Monthly Archives: May 2019

A Carpet Conversation About the Universe

raqs media collective The Necessity of InfinityDid you know you are looking at a conversation?  This beautiful wool carpet is woven through with metalized thread.  It is called The Necessity of Infinity and was created by the Raqs Media Collective consisting of artists Monica Narula, Jeebesh Bagchi, and Shuddhabrata Sengupta.  Their carpet serves as a stage for a conversation between two great Persian scholars who lived in the 10th century.avicenna-2 The silver threads in the carpet represent the words of Ibn Sina the author of more than 450 books most of them about medicine and healing. He is often called the Father of Modern Medicine.  Iba Sina was also very interested in, and knowledgeable about, mathematics, astronomy, and philosophy. 

The golden threads in the carpet represent the words of Al Beruni. He studied mathematics, astronomy, geography, religion, and history. Among other things, he researched how the earth spins on its axis and figured out the lines of longitude and latitude for more than a thousand cities. He also wrote a pharmacy book in which he described every single known medicine of his time. 

The two men carried on a vibrant correspondence with one another over a period of some two years discussing their different understandings of what Aristotle had to say about the universe. They argued about whether all the planets had gravity and rotated. Al Beruni who lived in present-day Turkmenistan believed that human beings were all alone in the universe but Ibn Sina who lived some 250 miles away in present-day Uzbekistan argued that there could be many worlds other than our own. There is no evidence the two men ever met in person but The Raqs Media Collective imagined they did.  

neccesity of infinity by raqs collectiveWhen The Necessity of Infinity was on display at the Sharjah Museum in the United Arab Emirates two actors dressed as Beruni and Sina actually carried on a conversation about the universe on the carpet.

The Necessity of Infinity is part of the Vision Exchange exhibit currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

Other posts………

Hyphenated Lives

Sports Equipment and Salt

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, India, winnipeg art gallery

Why All These Old White Men?

Women make up slightly more than 50% of Canada’s population. 30% of Canada’s population is not white. The median age of people in our country is 40. Now check out the faces of the premiers of Canada’s ten provinces.  In order to be representative of the people they serve, at least half of those faces should be female, four of them should be from diverse racial groups and a goodly number should be under 40.  What does it say about us as a nation that the people we elect to represent us are all old white men?

I’d like to know what motivates people to vote for leaders who are all the same and don’t represent the rich and diverse human landscape of our country. Why don’t more women, young people and people from minority groups run for office?  Why does a poorly-qualified man like Doug Ford win a party leadership race against two extremely capable, experienced and qualified women?   Is it because old white men still control the money in our country and although we live in a democracy it is those with money who have the most power? Is it because people have just given up on the political system or has politics become so demanding and demeaning that few people besides old white men have a desire to enter that world?

Why do you think ten old white men lead the provinces in our country?  Do you find that troubling?  I do! What can we do to change that? 

Other posts………

Women in Politics

Knock Down the House

The Matilda Effect


Leave a comment

Filed under Politics

Timing and Luck

Timing and Luck!  Those are two key elements in getting a children’s book published today according to editor Shelley Tanaka.  

Shelley knows what she’s talking about because timing and luck are how she got into the book editing business. After completing her Masters in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto she applied to fifty publishers for a job and was given only one offer- to work as a secretary at Clarke Irwin an educational publisher. She had to fill in when the editor in chief position was left empty and so she learned the business and became a children’s book editor in her own right.

In her thirty-six years as an editor at Groundwood Books, she has worked with some of Canada’s finest children’s writers. Shelley is also an award-winning author of more than twenty books and teaches in the masters writing program for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I heard Shelley interviewed by children’s writer Alice Kuipers at the CANSCAIP Saskatchewan Horizons Conference in Saskatoon.  

Alice asked Shelley what she is looking for when she reads a new manuscript. “Something that isn’t like anything else,” Shelley said.  She is drawn to books that are wonderfully written, and are about something that matters, books that ask important questions. Shelley has a soft spot for manuscripts that are quirky and humorous with hints of irony.

