last Xmas

it did not escape me,

that she was the cause,

of your walk in the wilderness that Xmas


your child, I, asleep that night

stockings hung, all is calm

all is bright


the banality of her,

the cliché of blue eyes,

such a good listener.











on the road to Compostela

somewhere on the pilgrim road

I met the devil – amoebic knife in gut

and you, husband,  kept me warm all night


tight then was the shiver of us


somewhere on the pilgrim road

your hold turned to grasp

tight then was your shiver of us


& I gasped for something all my own





lost watch

little watch you have left me

silver Skagen bracelet, opalescent face,

crystals counting minutes/hours of our life

together, you are now flashed, disparu.


I search for you

in closets of memory, under our bed,

but this time I’m quite sure this is it, really it,

you’ve handed in your fini,

like a husband tout fini,

little watch, you have fled.


The Many-Face(d)Bookedness of our times

I began using the internet in 1991, yes, that’s right folks, 1991, when I was in the midst of my Master of Library and Information Science degree. I intro’d my class to modems and demonstrated the magic of dial-up, FTP etc., and it really WAS magic! Two years later, working for the Dominion Astrophysics Laboratory I learned how to use the WWW and intro’d it to corporate and government clients saying, ‘I’d invest in this thing if I were you’, and they just laughed at me.
Back in the day, early Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were university associated, and early community users were collectives of volunteers (BCNet etc.). It became apparent to me, early on, that there needed to be a CODE OF ETHICS for all ISPs and/or web masters (accredited and regulated) because they had access, through the back end, to SCADS OF PERSONAL DATA. As an analyst and consultant I urged clients (often govt.) to see this happen – but hey, who was I? Just a WOMAN, just a librarian/analyst. It was absurd that this didn’t happen because basically the scenario that presented itself was akin to the postmaster being able to open EVERYBODY’S MAIL, read it and collect whatever they wanted and for whatever use. While I’ve never given up my stance on this need for a CODE OF ETHICS, I became somewhat complacent believing in what I call my ‘Stasi Theory’. This is a reference to the Stasi (the secret police) who during the East German Communist years had basically EVERYBODY spying on each other (including husbands and wives, neighbours etc.), the net result being SO MUCH INFORMATION reported that the Stasi didn’t have the man/womanpower to analyse it, thus rendering much of it useless. Well my theory fell to pieces with the advent of data mining.
Now here’s the deal, I lived with a data miner in the early days of data mining, and as with anything, the capacity of these new algorithms that could collect and collate massive amounts of data COULD have been put to good use. E.g., massive analyses of huge sets of data for the World Health Org on, say, public health info that could track and predict outbreaks of contagions. This could be a good thing. But the reality is that most data miners could give a rat’s a$$ for anything other than per$onal gain … Which brings me to Zuckerberg whose pale, somewhat shell-shocked testimony to Congress appears utterly specious. Or is it?
What amazes me is the FUNDAMENTAL LACK OF ETHICS in all of this. To argue innocence, good intentions blah blah blah is worse than specious … I can’t even find the word for what it is, on this I am near speechless. Look, this is a multi-billion dollar company, surely SOMEONE in a company that $ize has some grounding in ETHICS 101 !!! Or do they? Perhaps we actually have a more challenging scenario, a generation or two without a schooling in ethics … and if this is the case, how do we address it?
It occurs to me that Zuckerberg and his screen-faced generation (and I honestly DO feel sorry for them if there alpha to omega is the screen) have been born to a new Industrial Revolution, the digital, and that their schooling has morphed into one of preparing them for this digital revolution – just as the public school acts of the 19th c. prepared worker bees for factories, banks etc. But this has come at a price. Some of the things that have been DOWNGRADED in this effort to make IT worker bees have been things like LIBRARY BOOKS, LIBRARIANS, PHILOSOPHY (hey that’s ETHICS FOLKS), THE ARTS etc. etc. I can vouch for this, I saw it happen over the 90s with the dot com bubble and burst.
Back in the day, as an analyst working with consulting companies on high level IT policy (for all levels of gov’t, including the Ministry of Education), I watched as library budgets were slashed and rows upon rows of computers that would be obsolete within a year or two were installed, librarians devalued, etc. etc.
The net result is that now, we reap what we have sown. We have the Zuckerbergs of the world who look utterly amazed that this nice little thing they invented in their college dorm (and that’s where the data miners I know developed their algorithms) could actually be used for some fundamentally bad things, and they plead innocence to their role in it all.
I argue that what we are seeing here is a case of arrested development. Somewhere along the line these masters of the universe slept through Philosophy 101, or English 100, the Humanities survey course, the places where one LEARNS WHAT IT IS TO BE HUMAN and BELONG TO SOCIETY. I don’t know what Zuckerberg’s excuse is, however. He went to top private schools, and apparently has a minor in the Classics. Hmmmm. Maybe it’s time for Zuckerberg to go back to school and start at square 1, learning what it means to live in society responsibly. Perhaps his $65.4 BILLION can pay for some tutors to help him understand the more complex ideas. We can only hope … still, it’s too late for most of us, we’re hooped, we got complacent and believed that a free lunch (free services such as FB etc.) really didn’t have a price. Now we know they do. And it’s a very dear price … our privacy, and perhaps, our liberty.
From the attached article, and worth thinking about. While I don’t wholeheartedly agree with the author, his ideas are definitely worth pondering:
‘The worst moments of the hearing for us, as citizens, were when senators asked if Zuckerberg would support legislation that would regulate Facebook. I don’t care whether Zuckerberg supports Honest Ads or privacy laws or GDPR. By asking him if he would support legislation, the senators elevated him to a kind of co-equal philosopher king whose view on Facebook regulation carried special weight. It shouldn’t.
Facebook is a known behemoth corporate monopoly. It has exposed at least 87 million people’s data, enabled foreign propaganda and perpetuated discrimination. We shouldn’t be begging for Facebook’s endorsement of laws, or for Mark Zuckerberg’s promises of self-regulation. We should treat him as a danger to democracy and demand our senators get a real hearing’

