Tuesday, 13 November 2012


You know, I don't know anyone who would choose this one as their "favorite month", and yet I seem to have an extraordinarily large number of friends who were born in November, and they must, in some fashion, identify with this time of year, wouldn't you think? Not only my old university chum Sally on the 4th but also, that same day, my friend Jelena turned EIGHT... and later this month, on the 27th, her sister Sadie will turn SIX! As anyone growing old can attest, it is important to have younger friends...I love sharing in their excitement at the notion of "growing up"...They LOVE November, and when I see it through their eyes, so do I....it is part of the great flow of change, and pehaps its most endearing aspect it that it never seems to last as long as March, its sister-month  in "aaarrrgh, dontcha hate the weather just now?"

Also in November I have sent cards to Audrey and Peggy, emails to several Cousins as well as to friends such as Bill Exley, one of the foremost musicians in the NIHILIST SPASM BAND (the musical group begun in the mid 1960s by London Ontario artist Greg Curnoe, who died  in a bicylce accident on November 14, 1992, a few days before what would have been his birthday). Greg was a good friend of mine and I feel his influence still -- I think of him every November, but that's another story.

 I can't quite work out why November seems to be the month of birthdays, but it is... and at its tail end comes the birthday my old chum Sheila, with whom I long-ago hitch-hiked around Europe in 1967 and who just recently came down from Amsterdam to visit Mas Blanc. Time passes, and the only correct gesture in response to that is -- CELEBRATION!

Ah, but growing old does have its down-side, and the fearful possibility of bones breaking hovers over us as we (those of us born during the Second World War) enter the stage of the broken wrist... the fractured hip... the shattered elbow... the torn ankle ligaments... We count ourselves lucky every year we escape injury and I am happy to report that friendly gossip concerning my own "serious fall" this summer has been slightly exaggerated... Indeed, I did have a tumble, and if you've heard that I fell off a cliff you can now reduce that dramatic story to "slipping down a steep slope"... It was not as bad as people made out -- well, I admit, I did make a bit of a fuss at the time and the drop left me a bit shaken --  but apart from some bruising I recovered quickly, thanks of course to ARNICA.

If you don't know about the magical anti-bruising qualities of the herbal remedy ARNICA, you should... Here in France it is prescribed both before and after surgery in the hospitals, as its properties are well established and respected.  It comes from a daisy-like flowering plant that grows in the high dry mountains of this region, and somehow I feel that's part of why is works so well here, but I have tried it in Toronto too and it is just as effective!

And yes, this is a kind of "self-advertising", I suppose, since one of the final short stories in the fiction-section of BELONGING: HOME AWAY FROM HOME, is titled "Arnica", and has at its centre a scene in which the application of arnica has a positive effect. I am so pleased when I hear that readers are discovering BELONGING, just as I am when I hear that THE ELIZABETH STORIES is having a resurgence, thanks to Kerry Clare -- and Shashi Bhatt, who has mentioned the book  recently in an interview as well. Wonderful to feel that a character I created so long ago is still alive and well in the imagination of readers. She stays young -- and thus, so do I, in some strange way.

Now, one of the REAL things that keeps me young (maybe it even helps my bones, who knows?)  is my ongoing connection with writers in the Humber correspondence program, and although they are not always young themselves, their enthusiasm for various writing projects always gathers me up in a whirlwind of energy and excitement. Sometimes there is publishing pay-off, and sometimes not... but what everyone seems to agree, is that writing itself is a way to stay firmly in the world, and as long as that's the case, you never grow old.

I am proud to be associated with so many of the writers I've worked with, none more than GRETCHEN ROEDDE, whose memoir  A DOCTOR'S QUEST (published by Dundurn Press a few weeks ago) is a wonderful book, outlining her experiences travelling overseas as a doctor in developing countries working to help improve maternal and child health, very often in dangerous or difficult situations. The memoir is a rivetting blend of Gretchen's own perceptions and reflections on her various adventures and medical interventions as well as the people she has worked with and  met through her work. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and if it makes you feel a little uncomfortable -- realizing how easy we have it in Canada (access to health care, clean water, social equality, etc.) -- then at least one of her aims will have been realized.

Another of my Humber writers is Laura Rock, who writes to share the good news that an essay she's written will be included in the anthology HOW TO EXPECT WHAT YOU'RE NOT EXPECTING, coming out from Touchwood Press in Victoria BC next spring... I'll have more on this later

Okay, it's not the Gatineau in full glory, but it's not bad, eh?
This is just down the river from Mas Blanc, this past week...
I'll leave you now with this shot of the vineyards down the valley from where I live, blazing colour... and I'll be back tomorrow with some further chat about writers and the writing life... November does seem to provide us with a gentle entry into the season of contemplation.... So much to think about, and so little time.