Ottawa's Festival of Ideas Since 1997

Fifth Issue of Our Literary Journal Foment

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A Nation Plays Chopsticks (Part 1)
by Mark Anthony Jarman

A Nation Plays Chopsticks Part 1

cStories eBook Single by Mark Anthony Jarman 

(Serial cStories eBook Single on win.cstories.ca )

 

Drive the night, driving out to old-timer hockey in January in New Brunswick, new fallen snow and a full moon on Acadian and Loyalist fields, fields beautiful and ice-smooth and curved like old bathtubs. In this blue light Baptist churches and ordinary farms become cathode, hallucinatory. Old Indian islands in the wide river and trees up like fingers and the strange shape of the snowbanks.

 

It’s not my country, but it is my country now, I’m a traveller in a foreign land and I relish that. The universe above my head may boast vast dragon-red galaxies and shimmering ribbons of green, and the merciless sun may be shining this moment somewhere in Asia, but tonight along the frozen moonlit Saint John River the country is a lunatic lunar blue and the arena air smells like fried onions and chicken. We park by the door, play two twenty-five-minute periods, shake hands, pay the refs, knock back a few in dressing room No. 5, and drift back from hockey pleasantly tired, silent as integers. And I am along for the ride.

 

Why do I enjoy the games so, enjoy the primal shoving and slashing and swearing and serious laughing at it all afterward? In these games I have taken a concussion, taken a skate blade like an axe between my eyes and I jammed brown paper towels on the cut to staunch the blood. Stitches, black eyes, and my nose is still broken from a puck running up my stick on its mission. Might get my nose fixed one of these days. One opposing player, when younger and wilder, is reported to have bitten another in the meat of the eye!

 

Today the inside of my thigh is a Jackson Pollock splatter painting: yellow green purple nebulas under the skin, flesh bruised from pucks hitting exactly where there is no padding (the puck has eyes). At night my right foot pulses and aches where I stopped two slap-shots on the same spot years ago. My elbows are sore and they click when I move my arms. My joints are stiff when I climb the pine stairs, especially now, since yesterday I took the boys skiing and then I played hockey at night. Rub on extra horse liniment. My neck won’t move freely and a check wrecked my shoulder last April and for weeks I had to sleep on my back or the pain awoke me. Never got the shoulder looked at. I pay money for these injuries, these insults to my spirit.


So why pay, why play the game? As the Who sing, “I Can’t Explain.” Hockey is my slight, perverse addiction. Certainly I crave the physical side, especially versus working at the desk on 300 e-mails or doodling in a dull meeting. I enjoy the contrast, the animal aspects. I crave a skate, a fast turn on the blades.


(Serial cStories eBook Single on win.cstories.ca ... to be continued )

 

cStories eBook Single by Mark Anthony Jarman 

from the original short story collection My White Planet
published by Thomas Allen Publishers


Ladykiller (Part 2)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 2)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill

From the original collection   Ladykiller
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers


(cStories eBook Single ...continued from win.cstories.ca ) Gary continues on, waiting until he’s put the lengths of a dozen cars between them before giving her an over-the-shoulder glance. She’s looking straight at him with an expression he’s seen many times before – halfway between amusement and outrage. He quickens his pace and disappears around the bulkhead before he invites more trouble than can be refused.


The stock rooms, the service elevators, the fire stairs, the airport bathrooms, the least frequented wings of public places, the unvisited hallways of the mind. On some occasions there’s more, sometimes just this – an unknown female, whiffs of hope and relief, a feeling of continuous arrival.


Gary travels back to the car, enjoying the soft pause in his thoughts. Across the water is their island destination, cloaked in rain shadow. He looks out at the horizon where the sky turns pink, and he remembers what it’s like to be free.


The ferry nudges up against land and disgorges their car. Gary relinquishes the driving to Roz. The traffic around the terminal is heinous and claustrophobic, the streets rampant with roadside convenience. Wal-Mart, Canadian Tire, Over-waitea Foods. Everyone shopping, eating fast food, driving, parking, making mountains of garbage. Home – he could rip off his shirt, run screaming into the ocean and begin the swim back to the mainland.


As soon as the tires hit the highway, Gary says, “Let me out.”


“What?”


“I can’t go,” he says. “Let me out. On the corner will be fine.” He points at the curb where a guy battles the weather in a clown suit, between the planks of a sandwich board advertising roses.