Thelma & Louise Redux

just back from spending time off-grid for another week, and while away I jacked electricity from the solar panel enough to charge my computer and to watch old movies. An eclectic selection courtesy of BB’s son, the movies ranged from “Jackie”, with Natalie Portman (yuck, I just don’t ‘get’ Portman and the Jackie she portrayed was lame), to “Ghostbusters” and some thrillers. Amongst the flix was an oldie, “Thelma and Louise”. I hadn’t seen the film since it came out in the early 90s and was shocked at how RELEVANT it is in these “Me Too” times TWO DECADES AND A HALF later!!! I think that the moment Thelma says to Louise, who has killed the would-be rapist, “Let’s go to the police”, and Louise responds, “Are you crazy, nobody would believe us. This isn’t the kind of world we live in” (or something like that), rings as true then as it did 17 years ago.

I found the movie as funny and impressive as I did when I first saw it – it stands the test of time. I also found it depressing. The scenes with the perve truck driver jogged memories for me, memories I’d clearly BURIED, and this shocked me. It shocked me because clearly I’d grown up in an era wherein men could behave so horribly with impunity that I just had to shrug my shoulders and carry on. I’d forgotten all the lewd gestures, the inappropriate comments, the small and greater assaults on my body and spirit as a growing female. I simply suppressed them. And watching many of those scenes in Thelma and Louise jogged my memory. And this disturbed me and astonished me.

Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are brilliant in this movie – no, they are perfect. Their transformation from good girls who play by the rules (while ALL the men around them, ubiquitously make up their own and with impunity) is masterful, or should I say mistressful. The script is perfect and Ridley Scott’s direction is fantastic. Harvey Keitel, as the ONLY decent man in the film, is perfect. Brad Pitt’s cameo is definitely his star-making moment. And the US Southwest is more gorgeous than ever, esp. given the environmental degradation and economic desolation one sees in the earlier Oklahoma scenes.

