Wednesday, December 28, 2016

On Writing #119 : Lesley Buxton

Talking to Myself
Lesley Buxton

Some years ago, I was reacquainted with a friend I’d known as a teenager. “Do you still talk to yourself?” he asked in one of our initial conversations.
“What? I never talked to myself.”
“You did.” Despite my denial, my friend’s observation concerned me.
Sometime afterwards I was having dinner with my husband, Mark and I made some casual remark and he didn’t answer.
“Were you talking to me?”
His question annoyed me. Who else could I be talking to?
“I just wasn’t sure,” he said. “I thought you might be talking to yourself. You do it all the time so I’m never sure if I’m supposed to answer or not.”

Since then I’ve begun to notice I talk to myself a lot—even in public. Not long ago I was at the Value Village and I caught myself considering out loud if I should buy a leather jacket I’d found. It scared me. After all it’s one thing for friends to notice but another to be regarded by strangers as that odd middle-aged lady at the thrift store babbling to herself.

Recently I saw the movie, The Lady in the Van based on the writer, Allan Bennett’s relationship with Miss Shepherd, a homeless woman who resided in her van in his driveway for fifteen years. In the movie Alex Jennings plays two versions of Bennett, the writer who watches Miss Shepherd from behind the safety of his desk and the other Bennett, the one who engages with the world. Throughout the story the two of them frequently discuss Miss Shepherd’s strange behaviour from very different perspectives. Early in the movie the writer Bennett explains, saying that writers are always talking to themselves.

I liked the movie, but it was the idea of the writer being divided into two distinct characters that most struck me. I’ve felt that all my life but have never been able to articulate it. Lesley the non-writer is happiest at the pub with a pint in her hand and surrounded by people who know how to tell a damn good story. Whereas the writer in me likes nothing more than to spend her day alone writing in her pyjamas—and God forbid anyone disturbs her —she has none of the social graces of my other self. She’s grumpy, with bad breath from drinking too much coffee and is liable to ignore other people if they try to talk to her while she’s thinking. But in truth, she’s the nicer of the two, less judgemental, more prone to empathy and, best of all, able to see a story from all angles.

For the past two years I’ve been working on a memoir based on my blog, Fall On Me, Dear. It tells the story of what it’s like to survive one’s only child.  Before my life changed so radically it was never my ambition to write a memoir. I wrote short stories—long before that I was an actor. In both endeavours my enthusiasm was based on the same desire, a need to interpret the history behind a character’s actions. I love trying to decipher a person’s motivation, all those layers that make certainty so elusive. This is why I love gossip, especially when I hear the same tale repeated by different sources. It amazes me how a story can be moulded by perspective. It’s like collecting recordings of the same song sung by a variety of artists. Take the Leonard Cohen song, Hallelujah for example. None of my friends can agree on who interprets it best. 

In memoir, the only voice is your own. This is daunting. Yes, I know the bones of my story, but for the most part I’m forced to rely on my memories for guidance and like human nature these are fragile. For this reason I spend a lot of time questioning myself, analysing my actions, seeking truth as if it were black and white and not hidden under the murkiest of greys. I’ve always been the queen of self-doubt. A quality that has wreaked havoc in my personal life, but served the writer well. Throughout this process, there have been days when the sound of my own voice has driven me crazy. Days when I would’ve given anything to be writing a story where I was not a central character. I say character, as the only way I have discovered to write about myself is to employ the techniques I’ve learned by writing short stories. This means leaving space for the reader.

The odd thing about writing a memoir is there’s an assumption that it’s cathartic. Over and over again, I’m asked if I’ve found this process therapeutic. This notion makes me uneasy. After all if therapy was all I required I could simply keep a journal and spew my feelings onto the page. Sure, this might be healing for the non-writer, but soon the writer would appear—out of the two of us, she’s the strongest and most relentless. Her concerns reach far beyond the small and personal to where she hopes the intimate will meet the universal. By aiming for this, if the timing is right and she’s fortunate, she joins the Babel of other writers all lost in conversation with themselves.

Lesley Buxton studied theatre in London, England, and travelled extensively before settling down in Penticton, British Colombia. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of reviews including: The Antigonish Review, Hazlitt, The Fiddlehead, and The New Quarterly. Her blog Fall On Me, Dear, chronicles the last years of her daughter’s life. She has a MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of King’s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia. She’s working on a memoir, One Strong Girl, based on her blog.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

On Writing #118 : Elee Kraljii Gardiner

Essay on Inclusivity
Elee Kraljii Gardiner

My literary community in Vancouver seems to rotate around and on social media – or maybe that’s just my epicentre. It’s a question worth asking myself beyond lamenting writing time lost to gif giggles and memes. In truth, social media has enabled me to do far more writing and creating with other artists than I would have managed without the internet and it has given me an easy channel to connect with writers and editors with whom I can exchange thoughts and eventually, poems.

Social media is where the bulk of calls for submissions I know about are shared and spread. It’s easy to retweet a call from a literary journal – publications (every one of them underfunded and understaffed compared to the amount of labour they face) work hard to reach readers. But their submissions may be sampling only one end of the pool of writers. Who is not part of the conversation?

We know lack of access to technology isolates people, but how is it skewing our literary community? Especially in Vancouver, one of the cruelest cities in Canada for income inequity and unaffordable housing?

Editors, presses and publishers might expand their ring of writers and dilate the experience of the literary community by considering e-privilege. Where are most submissions coming from? Are they weighted towards a certain population? Why? Who aren’t they seeing in submissions?

In September 2016 I participated in a panel on inclusivity in publishing with three smart and active writers who are pushing against racialized and genderized borders in publishing. [1] Jónína and Chelene and Jen made the panel accessible, permeable and conversant using their multi-layered experiences as writers and editors as reference points. I spoke about a slant form of exclusion: how reliable access to computers and sufficient Wi-Fi is a barrier to many of the most committed writers I know.

Most Thursdays since 2008 I’ve spent the afternoon writing with Thursdays Writing Collective,[2] a non-profit writing group for residents of the Downtown Eastside. Many of my cohort can’t count on steady, private, convenient computer availability. I don’t have to leave my house to find wifi or mitigate restricted time slots for public computer use. I have my own computer and when my laptop crashes I can take it to the repair shop and get it back in a day but that’s because I have a credit card, transportation to and from, the mental bandwidth to deal with the frustration of computer problems. I can more or less drop everything - besides my kids - to prioritize my computer.

If a writer living in an SRO ( can acquire a laptop they may not have the time, connections or quiet they need to figure out saving and backing up, a confounding experience for me even when I am rested, fed, focused and undisturbed. If belongings or housing aren’t secure, the writing isn’t either. Theft and damage of laptops or jump drives means losing novels, submission records, bios, author photos, literary CVs, manuscripts, editing conversations, journals – imagine all of that hitting you at once. Imagine it happening repeatedly. These practical difficulties in the writing life are a colander, straining the breadth and depth of voices from a fuller literary community. Award-winning poet Henry Doyle (, who periodically struggles with Wi-Fi issues told me on the phone, “It’s really hard to be out of the loop. I don’t know what’s going on or how to get in touch with people. I feel like I’m missing a lot.”

When John Asfour and I coedited V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012) our mandate was to create an holistic picture of the neighbourhood by yoking published and unpublished authors in one cross-genre anthology. We had to figure out alternative ways to connect and communicate beyond and outside of the pool we knew how to reach. How do you reach people you don’t know how to reach? We tried our best by asking everyone we could for suggestions.

For starters, we accepted handwritten submissions. We established a box at the library to accept texts so people didn’t have to pay postage to submit their handwritten texts. We sent a submission call out on radio repeatedly. We passed out handbills, published notices in newsletters, handed out posters and asked people to use word of mouth to spread the call. We contacted outreach workers, mentors, volunteers and asked them to share the info. I posted and handed out my cell number so writers could ask me questions or arrange to submit their pieces.

We used social media to target organizers and activists who could print out the call and share it face to face with people who might be interested. We did a good job but there are undoubtedly many venues of contact that never occurred to us.

Other ways to bridge the digital divide are common sense, and contagious. After writing long hand in class, it’s a frequent occurrence for some TWC writers type up writing for the people who don’t have computer access. This need has at times been so crushing that Thursdays Editing Collective, part of TWC, has held “type-up” sessions after class where we quickly convert handwritten texts into digital forms that are easier to edit and preserve.

A few years ago WORD Festival (which also programmed the 2016 inclusivity panel) asked what kind of event was most needed in the Downtown Eastside. Since then they have held free public Type Up events at Carnegie Community Centre where people can bring ten pages of writing - short stories, poems, letters or legal documents - to be typed on the spot, lightly spellchecked and turned into a doc/cd/printout for free.

