Monday, December 30, 2013

First Word: Larissa Higgins: Jingle

Here it is hot as hot, which is just how a Christmas should be.  My husband is is languishing, and complains that he can't take the season seriously, but my earliest Christmas memories are of Dad taking my sister and I swimming in a jungle creek while Mum got Christmas dinner sorted without two overexcited children underfoot.  
            And what Christmas dinners!  Christmas was a hot and stodgy English dinner (roast chicken and doughy puddings with cream sauce) eaten on a hot and sticky verandah, with ceiling fans pushing the heat around and driving rich smells into your face, and afterwards, afternoons spent on the cool grass of the lawn, and children running around with sparklers in the long summer twilight.
            Over the years we replaced the English dinner with a menu less colonial and more suited to the southern climate, but we embraced all of the other northern Christmas trimmings as a matter of course.  Our Christmas cards showed snowfalls and lantern-light, glittering with sugar frost.  Our dads Ho-Ho-Ho’d in full Santa fig – sweltering under polyester beards and sofa cushion bellies.  Our heads and ears dripped and clinked with tinkling jingle-bells – we, who had never seen a sleigh.  We cut Eucalyptus trees and planted them in plastic buckets, raised trees of plastic tinsel, and sniffed the eucalyptus and plastic scents and satisfied, and called them firs.  When I moved north, a northern Christmas was easy for me.  I’d been mentally living one all my life.
            But down here,my husband never had the pop-culture guides to tell him what to do with seafood BBQs and carols that, like Australia and Chile, are upside down –
            “The North Wind is tossing the leaves
              The red dust is over the town
              The sparrows are under the eaves –"

            “Red dust?” He shouts.  “Red dust?  It’s blizzards!  Blizzards and wooly sweaters and ice-skating and hot chocolate and fir-cones and fireplaces-”
            I try for something colder.
            “The tree-ferns in green gullies sway
              The cool stream flows silently by
              The joy bells are greeting the day
              And the chimes are adrift in the sky-”

            He stamps off into the kitchen to stuff his head into the freezer.  And sighs.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

First Word: Suzanne Roberts: Jingle


Jingle for me is a downtown Chicago recording studio. There’s C-, he’s teaching us how to make a living as musicians. It’s his cause this year. We are his cause this year. He’s made a fortune with his advertising jingles and now the world is his playground and he’s a very talented boy, preparing our orchestra for world famous conductors and trying his hand at serious modern music composition, like his ex, composer in residence at the Symphony.
            Fifteen years later, I now see that he wanted some of this glitter to rub off on us. He strung us with tinsel as we sat and played, wrote me a sparkling letter of recommendation. The trouble was that there were hundreds of us, thousands by now – each trying to make our way, hang in there with gigs and lessons, no health insurance, toothaches, few material possessions and fair weather friends.
            Today I’m reliving this situation on a smaller scale. I know what to do, how to make a living and how to let others have my back, but I’ve been away so long. I’m not sure if I am really up for repeating scenarios, repeating emotions like a record on a record player now so relegated to the past – or coming back into style?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Trigger


