Jane Eaton Hamilton

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

Tag: Jen Pastiloff

The Hail of Fire, Maple Tree: On Friendship

image: Jane Eaton Hamilton, The hail of fire: maple tree, 2018

This was woodpeckers! Probably trying to eat the gloomy scale!

So, this thing. I was at a holiday party for a bunch of Vancouver publishers recently, and told a new writer that I had really enjoyed her book. The blood drained from her face. I am clumsy sometimes, and very shy. I thought I’d hurt her somehow until she said that not one other writer had ever mentioned her book, published, I think, a year earlier. That broke my heart. My god, Canadians, for all we say we’re friendly and welcoming, we are a shallow and parsimonious bunch.

Please, let’s support each other. Let’s be fulsome and giving in our praise.

How is it possible that this really good writer with her first really good book with good reviews had never heard from a single one of us? I’m sure many many of us read her. What is wrong with us? If that was you, it would break your fucking heart, wouldn’t it? If that was you, you’d be crushed. You might even be suicidal. Is that actually the point, that we crush each other?

I increasingly believe as I get older that the act of creating a book is akin to a secular miracle. Even when the seams show in yours (and they will), I will still consider it a remarkable achievement. It is. I mean, how do we do it, continue to do it, against the forces arrayed and pressing for our failure? I’m not talking to cis white men, here, where everything lines up to favour them (altho of course I understand there can still be considerable obstacles), because I choose not to read cis white men, for the most part, wanting to put my energy into writers I find more intriguing, but to the marginalized: POC, WOC esp, the disabled, the queer, the trans, the penurious, the traumatized. We all make breakfast. We look after kids. We go to work. We vacuum. We change beds. We deal with email and social media feeds. We pay or wish we could pay bills. We fret. We love. We worry. We grieve for our lost loved ones. We deal with addiction, or mental health issues, or cancer, or death. We take our kids and pets and selves to the doctor. Our bones ache. Our jaws ache. Our hips ache. That knee? It hurts. But still, we put words on the page. Sometimes, we hate the words we put on the page. Sometimes we love the words we put on the page. We put the words we put on the page into the world that really doesn’t care very much for 99% of us as people or authors. We speak and we say, Hey! We matter. I am here. Count me in.

What a brave and foolhardy occupation.

What older writers know is this: You will probably “fail” according to whatever your standard of that is. But failure is actually not that bad, and, in its way, is even liberating. Remember when you wrote your first book without any pressure? It’s like that again. That sophomore book production thing really sucks eggs. When you’re older, and you are already a proven mediocrity, you’re free … and you rise to surpass your own expectations.

Older writers really understand that we’re all in this together.

Sometimes young or new writers think that CanLit is a fierce competition, that they have to knock someone down a peg or two, or off their pedestal, to make room for their own work. Believe me, we published writers with multiple books don’t really need you to tell us our literary flaws; we’ve had decades to flaunt them. Guess what? You have just as many. They may be different ones, but you have them. Listen up. I’m telling you what I’ve learned, kids: I am not a perfect writer. You are not a perfect writer. But even so, there is a big enough pie if we support each other. We can remake Canlit in our image/s so that this will always be true.

And until it is, we can at least promise each other to do what’s free: and that is to offer up a compliment or three here and there, or some stars on Goodreads or Amazon. You know how long that takes? Stars with no review? Like, once you’re logged in, maybe three seconds? Or to say, “I really admired this book?” Fifteen seconds.

Here’s what I ask: Lift a writer today. I don’t care who you choose. You choose the writer you want to lift. But make it somebody who isn’t already being lifted by the system, okay? Lift Indigenous writers in 2018, or trans writers, or disabled writers. Lift only womxn authors. You choose. The fine writer Marnie Woodrow and I talked about this once for queer writers, and it never really got off the ground because of busy-ness. But maybe it still can. Maybe we could do it on the first of every month, every time we pay our rent or mortgage. Make kindness to other writers a habit.

To quote Jen Pastiloff, “don’t be an asshole” to other writers. Don’t be a literary asshole, all right?

I tell you sincerely: I love your book for being its perfectly imperfect self. I love the wild life and the heartbeat and the longing you poured into it. I wish with all my heart that it could bring you the relief  you want and crave and need … the admiration of your peers, money to pay your rent and put food on the table, the way clear to another book, prizes and awards. I wish this for you, because this is what you deserve after your efforts. I’m sorry when it doesn’t happen, when your career seems to coast even though you’ve worked like a dog.

But even if it didn’t go that well when you published, or you were a one-book wonder and Canlit’s attention wandered after that first book, we still need your talent and your skill and your vitality and your yearning and your vulnerability and your trauma and your stories and your fierce fucking fighting power.

At the same time, I wish we would stop with the cult of awards. We’ve gotten narrow and lazy, only responding to the same five or ten books in a season when there are delights galore if we look a little more widely. And a season is only a breath. Those good books are still there the next season when publishing churns out more.

