Incognito Press

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Posts Tagged ‘poetry’

A Year of Light and Darkness

Posted by E on December 30, 2016

elisa-dec2016As 2016 comes to an end, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what has been a very transformative year for me. An extremely difficult one as well since this month marks one year since my mother’s death last December, and her loss still feels altogether raw and very recent.

But it’s also been marked by some personal and professional accomplishments: I travelled to South America for the first time on a research project, and I’ve finally completed my last course for my Social Media Marketing Certificate from George Brown college! I must confess, I was waiting to earn this degree before I publish my new Art of Social Media Marketing for Creatives book, and now it’s going through the final edits before heading off to the printer.

I wanted to also touch upon some memorable highlights. When it comes to publications, there are three I am most proud of this year:

1. In March I published my literary novel Daughters of the Air, which interweaves the tragic tale of Adele Hugo, a retelling of The Little Mermaid fairytale and a modern-day timeline into a story of obsession, reincarnation and exploration of everlasting love. It’s tone is similar to The Red Violin and Posession, in that it’s a haunting love story that spans three continents, three timelines and three hundred years – a search for the root of heartbreak that involves mermaids, political activists and haunted geniuses. It flows from Paris to the Channel Islands, from spiritualist séances to the austere coastlines of Nova Scotia.

I am extremely proud of this book and I really hope you guys will get a chance to read it, because I poured all my heart into this one and it’s by far my most ambitious novel.

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2. In April, my villanelle poem One Europe was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I was so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition. I was inspired by Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art to create a similar pattern, and I’m so very glad that I wrote it. A villanelle has a very complicated rhyming pattern and creating it was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this complex was tremendously rewarding.

3. In July, my editorial article was published in the Canadian Jewish News in a three-page spread. Moreover, it actually made the front cover for that week’s print edition! Nothing beats receiving a congratulatory message from my former university professor, mentor and self-described “Jewish uncle”, renowned Canadian poet Seymour Mayne, praising me for having my article featured on the cover – he’d just received it in the mail hours before Shabbat, and it made our weekend.

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Although I would gladly have written the piece for free, getting a cheque from the CJN for the article was a great feeling. Depending on Patreon, writing grants, freelancing projects crowdfunding sites to keep writing full-time is a haphazard, unpredictable process that can get stressful. A lot of people read my blog but very few realize just how time-consuming writing can be, and how generating money is a persistent issue. If everyone who reads my blog donated a single dollar to my Patreon fund each month, I would have a full-time income.

I’ve been a blogger and freelance journalist for years, but my work often went unpaid. My experience with CJN taught me that I can effectively pitch and sell articles to major publications, which has shifted my perspective and made me more ambitious about pursuing paid gigs with established publications. Who knows, lighting could strike twice and I might get another article to grace a front cover someday!

Elisa HasdeuIn the coming year I intend to work more on commissioned articles and less on regular blogging. Actually, I spent the early part of summer taking online courses to earn my certificate in Journalism from Michigan State University. Although I don’t believe that a formal degree is necessary in an oversaturated field where very few can find full-time employment, I see reporting, blogging and freelance work as a continuum in 21st century journalism. In a world where an increasing number of mainstream reporters are being laid off and digital publications redefine the profession, the lines between mainstream reporter, blogger and independent journalist have become blurred.

But don’t fret, my friends! Even though I will be making paid freelance work a priority, I could never give up blogging altogether – it’s become second nature to me. I started blogging in 2007 or -8 and it’s been such a helpful outlet of emotional and artistic expression for me, not to mention that I’ve met so many great people through it.

But time will be an issue. This spring I am booked for approx. eight to ten speaking engagements throughout Ontario and Quebec. In March I will be a speaker at a conference where Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion, former Attorney General Irwin Cotler and several United Nations staffers will also be presenting. It’s also a great opportunity to meet others involved in human rights, genocide documentation and social justice issues.

Afterwards I will be interviewed for a PBS special which will be filmed in NY state. I’ve also been asked to speak at SUNY that week.

Between the speaking engagements, a commissioned book I’m working on for a client, writing my own memoir and trying to finish my MFA (I only have a semester left), time is a commodity that I will have to plan carefully. Still, the excitement of achieving so many personal goals is more powerful than my ubiquitous jitters of speaking in front of large audiences.

Under a Trump presidency and alt-right governance, more than ever, it’s an important time to be a journalist and activist. I look forward to bringing my story, knowledge and expertise about extremist movements to a broader audience.

This year I was a consultant on a short documentary about Ernst Zundel‘s former home, titled ‘206 Carlton‘, produced by a Ryerson University Documentary Media student. I was also quoted in several articles about the resurgence of the ultra-right wing in Canada, such as:

CityNews: Alleged Toronto neo-Nazi publication expands west, pestering downtowners

National Post: ‘Hitler actually wasn’t that bad’: How Neo-Nazis are using attractive young women to boost their movement

All of this has led to a sharp rise of hate tweets, Facebook messages and threatening emails coming at me from social media trolls emboldened by Trump’s win to the point of delusion. Par for the course, I suppose – though the vile anti-Semitic, misogynist words reveal the persons behind them for the pathetic cowards that they are.

Lastly, I’m proud of an extensive, in-depth interview I did with author Samita Sarkar of Blossoms Writing. It’s a worthwhile discussion to check out if you’re interested in knowing more about me, the story behind Race Traitor and its aftermath.

So on this note, I wish all of you love and light for the New Year. May your 2017 be bright and inspiring, and remember – tomorrow is the first blank page of a 365-page book. Write a good one!

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Posted in news, poetry, politics, white supremacy, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Tracing the footsteps of Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil

Posted by E on November 4, 2016

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Like many people, I discovered Elizabeth Bishop one evening in 2013 by scrolling through the newest offerings on Netflix, and choosing a movie called Reaching for the Moon. Unbeknownst to me, the story I watched that night would be the start of a new adventure – one that would lead me into foreign territory and transform my poetry in infinitesimal ways.

Much like Elizabeth’s own journey, in fact.

elizabeth-bishopWhen she was 40 years old, American poet Elizabeth Bishop decided it was time to leave New York. She had reached a dead end both in her personal life (after a break-up with a long-time lover) and in her stagnant creativity, which resulted in a dry spell from publishing. Also struggling with alcoholism, Elizabeth longed for a new start, some way to rejuvenate her spirit and retrigger her inspiration. Receiving a fellowship from Bryn Mawr College was a godsend, and she decided that she would travel around the world.

She telephoned the naval port and was told that the next available freighter was leaving for South America. Impulsively, she reserved a spot.

In November of 1951, Bishop boarded the Norwegian freighter S.S. Bowplate. Unbeknownst to her, the journey would change her life forever. The first port she arrived at was Santos, and what was meant to be a brief sojourn to visit with an old school chum from Vassar, Mary Morse, turned into an eighteen-year stay that would profoundly affect the rest of her life.

Toward the end of her vacation, Elizabeth fell ill from a violent allergic reaction to a cashew fruit and had to be hospitalized. While being nursed back to health, her relationship with Mary Morse’s Brazilian lover Lota deepened and grew more intense. Soon Lota de Macedo Soares, a self-taught architect from a prominent upper-class political family, broke up with Mary Morse and persuaded Elizabeth to stay in Brazil and move into Lota’s sprawling estate home at Samambaia, in the hills above Petropolis.

