Written on the Body #43, October 11, 2021: Thanksgiving: good news, other news, writing news

This is the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend — and Thanksgiving is a good way to follow “The Meaning of Life.” It is also a week after the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation. As many of us wore orange shirts with Indigenous symbols and the words Every Child Matters, and perhaps went to ceremonies or gatherings, heard singing and drumming, or meditated quietly at home, we reflected on the traumas and tragedies that people inflicted on Indigenous children, families, and cultures. Maybe we ourselves did not do these things, but they were done by our government, our churches, and in our name — and it is up to us to begin to make things right. In the Jewish phrase, to practice Tikkun Olam: to repair the world. And if not now, when? We do this not to show how good we are, but for the sake of the world. And as another saying goes, we cannot do everything, but we cannot do nothing.

U.S. artist Anne Truitt (1921-2004) talked in another way about seeing the world rather than ourselves, in her book Prospect: the journey of an artist. She says: At one stroke, the yearning to express myself transformed into a yearning to express what this landscape meant to me, nopt for my own emotional release but for the release of a radiance illuminating it behind and beyond appearance. This is the sense of a world — of nature and of living creatures — existing beyond ourselves in time and space, which we sense through a kind of radiance. Interestingly, one aspect of Tikkun Olam is the idea of gathering all the broken shards of light in the world into a whole.

Moving back to the personal plane, I have many things to be thankful for this weekend. One is the good news from my recent CT scan, showing that my new chemotherapy regime appears to be working: the liver lesions are smaller and fewer in number, the esophagus is stable, there are no further metastases. Good news indeed, and I am grateful (again) to all the doctors, nurses, and other staff at Princess Margaret, Toronto General, and all the University Health Network. They also manage to do a great job of keeping people safe during the pandemic.

I am also thankful that Roger and I have finally made the trip to beautiful British Columbia — near Nanaimo on Vancouver Island — to see my son Joe, his partner Christina, and their sons Emilio and Elijah. It’s been almost two years (November 2019) since we last saw them in person, though we’ve had visits over zoom and lots of emai, land they have made us feel so welcome. Here is one photo, taken at Qualicum Beach — it was so healing to be by the ocean — I felt the radiance I talked about earlier in this post, the sense of a world — natural and spiritual, larger than myself.

And I’m thankful for a loving extended family and good friends, and for the flowers that keep growing in our co-op garden. Despite the sense of being in a “diminuendo” phase of life, I am very thankful to be alive.

In other news, the world moves on to a “new normal,” still with some people resisting the vaccine, while others (especially in Africa and Asia) are desperate to get it. People in Louisiana are still suffering the effects of Hurricanes Ida and Laura (16 years after Katrina), and people in California are fighting not only wildfires and drought but a new oil spill. I was glad to hear the governor of California say that we have to move toward a future of not using fossil fuels; they are part of the past. And, more personally, I am feeling in my heart the grief of several friends who have lost loved ones in the past few weeks, or are dealing with serious health issues themselves.

Writing News: I’ve been writing new poems this year, and working on a story about two people who meet in an Assisted Living home: I have to make myself “go fearward” on that one. I did a radio interview with my friend Bernadette Rule for her program “Art Waves” on the Mohawk College Radio Station, The Hawk, 101.5 FM. She usually has guests live (I’ve done a couple of interviews with her in the past), but during the pandemic she’s switched to zoom — like so many of us — and I appreciate that. You can hear go to the program’s archives to hear my interview: https://archive.org/details/artwaves.

I’ve also had some poems published in anthologies: “A Shirt, A Star, A Story” in Love Lies Bleeding, compiled by George Elliott Clarke and published by The Ontario Poetry Society. Other poems are included in these anthologies: Hearthbeats, ed. by Don Gutteridge and published by Hidden Brook Press; the online anthology True Identity, edited by April Bulmer, published by Hidden Brook Press; The Beauty of Being Elsewhere, ed. by John B. Lee and also published by Hidden Brook Press; By the Wishing Tree, ed. by Becky Alexander and published by The Ontario Poetry Society, and (to be published in November) a book about the pandemic, published by Main Station in Nova Scotia. There will be a zoom launch (one of several) for this book on Sunday Nov. 28, 2 pm EST: further details to come. And I am doing a reading (precorded on video) for Toronto’s Art Bar poetry series on Tuesday, October 12, at 8:00 pm. EDT: https://www.facebook.com/groups/artbarpoetry. I have the reading on a dropbox file if anyone would like to see it but can’t watch on Oct. 12.

My friend and Finnish translator, Hannele Pohjanmies, has translated several of my poems into Finnish and posted them on her blog. Here is the link, if you know Finnish or just want to see the poems in that language. Hannele also translated some of my poems for the chapbook. Syntymalaulujah/Birthsongs in 2005. Thank you, Hannele. https://hpohjanmies.blogspot.com/

Finally, the film “The Shadow Project,” by Teresa D’Elia, using as narration my poem “Hiroshima Day: James Street North, Hamilton,” which I talked about in my August 6 blog, was selected for presentation at the Helsinki Educational Film Festival International. A great honour.

It is a coincidence to have two places in Finland where my work is represented. I was there for the launch of the 2005 book, which was initiated and edited by my friend Marja Schulman, and it is a fascinating country.

Though writing itself is a solitary pursuit, it has been a pleasure and a learning experience to work together with all these creative editors, publishers, film-makers, and others.

Happy Trails ’til we meet again.

About Ellen

I am a member of The Writers Union of Canada, the League of Canadian Poets, and CANSCAIP. I have received grants from the Ontario Arts Council for both writing and teaching. I currently work with Learning Through the Arts and Living through the Arts, programmes run by the Royal Conservatory of Music that enable artists to work in schools and community organizations. I have also taught in many other school and community programs, and have been a judge for various writing contests for both young people and adults.
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