Trigger was the name of Roy Roger’s palomino horse and does sound like a horsey name. But the word spells out trouble. Once you press the trigger, that’s it. There’s no going back. No undoing the deed.
            Words can be as harmful and quick as a bullet. Once I open my mouth and discharge my trigger-tongue, I can’t take it back. Contrary to the refrain, I’ve never been able to eat my words. Tongues, unlike pencils, have no erasers at the end. If I try to take back a lie, my traitorous red face gives me away.
            At first glance, writing appears safer. I can always delete – except when it’s an email. I check my words and to whom they’re directed, before I click on SEND. I don’t want to send an erotic joke to my great-aunt Mabel. Carelessness can trigger an undesired response – an explosion of anger, damaged feelings, a broken heart. I read once that one should never break off with a boyfriend by email, not that I’ll ever find myself in such a situation now. There have been times when I’ve wanted to shoot you-know-who. Luckily for him, I’m not a trigger-happy Annie-Get-Your-Gun.
            Writing out my thoughts is definitely the safe way to go. Anything written in haste can be repaired, edited, tweaked or rewritten. I miss the days of lengthy letters, written on sheer stationary, the licking of the envelope and the placing of a stamp. Seldom now do I have the slow pleasure of slitting open a hand delivered letter, brought to me by Cristián, my cartero, riding his red bicycle. I have a choice of letter openers crafted in bronze, silver or wood. If the envelope bears a commemorative stamp, I cut it off and slip it into an envelope with others. I save them for grandchildren, along with my old stamp collection, combined with those of my sons and their grandfather. Stamp collecting – a by-gone, slow, thoughtful activity.
            Letters were once delivered by horse and rider. Trigger would have been an apt name for a Pony Express steed, and I’ll bet you Trigger would have been faster than our present day mail system. “Yippee-ki-yay. Git on, Trigger.” Quick as a flick of his tail, he’d be off like a bullet.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Ellen Hawkins: Shack


‘Shacking up’ means moving in with someone of the opposite sex with the intention of coupling without license or permission from family, friends or society.  The word ‘shack’ hints at ‘badly made, a dwelling hastily flung together’. To say Marvin and Linda are ‘living together’, or that they’ve ‘moved in together’ is one thing: but to say they’ve ‘shacked up’ is to put them in a specific place. A picture comes to mind: of dull-eyed Linda wearing a tube top. Her legs are skinny, her hair bedraggled. She leans in the doorway of a cabin, her attitude suggesting she’s holding the thing up. Marvin, who is still in bed, is unshaven. He has a course laugh and nicotine-stained fingers.
            The fact is, you can’t ‘shack up’ in the Hilton. You may take tea and request the services of a gigolo, or find the afternoon sun exhausting and go to your room to lie down, which is where your friend will find you when he comes back from buying theatre tickets. His name is Roger, she is Roxanne and they don’t plan to marry any time soon because they’re already married to people who they like well enough but who in some way have been a disappointment. Roger and Roxanne are having an affair. Can you hear the lightness in the word? An affair is a fleeting thing that lasts as long as the weather holds. Society does not condemn this pair; it merely lifts a bare shoulder and shrugs.
            ‘Having it off’ speaks of an absence of care or love; an act of no greater consequence than brushing one’s teeth or doing the washing-up.  Hugh can be ‘having it off’ with Penny or George, though not often at the same time. But here the door closes on the scene because the public doesn’t particularly want to know what goes on.  The expression may be accompanied by a raised eyebrow or a knowing leer, but that’s as far as it usually goes.
            Hugh and George and Penny live in a village on the outskirts of London or Manchester and commute to the city by train. They wear mackintoshes when the weather is dull and shoes polished to a brilliant sheen when it’s not.  It’s important that one wear well-polished shoes if one is ‘having it off’ with someone, especially if all two, or three, work in the same office. But such a shine would be totally out of place if the trio were ‘shacking up’. Just think of the noise they would make.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Tracy Grant: Water

Wrong Way

When the auto
honked its horn,
flashed its lights
water was my body’s
transformation as
I drove against
the Colon traffic.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Suzanne Adam: Saint


Growing up Catholic, I was surrounded by saints – images, statues, prayers and probably quite a few living, unclaimed saints. At church we recited long litanies to the saints: St. Joseph, pray for us, St. Catherine, pray for us, St. Rita, pray for us…. Their stories fascinated and inspired me. Churches, towns, and countries invoke their patron saints. I grew up in the town named San Anselmo, and attended school and church at St. Anselm’s.
            Saints were invoked for their unique powers. As a child, in our family car a medal of St. Christopher, patron of travelers, was carefully centered in a spot above the windshield. At school the nuns had shed their worldly names to assume the name of a saint. Sister Mary Daniel. Sister Madeleine Mary. Sister Mary Joseph. When we performed well, our prize was a holy card with the image of a saint and a prayer on the back. I still have a much-handled image of St. Jude, patron of Hopeless Cases. Audrey, my friend Karen’s mother, swore by St. Anthony to find her a parking place. In Chile, once a year, fishermen honor their patron, St. Peter, with processions of flower-bedecked boats. 
            You can only be canonized an official saint after a long process, in which it is proven that you’ve performed at least one miracle. But history teems with multitudes of unsung, unrecognized saints working small miracles every day – those, who through some small act, put another before themselves. Can modern day heroes be considered saints? Or must they pass muster with an ecclesiastical committee? 
            I’d like to propose that the status of sainthood be opened to the heroes and miracle workers of our era of any creed and origin, who have worked to make this world a better place. St. Paul Farmer? St. Mahatma Gandhi? St. Bill Gates? And perhaps my neighbor across the street who cares for his infirm, aging parents, always with a cheerful attitude.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Article: Susan Siddeley's Creative Space

Susan Siddeley's Creative Space

Allyson Latta has published an interview with our own Susan Siddeley as a part of her Will Come the Words feature - an exploration of how writers find and shape their creative spaces. 

Read all about how Susan shapes HER writing life across two contients in two very different spaces! 

photo credit Allyson Latta

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday Prompt: Mary Judith Ress: Saint


St. Jude, help of hopeless cases.
St Ann, find me a man. 
St. Anthony, patron of grimy little boys who’ve lost their caps, their shoes or their bus money.
St. Lucy, patroness of the blind (she had her eyes gouged out),.
St. Maria Goretti, saint young girls beseech to remain chaste on that first date (Maria died of 14 knife wounds, but fought off her would-be rapist).
St Rose of Lima, another patron saint of virgins. (When admired for her beauty, she cut off her hair and smeared pepper on her face, to foil would-be suitors).
St Martin de Porres, patron of the humble black man.
Our two Chilean saints, Teresa de Los Andes and Laura Vicuña:
            Teresa entered the Carmelites at age 14, and died of typhus nine months after she took her vows.
            Laura, patroness of incest and sexual abuse victims, died at 12.  She entered the convent to flee from a situation of domestic violence.
            Both pre-pubescent saints, not unlike the “Little Flower,” St. Therese of Lisieux.
Looking with a critical eye at the women raised to sainthood, they were cloistered young things who today would be analyzed as being afraid of men and of their own ripening sexuality.

            Sexy women have always been a stumbling block for a church that raises up Mary, the immaculate mother of Jesus, and bestows sainthood on Mary Magdalene, only because she supposedly lived in a cave as a penitent after Christ’s death. (Of course, now another story is emerging, thanks to Biblical studies, showing Magdalene as Jesus’ partner and co-founder of the Jesus Movement.) 
            Male saints are almost always celibate, although there is the occasional king or pope who lays claim to the title. Most gave their lives to the poor.  Francis of Assisi, Ignatius of Loyola, our own Padre Hurtado. Then there are the martyrs. They have to be raised to sainthood because of their sacrifice.  But, being headstrong, they are controversial. Bishop Romero still languishes---he’s not even been declared “Blessed”—while Jose María Belaguer, founder of Opus Dei, is a full-fledged saint.  
            But in the best of Catholic tradition, there is another side to sainthood. We, the faithful, declare our saints viva voce through sensus fidelium—our good sense.  The cryptic “odor of sanctity” supposedly surrounding would-be saints come to center stage:  do we smell that we are in the presence of holiness? 
    If so, they—you and me—pass the test. 
St Judy, presente!
St. Ellen, presente!
St. Susan, presente!  
St _______ (fill in the blank, sensus fidelium, dearie).  And there you have your saint.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Announcing Los Parronales 2014!

Your Best Writing Experience Ever!
 Jan 19th–Feb 1st 2014

A 14-day, 13-night Adventure in Santiago, Chile.

Be inspired relishing a second culture, in a village outside the city, with inspiring writer-editors Stan Dragland and Beth Follett. Stay in the home of long-time Chile residents and grape-growers Susan & Gordon Siddeley. 
Sleep, after gazing at a sky full of stars, waken to the sight of the snow-tipped Andes Mountains, and the throaty crue of owls.   

Writing Workshop Itinerary:

Sunday: Be met and welcomed at the airport and lunch on Merlot, empanadas and Chilean tomato salad. Walk through the vineyard, explore our lower hill slopes and meet our wonderful on-site family. In the evening dine on salmon and sip Chardonnay.  

Monday & Tuesday: Read, write, listen and discuss during the first Morning Session. Lunch on traditional soup and salad, relax and enjoy afternoons of free writing, consultations and possibly a trip to Chile’s famous Jumbo store.

Wednesday: Love our Day Out at the coast! Travelling down Ruta 68, past eye-burning, pink Bourgainvillea, marvel at the pristine vineyards as we head for Isla Negra, favourite museum home of Nobel, prize-winning Chilean Poet, Pablo Neruda. It’s perched on the cliff tops overlooking the rolling breakers of the South Pacific. Run your fingers along his desk, appreciate his rooms, admire his amazing collections. Then, buy arty souvenirs from local writers and craftsmen in the nearby square. Returning via Ruta del Sol, explore the village of Pomaire where people devote themselves to pottery -making and afterwards swap notes over tea in a rustic restaurant.  

Thursday & Friday: Morning sessions and free-time afternoons. Now is the time to go walking…enjoy the gardens and hillside views. In the evening join in a game of Scrabble or our hilarious Dictionary Game!

Saturday: Our 5th morning session, and after lunch, taking advantage of a quiet weekend (many Chileans go to the beach in January) we head for the City Centre for an afternoon of sightseeing. This includes the Presidential Palace-La Moneda, Plaza de Armas, the Cathedral and the Pre-Columbian museum. We sometimes manage to squeeze in a drive around Las Condes, passing the impressive Canadian & American Embassies on our way to Los Dominicos, a high-end craft market in a historic cloister - a tourist favourite for shoppers before travelling home.

Sunday The morning is free, but we have horses! Those who would like, can join us  on a ride around the neighbouring hill where the last of the real huasos (Chilean cowboys) live! After a traditional Sunday lunch of empanadas we return to Santiago to see Pablo Neruda’s main house in the bohemian Bellavista District, We usually eat out there, with your choice of restaurant – choose from chic to the popular Chop (beer) and Papas Fritas,  pub-style eateries.

Week Two: Repeats the pattern of Week One

… Except forWednesday, when we go to Valparaiso, Chile’s amazing world heritage port; a stunning semi-circle of hills, covered with pastel-coloured houses packed precariously on the ravine sides. Views are astounding, especially for those who take a deep breath and ride up in one of the creaky funiculars. Valparaiso is also the site of Pablo Neruda’s third house. High on a hill, this one so tall and narrow, tours are self-guided. We usually taxi up and walk down. Also to see are the unusual Parliament buildings, docks, Naval Headquarters and vivid street murals.

Saturday: The wrap-up session with a celebratory Despedida (good-bye) lunch and the treat we all enjoy - our own Folklore Show where the local family so kindly show us how to dance! It is always as moving as it is brilliant.

Cost: is $160 per day (single room)* inclusive of the workshop sessions, consultations, breakfast, lunch, Happy Hour, dinner with wine, tea and coffee. Plus: Free airport pick up and drop off.

Please email

For costs re: shared rooms and non-workshop participants

Does not include: Airfare, meals eaten ‘out’ or the small charge (about $20 per day-trip) to cover transport costs.
Medical insurance - a must!
to see our slide show on Shaw Guides
See more information at Spirit Level Workshop!