Does Anyone Know Carla Funk?*

I find her online by accident. Who knows what I was researching, but when her website loads onto my screen I think I found it: Carla Funk…writer, reader, glutton for joy. Suddenly I feel like I am staring at exactly who I want to be. Every click leads to something beautiful and funny and real and satiating and lyrical. I pause just long enough to open another window and order Gloryland, her latest poetry book, from the library.

I message Carla right away and tell her how much I love her. It’s forward of me, I know, and perhaps even a little annoying (barging in through Facebook’s back-door), but I have an ulterior motive. Wonderscape 2017 is approaching and I wonder if maybe, just maybe, she’ll be in Saskatchewan that weekend, and might she possibly consider attending the retreat? For free, of course! I type out my awkward flattery and wait.

Surprisingly, she replies. She is kind and courteous but happens to be busy that weekend. Flying off to New York for some writerly thing.

Ah, yes. Of course. New York.

I now feel silly that I thought she might come to Wonderscape and we would meet and she would share all her writing secrets and we would be best friends forever.

Gloryland arrives a few days later. My intuition about her is confirmed. Usually poetry volumes like this leave me disoriented and confused. Hers is different. It’s full of earthy, grounded writing. Humble in a fleshy, joyful sort of way. I keep it on  my lamp-stand and nibble on a poem or two, every night, as a bed-time snack.

Image result for gloryland image carla funk poetry images

*Note: If you know Carla, can you put in a good word for me? Or convince her to come to Wonderscape next year? Canada isn’t that big… she lives on Vancouver Island and her last name is Funk. Which is practically Friesen, for goodness’ sake.

This post should have been a part of wordy-things I’m loving but I forgot. Which is okay. Carla deserves a post of her own.


Failure #22: Being unprepared

This post is dedicated to Bonnie, who has looked for lost earrings with me since we were children.

I’m running down the street in my green dress boats, heading to the park a block away from my house, where I’ve got an appointment with a professional photographer. When I arrive panting, she’s waiting for me in the parking lot and I tap her car window to let her know I’m here.

“Can you give me just a minute?” I say after introducing myself. “I’m looking for my earrings.” I yank my bag off my shoulder and dig frantically for the pair I hope are in there. The ones Stan made from the handle of our old barbeque before we took it to the dump.

“Oh no!” I say. “I can only find one! Well, it’s all I’ve got. I’ll just wear it and hope my hair covers the other side.”

Lori, the photographer, has only just met me and doesn’t say much. Perhaps she doesn’t want to criticize her client’s fashion sense, or maybe she’s trying to figure a way to calm the woman she has to capture on camera.

Last week, after I got a cheque in the mail for a published piece of writing, I googled Lori Trost Photography and decided to invest the cash in some professional photos. I needed a decent head shot to go along with my bio when submitting articles and was tired of making my kids work a miracle with our cheap camera. But despite my business rational, I am still self-conscious about the whole thing. I feel silly posing by myself  and hope no one else sees us. Surely they will wonder at such a frivolous and self-indulgent woman.

The sun isn’t out like I hoped it would be. I know these trails well, know how the setting sun makes the dogwood willows shine and warms everything with its buttery light. But not today. Lori smiles and says it will be okay. I touch my hand to my hair and tell her that I’d been skiing, moments before our session, and was hoping the sweaty toque hadn’t wrecked my style. She laughs. I laugh too, and hear the click of the camera. She asks me to spin around and let my blue poncho fly in the wind. I do and she snaps some more.

“What’s your favourite subject to photograph?” I ask Lori.

“Women,” she responds right away. I can tell she is speaking from her heart and not the persona of a salesperson. I understand, now, at the end of our session how she might feel this way. How rewarding it might be to see a woman who is always behind the camera, or posing with children at their celebrations (birthdays, graduations, weddings…), bloom in a moment of her own. In the last 20 minutes Lori has taken me from I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this to I-feel-pretty-twirling-around-in-the-snow. In fact, I start to make a list of all the mothers and women I know who definitely need a professional shoot.  Whose families need pictures of the woman in their life before the obituary shot. And how I want to gift them with 20 minutes of Lori and her camera.

Two days later Lori drops off the USB stick with the pictures. My stomach knots up, as I dread the upcoming images, but when they appear on screen I am somewhat relieved. Despite the fact the pictures look just like me (was I hoping for a magical transformation?) I am happy. Mostly. Except for the missing earring. The rest of my family circles around the monitor, as if watching breaking news, and ooh and aah while Vivi laughs. I suspect it’s the very idea of her mother being all alone that she finds so hilarious.

“Why…” Stan trails off while clicking through the files. “Why didn’t you wear…”

“Two earrings?” I finish for him. “I was rushed, I thought it wouldn’t matter.”