She gave examples of two books she has recently edited whose authors were in attendance at the Saskatoon conference. Rolli is the author of Kabungo.  Shelley described his book about the relationship between a modern city girl and her cave dwelling best friend as hilarious and weird. Another book Shelley talked about was  Swan Dive by Brenda Hasiuk, the story of a young refugee from Bosnia who is living in Winnipeg.  He tells a reckless lie and has to face the consequences. 

Shelley encouraged those of us who are trying to get our work published to read the kind of works we aspire to write ourselves. She talked about the value of critique groups where writers support one another. Shelley also recommended two lectures by Louise Hawes to us. One was on overwriting and the other on how desire drives the plot of our stories.  

Other suggestions from Shelley for writers included………..

  • becoming your own editor and learning the mechanics of writing. 
  • becoming an enthusiastic advocate for your own work. 
  • putting your soul into your writing.  
  • considering who your audience is. Who is on the receiving end of your book?  Who is your reader? 
  • writing across the genres – picture books, middle-grade fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, teen fiction, young adult fiction, early reader stories.  

Alice engaged Shelley in a fascinating discussion about psychic distance and the current generation of writers who are capturing the stories of previous generations.  You can learn more about that by subscribing to the videos of the conference here. 

Although Shelley did say timing and luck were two of the key ingredients in getting your work accepted in the current competitive mainstream children’s book market, she also provided lots of other great ideas to help pursue the goal of becoming a published author. 

Other posts……….

Write Don’t Wine

Vision and Voice

Writing that Heal


1 Comment

Filed under Books, Writing

Sports Equipment and Salt

This half circle of salt that features marble sports equipment is part of an installation by artist Sarindar Dhaliwal in the Vision Exchange exhibit currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The cricket bat, field hockey stick, and badminton racket represent sports that were brought to India in their modern form by British colonizers although a game very similar to field hockey was played in the 17th century in the Punjab state of India called khido khundi.  Khido referred to the woolen ball and khundi to the stick.  

A team from India wins the Under 19 World Cricket Championships in 2018

India has become a formidable force in the world of cricket.  India’s elite took up the sport in order to build relationships with the British and its popularity spread to the general population.

India’s national women’s cricket team

This led the way for the creation of some superstar cricketers and India’s international success in the sport.

Why is the sports equipment lying on a bed of salt? In 1882 India was under British rule and the British passed a Salt Act which banned Indians from collecting or selling salt.  Salt had to be bought from the British and they added a heavy tax to each purchase.

Gandhi was joined by thousands on his Salt March.

In 1930 to protest the salt tax Indian leader Gandhi led a salt march.  Thousands of people walked down to the sea to collect salt from the salt flats there.

Gandhi bends down to pick up a lump of salt

Gandhi was arrested after he bent down to pick up a small lump of salt.  Gandhi’s actions led to peaceful protest demonstrations all over India. The British police force responded and in the end, some 60,000 protesters were arrested. Although India would not gain independence from the British until 1947 the salt march and the civil disobedience it inspired gave Gandhi a seat at the table in the discussions about India’s future.

Salt and sports equipment. Two symbols of India’s past as a colony of the British but also symbols of a future when India would control its own natural resources and make its own name in the sports world. 

Other posts……..

A Different Kind of Snow Angel

Hyphenated Lives

India Assaults the Senses

The Heros Walk

Leave a comment

Filed under Art, India, winnipeg art gallery

Writing As A Healing Art

Did you know that writing in a journal can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase your pain tolerance, help you sleep better, give you self-confidence and make you more empathetic? My second day at the CANSCAIP, Saskatchewan Horizons conference for children’s writers started with a journaling session led by Kristine Scarrow.

Photo of Kristine from her author website

Kristine is not only the author of four novels for teens published by Dundurn Press she is also a writer in residence at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon where she is part of a team that provides services in the healing arts to patients. She works alongside visual artists and music therapists. You can find out more about that program here. 

I learned a new term from Kristine’s presentation ‘narrative medicine’. It is an approach that uses people’s narratives or stories in clinical practice, research and education as a way to promote healing. Kristine told us a narrative medical approach can help doctors to understand their patient’s whole story and not just their symptoms. 

