Going into the next month or so, late August to late September, I find myself in a rather unique position, breathing some rare air, as they say.
I have just returned from Wells, BC and a stint with the Sunset Theatre, a real gem and ray of hope in the Canadian theatre cosmology. I was there as a dramaturge, helping worry Michaela Jeffery’s new play, Hardscrabble Road, into production and into the world.
At the same time, I was working with the truly gifted cellist, Morag Northey, helping her create a one woman show for herself and her cello. We got a good start on that and hope to premier the play back in Wells next summer.
It felt good to work in the theatre again — it’s been a while as I took a detour the last few years into the world of the novel with the writing of my own novel, The Piano Teacher.
It’s been a wonderful ride, so wonderful in fact I wonder why I didn’t think of it before. This week I will be taking part in a reading at Shelf Life Books on Tuesday, August 16 in conjunction with the W.O. Mitchell Award. This is an award given by the Writers Guild of Alberta and the City of Calgary to honour what was felt to be the finest book written in the city in the last year.
I am a finalist this year for The Piano Teacher, along with Sharon Butala and Will Ferguson. The three of us will be reading from our books on Tuesday.
Maybe it sounds trite, yet it’s true, I respect both of these writers tremendously and will be honoured to be in their company – win or lose, this nomination means a lot. They will announce the recipient on September 28 – more on that at a later date.
At the same time, I have been occupied with a new venture, a volume of poems that I have written through the years, titled Nocturnal Emissions. And so another book of poetry comes into the world. In some ways it is difficult to get excited about a book of poems, and yet I am encouraged by the words of the poet William Carlos Williams:
It is difficult the get the news from poems
Yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.
I find there has been too much news in the world of late. Maybe a book of poems is needed more than ever.
I suppose for me this book is really a labour of love. It’s a way for me to celebrate my upcoming birthday, as I endeavour not to go gentle into that good night!
Nocturnal Emissions will be launched on September 22 at Shelf Life Books, and then relaunched and christened with beer on my birthday, September 24 at a surprise birthday party I’m throwing for myself (I know, I know) at the Blond Monk pub on 12th Ave.
Here’s one of the poems from the collection:
The colour drains
The spirit wanes
I hardly know
What to make of it
It was a day like this
When jazz first got blown
Or Bell talked into his phone
Or Einstein bent a ray of light
Or Leonardo dreamed of flight
Not to be alone
Anything to discover a reason why
And so I write, deep into the night
There are better ways than this
Making out with a stranger in a basement suite
While a big dog scratches at the door
I struck on this
A hundred years
Here I sit
I called this post Factotum, which, as I understand the word, means someone who does a lot of different jobs, which in the writing world seems true of me. I’ve always enjoyed this sense of versatility, being able to express myself artistically in a number of different forms and genres. Seems they are all converging these days which is really quite magical.
All in all, I have to say the next six weeks are so are shaping up to be very exciting in the world of Eugenius. I hope you can help me celebrate my birthday by attending any or all of these events and of course, buying the books.
Thanks for reading!
It’s been a while, I know, since I spilled any electronic ink here on my blog.I hardly know myself where I’ve been. I could add I’ve been through one of those times when I feel I hardly know myself, period. Well, it happens. Life happens. Until it doesn’t. Anyway, I’m still here.
For those who want to know, I have been teaching a lot of late. I finished yet another term working with foreign-educated doctors and other professionals at Alberta Business and Educational Services. It’s always rewarding, but I’m a little exhausted after 12 weeks, as it’s 6 hours a day in front of a class. That’s a lot, by anyone’s standards.
Over the winter, I taught a writing workshop for interested people in the community. Twelve of us gathered every Monday evening at the Opera Centre on 7th Street and by and large the enthusiasm of the group and the quality of the work produced was gratifying and rewarding. I’ll probably do another of these even as early as the fall – I’ll put a notice of the next workshop on Facebook.
Finally, I taught a spring session prose writing class at St. Mary’s University here in Calgary. There were some really wonderful writers in that class, young and old, and the six weeks went by so quickly, in the blink of an eye it was all over.
My novel The Piano Teacher keeps creeping back onto the Calgary Herald best sellers list which is truly amazing – it’s been over a year since I launched it. Hardly a week goes by that someone doesn’t tell me how much they enjoyed it, either in person or on Facebook. Writing that novel when I did was once of the best things I’ve done for myself in recent memory.
And yet for all that, the last several months have been all bout poetry for me. The sudden reappearance of my muse a few months ago (and regrettably, her subsequent disappearance) inspired me to finally put together a volume of my poetry. I’ve been meaning to do this for years and now it’s finally happening.