A side note: Susan Sarandon, at age 45 when this film was made, and Geena Davis, age 35, were basically considered over-the-hill for Hollywood at the time. In my p.o.v., women only BEGIN to come into their own in their late 40s and 50s, that is, once the biological imperative choice has been made (coincidence or correlation?). They are brilliant in this. From the opening scenes to the final kiss, a kiss that in itself far predated Madonna’s smooch.

Catherine Deneuve and those other 99 would never ‘get’ this film. Too bad for them.

Anyone teaching history, philosophy, script writing etc. should screen this film.


I looked at the face

your profile pic on LinkedIn

an algorithmic-suggestion we should connect


all black and white

your eyes ask: what did I do, what did I do

to become that face?


Christ, to see in you

such lostness, after all

that waste.



The danger of a little education

sometimes I wonder if the PhD has wrecked my reading-for-pleasure part of my brain forever. I’m reading BC Book World, a nicely put together freebie newspaper that advertises the wondrous array of publications that come out of this amazing province. The current issue is Summer 2017 with a pic of Wade Davis on the cover. The range of books being discussed is truly fantastic, many of them coming from small presses. But the articles are really adverts rather than reviews because, basically, what they do is describe the author and content, some context yet with absolutely no criticism, in the literary/scholarly/intellectual sense, entailed in the writing. What I mean by that is that the ‘reviewers’ do not challenge the authors of the books, the subject matter, nor do they contextualise the author or book in a broader sense. Some of the reviewers are academics btw, yet they do not appear to apply their critical faculties to the job.

Sometimes the book authors are quoted and their statements are ridiculous and left entirely unchallenged. John Gellard, for example, reviews David Suzuki & Ian Hanington’s new book Just Cool It : the Climate Crisis and What We Can Do About It and quotes a number of the author’s recommendations that we can do so much for our environment. But Gellard doesn’t point out how absurd some of the author’s recommendations are, primarily because most of these recommendations clearly do not, cannot, apply to anyone other than a privileged and predominantly urban segment of our society. For example: ‘use fuel-efficient cars or electric cars’; ‘cultivate habits of bicycling, walking, and using public transportation instead of cars’; ‘insulate our homes and use energy-efficient lighting’; ‘install solar panels on our houses’; ‘buy less “stuff” and waste less’, and ‘eat less meat and, by composting, waste less food’. Now don’t get me wrong, all of these are worthy endeavours but for a huge proportion of BC citizens cars are out of reach, never mind elite electric or ‘fuel-efficient’ hybrids. Ditto ‘cultivat[ing] habits of bicycling …’. Well I’ve been stuck in Squamish (trying to retrieve my truck where it’s been getting fixed up at Function Junction & my companion is working off-grid) for the past several days because the public transit here is the shits quite frankly, and prohibitively expensive – so I can’t imagine ‘cultivating’ cycling/walking/busing’ here esp. if I had a job in the service industry to get to in Whistler for example. As for insulating our homes, energy-efficient lighting, and solar panels – anybody looked at the cost of housing in most of BC recently? Who but the privileged can own homes here, and if you do manage to squeak into a mortgage who but the privileged can afford solar panels etc. etc.? Of all the recommendations it is the ‘eat less meat’ that cracks me up the most. Only the privileged would even consider this. I don’t know any low-income people who eat much meat. It’s simply too expensive.

And so this is where I think the PhD has wrecked me. Why can’t I just enjoy the read for the read’s sake?

