Yearly Archives: 2004

Nov – Dec 2004

Ah yes. Once again ’tis the season for copious consumption, conspicuous overindulgence, capacious extremity in all things. We are, after all, a consumer society. We live to spend money, exist to make enough to pay off the post-celebratory bills.

In seasons past, I’ve presented a book list at this time of obligatory gift-giving. If one is to give a gift, I believe a book is a valuable gift to give. A book comments on the commitment the giver has to the givee, shows a genuine interest in the givee’s passions, activities, growth and entertainment. A book creates a lasting bond between the giver and the givee. Both my parents have books they have lovingly cherished for decades, remembering not only a favoured poem or passage, but also that the book was given by Granny or bought for school at some sacrifice. Books have an intrinsic value. If you must buy gifts, buy books.

But this year, I’m heading in a different direction. I live in a city where consumers seem to discard usable furniture, clothing, objects and food with ease. I live on a continent where mass consumerism shouts from billboards, televisions, the Internet, magazines. I live in a place where we are valued for what we consume, where overconsumption keeps the economy rolling, where frugality is viewed with distain as some kind of peasant suffering.

When I review my Christmas list, no one on it is particularly suffering. They all have roofs over their heads and food in their bellies. They have clothes on their backs and books on their shelves. And generally, they have much, much more besides. Most of their wishes, their desires for specific objects have also already been fulfilled. Really, what do they need that I could give them?

So this year, I’m changing strategies. Money I would normally spend on gifts for people who don’t really need them, whose homes are already cluttered with stuff, is instead going to charity. I’m looking for worthy causes in their neighbourhoods or in Canada or around the world so I can give a little money to something worthwhile, to someone who will genuinely appreciate it because they have so little, to something that will help make the world a better place. I’ll send cards telling people on my list who I’ve donated to in their name and I hope they’ll understand.

I urge you to do something similar. Just think, if all the money we’re expected to spend at Christmas was streamed into something of genuine value, something that really mattered, what a difference we could make. Happy Holidays to all and loving wishes for a peaceful New Year.

© Catherine Jenkins 2004

Sept Oct 2004

May-June Journal //Top Navigational Bar III (By BrotherCake @ //Permission granted/modified by to include script in archive //For this and 100’s more DHTML scripts, visit   Journal

September – October 2004

I need to edit my apartment. I’ve decided that’s the most productive way I can think of it. And it’s not a light copy edit, the clean, easy, do-as-I-go edit of The Obsessions of Yoyo Zaza; it’s the taxing, arduous, slash-and-burn edit of Swimming in the Ocean. Too much material, awkwardly compiled over too long a period. An editing nightmare.

This is the spring cleaning I didn’t do in the spring, the new year’s cleaning I didn’t do in the new year. It’s a combination of too many moves without enough time or energy in between to sort, compounded by eight years of sitting in the same apartment without enough time or energy to sort. I’m not looking forward to this. Can you tell?

The only time I’ve gotten the moving in thing right, was when I went to Ottawa. My first apartment there, I took a solid week to unpack and arrange, to really move in. I discovered that once my abode is properly moved into, I can maintain it with ease. But usually I don’t have the luxury of time to really move in; I certainly didn’t here and so, eight years later, I’m still finding boxes to unpack.

Why now? The primary motivation is that beginning in October, I’ll be conducting a series of creative writing workshops in my living room (see for details). That’s compounded by it being September. For the first time ever, I didn’t have a sudden strong urge to buy school supplies, but there is a sense of returning to some kind of order, some regularity. And it’s still further compounded by observing my octogenarian parents’ own sorting and culling process, watching my Dad wrestle with whether to keep or recycle his notes from a 1953 French class. I don’t want to be doing that at his age, but I know my packrat mentality has a genetic component, so it seems almost inevitable.

It’s not that I necessarily value all the stuff I collect. Some of it I obviously do, but most of it just follows me home or is the result of working on manuscripts (mine and other people’s). There are piles of paper everywhere and it takes time to decide what’s of current value. I can always think of a myriad of other things I’d rather be doing.

I don’t like living in this; entropy just seems to happen around me. I’m ashamed of the mess and don’t want anyone else to see it. If my friends sometimes wonder why they’re so rarely invited around, this is why. For some reason, my friends are all minimalist neat-freaks, fastidious organizers and cleaners. It makes me very self-conscious of my chaotic space. I am, at heart, a minimalist too, but I’ve never yet been able to achieve that state of grace in my surroundings. When I’m working intensely on a manuscript, my desk and chair become like a cockpit I climb into over a horseshoe-shaped pile of books and papers. Debris collects around me without my conscious recognition, dishes pile up in the sink, garbage cans overflow, cat hair dust bunnies openly parade across my floors. At some point I become aware of this, usually after the creative fervour runs its course, and it’s always a sudden perception, a rude awakening, accompanied by a sense of disgust.

