Scintilla: (a) a minute amount; (b) a sparkling glittering particle.
Time, image, experience, imagination, intuition, memory. Just what sifts through us—when, why, and how—it all fascinates me. All of what we have lived, observed or imagined ends up sparking and morphing into something larger than our own personal photo album when we write or create. That is, to me, either miracle or magic. Perhaps both. Grunt and grind work too, as we revisit and revise, underlay, overlay, glance sideways through the hall of mirrors, groping our way through a darkness so that maybe just maybe we catch an ember—and dance towards what might be a bonfire up ahead in that darkness. Look out!
I'm talking about (or trying to) that which is ineffable—inspiration and mystery—in the creative process, in this case, the inspiration and mystery behind Night Sky Wheel Ride. It's a picture book written by me, with artwork by Diego Herrara, and the way it tumbled out stunned me and left me spinning. Soon, the book will be translated in French, and in stores in June.
This book's publication is, however, bittersweet.
When I was a girl, we spent a few weeks each summer at my paternal grandmother's home in Chester Basin, Nova Scotia.
Cropped Detail from a photo given to me by a friend - signed J. Barkhouse.
The gingerbread homestead was my own version of Anne's Green Gables. Situated on a thumb of land, the fading yellow shingled family home jutted out into vast blueness—the delfinium blue of August summer skies and the ankle-biting cold teal blue of the Atlantic Ocean. My grandparents were teachers, not affluent in any way, but they'd inherited the heritage home. At one time, the house served as the village post office where my Great Aunt Beatrice, a medical doctor, became an eccentric spinster, and the local postmistress. She died before I was born, but family legend kept her alive enough that she inspired a few stories of her own.
One wind blown rainy night, I swear I saw her, dressed in a black cape that swirled around her face as she looked out to sea, like a carved wooden masthead on a ship. Yes, she was there, perched on the crest of the hill behind the house. Then blink—she wasn't. That hill was a mountain to me then and said to be haunted but it was the stone well in the yard I had nightmares about—warned as we were to stay away from the thing lest we, my brother and sister and the cousins might fall through—down, down into that deep, bottomless pit to vanish—never to be seen again. Forbidden! I vividly remember my brother dancing on its surface, swinging over the bar like some trapeze artist on the Ed Sullivan Show then leaping to the grass, ending his stuntboy antics in a grand finale somersault.
"Get down!" "I'm telling!" I'd like to think I never did but that would be a wonderful lie. Truth is, I was the (mostly) kind but bossy older sister who never knew when to shut up and took my responsibility of keeping an eye on the younger ones seriously. Too seriously. I both envied and cheered my brother's rebelion, freedom and boyish bravado.
Nostalgia has its place in our lives and memories come back in the oddest ways—whenever I see a bottle of lime cordial for example OR or maybe catch a glimpse of a ferris wheel...
Back in those lime cordial perceived-to-be idyllic childhood days in Chester Basin a community picnic was held every year in a farmer's field. One of many, but this was the one we waited for, the annual Herring Choker Picnic. Besides the pony rides, there was a small (could it really have been wooden) Ferris Wheel lugged in from somewhere every summer. (Where was it stored? Whose was it? I have no idea.)
So there, after years of waiting to be old enough, I rode the ferris wheel with my brother for the first time. A star glittery night, a soul-tingling breathless ride, round we went, to stop at the top, rock back and forth, seeing out to sea. Perhaps my father was with us. But in my recalled memory it was just the two of us, clinging to one in another in that overwhelming mix of joy and terror.
Very simply, that is Night Sky Wheel Ride except distilled, translated into picture book text in a wordswirly poem I hope takes the reader imaginatively and rhythmically on the ride with that brother and sister. Yet it wasn't memory that spurred me to write this book. Not at all. I never would have "made" this book if I had not seen the movie Atonement. I loved the book and the movie, if love is the right word for something beautiful and ravaging but there was one scene in the movie that shook me to the core. I found an image as close I could to the scene I am talking about:
I woke up the morning after the movie so haunted by this image in my dreams that I went to work, dug out some old poems from years back from a previous book long out of print, grabbed images from my own head and then pieced together something new, NEW, very new, trying I (am pretty sure) to erase that grim (beautiful) apocalyptic vision of a landscape raped by war and the image of that macabre-mocking spectre of a ferris wheel that was disturbingly etched in my head. I suppose I wanted my mandala back, my medicine wheel, my "life" cycle not death cycle—I wanted my squealing terrifying night wheel ride of courage and joy. So. I wrote the book, dedicated it to my brother, and submitted the text to Tradewind in 2007. It was accepted. They are a small publisher and good things take time.
The cover art arrived the day my brother Shawn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. His prognosis was good, he was supposed to get better. Cancer treatment is brutal. The interior proofs arrived the morning of February 10th, 2012. The day we were called to his bedside. The day he died. Just a little over ten weeks ago as I write this now.
I know things are significant to the degree to which we attach significance to them, but I'm not sure quite what to do with timing like this.
My brother never got to see or hear what was to be, I hoped, a gift JUST for him. I think we were beginning to get to know each other as adults after the separation of distance and years, years where we were both so busy raising families and getting on with life and work that we met mostly in large gatherings, quick hellos and too brief passing by. Years we learned that life was no ferris wheel ride of our childhood, but included that other landscape of internal and external wars, of life's sadness, brutality and its darkness.
My brother was a rugby playing private investigator, an actor and a stained glass artist.
What we shared, for the most part, in terms of our own two-getherness was those early childhood memories. I wanted more.. was looking forward to more. So was my mother, my sister, his children his grandchild, his partner. We are no different from any family who has lost a loved one. No matter the timing. Or situation. There is always : shock.
I posted Diego Herrao's (Yayo) spectacular endpaper images on face book last week, with no back story about the book's connection to my brother. So many people responded, I was overwhelmed. I confess, Facebook, Twitter—its distraction can be a remedy or at least a denial to sorrow on days you need it most. But the images Herraro created are other worldy and shockingly resonant to me and I think, will be mind/heart stirring to any reader. Joyfu! Whimsical! Imaginative. For me, salvific.
My brother has vanished, not down the well, but.. where.. into the sky, the sea, the (Fair) grounds of shared memory.
So I will pretend. (I'm told I'm good at that. No. It is just how I stay here.)
Maybe he is turning the pages with me.
And I will keep playing /replaying.
See out to sea, Sister!
Can you hear the mermaids murmur, beluga whales sing,
Can you feel the whirling stir of every little humming phosphorescent thing?