Jane Eaton Hamilton

"At the bottom of the box is hope." – Ellis Avery.

Category: articles by others

Reifel Bird Sanctuary

Reifel2

Reifelphotographs: Jane Eaton Hamilton

republication: first published here in 2014

I was at Reifel Bird Sanctuary in Delta with my friend M-E in October as it rounded towards November. Delicious place to spot wild birds, from Bohemian waxwings to Harlequin ducks. I had decanted seed into baggies, some kind of major success to even have remembered to bring it.  The leaves were changing in spectacular, eastern ways because of our dry sunshiny October. We had yellows, we had oranges, we had reds. Since photosynthesis had shut down, the anthocyanins in each leaf stirred to protect the trees from sunshine.

M-E and I stood watching 3 Lesser Sandhill Cranes do very little, their orange eyes reptilian and attentive, on the lookout for bugs. One would move forward on Pick-Up Stick legs and knobby dinosaur-skinned knees to peck in the dirt. Its tutu tail feathers would shake. Its knees, I noticed, were knobby; the skin thick and scaly, dinosaur-ish.

How to tear myself away even when M-E was showing signs of boredom?

I thought of how long Sandhill Cranes had been on Earth—according to fossil evidence, at least 10 million years. They had red topknots and white cheeks, but who knows why. They only weighed about ten pounds, but were still among the biggest, and most beautiful, of uncommon birds.

Uncommon, I mean, relative to Chickadees and Bushtits, ducks and coots.  Uncommon relative to starlings or crows.

Crane

I considered the woodpecker’s long tongue which curved around its entire head, wrapping even its brain; I thought of how birds had hollow bones, and many air pockets for flight. I had held two dead Yellow Finches in my hands just months earlier, victims of my cat, their bodies still warm, their heads lolling; I knew how deceptively light a bird was. (How big a cat bell really needed to be.) How my cat really needed to say indoors.

M-E and I moved along to watch catfish circle through slurry water, fins brown and slick. It was them or the ducks for the birdseed we threw.

We strolled along a pathway in dappled light, birdhouses and feeders nailed to the trees, Red-winged Blackbirds winging down and zipping gone. I admired the light, the leaves, the red fields, the sunshine and shadows on the lumps of the tilled farmers’ rows. Geese with black-tipped wings looked like hundreds of unmelting snowballs as they squabbled in the muck..

When I thought of birds dying, I always thought of the National Geographic article by Jonathan Franzen about the plight of songbirds in Europe and across northern Africa (Franzen article). I thought of the extraordinary video by photographer David Guttenfelder of Warblers caught on sticky lime sticks. Hunters trap Ortolan Buntings, a delicacy in France, and Quail and Turtledoves, and Cranes and Golden Orioles. In Cypress, a dish called Ambelopoulia calls for European Robins and Blackcaps; each songbird nets two bites.

All these birds have long migrations. Exhausted and depleted, perhaps after crossing the Mediterranean, they require rest and food, but hunters lie in wait with trap sticks, nets or guns. Capturing songbirds has a long history, Franzen tells us, and is even referenced in the bible, but today the practice (with the help of population surges and technology) has grown epic and is decimating populations.

Happily, here, in the reserve, we revered songbirds. Instead of eating them, we fed them.

When I thought of birds living, my heart filled. Now a couple passed us sunflower seeds.

chickadee

M-E and I stood with our arms extended, our hands now buckets for black seeds. The birds, small and frenzied, flitted through the shrubbery, chattering to each other, considering the lures. They did well to be suspicious.

A little girl, perhaps four, perhaps five, watched us. I thought she was going to say something about birds, but instead she just elbowed her friend. “I’ve spent all day with you,” she told her, her face drawn and worn.

The friend had curly hair which frizzed around her head with the sun shining through it. She ran her hand up and down the front of her brown jacket. From her cuffs dangled blue mittens she didn’t need. “I don’t know,” she answered, perplexed.

In the bushes, three Chickadees hopped from branch to branch, assessing the sudden windfall.

M-E’s hand shook a little from the effort of keeping it still.

The original girl said, “You have to give me that … I’ve spent all day with you, since morning.”

