Archive for the ‘Saskatchewan’ Tag

A Sense of Home in the Heartland   1 comment

I took this in Moose Jaw on a trip back a few years ago.

I took this in Moose Jaw on a trip back a few years ago.

Last weekend I gave a reading and conducted a workshop at the Rascals, Rogues and Outlaws Writers’ Conference presented by the Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild and the University of Saskatchewan at the U of S in Saskatoon. My fellow readers were novelists Catherine Bush from Toronto and Rosemary Nixon from Calgary (currently living in Saskatoon) and poet Alex Porco who now hangs his hat in North Carolina. I believe we all acquitted ourselves admirably and those in attendance seemed to come away with something to think about. Maybe even some of them were inspired by what they saw on stage to go home and take another shot at writing the Great Canadian Novel.

Beyond the conference itself, the weekend hit at me at a deeper level, at more or less a patriotic or nationalistic level, as for me in going back to Saskatchewan, I was going back home. Of course I’m from Regina, the Capitol, the Athens of Saskatchewan, and as such am normally bound by the traditions of the province to sneer at Saskatoon, but in this instance I was only too happy to dispense with that rather empty ritual. (Just this once, mind you.)

I am of the finest Saskatchewan pedigree. My father’s people came over from England in the very early days of the 20th Century. Grandpa, whom I never met, set up a forge in the bucolically-named town of Maryfield in the south-eastern part of the province. My mother’s people had homesteaded around the same time in the Alsask region. My grandma and grandpa eventually bought a farm in the Broadview area and that’s where my mother was raised.

My mom’s dad, William Hunter, was said to have been a mover and a shaker in the formation of the CCF Party, precursor to the NDP. I once heard a rumour that the Regina Manifesto was actually typed on his typewriter, but I have no way of proving that.  You can see I came by my politics honestly.

By the time my sister and brothers and I came along, our mom and dad were living in the old north end of Regina, in the shadow of Taylor Field. Well, two blocks away. When they moved in, it was a prosperous working class (with pretensions to middle class) neighbourhood. By the time they moved out, down to the south end, it was called by Maclean’s Magazine the worst neighbourhood in Canada. Well, things change.

When I was in university, at the University of Regina, I was a pretentious, mustachioed, tweed-clad, pipe-smoking twit with no greater dream than to get the hell out of Regina and move to Toronto. And I did that. I went to York University and got myself an MFA in playwriting and dramaturgy at York University.

It grieves me, as a westerner at heart, to say that I had a great time in Toronto and that I believe it’s one of the best cities anywhere, in any country. But it really is a wonderful place, at least it was back in the ‘80’s. And yet, I looked around me one day, actually I looked above me, and I couldn’t see the sky, and I realized I hadn’t seen it for some time. So I moved back home in the late 1980’s.  Really, on account of the sky.

I tried to make a go of it, but those were disasterous times for Saskatchewan economically.  I tried to make it but I just couldn’t. So when I had an offer to have a play of mine produced in Calgary, I did like hundreds of thousands (yes, literally) of my fellow Saskatchewanians have done over the decades and took the Trans Canada west to Calgary. And here I have been now for 20 years.

Where does the time go?

Coming to Calgary led to two of the best writing gigs in the country, at the time. First, as playwright in residence at Alberta Theatre Projects and then as a feature columnist for the Calgary Herald. (Sadly, neither really exists anymore, in quite the same way. This blog is in many ways a continuation of that column. I haven’t figured out how to get them to pay me for it, though.)

When I began at the Herald, my publisher told me there are over 300,000 people in Calgary originally from Saskatchewan. It’s often referred to as Saskatchewan’s biggest city. “So govern yourself accordingly,” he said. And I did. I wrote primarily to a Saskatchewan audience. Well, pan-prairie on any account. But don’t get me wrong. I never would have had the type of career I’ve had if I hadn’t come to Calgary when I did. I was in the right place at the right time.

I have many good friends in Calgary and I love the city. It drives me nuts sometimes, but any city will do that. It’s a great city, a great place to live.  After all, 300,000 of us Saskatchewan immigrants can’t be wrong.

Still, in going back to the homeland, something tugs at the heartstrings, some kind of inherent sense of kinship, of belonging, that exists quite beneath the realm of thought or awareness. I suppose no matter where you grew up, you feel it when you get back to your original home.

It’s healthy, I think, to celebrate that feeling. I always say, if you want to know where your home is, look at your health card. That will tell you all you need to know. But when I look to my heart, I know that my true home will always lie a few hundred miles east of here.