The name of the book is Nocturnal Emissions. I will be launching it at Shelf Life Books in Calgary on September 22. I was originally going to call it 60 because its publication is part of my planned events around the celebration of my 60th birthday. I know, I know. I’m trying to get my head around that number, it’s seems enormous and it simply sounds old to me. But as I hope I’m not jinxing anything in saying I’ll still be kicking around in September, one has to think it’s better than the alternative, of not turning 60. But the fact of the matter remains that I am up to 69 poems (and counting) and I also think Nocturnal Emissions is a damned good title for a volume of poetry.
As was the case with The Piano Teacher, I will be having a second launch of the book at the Blind Monk Pub on 12th Avenue on Saturday, September 24, which is my actual birthday. I am actually planning a surprise birthday party for myself that evening, but more on that later.
The Nocturnal Emissions document is open so with little effort, I can offer a sneak preview of one of the poems:
There is a scent of aloneness
That blows through in autumn
It remains aloof from you even as
You remain aloof from yourself
The shadows of former lovers lengthen
As the days grow short and cold
Till all that’s left is a faint
Indentation on your bed where once –
And now you spend your days
And dreams alone
Wound up and falling apart
Into the creeping hours of the endless night
Aloof, all of it
Distant and detached
You can only watch
In silent disbelief
As the purpose of your life
Slips by, gliding
Like a great dark river
Flowing through the dead of night.
Well, there’s a little update. And to leave you with something a little more uplifting, here’s one of my favourite songs ever. Maybe part of my problem is that I still think I’m one of the young dudes . . .
Thanks for reading!
From time to time, I type out what I’ve written in my daily journal. This is from today, January 11, 2016.
RIP David Bowie
I woke up early again, too early. 4:30-ish. (Once upon a time, that’s when I went to bed. Whatever happened?) I looked on Facebook on my iPad (with a coffee in my sleepless bed) and read that David Bowie had passed away yesterday. I think I saw it first from my daughter Hanna who lives in Europe and posted something before anyone in North America would have seen it.
I got up and put on a You Tube compilation of his songs. So many songs that have always been a part of my life, somehow. Ashes to Ashes is likely my favourite. But then there’s Space Oddity (the original appearance of Major Tom). Maybe I like it more. Changes. Heroes. Wild is the Wind. So many great songs, no point trying to enumerate them all.
I feel very sad today, which I find a little surprising. I mean, people die every day. I didn’t feel any particular strong bond to David Bowie. Or at least I didn’t know I had. Obviously he meant more to me than I had realized.
I mentioned this to one of the young women who works at Caffe Beano and she reminded me to look at the bright side, that he had an amazing life, he was old, he had cancer, etc. etc. I know she’s right. Of course she is, and it was good of her to try to cheer me up. But when you get to a certain age yourself, though, when someone who has always been there, a part of your life, suddenly dies (or even not so suddenly) you are reminded of your own mortality, and just how quickly our lives pass by. And that’s enough to make a person sad.
Looking back, I remember buying the album Scary Monsters when I moved to Toronto from Regina in the fall of 1980 to go to York University. I was twenty-four. I was suddenly exposed to the music (and art, generally) that my fellow students from across Canada were into. (I remember getting into the Talking Heads at the same time and buying their album, Remain in Light. 1980 was a good year in music.)
My new friend Janine definitely turned me on to Bowie. Of course, I knew his music before then, but she ramped it up significantly. It was very cool to identify with Bowie, and even dress in the new wave fashion – skinny Edwin jeans, black leather jacket, white running shoes and a hair cut that now could only be described as a mullet.
I damn near wore that Scary Monsters album out, I played it so many times. (Btw, we’re talking vinyl here. I didn’t get a CD player until the late ‘80s.) I was open to pop music again after a foray into the classical world that had lasted for about ten years while I seriously studied the piano.
Whoever Major Tom is, and whether that song is about drugs or just the general alienation and otherness that we all feel from time to time – whatever it means, exactly, Space Oddity has always been helpful, giving words to our experience and a balm to our alienation and in this way it could be said to be an anthem for a generation.
(There are others from around the same time – notably Stairway to Heaven, Hey Jude, Born to Run, and some earlier ones like The Sounds of Silence, Heart of Gold and Big Yellow Taxi. To name but a few . . . )
I seem to have a memory from back in the day (and I say that I seem to because I’m not 100% certain that it really happened). I was driving along an empty stretch of highway in Saskatchewan on a warm summer’s night. The sun roof was open, the great canopy of stars was vibrating above in the inky blackness. I had smoked a fatty and was listening to Space Oddity full blast – floating in a most peculiar away . . . sitting in a tin can . . . far above the world . . .
It comes back to me now as a moment of perfect contentment, one of those rare moments in a lifetime. It’s a nice memory, even if it never happened.
The world feels a little emptier today, the silence a little louder.
Thanks for reading.
And then there’s this . . . .
