Sunday, October 16, 2005

"Let there be gardens to tempt them, breathing saffron flowers."

Quotes I love from _The Lost Garden_ by Helen Humphreys

"It is very easy to return nature to itself. The clean lines of a garden go first. Then the balance of what has been planted. What used to be a conversation between the different elements becomes a tuneless cacaphony. No one thing distinguishable from another." (67)

"What is longing if not the ghost of memory?" (99)

"Let there be gardens to tempt them, breathing saffron flowers." (Virvil, Georgics, in Humphreys 117)

"Sometimes,...I used to go down to the Thames at low tide and collect the bits of old clay pipes that would wash up against the pilings. There were so many of these tiny hollow tubes. They were like bird bones. I liked to think of all those people, those men of a hundred years ago, dropping those pipes into the river. I liked that in the modern city, with all its busle and clatter, I could be engaged in a private work of archaeological excavation." (123)

"The moment opens. The moment closes. There is sunlight. There is frost. There is the brief idea of roses amid the patch of weeds." (140)

"There are so many different stories to tell. It's never the same. Every day weather blows in and
out, alters the surface. Sometimes it is stripped down to a single essential truth, the thing that is always believed, no matter what. The seeds from which the garden has grown." (142-3)

"The language of roses shifts like sand under our feet. It blows in and out like the wind. It carries the fragrance of the flower and then it is gone. Rugosa. Canina. Arvensis. It is how we learn to speak about something that is disappearing as we say its name. It is a trick, a false comfort. Humilis. It is what we think we need to know and how we think it needs to be known. Involuta. It is where we want to go, this name, and stay there, safely held for ever. Indora. Alba. Sancta." (148)

"It is a place we have all arrived at, this book. The characters fixed on the page. The author who is only ever writing the book, not gardening or walking or talking, and while the reader is reading, the author is always here, writing. The author is at one end of the experience of writing and the reader is at the other, and the book is the contract between you. And this is what you're doing, being in the book, entering it as one enters a room and sees there, through the French doors to the garden, Lily Briscoe painting on the lawn." (182)

"When a writer writes, it's as if she holds the sides of her chest apart, exposes her beating heart. And even though everything wants to heal, to close over and protect the heart, the writer must keep it bare, exposed. And in doing this, all of life is kept back, all the petty demands of the day-to-day. The heart is a river. The act of writing is the moving water that holds the banks apart, keeps the muscle of words flexing so that the reader can be carried along by this movement. To be given space and the chance to leave one's earthly world. Is there any greater freedom than this?" (182)

"Dead flowers hold their fragrance. That is one truth. Sometimes our passion is our ruin. That is another." (209)

"The thing about gardens is that everyone thinks they go on growing, that in winter they sleep and in spring they rise. but it's more that they die and return, die and return. They lose themselves. They haunt themselves. Every story is a story about death. But perhaps, if we are lucky, our story about death is also a story about love. And this is what I have remembered of love." (210)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

To live and breathe in another language...

So I heard Nicole Brossard speak and read on Thursday night with Salina (one of the plusses of working at a University - there are opportunities for intellectual stimulation once in a while).

Here are a few things Nicole talked about that I thought were really cool:

1) In her new novel, Hier (or Yesterday, at the Hotel Clarendon), Nicole has interspersed one page from a found novel among the text, five times. It's completely unrelated to the rest of the text but at the same time by having it there five times, she forces the reader to read the text at least once. And the cool thing is that every time you come back to the text, you're coming at it from a different chronotope (as Bakhtin would say...and if she hasn't read Bakhtin I would be very surprised) - a different time and space. So you are always changed and therefore the text itself is never read the same way twice. Nicole compares it to being on the shore of an ocean and having a conversation, where a few words here and there are blown away by the wind. Cool.

2) Nicole's work has been translated into several languages. While she writes in French and is a native French speaker, she read to us in English from a text that had been translated by someone else. She spoke to us about the idea that you are a different person if you grow up in another language. Who, she asks, would she be, what kind of a woman would she be, if she had grown up in English, Italian, Spanish? For each language has a different way of breathing, and of being...

I have grown up sandwiched in between Canada's two solitudes - French, and English. Never completely at home in French while surrounded by a culture that is predominantly English, and where my mother tongue (the language first spoken to me by my mother) always felt like an uncomfortably big sweater where the sleeves had been rolled up. And at the same time, I am never completely whole in English alone - I feel as though a part of me is missing somehow when I live my life entirely in that language. So how do I then construct my subjectivism, in the spaces between these two languages? How do I breathe in this space between two silences?

3) Three, three...what was three again? Well, Nicole read some of her journal writings from being in Japan in 1982 - Tokyo, and Kyoto. And there are places in her narrative that I swear could have been written by me when I wrote Yume. The same sense of being lost in translation, so the saying goes. The same sense of becoming entirely wordless, and of being lost in a culture where holy sites and neon lights are cramped together. Where the sublime is nestled in the commonplace...weird...

How neat to be able to write every day...To get up in the morning and have words sew the spaces in between your breaths. To construct a world out of words...

Saturday, October 08, 2005


That's the Hopi word for "life out of balance"...and as an environmentalist I felt it was time for me to comment on the crazy things happening in our world. Today an earthquake may have killed upwards of 3,000 people in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. And it's finally time for me to speak up and say: life is definitely out of balance.

As a teenager, I first became aware of the environmental ills in our world when I stopped by the Body Shop and bought a sweatshirt depicting the hole in the Ozone layer, and asking for the ban of CFCs. Somehow, things seemed so black and white back then (curiously, the color of my sweatshirt, as well): hole in the ozone layer? My response was, let's send a sattelite into space, and make tons of little sparks that will emit enough ozone to plug the hole. And stop using CFCs.

Well it's more than 15 years later, and things no longer seem so black and white; nor do they seem like a few shades of grey... Perhaps the reason why I haven't commented on hurricanes Rita and the others is because, if I started I'd never stop... Some call this teetering on the edge of eco-depression: a sense that there is so much ill in the world, and there are no easy solutions. We're into October, and the weather is strange and the air is choked grey with smog, although the leaves have already started to change. I no longer know what the solutions are, since I myself cannot even wean myself from my car and still occasionally use my dishwasher when I get lazy. If I can't change my behavior, who's to say the rest of the world will, either?

Perhaps these earthquakes and hurricanes and the like are Gaia's way of saying: time to wake up...time to shift the scale back in balance...I have no idea anymore...