And then I groan at myself. What was I thinking? Why couldn’t I have prepared a little better. Can a person photo-shop in an earring? And my hair. It looks like I just skied a few miles in a toque, which I did, but now I’m chagrined. I should have done what other people would do before spending money on photos. I should’ve attempted to style my hair or used machines or tools or rollers or spray or something.

“Maybe you could play a game with people? Like, What’s Missing in This Picture?” someone suggests.

“Well, it makes the selection process easier. There are plenty you can use where it’s not noticeable,” says another.

After scrolling through them 2 or 3 times I decide not to investigate photo-shopping. Perhaps no one will notice. Or perhaps they will. Maybe I will write about it and realize this is simply my real life. That lost earrings and toque hair are me. And that they show who I am better than matching jewellery and a coiffed hairdo. Every time I look at these pictures I will remind myself about authenticity and accepting imperfection. And maybe I will laugh.

Thank you Lori for your work and sharing your creative gifts!

*I’m curious about failure. This post is written in the spirit of my 30-day blog experiment in which I observed moments of failure and recorded scenes without adding further commentary.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Writing Coaches and Wordy-things

I open my laptop and click on Skype so I’m ready. The snow-blower in my neighbour’s driveway whirs just outside my window and shoots a cloud of flakes onto the glass. I sit down and answer the incoming call. First I appear on screen, wearing a bulky knit scarf around my neck. Then Kirsten’s photo pops up. She’s sporting spaghetti straps and big hoop earrings that almost touch her bare shoulders. It’s obvious we inhabit different seasons and hemispheres–she’s in Kenya, I’m in Canada–but there’s no time to comment on that now.

We don’t start with the conversational niceties of a regular coffee date, don’t ask about each other’s husbands or how the kids are doing, and don’t explain our daily lives. We’ve got other things on our mind. Right now I open my black book from our last session and scan the notes.

I met Kirsten my first year of university. She came over to the apartment I shared with Bonnie and Michelle, and after our first visit I knew we were kindred spirits. The clincher was the way she drank our rice milk. I had purchased a carton simply because I was curious. (I’d never seen or heard of rice milk before and was thrilled to add it to my cart full of experiments.) When we poured that milk into our glasses someone started narrating (was it me?) the history of the beverage so we might all enjoy it more. We closed our eyes and imagined the women working in the rice paddies, felt the mud squishing between their toes and the sun on their back. Kirsten took all this in stride and we’ve been friends ever since.

For years, though, our communication was limited to the occasional Christmas card or letter. But now, I’m not sure what I’d do without her. She’s my writing coach, which means she reads through my rough drafts, helps prioritize projects and works through things like structure and purpose. I aspire to do the same for her and every month we take turns being the talker and listener. It’s a mutual relationship but I feel like I got the better end of the deal. Kirsten speaks poetry when she’s not even trying, listens hard and asks the right questions. She says what I need to hear, what I can already hear my heart saying. She tells me things like: Be generous with your writing and This piece will work if you care about it, if you think it matters enough.

Relationships are slippery things though, and they’re always changing. I’m not sure how long this will last, how long we’ll be able to make space in our lives to talk about commas and word choice and literary dreams. But for now, the way this friendship works is a gift.


Find out more about Kirsten here and check out her soon-to-be released memoir, gorgeous poetry and other good stuff.


Ps. Also, these books on creativity, failure and more…

Image result for ish peter reynoldsLove his poem-ish poems…

Image result for Rosie the revere imageDon’t buy this before Christmas if your daughters are related to us…

Image result for million little ways emilyInteresting if you like creating and Jesus

Image result for the right to write I’m reading this slowly because I don’t want it to end. It may be my favourite book on writing!

Image result for messy harford imagesI agree with Malcom Gladwell. This book is a cause for celebration.


Debrief on the Failure Experiment

027Whew! Well, that was fun. I mean, fun in a way that sharing your shortcomings with the world can be fun. If you’ve been reading along for the last month, thanks for checking in and being a part of this. Thanks for commenting, giving me feedback and relating your own stories of failure; connecting and swapping ideas with you on this theme was definitely the best thing that came out of the experiment.

Like this, for example. Remember when I compared myself to Anne Lueneburger? When I googled her, then observed my feelings as I scrolled through her site, I knew I had to share about it here. I ended up writing a note to Anne, feeling sheepish, but still wanting her to know that I featured her in my blog. She responded with this.


Other people who I hadn’t heard from in years also got in touch along the way. In emails, phone calls and conversations I was gifted with some of your most hilarious stories. Thank you.

More connection.

