Jane Eaton Hamilton

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

Tag: Annie Dillard

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

Because we love your work and we thank you…

A lot of people included only men on a best-of-writers list going around FB, so other folks mentioned these women/genderqueer and trans folk as their recommended/favourite/influential writers. (There are some repeats.)

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Annie Dillard, Virginia Woolf, Toni Morrison, Mary Oliver, Jamaica Kincaid, Rebecca Solnit, Terry Tempest Williams, Alice Walker, Olga Broumas, Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Zora Neale Hurston, Eden Robinson, Louise Erdrich, Alice Munro, Alice Walker, Margaret Atwood, Lee Maracle, Toni Morrison, Stephanie Bolster, Mavis Gallant, Joyce Carol Oates, Ursula K. Le Guin, Joy Kogawa, Elyse Gasco, Charlotte Bronte, Lucy Maude Montgomery, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Sylvia Plath, Miriam Toews, Vendela Vida, Maya Angelou, Danzy Senna, Han Nolan, Nancy Gardner, Maira Kalman, Anchee Min, Louise Fitzhugh, Bett Williams, Laurie Colwin, Jane Bowles, Colette, Sappho, Marilyn Hacker, Heather O’Neill, Eliza Robertson, Marianne Boruch, Emily Dickinson, Gertrude Stein, Alice B Toklas, Adrienne Rich, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath, Tracy Smith, Ruth Ellen Kocher, Virginia Woolf, Louise Labe, Marguerite Yourcenar, Olga Broumas, Jeanette Winterson, Moniq Witting, June Jordan, Fleda Brown, Irene McPherson, Virginia C. Gable, Alice Walker, Lidia Yuknavitch, Kate Gray, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Joy Harjo, Zsuzsanna Budapest,Toni Morrison, Monica Drake, Leslie Marmon Silko, Alice Walker, L.M. Montgomery, Alice Munro, Dionne Brand, Joy Kogawa, Sharon Olds, Sylvia Plath, Toni Morrison, Elizabeth Hay, Adrienne Rich, Isabel Allende, Marge Piercy, Sappho, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Nina Bouraoui, Nicole Brossard, Kathy Acker, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich, Jeanette Winterson, Zoe Whittall, Marnie Woodrow, Marilyn Hacker, Lydia Kwa, Gertrude Stein, Olga Broumas, Monique Wittig, Marguerite Duras, Joy Kogawa, Jamaica Kinkaid, Lidia Yuknavitch, Maxine Hong Kingston, Beryl Markham, Jane Smiley, Alice Walker, Ntokake Shange, Margaret Atwood, Octavia Butler, Katherine Dunn, Cheryl Strayed, Lidia Yuknavitch, Toni Morrison, Mary Shelley, Emily Bronte, Jamacia Kinkaid, Amy Tan, Rebecca Skloot, Amanda Coplin, Miriam Towes, Rene Denfield, Louise Erdrich, Joyce Carol Oates, Mary Gordon, Annie Dillard, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ann Patchett, Sharon Olds, Arundhati Roy, Toni Morrison, Amber Dawn, Eden Robinson, Warsan Shire, Annie Proulx, Ntozake Shange, Mary Gaitskill, Shirley Jackson, Eudora Welty, Gish Jen, Ann Beattie, Flannery O’Connor, Shani Mootoo, Tillie Olsen, Miriam Toews, Lorrie Moore, Mavis Gallant, Alice Munro, Nathanaël, Sappho, Anna Kavan, Sylvia Plath, Myung Mi Kim, Bessie Head, Caroline Bergvall, Anne Carson, Lisa Robertson, Liz Howard, Soraya Peerbaye, Jean Rhys, Clarice Lispector, Nella Larsen, Brecken Hancock, Audre Lorde, Emily Brontë, Natalee Caple, Natalie Simpson, Larissa Lai, Gertrude Stein, Unica Zurn, Sarah Waters, Maureen Hynes, Andrea Routley, Jane Byers, Tina Biella, Wendy Donowa, Emma donaghue, Rita Wong, Ali Blythe, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Betsy Warland, Daphne Marlatt, Persimmon Blackbridge, Gabriella Golager, Dionne Brand, Chrystos, Lee Maracle, Robyn Stevenson, Monique Grey Smith, June Arnold

We’ve left out far more stellar writers than we’ve included. I love that there are a few I haven’t heard of/many I haven’t read. I also love that if I could read no one else but the above-mentioned for the rest of my life, I’d be in superbly talented/skilled hands.

Thanks to: Sami Grey, Susan Briscoe, RF Redux, Ann Ireland, Celeste Gurevich, Cate Gable, Lisa Richter, Ellen K. Antonelli, Rene Denfield, Nikki Sheppy, Arleen Paré

The Thoreau of the Suburbs

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Diana Saverin has written a gorgeous article for The Atlantic about Annie Dillard and ‘Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,’ a book that I count among my most cherished.  Sometimes I think that Dillard has been, unwittingly, slowly teaching me how to see, and how to write, for all these many years.

“In The Writing Life, Dillard describes what she sees as the goal of all literature, nonfiction as well as fiction: “Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts?”” -Diana Saverin

On Annie Dillard

from ‘Tinker Creek:’

“I was walking along Tinker Creek and thinking of nothing at all and I saw the tree with the lights in it. I saw the backyard cedar where the mourning doves roost charged and transfigured, each cell buzzing with flame. I stood on the grass with the lights in it, grass that was wholly fire, utterly focused and utterly dreamed. It was less like seeing than like being for the first time seen, knocked breathless by a powerful glance.” -Anne Dillard

A Night of Art and Anti-Art

A woman with a perpetual smile said, “What is your name?”

“Tiara,” said a second woman. She had red hair and a large jaw.

“So you’re a princess?”

“Yes,” said the second woman. “I wear myself out.”

Later, under the Cambie Street bridge at Spyglass Place, there was an old piano sitting on the seawall with blue and orange polka-dots, and a piano bench, and a man with a flat cap and three friends was playing, “I Can’t Make You Love Me” by Bonnie Raitt. ‘The Keys to the Street’ was a project between the city and post-secondary institutions; there were more polka-dotted pianos elsewhere in Vancouver, and the public was welcome to play them. There was no moon. It was dark with broody grey clouds sweeping over a sky lit almost blue, and a breeze was coming off the water, cooling things down. There weren’t stars, but sometimes a plane flew noisily overhead.  It was 1:30 in the morning. The view from the seawall was sweeping downtown, the highrises speckled with lights, the casino bathed in pink, the Monk’s sign reflecting red on the furrowed water of False Creek, but the four people around the piano, just here, under the murky glow of the streetlamp and the heavy cement buttresses of the bridge, and the small rainbow ferry-slip, and their laughter, and the tunes the one man was playing, was somehow enough. I wanted to take Liz’s hand; I wanted to stop time right there.

I had been walking with Liz with my mother’s red blanket over my arm, and though it had been washed many times, I liked to remember when it smelled of a blend of my mother’s perfume and her cigarettes. Liz smelled of cigarettes, so when I was with her and my mother’s red blanket, it was simple to think about my mother sleeping under that blanket, how she had shape, then, and substance, before she died, how she had shoulders and breasts and elbows and a tummy and knees. She had bunions. I thought about how much fun I had with my mother when I was little, how great she was to play with, and how she let us put clown makeup on her, and how she loved to limbo to Harry Belafonte, and then about swimming every afternoon in my grandparents’ swimming pool and how she would only haul us out when our lips turned blue and chattered together. I thought about my mother’s love for animals. I thought about how she let me sleep with pet raccoons, three of them, in my bed, and how I had a lot of snakes and preying mantises in jars. I’d punch holes in blue Miracle Whip lids, and put in twigs and bits of grass. Once I watched the mantises have sex, and while his green penis was up inside her, she ate his head off, and then she ate the rest of him.  There are theories about this sexual cannabalism: The adaptive foraging,aggressive spilloverand mistaken identity hypotheses, but who knows? I certainly took notice as I shook the mantis back out to freedom come morning (the household rule).  I had mice in a shoebox. I had a robin’s egg incubating under a hot light. I had a pet owl, Spooky, and a pet hawk, Hawkeye.  We had a cat Mom named Pardon Me.

As we walked towards the piano, I draped myself in my mother’s blanket, and I walked on the lip of the seawall, and I pretended it was very thin, two inches across, something to balance on, and I told Liz about how we kids would do that across the top rails of our paddock, and how one set of rails was removable, set loosely into brackets so farm vehicles could pass, and how it was hard, almost impossibly wobbly, to get across, and then I acted it out, swaying, almost falling, my mother’s red blanket a cape whipping in the night wind.

My heart was very arrhythmic. I wanted to press myself against another human to settle it. I thought about Jules in California and how for a while after I spent time with her, my heartbeat was nearly normal.

Liz and I had been lying beside the pond where I often, at dusk, saw blue herons fishing, Charleson Park.  The clouds looked like scumbling. I liked the sound of Liz’s voice. I let it spill over me in washes, like a glaze I’d put on a painting. It was low and made me think of Scotch, and sometimes she laughed and sounded exactly like an ex-lover, a smoky jazz-club rumbly laugh. I touched the grass; I ran my hands over it as if it was someone’s green brush cut. I told Liz that scientists were discovering that the smell of cut grass was actually the smell of trauma; my friend Sonnet L’Abbé, a good poet and teacher, was exploring plant communication. I was feeling the grass and remembering how I used to see as a child, intently, each blade, how when I looked closely enough I’d see each blade creased in its middle like a tiny folded book. I was thinking about lilacs, and rhubarb, those fat red/green stalks, the sap that leaked from them, and climbing, and jumping out of our hayloft, that airborne feeling where I wiggled my toes and felt it in my stomach. I turned on my right side to see Liz’s profile and I saw the city lights through  sweeping curtains of willows, and I thought about Annie Dillard’s tree with the lights in it, and really how excellent Annie Dillard’s writing is, especially that book, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, which might be the book I’d take to a desert island, really, if I had to choose just one. I wished I had the skills as a painter to capture what it looked like right then, that willow, as Annie had the skills to capture it with writing, and I felt the sting of my limitations.

I listened to Liz talk about the Tar Sands, and how the 14 kilometre Healing Walk she’d undertaken the previous days had made her cry about how much we had destroyed. Environmentalists weren’t sure there was the possibility of reclamation, and the current plans for Syncrude were to triple, not miniaturize. Liz and her compadres walked past Syncrude’s open pit mines, and Liz said it reminded her most like a desert. “A desert with sluey ponds.” She said it stunk of sulphur. At the tailings ponds, there were huge sculptural scarecrows meant to warn away actual birds, mechanical hawks that flashed and rotated.  While she was talking, I looked out at the pond in front of us, upon which a little catchment of light was shimmering. I couldn’t see much of it, or hear birds, but I believed it to be healthy and replete with ducks and red-winged blackbirds in the reeds, bugs and water snakes on the water, and herons at dusk fishing frogs.

I turned over onto my back and I watched Liz smoke, her toque, the shape of her nose and lips which I had already wanted to paint, the red ember of the cigarette. Because I am a nasty ex-smoker, I told her she was doing in micro to her lungs what corporations were doing to Alberta. I didn’t tell her I would have given the world to have never wrecked my heart with cigarettes, but it probably went without saying that I worried for her future since once you’ve done the damage, it’s too late.

I could smell flowers, milky with lust. Above us, the leaves were rustling in the breeze, and they made a sound that filled me with delight and childhood. I tried to imagine what it was like for Van Gogh with his paintbox out in the fields at night, how what he saw in the skies translated to what he drew on his canvases. I wondered what he would paint if he were standing beside us now with his butchered ear, and whether his ear would have been butchered if he could only have come out, the way we can now, as whatever he would have come out as, bisexual or gay, either.

I felt but didn’t say that life was pulling me up by my heartstraps and telling me to listen, to put my bare feet against earth, to note the lumps of the tree roots under me, to listen to the wind, to take the indigo perfumes deep into my lungs, all the flowers’ mad sexual hurried displays.

Liz talked about my short story, “Hunger,” and how it had moved her when she read it in Edmonton, or maybe at the Tar Sands, camping, I don’t know, somewhere, and I told her about its etiology and about character-driven stories and how they were my favourites to write, and I thought about, but didn’t say, how much I miss writing stories, how all the stillborn stories ache inside me, discrete painful throbs like stubbed toes. She said “Hunger” had made her think a lot about power and how power plays out between couples, between mothers and children, and I said that it had made me think about that, too, but also I wondered if the girl in the story ever called her mom to let her know she was okay, and how I also wondered if she got enrolled in school. Maybe it was stupid to wonder how things turned out for a person I made up. I thought about love, then, and characters struggling to stay in love, and how hard that was in real life and in fictional life, too, and because the night was growing colder and Mom’s blanket was wrapped around me, and all the love in my life was sweet but also broken, I thought about Cole Porter’s songs, and Jules singing them along the southern coast of California, with her pure toned voice I could listen to for hours, and about the Percy Adlon video of kd lang singing “So In Love,” which I hoped someone would play at my funeral, and that women in attendance, or not in attendance, those I had slept with, would know that that was how I had tried to love them (excluding the “So taunt me, and hurt me/ Deceive me, desert me” part), full-throatedly, completely.  It is a video about a partner dying of AIDS, but it is universal in speaking to loss, and I would want the women to know that it hurt me to lose them; it hurt me to lose them in just that kd lang way.

And then it was too cold to stay, Liz was chilled and I was starting to shake, and we walked and wobbled our way to the surprising delectation of the polka-dotted piano, and I looked at Liz with true joy, and I met her eyes and we stopped there, for a second, just looking at each other, realizing that sometimes despite the Tar Sands, despite the cruelty that can go on between humans, and by humans towards everything else, a moment can leap towards you perfectly pear-shaped and soft in all the right places, and muscled in all the right places, like a beloved woman’s body, perfectly exquisite, perfectly perfect, out of the indigo night, and we looked until we were done registering this, and then we walked to my car.

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