With Lota’s affection, Elizabeth flourished. It was there, amidst the lush jungle foliage and under Lota’s care, that Elizabeth wrote the poetry that would win her a Pulitzer prize and turn her into a world-renowned poet.

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After watching Reaching for the Moon, I was convinced that I couldn’t stand Elizabeth Bishop. Her weakness, her repeated cheating on Lota, her complete dependence on alcohol as a way to relinquish personal responsibility. But out of curiosity, I wanted to see for myself if she was all she’s cracked up to be. Soon I would discover just how inaccurate the film was, and run into interviews that revealed director Bruno Barreto’s obsession with stylistic themes over historical accuracy. Like many biographical films, truth and historical fact was sacrificed to the artistic vision of a straight male director who’d never heard of Elizabeth Bishop before he read the script.

I would also discover that Elizabeth’s characterization in the film paled in comparison to the real person, both in physique and in spirit. Bishop didn’t resemble the tall, slender, cool, passive-aggressive character played by Miranda Otto. The real Elizabeth was short (only 5’4) and stout, intensely emotional, at times difficult, with an inner fire that was apparent to all who knew her. As the years progressed, her relationship with Lota became increasingly codependent. Paradoxically, the stronger she grew, the weaker Lota became. It would all come to a tragic end after Elizabeth traveled back to the US to teach at NYU and recently hospitalized Lota (against medical advice) decided to visit her in September 1967. On her first night in New York, Lota took an overdose of tranquilizers and fell into a coma, dying a few days later.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

After Lota’s death, Elizabeth was shunned by her Brazilian friends and Lota’s relatives. She was forced to sell her Ouro Preto home and the Rio apartment bequeathed to her by Lota after Lota’s sister contested the will. Elizabeth soon realized that she had no future in Brazil without Lota and reluctantly moved back to the United States, eventually teaching at Harvard until her death in 1979.

Over the weeks and months to come, I would devour all Bishop-related material I could get my hands on. Soon I discovered that she had written much more than just poetry, and I was hooked. After Poems: North & South. A Cold Spring and Questions of Travel, I ordered her prose, correspondence, her incomplete, posthumously-published drafts and at least two biographies.

It started out as a hobby – reading all of Bishop’s writing. I spent an entire summer in my garden, reading book after book. Why? I still don’t know. Like Bishop’s feelings about Brazil, liking her didn’t come naturally. Some of her writing made me angry or befuddled me. I complained to my partner of how much I couldn’t stand Bishop-the-person, only to find myself returning to Bishop-the-writer’s work the next day.

It might sound crazy to most people. Why would I become inexplicably obsessed with a woman who died nearly forty years ago, a poet who was my complete antagonist? Why did I keep going down the Bishop rabbit hole instead of putting away her books? What kept me so engaged even as I complained about how weak and conflicted she was?

For all its flaws and incorrect depictions, Reaching for the Moon was a watershed moment for Bishop’s memory, leading many to look up her biography and (re)discover the small body of writing she had left behind. Until the film came out Bishop was a minor poet, largely forgotten by the masses and hardly ever studied in creative writing classes.

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Elizabeth Bishop in college

In all my writing classes over the years, Bishop’s poetry has never been covered. It’s easy to see why – shy and reticent to share the personal or make it political in an age when her compatriots (see Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton) found their stardom by turning their inner angst into poetic magic, she isn’t exactly an obvious choice for later generations, for youngsters who have been taught that the personal is political.

In contrast with the passionate, vibrant experimentation of the Beat Generation, Bishop’s classic approach to literature and her staunch avoidance to confront political and feminist discourse in her work rendered her an almost obsolete vestige of a repressed generation.

As a young poet, I was dazzled by the raw honesty of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Bukowski, swept away by Plath’s confessional brutality. Writers like Bishop and her idol, Marianne Moore, did nothing for me. I saw them as Vassar-reared, elitist upper class dilettantes who refused to address the sweeping changes of their time – they met in cafés and parlours to exchange and review each other’s couplets rather than discuss the Second World War that raged around them, the civil rights movement that brought equality to racial and sexual minorities.

Our poetic styles couldn’t be more different. I was as bold as Bishop was reticent; I challenged the establishment with the same ferocity she had retained while ignoring any criticisms of the government of her day. Her refusal to be included in feminist or women-only anthologies (underscored by the belief that it would somehow reduce her worth as a poet), her reluctance to openly come out as a lesbian even after the advent of gay liberation, all go against the grain of my own belief system.

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Lota de Macedo Soares

Only in my late thirties could I have begun to appreciate the quiet strength that resides in Bishop’s poetry. I still can’t say that I like the woman on a personal level, but there is something about her that fascinates me. I’ve read passages of her letters (as addressed to Robert Lowell) that I found incensing, even borderline racist and contemptuous toward those less privileged than her – opinions no doubt amplified by being in the company of the Brazilian elites of the day. But there is also an overwhelming defiance in her writing, interweaved in equal parts with fear, hope and childlike wonder all at the same time.

Emboldened by my connection to Bishop’s work, I wrote my first villanelle One Europe after being inspired by One Art. And as soon as I submitted it, it was accepted for publication in Canada’s oldest poetry journal, CV2 (Contemporary Verse 2). I wrote a second poem, set in Brazil, and once again it attracted attention and a mentorship with a renowned Canadian poet. Clearly, Elizabeth Bishop’s influences on my own writing had produced results.

A year later, after I’d made my way through her entire correspondence and translations, going so far as to acquire some first editions of her books (including Life World Library’s Brazil), I realized that I had become a self-taught Bishop scholar. With that realization came the knowledge that I had to confront my own feelings and try to understand what it was about Elizabeth Bishop that both attracted and still repelled me. As it often is, people who trigger strong feelings in you are actually reflections of your own self, mirroring some part of self-identity that you refuse to see.

I realized how much I was like her. All the things I hated about her work were things I hated in myself. I wished she had been stronger, that she could have come out as a feminist or lesbian poet, but it took me years to allow my own identity to seep into my writing.

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Elizabeth Bishop with Tobias the Cat in 1954

We live in an age that worships youth and carries the unspoken message that if you haven’t “made it” as a writer by your late 30s, you’re a nobody. Her success later in life, in spite of depression, personal struggles with a dark past and substance abuse, inspired and rejuvenated me in all those dark moments that come to all writers, when I felt down and hopeless.

And then came the day when I knew, more than anything, that I had to travel to Brazil.

I craved to see for myself the influences that had created the greatest phase of her career, and the years that she admitted were the happiest of her life. Brazil was where Bishop’s path took a new turn, where she produced work whose lasting power would outlive her.

I was 40 years old too. I often felt hopeless and burnt out.  I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I wished to touch the same spark – that intangible, luminous magic – of inspiration that had struck Bishop. Some places have that effect, you know; just like some plants only bloom in certain soil, the fertility of creation comes easier in certain spots than others.

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A view of Guanabara Bay and Flamengo Park – Lota’s vision. Taken from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain.

The 2016 Rio Olympics made it easier to travel to Brazil. The visa requirement was waved for the summer, security was at its best, and by booking far ahead I was able to line up affordable accommodations both in Rio and in Ouro Preto. Ignoring the dreadful headlines about killer Zika mosquitos and roving favela gangs, I spent most of August and the first week of September in Brazil, working on various projects which included researching the life of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares. Needless to say, I skipped the mosquito repellant and was not bitten once.