Roz swerves over onto the shoulder and squeaks to a halt. Gary reaches for the door. But before he can make his escape Roz has her finger on the button. All four door locks ratchet down. They sit there for a time with the engine idling, the muffler puffing smoke. He can feel her gaze burning into the side of his face.


Gary undoes his seat belt. He elbows into the space between the steering wheel and her chest and hits the autolock on her armrest. He opens the door and sets his foot down on the pavement.


“What will you do? Call up one of your old girlfriends and see if she’ll give you a ride?” Roz has her sunglasses on though the day is grey and sloppy.


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Gary asks.


“Don’t be stupid,” she says.


Ah, he thinks. And there it is again. Lurking in their conversations like a butcher knife at the bottom of the dishwater. His extra life, snug and seamless, has caught on the keen edge of Roz’s attention. Roz knows – though she can’t prove a thing. She smells guilt on his breath, on all his clothes. Other women. Sidelines and diversions. They roll around in his thoughts like foreign words, like the crimes of other people.


Roz says, “If you get out now I’ll circle around the corner. I’ll hunt you down with my bumper.”


... continued on win.cstories.ca

 


 


 

Ladykiller (Part 1)
by Charlotte Gill

Ladykiller (Part 1)

cStories eBook Single by Charlotte Gill
From the original collection  
Ladykiller
Published by Thomas Allen Publishers

 

They embark in Roz’s car, a practical sedan of foreign make from a design phase when cars were built to look like cigarette packaging, streamlined and boxy at the same time. It’s raining, yet even more wintry inside the car. Gary drives. They don’t talk. They don’t even listen to music. They sit in their silence as psychic snow drifts up against the windows. Roz looks straight ahead, cracking her ankle every few minutes, then slapping her glove like a leather tongue against her lap. The highway passes underneath them, slick and black. Water shushes in the tire wells.


Three days before Christmas, the next-to-shortest day of the year. Holiday traffic is backed up a million miles from the ferry terminal. Roz insisted they leave at this hour. Gary had wanted to sleep late. Now she looks straight ahead with her legs crossed and her hands intermeshed. A satisfied frown at the corners of her mouth like, who was he to doubt her? Workers with flashlights and high-viz vests direct traffic onto the shoulder of the highway. They permit a strip of this millipede to crawl off the boats. The sky goes a fecund shade of eggplant. Clouds, the possible sun.


Roz wants to go up to the top decks. She gives him a sort of kiss-off with her middle and index fingers.


Gary stays behind in the car with a newspaper spread over the wheel. Roz has left him alone and a thin film of worry coats all of his thoughts. In his chest, the press of amorphous dread. He runs his eyes over chunks of text, his mind absorbing nothing. They are on their way to his mother’s, Gary’s boyhood home. The visit looms. A boredom verging on anxiety. It drives him out from seclusion onto the vehicle deck in search of some visual distraction.


The ferry’s hold is like the gut of a giant mechanical behemoth. The walls and the floor are grimed over with grey-brown soot. Cars and trucks packed bumper to bumper, lit by caged fluorescent tubes. He prowls the rows. Underneath him the boat engines rumble.


Few passengers remain down below. Poodles left behind, yapping at inched-down windows. His eye is drawn to the interior of a sedan where a girl dozes on a reclined seat with her back to the door. Headphones, a rectangle of exposed skin, low-riding pants, coloured thong floss peeping over the waistband. Gary collects the visuals, then veers towards the ferry’s outer edges where a stiff sea wind pours in.


There he catches sight of a sheet of billowing hair, a woman leaning out over the railing. Blonde, from a bottle, he can tell from its flat lustre. She wears a cropped silver parka of the variety worn by cheerleaders – an amenable sign. He surveys the curves and contours of her lower half, and finding himself pleased, tucks into the narrow strip between the cars and the railing to further his investigations. She has her elbow propped on the railing and her chin in her hand, and she looks out at the sea, he thinks, wistfully. She ignores his approach. It only serves to encourage him. His stride grows energetic, his shoulders lift – with each step closer he’s starting something. A motion, like a sneeze, that can’t be stopped once triggered.


Gary swoops and dives. He takes his hands out of his pockets, and as he squeezes past her, grazes his knuckles across her sacrum. He skims his nose through her hair, which smells of vanilla and showered wetness. Sensations penetrate like X-rays, his bones lit up with strange touch. Then the contact breaks and the world flattens out again. He sweeps and passes through.

 

... continued on win.cstories.ca


 

 

Violence Against Women

Flags are flying at half mast as we remember the 14 women killed at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal 22 years ago today.

