wanting to share the lazy, lovely day I had with singer-songwriter Kim Harris for ages. We poked our way through the woods across the creek on one of the fall's last golden days, bringing with us a bag of Billie Holiday and soft things and sparkly things and we played while the last leaves drifted to the ground.
"Flight of the Griffons is much more than an adventure story ... the character of Missy and her fellow pirates gives readers faith in the tenacity and goodness of human nature. ... Flight of the Griffons could be read as a stand-alone, but to have read the first one in the series would make it even more satisfying! So buy both volumes!"
We went for pappadums and chutney and samosas. We ate in the parking lot of a closed Frenchy's and talked with our mouths full about Charlie Chaplin, Lancaster Bombers, the overcooked brussels sprouts of the Royal Air Force, and swing dancing. We drove fast to get to Windhorse Farm for the last of the day's sun because it's the most peaceful place I know, and because their great-grandfather never visited a cenotaph.
Women come to the Serendipity retreat from all over, from Californian ranches to the Texan panhandle. They bring everything with them. They bring duffel bags full of failed businesses and startup ideas and grieved husbands and sons and daughters and love affairs and crippling doubts and Vargas girls. They bring journals and paint and everybody eats too much.
These two, since they were two. Her mom and me sitting with mugs of tea and glasses of wine, thumbing through cookbooks. We didn't finish more than three sentences in one stretch for a good five years or more. Someone was always, suddenly, too high up in a tree.
Landing in Amsterdam was landing inside an infinite diorama, yet with real roses on vines, and the indecipherable, en masse murmur of another language all around. It was the first time I was an outsider. It was the first time I wasn't sure how to move without being in someone's way, or without looking like someone who doesn't belong. It unfolded around me like a giant pop-up book, like magic.
Our time here is finite, quantifiably so. The evidence is constant. We have the power of man's red flower! We have opposable thumbs and the wheel. We are the only animals who know our lives will end. But that's not enough to make us more kind, gentle, appreciative, and more presently helpful to others. We are engrossed in a neverending inventory of shoulds and should-haves.
After it was all done, and the last of the houseguests headed off for highways and airports, I didn't clean or move or cook or speak for a week. It was some kind of emotional bomb that went off, this constant state of disbelief and grateful overwhelm. How can I know these people? How is it possible that a weekend this special happens at this little house—this crooked, paint-peeled, lost and abandoned place that I found when I felt just the same—how can it be mine, any of it?
Everything came out, stuff I've been collecting for years. Not one boa but two. Not one gypsy skirt but two. A soft pink 1980s prom dress. A witch hat. A woodland fairy, a hippie, a go-go girl. A disco-dancing alien witch. A woodland-fairy flapper. They dress up all day long, emerging from the exploded trunk to the fire pit for a parade on every costume change.
I watched for raised eyebrows among parents and teachers, because I come to oil country with a book about radicals who wish for the end of pipelines. But that's not what it's about. It's the friction point of prosperity and concern, ability and disability, the loss of bodily presence and the gain of ghost messages. It's misplaced outrage and well-placed courage. It's banjo song and smoke in your eye. Stories hinge there, swinging this way and that.
It begins on Sunday: a suitcase full of books! Pirates in oil country! I fly into Edmonton and from there it's buses and rental cars all around the province, to schools in Lethbridge and a blessing ceremony in Stand Off—lucky me happens to be passing through for a smudging and I'll be there soaking it up, reading, and stocking their library with Missy and airborne resistance.