Kristine led us through several healing writing exercises.  One was called Captured Moment where we wrote a short journal entry about a happy, sad or challenging moment in our lives. Kristine encouraged us to use lots of sensory details.  

Another writing prompt was the Character Sketch, where we described ourselves or someone else. It could be someone we admired or liked but it could also be someone that was a difficult presence in our life.

Finally, we did a journal entry called Perspective.  We thought about something that we hoped would happen, or we knew would happen, in the future and wrote about it as if we were already in that future moment. Kristine told us she used this technique to give her perspective when a heart condition had her bedridden for months.  She imagined a future when her life would return to more normalcy and that helped put her situation into perspective. 

Although I have used writing as a tool to help me through some of the most difficult periods of my life, it was great to get Kristine’s ideas for some new healing ways to journal and to learn how the arts are becoming recognized tools for healing by the medical community. Kristine’s workshop provided a nice contemplative beginning to what was going to be a jam-packed day full of learning and networking at the conference. 

Other posts……….

Writing is the Way I Think and Remember

A Pool of Possibilities in Our Own Back Yard

Keeping a Record

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Health, Writing

Why Are Women Always the Example For Sin?

My 97-year-old aunt lives in a Mennonite personal care home in Saskatoon.   One morning I joined my aunt’s Bible Study group that included six other women all in their late 80s and 90s.

The leader was reading John 8:1-11 a story about a woman caught in adultery and the teachers of the law who thought she should be stoned.  The leader read………“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?”

Right at this point, one woman in the group interrupted in a loud voice.  “I say if they were going to stone the woman, they should have stoned the man too. “

The room where our bible study group met

The Bible Study leader was a little taken aback but stopped to thank the woman for her comment.  When she was finished reading the passage the leader asked for responses from the group.

The same woman who had made the earlier comment said, “Why do they always seem to use a woman as the example for a sinner in the Bible? The Bible starts off with the story of Eve as a sinner.”  The leader said it was because the Bible was written in a time when there were different attitudes towards women when women weren’t even considered people.  “Good thing that’s changed,” the woman replied. 

I wonder if the woman who spoke up so boldly had been thinking for a very long time about how the Bible portrays women and how the Mennonite church has treated them.  Now due to her age, and perhaps having lost some of her social filters she was able to share her real opinions, opinions she may have had all along but wouldn’t have dared voice aloud in the patriarchal Mennonite church in which she was raised. 

We often say the truth comes from the mouths of babes or children.  It can also come from the mouths of octogenarian women.

Christ and the Adultress by Lucas Cranach the Elder- 1535-1540

Other posts……….

A Poignant Book

Five Sisters

A Woman I Wish I Knew More About


1 Comment

Filed under Religion, Retirement

Vision and Voice

Arthur Slade, David Robertson, and Miriam Körner are some of the most successful children’s writers in Canada right now.  Between them, they have published a raft of books and have won all kinds of awards.  I listened to them last night as they shared their vision and voice in a discussion at a Saskatoon conference for children’s writers. Their exchange of ideas was led by Alice Kuipers a children’s writer who helped to organize the conference. 

Arthur and David listen as Miriam talks about her writing motivation

It was interesting to note what motivates each writer. Miriam is passionate about Canada’s north and loves sled dogs and sled dog racing.  In her books, she is trying to share that passion with others.  

Arthur told us his latest book Crimson was written especially for his daughter who he and his wife adopted from China in 2010. He wanted to create an authentic story for her.

David talked about trying to be an example for young indigenous writers. He wants them to feel that they too have powerful stories they can share. 

As you can see the discussion wasn’t all serious. Alice and her panelists were having a good time.

When Alice asked each writer to talk about how they present themselves to the world Miriam laughed and said she would rather not have to think about presenting herself to the public.  She wishes her books would speak for themselves and she could just spend all her time in her cabin in the bush in La Ronge Saskatchewan with her husband and sixteen sled dogs.  

Arthur talked about the persona he needs to maintain on social media and how it is hard to balance the work that involves, with his need to find space and time for writing.

David shared his thoughts about wanting to present himself as an indigenous writer. He hasn’t always embraced that role but realizes there are many things Canadians need to know about his culture.

Why does each author choose to write for young people rather than adults?

Miriam writes books for young teens because she thinks that is such a crucial time in their lives when everything begins to change for them and the world they had taken for granted suddenly looks so different. Many young people believe they can change the world and Miriam wants to capture those youthful voices in her writing.

Arthur told us he fell into writing for kids accidentally.  He was writing adult novels and someone evaluating one of his manuscripts told him it would be a great teen or young adult novel.

David says he writes for kids because he wants to have some input into shaping the children who will be our leaders of tomorrow.  He thinks about what he wants young people to carry with them so they can create a different reality for our country and the world. What will his books teach them?

The Vision and Voice panel was a great way to kick off the conference and really got attendees thinking about their own motivations, public persona and why they have chosen to write for young people.  

Other posts……….

Reading Pictures

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Speaker

Writers All Around


Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

Inspiration- Where is It?

Where do you get your ideas for writing?  That’s a question I’m often asked. The bathtub is actually one of my favorite inspirational spots.  I also get inspired on walks, while completing routine tasks and well……. doing practically anything but sitting at my computer waiting to be inspired. I follow a talented illustrator for Orca Books on social media.  Jane Heinrichs lives in London, England but she and I are from the same Manitoba hometown.   In her latest communique to her followers and fans, Jane talks about inspiration.  When she needs it she steps away from her studio to tackle mundane things like house cleaning and tidying up.  Often in the midst of one of the tasks totally unrelated to her work on children’s books Jane will get a flash of inspiration and head back to her drawing table.  

It’s good to have a notebook on hand so you are ready when inspiration strikes

I find the same thing is often true for me.  I can sit staring at my computer screen trying to figure out how to get a character in a novel out of a dilemma, or racking my brain for a topic for my newspaper column, or wondering how to write the perfect ending to a blog post and I draw a complete blank, sometimes even after hours of frustrated contemplation.  But……… if I step away from my writing to have coffee with a friend, or go for a bike ride, or clean out a cupboard ….. voilà, inspiration strikes!

Cycling is great for inspirational thinking

Just being out into a public place like the library or a park or going for a bus ride and observing people often sparks an idea.  Reading a book, scanning the obituaries in the newspaper and looking at artwork are other inspirational activities. 

Looking at artwork and thinking can inspire you

Sometimes when we face a roadblock in finishing a creative task our best bet is to walk away from the project entirely, do something completely different and hope that inspiration will hit from a source where we might have least expected it – perhaps even our own energized and relaxed brains. 

Other posts………

Hammock Inspiration

India Inspiration

Dragonfly Inspiration

Leave a comment

Filed under Writing

Pro- Life or Anti-Woman?

“It’s not a right!”  Those scary words are what I kept thinking about last week as American state legislatures passed draconian measures to criminalize abortion.  On May 9, 2018, Member of Parliament Ted Falk shouted “It’s not a right” across the House of Commons after the prime minister had made a statement saying, “We will always be unequivocal in standing up for a woman’s right to choose.”

Mr. Falk was technically correct.  We do not have a law in Canada giving women the right to have an abortion, but abortion has been legal in our country since 1988 when the Supreme Court struck down laws against it.

I have a feeling however Mr. Falk was not concerned about legal technicalities when he voiced his bold interruption.  His presence at a March For Life rally exactly a year later, May 9, 2019, along with some dozen other members of the Conservative caucus, indicates his support for the organization’s clearly stated mandate to have legislation passed that recriminalizes abortion.

Abortion rights are essential if we believe in the equality of women. Most women have abortions because they are in untenable, vulnerable or challenging situations. How can threatening them with criminal charges possibly be the best way to help them? It makes me shudder to think we may elect a prime minister again who personally believes women do not have a right to control their own bodies, as the current Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer does. Do we really want to take a chance on going back to a time of back alley abortions and women being second -class citizens?

Billboard created by a woman’s rights group in the Niagara area of Ontario

I wish the label pro-life had not become attached to the movement to recriminalize abortion.  I think of myself as pro-life even though I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I’ve written before about my frustration with people who focus their efforts on trying to recriminalize abortion. If they were truly serious about reducing the number of abortions, they would be advocating for more effective changes. The research is clear. The criminalization of abortion doesn’t stop it.  But there are things that could dramatically reduce abortion rates.

On May 9, the very day Mr. Falk and his colleagues were participating in the March for Life rally in Ottawa, the Canadian Paediatric Society released its official position on the accessibility of birth control. They’ve compiled a list of reasons why it would be in the best interest of Canadian society as a whole, to provide confidential access to free birth control to everyone under the age of twenty-five. This would help to reduce the estimated 58,000 unplanned pregnancies in that age group each year, including 21,000 that end in abortion.  Could Mr. Falk and his colleagues turn their attention from trying to make desperate women into criminals, and instead, focus their energies on making sure the pediatricians’ well-researched proposal to effectively reduce abortions becomes a reality?

There are so many other things we know will lower abortion rates. Since women primarily have abortions for economic reasons free daycare, lower post-secondary tuition costs, a guaranteed minimum income, and more affordable housing would decrease abortion rates, as would comprehensive mandatory sex education in schools, that introduces young people to many kinds of birth control, not just abstinence.             

These would truly be pro-life initiatives and far more effective ones than recriminalizing abortion as some American states have decided to do. I have the utmost respect for people who are serious about lowering the abortion rate in Canada.  That’s what I would like to see too.  But as far as I’m concerned if you want to make abortion a crime you are anti-woman, not pro-life.


Filed under Canada, Health

Finding The Three Connections- Middlesex

When I was a high school English teacher I had three ways of trying to get my students to find meaning in the texts we studied- find a personal connection- find a connection with another text – and find a connection with the world around you. So as I was preparing to discuss the novel Middlesex at the Books and Brushes event at the Winnipeg Art Gallery yesterday I gave some thought to those three connections. 

As you can maybe see from the book’s cover  Middlesex is definitely an immigration story.  In the novel, a brother and sister Lefty and Desdemona leave the Greek City of Smyrna during a time of great conflict and violence to immigrate to the United States.  They leave everything behind to try to build a new life in a new place.  But that isn’t exactly easy.

My husband stands beside the tracks at the Lichtenau Train Station in Ukraine where our grandparents began their long immigration journey to Canada

I am also from an immigrant family.  Both my husband and I grew up hearing the stories of our grandparents’ immigration to Canada during a time of violent revolution and famine in the Soviet Union. They left family and belongings behind to build a new life in a new place.  It wasn’t easy. That’s my personal connection with the novel. 

The British cover of the novel hints at the transformation that will take place in the story

The protagonist of Middlesex is Calliope who is born a hermaphrodite in 1960. Calliope would like to be a man but her parents have raised her as a girl. In the novel, we trace her journey from womanhood to manhood and learn about how her family and community handle that transformation.

The text I connected to Middlesex was George by Alex Gino.  It is a middle-grade novel about a ten-year-old boy who wishes he were a girl.  In the book, we trace George’s struggle to reveal his true gender identity to his family and school friends. While it wasn’t easy for either Calliope or George to share their secrets there were lots more supports in place for George in 2017 than there were for Calliope in the 1970s.

Middlesex is an easy book to connect with current issues in the world around us especially those surrounding gender identity.  Whether that is President Trump’s edicts on transgender individuals in the military, the campaign to convert to gender-neutral washrooms in public buildings or the decision by any number of countries that its citizens do not have to indicate whether they are male or female on their passports. 

Make a personal connection- make a connection to another text – make a connection to the world.  I think in the future I will try to do more posts about works of art, movies, and books using those three connections as well. Until I started preparing for Books and Brushes I had kind of forgotten about them, but I think the three connections can be useful tools for finding meaning in all kinds of texts. 

Other posts………


Gender Neutral Washrooms

The Station of Tears

1 Comment

Filed under Books