The friend slowly nodded. “All right,” she said.

The first Chickadee landed on the side of my palm, grabbed a seed and winged away.

“That bird,” said the friend, pointing. “I like that bird.”

I said to her, in wonder, “It felt like a whisper.” I talked gently for a minute about how they wore black caps—did she think they only wore them in the winter, like people might?

The first girl looked up at me, her face knitted into a grown-up expression of irritation.

A Chickadee landed on M-E.  Rotund, it hopped down her arm. She giggled like someone very young, and I photographed it.

The second girl extended her hand to me and into it, I tipped out some of my seed. She held out her arm; I saw that her eyes were wet, a tear trembling just in the center of her bottom left lid.

“Just wait,” a woman said. “Just stay very still, Margo.”

The first girl frowned. Her hair switched like a horse’s tail. Finally she hit the second girl’s arm, scattering the bird seed. She put her diminutive hands on her hips and said, “Margo, listen to me.  I’m trying to say that it’s time I saw other friends.”

The tear fell to Margo’s cheek and slid down her young skin while her mouth shaped an “O.”  For a second, that tear was everything, and I watched it while Chickadees landed in my hand, their claws like the tiniest tap shoes. Margo crouched down, wounded, something caught in a trap, and clamped her hands over her ears.

We all noticed the hush. The dees suddenly made themselves scarce; Margo looked up. Above the farmer’s field, a Cooper’s Hawk circled; from where we stood, it looked speckish and dull and no threat. But a din broke out as the field of migratory geese lifted. The sky turned white above us, as if we’d been caught in a snow globe. All the alarm honks, all the 54-inch black-tipped wingspans flapping at once, was overwhelming, and sounded first like an accident, a multi-vehicle pile-up, and then exactly like a train barreling towards us and about to run us down.

Run! came the primeval urge.  But only small Margo actually did and what she was running from was anyone’s guess.

“It’s just birds!” I yelled, but she couldn’t have heard me.

Over in Europe, maybe right then, robins, orioles, warblers were stuck on sap traps, every movement towards freedom ensnaring them.

The sound of their wings as they struggled.

The snow geese above us.

Fat-bellied Chickadees.  Long-necked Cranes.  Slick-finned catfish.  A little girl’s friendship ending.

A sunshine-doused day in the bird sanctuary.

Gay Magazine!

illustration borrowed from Gay Magazine by Michelle Mildenberg, 2018, Randa Jarrar’s piece

Roxane Gay, author of “Bad Feminist” and all-around bad-ass role model and social activist, has started up Gay Magazine at Medium! The first issue, on the topic of pleasure, launches in June.

For those of you who haven’t heard the good news, my own essay, provisionally titled “The Pleasure Scale” is going to be included, although I haven’t heard in what issue yet.

Last year, she put together a month-long magazine at Medium, called Unruly Bodies, full of stunning essays I urge you to read.

What Fullness Is, Roxane Gay

Hysterical!, Samantha Irby

What Love Is, Randa Jarrar

Unruly, Adjective, Carmen Maria Machado

There are more, every one of them as good as the last, but these are some of my favourites. I re-read “What Fullness Is” a week ago or so, and loved it even more than I did last year.

 

 

“Deborah Landau, Writing Poems For an Unsafe World”

The World Trade Center burns

We all want to know how to handle the horror that is, it seems, always around us now, haunting us all like a shadow we can’t shake. Poet (and director of the NYU Creative Writing Program) Deborah Landau has been thinking and writing about terror, and terrorism, and how to live in our unsafe world, for her new book.

“That Tuesday morning,” writes Fran Bigman, “September 11, Landau told me, she was pregnant with her second child and dropping her three-year-old son off at nursery school downtown; they were on a bus and people started screaming, and they saw a plane hit the tower. Scenes of disaster, both remembered and imagined, run through her head, but she isn’t a narrative poet who retells a story. “I am not a depicter, not any more. I’m never writing about something,” she tells me, “I’m always writing out of something—or into something.”