During my Brazil sojourn I wanted to stay a few days on Copacabana beach, just to take in the atmosphere, but didn’t realize that the hotel I’d booked was literally next door to Elizabeth and Lota’s old Leme apartment. Its street address and entrance might have been on Rua Antonio Vieira 5, but the balcony actually fronts onto Avenida Atlantica.

It was an amazing coincidence. Every day I’d look outside my window onto Leme beach, I realized it was essentially the same view they’d had back then. Every evening I went downstairs to have dinner and cashew fruit caipirinhas on the patio at Jaquina’s, which is actually on the main level of the same building. Lota’s apartment was the penthouse – which you can see on the highest floor. It’s the unit with the wraparound balcony and a walk-up to the rooftop (click photos to expand).

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The view from a similar balcony at Av. Atlantica and Rua Antonio Vieira, 5.

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Copacabana beach – on the left is Leme hill, and on the right is Sugarloaf Mountain.

A few days after I arrived, I hired a driver and guide to take me up to Petropolis and the hilltops of Samambaia. Once the depressing urban jungle of Rio’s favelas gave way to mountainous vegetation, the road turned steep and narrow. I could only imagine how precarious it must have been back when Lota had to maneuver her Jaguar regularly on a winding, partially-unpaved road; now a two-hour drive, it took nearly twice as long back in the 1950s.

Here are some photos taken on that day. The actual Samambaia house is private property so we were not able to go inside, but the hilltop views reflect the fierce beauty of its surroundings. I also took photos of downtown Petropolis, Quitandinha Hotel (a Grand Hotel-type place where the millionaires, celebrities, movie stars and the elites of Petropolis congregated in the 1950s) and the Crystal Palace (click to expand photos).

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During the last week of August, I flew to Belo Horizonte, the capital of the Minas Gerais region, and hired a car for the two-hour drive to Ouro Preto, which was even more spectacular, quaint and tranquil than I’d imagined. Once known as the biggest city in the New World, Ouro Preto is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site and the soul of Brazil’s 1700s gold rush. Its surrounding hills are stippled with gold mines and reddish clay earth.

It’s hard not to fall in love with its timeless, rustic beauty, which (oddly enough) reminded me quite viscerally of my grandmother’s Transylvanian village, where I spent many childhood summers. Safe and friendly, it’s easy to imagine living here for an extended stretch of time and just write. If I could afford it, I would return in a heartbeat.

Ouro Preto is a quintessential village with sloping cobblestone streets and several white stone bridges connecting different parts of town – a tapestry of eighteenth-century dwellings and ornate churches standing next to simple, whitewashed colonial houses. A sprawling main square dotted with baroque buildings next to an arts-and-crafts market.

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The sunshine spills over an explosion of tropical plants sprouting prickly red flowers, then flows downwards to an abundance of purple-and-yellow wildflowers that grow in the sidewalk nooks. A smell of smoke and burning wood lingers after sunset, a dog barks in the middle of the night, the cackling rooster screeches at the crack of dawn.

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A narrow, cobbled road connects Ouro Preto to its sister city Mariana, located a fifteen-minute drive away. High up in the hills overlooking the town, Elizabeth Bishop’s former home boasts an incredible vista that overlooks lush foliage, baroque churches and coppery-red shingled rooftops. In 1960 Bishop purchased a home here, at 546 Mariana Road; she called the house Casa Mariana (click on photos to expand).

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It was bittersweet to say goodbye to Brazil, and I can only imagine how traumatic it must have been for Bishop to leave her adopted home, everything she had loved and lost here. But what made me sadder was how few people remembered Lota de Macedo Soares. Although her spirit is embedded in the beautiful Flamengo Park which circles Guanabara Bay, nobody I talked with in Brazil knew who I was speaking about.

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My guide, a gay man who prides himself on having a history degree, announced that the park had been designed solely by Burle Marx. Even when I tried to impress upon him the significant work Lota did in the design and construction of the park, he (like others) wasn’t particularly interested in knowing about her. Even the small commemorative plaque in Aterro do Flamengo has misspelled Lota’s name and was never corrected. Sadly, in death Lota’s memory has been brushed aside and replaced with the names of powerful men who were determined (and arguably succeeded) in erasing her identity from the history of the city she loved and helped to transform.

Someday all our memories will be forgotten and lost – such is the fate of time and mortality. But I do hope that in the beauty of a blossoming garden, in the delicate verse of a poem that takes someone’s breath away, a shred of ourselves still remains.

Surely this is what Elizabeth and Lota would have wanted.

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Posted in literature, poetry, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

The Latest Poetry News

Posted by E on May 13, 2016

CV2 coverLast month (April) was all-together a great month as far as poetry goes. My first – and so far, only – villanelle poem was published in one of Canada’s oldest literary journals Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing (CV2). It’s the only national poetry magazine that continues to publish four times a year and I am so excited to be included in the Spring 2016 edition.

I first heard of the acceptance last year, and didn’t know which particular issue my poem would appear, so I kept waiting. After nearly a year, I was starting to wonder if it had been back-burnered forever (what should I do? Would it be a major faux-pas to query the editor? yikes). But then – as if by magic – a small, nondescript white envelope appeared in my mailbox. It was just thick enough to contain a magazine, and there it was – CV2’s annual poetry-only edition!

In this day of online publishing, I consider myself fortunate to have my poetry appear in print. There’s no comparison to the great joy of holding a periodical or a book in your hands, a palpable thing you can touch, smell and (after much pride and celebration) put on a shelf. If you’d like a copy, you can pick up the latest CV2 edition in any major bookstore or order it online directly from their website. I’m in the company of some really great writers!

I first tried my hand at a villanelle after reading Elizabeth Bishop’s One Art, a poignant piece about loss and heartache. The most famous villanelle of all is, of course, Dylan Thomas’s eternal Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night (one of my favourite poems of all time). Nothing compares to the sheer power and awe that poem contains, the magic cast through its hypnotic (heart)beat of repetition.

CV2 poemAs I soon discovered, villanelles have a notoriously difficult pattern and have fallen out of use largely because of the time and labour involved in creating this haunting pattern. Wikipedia defines a villanelle as:

“a nineteen-line poetic form consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain. There are two refrains and two repeating rhymes, with the first and third line of the first tercet repeated alternately until the last stanza, which includes both repeated lines. The rhyme-and-refrain pattern goes like this: A1bA2 abA1 abA2 abA1 abA2 abA1A2 where letters (“a” and “b”) indicate the two rhyme sounds, upper case indicates a refrain (“A”), and superscript numerals (1 and 2) indicate Refrain 1 and Refrain 2.”

I wrote One Europe soon after returning from my journey to Romania, where I researched my father’s past and tried to access his dossier from the Securitate archives. It was also an observation of the current state of emotional numbness and brutality that lingers in the post-communist era.

It was a lot of work, but the joy and sense of accomplishment I felt for being able to create something this difficult complex was incredibly rewarding. My recommendation to all you poets out there is to try your hand (at least once) at an ornate, complicated archaic format just to experience what poets of other generations had to work with, back when rhyme was the only accepted form. If anything, it will whittle your words into a sharper, tighter poem. It’s worth the exercise, believe me.

Given the fact that my first-ever villanelle was accepted for publication so quickly (most poems get peddled through quite a few editors before they find a home), I plan to write a few more this summer. But first, I need to work on edits for my existing pieces.