The review by Mary-Ellen Kelm, titled ‘Genocide in Slow Motion,’ is about the book “Medicine Unbundled: a Journey Through the Minefields of Indigenous Health Care”, by Gary Geddes. Geddes reveals the First Nations experience of a segregated Indigenous health care system of the last century (Indian hospitals) and presents a harrowing précis of the era. While the article on the Geddes book certainly is worth reading, what is missing is that the reviewer, an academic, never questions Geddes’s methodology of collecting first-person narratives, his acceptance of these narratives as truth (and I’m NOT suggesting they are untruthful), nor, importantly, does the reviewer consider the absence of first-person narratives in the Geddes book – those of the former health-care providers who worked in the system, or at least any documentary evidence left behind by these people. Further, I challenge statements made by the reviewer such as the following in which she quotes an informant from Geddes’ book: ‘Listening, as it turns out, can be a problem for Canadians. As Joanie Morris puts it, ‘the problem I have with white people is that they don’t listen.’ Say what? Since when is the word ‘Canadians’ synonymous with ‘white people’ – and yet this is the implication by the reviewer (and I smell middle-class white guilt in this btw, tho I couldn’t determine Kelm’s heritage from her online presence). Then I argue, if ‘Canadians’ don’t listen, then wtf is the 6-year long Commission on Truth and Reconciliation and the resultant actions and programming that is rolling out daily throughout the country? Kelm just rolls over this in her article.

I could go on, but I won’t. Because it will just prove what I suspect. And that is that the PhD has utterly ruined my reading pleasure. My critical skills are the antithesis of pleasurable, relaxing reading – there are just truck-wide critical holes in article after article of BookWorld – a truly nice publication that spreads the word far and wide on all the industriousness of BC’s authors. Sadly, there’s nothing I can do about turning off my academic switch, other than hope that time will cure all.

Stella Bowen, FMF, & Jean Rhys

‘[P]ursuing an art is not just a matter of finding time – it is a matter of finding a free spirit … Ford [Madox Ford] was a great user-up of other people’s nervous energy and there was no room for me to nurse an independent ego,’ writes the Australian painter Stella Bowen on how difficult it was to continue painting once she began her relationship with Ford Madox Ford. Ford used to assume that Bowen just didn’t want to paint. But Bowen also had a newborn at the time she is referring to (post First World War), and Ford had relocated the little family to a countryside cottage that had no plumbing or electricity. Further, he had serious PTSD from the trenches and he insisted that had to have absolute silence in order to write. 

Later, the family moved to Paris and took in a struggling writer who had left her own marriage and who had honed helplessness and dependency on men to a higher order. Ford then had an affair with the poor dear while she was living under Stella’s roof. The writer was Jean Rys. After Bowen and Ford’s breakup, Bowen began painting again with conviction and eventually became the second woman war artist ever appointed by the UK government (1941). Here’s a link to her war work. 

Bowen always felt herself to be the lesser artist of the two, but I find the concept of greater and lesser artist to be specious, particularly in the context of Bowen and Fordie (whom I adore so much I even snuck him into my doctoral dissertation). Comparing Bowen and Fordie is a bit like comparing runners racing a 1000 meters with one piggy-backing the other for at least half the track. As for Rys, her life was disastrous, yet, I suppose one can say that she served her art. She descended into alcoholism and destructive behaviours with men and spent her life looking for the love of a mother she felt she never had. The irony was that she left a wake of destruction in the lives of so many other women, mothers, as she went. 

source: Osler, Mirabel. The Rain Tree: a Memoir. London: Bloomsbury, 2011.



Up at 5 a.m. to begin a draft of a scene for Heart of the North to give to my composer, Neil Weisensel, this afternoon, I began studying script formats. I began thinking about my mother (when do I not think about her) and how extraordinary she was. At heart she was a natural creative, a painter who channeled much of her creative energy into cooking beautiful meals served at gorgeous tables, or how she dressed (always elegantly & trendy but NEVER mutton-dressed-as-lamb). She had little money and yet her tables rivalled the best. She served on department store china – she always wanted a set of Rosenthal china but never got it – and yet it might as well have been Rosenthal because the way she laid the table, served the food was always elegant, a candle ALWAYS lit no matter if it was mac and cheese, & her menus inspired . Some family members mocked her for her predilection for elegance, as if she was ‘uppity’ – but my mom was born into a wealthy family (the money lost in 1929, her father deserted soon after), and had the provenance of being ‘French’. Only late in her life did I find our Métis heritage and only when I began to give her books about our culture and how proud a heritage it is did she acknowledge and embrace our heritage and actually wear the sash.

This morning as I set about working I thought about my mother because it would have been unimaginable for her to have had the luxury of rising at 5 a.m. to work on a piece of artistic work, funded work. My mother raised 5 kids and had a terribly difficult marriage to an alcoholic. She worked at low-paying jobs all my childhood years and had two or three weeks off a year, therefor little time to follow her passion for painting or for learning (she got her B.A. at age 69). Yet I remember our holidays at Boundary Bay and how it was her happy place. In particular I remember her standing at her easel outside the tiny cabin we rented (cold water, no shower/bath, old oil stove, 2 bedrooms for 7 people – the boys slept outside!) – and painting for hours and hours. She often wore an elegant dress, a very fashionable mumu (not the tent kind) brought back from Hawaii by a wealthy friend, and a smock (to keep the oil paint off her clothes). Unlike so much of the year during which she was exhausted and stressed (she’d had tuberculosis, numerous surgeries, and my dad was unpredictable), at Boundary Bay she was happy and relaxed and we kids had free range. When she wasn’t painting she was reading. I think she was irritable a lot of the time because she was intellectually and artistically frustrated. Raising 5 kids and living with the chaos of alcoholism instead of fulfilling one’s intellect and creative spirit is a recipe for self-destruction, yet miraculously, she looked after her health and self extremely well.

Everybody says she is still with me, my mom, but I’m not so sure, I just can’t feel her with me. And I have no one I can phone and talk about books, ideas, what’s in this month’s issue of Vanity Fair – my mom was an equal-opportunity reader (low-brow, middle-brow, high-brow), someone who enjoyed reading the tabloids as much as any academic tome. I have so much to thank her for and yet I can’t. tbh, I’m not going to my PhD convocation because without her there is no point – I did it for her first and foremost.

A huge part of my self-identification as Métis is a recovery of the creative spirit that my mom, and her mother, stifled as brown-eyed girls who passed. Mom’s elegance was sneered upon by some and yet it was her heritage manifested in her clothing, her food, her painterly eye and her eclectic Catholicism. I just hope, no, I pray, I can do her justice.

Reading Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs

Since beginning the PhD, I have been unable to read fiction – I’m told it takes 6 months to a year to recover, to clear the system. I have also found writing, creatively, almost impossible. But I have just picked up Edna O’Brien’s The Little Red Chairs, a story about a stranger coming to a little Irish village, a mysterious, compelling stranger, a Rasputin-type, a long-haired healer from Montenegro. Slowly the enamoured village learns who he is. I heard O’BRien on Writers and Company discussing the book and its naissance in her reading of how when Serb war criminal Radovan Cerovic was captured he had long hair, a bushy beard and had been in hiding for over a dozen years posing as a doctor of alternate medicine (he wore a man bun). The wolf in hippy clothing (though it is unfair to wolves to compare them to mass murderer).
The little red chairs of the title refers to the 20th anniversary of the siege of Sarajevo, during which time red chairs were put on display, one for each of the 11,541 killed in the 1,425 days of siege (almost FOUR years of siege). Of these red chairs, 643 were little red chairs – one for each child killed during this period. Cultural genocide against the Bosnian Muslims. Against the little children.
All of this calls to mind the experience of my guardian angel, P I’ll call him, who was a Canadian peacekeeper in Bosnia at the end of the war. P, who is a peer-support counsellor for veterans affairs looks after me, checks up on me and other civilians he knows who have been exposed to war, even though he doesn’t have to because as a civilian (non-combatant) it’s assumed we don’t suffer. P was a clerk, a non-combatant, and yet he suffered/suffers terrible PTSD. “Who’d think a clerk could get PTSD?” he said to me. (I know how now, believe me, and civilians and reporters and war artists…). P’s job in Bosnia was to work with the evidence-gathering teams for the war crimes trials that would come to the Hague. His work entailed the registering of exhumed bodies from the mass graves. Describing, taking any form of anything that could lead to identification etc., logging each and every detail (I’m not sure how good database programs were back then – pretty primitive).
Well one of the things P had to do was to walk through the Bosnian forests with the evidence gathering teams. As he did so he walked through leaves and stepped on twigs that snapped underfoot. Except they weren’t twigs, they were little children’s rib bones. To this day P cannot walk through forests. He avoids them. Even our beautiful peaceful west coast Canadian forests. He cannot stand the sound of a twig breaking underfoot because not only was he horrified that the bones belonged to little ones, but also he had young children at the time of this terrible job and he could not stand the imagining of their suffering had they lived in Bosnia – but he did imagine it. Thus his illness that carries on decades later.
I remember the war trials, and I remember the terrible times. I remember writing a major article in 1991, while living in Denmark, for the now-defunct newspaper, The European, and asking Europe wtf is with their sitting back and not engaging with trying to diffuse the situation in the Balkans, to peace keep in other words. The editor spiked the article with a note saying, basically, “What do you know about anything, you’re a North American”. Then I remember the filthy racism of a second generation Canadian whose provenance came from that region – a fellow Master’s student – who reached back into the disgustingly long memory of perceived victimhood and how she justified the slaughter of the Bosnian war. A middle-class, comfy Canadian.
Last week, just a few hours before the performance of Jeffrey Ryan and my Requiem at the Orpheum in Vancouver, I received an email from an Afghan woman who had  heard us being interviewed on the CBC the day before. She had come to Canada as a refugee of 12 years of age. All alone. She came on some sort of scholarship – amazing! – aimed at developing young refugees. She went on to university and became a practising physician, a specialist. In her letter she thanked me for remembering the children of war in our Req. She also spoke of children’s resilience. But also of the lifelong struggle that comes with the experience of war. The continued fears in one’s bones. Literally.
So often in this life as a creative one feels it is useless, or worse, destructive to one’s sense of self to practice one’s art. Especially as a poet. A few years back, defending myself legally (no details needed other than to know it was pernicious, specious, utterly destructive and not just to myself), I had to hear myself being typified by a rich woman lawyer for the other side (a de facto prosecutor) as one whose work is and has been meaningless and is in fact a luxury, not a REAL JOB. I have to fight this belief frequently, still, that is until I receive a letter from an Afghan woman who thanks me for my work, who thanks me for remembering the children of war in our Requiem. And then I pick up the maestra Edna O’Brien’s book The Little Red Chairs and I read her re-imagining of the charisma of evil as the Radovan Karadzic-like character enters the lives of a little Irish village, and one woman’s life in particular.
And I use the word ‘re-imagining’ rather cautiously, as O’Brien, like most artists of stature, has done her research – poring over the war trial records, interviewing people, visiting the sites etc. O’Brien’s work reminds me that no amount of reportage, non-fiction articles and books, documentaries etc. can ever bring such empathy, such inquiry into how wickedness can walk this earth. Especially the work of someone the stature and mastery as O’Brien whose every sentence is beautiful, powerful, seducing. Reading The Little Red Chairs reinforces my belief that tho war trials can bring some justice, there is something in artistic masterpiece that can bring some higher sense of justice – a bearing of spiritual witness, and possible redemption. Certainly for those who survive, it reminds them that their experiences have been real, and are remembered.