This came in the form of an email from my old friend and brother in arms in the playwriting game, Neil Fleming, who is the current President of the Alberta Playwrights Network:
I’m wondering if we can hit upon your goodwill as an APN member playwright to participate in an event we have coming up on November 28th.
APN is turning 30 this year and we are trying to raise $30K in 30 days by asking for 1000 donations of $30.
On day 30, we are hosting a Birthday Bash with a playwright version of TV’s Chopped.
Chopped pits 4 chefs against each other. Each round they are given mystery ingredients and have to make a dish. Each round is judged, and one of the chefs is “chopped” from the competition until there’s a winner.
We plan to do “Turg-ed” where each donation of $30 allows you to buy a word (ingredient) for the four playwrights to make something out of. $300 for curse-words
Playwrights would have 30 minutes to incorporate things the best they can, and then they’re work would be read out loud.
One writer would be cut from each round until there’s a winner – but each “turged” writer would then become a ‘turge and join the judges.
There will be one event in Calgary and one in Edmonton.
We’d love you to be one of our Calgary Writers if you’re willing (and available on November 28th)
What could I say? I’m a sucker for punishment and the type of public humiliation that playwrights know probably better than anyone else. (Maybe other than goalies and placekickers?) I am also past president of the APN and so I am aware first hand of the great role this organization plays in helping Alberta playwrights get their work from page to stage. Without their support, for example, my play Queen Lear would likely still be lying in ruins instead of being currently produced in Russia of all places. (I’m big in Russia, what can I say?)
It should be fun. If you check out the trailer below you will get a better idea of what’s in store Saturday evening. (Honestly, I’m still trying to get my head around it myself.) Clearly, I am the grey beard in this group, but I’ve been training hard and hope to be the last writer standing. Or sitting. Or drinking. Or whatever.
Should you be reading this and have no chance of making it to the event, don’t be afraid to go to the APN website and make a donation. 30 bucks sounds about right. It’s an investment in the future of theatre in Alberta, that is, the theatre that is created in Alberta, by Albertans, for Albertans and maybe even for audiences far away. That’s got to be worth 30 bucks, right?
The event takes place Saturday, November 28 at the APN offices WHICH HAVE MOVED — they are now at #208 – 331 41st Ave. NE. Doors open at 7:00, the writing commences at 8:00. There will be a silent auction. And a DJ. And there will be a bar. At least there bloody well better be a bar!
For further info here’s the APN website: https://albertaplaywrights.squarespace.com
There’s an online auction here: http://albertaplaywrights2015.eflea.ca/view
And finally, just below, the trailer.
Thanks for reading!
I had a dream that seemed so real. Let me see if I can recount it.
I was to give a reading, presumably from my novel The Piano Teacher, though I don’t know if that was ever confirmed. It was to happen at the Jack Singer Concert Hall in Calgary, which is a big venue so this was not small potatoes.
It was all arranged by a woman whom I seemed to know more from Facebook than anywhere else. I don’t believe I ever knew her name and I certainly didn’t have her phone number.
I’m not the sort of person who is ever late for anything, ever. I boarded a bus with plenty of time to get to the hall, even though I easily could have walked there or ridden my bike in only a few minutes.
The minute I got on the bus, things started to go wrong. At no point did we go down any streets that were at all familiar to me at all. At first it was all right as I had plenty of time. (For some reason the reading was to take place at 6:30 PM. When does anything ever start at 6:30???)
And so the bus made its way down unfamiliar streets. But before you knew it, we were waiting at the entrance of a Mr. Lube shop – worse, even, the driver backed up to the doors so we were going to back up into the service bay.
Once the doors opened, the bus shot right through the bay into the back which was mostly a sea of mud and rusting hulks of old cars and various pieces of machinery lying around. It didn’t seem possible we could get through the mud but the driver gunned it and before long we had come out onto another street which was totally unfamiliar to me.
That street led onto a freeway and soon the bus was out on the freeway, going at a good clip, taking me further and further away from anything that was familiar to me. I checked my watch and it was slightly after 6, but I had no way of contacting the woman who had arranged the reading to tell her I might be late.
There was still time. We were running out of time, but there was still time.
When we finally turned off the freeway, the bus deposited me in a very bad neighbourhood which seemed decidedly more like new York or Chicago than Calgary. On leaving the bus, I was shaken down by two serious dudes, one with his face painted mint green. I told them I had no time for their bullshit, I was on my way to a reading, a hall full of people was waiting for me, I couldn’t let them down, they didn’t want to be a party to all those people being let down, so the two thugs led me to a bodega/lunch counter where it was thought I could get directions back downtown.
There was a swarthy man behind the cash register and a slim blonde waitress who wore nothing under her tiny apron. She wasn’t immediately attractive to me, but she soon grew on me. I bought a pack of Camel Lights and got directions to the subway.
