Wonderscape the Teenager

Bill Bunn stands beside the whiteboard and waves his coffee cup in the air. He’s talking about following our joy, about ideas as balance beams that support us if we keep one foot in front of the other, about falling off when the idea gets flabby and soft and about finding our way back to the beam. The metaphor sings to me and I scribble notes, like everyone else around me in the circle. Next, he invites us to do a six-minute free write.

I asked Bill to lead a writing workshop at Wonderscape precisely because I wanted to participate in a writing workshop at Wonderscape. But now that it’s time to participate, I can’t do it. I’ve got nothing. I hear Marea’s laugh in the hallway, the cooks preparing lunch, people breathing around the room and pencils marking paper, but my pen is as heavy as a mule that won’t budge.

It gets even worse when I consider handling clay, picking up a paintbrush or plunging fabric into natural dye. Producing anything creative seems about as preposterous as launching a kayak and rolling it in the icy lake outside the lodge. Although I’m the organizer and facilitator of this arts retreat I have never felt like more of a poser. About halfway through the weekend it dawns on me;  I’m too consumed with watching it come to life to do anything else. Like a mother gawking at her beautiful teenager coming into her own–all limbs and taller than she’d ever dreamed, with a distinct and separate personality–I can’t stop staring at what’s happened to my baby.

This mix of awe, surprise, confusion and curiosity visits me before the weekend ever begins, when registrations roll in from across the country, and continues right on into the retreat. While I listen to the writer, the journalist, the potter and the painter confess their failures and share their successes with the group, while spontaneous, late-night jam sessions by the fire send everyone to bed humming “Black Bird”, while artists bring dazzling pieces to show and sell and while strangers recognize kindred spirits.082028046

I try to capture it, try to document it all on my 195-dollar Canon point-and-shoot, but I can’t get close enough. I wish I could get right in Sarah’s face as she lectures about horizons and painting and depth. I wish I could capture the rainbow of speckles on her black apron, her jiggy dance and how it feels to watch her pull oil landscapes (painted in the Arctic) out of her hand-made wooden box with the leather strap.058065069080

My camera doesn’t record Marea’s generous laughter and her even more generous instruction. The way she shoves her feet, covered in plastic grocery bags into her Birkenstocks, to walk through the snow to her hand-building session. And it certainly doesn’t record the absence of complaints about the weather in general. How I apologized to Micheal in the breakfast line, knowing he’d driven for hours from northern Saskatchewan to attend the retreat for the first time.

“I’m sorry you can’t see how pretty it is here,” I say. “If it weren’t so foggy and snowy you’d see the water, sand and rocks—all just steps away from where we’re standing now.”

“Ah, it’s okay. I’m just happy knowing that it’s there,” he says, and goes on to talk about the jam from the night before. “Besides, I’ve found my people.”049

Before we all leave on Sunday we gather for the Artist Blessing. Usually this is my responsibility. In the past, I’ve thought about it for weeks, even months, ahead of time. I’ve laboured over each word and written a verse we all stand up and speak to each other. This time is different. Today, Shannon takes inspiration from the “Blessing Board”, a place where participants were encouraged to add their own phrases, thoughts and drawings. It’s more of a wild card this time. Will people write down anything on the board? Will Shannon be able to shape it into a song? Will this work? Will my baby fly?

Shannon sits down at the keyboard and reads us the words to the chorus. Something from nothing is now a song; ideas that were loose and wild are now held tight by chords and notes. She plays it slowly and we practice. Then we repeat it. Only this time it’s a performance, a performance just for us. She sings the verses alone, the ones she’s just composed, and we join her on the chorus. Well, mostly everyone joins her, except for the ones like me whose emotion seizes their voices.

When the last note is played I don’t want to clap. Don’t want to break the spell. Neither does anyone else. The room is silent. And still. I stand to face the group. It’s my job to facilitate, to hustle them through the lunch buffet and to wrap this thing up, but it seems impossible.

“Food,” I say, “there is is food. Food downstairs.” Still, people remain in their seats. No one responds. No one even looks like they’re considering moving.