When we connect with a writer who is offline some or all of the time we can ask what the challenges are, what they need, what would make things smoother. Maybe they need help getting their work to one of the journals that only accepts through the online site Submittable. Maybe we ask our own publishers and editors what they need in order to hear from people outside the standard stable of frequents.

Other hacks around e-exclusion abound, and we’d do well to share the info with each other to make a more robust community. We need to hear from the creators who aren’t at the epicenter of the update matrix.

After the panel on inclusivity an audience member, Jessica Key, contacted me on Twitter to ask more questions. She wrote a paper for her MPub class you can read here:
It’s not lost on me Jessica and I were able to do this thanks to social media but like any other privilege, e-privilege can help dismantle itself.

[1] Sep 25, 2016 at the WORD Festival in Vancouver programmed by Natasha Sanders-Kay for Magazines BC. My co-panellists were Jónína Kirton and Chelene Knight and the panel was mc’d by Jen Sookfong Lee.
[2] I started Thursdays Writing Collective in 2008 and passed the directorship in September 2016 to Amber Dawn.

Elee Kraljii Gardiner [photo credit: Christoph Prevost] is the author of the book of poems serpentine loop (Anvil Press, 2016), which is going into a second edition. She is the co-editor with John Asfour of V6A: Writing from Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2012), which was shortlisted for the 2012 City of Vancouver Book Award. Elee founded Thursdays Writing Collective, a non-profit organization of more than 150 writers in Vancouver and she is the editor and published of its eight anthologies. Her efforts to foster writers earned the 2015 Pandora’s Collective BC Writer Mentor Award. She is originally from Boston and is a dual US/Canadian citizen. [Ed. note: Today is also her birthday. Happy Birthday, Elee!]

Thursday, December 15, 2016

On Writing #117 : Rusty Morrison

Writing Nonetheless, Nonetheless Writing
Rusty Morrison


There are the moments when something is amassing, pressing from all sides, holding me still, and, at the same time, provoking me to act, some impulse that I have not understood how to enact. What amasses isn’t heat, but is heat’s kin in its ability to penetrate, to permeate, to make the climate of the interior porous to what is changing around it. Something has happened, is happening still, that I am in the midst of and somehow missing, and that I have, myself, become missing within.

I may not be its center, and I am de-centered in the experience, in the not-understanding what it is. The “something” opportunes a knowing that brings on a stillness in me (“still” as in the sense of not moving on, but also “still” in the sense of realizing I’m still what I was, not able to engage whatever is amassing). Stillness is only the first order of attention; motion is needed, be it motion in mind, in hands, in words—it might be any of these or other to them, but the provocation must be understood soon enough or the sensation diminishes before I am fully able (willing?) to be conscious of it. So much in such moments might be lost.

Yet, it’s that pause, that stillness, which allows for initiation of a speeded-up, almost involuntary second order of attention—my hand begins writing a note, phrase, pause of words, in the notebook I carry with me.

Sometimes that odd scatter of words in my notebook will hold some glimmer of a clairvoyance in it, which I’ll feel when I open to those words again, later, or the next morning, and write from them. “Clairvoyance,” from the French clair ‘clear’ + voir ‘to see.’ But I hear “voyage” in “-voyance,” and I hear “voice” in “voir.” So I offer them, too.

During my return to that scatter of words, I sometimes feel guilt about the fact that the entry in my notebook was necessitated by an amassing I’d not been able to understand, that I’d missed. But if I bring that guilt forward, and face it cleanly, then it shifts. Such instances are opportunities in which  I might begin to navigate a new trajectory toward a kind of becoming that is more than my current fixity of framing allows.

This morning, once I’ve walked back into the house, after dumping the kitchen garbage, after making too much noise, after taking up too much space in the outside without sensing first what that predawn dark might hold—I realize I’ve missed whatever this particular morning’s pre-morning dark was. “No different than any other morning,” I rationalize. There’s nothing new out there. I get up at this time nearly every day, and my routine often takes me outside briefly. But today something in the sound of the front door’s lock locking is different—an inexplicable difference, which rests uneasily under the generic sensation-category of loss.

Some of the orders of attention that I find in the act of writing are close kin to the order of attention that prompts me to unlock the door and go back to stand outside—which may result in finding nothing, except to feel what “nothing” amasses nonetheless.


I’m interested in the orders of attention that I don’t necessarily recognize—the orders of attention that sometimes are slipped between more recognizable orders of attention, or are preceding them, or are happening concomitantly, as waking dreams I didn’t quite notice soon enough. I think of these orders as the times when I am “writing nonetheless.”

I appreciate that word “nonetheless” as it begins with the null of “none,” (which can suggest the connotation: “no one”). But the extra “o,” which would create “no one,” is hidden under the “n” ’s visor—I call it “visor” since it’s not a large enough overhang to call it an umbrella, it’s not a complete obscuring. Next comes “the,” or “the less” which suggests that the “less” here is specific (“this less” is being pointed to; it’s not “any less,” not “a less”). Common reading of the whole would suggest that “nonetheless” is proposing an equivalence. In other words: something “is the case nonetheless,” or is the case regardless. But I can also hear in it a naming of the “none,” as in “let me introduce you to “none,” from the family of “theless.” As in: “Here’s None the Less.” Or “Here’s Atilla the Hun.

I realize that I’ve digressed in that last paragraph—playfully, absurdly, “none”-sensically

How will I know how far to let myself digress when I’m working to open an idea in my mind, in my writing, in my poem’s line? I suppose that, for me, I need to keep checking to see if I’m still having a physical experience of something amassing, some heat—a sensory component. I can admit to myself that in the above paragraph, as I typed “Atilla,” I felt I’d lost some heat, lost my sensory component. It was, for me, time to stop. To breathe.

I often remind myself of what Henri Bergson recounts: it is useful to attend to the body’s forms of sensate awareness. His example is that we often laugh before we realize why we are laughing, before we’ve parsed out an intellectual explanation: the mind comes in afterward to explain our physical response. I take this to suggest to me that it is useful to feel the laugh, to feel the sensate awareness—how often do I ignore it? Do I fail to take the time to ask my intuition to engage with it? How often such opportunities are lost.

For me, when I’m working in the nonetheless, there’s a sensory component that rises, that comes on, as involuntarily as a laugh. As I noted when I began this writing—it might be a kind of pressure, a heat. It might be a feeling in my throat, or a very subtle shiver that I feel in my chest, or at the back of my neck. For how long will the sensory remain animate? For how long should I keep fitting words to something that I can’t understand, that may even seem counter to what I typically might write, to what I expected? These are questions that sit outside of the experience, and that overly logical generalizations can’t necessarily answer. To approach this too logically, with too much explanation, is to sheath the experience in intellect’s veils. Veils can be lovely, can be nearly sheer—in that electric-translucent shimmer, which very fine, very thin fabric yields—can animate further what emanates, can help me to see the shapes, the contours of a meaning within the veils. It can be a useful thing, to use language in this way, for a while. But, at some point, what’s there may be entirely obscured. Then it’s time to track back, or to begin again, after a pause. Maybe it’s time to step outside, into the late morning. Or, it’s already late, and I should be leaving for work! 

Michel Serres notes “every form is draped in an infinity of adherences.” To sense and then to suffuse the sensory with language, and language with the sensory—this is an act that I might experience as an undraping of a form, even if the form, by its nature, continues to move within the infinity of its adherences, beyond the reach of my act of finding, since no poem, or piece of writing, will conclude its finding out. But, what I take from Serres is more: I must stay alert in my sensate being, since the act of writing may begin to obscure what I was seeking, may begin to occlude the act of finding with only more adherences. Such are the lively paradoxes; such are the risks.

Rusty Morrison’s Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta) was a finalist for the NCIBA and also for the NCBA Awards in Poetry. After Urgency (Tupelo) won The Dorset Prize. the true keeps calm biding its story (Ahsahta) won the Sawtooth Prize, the Academy of American Poet’s James Laughlin Award, the Northern California Book Award, & the DiCastagnola Award from Poetry Society of America.  Whethering (The Center for Literary Publishing), won the Colorado Prize for Poetry. Book of the Given was published by Noemi Press. She has received the Bogin, Hemley, Winner, and DiCastagnola Awards from PSA. Her poems &/or essays have appeared in Boston Review, Iowa Review, Kenyon Review, Lana Turner, Pen Poetry Series, Prelude, VOLT, and elsewhere. Her poems have been anthologized in the Norton Postmodern American Poetry 2nd Edition, The Arcadia Project: Postmodern Pastoral, Beauty is a Verb, The Sonnets: Translating and Rewriting Shakespeare and elsewhere. She has been co-publisher of Omnidawn ( since 2001. She has taught in MFA programs, been a visiting poet at colleges, and teaches workshops through Omnidawn and elsewhere. Her website: