when private people go public

many of you are aware that i walked away from a 30-year career in journalism last summer in order to concentrate full-time on my own writing and painting. the latest step in this ongoing creative process is the construction — finally — of lauriemacfayden.com — a website devoted to my visual art.

it’s been a weird evolution for me. ask anyone in my family and they’ll tell you i was a painfully shy girl growing up. shy, and intensely private. i used to hide in my room when company — even relatives — came to our door because i didn’t want to have to talk to anybody. school assignments that involved public speaking almost paralyzed me. piano recitals (ugh) would have me sweating buckets weeks in advance.

it took the better part of three decades, but somewhere along the line i seem to have gotten over most of that. i now feel totally comfortable reading at open-mic stages and poetry festivals, and have almost gotten used to seeing my paintings on view in public spaces (although, oddly, hanging my art up on display, in relative anonymity, has proven to be much more gut-wrenchingly stressful than reading to a room full of strangers potentially armed with insults, tomatoes or, worse, indifference).

nashcan-blog1almost a year ago i started this blog, a step i felt would help me become more comfortable with the idea of exposing my writing and arty bits to a wider audience. the catch-22 there is that the wider audience (which all artists/writers desire, right?) leaves the artist more vulnerable. by inviting more people to pay attention to your work, you are opening the door to more criticism of your work. you may believe you can handle it, only to discover that criticism can be unwelcome, unpleasant, unfair, scary, destructive, demoralizing, and all of the above. obviously the more public you go, the thicker your skin needs to be. that’s a given; otherwise your tender artist’s psyche may collapse under the strain … forcing you to retreat back to the comfort of anonymity (not to mention poverty. thank you, stephen harper.)

i wasn’t sure whether i would stay with the blog after the honeymoon euphoria of the first few posts wore off. but i started getting a few regular readers, a few comments … and now i have had more than 5300 views on this little spatherdab entity. i realize that’s not a lot — there are celebrity bloggers out there who get thousands of hits per day. but for me, a little goes a long way. it is very satisfying to receive a comment from someone i don’t know and will probably never meet, from, say, texas or glasgow, telling me they love a poem they found on my blog, or that they really like a certain painting i’ve shown online. but it can also be disconcerting to get e-responses from people claiming to be fans of poetry who have clearly missed the point and really just want to argue with you; or overly enthusiastic strangers wanting to get a little too chummy; or unsavory entrepreneurs whose ulterior motive is to link your page to their international house of spam.

vulnerability factor aside, i think i’m going to enjoy having my very own dotcom page (thank you very much to the fine folks at MG creative).
do check it out if you have time. feedback is always welcome.
as long as you aren’t trying to sell me auto insurance.

red, white and blue all over

i’m back in e-town after a week in nashville.
i love to travel, so generally any road trip is a good trip … but i’m still trying to sort out my conflicting gut impressions of music city.

some of the high notes:

  • getting to hear john irving (the world according to garp, hotel new hampshire, cider house rules, a prayer for owen meany, etc.) deliver a free lecture to an almost-packed house at the ryman auditorium. irving spoke at length about the state of publishing in america, and the importance of libraries (“there you can still find the classics; most of the books in a bookstore today are crap”).
    he talked about censorship and book-banning in the u.s.a. (“americans love to ban things. there’s no law that says you have to read a book before you can ban it.”) and how that spills over into issues like same-sex marriage and abortion rights: “the instinct to suppress is always there. suppression is very american: if you don’t like something, don’t let ANYONE have it. my own attitude is, if you don’t like abortion, don’t have one. and why should it matter to straight couples if gay couples get married? how insecure can they be? all over the world, i am asked: ‘what is the problem you americans have with gays, with abortion, with sex, with drinking?’ ah, yes, drinking. remember how well prohibition worked.”
    his advice to young aspiring writers: “read every book you can get your hands on, see every play that you can. if you’re fortunate enough to become a (successful) writer, there’ll come a time when you’ll want to write more than you read. and then you won’t read anymore. the time to read everything … is when you’re young. being a widely-read person is the only defence there is from crap, from the junk. you’ve just gotta read as much as you can. read, read, read.”
  • the frist, the rymer gallery, cheekwood museum: there’s a whole lot more to tennessee than country music, jack daniel’s, football and barbecue. there’s a thriving arts scene, for example. but it can be hard to find when the titans are 9-0, and the CMA awards are coming to you live from 5th and broadway, and elvis paraphernalia assaults you from every souvenir shop window.
  • the honky tonks: thumbs up to the concept of rotating bands at live music venues all through the day and long into the night. no cover? even better. nothing but budweiser and pabst on tap? pity.
  • the country music hall of fame/museum: awesome! as you’ve probably guessed, i’m not a huge country fan but it was hard not to be dazzled by this outstanding multi-layered attraction which includes an amazing array of musical instruments, rhinestone jackets, satin shirts, belts, and of course cowboy hats and boots. elvis’s gold piano and cadillac, webb pierce’s “silver dollar” car, and johnny cash’s black shirts are just a few of the gems preserved in Sing Me Back Home, the museum’s permanent exhibit which includes artifacts, photographs, original recordings, archival video, and interactive displays that glorify the history and sounds of country music. . . (did you know there was a song called “dern ya” recorded in feminist response to roger miller’s hit “dang me”?). there are walls and walls of gold & platinum records (anne murray’s on there at least twice), bill monroe’s gibson F5 (“the most famous mandolin in American music history”), and a gift shop that stocks thousands of CD titles, not to mention googoo clusters — a confection item involving chocolate, peanuts and marshmallow that’s apparently been an american tradition since 1912 and is manufactured right there in nashville.
  • the grand ole opry: yes, indeedy, i attended the opry at the ryman. saw vince gill and randy owen and mel tillis (pam’s dad) and diamond rio and marty stuart, and a parade of geezers from the glory days of the ’50s and’ 60s. i had fun … still, couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a single person of colour in the entire audience. (the ryman is located two blocks from a boulevard named in honour of rosa l. parks. if you’re missing the connecting thread … google rosa parks.)walkhank1

    … and some sour notes:

  • kevin costner and modern west. kevin, give it up. you are not a singer. you are barely an actor. put an end to this charade right now and let us remember you for bull durham and dances with wolves … not for your feeble attempts at becoming a country crooner.
  • the veterans day parade. in canada, regardless of how you feel about war, november 11 tends to be a day of solemn remembrance, of showing respect for victims of war; a day for honouring those who gave their lives in battle. it’s two minutes of silence at 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. for many it’s a day of sadness; of sombre reflection and gratitude.nashclown1
    in the states, if nashville is any indication, november 11 is a day to flex your military muscle by rolling your tanks and jeeps down main street while marching bands play peppy tunes, shriners in garish fake arab costumes (oh, the irony) ride around in ridiculous little miniature cars, and soldiers atop armored tanks spin their turrets at clowns mugging for cheap laughs. (excuse me, i seem to have forgotten… somebody please remind me again what’s funny about war?)
    perhaps most pathetic was the sight of white-haired veterans in their 80s and 90s crowded onto wagons and flatbeds pulled by tractors, smiling and waving feebly at people on the sidewalks. these were clearly soldiers from wars prior to vietnam and desert storm, before iraq and afghanistan. knowing how the current administration treats, er, ignores the broken veterans of its more recent military actions … well, let’s just say it was harder to stomach than the googoo clusters.

the joy of not working

i’m quickly coming up on the one-year anniversary of quitting my job in order to write and paint full-time.
as expected, the bank account is not being fed nearly as frequently, but the soul is thriving.

crow and skya few years ago, inspired
by ernie zelinski, the edmonton-based
author of the joy of not working, i composed a list of things i wanted to do — some realistic, some pure whimsy — if and when i had, er, made the time. here are some of the things from that list:

learn the banjo
write letters to the editor
sleep
meditate
read books / poems / magazines
listen to alternative / public radio
listen to my own music

drum
go to the movies
wander whyte avenue

dance / alone or take lessons
redecorate the house (streamline / simplify)
cull wardrobe
organize photo albums / negatives
write a song

have a garage sale
sing / alone or with others
star gaze / stare at the moon
study zen buddhism
start a writing group
throw a theme dinner party
ride the LRT from end to end
fight pollution
climb a tree
swing on a swing
keep a dream journal
try a new restaurant
recreate a favourite restaurant meal at home

attend live theatre / concerts
go on a retreat (writing / nature / spa)
enter writing contests
send out writing to publishing houses
write a book

make lists (!):

  • the soundtrack of my life
  • songs i want played at my funeral
  • the successes in my life

go birdwatching / hiking
paint
take pictures / make photo cards

swim / cycle
do nothing
have fun

i’m surprised that travel wasn’t on that list, because it’s one of my favourite things. and i’ve definitely done a lot of that since hanging up the cleats. but this particular list was created in 2003. fast-forward five years and … despite having much more time on my paint-spattered hands, many of the things on that quirky wish list remain undone.

i haven’t taken up the banjo — yet — but i have arranged to learn bass guitar from a former beatnik who happens to be the illegitimate son of monk montgomery’s barber.

i’ve written a few letters to the editor, but none of them has appeared in print.
(too scathing? too left wing? too cryptic? can’t handle the truth? cowards!)
i’ve meditated — but not more than twice. which hasn’t gotten me very far.
i’ve been to the movies and wandered whyte avenue.
those ones are easy.
culling the wardrobe, on the other hand, is a constant challenge — even though i can now stay in my pyjamas all day if i choose. three decades’ worth of photo albums & negs are still in disarray. i haven’t exactly written a song, but i wrote one in a dream, does that count? (sadly, all that i can remember is the title … all the more reason to start keeping a dream journal.)

i did have a garage sale … and would prefer to never have one again. they’re bad for the soul. and the feet. and i rode the LRT to both ends of the line one day … man, is e-town’s north-east end spectacularly brutal in its sprawling ugliness.

i’ve tried several new restaurants, and did manage to create a pretty good version of matahari’s mee goreng in my own kitchen. my improv veggie version just keeps getting better, actually, whereas matahari took theirs off the menu. um, maybe they heard how good mine is and surrendered?

achilles tendon problems have prevented me from playing any tennis in the past two years. but the feet are healing, slowly, slowly. (and who knew so much depends on the glorious & notoriously unsung big toe?)
i’ve retreated to the banff centre three times in the past four years, and visited a vancouver spa for massage and a tiny bit of pampering.
haven’t written a book — well, i guess i actually have, the manuscript just hasn’t been published yet. it’s sitting in a tight sweater somewhere on the corner of jasper and 105th, waiting to be discovered.

nola\'s famous muffelata sandwich, veggie versioni’ve watched lots of birds — particularly love to gawk at west-coast eagles and the herons that nest on the fringes of stanley park. i have wandered the beaches near tofino. i sipped the local cider near erdeven on the north-east coast of france, and roamed the gower in south wales. i washed down a veggie muffelata with an abita beer on a humid sunday in new orleans, after being wowed by the tragically hip
at the house of blues the night before.

in the past year of working without a net I’ve sold a few more paintings, and will have two pieces on display in visual arts alberta’s annual diversity exhibit in conjunction with the works art & design festival. (june 19 through july 19, 2008, site # 21, harcourt house, 3rd floor, 10215 – 112 street, edmonton; opening reception thursday, june 19,
6 to 10 p.m.)

i also took a sculpture workshop. i made it to the regional finals of the annual cbc poetry faceoff competition. i helped some very good friends celebrate milestone birthdays and they helped me with one of my own. i kicked up my heels at a wedding or two, and actually saw mingus tourette do the bird dance. (having posted that, i may now have to enter a witness protection program.) in the last few months i’ve thought a lot about mortality as i watched two friends bury their mothers, and witnessed another friend’s amazing journey back — literally — from the brink of death.

i’ve accommodated several sets of house guests, ranging in age from 16 to 70.
i read: novels, poetry, some non-fiction. and i discovered there actually is a book called “the complete idiot’s guide to nascar.” (insert your own redundancy joke here.)

i slept. in fact, i have gained a whole new appreciation for sleep. when i was five i hated having to sleep. it’s taken me decades to realize that sleep is quite a lovely thing, especially if you can master the art of doing it well, and for seven or more hours at a time. (such restorative power. such bliss.)

bonus round:
on sunday night, i got goosebumps hearing k.d. lang sing hallelujah live at the jubilee auditorium.
on monday night, i was privileged to hear gloria sawai read one of her wonderful short stories to an intimate gathering at the faculty club.

life is good. i’m having fun.

hallelujah?

hell, yeah.

when 2 poets collide

for M & K, whose collision is still sparking up the cosmos
sept. 8, 2007

when two poets collide
turbulent skies rejoice
stars sweeten up the cracked hallelujahs
cackling black crows kick up their heels.

when two poets collide
there is chiming up the violets
there is singing down the rain
there is trilling, drumming, chirping, thrumming
there is clanging of pot, slapping of feet,
prattling of ham
there is a clutch, a plethora,
an insignia of iambic pentameter
there are rips and fits and stits and pits and ritz!

there is word / there is beat
there is sonnet / there is heat
when two poets collide
leaping greenly ghazals pull red wagons
through fitful sleep

deep breathy verbs punctuate the blood
a cauldron of metaphor burbles next to the bed.

there is upper-case wool
there is lower-case lingerie
there is subtext in the soup pot
irony in the ink pot, wild ripping beauty in the coffee pot
pathetic fallacy in the chamber pot

there is grammatically incorrect kissing

a hint of patchouli tenderly tenderly
graces the ripe hot doggery of the haiku
when two poets collide

(w)rite by the river

wimmin’s words from the SAGA sessions at wynne’s
august 2006,
with gratitude

from this week i take

rivers, mountains, loaded guns, lampshades
and one dim bulb
frou-frou little foreigners and
wide-eyed jewish sisters
seeking shelter
hope and little green apples
joy harjo and joan baez
three matches
a wedding dress from a junk store
a cat named tessa
green & yellow john deeres
& the knowledge that you won’t hurt yourself
if you fall while wearing turquoise

from this week i take

jane kenyan, jane hirschfield, bell hooks
bare feet / green eyes
talcum powder cigarettes
skin / teeth / bone / eyes / skin / toes / lips / skin / hair
the crown of sagittarius
a trail of tears
madness and wholeness and
wet naps

italy / the aegean sea / connecticut
liverpool / california / carcajou
a coven of mothers
a squeak and full crunch
the scent of lemons
black cow nostrils
sweet cherries, yacht club beans
too much caffeine, not enough sleep
dreams and lies and riverdale air

from this week i take

lace and handmade buttons
unclaimed luggage
unacceptable women
sad nipples and purple bras
fringed leather belts
a portrait of a bird
the drone of unnamed bombs
glass shards
horses, i take some horses

from the words drifting out onto the veranda i take

short quick steps
happy little girls running shirtless
grandmothers, granddaughters, uncles, priests
gloria podesta. lyla doris macadam lee.
shasta avenue. lefthanded canyon. lickskillet road.
i take six elephants
and a red hat
cool wine, white, gently placed pearls
golden strands, cross-stitched

i take the dear ordinary
the memory extraordinary
and a magnificent
kissable
fish

this is how our love affair would go

(from a dog-eared SAGA notebook,
november 2000)

this is how our love affair would go

if you weren’t married, or straight, or celebate — and i don’t
even know if you’re married, or straight or celebate, but if i did know, and you weren’t any of those things, or on the rebound, or dying … this is how our love affair would go:

i’d stop by your desk at work with a casual question about the new project.
i’d linger a little longer than necessary, making deliberate eye contact,
smiling coyly after you answered my casual question, which was in fact not casual at all, but quite pre-meditated, not spontaneous in the slightest but calculated
and designed totally to give me an excuse to stop “casually” by your desk and speak.

and then our shift would be over and i would be outside, waiting on the curb
for the No. 9 bus, pacing and waiting for you to drive past and notice me shivering in the dark, and then you would stop and lean over to the passenger side of your little blue toyota and fumble with the window and offer me a lift. you would point with your head, as if you were tossing hair out of your eyes, and say, “i’m going to the south side, if you’d like a ride …” and i would say, “oh, no, that’s okay, the bus will be along soon, thanks, but … well … okay, then, if you’re SURE you don’t mind …”

and then i would climb awkwardly

into your front seat and fumble with the seatbelt (because I have
incredibly bad seatbelt karma), and you would already be pulling away from the curb by the time i got myself buckled in, and then you would ask, “so where do you live?” and i would say, “oh, just off whyte, sort of near bonnie doon,”
and you would say, “oh, that’s not far from my place, and there’s a great little cafe near there, and i don’t think i’m quite ready to unwind just yet, so is there any chance you might be interested in going for a coffee?” and i would say, “SURE!” and then i would secretly hope i didn’t sound too eager, and then i would secretly smile to myself because my plan had worked and i was now going for coffee with you, and it’s a good thing because the No. 9 bus isn’t even my bus … so if you hadn’t stopped
and offered me a ride i’d have been waiting an awful long time.

cafe starsand then we would be in the cafe and it would be small and dark, but very comfortable
in that cozy, funky, bohemian artist kind of way, and there would be soft jazz playing,
the good, warm, relaxing, sexy kind, not the manic, migraine-inducing, teeth-on-metal kind, and then we would each end up ordering peppermint tea instead of guatamalan dark roast, and you would ask me how i’m liking my new job, and i would tell you, “it’s great, and how long have you been working there?” and we would talk about all the crazy people in the marketing department for a while, and i would absently pick up the spoon from the table and play with it in my nervousness, turning it over and over in my fingers, and then you would laugh and say, “if you don’t quit with that spoon i’ll go crazy,” and then you would lightly touch my hand, the one with the spoon in it, and grin at me in that gentle, sensitive, all-knowing way you have, and you would look me directly in the eye long enough to let me know that the spoon was just an excuse for you to touch my hand, and we would both feel the fire as our skin touched, and we would realize at that same moment that we were hot for each other, and then we would try to pretend we weren’t, and one of us would comment on how late it was getting, and suggest that maybe we should be getting home, because because because …didn’t it look like they were getting ready to close?

and then we would be back

in your car and you would be pulling up in front of my house and then
you would be leaning over to help me get the door open because the handle is tricky on the passenger side … and then as you were leaning over me me to pretend to push
on the sticky door i would smell your soft fine hair
and it would smell a little of cinnamon with just a hint of coffee and sadness,
and i would forget that i barely know you and don’t even know if you are married
or seeing someone or doing a zen celibacy thing, or dying, and i would kiss the top
of your head as you were still pretending to try to get the door open, and then we would both grab the door handle and pull it shut … and then we would kiss, a long, hard, desperate trembling kiss, and then we would hold each other and tremble some more, and then we would look at each other as if to say, “i don’t know what came over me,” and then we would kiss again, and then i would gather up my backpack and lunge out the door, saying breathlessly “i’ve gotta go — thanks for the ride,” and then i would rush inside my house and feel all whooshed and frantic and blessed, and bells
would be clanging inside my head and butterflies would be doing gymnastics somewhere between my red and green chakras …

and then there would be a knock

on my door and i would open it, knowingly but tentatively,
and then you would be standing there holding a scarf and saying, “i think you left this in my car,” and i would say, “oh yes, thank you so much, my grandmother knitted that for me,” even though we both knew it wasn’t my scarf at all, it was your scarf, and it was just an excuse for you to see my face again, and then i would say timidly, timidly, “i know it’s, um, really late, um, but … would you, uh, like to come in for just a moment?” and then you would say, “uh, well, no, i really shouldn’t,” and you would be already gliding through my door like you’d done it a thousand times before
and taking off your coat and dropping it on the floor and stepping towards me …

and i would look into your eyes and i would be all flushed
and i would put my bashful hand on your cool, tender cheek and know that i would never again be able to stop by your desk at work without thinking
of this moment
and blushing
like hell.

the writers go for breakfast

breakfast cafeSkim milk latte?

We don’t do that

OK, eggs florentine then. That’s with spinach, right?

Um usually yeah but we’re out of spinach

OK, without the spinach then. Are soy lattes any good?

No

Another latte, then, but this time without caffeine, please

Hmmmm …

Oh, do you not do decaf?

Well, yeah, we “do” (makes air quotes with fingers) it,
but I just don’t know if we “have” any

No spinach, no decaf … how about herbal tea?

I don’t know if we “have” that either. I can check.

No thank you. Never mind. Just water, please.
So anyway, as I was saying, personal transformation is not always a poem.
One man’s therapy is not necessarily another man’s sonnet.

I agree totally, but some people seem to think they have to incorporate
every fucking little breakthrough they have with their shrink
into a piece of performance art. I have gossip.

Dish!

J is sleeping with K.

I already knew that.

Yes, but did you know that K use to be with Q?

No! But i knew that T and S just had a three-some with D.

D? When did D get back?

From where? I didn’t even know that D was away.

Oh, yeah, you know, that annual Spa and Stanza retreat at Papyrus Hills. Somehow she always manages to lose 20 pounds of cellulite and gain 30 pages of manuscript.

I hate that about her.

Yeah, it’s incredibly annoying to those of us with perpetual writers’ block.
How are the bennies?

Good, but they would be better with spinach.

Yeah. How’s the latte?

Fine but I think I should’ve gotten the skim.

But they don’t “do” skim, remember. Like, they have some kind of conscientious objection to a skim milk latte. They’re “anti-skim.”

You’d think that if they object to skim they’d have a similar moral objection to decaf.

Well, yeah, of course. I mean, of the two, which is the most obscene?

They’re both an abomination, if you ask me. What’s the point of the special coffee if you’re going to remove the caffeine and de-fat the milk? Why bother?

I agree totally. And eggs florentine without spinach — well that’s just bad breakfast karma.

It’s kind of cold here, you know. By the door.

Yeah, but this is a great bagel. What is this fruit that they’ve used as a garnish?

Damned if I know … some kind of a pumpkin-lemon cross? Weird.
Maybe a cumquat sort of thingy…

More coffee, ladies?

Um, no thanks. Just the bill.

so much depends

kasbar-layne2.jpgso much depends

read at the kasbar, dec. 6, 2006

(a love poem to all my poet friends — and a thank-you to some very talented people — in particular william carlos williams — because so much of what we do depends upon what came before.)

so much depends upon
the women who come and go
the cloud that floats on high
all the sad captains
a good kitchen knife

so much depends upon
the lovely, dark and deep
brandy and summer gloves
the time of the cherries
a brillig tum-tum lunar eclipse

so much depends upon
wild geese
the west wind
fishing in the morning
promises to keep

so much depends upon
a red, red rose
your sweet old et cetera
the vorpal sword
j.d.’s big bright light

o frabjous day, so much depends upon
the leaping greenly spirits of trees
two roads diverging
tea and oranges that come all the way from china
amy’s 10,000 drums of hope.

so much depends upon
the shell shaped like a heart
the raving keenly wordsmiths
gravel’s great thumping city in civil twilight
… on the blessed, blessed words.

halleluia

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