This brings me to another piece of good news: a few months ago, the in-house editor at ARC Poetry Magazine recommended me for a free mentorship program with their resident poet, a renowned and very established Canadian poet who gave me some really useful tips for revising my poem Voyage to Brazil, which they are considering for publication. So hopefully (fingers crossed) it will appear in ARC sometime this year – but either way, the mentorship and keen eye was invaluable. The poem is that much stronger and powerful thanks to ARC’s help, and I’m sure it will find a home soon.

And speaking of Brazil, it’s where I’ll be spending part of the summer working on my book and other poetry & research projects. Stay tuned for details.

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So Badly My Eyes Hurt, So Badly – a Romanian Folk Song

Posted by E on February 4, 2016

I first heard this song when I was in Romania in the spring of 2015, digging into my family’s secret past. My family defected from Romania in the mid-eighties, before the Revolution that ended Ceausescu’s dictatorship, but there were Securitate records and secrets that I still had to uncover, so I returned to my old haunting grounds, my bullet-scarred Bucharest.

Perhaps I’d heard this song before, sometime in my lost childhood, because a curious sense of deja vu and aching loneliness came over me with those first notes. It was like I received a punch to the gut….and since I blocked so much trauma from my early childhood, I realized that I had something to learn from this experience. Impulsively, I grabbed a sketchbook and decided to set upon translating this old folks song, if only because I couldn’t find another translation into English anywhere online. Its Romanian title is Rau Ma Dor Ochii, Ma Dor – which roughly translates to Badly my eyes hurt, hurt me.

As a poet and someone who cares more about the feeling and meaning in the words, I chose to do a looser translation that focuses more on the meaning of the lyrics rather than the literal translation. I kept most of the authentic words wherever possible, but hopefully I succeeded in conveying the deep, bottomless longing and painful sadness that lingers in this song and makes it haunting…..at least to my own ears.

For the first week I kept listening to this song, I couldn’t stop myself from breaking into tears: it reminded me of the essence of why I was in Romania, chasing ghosts and demons and being unable to stop until I understood WHY. Why did my family’s path take the turn that led me into a cold and foreign country, and why did CNSAS, the authorities who inherited the Securitate Archives, prevent my father’s files from being released more twenty years after his death.

Could it have something to do with him being murdered within 24 hours of his return to Bucharest in 1988? Could it have something to do with the fact that I was followed by a plain-clothes agent in Bucharest and told in no uncertain terms that I should stop asking questions about my father’s death?

The song is called “So badly my eyes hurt, so badly.” There are countless renditions of it, but this one – sang by these two young women of the Romanian Armed Forces, haunted me the most – and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

As I mentioned earlier, I found no English translation online so I gave my best effort to convey the sentiment of this old, traditional Romanian folk song from the mountains of Transylvania. It’s pure heartache in song, a deep sadness and ache that I’m certain I failed to describe within the simplicity of this translation – but the melody transcends the language.

So badly my eyes hurt, so badly
From the brightness of the stars
And I go, and then again I go
Down to the river under the walnut tree
I make myself, and again I make myself
Chop wood from fir and wood from birch

So badly my feet hurt, so badly
From walking all the beaten paths
And so badly my eyes hurt, so badly
From witnessing the pain of those leaves

So badly does my heart ache
That you love another one
But I will leave without knowing
And I go, and then again I go
Down to the river under the walnut tree
And I make myself, and then again I make myself
Chop wood from fir and wood from birch.

Where you have gone, I do not know
Just that my soul is empty and hollow
And so I go, and on I go
to the river under the walnut tree
and again I make myself, and make myself again
chop fir and to chop birch
and so badly my eyes hurt, so badly
from feeling the pain of those leaves.

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The Power of Magic – Eight Powerful Ways to Regain your Self-Confidence

Posted by E on September 15, 2015

Young woman enjoying sunlight

Do you remember the day when you forgot how to fly? When you stopped believing that you were a secret princess spirited away from an enchanted realm? When you stopped speaking out of turn, because others told you that you were too loud?

After you stopped believing in magic, the world became a much harder and grayer place to be. When you no longer believed in your ability to make things happen as effortlessly as a child building a sand castle along the seashore, everything seemed much more complicated. More hurdles to jump, more self-help books to read, more eventual “settling” on the idea that maybe we were never “meant” to become our childhood heroes.

Little girl on a grassy hill looking into a mountain landscapeSomewhere along the densely-forested path to adulthood, your confidence in yourself got lost.

The biggest factors behind low self-confidence are Shame, Guilt and Fear. Most of these splinters were seeded in us when we were children – often by people who were damaged or frustrated in their own ways, and forced their pessimistic view of the world upon us.

Low self-confidence and self-esteem are among the most crippling personality traits you can have, because your worst enemy becomes your Self. Not a boss, a competitor or a pragmatic parent, but YOU transform into your worst obstacle. That monster sitting on your shoulder, whispering those awful things in your ear? You put it there, and it’s that voice that will limit your opportunities and jeopardize your chances of success.

girl reading a bookFive traits common in people with low self-confidence and self-esteem:

1. Taking blame when it is not their fault – being overly critical of themselves

2. Being preoccupied with negative outcomes and past failures

3. Being overly shy and reserved – fearful of new things or spontaneity

4. Doing things to please others or because they fear confrontation – staying in jobs they hate, not speaking up when saddled with extra work, remaining in abusive relationships

5. Undervaluing their own worth – working for free, being underpaid, giving their energy without compensation

How can we make-believe again?

what if fly1. Believe You Can

This is the truth: Nobody is better than you. Sure, there are people who are more proficient at certain skills than you are, just like you’re way ahead of a novice when it comes to your particular craft. But on a fundamental level – and despite the screwed-up socio-economical hierarchies we have created – all human beings are equal. There is absolutely no reason you cannot strive to become the best you can be. I don’t want to put down those who feel afraid, because I’ve known that sort of apprehension. We’ve all experienced fear – the fear of being judged, of stumbling or stuttering at the worst time, the fear of somehow failing and being seen as inferior or worthless.

I grew up in a communist country where corporal punishment was a daily occurrence. If you didn’t do your homework or forgot your notebook at home, you got the ruler over your hands or got strapped with a belt in front of the whole class. I saw a teacher once make one student strap another until he cried. Not that I was impervious myself: I was smacked in the head and had my pigtails pulled when I forgot to bring my science scrapbook to school that day. Small brutalities like this will, over time, embed microscopic fissures into your spirit. The ugly things other brutalized kids say to you, the bullies who call you horrible names – the escalation of pain and fear – further splinter your spirit.

i believe flyUntil, one day, you cease to believe in magic, in your ability to fly. You lose that fairy-tale, innocent fearlessness all children have, the faith that you can do anything. Fear and doubt replace the beauty and get internalized into your psyche, your emotional DNA. And everything that happens after that – every insignificant failure, every stumbling step, no matter how unrelated – becomes “proof” that you’re not good enough.

But what if you CAN fly? What if there really IS a higher purpose to all this – to everything that you’ve experienced, to all that heartbreak? What if you used those terrible things as motivational building blocks to keep you moving forward? You can defeat all those who harmed you in the past by becoming stronger than they are, and by achieving more than they ever will. If you don’t have the confidence to do it for yourself, do it to spite them. Fight back – as I did against those who exploited and harmed me.

You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have.

You-never-know-how-strong-you-are2. Improve the Lives of Others

If you think that nothing you do has any impact in the world, try improving the lives of the less fortunate. Few things made me feel better as an impoverished student owing a gazillion dollars in student loans than stepping into the Ottawa-Carleton Detention Centre as a volunteer with the Elizabeth Fry Society of Canada. For the couple of hours I was there, creativity abounded – prisoners who spent all their days, weeks and years behind bars were free to get creative. They painted their nails, they sketched pictures, they talked about their lives while we thought up creative projects. One afternoon several of us volunteers arranged for a KFC party for the women – we brought in a couple of 20-piece bucket meals and the excitement and gratitude from the prisoners left all of us moved.

flying girlEven though it took a lot out of me afterwards, when leaving the prison and hearing door after automatic door slide shut behind me, I knew that I had made their lives that much better. In that moment, that was all that counted.

Later in life, I sponsored a few overseas children through organizations that allowed money to be transferred directly to a local community officer who took the child and her family shopping for necessities. For every $100 I managed to scrounge up, I would receive stacks of photographs of the family with the supplies they’d received, and heartfelt, handwritten letters of thanks. Even though I might have put that $100 toward a new dress or pair of shoes, something that might have benefited me – I derived so much more enjoyment from realizing that such a small sum of money (in western societies) can have a dramatic impact in providing impoverished people with items that I take for granted every day – like having a bed, or a rice cooker.

By working with a disadvantaged teen, or volunteering in a soup kitchen or an abused women’s shelter, you quickly begin to realize how good you have it. It’s a sobering lesson, but also one full of power. You owe it to yourself – and to those who don’t have the opportunities you do – to accomplish something that will leave the world a better place.

thinker little girl3. Empower Yourself with Knowledge

Millions of people in this world would trade places with you in a second, if given the chance. You’re literate (I assume, since you’re reading this now 🙂 ) and had the opportunity to go to school, to access a library, to live in fairly regulated, sanitary conditions. Having full bellies and amusement galore has left so many westerners complacent and superficial. With TV, the internet and our electronic gadgets – never mind YouTube and the free movie streaming sites – we are drowning in entertainment. Our society might say that it values education, books and the pursuit of knowledge, but people’s behaviour speaks to the contrary – indifference and self-centredness rules.

Just because everyone around wants to talk about what they did on the weekend or share cute kitty pics from I Can Haz Cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to keep yourself at the same insipid level. You don’t need to enroll in formal classes, or pay for education – it’s all out there, within grasp. Hundreds of years of literature, history, art, discourse, creativity and insights…all at your fingertips. Online, in libraries, in museums… knowledge is yours for the taking. And the more you learn, the more confident you will become. The more you will understand yourself, the world you live in, and how to relate to others.

girl jumping4. Accept Who You Are

How can you grow your self-confidence and platform if your image hinges on a fabrication or an illusion? I’ve known too many people whose résumés were a lie – one woman I knew indicated she’d attended Havergal College, a private, elite Toronto high school for wealthy girls (tuition is upwards of $10,000 a semester) as well as a Swiss boarding school, when in fact she’d grown up in a Barrie, ON slum. Another person took short-term, sporadic volunteer gigs found on Workopolis and listed them as real, year-long jobs on her LinkedIn profile – tantamount to me listing myself as a correctional officer simply because I’d volunteered inside prisons, or as a legal secretary because I’d once worked in a law office.

In an age when competition is fierce, desperate people will resort to desperate things in order to make themselves be noticed. A 2012 Globe & Mail article estimated that close to 40% of job seekers lie on their resumes.

But the best way to boost your confidence is not to pad your resume, but accept who you really are. Surround yourself with people who believe in you, and minimize interactions with naysayers and pragmatic, sarcastic individuals.

Accept your good qualities and acknowledge your flaws. To believe in yourself you have no choice but to love yourself, for better or for worse.

phoenix5. Have Your Own Goals – not those others wish upon you

What gives your soul purpose and meaning? What are the things that make your spirit feel like flying? What accomplishments will make you feel like a phoenix rising out of a pond of ashes? You’ve got to figure this out, and get to it. Maybe it’s taking that once-in-a-lifetime journey, or running that marathon, or becoming proficient in a particular hobby. What you enjoy, and gives your life purpose, is what is valuable. What one person thinks is a great accomplishment might mean little to someone else – someone pursuing an MBA versus taking a year to write a novel. Value is relative, and when it comes to building your self-confidence, anything goes.

Believe-in-Magic6. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

There is only one YOU in this universe. You are unique in every way. If you think about it, everybody battles adversity – everybody at one point or another thinks, “I don’t know if I can do this.” It’s part of our human experience. And that’s perfectly okay. According to Charles Bukowski, a seriously messed-up and utterly brilliant writer, “The problem with the world is that the intelligent people are full of doubts, while the stupid ones are full of confidence.”

emerson meme7. Have Patience & Think Differently

Pain and frustration have their purposes – they push us toward discovering new solutions, new ways of thinking that might illuminate a path previously unseen. The last thing you want to do is quit before you’ve had a chance to properly develop a proficiency and pathway toward accomplishing your dream. Just like how young teens can literally have growing pains when their bones lengthen, you too might experience negative emotions when things don’t happen right away. Sometimes you can get so frazzled by the lack of immediacy in results that you might miss an important clue sitting there, right in front of you!

Trust me – I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet. I know how waiting can feel like the most terrible thing in the world – but the rewards can often be the sweetest.

dance-in-the-rain8. Take Care of Yourself

As someone who has battled depression all my adult life, I can’t stress how important it is to make sure you look after yourself. The better you feel when you look in the mirror, the more confidence you’ll have about getting out of bed in the morning. Pay attention to your grooming. Try to exercise. Dress as nicely as you can, given your budget. There are wonderful finds for every budget. A friend of mine owns a consignment store and I’m constantly amazed at the luxurious, wonderful designer clothing that she sells for a fraction of the original prices.

Make sure you eat well and get enough rest – it might sound like really basic advice, but caring for yourself is a crucial building block toward loving yourself and developing your self-confidence.

Walt Disney, the creator of so many magical stories of our childhood, once said, The secret of making dreams come true can be summarized in four C’s: curiosity, confidence, courage and constancy, and the greatest of all is confidence. When you believe in a thing, believe in it all the way, implicitly and unquestionable.

You CAN fly, even on broken wings. I know you can, because I’ve seen it. The thing is, those wings are inside your mind. And that is where the magic lives – and everything is possible.

girl running  dandelion dreams

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Auschwitz: Remnants of Sunlight

Posted by E on January 27, 2015

Auschwitz photos birkenau camp pics girl krystina

Today is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. I’ve thought for a long time about what I might be able to write, about what I could say to both honour and preserve the memory of such terror coming to an end. Do I write about the time when I was once surrounded by neo-Nazis and Holocaust revisionists who wove a network of neo-fascists across Europe, Canada, America and South America?

Do I write about old Steve Bendersky, who was like a beloved uncle to me when I was a child and whose arm bore the faded blue numbers that I once seriously contemplated tattooing onto my own wrist? Whose Shabbat candles I inherited after his death and which I still light every Friday evening?

Do I write about discovering my Jewish roots, and how my family tree research has come to an abrupt halt as I realize that it’s very likely most of my father’s relatives perished in the war?