I understand. I feel the same way.

And then comes the flurry of packing, of gathering surveys, of emails and phone calls full of feedback and more ideas. We brainstorm about how it could be better and what it could become. I jot down notes. I can feel something happening; this isn’t Tricia’s baby anymore, it isn’t toddling around my knees, grabbing onto the hem of my pants. Wonderscape is stretching out, like any leggy teenager, growing into her place in this world.IMG_5333

If you still want more of this, check out Wonderscape Retreats on Facebook or Instagram. The venue is already booked for the next gathering: September 27-29, 2019

 

Notes on Generosity, Writing and Change

I’m wearing gloves and wielding a knife. Jalapeños litter my cutting board and papery garlic skins float along the counter. My mom is dumping a bowl of green peppers into the food processor when the phone company technician opens our back door and sniffs.

“Mmm, smells good,” he says with an accent. Indian, maybe? He nods appreciatively and  heads down the basement stairs, pulling wires behind him.

“It’s a lot of garlic and onions,” I say. “We’re making salsa.”

Each trip he makes to his truck in the alley he inspects my yard with interest. When he comes back in he asks me about the raspberries, plums, grapes and other plants. Then, just before he leaves I hand him a plastic grocery bag, throwing it into the air to puff it out. “Here. Do you eat tomatoes? Hot peppers? Take all you want!”

I turn around and get back to work. For the next 15 minutes I’m in a dark corner of my basement, sorting through canning jars and looking for lids. At the same time he is stuffing the bag I gave him, harvesting every ripe and juicy tomato on the property. His shopping bag bulges to overflowing with produce. When I come upstairs with my load of jars he is gone.

“Well he certainly took your word for it. He grabbed as much as he wanted,” my mom comments while looking out the kitchen window at the garden.

The heirloom Brandywine tomatoes I was waiting for, heavy on the vine but not quite ready, are gone. As are the romas–the ones destined for another batch of sauce and the beefsteaks. “Mmm,” I respond at first, not too bothered. But then I start thinking of all the hours of labour, of starting seeds from scratch in my window, gingerly handling the transplants, mulching with last season’s leaves, of watering and tending. That’s when I get a little ornery. I had, after all, expected him to say “Oh thank you so much” and take a dozen or so back to his wife in Saskatoon. I had not expected him to ravage every last plant.

I’ve been reading Braiding Sweetgrass  by Robin Wall Kimmerer and loved her essay on generosity and gift economy. It gave me such warm fuzzy feelings in my armchair. I had murmured in agreement and savoured every word. Obviously, the philosophy of lavish generosity is easier for me to swallow than the practise.

The earth on the other hand, especially at this time of year, seems to stick to the “no holds barred” motto. We spin out honey, stuff moose sausage, make wine, dry garlic, catch fish and yet we still can’t keep up to her. Gifts spill over and around us.

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plums, melons and grapes are now in season on our lot

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PREFACE- Six days. Three boats. Four adults. Six kids. Five portages. Three bears. Zero attacks.

On the way to meet my sister and her family for our adventure I say to the kids, “So there will be more portaging on this trip than we’ve ever done before but we’ll just enjoy the hiking. Maybe stop for snacks, you know, or sketch wildflowers…”

Stan shifts in his seat and reaches his hand to adjust the rear-view mirror. “Well, we don’t want it to be too easy do we? We still want it to be character-building.”

EPILOGUE – I lay in bed for 2 days after the trip. I thought I had maybe caught a bug–my whole body ached and my fingers felt arthritic. Turns out I was just recuperating from all the character-building portages.

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before the launch

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Tara and I paddled with 4 kids. Our canoe was dubbed the “voyageur school bus” or the “party canoe”.  The men and two other kids traveled with the gear.

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totally posed at the beginning of an arduous portage

In a few years those delicate bodies pictured above will be strapping young men and women able to shoulder most of our weight. What a day that will be! They owe us a canoe trip or two.

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Day 6

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Back to school. Back to routine. Back to sticking around our home. Summer is fast, furious and fleeting like the heat. “You can sleep in winter; we don’t have time for that in summer,” I tell the kids when they tire of our pack-go-unpack-repack routine. With all of this going it has been hard to squeeze in writing. I still want to find words for speaking at camp, kitchen parties and growing food but am not sure when it will happen. I have started an essay about canoe tripping and listening. I will submit it somewhere eventually, because that’s writers do.

That’s when a writer is successful–when she is submitting, not when her article is accepted, not when she’s long-listed for the CBC non-fiction prize (which I wasn’t, Kirsten) and not when an agent hunts her down. She is successful when she cracks open her laptop. When she punches out a jumbled paragraph, when she lands on a metaphor in the shower. A writer is successful when she’s writing.

Can you tell I’m getting ready for Wonderscape? And can you guess what the theme of the retreat is?

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Coming up in 10 days…

Success, Failure and YourCreative Journey(1)

Can’t wait to gather with strangers and friends from around the country. Every year it’s been magical. Hopeful this year will be the same. (There’s been a cancellation; check out this page for your last minute chance!)

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Change is a constant around here. Changing shoe sizes. Changing instruments (cello and trombone have been added to the mix). Changing heights. Changing accents. (Vivian has been experimenting with articulation, specifically her hard Rs. I try to remain non-chalant every time I hear it, but it’s about as sharp and conspicious as a machete.)

One thing that never seems to change is the big girls’ devotion to the little girl. I smile when I remember the well-meaning visitor who came to visit two days after Vivi was born. She watched Susanna and Belén flutter around the baby, sighed and commented knowingly, “This won’t last long. Give them two weeks and the novelty will wear off.”

Well, it’s been four years and here they are, fighting at the table, each older sister desperate to show Vivi how to draw an uppercase E at the same time. This is a kind of bickering for which I am entirely grateful.

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I’ve written so much. Thanks for reading.

T

 

 

Propaganda

I’ve been trying to come up with a story or something meaningful to blog about so I can sneak in propaganda* about Wonderscape. The problem is I don’t have anything funny or thoughtful that I can spin into Come to Wonderscape. Especially not before I have to get off-line and pick up my three -year-old from her play-date.

So there it is. Come to Wonderscape. Sign-up before Friday (the early-bird deadline). Sign up before it fills (less than 10 spaces left). Sign up if you want to talk about success and failure and how it affects our artistic journeys. Sign up if you like autumn, lakes and prairie skies. Sign up if you want to create, eat, then create and eat again. Sign up if you’re a professional artist. Sign up if you are an amateur. Sign up if you live across the country. Sign up if you live next door.

Okay, tired of that?

Wait, here’s more propaganda…

On the way to school this morning I told my daughters I was doing a radio interview today on Wonderscape.

“Really?” Susanna asked. “They can’t find anyone else to talk to?”

Luckily for me, they slipped me into their schedule! Thanks to Jordan at the Rock 98.5, you can listen to the conversation here. Or watch another interview on CTV News if you’re still curious. (I come on at 16:33 minutes.)

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*Propaganda is the Spanish translation of “advertising”. It doesn’t carry the same negative connotations as it does in English (which might be why I get funny looks when I use it) and is more fun to say.

Artist Blessing

I’m fighting with filing cabinets and piles of receipts and spreadsheets and my eye-lids feel heavy. I hate financial record keeping! Two hours later I’m still shuffling papers, trying to prepare my final Wonderscape report  for the Saskatchewan Arts Board. Maybe I need to eat. Maybe I need to sleep. Maybe I need to take a break from all this. A moment later I come across the Artist Blessing I read together with my fellow Wonderscape participants last September.

It buoyed me somewhat.

Here it is for all of you, wherever you are and whatever kind of shuffling you’re doing today:

Artist Blessing

You were created to create.

You are gifted with an original set of experiences,

sensitivities and passions that no one else can replicate.

You are uniquely positioned in your family and community—in

this place and time in history–

to give what nobody else in the world can give.

May your eyes be opened to the abundant opportunities.

May you hear the Universe shout and whisper,

inviting you to enflesh, name, and reflect Beauty.

May you be protected from the crush of jealously,

fear and insecurity.

May your work replenish, surprise and awaken you.

May you empty yourself and your ego

so that when you release your art into the world

you are, at the same time, filled to overflowing

with more new ideas than you could ever hold.

May you live in that deep place of always-enough,

open to Inspiration,

aware of Mystery,

connected to the Creator.

-Tricia Friesen Reed

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My youngest daughter, during her first canoe-trip a couple years ago

…The only reason I can half-stand what I’m doing today is because I’m already excited about the next retreat (Sept. 2018). Still hooked on this.

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.

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*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.

All Business

Disclosure: The following post includes a recipe, an advertisement, a book recommendation, and more propaganda…

Nathanael crouches and drops bean seeds into the trench I made with my hoe. Vivian is there beside him and throws her handful into a pile and begins to cover them up, all lumped together. When I protest, Nathanael squints up at me and stares.

“Why are you wearing that?” He is looking at the huge hat I just put on to cover my huge head. “Are you a farmer?”

I straighten up and throw my shoulders back. I am pleased with this four-year-old’s question. “Yes,” I say, spreading my arms to point to the  budding raspberries, quivering garlic stalks, blooming cherry and plum, trailing strawberries and spiking asparagus. “This is my farm.”

Nathaneal isn’t convinced. “You can’t be a farmer because you don’t have a barn,” he concludes. I agree with him partly–barns and outbuildings are very useful things for farmers to have, and then we keep working.

After we finish planting the beans he helps me unload a few wheelbarrow loads of mulch and waters the emerging snap peas.  By the time his older brother gets off the bus he’s changed his mind about my title. Still holding the watering can, he waves it at his brother and shouts, “Look Josiah, she’s a farmer!”

Right now we’re harvesting asparagus, green onions, rhubarb, and dandelion roots on our “farm”. It is a pleasant sort of vindication to pull foot-long roots out of the earth, knowing they will become a smooth part of my spring morning ritual. Turning them into coffee is the best way to up-cycle these medicinal plants in my opinion. (And believe me, I’ve tried all manner of recipes.) In fact, if I was inclined to market goods I might actually sell this stuff, but instead I’ll try to sell you on this retreat…

There are a few spots left and early bird pricing lasts until next week. Come be a part of it! Watch this short interview on CTV News to get a better idea of what it’s about. (I come on at 13:25 minutes.)

This book.

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I  have 3 hours to myself every week when Vivi goes to daycare. During these mornings alone I only do Very Important Things, which usually means walking, praying, and writing. Last week I used 30 precious minutes to copy passages from Annie Dillard’s book. Here is one of my favourites:

“One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from behind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

And finally, one last advertisement.

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My nieces and nephews have started their own business, Three Huggers, creating sustainable beeswax wraps with the help of their parents. I love wrapping my children’s sandwiches in them; their fabric designs almost transform lunch prep into a festivity instead of a mad rush to throw some ham between two slices of bread. Here’s their FB page and Etsy account where you can flood them with orders 🙂

Have a wonderful weekend ahead!

Last wkd was mostly all backbreaking work except for Sunday afternoon, which was mostly all about water, fresh fish, fire, and friends.

PS. If you haven’t been getting notified when I post (and you’ve signed up for email notification) try entering your email address again. If that doesn’t work, leave a comment and let me know!

Snow Day Crumbs

While vacuuming the last crumbs of Snow Day, I wasn’t sure it was worth it. I wasn’t convinced all the planning, hauling, setting up, and then cleaning up, was something I would ever want to do again. When my sister called to ask me how it went, I answered, “It was a lot of work.” Because it was. Now, a few weeks later, I still remember gripping the bottom of our heavy burgundy couch while maneuvering it into the clubhouse (Stan helped me move our living room furniture because I wanted a cozy atmosphere) but I also remember other moments. And these are the images that remind my why I wanted to do it in the first place…

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“We can’t come out fo the retreat but we can help you get ready for it,” Sheena offers in her easy Jamaican accent. I haven’t known Sheena and her family for long and, even though I feel a tiny bit bad accepting their help, I am grateful. When they get to the clubhouse the night before the retreat I hand her a pile of neatly folded saris and she understands intuitively what I envision. “It will be a swoopy, airy effect,” she says while gesturing where they should hang. Meanwhile her husband Mark climbs a step ladder and starts discussing with my daughter what colour of sari they should start with.

My other friend Rebecca has come too, along with Stan, Belén and Susanna. Rebecca strings lights, moves tables and chairs, prepares a coffee station and lays drop cloths with the girls. Stan cuts wood for ice-lantern stands, throws down sand on the icy walkway and reaches the heating vent near the ceiling (when no one else can) to attach the last of the filmy fabric. Three hours later the space is transformed into an arts studio. I am the last to leave and all I can think about is how I love being surprised by the goodness in people. I hadn’t asked anyone to come tonight to help and yet I am not sure what I would’ve done without them. I turn off the lights and wait for tomorrow.

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Dion comes into the clubhouse with his computer and, after a rushed hello, he  chooses his spot in the far corner of the room next to a large window. He opens his laptop and before I start with the welcome or any introductions he is already typing. Laura too, is busy, and so is Crystal. Each of them have claimed a window of their own and they’re set up with a view of snow, sky, spruce, and naked trees. Pens scratch paper. Fingers fly over keyboards. Vague ideas are shaped, carved, and trimmed by letters and words until they are almost real enough to touch.

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People trail through the buffet, a few at a time, filling their bowls with hot soup. There is no designated lunch-break as I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the day. In any other room full of friends, acquaintances, and strangers, I’d feel obliged to make the rounds and be social, but today is different. I wear my Silence is Golden sticker on my chest, like a few others, and bring spoonfuls of lemony lentil soup to my mouth while I devour Mary Oliver’s poems at the same time. Her book Owls and Other Fantasies is propped in front of me and I linger over lines like “I think this is the prettiest world–so long as you don’t mind a little dying” from her poem The Kingfisher. The entire book is about birds, and it’s odd that I’m so enchanted with it, given the fact I’ve never been a birder or even pretended to be, but her poems make me want to sit by a saltwater marsh forever to see what she sees. I copy The Kingfisher into my notebook before the last of my broth is finished. Perhaps if I recite her words while I write them down some of their elegance will infuse itself into my own vocabulary.

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Anne is here because, as she said during the introductions, she “wants to help people get outside and on the ski trails”. She outfits a group of mothers, daughters, cousins, and friends with skis, poles and boots. It is time to break away from the writing, the sketching, the studying and the reading. It’s time to breath a little fresh air. And laugh.

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The sun shifts in the sky and so does the atmosphere inside the clubhouse.  People clean up their paints, wood, leather, fabric, yarn, books, computers and paper. Tables are pushed together, covered with cloths, and candles are lit. Adam pulls the lids off of his art, which is our dinner. Greek Chicken. Rice Pilaf. Mediterranean Salad. Roasted Vegetables. While we savour the food I ask participants to share about their day. People are brave, funny and honest. One woman reads from her memoir-in-the-making about her journey with anxiety; another explains how she is using up plastic grocery bags to make sleeping mats for homeless people. Twila talks about painting with her hands and how it’s like eating Indian cuisine that tastes better when you can touch the food. She also speaks about being absorbed in the process and truly listening to her work and the Spirit while she creates. I smile and nod and try to remember the words she is using to describe her experience.

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And this: fiddle music, harmonies, and acoustic guitar…

Thank you Wool Tree Grove, fiddlers, and dancers!

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Find out more about Wonderscape Retreats here.

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Snow Day by Wonderscape Retreats was sponsored in part by Artists in Communities, a joint initiative of the Saskatchewan Arts Board and SaskCulture Inc., and is supported by funding provided by the Saskatchewan Lotteries Trust Fund for Sport, Culture and Recreation