There’s a poem that I made from a monologue from a play of mine that I meant to read on the weekend, but that I never got around to. Don’t worry, I’m not about to keel over and die, at least I hope not, but the poem sums up the elegiac feeling I’m referring to. So here it is again. (Looking over at my poetry page, I am reminded I read this as part of my eulogy for my mother at her funeral a few years back.)

Home

It’s an issue of space.

You start out on the farm,

That great, vast prairie

To run and tumble in

The endless horizon

And the great dome of the sky

Boundless, unfettered.

But your mother calls you back

Back into the house

And it’s a big fine house

With many rooms

Sheltering a family, a home.

And then you muddle around and

The space around you expands and

Contracts to the seasons of your life

Your enterprise.

Yet at a certain point

You feel the walls begin

To close in around you

From a house

To an apartment

To a room in a home

Until finally

You are left

In just the smallest of spaces

A wooden box

And the prairie opens up

And you are lowered down into it

Home again

The circle complete.

______________________

Thanks for reading.

Here’s my old buddy Jack Semple, one of Saskatchewan and Canada’s finest musicians. This is from the Ironwood here in Calgary, but he still lives back home. We went to Scott Collegiate together, back in the day.

More Thoughts on Journaling (With a Little Help from my Friends)   5 comments

A few of my journals.

Those who know me either through this blog and my other writings, or from real life (whatever that is – I hear it’s overrated!) will know that I am an inveterate diarist.  One of my favourite and habitual activities is writing in my journal, an activity I carry out in various coffee shops around the world, most often in Calgary’s Caffe Beano off of 17th Avenue South West.

I have been doing this since the mid 1970’s and now I think of my journals and diaries as one huge amorphous oeuvre, comprised of, by conservative estimate, two to three million words.

After perhaps a million or so of these words had been recorded in my various notebooks, I had managed to achieve a sufficient amount of fame or notoriety to warrant the creation of my archival collection at the University of Regina. This collection, which I believe anyone is welcome to view in the library of the U of R, contains, for now at least, early drafts of some of my plays along with letters and laundry lists and other pieces of paper from the day-to-day of my ever so fascinating life.

But coming down the road, that long dusty road that plies its way through the prairies of my home province, is this flood of words and the books they are written in, destined to end up with all my other writings in the archival collection.  (This is a horrible metaphor, as if a flood would travel on a road. Perhaps it’s more of a caravan or convoy. Or maybe there is no road. But you get the picture, muddled as it may be!)

The point remains, the journals are destined to repose of the shelves of the library of the University of Regina as part of my archival collection.

Here’s the thing: how does the fact that one knows that one’s journals will be open for public scrutiny some day alter the writing? Can one continue to be as honest with one’s innermost thoughts that are, essentially, private in nature but that obviously find their way onto the page, when one is aware that someday in the future (near or distant, who can know?) others will be able to read them?

I’m forever telling people whom I get involved with on many levels, from business to romance, (though there hasn’t been much of either, lately, alas) that they will be written about and the books they are written in will be around for some time to come. And that I don’t pull my punches. And that little bit of information should make a few people reading this at least slightly nervous.

My thinking on this is that by the time they hit the shelves, I’ll be dead and people and events I write about will be insubstantial shadows, so what will it really matter, anyway? Well, it might still matter to you, dear reader, so I suggest you govern yourself accordingly. (You know who you are, even if I don’t, exactly . . .)

The other alternative I suppose would be to do as many writers do and burn the journals before I shuffle off to sing with the choir invisible. Or if I’m too feeble and deranged at the end to do it myself,  leave instructions for someone else to do it should my passing be sudden and unexpected, which I am sorely hoping it will be. But burn those two or three million words? It doesn’t seem to me to be an option.  In many ways, I think of this gigantic sprawling work as the greatest artistic statement I cam capable of making. Burn it? It just seems too self-negating, and those who know me will know self-negation is not something I’m exactly known for.

The trick is to remain honest and true, not censoring your thoughts or opinions, yet being mindful that at some point in the distant reaches of time, someone will surely read those words, and in your absence, and they will be all they have, really, from which to form an opinion of you and the people and events of your life. I find that prospect both scary and exciting at the same time.

Now, this was all meant to serve as a prologue for a lovely letter (via Facebook) I received a while back from my friend, who for now I shall call R,  which you will discover as you read was prompted by other of my musings (or ramblings) about journal writing.

It’s seldom that we take the time anymore to write a well-reasoned letter, and I was so touched by this one that I decided to share it here.

It’s a good reminder that a well thought-out letter, written with care and attention, may be rare these days, but it is perhaps more than ever a worth-while endeavor.  In fact, it’s downright precious Here it is . . . .

 

Hi Eugene,
I read your note about your journals yesterday morning. For some reason it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it all day, a day, when for some reason, and no reason in particular, I was feeling generally sad and out of sorts. Then, on the c-train, I read this and felt maybe I was meant to share it with you. Not sure what it means, if it means anything…but I am compelled to share it here, so here it is, quoted by Margaret Atwood in Negotiating with the Dead, from Hjalmar Soderberg’s Doctor Glas:

Now I sit at my open window, writing – for whom? Not for any friend or mistress. Scarcely for myself, even. I do not read today what I wrote yesterday; nor shall I read this tomorrow. I write simply so my hand can move, my thoughts move of their own accord. I write to kill a sleepless hour.

And this, also quoted in the Atwood, from Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four:

For whom, it suddenly occurred to him to wonder, was he writing this diary? For the future, for the unborn…For the first time the magnitude of what he had undertaken came home to him. How could you communicate with the future? It was of its nature impossible. Either the future would resemble the present, in which case it would not listen to him: or it would be different from it, and his predicament would be meaningless.

Then, she says:

For whom was Samuel Pepys writing? Or Saint-Simon? Or Anne Frank? There is something magical about such real-life documents. The fact that they have survived, have reached our hands, seems like the delivery of an unexpected treasure; or else like a resurrection…The older one gets, the more relevant Beckett’s play Krapp’s Last Tape comes to be.

Happy Day to you :o)
R

And happy day to you, dear reader. Thanks for the visit . . . .

Me and the NDP   Leave a comment

My maternal grandparents homesteaded in Saskatchewan in the very early years of the 20th Century. They ended up settling and raising a family in Broadview which is in the southeast part of the province. My mom and her siblings grew up on a farm near Broadview in that rather bucolic age that we think of as Canada’s agrarian past, Laurier’s vision made reality.

My grandfather prospered and had business dealings as far away as Chicago and Vancouver. From all accounts he was a capitalist of the first order. At the time of his death in the 1950’s, actually a month after I was born, he was speculating in real estate in Vancouver. Had he lived a few years longer I probably would have been born rich. He didn’t, I wasn’t. Too bad, so sad.

Prosperous as he was, in the 30’s, that decade when it didn’t rain or snow on the prariries (according to my mother), my grandfather being a man of conscience, couldn’t sit back and watch his neighbours lose their farms, or worse, starve, without taking action. So he and other like minded men founded the CCF party that is now the NDP. My grandfather, William A. Hunter, also helped start the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool.

When I was growing up, we lived in Alan Blakeny’s constituency. He was one of the great Premiers of any province in the history of Canada.  The NDP, and the principles that the party espoused, were taken very seriously in my family.

Throughout my adult life I have been a supporter of the party at least in a philosophical sense. Sometimes, especially in Alberta, one has to be savvy and vote for a candidate who at least has a chance, because in Calgary at least, a candidate for the NDP has the proverbial snowball’s chance in hell. But it doesn’t really matter who else you vote for. Out here, the Conservatives always win.

On Monday evening, I happened to be in Ottawa, staying in a hotel not far from Parliament Hill. I saw on the news that there was a vigil for Jack Layton so I walked over and paid my respects. All the candles and flowers and bottles of Orange Crush and signs made up a beautiful tribute to Mr. Layton.

It was sometime late Monday evening that I saw the letter he wrote, and was deeply touched by his final words:

Love is better than anger.

Hope is better than fear.

Optimism is better than despair.

Tonight, there was a vigil in Tompkins Park, just south of the Mount Royal neighbourhood in Calgary  that has to be THE bastion of conservatism in Canada. It was heartening to see a good crowd forming, as unlikely as it was. Maybe the facade is finally starting to crack.

So many writers have used Mr. Layton’s death to promote their own thoughts and ideas and I have no wish to do so in writing this, other than to say that I admire the man, and I believe he has made a tremendous impact on the way we see ourselves as Canadians. He has not answered many questions that linger in his death, but he at least posed them.

I know my grandfather would have been proud.

Jack Layton memorial in Tompkins Park, Calgary, a stone's throw away from one of the most staunchly conservative neighbourhoods in Canada.

Posted August 24, 2011 by Eugene Stickland in Uncategorized

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