If I started to write about the heartache that Auschwitz represents both to me and to Jews as a population, along with the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of gays and lesbians, gypsies and political prisoners in WW2, I would probably just sit here, start crying and be unable to stop, much less write a single word. So instead, I want to talk about my own memories of the concentration camp.

I visited Auschwitz once, during the summer of 2001, the year after I graduated university and worked as an English teacher in South Korea. Instead of doing something respectable like paying off my defaulted student loans, I decided that I had to journey back to eastern Europe that summer – I had to track down for myself the roots of the hatred that had surrounded my early life.

I took these photos at Auschwitz-Birkenau and I wrote this long poem, Remnants of Sunlight, which I published in my first poetry book. Today, on the 70th anniversary of the WW2 genocide that represents the worst of humanity, I can’t think of a better way to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz than to republish this poem that is so close to my heart here, on my own blog.

Many of the verses and imagery encompassed here were scribbled while I stood there, in the empty barracks of Birkenau – it was a sunny, beautiful day, in contrast to the horror that surrounded me. The planks underneath my feet snapped and crackled as I walked among the barracks, amid the three-tiered bunk slots, touching the worn, rain-soaked wood that had once let in the cold, bitter winter winds that killed thousands of malnourished prisoners.

I listened to the frogs and crickets singing through the knee-high grass, and imagined that the lush, verdant greenery of my surroundings had sprouted up from the ashes and crumbling bones of countless nameless victims. I felt the great big emptiness of those awful barracks corrode through my entire being and leave a huge, empty hole in my soul.

And then I wrote this poem.

REMNANTS OF SUNLIGHT

  1. BARBED ROOTS

Last night, my fate made an unannounced appearance.

She presented herself for dinner uncombed,

long hair spreading like a silver service set

upon my Hungarian lace and Polish linen.

Her lips made the sound of a struck match

and then she dissolved like the flame

and suddenly,

folded between napkins and candlelight,

in clotted ink behind all the spice jars,

I discovered a journey –

 

A pilgrimage of crumbling pages

with scribbles and margins ripped

and a big part missing,

the part about how, one evening in August

my return is inevitable.

 

The coarse grains of history

have become threads between my fingers

as I hold my father’s funeral suit in preparation

and the smell of mothballs finds another fragrance

of yellowed books, copper and sulphur

lingering soft as the light of opals

and the mouldy cellar smell of a dead grandmother

 

chemical powders and twisted letters

weave like high country roads on my tongue;

the sound of predestination

is the hush of waist-high grass among barracks

and the ribbit of frogs leaping

out of a pond of ashes

 

right after graduation I know I must find him –

breathe in the last days of my father’s essence,

find out his ending

I have to revisit the house where my grandmother lived

locate the little girl who was my sister, now missing

 

the boulders that rained upon my childhood

must be swept out

from the floorboards of this house

that I have carried on my back

for more than twenty years

 

The dark house of my memories

where my father who disappeared breathes

the house that nightly perches on my eyelids

and ropes my hair down through the pillow

into the black earth of a country

I left when I was ten

 

I arrange to fly from Toronto to Paris one-way

then train onward to eastern Europe

 

Unfolding in the silence pressed among suitcases

packed with blossoms

brittle like paper, like blouses

I wait

in the centre of the Black Forest

 

weeds protrude through the planks underneath

and I smell the sun and the moon being burned

 

I inherited the wire

my hair grows twisted like that, all black

charred like Romany wagons

and muddy villages

the same colour as the evening branches I reach toward

through the smeared window

of the Krakow-Budapest train

 

Brushing my fingertips against the corrosion of metal railings

I feel the echo of locomotives flowing through them,

the breathing of doves perched on wooden fences.

I pick up little white stones shaped like petals

and a fire is burning in my palms

 

2. KRAKOW, 5762

 

Two hours before you catch

the connecting train

in the middle of nowhere

the birds sing louder, gravel paves the horizon.

Two hours to put down your backpack and breathe in

the smell of corn and sleepless kilometres

lingering like murmuring chords

 

Shadows of firs line your closed eyelashes

pad riverbeds and uncombed hair

an unlit street, a colour

splashing over your shoulder

a bridge rail glinting in the sun

 

you arch, the metal between your fingers

rocking in your palm

a rocks skips across the shallow surface below

emerging on the shore

in the stubble of raspberries and grass against trees

 

like a bell, your mouth

opens to echo the air

swallowing another voice that breaks out

like a burning rash, over autumns without hours

and railroads that glint in the afternoon sun

 

shadows juxtapose across your forehead

cloth is reduced to threads, even-numbered and silent

and the direction of the winds commands

the distant vapour of wheat to start an insurrection

 

your two hands on the railing testify unknowingly

by virtue of their existence

about the arid landscape and the sharpness of language,

the language of grandmothers in old photos

and numbered suitcases in dark rooms;

a language you don’t even speak

of a place you don’t even know –

letters, epitaphs, barometers

are the only coordinates left

in this geography of asphalt.

 

III. THE HIVE

 

The old woman with the glassy green brooches

today forgot to pencil in her brows

not that it makes any difference;

her eyelids still sag under the thick black India ink

but she doesn’t stop writing –

If I am dead, who will write these verses for you?

 

Now enters the smell of white chrysanthemum

carrying the musk of narrow wardrobes

and yellowed newspapers rustling underneath.

 

Outside the open window, bees are humming;

sunshine dust gathers languorous and heavy –

a few slender rays spread like fingers

across my rumpled blue bedspread.

 

From this high window I can see the entire city

how pretty Wawel castle is, how loud the wail

of the dying trumpeter across Rynek Glowny Square

 

and how empty of voices

although on another frequency that only stray animals make out

pressed between the dying weed and cobblestones

there is singing

 

no matter how many hot the day, she remains cold

papery like a delicate leaf in the morning rain

and still here, through the sunshine and foliage

climbing over the windowsill

the fingertips of ghosts continue to cling from the edge

 

in every vacant place, on every park bench

there is a hollowness that becomes testament,

then turns into voice

and the voice speaks the names – all of them

every one of them

 

Darting through my black hair

Auschwitz’s bees search for their stolen honey

buzzing through tall cannibal grass

buzzing in and out of the barracks

 

Don’t touch, don’t search my soul,

she leaves me a folded message on the table

not on such a beautiful day

so hot, so full of brightness

when the circumference of summer

becomes a fragile eggshell

with its yolk missing

 

IV. AT SUNRISE THE FORGOTTEN WILL WEEP

 

At sunrise the forgotten will weep

big tears of stone.

 

So heavy their tears,

they will roll down hills as great boulders

 

and smash into the grey buildings that had crushed

the beating hearts of the nameless

 

such great rocks will fall – thick like rain in the valleys

and the forgotten will once again weep

 

So wet will their tears be

that they will moisten the earth

and make it easier for fingers to dig out

 

fathers and grandmothers

brushing the dirt from their clothes

picking up suitcases, ready to come home

 

So hot the sunrise will be

that it will dry the blood on their faces

and clear a sadness fringed with eyelashes

 

It will call them by name

reacquainting them with the heat of the loved

with the sensation that somebody remembered

 

the names and the dreams they once carried

folded like secret letters

in the depths of their shirt pockets

 

V. FAR FROM THE APPLE ORCHARD

 

In my classroom in downtown Seoul, the windows are always open with voices.

Little kids squeal and climb up my back; we sing about the dog named Bingo

eat kimchi together for lunch, the heat of searing Korean spices

wafting away that other smell of smoke

 

On vacation in Beijing I climb the Great Wall through stinging air,

running up the steps as fast as I can, like a Tibetan mountain goat

trying to reach the heights of Tibetan mountain-dwellers

where the North wind rages so loudly, it silences everything

 

A year later, along the Ponte Vecchio in Florence,

I listen as Michelangelo would have, to the sound of hammer and chisel

drifting across the Arno. Here, the clang of iron is an invocation of beauty,

not the screech of a train coming to a stop, the crash of gates closing

 

Then, on the bus to Mombassa, along the bright coast

women with round syllables and laughter

sing a song of bronze bracelets and colourful khangas

 

So far from the dark, endless woods where songs turn to screams

where the faces of locals are stout and red

as though stained by the blood underneath their feet.

 

As far down as Cusco I feel the breath of cliffs on my back,

The spit of hot springs at Aguas Calientes. Up the trail to Macchu Picchu

I smell chickens in the alpine air: wild fowl, wet feathers, muddy paths.

 

I am like an apple, there are five parts to me –

seed, core, meat, skin, and stem.

Like an apple, I leave parts of myself everywhere.

 

I am the shell of a seed eaten up by villages of rock and dirt along the Danube –

swept along rivers rampaging out of their beds

there is nothing left but my war –

a forest of wolves.

 

The shaman anoints my forehead with red liquid.

His hands smell of fermented herbs, berries, cocoa leaves, leather.

You are a bird that refuses to feed or to fly/

but there is something in you which will not die.

 

My ears pick up the noise of the jungle, rushing water and tall blades of grass.

The heat inside the enclosed hut makes my body sticky;

The air is viscous and green with thunderstorms.

 

This may well be the first time I can see /

this strength that has always evaded me

the will of a body to survive in spite of itself –

a drowning rat clawing out of its own frailty.

 

How much determination is required to breathe?

There are certain things a body will do with or without approval;

(take in air, for example).

A body will fight for survival.

A body will survive pogroms, refugee camps, beatings

while the mind, just a seed raw and torn from its shell

stays wrapped in a peel of green apple skin

around a tea cup glazed with a Spanish windmill,

the last one of a set.

 

 

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On Winning an Ontario Arts Council Grant

Posted by E on June 30, 2009

There is nothing more affirming for a writer than the day when he or she earns her first coins for a story or a poem. So much of our lives are spent in the solitude of a closed room, in the reflective light of a computer screen, battling with our own, unique critical selves that keep themselves perched upon our shoulders and echo back at us the doubts of the world – you’re not going to get this done, this project is too ambitious for your own good, who are you kidding, etc.

And then there are moments of illumination, when everything becomes possible again. Like when a blind jury of four judges sift through hundreds of applications and select only twenty or less writers in all of Ontario to receive a significant award such as this.

Last week I suddenly found myself among them. Last week, I earned the privilege of calling myself a paid writer. Last week, I realized that somewhere out there in this world of ours, four authors who knew nothing about me saw enough merit and potential in my project that they decided to fund it.

Last Monday night I opened the mailbox and found a thick brown envelope from the OAC, and all the butterflies in my stomach started to flitter: finally, I would have my answer. I had been praying for a sign that my work possesses the value I believe it has. At the kitchen table, I tore open the envelope quickly, not wanting to allow the seepage of doubt to intrude into this moment I’d been waiting for. Then I read the first words: “On behalf of the Ontario Arts Council, I am pleased to inform you that you have been awarded a Writers’ Works in Progress Grant towards ______ in the amount of $12,000” and out slipped the blue $12k cheque as well, and I don’t remember much after that except that I jumped up and down, screaming: “I got it! Oh my God, they gave it to me!!”

When I sent in 40-some pages of my non-fiction manuscript to the Ontario Arts Council back in February ’09, I hoped against hope that I would be one of the few to be awarded a Work-in-Progress grant. I took the application as both a testing of waters (“let’s see if others see some promise there”) and a desperate attempt to generate some funds to go toward the research costs I need for this book. I didn’t have any expectations of winning the $12,000 award – in fact, I spent the excruciatingly long four months that followed vacillating between blind optimism and total disbelief. I pity those around me who constantly urged me that my writing was indeed good enough, who kept saying “You’ll get it, I just know you’ll get it. How could you not?” You know who you are – and I thank you for being there when my confidence had failed me entirely.

Sometimes I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Why is it that I have such persistent doubt in my ability to complete this manuscript? It seems that everything else in my life that I put my mind to, I have been able to pull through. But writing is another world – it is like standing naked in front of a mirror, staring at yourself. You see yourself for who you really are – you see all your flaws and imperfections, and all your demons and your scars and all the things that you hope nobody else can tell just by looking at you.

When I am alone in front of my computer, I see not only all that I can accomplish, but all the places where I have been broken. I see my weaknesses crumple in front of me like a nest of snapped bones gathering at my feet. There is no ego left – there is only the pain that I am trying to translate into words, that I am trying to expel from my body so I can be sane again. This effort is what’s earned me this $12,000, but it has come at a price – the price of having to be brutally honest with myself and my past. The price of blood-letting my life onto crisp paper.

But as of today, my manuscript has become a full-time job. I no longer have the excuse to procrastinate, now that I have entered into this contract with those faceless benefactors who have glimpsed the value of my vision and have decided to fund it. Writing my book is no longer an optional exercise but a real job. It would take someone working minimum wage over 7 months to make this kind of money. I have not failed to realize this – and this awareness is such a powerful thing.

The OAC money will definitely go a long way in covering my expenses as I work on my manuscript; most importantly, however, it is the surge of confidence and motivation that it generates in my own soul, the impetus that others’ faith in me creates, that will always be priceless.

Thank you to all those of you who believed in me – despite my best attempts to dissuade you.

Posted in art, books, canada, life, literature, news, ontario, poetry, publishing, thoughts, writer, writing | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Ojala pudiera olvidar

Posted by E on October 10, 2008

Here is a song that sums up the desire to purge someone or something out of your system, what it feels like to long for death rather than be haunted by the image of someone who ripped your heart out of your chest. A song about someone who made you feel that you could never write another verse, or live to see another dawn without thinking of her. It is a song about purging yourself from a deep wrenching, unrequited and undeserved loyalty and adoration to a person, to a place, to a feeling that only serves to bring you pain.

When I first heard it this year, it brought back all the bittersweet emotions of my early twenties, when all I thought about was this:
Ojalá pudiera olvidar tu nombre
Ojalá pudiera olvidar cuando yo quisiera
Ojalá pudiera olvidar todas tus promesas
Ojalá pudiera olvidar todo el dolor que tu dejaste

Silvio Rodriguez’s hauntingly beautiful, sad song is all about leaving behind the tragedy and agony of what could have been; it is about letting go of the ghosts, and saying goodbye. It is about reclaiming your soul.

This is pure emotion in poetry. It is stunning and visceral. Listen to it.

Ojalá can be translated either as “I hope” or “hopefully.”)