Especially when I’m writing, I spend little time in my body; I become a thought with hands and eyes. But it goes beyond that. Generally I spend very little time in the physical and it’s only when I think of how others might perceive this mess that I become conscious of it. “Hell is other people.” It’s a very Sartrian moment. I live alone and that’s part of it too. If I shared space, I’d be chronically conscious of how others perceived it and would do my part to maintain it (unless, of course, I was in the throes of creative passion).

A few years ago, I also realized that beyond the time/energy excuse, the underlying stumbling block is a psychology of long-term poverty. I feel a need to hang onto whatever I have, because I can’t afford to replace it. I’ve tended to hoard stuff as a twisted kind of security blanket. Now for some things, small appliances for instance, that makes sense, but it makes none for the piles of paper and straightforward junk currently littering my abode. In the last few years, I’ve also become acutely aware of the need to make room for things. It’s difficult for positive, constructive change to muscle through the door when there’s a dusty box of papers blocking it. Energy stagnates and collects dust too if it isn’t properly cared for. Room must be made for the new.

As once suggested by my friend Spencer, perhaps I should consider a more William Morris approach: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

It’s been a difficult year, but I feel like a page is turning. Things are very busy, packed right now. It’s a transitional period. I can see in the next short while things will settle into a new pattern, still busy, but more clearly defined and simpler. I can feel a freshening breeze rising. I need to make space to breathe it in. It’s definitely time to edit my apartment.

July Aug 2004

Some time ago, I purchased tickets for my now annual jaunt to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake. After a difficult winter, I was really looking forward to the time out, the time away, then it was suddenly upon me! This week, I took a well-earned break and am feeling much better for it.

It started with a reasonably pleasant drive to NOTL. I have the use of my folks’ car this summer, so was able to listen to CHUM-FM Oldies all the way. Not necessarily my first choice, but fun nevertheless. I didn’t really begin to unwind until I spied my first winery sign, followed by several fruit stands. I knew I was getting close. I got into town with enough time to browse a few of the expensive shops. NOTL is priced for American retirees, still, it’s pleasant to look.

I indulged in dinner at The Shaw Village before the show. I was pleased to note that the rather affronting Leather Shop, which previously existed behind the statue of the ardent vegetarian GBS, had gone. That store has now given over to candles and spa paraphernalia, similar to the site’s original use. Apparently one Henry Pafford (I hope I’ve spelled that correctly. As usual, it was difficult to read my notes.) once established an apothecary and candle shop there. However, I was somewhat amazed that the Shaw Village Café and Wine Bar still serves a Shaw Burger, featuring “half a pound of lean ground beef.” Ah, well. I keep wondering how GBS would’ve reacted.

I sat inside, looking through open French doors, enjoying a Portobello Mushroom with melted Brie, red pepper and onion jam, accompanied by the recommended Kir Royale and really started to relax. I enjoyed the sky, the day, the old trees, the new flowers, jazz playing in the background. Most of the other patrons were old, the staff young; my demographic, almost unique in this atmosphere. I watched the waiter wire patio chairs and tables together so they couldn’t escape… I listened to old folks laughing… I caught an elderly man smiling at me over his wife’s shoulder as he popped the last strawberry into his mouth, while I accidentally slurped my water like a twelve-year-old.

For my main course, I had Mixed Limed Greens with a Chicken Breast, the flaked coconut an unexpected surprise and lovely additional flavour, accompanied by the recommended Riesling. Because I’d gone light on the entrée, I treated myself to a Chocolate Raspberry Tart with a Café au Lait for desert. Normally I eat pretty hand-to-mouth; NOTL is my annual treat, my chance to indulge guilt-free, but only because I choose to leave my guilt at home.

Of course I’m writing all this down as I’m doing it. I always fantasize that the wait staff thinks I’m a food critic when I write while dining. A little Monsieur Pamplemousse moment (a series of comic gastronomic mysteries by Michael Bond… excellent summer reading fare!).

Pleasantly satiated, I walked across the street for my first play, The Importance of Being Earnest. It was a wonderful production of this perfectly constructed comedy, with fast pacing, brilliant timing and a lot of laughs. Although a period piece, many of Wilde’s observations are so accurate, they’re timeless.