“Landau finished these poems, which make up Soft Targets [her upcoming collection], after the attack on Bastille Day 2016, in an intense 12-day burst—not her usual working method. These are poems for a world in which there is no safety. It opens with Landau’s fears for herself, familiar fears. But then the poem rushes outward—we, the innocent, are soft targets, but even bin Laden was a soft target to his attackers. The poems in Soft Targets keep sweeping outward, dizzyingly, from the intimacy of Landau and her “you” to the entire city to the entire world. Another of the book’s early poems follows this same trajectory:

I’m a soft target, you’re a soft target
and the city has a hundred hundred thousand softs;

the pervious skin, the softness of the face
the wrist inners, the hips, the lips, the tongue,

the global body,
its infinite permutable softnesses—”

Deborah Landau, Writing Poems For an Unsafe World

Marissa Korbel: “The Thread: Down Girl”

 

Marissa Korbel wrote her essay “Down Girl” to address a bad review by Alexandra Fuller of three female-authored memoirs received in the New York Times: Pam Houston’s ‘Deep Creek;’ Reema Zaman’s ‘I Am Yours, A Shared Memoir;’ and Sophia Shalmiyev’s ‘Mother Winter, A Memoir,’ and, more broadly, to discuss pandering and misogyny in literature.

“[The reviewer] basically called their books therapy,” one of my dinnermates summarizes. By which she means: the writers were doing something for themselves more than for the readers, writing to save themselves rather than to demonstrate that experience on the page as literature, as art, worthy of praise, writing that could be construed as private, emotional work, journaling of some sort, embarrassingly displayed for the world, a tumble of private details which do not—in the reviewer’s opinion—rise to literature

“Three women’s memoirs criticized for oversharing? I’m sure I’ve read this review before, and yet all three books are brand new. I’ve read two out of three of them, and I’ll take home Houston’s Deep Creek tonight. I take out my phone and search “NYT review Zaman.” Because Reema Zaman, a Portland-based writer, performer, and friend, is one of the reviewed.”

The Thread: Down Girl

“New Poetry by Indigenous Women” curated by Natalie Diaz

We are lucky to have a selection of Indigenous poets to read at LitHub: Abigail Chabitnoy, Tria Blu Wakpa, Heather Cahoonand Sara Marie Ortiz. I’m happy to draw your attention to their work.

New Poetry by Indigenous Women

Where New York’s Literary Single Girls Lived by Amy Rowland

NY is a gentrified city, with the Disneyfication of Times Square perhaps the best representation. But here’s an article about Eighteen Gramercy Park South before it was turned into swishy full-floor suites, when young literary women lived and took their meals there. Read this interesting article by Amy Rowland about her time of residence.

Single Girls

How to Grieve For Your Friend and Mentor, by Amy Jo Burns

image from LitHub

Have you loved and lost a mentor? This is a hollow spot, and we need to write through it. As this terrible year ends, I read this essay by Amy Jo Burns on Alexander Chee, Sigrid Nunez, and Writing After Death. You might like to, too.

How to Grieve For Your Friend and Mentor

Buy These Books

photo: Maria Dahvana Headley photo by Beowulf Sheehan

While you are prevaricating with summer reads, consider ordering in these lovelies from your local bookseller, from Electric Lit, so you’ll be set up for early fall:

By the Electric Light

Anna March–yeah, no. And other scams:

Anna March

Anna March, literary gadabout and organizer in the US, has been exposed as a fraud with a storied history of taking financial and emotional advantage of writers (and others pre-her writing career). Anna and I were FB friends, and gradually grew closer. I hoped one day we’d meet in person. I got involved with Roar Magazine when she began it the week of the presidential inauguration, when Anna asked me to do a regular column. I was thrilled to be able to write regularly for a periodical I assumed I would love. It was something great coming on the terrible weighty shoulders of UBCA and Trumpet, and I hoped it would signal that the year was turning around–if not for imperilled Americans who would roll and march their bodies onto the front line to protest or for womxn students in Canada, then for me, personally. I wrote several columns, sent two, and Anna also bought some reprints. I know it won’t surprise you to hear that I never received payment, despite invoicing. Surprise, surprise, on its one-year anniversary, Roar folded with debts.

The only good thing was that I ended my involvement with Roar and Anna March early on when a friend ratted her out. It broke my heart, honestly. I’d really liked her. I thought she was doing good things in the world. I thought I could be a part of that. Even when her story went wonky–when, say, her only presence on the Binders was to solicit $–I wanted to believe in it, in her. And why would anyone scam writers/artists? We barely make it through a good month. But, yet, I had incontrovertible proof, lots of it, in front of me. She was everything the LA Times has confirmed today that she is. I’m glad the news is finally out in order that no one else ever gets scammed. But I’m also sad with the sadness that hasn’t really gone away since the US election and UBCA.

Thanks, Melissa Chadburn and Carolyn Kellogg. I appreciate you going to the wall.

Literary ambition. Fabulous parties. A hidden past. Who is Anna March?

Maribeth Fischer wrote an essay (perhaps) based on Anna March at the Yale Review in 2012. I read it 15 months ago, thinking it was published as fiction. You can find an excerpt here:

Maribeth Fischer: The Fiction Writer

Here is one about JT Le Roy, a traumatized teen author who turned out to be a 40 yo woman:

The Boy Who Cried Author

Avoid Blogging Course Scams

BBB warning on same author

Edited to add:

Another recent scam outside of literature:

“As an Added Bonus, She Paid for Everything”: My Bright-Lights Misadventure with a Magician of Manhattan

 

Writing Through Disability; Sonya Huber at LitHub

Writing With and Through Pain

by Sonya Huber

“The Key is to Not Panic in the Face of this Void”

The talented, skilled and disabled Sonya Huber, author of the stunning “Pain Woman Takes Your Keys,” writes about how pain affects her literary process.

Sonya Huber is the author of five books, including the essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Her other books include Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and other outlets. She teaches at Fairfield University and directs Fairfield’s Low-Residency MFA Program.

NY Times archive: writers on writing for the Times

author Rosellen Brown

Sometimes the only thing that helps when you are a writer is to read other writers’ takes on how this mysterious profession plays out for them. Here is a list of the columns the NY Times has published over the years. Happy reading!

Writers on Writing

I talked to Cheryl Costello of the Brampton Focus

The very exciting fully accessible and intersectional Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) happens this coming weekend! I couldn’t be more excited. A group of dedicated, generous folks puts this wonder together. Congrats to them, and to every participant. Bon festival, chacun!

I am not able to attend in person, alas, and will miss performing with my skilled colleagues, and meeting readers, but here is a snippet thanks to the Brampton Focus, Cheryl Costello and FOLD:

Counting Down The FOLD: Jane Eaton Hamilton, an interview…

 

There’s a reason we all love The Sun so much, and her name is Lucie Britsch

This great piece from The Sun today, compliments of Tanis MacDonald: a place where I am luckily twice-published. Read it, enjoy it, weep, fall in love with the work of Lucie Britsch.

Kids Today

 

“Celebrating Diversity by Dismantling CanLit” by Amanda Leduc

I love when I learn more about people with whom I’m social media friends–people I notice in special ways, yet when I actually parse our relationship, realize I barely know at all. Here is Amanda Leduc, one of the champions of the Festival of Literary Diversity, on the FOLD Festival, on growing up disabled and trying to find herself in books, on UBCA’s devastation, on privilege, on GritLit (and generally the struggle of festivals to give up privilege, examine their biases and to provide accessibility). I am mentioned here, full disclosure, representing disability rather than with my kin, the big old queers, but what I know is that I’m lucky to be a participant at FOLD this year in any identity. I love the idea of this festival and their fight through the thickets of Canlit so hard.

Thanks, Amanda, for this article.

Celebrating Diversity by Dismantling CanLit

 

 

“Wendy Xu on the Impossible Complexity of Immigrant Love”

Poet Wendy Xu over at Lit Hub and this passage about learning to parse literature:

“My father was my first poetry teacher in all of these ways—he paused to let us wonder together at the power of words. Why was this part so vivid and easy to picture in your head? Why did you cry at this part? Why did you fall in love with this phrase and repeat it over and over? Back then I was just happy to be spending time with my father, but the gift he gave me will last a lifetime.”

I can’t get it out of my head how helpful this training would be for a child who would later become a poet.

“Xu is the author of Phrasis (Fence, 2017, winner of the Ottoline Prize), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and elsewhere, with fiction and essays appearing in BOMB and BuzzFeed. Born in Shandong, China, in 1987, she currently teaches in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, and is poetry editor for Hyperallergic.”

Her poem, Notes for an Opening, is here.

The interview with her from which I pulled this quote is here.

Many Gendered Mothers

Ah, but we have a smart and sharp bunch to celebrate over at Many Gendered Mothers, where we publish essays on writers’ mentors. Today Rose Cullis writes on finding and admiring Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and feeling “…as I read it, I felt a shift in that place where the meanings are.” There is no more you could ask from someone’s work, is there?

Please join us and send us 800 words about your lit hero. We especially welcome submissions from and about marginalized authors.

 

“The Man in the Mirror”

If I have a favourite kind of personal essay, this sharp, beautifully composed, heartfelt piece exemplifies it. Thanks to Rene Denfeld for the rec. “The Man in the Mirror” by Alison Kinney comes highly recommended. So glad I read it.

The Man in the Mirror

Celebrations of Womxn on IWD 2018

In Canada, a woman other than Queen Elizabeth II is finally on our currency in a $10 bill that will go into circulation later this year. Not quite certain of why we can’t replace all the men all at once and for as long as women have been excluded, but I guess it’s a first step. Read all about Viola Desmond, the Black Nova Scotian jailed for sitting in the white section of a movie theatre years before Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat, here:

Viola Desmond, Canadian hero

_________________

For decades, I read the Globe and Mail daily, and when I turned to the obit section, I would see that in Canada only white heterosexual men ever died, and I’d always breathe a sigh of relief. If they kept on being the only Canadians succumbing, well then, the rest of us might live long enough to see equality. Hope the Globe sees fit to do exactly what the Times is doing:

At the NY Times, obits have been dominated by white men–as selectors, as subjects. Today, they unveil a new column, Overlooked, to redress the problem. I’ve reprinted the introduction here. Follow the links as the stories are fascinating and well worth your investment of time.

Overlooked

Obituary writing is more about life than death: the last word, a testament to a human contribution.

Yet who gets remembered — and how — inherently involves judgment. To look back at the obituary archives can, therefore, be a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers.

Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female.

Charlotte Brontë wrote “Jane Eyre”; Emily Warren Roebling oversaw construction of the Brooklyn Bridge when her husband fell ill; Madhubala transfixed Bollywood; Ida B. Wells campaigned against lynching. Yet all of their deaths went unremarked in our pages, until now.

Below you’ll find obituaries for these and others who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked. We’ll be adding to this collection each week, as Overlooked becomes a regular feature in the obituaries section, and expanding our lens beyond women.

You can use this form to nominate candidates for future “Overlooked” obits. Read an essay from our obituaries editor about how he approaches subjects and learn more about how the project came to be.”

Books by Writers with Disabilities

I love that slowly, slowly, we build a literature about disabilities written by the disabled themselves. Pain Woman last year by Sonya Huber is one such book. Another is the upcoming Sick by Porochista Khakpour. Dorothy Palmer, well-known for her clear reports/retorts about/to UBCA, has a memoir coming out this very year.

Now here is an interview with author Kim Clark on her book A One-Handed Novel. Her narrator has MS. Can’t wait to read this.

The BBC ignited fury after having 3 able-bodied spouses on to talk about the hell of having spouses with disabilities. I have threatened to write an essay about the hell it is to have an abled spouse.

My novel Weekend with one disabled character and plenty of romance wouldn’t pass my own Bechdel Disability Test, in that it is a romance, and there’s just one character with a disability, but Clark nevertheless recommends it as a good read.

Read Local BC

 

The Last Words for Valentine’s Day

 

If Literature’s “Complicated Men” Were on Tinder by Sarah Chevallier, yonder at McSweeney’s

Now I can die happy, and also in love with Sarah Chevallier.

%d bloggers like this: