I mentioned several months back that a new book was in the offing. Well, the offing has turned on. Aloha Wanderwell: The Border-Smashing, Record-Setting Life of the World’s Youngest Explorer (in-breath) was released on October 11th. Published by Goose Lane Editions, the book is a biography of a Canadian woman who led such an adventurous, swashbuckling life that, were it a novel, you would hurl it at the wall because of its sheer unbelievability: trans-continental adventures, spies, sex, murder, conspiracies, parking on the back of the Sphinx, movie stars… all in one little book. Thankfully, research backs up the story and made it fun to write. Opportunities to tell a tale like this don’t come along very often, so I count myself one lucky writer.
Since this blog is largely about writing craft, I have some blog posts coming up describing the book from a “writing of” perspective – and trust me, that itself was a madcap adventure. In the meantime, my writing partner has created a super website about all things Aloha. You can check that out at:
I was interviewed on CBC this morning. You can check that out here.
The border guard can barely hide his smirk. “You’re going to fairy what?”
“Faerieworlds,” I say, deepening my voice a little. “It’s a three day festival down in Eugene, Oregon.”
“And what happens there?”
“Well, there’s music and craft vendors and performers. And people dress up in costumes.”
Now the guard is just plain smiling. “So you’re gonna dress up as a fairy for three days?”
“Um, no. I’m going as a steampunk tinker.” My voice is now so deep I’m veering into Barry White territory.
“So those aren’t your wings, then?” He points at some black, lacy dragonfly shaped wings on the seat behind me.
“No, those are mine,” my partner says. “Made ‘em myself.”
To my relief, the guard hands back our passports. “Ok. Have a nice time.”
I say thank you and hit the gas. In my side view mirror I can see him doubled over, laughing.
I don’t blame him. The first time I heard about Faerieworlds I had my own misgivings. Why would I want to go traipsing around with people in Faerie costumes for three days? It didn’t take long for me to change my mind though. Faerieworlds is not about fairies (the Disney sort of winged nymphs with no waist and big tits) but about Faerie: an imaginary and enchanted land.
A few weeks back I took a train to Seattle for the Cascadia Poetry Festival, a four day smorgasbord of readings, speakers, and expert panels.
Now, for those of you who think attending a poetry festival would be about as exciting as filing a callus, restrain your clicking impulse for a second. Poetry is the dope bomb shiznit. Seriously. And the Cascadia Poetry Festival was three days of creative hedonism that included parties, a beer slam (with free beer!), and a living room reading series. Yes, there were some serious readings and discussions of pedagogy, but they were offset with poems that eulogized the end of smoking culture and readers who began with the invocation,
“Oh Lord, if I have but one life to live… I hope this ain’t it.” -George Bowering
There were poems that glorified bumper stickers, oral sex, bar fights, and roadside fruit stands.
It was, in other words, not boring.
Over the course of the weekend I read a few times and had some very flattering feedback from people I respect, which is always nice. But, for me, the very best part of attending a festival of poetry was simply hanging out with people who get high on creativity. We’re all human. We all live within the contours of one small life, but sharing our perceptions of that experience is liberating because it opens up new landscapes and new possibilities. When we see through other people’s eyes, our own vision is enhanced.
Hobnobbing with creatives is inspiring too. In a hallway of the Spring Street Centre I overheard someone use the phrase “situational rhyming.” …Ok, so I’m still not sure what that might mean, but it feels loaded with possibility. Some phrases seems to catch fire in my brain, burning the way a pine branch does – with sizzling smoke and sparks, too wild to control. One speaker talked about an “activism of the ethical imagination” and I was off again… remembering that there’s a point to all these sentences we write. Art, and poetry in particular, can be used to unpack important issues – poverty, climate change, sustainability, social justice. The pen really is mightier than the sword. Writers can change the world – and, bloody hell, the world needs some changing.
The next Cascadia Poetry Festival happens in Nanaimo, BC April 30-May3, 2015
Lake Manyara, Tanzania:
The forest canopy is a lazy tangle of green. Bright splashes of sunlight play against the leaves and branches of African olives, fig trees, wild mangoes, giant junipers. The roof on our vehicle has been raised and everyone is standing, listening to the rustle of branches coming from somewhere in the jumbled underbrush. Our Rover creeps forward, its wheels almost noiseless on the forest track while the scurrying sounds become louder, more emphatic. My eyes search the ground for the animal—perhaps a mongoose or a wild boar. Then, as we round a corner, the animal’s feet appear. Looking up, I find myself face to face with a colossal African elephant, not more than two metres away. He’s sluggishly munching the leaves of a tree that he’s pulled over and doesn’t look particularly surprised to see us. I, on the other hand, am shaking so thoroughly that I can hardly raise my camera to take a picture.
We’ve come to Tanzania’s Lake Manyara National Park as part of a five day safari that will take us to several of the country’s wild places, including the Ngorongoro-Serengeti, Lake Manyara and Tarangire—three of the best game viewing parks in Tanzania. This is not, perhaps, what most people would consider a budget holiday (over $1500 US per person), but the Tanzanian government has made a concerted effort to protect its wilds by keeping prices high and, consequently, traffic low. The result is a less crowded, higher quality experience for visitors. And I reckon the animals appreciate it too.
Our Rover crawls through the Ground Water Forest, so named because of the underground springs and plentiful streams that create this oasis in an otherwise arid landscape. The greenery is so dense it seems vengeful, as if the flowering ginger and hibiscus, the towering Quinine and Antiaris trees were making a point: with enough water this area could explode into elaborate jungle. As it is, the forest ends abruptly at the roadside on our left. To the right is a broad expanse, peopled with bushes, Baobab trees, and a sea of waving grasses. We are five people in one large 4×4, whose raised roof allows us to stand and watch the scenery without leaving the vehicle. During our first 15 minutes skirting the Ground Water Forest, we spot elephant, black colobus monkeys, mongoose, a monitor lizard, dik dik, baboons and numerous species of bird, including the fantastically colourful lilac-breasted roller.
I’m not usually one to keep an eye out for omens, but as our bus neared the Moroccan beach town of Essaouira I couldn’t help wondering what the scene might portend: Standing like cardboard cut-outs in the upper branches of a large argan tree were no less than seven goats. Yes, goats. In a tree. I pressed my face to the glass and convinced myself that such a thing could exist. It must. Certainly the goats seemed unimpressed to be 15 feet in the air, munching leaves in the full blast of midday heat.
Our bus pulled into a dusty station on the outskirts of Essaouira (say, “Essa-weera”). The guide books had promised a picturesque town full of souks, ancient buildings, and dramatic seascapes. Judging by the view from the bus staion, however, we’d be lucky to find a clean place to sit down. With bags slung over our shoulders, my travel partner, Kim, and I trudged through an unremarkable district: small whitewashed houses, palm trees in a dirt yard by the dirt road, electrical lines strung haphazardly between crooked poles, and ramshackle cars careening down streets or abandoned in yards and alleyways.
Tree climbing goats, Jimi Hendrix and crumbling seaside castles. Essaouira, Morocco is as strange as it is beautiful.
But just as I was beginning to think that reports of Essaouira’s beauty had been greatly exaggerated, we reached the main gate of the old city: a deep, bricked archway crowned with triangular capped battlements. Beyond this arch no more cars were allowed, and as we passed through several succeeding arches, time seemed to peel away until we were part of a crush of hooded men and veiled women milling through streets overflowing with wood carvings, textiles, stonework and leather goods. Overhead, tall white buildings with vibrant blue shutters obscured all but the very tops of palm trees which grew at the centres of hidden courtyards. We wandered through the pedestrian filled streets in a kind of dazed wonder, as though carried by the current of a slow moving river, drifting deep into the medina, or old town, where most of the hotels can be found.
As an up and coming resort town, Essaouira is full of four- and five-star accommodations, but it is precisely because of its growing popularity that getting a room in these hotels requires a reservation, at least during high season. After a few attempts, we settled into comfortable, unpretentious lodgings near the 16th century Portuguese ramparts that line the western edge of town. On my way down from the room I asked Ali, the 16-year-old son of the hotel’s owner, what he thought was best about Essaouira. Ali straightened up from the mop he’d been leaning over.