I wouldn’t have minded an herbal tea after the show, but not finding anyplace open, I settled for a short walk instead, then went back to the B&B for the best night’s sleep I’ve had in months. I slept later than usual, had a leisurely breakfast and chat with my hostess, Lynn, and then was on my way again.

I got to the theatre about 11 a.m. for an 11:30 start and just missed the last parking space, but was able to find another fairly close by. Everything’s close by in NOTL. My second feature was an event: the complete version of Man & Superman including the Don Juan in Hell sequence… about six hours of play, including two intermissions and a lunch break. Wonderful! Brilliant! Although not all the attendant audience would agree. It was clear from snatches of conversation during breaks, that a few felt put-upon at having to wade through such a long production. So why did they buy these tickets when Shaw is also producing the truncated version of Man & Superman without the play-within-a-play?

Shaw is brilliant! This play, billed by Shaw himself as “A Comedy and A Philosophy” is packed. Now I have to sit down and read it, because I know there were points and arguments I’d like to mull over. Shaw was a mature person and writer when he created this play and his observations of humanity are painfully accurate, yet he consistently writes in a manner that makes us laugh at ourselves. It’s taken me a while to understand how humour is the most disarming and sharpest tool for getting inside people’s heads and under their skins, for getting them to understand unpleasant or difficult things.

And while watching Man & Superman I kept wondering how audiences of the early nineteen-aughts would’ve reacted. I’m certain it must’ve caused quite a stir. Not only was this playwright audacious enough to contrive a six hour play, he also created intelligent female characters and placed members of the clergy in Hell! Simultaneously, I was amazed at how incredibly relevant much of its content still is. That kind of longevity is the mark of true creative genius.

After the play, I wound back to Toronto, feeling elated and relaxed, thought-provoked and creative! It was a wonderful and much-needed respite, an opportunity to think, to recharge and get my priorities back in order.

Since my return, I have not cleaned my apartment, sorted out my balcony, done any commercial work or worried about family matters. Instead, I’ve caught some plays at the Toronto Fringe Festival, gone to a BBQ with my Mum and Dad, read mystery novels, lain in the sun, eaten fruit, played with the cats, drunk cheap wine, relaxed and slept. For almost a whole week. And I honestly don’t remember the last time I did anything so indulgent. It’s certainly been well over a year. Now I’m feeling revved up and ready to get back to my own writing and all the usual stuff (see above), but relieved of much energy wasting stress and worry.

© Catherine Jenkins 2004


Jan & Feb 2003

January/February 2003 //Top Navigational Bar III (By BrotherCake @ //Permission granted/modified by to include script in archive //For this and 100’s more DHTML scripts, visit       Journal

January/February 2003

Well, now that the blush is off the New Year, how are those Resolutions holding up? I’m quite pleased with myself so far. When I went through last year’s list (which I keep in the back of my daybook as a reminder) I discovered I had succeeded in accomplishing a few consistently enough that they didn’t need to be rewritten onto this year’s list. And I actually started a number of this year’s in September, so they were well entrenched by January 1st. I find that starting resolutions at a time other than the artificially delineated New Year takes some of the pressure off. If you’re having trouble, remember that there are many other New Years on the calendar, so you can start a New Year’s Resolution, or bolster your commitment to existing ones, at many times throughout the year.

For instance, February 1st marks the beginning of the Year of the Goat in the Chinese calendar. It’s supposed to be a year of peace and calm (let’s hope). It is a year of introspection, when emotional and artistic energies are closer to the surface. A good year to do good things for yourself or to commit to creative projects.

February also marks the beginning of my personal New Year. I am somehow turning forty-one. Strange that when I was a kid, that would’ve seemed an impossible age for me to reach, yet now that I’m here, I’m the same person. Age is a very odd, relative thing. No matter what age you are, it’s always a new experience. I’ve never been this old before, so it’s an adventure (even if certain people still comment on my being a “spring chicken”). And I’m reaching an age when I’m really beginning to appreciate my genetics (thanks Mum & Dad). I’m very healthy, especially when I consider some of the ailments a few of my friends and acquaintances have. I fully expect to live a long and relatively happy life, ending my days as an eccentric writer/composer/photographer in the company of many cats, well-loved by my peers and the next generations of creators.

March 20th marks the spring equinox, another New Year, full of the mud, muck and mire of life, crocuses and robin’s eggs. If you’re in a city, it’s also the time of year when the air is filled with the aroma of thawing dog poo, but never mind. This too shall pass, as spring’s long days bleed into summer.

After that, it’s September, the New Year of back to school and back to business – the new work year, often a fanatically, frantically busy time. A time also of readying for winter, of stocking up and preparing for year-end holidays and celebrations.