I even got out of bringing baking to church after a friend read my blog and offered 2 dozen dainties in my place. Now that’s connection and generosity!

Though my inner pendulum naturally swings towards the positive (like relating the anecdotes above), it’s been intriguing to train myself towards the negative. When I started I assumed I would be immune to any “blue” feelings because of the blog. I was wrong. While I found it mostly entertaining, there were times when I felt extra self-conscious, extra vulnerable, and extra low while concentrating on all the things I do wrong.

My older children, on the other-hand, thoroughly enjoyed it. “So what’s your failure today, Mom?” they asked regularly. And, “I think you are definitely failing at so-and-so. Maybe you should write about it?” They jumped on the bandwagon and offered up a wealth of content for this series in a way that only 11 and 13-year-old children could.

Lastly, I failed at blogging about failure. I didn’t do it everyday like I thought I would, for one. But more importantly, I haven’t been completely honest. Had I not filtered my stories, these pieces would’ve read much differently. For the sake of my children and husband I didn’t publish my bigger, more real, failures. And for the sake of my readers I tried not to drivel on about constantly feeling inadequate when I write, even though that motivated me to begin this series in the first place. I wanted to know: How is failing part of making stuff? How do we define failure? When is failure “worth it”? But who wants to sound like a broken record? So I admit, I curated this series in order to save face, just as you knew all along.

Thank you for understanding. For your generosity and grace. For connection.



Ps. Success and Failure in Art is the theme of Wonderscape 2018. If you come across any books, articles or thoughts of your own on this topic, please let me know. I’d love to hear your suggestions!


Failure #21: Not knowing how to say “No”

My answering machine light is blinking red. I press play and listen to the message: Just wondering if you’ll be able to donate some baking for the sale coming up…

My heart sinks. Baking? Sale? I can’t do it-I can’t do it-I can’t do it, immediately runs through my mind. And then, I should do it-I should do it-I should do it, follows as if I’m playing a game of mental tag.

How can I tell them “No”? How can I explain that bringing baking is harder for me than almost any other job at church. That I would rather clean toilets, hold crying babies, connect with sullen teenagers, and even sing and dance than offer up a few dozen cookies.

It’s not just that I’m celiac and don’t want to work with wheat. There are plenty of gluten-free recipes I could whip up, and maybe that’s what they’re looking for. Still, it feels like I’ve been asked to jump a 10-foot wall. I will visit the sick, I will host people in my home, I will preach a sermon, but please, please don’t make me bring baking to church.

The next morning I fire up the computer. It’s another day with another failure to record. Perhaps writing about the situation will clarify how I should respond to the message left on my machine. But here I am, still tottering on the edge of “shoulds” and “nos” and “can’ts” and “I’ll do it.” I don’t even know how I’ll define this failure. Is it saying “No” and my refusal to help? Is it my inability to say “no”? Is it my poor baking skills? Or is it making a big deal out of nothing?


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #20: Not connecting

While I’m pulling into our driveway I see the moving van. It’s parked a couple houses up the street. I heave Vivi out of her car seat and wander down to chat with my neighbour, who is running between their house and the van.

They’re a young couple who’ve only been here a couple of years, and now they’re moving back East. I’m disappointed they’re leaving already. We never even had them over for a barbecue like we said we would. In fact, we never visited with them for more than a few minutes, only briefly interacting while lending a shovel or running into each other in the back alley.  This is unfortunate because they liked music and canoeing and cross-country skiing. What was our problem anyway? What were we waiting for?

But there’s no time now. He’s not wearing mitts and his hands are getting cold. Besides, they’re busy and have other things to do besides making small talk. I wish him well, turn around and walk inside my house.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.

Failure #19: Seeking approval

I peel the onions and start slicing through them with my biggest knife. Whump. Whump. Whump. Wow, this is different, I think to myself. The knife actually seems sharp. Suddenly chopping is much easier than usual. Did an industrial fairy come along last night and do some sharpening?

I wipe my hands and send a quick email to Stan to ask about it; we rarely communicate during the day, but this seems urgent.

“Yep. Sure did,” he replies. And that’s it.

If I wouldn’t have asked he may never have said a thing, which is just like him. And not at all like me. That same afternoon, when he was sharpening the knife, I cleaned up the house with the girls and when he came in from the shop I’d asked, dramatically, how he liked our tidy space. Did he appreciate that we’d slaved away?

I always want feedback. I make a speech, clean a toilet, write a post, grow a cucumber and seek approval. Was it good? Did you notice? How does it taste? I’m a sucker for affirmation and wish I wasn’t.


*I’m curious about failure. This post is part of an experiment where I observe moments I experience failure (in a broad sense) and record scenes without adding further explanation or perspective.  Read more in the introduction to the series here.