Their directions took me into the bowels of a large theatre complex. The stairs took me into an actual theatre. Patrons were waiting for a play to begin. I had to jump over people waiting for the play to begin to make any progress to where I thought I could catch a train back to more familiar terrain.
I finally found an elevator but it wouldn’t go anywhere. I pushed the buttons but nothing happened. At first I was alone, but suddenly the elevator was packed. There was a tall blond Norwegian guy who didn’t speak any English standing in front of the control panel. I felt incredible rage towards him.
It turned out that we had to go up but I had been trying to go down. To activate the elevator, a special chip was needed and everyone but me had one, including the Norwegian guy.
Finally we got to the street and then all of us who had been in the elevator ended up in the cab, about ten of us. We were driving though a town I didn’t recognize. I checked my watch: 6:25. There was still time, but hope was fading fast.
I asked where we had been because it seemed like a funky part of town that I would like to visit again. Someone said it was Indian Road and that it was chaotic because Indiana had won the big game today. And that’s why everyone was dressed in red. (Though I hadn’t realized everyone was dressed in red.)
The lady beside me in the cab said, “You know, if you ever decide to write a novel, I can get you a good book deal.”
I say, “I’VE WRITTEN A NOVEL, I’M SUPPOSED TO BE READING IT AT THE JACK SINGER CONCERT HALL RIGHT THIS MOMENT! IN FACT NOW I’M LATE!!!!”
Then I realized I didn’t even have a copy of the book and that I would have to go home before I could go to the hall, making me ever later. I checked my watch: 6:35. I imagined the Jack full of people waiting for me, but me nowhere to be seen. If only I could have called that woman whose name I never knew!
Looking out the window of the cab, I saw we were now on a street called Quebec Avenue and I realized that we were in Montreal, even though I knew this street didn’t exist in Montreal or anywhere else, still the architecture was interesting.
And then I woke up all in a panic. I realized I was in my bed and breathed a sigh of relief. It was just a dream. I wouldn’t be late for my reading after all.
And then I realized that I have no reading to do tonight.
That was my dream.
Thanks for reading.
Go ahead, put your hand in his mouth!
Standing outside Caffe Beano the other morning, I was approached by an elderly gentleman (even by my standards) who wanted to give me a free coffee card. I don’t know what it is about me, people seem to like to give me things.
They say more serotonin is released when we give than when we receive, giving physiological proof to the old adage. Maybe I’m some kind of trigger, something about my face that screams out “Give this guy something! Give him a coffee card! Give him the shirt off your back!” Whatever.
(There is a DONATE button on the left side of the page if you want to FEEL GOOD RIGHT NOW.)
On any account, the gentleman who gave me the card gave me something far more valuable and enduring – he gave me a story. A good one too!
In his career, he was a dental surgeon, and in his free time he belonged to the Board of the Calgary Zoo. These two pursuits came together one day when he became the first oral surgeon to operate on a “big animal” (at least not of the domestic variety) in all of Canada. That animal was a Siberian tiger and he took two broken teeth out of its mouth, obviously while the tiger was under anesthetic.
They had laid the tiger on its side on the operating table and put shackles around its paws. As he was extracting one of the teeth, the tiger’s two front paws, which were not far from its head, raised a little off the table and then one by one its claws shot out from their sheaths. Of course, our good surgeon has his hands in the tiger’s mouth as this was happening.
As calmly as he could, he said “I think we might need a little more anesthetic here.”
Do ya think??
Anyway, he obviously survived and the tiger was relieved of its suffering and on a street corner years hence on a chilly autumn morning, I was given that story along with a free coffee card.
It got me thinking that there a lot of fascinating people walking around out there with stories that sadly enough may never get shared. A few years ago, I wrote a series of profiles for The Calgary Beacon called The Eugenius Questionnaire on people I know and admire, mostly from the Calgary arts scene. When I stopped writing for The Beacon, that idea died, but yesterday’s encounter with my new dentist friend rekindled my desire to create profiles on people by way of the questionnaire who have an interesting story to tell.
I think I ought to start it up again, and if he calls me (I gave him my card) I’ll start with my dentist friend and his story about being an oral surgeon to the big animals. Then you can hear it right from the horse’s – or the tiger’s – mouth. So to speak.
If you can think of a likely subject for this enterprise, why not let me know? There’s a comment button down below, so it’s easy enough to get in touch with me. (There’s also a donation button on the left . . . )
And by the way, if you’d be interested in doing something like this yourself, check out Dave Isay’s wonder Ted Talk on his project, StoryCorps. With their convenient App, you could be out gathering stories of your own in no time. I’ve shared it below. (Or at least tried to.)
Thanks for reading!