 

And in Kingston the Mohammad Shafia murder trial of his three teenaged daughters and first wife continues to stagger the imagination.

 

Shahla Khan Salter is a lawyer, mother of three, and chair of Muslims for Progressive Values Canada. She lives in Ottawa. We wanted to share her thoughts today:

 

As a Muslim woman raised in Canada it’s hard to pick up the paper and read about the Shafia murder trial.


I feel that Zainab, Sahar, Geeti and Rona are our daughters, our sister.


I feel sick reading that the one person they should have trusted the most in the world could do this.  And overwhelmed when I think about the burden we carry right now in trying to making sure this tragedy does not happen again and again. 


My fellow Muslim community members – including my family and Muslim friends – we know we have a problem in our community. We know that this is not about domestic violence alone. It’s about a cultural gap between parents and kids. It’s about acquiring the strength to embrace differences. It’s about making sure others remember that the greatest tenet of our faith is not the honour that comes from guarding one’s modesty, but the love that arises from spreading compassion.


I believe that part of our responsibility now means that second generation Muslims, like me, have to come out of our Muslim closets. We have to tell the story of what happened to us, when we were growing up and how our parents coped with differences.


Not all Muslim men are Mohamed Shafia. Most are like my dad, Asad Ullah Khan - who raised three daughters, rarely raised his voice and never used force.


For the sake of all the Zainab, Sahars and Geetis out there - I wish all Muslim dads were like mine. The story of my dad and me is in this poem. 

 

I am a Canadian Muslim Woman

My Muslim father came to North America from Pakistan before I was born

My Muslim father prays five times a day

My Muslim father reads the Holy Quran

 

My Muslim father taught me to value my body

And not let just anyone touch me or see me

 

But I did not listen

When I was sixteen I secretly wore a bikini on the beach

My Muslim father was disappointed that my shorts were too short

 

When I was eighteen I had a boyfriend

My Muslim father waited up all night for me to come home

 

When I was twenty six I moved out of his house

My Muslim father was sad when I refused to marry the man of his choice

 

When I was twenty nine I married my husband

We had been in love for two and a half years

 

My Muslim father put me through law school

My Muslim father walked me down the aisle on my wedding day

My Muslim father told me he was proud of me

My Muslim father loved me no matter what

My Muslim father never harmed a hair on my Muslim head

 

My Muslim father helped make me the woman that I am today.

 

- Shahla Khan Salter

 

Bernard Schlink: Erin's favourite author

I woke up this morning thinking about my friend Erin Johansen. She's been gone for years now, and I never know when her absence will strike.

 

Today, maybe it's because I caught myself listening to the same song over and over again (Caught on Video by the Hilotrons) the way she did.

 

Maybe because its the kind of clean winter day where I wouldn't have minded walking to the store for her. Or maybe because we are finally hosting her favourite writer, Bernard Schlink. We shared a lot of vices, me and Erin. Reading was one of them. I think she'd have enjoyed this year's Spring Edition, I really do.

 

I've just finished the rough draft of the text for our Spring Festival, so it's all swirling around in there. All the great fiction, the Big Ideas, the poetry and music and the science. I can't believe how lucky we are, yet again, to be hosting so many brilliant imaginations. There are so many fascinating people coming, so much talent and insight and possibility.

 

I have to admit - this is one of my favourite times of year: just over a month to go. Last year's financials are off to the auditor, the OAC grant is ready to go, all but one of our authors are confirmed and the text just needs another run through before we are good to launch this new website.

 

And at least right now, at least this morning, the line-up looks pretty darn good. It feels right somehow.

 

But missing Erin makes it bitter-sweet.

 

And yeah, Erin, Bernard Schlink is finally coming. I wish you were here to share it with.

 

Sean

Welcome to our new website

Welcome to the Writers Festival's new website!

 

We're thrilled with the amazing work  Brian Pirie of Sensinct has done to update our online presence.

 

You'll notice right away that we've made big changes to our online ticketing that should speed things along at our events: no more waiting in line to claim pre-purchased tickets, just head right in.

 

Do let us know what you think of the new site as we want to keep improving things.

 

If you want to stay connected to the Festival, drop me a line to join the email list. We've also got an active Facebook community, Twitter feed and a YouTube channel so there are lots of ways to keep in touch.

 

We'll be playing around with the Blog here as well, so stay tuned!

 

All the best,

Sean