Ojalá que las hojas no te toquen el cuerpo cuando caigan–
Hopefully the leaves won’t touch your body as they fall
Para que no las puedas convertir en cristal.– so you won’t be able to turn them into crystal

Ojalá que la lluvia deje de ser milagro que baja por tu cuerpo.–
hopefully the rain will cease to be a miracle sliding down your body
Ojalá que la luna pueda salir sin ti.– hopefully the moon will be able to rise without you
Ojalá que la tierra no te bese los pasos.– hopefully the earth won’t kiss your footsteps

Ojalá se te acabe la mirada constante,– hopefully your constant (piercing) gaze will end
La palabra precisa, la sonrisa perfecta.– the precise word, the perfect smile
Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:– hopefully something will happen that will erase you soon
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.– a blinding light, a shot of snow
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,– hopefully, at least death will take me
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre– so I won’t see you so much, so I won’t see you forever
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:– in every second, in every vision
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones– hopefully I won’t even be able to touch you even in songs
Ojalá que la aurora no de gritos que caigan en mi espalda.– hopefully the dawn’s screams won’t fall upon my back
Ojalá que tu nombre se le olvide a esa voz.– hopefully that voice (the dawn’s) will forget your name
Ojalá las paredes no retengan tu ruido de camino cansado.–
hopefully the walls won’t echo the sound of your tired footsteps
Ojalá que el deseo se vaya tras de ti,– hopefully my desire will follow you
A tu viejo gobierno de difuntos y flores.– to your old rule of the dead and flowers

Ojalá se te acabe la mirada constante,– Rep.
La palabra precisa, la sonrisa perfecta.
Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones

Ojalá pase algo que te borre de pronto:– Rep.
Una luz cegadora, un disparo de nieve.
Ojalá por lo menos que me lleve la muerte,
Para no verte tanto, para no verte siempre
En todos los segundos, en todas las visiones:
Ojalá que no pueda tocarte ni en canciones.

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Be Unafraid to Demand Perfection

Posted by E on August 31, 2008

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein

It’s kind of ironic to agree with Einstein’s phrase and be as OCD as I tend to be. Still, as much as I derive comfort in the repetition of certain things, in the recurrence of my everyday routines, I also realize that it is only by tweaking and modifying my writing that it can evolve into a perfect form.

You can call me an idealist, a sentimentalist, a naive village idiot, but I believe in perfection. That it is truly possible, albeit infrequent, rare, going extinct, but possible, to hold in your hand the contents of perfection. I believe that it is possible to create a book that, like a painting, becomes so “finished” that not another word, not another comma, can be added without altering its perfect form and vision.

I am not a post-modernist; I don’t see a chicken scratch as art, nor do I think that someone who hurls a can of paint at a canvas is anymore an artist than a monkey or those Thai elephants who are given brushes by their handlers and produce watercolours with their trunks.

I appreciate effort much more than spontaneity.

There have been days when I sat down at the keyboard and every word I wrote was gold. But those days do not shine as often as some may think; mostly a lot of reworking is involved in producing something that others see as flawless, as a work of genius. And just like a dancer quickly wipes the sweat on her brow and smiles as she bows to her audience, so should all writers aim for perfection in our works – but perfection that is seen by outsiders, by our audiences, as easy. As light – not light as in substance, but light as in its approach to the masses.

I want my book to be light as a feather to readers – be easy on the eyes, but as hard as a fist to the head to shake off. If you make the entry point irresistable, a reader will enter. And from that point, you can take them anywhere. They are yours.

It’s hard work to do something flawlessly and make it look easy. Too many writers lull themselves into thinking that writing a first draft is all that’s required – that the greatest feat was simply the process of capturing the vision, and once the manuscript is finished, it’s time to celebrate.

No.
No book is finished until it is finished.

Writing day after day, a singular process, does not get you anywhere unless you get out of your head – and travel every day to different lands, to exotic places where words rain upon your fingers, creating new permutations of thought and imagery.

Choose to be a non-conformist. An iconoclast. It’s what is required to create something entirely new.
Anything is possible.

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Final Verdict: I got my scholarship to Humber

Posted by E on June 23, 2008

I’m starting to realize that to be a writer, you can’t write in a vacuum. Even if you have a moral and financial objection to being pitted against other writers in subjective contests that cost an arm and a leg to enter.
To be honest, I haven’t submitted anything to any mag/rag/poetry zine in years. Other than self-publishing my poetry book last year (see it on Amazon), the last time I got published was 6 years ago, when I had 3 pages of poetry appear in Grain Magazine. Why? Partly laziness, partly not enough thick skin to handle the rejection letters, partly lack of funds. When you send out even a few contest entries per year, the cost of entry fees is prohibitive. When you add to this the overwhelming chance of rejection due to editorial subjectivity, you may as well flush the money down the toilet or pay the idiot tax (aka play the lotto).

But when I make up my mind about something, I go for it with a calculated, psychopathic precision and intensity: I live and breathe the carrot in front of me; I sniff it like a hound dog, tracking its scent until it overwhelms my senses, shadowing everything else.

The goal this year: go to the Humber School for Writers’ Summer Workshop. It’s said to be the best program of its kind in the country, and you have the chance to be mentored by some of the most famous and popular Canadian writers of our time. It’s not a cheap course either; at $1000 for six days of instruction, I doubt any talented young people can get to go unless their fees are seriously subsidized.

I imagine that many of the attendants are either retired or wine-sipping middle-aged novice writers who are still plugging away at their daytime professions, likely something safe but still distinguished, say, middle-management perhaps. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. Somebody has to pay the writers for their time. But the point is, I’ve had a hard time envisaging how a full-time writer, especially a younger person with student loans and a lower income can afford such exorbitant fees. Unless mommy and daddy pay for it. So I do feel for everyone who also applied to get a scholarship but didn’t get it.

So here’s my update.
The goal: get into Humber by any means necessary.
The means: (twofold)

1) submit a manuscript “portfolio” to Humber directly, and request financial aid/a scholarship (which is evaluated based on a combination of need and talent, and awarded to those who show “considerable promise”)

2) enter the CLGA essay contest, where a full scholarship to Humber would be given to a selected entry

1. The manuscript took me two and a half weeks to pull together (write and edit it to my satisfaction, which is still not what I would call “finished” by any means), and I had to Xpress Post it to Humber to get it just under the deadline
2. The short piece (2500 words) I submitted to the CLGA contest was written in one night. Not bad, for a piece that attracted the editor’s attention (we spoke the day the story was received) and ended up on a shortlist for the scholarship.

The outcome: I got my scholarship!!!!! from the Humber School for Writers directly! So I’ll be going the week of July 12-18.

I will be staying in residence for the week, so if anyone can contribute to the $300 room&board fee, it would be so much appreciated! You can feel good knowing that a future literary figure is forever indebted to you – and if you can spot me at least a portion of the fee, I PROMISE you to send you an autographed, FREE copy of my book when it is eventually published. And every cell, pore and fiber of my being tells me that it will be published.

When I am this certain of something, it always comes to fruition. The opportunity to attend a program I never could have afforded, and the determination to write a brilliant story in a span of a few hours, is proof of this. Remember, anything is possible if you have the burning drive, the unwavering belief in your ability to transcend the universal fear of inadequacy, and the courage to listen to nothing but your own, original voice.

Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something. Never.

The mornings will be spent with my mentor (I’m still not sure who it will be) and a small group of other students. The afternoons will have lectures from other famous writers, publishers and agents. I can’t wait to meet other writers and students and make some connections with fellow brilliant minds 🙂

I’ll try to log in (if I can pick up wireless in residence) and write a few journal entries during the week to let everyone how the course is progressing.

Posted in canadian literature, literature, news, publishing, writer, writing | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »