Elissa Schappell interviewed Toni Morrison for the Paris Review. “Morrison talked also about the weapons of the weak: nagging, poison, gossip. And about permission to write, and permission to succeed at it.“
Elissa Altman has written a fine essay about whether, in fact, we may, can and should write. She found permission within herself to write two memoirs. If you’re struggling to write, you might find Elissa’s thoughtful, consuming essay useful.
If you want to read about writing, you might enjoy a visit to Chelene Knight’s blog Quick and Dirty. Here, you’ll find many short essays on the writing world, largely by racialized, disabled or queer authors.
Valentine’s Day week is a good week to post a story with the title Hearts, isn’t it? It was published by the fine The Sun Magazine in 1993, almost thirty years ago. When they published me a second time, I didn’t actually recall having been published there the first time because, at the time, I was in a new relationship and I’d just quit smoking. I was slammed alternately between limerance and a sucking depression. I probably didn’t even notice a new publication.
I wish you all the best for this week of love. I hope there’s a person or animal who brings a sparkle to your heart. Luckily, a friend sent me a handmade card and a box of chocolates; things like that make it easier to get up in the morning.
If you’re like me, you don’t have a special someone. I’m locked down alone and have been all along. There are benefits to having a loving relationship with yourself, of course, and I find those mostly in the creation of art. Where I live, despite a current cold snap, there are buds on the daffodils, so I know I can soon have an affair on art and fool around with spring.
(If you’d like to keep up with my visual art life, please see Hamilton Art on FB or hamilton1000 on Instagram.)
I only found out yesterday that I had been a finalist in the cnf division of the Malahat’s Open Season Awards, judged by Lishai Peel. The marvelous author Tanis MacDonald took first prize and I’m sure her essay will be glorious. My happy news came with a lovely note from the Malahat:
“You’ve likely seen the Open Season Awards announcement about the winners Matthew Hollett (poetry), Zilla Jones (fiction), and Tanis MacDonald (cnf). Judge Lishai Peel wanted me to pass on some words to you about your piece “Splinter,” and to let you know that she had a hard time deciding on a winner.
“This piece of writing was exquisite, heart wrenching and masterfully crafted. While reading, I felt the proximity of both grief and beauty. It made me cry, it made me feel deeply, it made me want to take up gardening, it made me want to deliver dead flowers to my ex, it made me want to hold my child the way I did when he was small, it made me remember the prayer of new beginnings. This writing was a real privilege to read and a story that will most likely live in my body for a long time to come.”
Congrats to all the winners, to all the finalists, and to the Malahat Review for being an excellent litmag for Canadian authors year after year, decade following decade. I believe they published my first poems way back when. Connie Rooke found them in her slush pile, published some, and passed them along to Leon Rooke, who published some of my writing in the Second Macmillan Anthology.
So, onward we go until we don’t.
Connie Rooke died in 2008, but happily both Leon and John go on, and there’s a Malahat Review award named in Connie’s honour now.
For a break in the prevailing mood, read this lovely Lit Hub essay “What It’s Like to Teach a Magpie How to Fly.” by Charlie Gilmour. Anyone who knows me knows I am bird-besotted. Even as I read about this bird tucking tidbits of food into the USB port of the author’s computer, I fell a little more in love. Charlie’s book is called Featherhood: A Memoir of Two Fathers and a Magpie.
It’s such a surreal year, isn’t it? There’s not one human alive I would want to suffer through this. (And yes, I despise the usual number of dictators, right-wing politicians and generally cruel people. Still, still. Covid is a horrible disease I wish even they could avoid.)
It’s obvious now that BC, where I live, among most N American jurisdictions, has mishandled the pandemic. Masks have only just been mandated. Our schools are open with large classes, no distancing and no masking. Transmission by the asymptomatic, including kids, is not accepted. Airborne transmission is waved away. We’re in a semi-lockdown (not one that makes much sense. Inconsistencies abound), but, clearly, we are in big big trouble, our hospital capacity already sagging under the weight.
And we have unethical triaging here as policy. If you are older or you have disabilities, your hospital staff may recommend not treating you to their ethics panel, who will likely agree. It hasn’t occurred to these people that disabled and elderly lives are not burdensome, but are of equal value to any others. The disabled love just as bigly. The disabled laugh just as loudly. The disabled and seniors have the right to the same treatment as everyone else. When hospitals surge, a lottery system needs to go into place.
The pain of this year is not equally distributed, and this plagues me. Few care about the disabled. When Canada was handing out CERB, the amount the gov’t decided was absolutely necessary for survival in this country, it was pretty much double what they provide to seniors and the disabled. They care shockingly little for people who struggle more–which is goddamned well backwards.
I hurt to think of the folks unable to breathe and dying (whether at home or in hospitals), I quiver for the losses of their beautiful futures. What could they have done if they had lived? What child would they have made giggle, what book might they have written, what right might they have fought for, what painting might they have painted? When we lose a person, we’re losing their potential along with their corporeality, all they might have been.
The what-ifs. What if these people had survived, what would they have brought us? I don’t mean they needed to contribute or accomplish things to be valuable to us–they would have been valuable to us without lifting a finger. But what have they lost? What have we lost in losing them?
We have enough answers to hurt ourselves with: we lose more of them because they are Black or Latinx, because they are poor or unhoused, or because they were already suffering with age or comorbidities/disabilities. Or because they come from countries with fewer resources.
We lost them because of racism. Because of homophobia. Because of transphobia. Because of fat phobia. Because of ableism. Those are measurable causes of hospital deaths in every jurisdiction every damned day–I can only imagine how much worse this has become when workers are too taxed to want to try and do better.
I was texting a friend today that I imagined every human’s mental health around the globe has now been affected by covid. What are we planning to do about that, as a species? I’m positive there will never be covered therapy-for-all.
Will the children infected now (will the adults?) whether symptomatic or not, have organ damage that will affect their lives going forward, and will the medical industry be swamped by people’s needs long-term? We aren’t even exploring kids’ vaccines yet.
I think of the care workers putting in too long shifts and going through too much trauma, waging a war every day while trying to stay, themselves, uninfected and not to infect their loved ones. Trying to treat everyone so they don’t have to triage people out.
Me, I barely go outside any longer. It’s not easy for me to walk, so that’s not really available except under controlled circumstances (for me, a treadmill). I only go to our centre of commerce about every three weeks to shop. I live alone. I’m disabled with complex and difficult overlapping medical needs. When something happens, either in my life or in the world, I absorb it alone. How many people will be stricken with illnesses they wouldn’t otherwise have contracted that simply flow from being alone and/or unloved/untended?
I’m happy about vaccines. I’m curious to see if there are side-effects, more curious still to know how long their immunity lasts? What if people can be infected again in just a few months?
I’m somewhat preoccupied with thoughts of doom. As I create work this year, I wonder if it matters. Did it ever matter? Does it matter now, really? What piddly thing could I create that would matter a good goddamn if I hadn’t created it?
But, but. It is the season of celebrations to welcome the return of the light. In 2020, I’ve had my small successes in amongst my many quite severe difficulties. I’ve sold a lot of paintings, and this is probably my best news. Thank you indeed to all my lovely collectors. I won a writing contest and placed in some others, which is gratifying. I worked on a novel I’ve been working on since 2011. I had work in several anthos along the way. That’s me. In 2021, if I don’t sicken further, I hope to paint and paint and paint. I’ll be working on an essay collection most of the year. That’ll be hard and frustrating and satisfying.
I wish you all health, and love and safety over this holiday. I know it can be a difficult time for many, but the good thing is that in a week it will be over, and solstice will be over, and in January where I live our gardens stir. Once January arrives, I can usually make it through just with the promise of spring and I hope that’s the same for you.
Here’s BAX, which just arrived at my place. I took a selfie in front of a different wall this time:
It’s lovely when something you put out into the world is noticed. I’m thankful to the Los Angeles Review and judge Kristen Millares Young for admiring “The Gravity of Rocks” enough to award it third prize in your fiction contest. “The Gravity of Rocks” is a story about IPV in a heterosexual family.
There’s a wonderful organization in Vancouver called Reel Youth:
“Reel Youth is a media empowerment project that delivers community development programming to youth and adults across Canada and internationally. Film production and distribution programs are designed to create positive change in young people’s lives through technical skill building, leadership training, creative collaboration with peers and mentors, and increased connection to community resources.”
One of the projects Reel Youth gets up to once a year (excluding covid) is collaborations between young filmmakers and seniors in the LGBTQIA2+ community called Troublemakers. This is such an important project. One thing that the LGBTQIA2+ community doesn’t have a lot of is evidence of its own past, and projects like Troublemakers gives this back–to our present, but also to our futures. I was lucky enough to participate last year, paired with the astonishing Ezra Bell, whose film with me is called “Endurance.”
Reel Youth submitted several films from my year, including Troublemakers Gregory Karlen, !Kona, and Marg Yeo to a film fest in Wales called Wicked Wales International Film Festival.
So happy for Ezra Bell to announce that his film, “Endurance,” won third prize! Congrats to Reel Youth, Troublemakers and especially to Ezra Bell. It was such a sincere pleasure and honour to work with him making this.
It’s been more than two years since I was able to attend a sketching class, because of hand and wrist arthritis and general malaise, but yesterday it occurred to me after doing a workshop with the London Drawing Group (botanicals, watercolour) that I might find online ateliers with timed poses, as I’m mostly a figurative artist. I was lucky and found several. It’s so very good to exercise these muscles again, and I’m grateful to the hosts. As always, should you wish to purchase a print of anything you see, please follow the contact link. Here are some quick sketches, mostly one, two or four minutes:
Hamilton in painting smock with Best Canadian Poetry 2020
I’m thrilled to announce that I have a poem in Best Canadian Poetry, 2020, edited by Marilyn Dumont. Thanks to Marilyn and to Series Editor Anita Lahey and advisory editor Amanda Jernigan! My poem is Game Show from Puritan Magazine. Congrats to the other fine poets! Honoured to be with you and looking forward to reading your work! #canlit
The launch of the anthology will happen Oct 25 and you’re invited! Here’s the link to sign up for the sampler of online readings by ten contributing poets!
I’m thrilled to be able to announce that one of the essays Roxane Gay chose as “Best of 2019” from Gay Magazine has now garnered a Notable in Best American Essays 2020! I believe it’s my fourth Notable for Best American Essays, and I had one for Best American Short Stories, too, once. Congrats to the other Notables, with whom I’m honoured to be mentioned and to the essayists. Thanks to the series editor, Robert Atwan! #canlit
Put out by above/ground press in Ottawa, ‘Would You Like a Little Gramma on Those?’ was first published by Joy Magazine and is reprinted here in different form as part of above/ground’s new prose imprint. Kinda thrilled to see this, and with one of my photos on the cover, too. Thanks, above/ground press! Check them out here to see their lineup or to subscribe to their series:
“Back when I was wise I had a whole diatribe to lay out about writing toward an ending. It had crocuses in it, and snowdrops. Being from rural Michigan I know the names of flowers. My diatribe was also a bit bitchy about the state of contemporary American poetry. The marketing angle. The crowdsourcing. The hairdos and eyebrows. The celebrity. The social media posts by young poets saying, “Fuck Keats. Fuck Shakespeare.” One more round of make it new. How tedious that essay would have been. How mean-spirited. Witchy. Not a cool, green, voluminous witch, but a dried-up hag of a witch who doesn’t want to be replaced. Who fears a mass grave. Not just filled with bodies but with poems judged passé by the young. This is no country for old (wo)men (Yeats, me).”
above/ground press in Ottawa has begun a series of prose chapbooks and I’m happy to say that publisher/editor Rob Mclennan chose one of my stories, ‘Would You Like a Little Gramma On Those,” to join several other wonderful stories by the following authors in his initial run. Despite all my books, this is only my second chapbook ever (the first being ‘Going Santa Fe’ from League of Cdn Poets)! I’m very excited!
Here is the press release and following that a link to above/ground’s blog:
Leaning up to the press’ twenty-eighth year of production, Ottawa’s above/ground press launches a prose imprint, “prose/naut,” and announces its first four chapbook titles, which will each become available over the next few weeks:
Amanda Earl, Sessions from the DreamHouse Aria (September 2020)
Jane Eaton Hamilton, Would You Like a Little Gramma On Those? (September 2020)
rob mclennan, Twenty-one stories, (September 2020)
Keith Waldrop, from THE LOSS FOR WORDS (October 2020)
Why a prose imprint? With more than one thousand poetry-specific publications produced over the past nearly thirty years, why branch out into prose? I suppose the straightforward answer is that there appear to be fewer possibilities for publication for lyric prose than even there were five ago, despite the wealth of materials being produced. There is some incredible work being done, and my own frustrations as a reader has brought us, one might say, to this.
The series hopes to include single-author chapbooks of prose, from fiction to other forms, all of which will be included as part of the regular above/ground press annual subscription package. Review/media copies will also be available upon request (while supplies last).
If you wish to pre-order all four titles, I would be open to that: $20 for all four (add $3 postage for American orders; add $10 for international).
If you would rather, you could simply subscribe to above/ground press RIGHT NOW and all four would be included: 2021 annual subscriptions (and resubscriptions) to above/ground press are available: $75 (CAN; American subscribers, $75 US; $100 international) for everything above/ground press makes from the moment you subscribe through to the end of 2021, including chapbooks, broadsheets, The Peter F. Yacht Club and G U E S T [a journal of guest editors] and quarterly poetry journal Touch the Donkey [a small poetry journal].
Just what else might happen? Currently and forthcoming items also include new poetry chapbooks byJulia Drescher (two this year!),Billy Mavreas, ryan fitzpatrick, Sarah Burgoyne and Susan Burgoyne, Paul Perry, Jérôme Melançon, Ava Hofmann, Alexander Joseph, David Miller, Sa’eed Tavana’ee Marvi (trans. Khashayar Mohammadi), katie o’brien, Nathanael O’Reilly, Amelia Does, Andrew Brenza, Genevieve Kaplan, Geoffrey Olsen, Franco Cortese (four over the next few months), Zane Koss, Dennis Cooley, Barry McKinnon and Cecilia Tamburri Stuart as well as a whole slew of publications that haven’t even been decided on yet.
Why wait? You can either send a cheque (payable to rob mclennan) to 2423 Alta Vista Drive, Ottawa, Ontario K1H 7M9, or send money via PayPal or e-transfer to rob_mclennan (at) hotmail.com (or through the PayPal button at robmclennan.blogspot.com).
‘Tops. Yes They Call it Tops’–painting by Jane Eaton Hamilton 20″x24″ mixed-media on stretched canvas
We are all full of sorrow, grief and fear. I wish you all the strength to bear what comes our way/your way with grace.
I’m not having any luck painting at night because writing is just a wily beast and it claws all the time from any day. Keeping up with errands and housework, too, is proving a chore.
The weekends are for art. Today I rearranged my home studio because it’s in a small bedroom and I’m really at the stage I need one of the big studio spaces available in Vancouver, so I can go large. In this studio I can’t paint against the wall, have a ladder to get to the high parts, have multiple works going at once, or even store extant pieces. So it’s all a hellish jumble without adequate storage systems. I reworked the layout of the rickety old tables I have to give me some mostly empty table space for flat work and hope that will help to make it manageable.
Meantime, this painting is what I’ve been working on.
Part of the studio jumble is dozens of old paintings where my reach exceeded my grasp. Things I couldn’t figure out and abandoned as under paintings or just flubbed. What a delight to repurpose them! I’ve had several “go-fix-this” days in the last couple months, and with a few exceptions I’ve been successful. There’s still more to do to this one, but it will have to wait as for some reason, tomorrow’s Monday.
Meantime, two major rewrites this week on old/newish short stories, which was hella hard but gratifying. This week fun things like submitting and accounting, along with trying to finish first draft of a new story.
To purchase a print (mug, shower curtain, set of cards) please see Fine Art America under my name or Hamilton Art. To inquire about purchasing originals, please contact me at hamiltonjaneeaton at gmail dot com.
Folks, there’s a new reading every Wednesday for the next month posted at Event Magazine for your listening enjoyment. Join John Elizabeth Stintz, Rose Cullis, Tawahum Rice and me! Honoured to have been chosen and to be in such great company.
I have to work in perfect silence but for the chirping of the fridge the songs of the birds, because it lets my subconscious rise. I was working on a painting this morning where I’d worked a study, and without conscious thought, or really even without realizing that I’d done it, I bounded up to the computer and started writing a pandemic meets factory farm short story.
Literally, the two have nothing to do with each other.
The art is about the arcane but nevertheless still sometimes practiced habit of leaving babies out in the snow and sleet. I’d lately read a BC Back-to-School guide, where it advised parents to dress their children warmly as the windows would all be open, and I thought back to a time in my childhood.
I’d come home from half-day kindergarten during a snow and wind storm. I kept tugging my own hat out from my face to shield the wind. My mittens were covered with pills of snow turned to ice. I found my baby sister’s squeaky, big-wheeled pram on the back porch. She just stared up at me, expressionless, her big brown eyes registering nothing, her cheeks flushed, her lips shaded blue. I remember begging my mother to bring her inside, where I was then shucking off my coat and boots so I could melt in front of a heat register, but was sternly told that taking “air” was good for her and that it happened to all babies.
That made me wonder where the tradition came from. We didn’t put babies out in 100 degree heat, did we? So was it disease-related? Had it in fact come about during the 1918 flu epidemic and was never dropped (or from an earlier plague time)?
The short story, though, flows back to a tweet I read where a writer kept walking into the same spider web every morning, and the spider would just rebuild it. I wondered whether a spider could feel ennui or have an existential crisis. “I work and I work and I work and just seems to get nowhere. And why do I never catch a fly? I’m losing so much weight?” Something like that. It triggered work on the short story that anthropomorphizes animals. The story, so far called Mom and Pop, is part of a larger project of short fiction from factory-farmed animals’ perspectives.
Covid-19 has stolen my voice. I went silent in March and am still mostly silent. I live alone so not seeing people makes this more severe. I’m struggling to write. Maybe I don’t believe there’s a reason any longer, though one could certainly argue that there’s never been a more vital time to lift your voice. I am trying every day to lift mine.
I find solace in making art. I’ve been doing a month-long art journal for the first time since I was in art school, when I would sometimes keep one for a particular class. It’s been instructive. This torso reminds me that creating torsos was an original love of mine and probably what I would have worked on if I had expanded into sculpture.