Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016


March 24, 2016

Century: One Hundred Years of Human Progress, Regression, Suffering and Hope.
Conceived and Edited by Bruce Bernard. Phaidon, 2002.

This interesting collection of images from the 20th Century focuses on assassinations, labour unrest and protest, politics, and war. There are a few artists, fewer scientists, some athletes, models, performers. Great Britain and the United States are featured. Even though some work by Canadians makes the cut (Superman, In the Heat of the Night), no Canadians or references to Canada are to be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Tales of the Anishinaubaek

March 20, 2016

Basil H. Johnston and Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani) Tales of the Anishinaubaek

Basil H. Johnston, Tales of the Anishinaubaek. Illustrated by Maxine Noel (Ioyan Mani). Royal Ontario Museum, 1993. Autographed by the artist.

Because of the cover illustration of man and mermaid, I grab this art book of Ojibway legends the moment I see it at Value Village. Tales told by the famous late Ontario writer and educator, Basil Johnston. It is the work of the illustrator, Maxine Noel, which I recognize.

A Maxine Noel "artist's proof" greets everyone who steps into my condo. "Daughter of the Summer Moon." I have owned it since 1985, the year I was training in Kingston, Ontario. Exiled from our homes, living a stripped-down life in "barracks," groups of us would rent cars on weekends and tour the triangle, cruising for antiques and art. At a gallery in a small town outside Ottawa, the Brown Bear in Westport, this gold-on-white embossed drawing captured my heart. I can't remember if I bought it on the spot or made a special trip back to retrieve it. Somehow, I got it back to Kingston. Kept it in my cell for weeks. Lugged it on to the commuter plane to Toronto. Hand-carried it on the domestic flight to Winnipeg. Coddled it in the taxi from the airport to my apartment on Wellington Crescent. Displayed it proudly near the front door.

The first time an old friend from home visits after my return to Winnipeg, he stops on the threshold, staring at the brass-framed white-matted paper - long hair, long skirt, daisies - and says: "I see you have one of my cousin's paintings?"

"What? Who? I bought it in Ontario. I know nothing about the artist."

"Ioyan Mani," he says. "Walking Beyond. Maxine Noel. She's my cousin. From Birdtail." (Calvin is Dakota, from Sioux Valley, west of Brandon. But Birdtail is Birtle, three towns over, west, of my home town of Oak River.) "She grew up in Arrow River." I am dumbfounded. Arrow River is barely twenty miles from Oak River. I have travelled thousands of miles and have come home with art work made by a neighbour.

Of course, those of us who read Jung do not believe in coincidence. What is the mystery in art which speaks to secret parts of ourselves? What is it that we recognize in gold ink on white paper which says to our hearts "This is home. This is you."?

What is it within ourselves which lets us respond to, acknowledge that "This is me. This too is me."

I've had this happen to me with other works of art too, especially with a painting by Deryk Houston titled "Looking Over To Black Tusk," which convinces me that "there is a divinity which shapes our end." Or, more specifically, that predestination is a reality. But this is a story for another time.

Now I touch the beautiful inscription in my secondhand art book, and I am home again.

Gone Tomorrow

March 18, 2016

Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow

Jack Reacher's on the New York Subway, watching a woman in the same car, checking off all the ways she fits the suicide bomber checklist. Working with the feds, and an NYC policewoman, his hands are tied. She likes her job and her life but he will be gone tomorrow. 

Make Me

March 13, 2016

Lee Child's Make Me (a Jack Reacher novel)

Jack Reacher gets off the train at a stop called Mother's Rest. A private detective meets him, mistaking him for another. He helps follow the Internet trail. If you want me to stop, you're going to have to make me.

Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing

February 29, 2016

Tomson Highway's Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing

Taking the High Road: 

With all the disruption of moving from my home of 20 years, waiting for deliveries, trying to get organized and establish a routine, I missed my reading goal of one book a week. So I was happy to spend leap-year day with this slim volume by a favourite former-Manitoban writer. This copy, which I found at Value Village, has a great 25+-year-old cover photograph of famous Canadian First Nations actors--Gary Farmer, Errol Kinistino, Billy Merasty, Graham Greene.

I love Tomson Highway. His humour. His voice. The music in his writing. The Cree-ness of his work. The way he incorporates mythology. The way his characters seem so real, at the same time as they fade in and out of other realities. The way in his novel The Kiss of the Fur Queen the brothers hover for shelter in the midst of a caribou migration, like cowboys during a buffalo stampede in old western movies.

This Tomson Highway play, Dry Lips Oughta Move To Kapuskasing, is the male companion piece to The Rez Sisters, except that hockey replaces bingo as the game of their lives. The road into this reserve is a rough one. On my first reading, I found Dry Lips to be somewhat confusing and very disturbing. There are laughs. There is nudity. There is sex. There is blood. There is violence. There are issues. Fornication. Monogamy. Adultery. Illegitimacy. Homophobia. The madonna/whore dichotomy. I can see why the play suffered from some very unfavorable reviews accusing it of negative and abusive attitudes towards Indigenous women. I can also see that a Cree playwright will have major challenges. For whom are you writing? Just who is the target? Will an urban mainstream audience "get it" or will they see only stereotypes of "the other" and their worst fears realized?

A Cree audience, or any northern reserve audience, will recognize everything and everyone and every theme in this play. Substance abuse. Promiscuity. Practical jokes. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Preachers. Powwow Dancers. Entrepreneurs. Pregnant, hugely pregnant women. Women of varied shapes and sizes. Hockey. Suicide. Violence. Nature. Knitting. Parental anxiety. But, is there a Cree audience for live theatre? How does the writer reach them? The most positive thing I can think is that perhaps art like this can help us communicate across those cultural divides -- Cree/First Nations and "White"/newcomer [I hate that term "settler"] culture, rural and urban, male and female.

I had to think about these things for some time. I found a critical essay on line which mapped a useful way "into" the drama.* The First Approach off the highway leads into the field at the sign saying DREAMLAND. The whole play is a dream. A nightmare. Your (and the main character Zachary's) worst fears, incarnate. The Second Approach is at the sign saying TRICKSTER CROSSING. All the fear-inducing female characters the nightmare men interact with are played by the omniscient androgynous shape-shifting male/female Trickster saviour--Nanabush in Ojibway, Weesageechak in Cree. All right? So, it's not really happening. And those characters up there on stage are all your worst fears come to life.

The first phrase uttered in the play is "Hey, bitch!" That's your first clue. There is something wrong here. And something wrong with the guy who says/thinks it. And the abuses pile higher and higher. Disrespect for women. Sexualization of women. Failure to care for pregnant women. Failure to acknowledge and accept responsibility for loving and teaching the child. The old "fathers day on the reserve" joke. The power struggle between males and females. Male on female violence. Substance abuse. Suicide. Anti-church rhetoric. "There are many, many other ways of communicating with the Great Spirit. And they are all perfectly legitimate. What them priests said about me--about us--is not right. It's just not right. Respect us. Respect all people!" (p. 106) These nightmare men have been colonized by a racist and paternalistic worldview. They have lost their cultural beliefs in gender equality and mutual respect. With the poison named, a prescriptive "return to the old ways" edict follows. Nothing good can happen unless they stop the abuse and return to the old ways.

Tomson Highway is also a Trickster. He sees the humour in the darkness. And the irony -- of a plot centering upon the acceptance of an imported game, hockey. Of the closing curtain tableau, a sentimental holy family trinity.

This play was written almost thirty years ago. In the meantime we have had the Residential Schools Settlement, the apology in parliament, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I don't know. I just feel as if I don't have to be told this message again. Unfortunately, we will hear a great deal of the same themes in the proposed inquiry into missing and murdered women and girls. Dry Lips says to an audience of First Nations, "We have to change. We have to go back." This play, heavy on the symbolism, shows how many appropriated prejudices of colonization continue to harm the colonized. But does it say, does it say loudly enough, to the rest of the audience, the Canadian capitalists paying to peer through that invisible wall, "Look what you have done! What are you going to do to fix yourselves?" I wish. I hope.

* Diehl, Lindsay. University of British Columbia, Okanagan Campus. "And What Are You Dreaming About?": An Analysis of Tomson Highway's Dry Lips Oughta Move to Kapuskasing. Rupkatha Journal on Interdisciplinary Studies in Humanities. Vol. VI, No. 2, 2014.


April 23, 2016


Peter Robinson. WHEN THE MUSIC'S OVER . M&S, 2016.  Banks has been promoted. His first two cases involve sexual abuse--one histori...