 

 

Dala

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“Dala seem bound for a loftier place where substance stands equal to style.”
– The Irish Times

Juno nominees and winners of the 2010 Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year, Amanda Walther and Sheila Carabine of Dala write and sing in harmony best described as angelic. These two best friends met in their high school music class in 2002; they have since released five albums and toured extensively across North America. Darlings of the Canadian music scene, Dala are now poised to bring their fresh brand of acoustic pop music to the world.

Drawing upon influences like The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young and Bob Dylan, Dala write songs that are both catchy and insightful. Amanda’s ethereal soprano voice blends seamlessly with Sheila’s velvety alto, creating the lush harmonies that have become their trademark.

Best Day

This Place a Stranger: Canadian Women Traveling Alone

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Get your copy soon at the book launch, May 9th, 7 pm, Artspeak.  (I won’t be reading since I’m out of town, but my included essay is “Things That Didn’t Happen,” which was first published at the Manifest Station by Jen Pastiloff.)

From the Caitlin site:

“Sometimes tragic, sometimes uproariously funny, This Place a Stranger is a diverse collection of Canadian women writing about their experiences of travelling alone. From the deceptiveness of the everyday to the extremes of geography, weather and violence, these stories go beyond the usual tales of intrepid male explorers and reveal the varied and unique circumstances in which women travellers find themselves when “going solo.”

When an Afghan soldier asks one Indo-Canadian woman, “Where are you really from,” her false sense of belonging comes sharply into focus. After thirty-seven years of marriage, another woman prepares for her return trip to Africa: vaccination boosters, nausea pills and lots and lots of condoms. A seventeen-hour journey by car through the Great Lakes region of Ontario leads another to dreamlike reflections on the travels of her Anishinaabe grandmothers and the ever-present “fear, worry” she experiences today. In another story, a woman poignantly searches for what many seek on solo journeys—inspiration, renewal, discovery—by returning to Paris only a few years after the painful dissolution of her marriage. But the grey February, a body in pain and the funeral of Mavis Gallant offer a different insight.

With new work from twenty-three emerging and award-winning authors including Yvonne Blomer, Jane Eaton Hamilton, Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy, Catherine Owen, Karen J Lee and more, these stories explore the unexpected blessings and soul-searching that aloneness offers: clarity, liberation, danger, misery, adventure, devastation and joy.”

Jen Pastiloff and the hunt for beauty

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l-r: Jen Pastiloff, Jane Eaton Hamilton

There’s something I can’t get off my mind; it’s been nagging.

A couple months ago, Jen Pastiloff came to town.  She’s the wunderkind behind the online home for great essays, Manifest Station, and a yoga/writing workshop phenom.  I first came to know Jen through her site when she published my essay about Paris, ‘Things That Didn’t Happen,’ which now appears in the Caitlin Press anthology This Place a Stranger, about women traveling solo.

All this is a long-winded introduction to the fact that Jen asked me to attend her yoga workshop here in Vancouver, BC, when she came to town earlier this year at Semperviva Yoga, and, reluctantly, I went.  (Jen knew getting me out of my house was like pulling teeth, but she kept at me.)  Despite a background in dance, I’ve never been a yoga enthusiast, and I’m also an atheist, and morbidly shy, and the whole spiritual thing makes me roll my eyes.  I slid down the wall at the back of the room, gamely played along to the limits of my creaky old body, and kept my eyes and ears open.

And, folks, a bunch of things happened.

She calls the workshop, after all, “On Being Human.”

But the transformative thing, the thing that hasn’t gone away, was this:

Women are hurting.

I’ve started this post several times and dependably backed away because I don’t know how to talk about this.

Folks, these were not my people.  I’m a wanna-be-butch dyke who has always wavered in my gender identity, and I’m old and my body is utterly broken, and the attendees were straight women mostly in their 30s who had maybe tried for:

Meet the guy of your dreams, have 1.6 children and a dog.  Live happily ever after.

And somehow nobody told them the whole freaking enterprise was broken, and that when an enterprise is that broken, it breaks its participants as surely as if they were just sticks.

Crack, crack, crack.

Nobody had told them this, or they were so busy with the job and the kids and the hubby, so overworked and mega-stressed, that they had no time to hear.  All they knew, really, before they landed at Jen’s workshop, was that they got a measure of peace from yoga, and otherwise, they were in trouble, and they were going down the tubes in a big fucking smear of shit.

They couldn’t save themselves.  Anytime they tried, they felt overwhelmed and under-capable and completely lost.  Anytime they tried, the drain just burped up more crap at them.

These were women living under seige.

Make no mistake:  life with a career and young kids (why aren’t they born with volume knobs?) and aging parents and a sputtering relationship and financial problems and medical problems and indecision and no respite bites the big one.

Quiet desperation, which I define as even one fleeting thought about hurting yourself or your kiddos, bites the really big one.  (As an aside, people may know that I decided to kill my children when they were 4 and 1, and wrote about it, and why I made that agonizing decision, and how I did not do it, but how I saved them from a molester instead, in my memoir ‘No More Hurt.’)

Women have always written about our dilemmas.  Remember Charlotte Perkins Gilman and her “The Yellow Wallpaper”?  Nothing here is new, but we’ve ramped it all up lately with the addition of technology and Super-Mothering.  When a woman is under that kind of stress, when it feels like every goddamned new thing that happens is peeling off layers of her skin, it feels new.  Bloody hell, does it feel new.  And it feels like it’s gonna hurt someone.

It feels like someone’s gonna die.

That’s where Jen Pastiloff and her Beauty Hunting come in.

The workshop participants were there to tell Jen that their fairytale broke.  They were there to tell Jen they were profoundly unhappy with their lives, and scared, and broken.

Now let me tell you what transformed me, and what I have not been able to forget or get over:

Women are hurting in huge numbers.  Women at the apexes of their lives are in grave trouble. 

It made me sad in a quintessential way and it has not stopped making me incredibly sad.  Every time I hear that Jen is giving another workshop, I flash back to that crowd of 60-odd women in Vancouver speaking about grief and fear and loss, and I imagine more women in trouble, room after room full of more women in trouble.

(A message here for women-in-trouble.  One or two things I know for sure, to plagiarize Dorothy Allison:  It gets better.  If you hurt like this now, it does not mean you will always hurt like this.  It gets a whole lot better.)

Here’s the thing about Jen Pastiloff, folks.  Here’s the revolutionary thing.

She listens.

She listens with an intent focus, a focus that follows your words inside you.  Because she has hearing problems, she watches your lips as you speak, and she plucks the ash of your words from the air and takes it inside herself and lays it beside her heart, where before too long your words start beating as if they were strong, capable, living mammals.  And then she gives them back to you.

Boiled down, this is the secret to Jen’s popularity.  She can call what she does Beauty Hunting–she is for sure out there helping people find beauty.  She can start a campaign called “Don’t be an asshole” and remind us all to stop a second and please, please, please be our better selves.  She can use words like attention, space, time, connection, intimacy.  She can ask participants to answer questions like What gets in your way? What stories are you carrying around in your body? What makes you come alive? Who would you be if nobody told you who you were?  All of that is what it is.  But why it works is because of her kind of listening.

And what her kind of listening does is simple:

It saves lives.

 

 

“I come from a family of suicides,” says Rene Denfield

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sketch: Jane Eaton Hamilton, 2006

I’ll be interviewing René Denfield, author of “The Enchanted,” her knock-out novel about death-row redemption, soon for this blog, but in the meantime, here is her poignant essay, “The Other Side of Loss,” from my friend Jen Pastiloff’s site, Beauty Hunting.

 

Kelly Sundberg has a way with words

One the the best things about my 2014 was a group on FB for women writers called Binders, and, in particular, its offshoot group of essayists.  There, I’ve discovered the extraordinary talents of Karrie Higgins, Sonya Huber, Jen Pastiloff and Amy Gigi Alexander, among others.  Colour me grateful.

But this is really a blog post about my discovery of Kelly Sundberg, a writer whose wisdom has the deep purple of new bruise, but also enriches, educates, heals.  She’s literary, sophisticated, and smart as tacks.  Plus, you can warm your hands on her style.

Here she is at her finest:

It Will Look Like a Sunset

And here she is today, on her blog, answering a woman who wrote to her about battering:

On Telling Our Stories

“In divorces, the common mantra is It takes two. This is generally true, but I see people saying the same thing about abuse, and no, it does not take two. Abuse takes only one. And because of that, there are sides in abusive situations, and anyone who truly supports the victim will be willing to take a side, will be willing to eliminate contact with the abusive person, and anyone who thinks that it is “immature” or “petty” of me to say that does not understand abusers. Anyone who thinks that it is okay to remain in contact with an abuser does not understand that the abuser takes silence as permission, that their silence empowers the abuser, and that the person who remains in contact with the abuser (assuming they have not taken a stand directly to the abuser, and let’s face it, if they have taken that stand, then the abuser would have dropped them already) becomes complicit in the abuse. I wholly believe this. It is a controversial view. Our culture thrives on neutrality, glorifies neutrality…”

 

 

Felicitous Life and Karrie Higgins

JEHblackpaper7sketch by Jane Eaton Hamilton 2014

There’s a group on FB called Binders.  If I hadn’t joined Binders, I wouldn’t have had my essay Things That Didn’t Happen come out on Manifest Station.  If it hadn’t come out there, I wouldn’t have seen that Karrie Higgins’ brilliant essay Strange Flowers had come out there, too.  You should read it.  You shouldn’t go another day in your life without reading it or knowing that Karrie Higgins is writing some of the best prose seen today.

My Paris essay is up

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Here at Jennifer Pastiloff’s blog, the Manifest Station, is my essay on traveling alone to Paris.

The Manifest Station

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