photo by Kate Inglis

Welcome to My Seriously Joy-filled World of Words! 

In a world that makes no sense to me, making nonsense makes sense.

I'm a writer, reciter, a speaker, a teacher, a sister, a daughter, a mother, a wife. A listener, a seeker, a maker of nonsense, a reader, a leader, a lipslippery fool. A doctor, a walker, a talk-talk-talk- talker, a giggle-glad Oma, an odd sort of soul.

Yearner and learner
An ever beginner!
Hope is my teacher
Life is my school.

Portrait by Sydney Smith

I'm currently grateful to be 2013/2014 WRITER IN RESIDENCE at Pictou/Antgonish Regional Library. My readings and workshops are listed here. Come join me!

 

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Book News

 

New edition out in April!

 

Singily Skipping Along with art by Deanne Fitzpatrick (Fall 2013)

Come live and be merry and join with me and sing the sweet chorus of Ha Ha Hee.  ~ William Blake

Press

Interview with Kerry Clare, thoughtful reviewer and tireless champion of books, literature, and writers.

Sunday
Jul202014

THE M WORD -  #BookREVIEW

 

 

 

My reflection/reaction/response/review  of  the M WORd, a collection of writings on motherhood, edited by Kerry Clare. Published by Goose Lane Editions 

 My maternal grandmother was “with child” 19 times -- delivering 13 children. She lost one child to sudden infant death syndrome, and her youngest son, the one she conceived when she was 47, was killed in a traffic accident when he was 18.  My strong Acadian grand-mère died shortly after my first son was born, ( I was seventeen)  yet she was, and is, one of the women I draw strength from during the darkest nights of my motherhood soul.

I used to tell my mother I felt guilty for complaining whenever I thought of the lives mothers had had in the past.

My mother told me her mother had an expression: I’m not complain’, I’m just explainin’. 

There aren’t any whiners in Kerry Clare’s *The M Word*. The conversations are many and varied in this stunning new anthology, which explores the ambiguity of motherhood and offers more than just predictable small talk. You can, and will need to, dip in and out of the collection and breathe deeply.

The M Word felt like a kind of emotional labour for the three days I was reading. This is a motherlode of deeply personal truths, generous and courageous souls, bearing witness to lives shaped, if not defined, by, well, “life with a uterus,” as the foreword suggests.

The contributors are writers, artists, teachers of one kind or another, and mothers. Or not.  A book about motherhood that also allows room for women who are not mothers? Yes!  Groundbreaking, fertile territory indeed.  

In author Nicole Dixon’s essay , one of 25 in the M word, she muses: “To breed or not to breed is not simply one question a woman asks herself at some point in her life -- it’s the question.” I laughed out loud when I read that first line, but what follows is an example of how very unfunny it is to be a woman who has decided not to have children in our society.

What about trying to mother a child who compares you, the step -mother, to her own biological mother? Saleema Nawaz waltzes us though a dance of emotions until a lump-in-your-throat goosebump finale.

Alison Pick , in a powerful sharing of the details of her miscarriage in the second trimester, (an event I experienced between my two sons) writes,

“And sometimes, on a rainy afternoon, when there’s Van Morrison on the stereo and something sweet baking in the oven, when the living room is a cozy clutter of toys and books and crayons, I feel a quiet gaze on my back. When I turn, no one’s there. But I know she’s hovering in the shadows behind me, eyes wide with awe, watching the life we almost had.”

By contrast, Carrie Snyder offers an exuberant celebration of life as a stay at home mother of four young children but does not minimize the challenges. We are offered stories about being childless by choice (Patricia Storm’s hysterically funny comic strip story), about mothers who’ve aborted (Kerry Clare); reflections of adoptive mothers and the opposite (Myra Coulter’s essay about giving her baby up for adoption had me sniffling the whole time and marvelling at her courage in the decision making and the telling. ).

There are the voices of single mothers, lesbian mothers, grandmothers, divorced mothers, married mothers, stepmothers, mothers of twins and, yes, grief-stricken mothers.  

Christa Couture’s essay is the ( for me) the most beautiful and terrible essay, as she tells of the unimaginable: the loss of not one but two children. She talks of how strange, awkward; lonely it can to be in the company of parents whose children are healthy and thriving.

“I want to tell them: but I am like you, a parent too. My relationship with either of my children did not end with their deaths ... Children who are no longer here still take up time and space in a parent’s life. I am not unlike you , I think as I close the locket and hold it close to my chest.”

There is a happy surprise at book’s end. Michele Landsberg, a trailblazing mother/writer/ feminist, icon to many of us, ends the book with a delicious joyful reflection on life after motherhood and otherhood, the G word, Grandmotherhood.  This too will be different for everyone. I'd like to be part of that book. I just discovered after  two sons and being an Oma to two grandsons, I will have a grandaughter. Emma. I keep saying her name outloud like a mantra. Emma. Oma & Emma. Then I breathe. Deeply.   

 Kerry Clare is the mother, writer and editor of the 49th shelf as well as mid-wife to THE M WORD. In the foreword to the book, she explains why, in a culture obsessed with motherhood, with bookshelves overpopulated with books on the topic, this book needed to be born:   

Mothers also continue to be maligned (check out the comments on any online article about big strollers or public breast-feeding to see what I mean), even as they’re being sanctified in theory by our mother-obsessed society, and the contradiction is confusing, bolstering mothers’ defences. And this is where the exclusivity comes in, enhancing the motherhood conversation not a bit, creating a sense of apartness that leaves so many other women feeling their experiences are outside of the ordinary and, for some, that they are, perhaps impossibly, alone.

 

I know Kerry Clare as writer and editor of the 49th shelf, and as a mother. I adore and admire her on all counts and I eagerly anticipated this book’s arrival. I expected a lot from this book and Clare has delivered.

This is not a sociology textbook  where mothers' experiences from differnt soci-economic backgrounds are examined or a discussion paper on motherhood. I would have liked one essay talking more about the effect of income or lack of it on motherhood or one on how social media and motherhood interfaces  with the experience of motherhood. But the book could not explore everything. Clare wanted to enhance the motherhood conversation, to stop women from feeling, “their experiences are outside of the ordinary and, for some, that they are, perhaps impossibly, alone.”

She has done that. 

In *The M Word*, we are in the company of accomplished, eloquent women who share their stories in exquisite writing -- with excruciating honesty.

So. Think of your Grandmother. Think some day you might be one.  Or not. 

Think of reading this book as experiencing the difference between moderate and severe contractions in the muscles around your heart. Uncomfortable, yes, but also necessary if we ever want more than the icing on a Mother’s Day cake that too glibly frosts over the realities of our lives connected to theM word.”

 

 

Sunday
Jul202014

Hands off RIVER JOHN School. Many Hands Make Glad Work.  


Tuesday
Jul152014

A Surprising #Display of #Words 

 

Sheesh. Really. Sandwich board time. Gulp. 

 

This feels kind of fool kind of cool

                        in a word

                            in a stupour 

           fitch happens  

'cuz readers 

                  are exceptionally

                                               super

 

Mudder Goose Dr Suess - fine company to keep. 

 

Another Fitch and Fitzpatrick underway. 

 

 

So:  

Good Buy?  

 

 

Tuesday
Jul082014

GRIST: NOT A #BEACHREAD 

 

Linda Little, in character, reading from her novel Grist at Balmoral Grist Mill.

 

Grist.

Linda Little

Published by Roseway Publishing,

Imprint of Fernwood.  2014

234 pages.

 

 Linda Little’s latest novel, Grist, is set against the landscape of North Shore Nova Scotia over one hundred years ago.  In classic storytelling tradition, the tale traces the arc of one woman’s life and through the minutiae of that life, we are invited into a memorable story of work and home, men and women, family and war. Little’s is that kind of fiction where a deeply personal telling leads readers to universal questions and no easy answers.

   Grist is a rare book, a short, literary page turner  for the summer—but not in any way a light “beach read”. 

    The protagonist, Penelope McCabe, is a spinster schoolteacher, “a horse of a girl,” who after a practical courtship marries miller Ewan MacLaughlin and then goes off to make a home and a life.  Initially Little draws us into Penelope’s new life with a strong portrait of the community she find herself in.  The miller’s frolic is described colorfully ---“saws chewed through hemlock boards wide as man” and the ambience Little creates is almost audible. The clang and clatter of building the Grist mill resounds because of Little’s poetic prose and wise use of the language of sensory perception. 

       Initially, Penelope has deep respect for the labour and even beauty of the mill  and there is a promise of a prosperous future.  The frolic phase of her married life is shortlived.  As Ewen’s true and complex character emerges, Penelope becomes more workhorse than cherished wife, tethered to both the mill and the man.  Gender and work are explored from a refreshing point of view in Grist. When Ewan insists she can and must run the mill in his absence, Penelope is resistant, both insecure  about her  capability and embarrassed that she should be seen doing a man’s work.  

   Loneliness, silent endurance and tragedy mark her life, yet--- and this is Little’s gift –the book is an engrossing read, and Penelope, an unforgettable character. Little explains how she discovered her character:

The main character, Penelope, came out through the walls at the Balmoral Grist Mill in Colchester County, in northern Nova Scotia. I spent eight seasons working at the grist mill as a tour guide and I had many hours to imagine the stories that could have played out there. Balmoral was the last commercially operating mill of its type in Nova Scotia. It was still running as a business in the 1950s despite being an essentially nineteenth century enterprise. How did the last miller maintain a living, I asked? His wife was a schoolteacher. Of course! Today in rural Canada we know the pervasiveness and importance of the off-farm job. How many of today’s small farms are supported by the professional salaries of nurses and teachers? It occurred to me that if a woman had been required to work in her husband’s mill this labour would have left no historical record. If the story were not passed down (and it may not have been spoken of because of shame and embarrassment) all traces of this labour would be erased. I created this story from this possibility.

 

 

 Although Little is already the award-winning writer of short stories and two novels and her last novel Scotch River won the Thomas Raddall Award for fiction, the writing of Grist wasn’t quick or easy:

This book was eight years in the making. This is an inordinately long time. I struggled with the shape of the story, the voice, and the point of view. However, in the end, I’m glad I persisted. I have been both surprised and delighted by the strong emotional reactions readers have had to this book.

 

There is an epic quality to this book and a darkness. Little’s masterful storytelling is in every well-constructed sentence.  At the beginning of Chapter Four, for example, she reveals character, establishes the passage of time, creates reading pace and 19th century decorum. 

     A year and half has passed since our marriage and still no sign of a child.  A full journey round the sun and more--- two springs, two summers and soon two harvests. I counselled patience for myself but this advice grew increasingly difficult to bear

 

Although not overt or didactic, one of this novel’s themes is the need to be heard, to break silence, to tell stories. Little says “the question of interpreting silence” is a theme in all her novels.  

 In our culture silence is seen very differently for men and women. We have the notion of “the strong, silent type” but this idea is attached to men—to powerful, often contextually moral men. A silent woman simply disappears. Silence is forced upon my protagonist, Penelope, because she has no “listener.” Her husband will not hear her in either a literal or figurative sense. Her position in the community is defined by her roles at home. She is cut off at all paths. Looking at the position of women 100 years ago offers us enough distance to see how completely we can silence wide segments of our population by simply turning a deaf ear and diverting our attention.

 

In Grist, Linda’s prose is lyrical yet sparse, every word matters.  She interjects differing points of view a few times which brings us fascinatingly close to other characters. More of those tantalizing windows would have been welcome. In the end, however, this is Penelope’s tale and her microscopic truthfulness in specifics from the grind of domesticity to the grist of  the mill is reason enough to fall under the spell of this fiction.

   A searing and powerful portrait of maternal love, through Penelope‘s dignified telling and resilient spirit, we meet a woman whose ultimate response to loss, loneliness and silence is to connect and create. “This is the story of how you were loved, “ Penelope tells her grandaughter. 

              In the end, it is love that infuses this hauntingly beautiful book.