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pensive in the mist

More fallish out there now – grey, rainy and cool. Perhaps those magical days of bright sun are gone for a few months, or perhaps we can squeeze in a few more … let’s hope. There’s a huge, magnificent bird hanging around my yard these days, a falcon or a hawk – I watched him yesterday cleaning his long tail feathers. No wonder the sparrows are squawking more than usual during their dawn chorus. And yesterday, a doe was cornered and tranquillised near Union Station, in the heart of the financial district downtown. Perhaps the one I saw a few weeks ago on my walk, who decided to leave town by train.

An interesting interview with Mavis Gallant in Monday’s Globe. Mavis is a good friend of my friend Almeda’s in Paris, and was supposed to attend a dinner I went to there but was ill. How I wish I’d met her, slicing acerbic wit and all. About the end of her marriage, she says in the article, “I didn’t like being half a person with half of another person attached. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong, anything mean or nasty. As a couple you only ever see other couples. It was so boring. I was so bored. I was going out like a light. But if everyone was like me the human race would run out.”
She is one of those writers who have no respect for creative writing classes. “I never asked for help,” she says. “I didn’t even show my friends what I was doing.” She has only two words of advice for aspiring short story writers, says the article: “Read Chekhov.” Well, I’m with her on that, but I am sorry some people say, well, I succeeded my way so that’s the only way to succeed. There are other ways. The path to achievement does not have to be solitary.
Speaking of achievement, I heard a marvellous Writers and Company program yesterday, a panel discussing the work of Alice Munro. Worth listening to for the wisdom of the great Alistair McLeod alone, let alone the selected readings from Munro herself. She also mused sometimes about being a woman, wife, mother and writer. As perhaps I have said before, for decades there were almost no examples of women who had happy families and also successful writing careers. Think of the extremes of women geniuses: the despair of Sylvia Plath, the fragility of Virginia Woolf.
Then women like Carol Shields, with her Pulitzer and her five children, appeared to lead the way, and now we have Annabel Lyon, with two small children and a part-time job as a writing teacher, whose novel was nominated for 3 major awards and just won one. Juggling all of that seems perfectly normal now. Brava to her and to all the writing mothers out there. I mean the writers who mother. Or the … well, you know what I mean.
Those of you who’ve followed me on this blog must wonder why I have not ranted about Stephen Harper recently, now that we know his government ignored allegations of torture in Afghanistan and was behind the hideous flyer distributed by a Conservative M.P. in Toronto accusing the Liberals of anti-Semitism. It’s true that I did not enjoy the flood of pictures of our P.M. overseas, with his head in a turban and his cold, frozen face attempting to smile. The flood of articles about the horrifying abasement, thanks to this government, of Canada’s position on the world stage.
One Globe commentator remarked that Harper has the least charisma of any Canadian prime minister except Mackenzie King. I don’t know about that – King had his little dog and the ghost of his mother. In comparison with the calculating man we have now – I know which I prefer.

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2 Responses to “pensive in the mist”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Beth,
    I must run out and buy the magazine. There you go, another published piece.
    I agree with you about teaching writing. My experience with teaching writing involves grade three and four students.
    I taught this age group in 1967 when I first started teaching. Like everything else, teaching was going through a revolution. The way to "teach" writing it seemed was to have the children write daily in their journals for ten minutes. The few writing geniuses in the class would be off and gone but most were bored and found thinking up anything new for the day a terrible chore. I felt I was doing a very unsatisfactory job.

    When I returned to this age group after many years of teaching kindergarten I found much progress in the practice of teaching writing. We actually taught some things, such as using different sentence structures, writing for different audiences, using vocabulary effectively,and writing for different purposes. Each day we focused on some aspect in a lesson and then we tried it out on our own.

    Grades three and four are a unique age group because all their reading, language and writing skills (including handwriting) are just starting to come together. When they write, the children have to juggle all these new skills as well as try to be creative. It's difficult.

    The addition of very focused lessons made a world of difference. The children felt confident that they knew what was
    expected and this allowed their creative juices to flow.

    Both the children and I were invigorated by the process. You could hear brain cells popping enthusiastically all over the classroom. That included my brain. Writing class was greeted with cheers instead of groans.

    The end of year project was to write a fairy tale. This was no mean feat if you think about it. We were all amazed at the quality of everyone's stories.

    I think any of the arts can be taught. Granted, some students will be better at the final product than others. The joy of teaching is that you can help develop the tools that will give everyone in your class the confidence to create.

  2. beth says:

    Carolyn, what a great story. It sounds like you were a wonderful teacher of small children, which is one of the most important jobs on the planet.

    But as W'son says, no more competition from young writers! Let's squash the little buggers!

    Only in jest, of course.

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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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