Which leads back to another New Year. And through all these New Years, the world will continue turning, events impacting individuals in various ways. People will die, others will be born; some things will fail, others succeed; books will be recycled, new ones written. Throughout this inevitable activity, one needs to remember that we do have personal choices, strengths, and the power to make positive changes in our own lives, that in turn effect the world around us. Even when events threaten to run us over, to make us feel that things are happening to us over which we have no control, we can hold to the knowledge that we can decide how to respond, we can still control our actions. The notion that there’s no room to manoeuvre is nothing more than a limiting mindset. Although sometimes we may feel weakened, no one is ever powerless. You can change the world, if you start small and keep advancing.

©Catherine Jenkins 2003

April – May 2003

April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
The Waste Land
T.S. Eliot

This year, April seems to be full of death. Here in Toronto, the SARS outbreak is causing anxiety. People are dying from it, at a lower rate than first feared, but still, each individual is a person likely to be missed. Statistics don’t reflect true loss.

And overseas bombs are dropping, people are fleeing, aid isn’t reaching those who need it most. In some cities, anti-war protests are turning into pro-Iraq/anti-Semitic rallies. Intolerance is running high and individuals are dying from it. I encourage people to express their opinions, but no one should have to die for what they believe. In the back of my head I keep repeating the line from an old CeeDees song, I hope the world doesn’t blow up tomorrow. A form of prayer.

april 12Spring is my favourite time of year, but this year it’s overshadowed by CBC news broadcasts. The first bombs were dropped just hours before I got on the train to embark on the Milds of New Brunswick mini-tour. Under the circumstances, I was relieved I’d decided to go by train rather than air. In transit, there was no news and I liked that, a blissful silence, a let’s pretend world where I didn’t know what was going on. Through the night we travelled endless miles of snowy white flats, wet-iced streams and trees black-shadowed against a wasted grey sky.

But the television in the Moncton train station was tuned to CNN. When Kathy Mac came to pick me up, she found me glued to the American propaganda station, shaking my head in disbelief. The first words out of her mouth were, “You don’t need to be watching that.” It was three days before I realized Kathy doesn’t have a TV. Smart woman. I listened to the CBC radio news a few times, but found I wanted to be thinking about other things.

The reading at the Attic Owl Book Shop in Moncton was a great success. April 13We had a very attentive audience who enjoyed the reading and chatted with us afterwards. Next time you’re in Moncton, you really should check out Ed and Elaine’s store at 885 Main St. It’s one of the largest, friendliest, best organized, mostly used bookstores I’ve ever been in. Kathy drove us back to Fredericton that night. I tried to stay awake, to be an extra pair of eyes watching for moose on the road, but ended up passing out for a while.

We got off to a slow start on Saturday, but still made it to St. John early enough to have a look around and a quick dinner before reading. St. John is hilly with narrow streets and a wild system of elevated roadways entering and exiting town, so it’s virtually impossible to see that it’s nearly surrounded by water. The St. John Arts Centre is a great space used for performances and art exhibits. In all, there were five readers and a good-sized crowd. Another successful evening.

April 14Sunday we were off to St. Andrews, Canada’s oldest seaside resort, and the weather was nasty. We were barely out of Fredericton when it started to rain, then sleet, then snow, then rain torrentially, which it kept up for the rest of the day. I could see that St. Andrews would be a really lovely place in the summer and I’m sure their seasonal population is widely variable. We read at the Sunbury Shores Arts & Nature Centre as planned, but the rain made for a small audience. We then drove up to the Algonquin, a resort hotel privately built in 1889 and later purchased by CP rail. The exterior is Tudor-esque and castle-like; the interior was reputedly used by Stanley Kubrick in filming The Shining. The drive home was somewhat less treacherous, as it was only raining and still daylight. I was glad of a hot shower when we got back though.

The travelling part of the tour over, we remained in Fredericton Monday and Tuesday. On Monday I delivered a lecture to Dr. McConnell’s Women Writers class at St. Thomas University. Although initially a bit intimidating, ultimately it was a very gratifying experience. The topic was my own novel, Swimming in the Ocean, and I was talking to a group of about forty people, all of whom had read it. At the end of the lecture, there was a steady stream of students asking me to sign their books. It was a marvelous experience and one I hope to repeat. That evening, I did a solo public reading to a small, but attentive audience, also at St. Thomas University.

I spent a good part of Tuesday taking a slow meditative wander through downtown Fredericton. Kathy had suggested I check out the walking trail that borders the St. John River. I scrambled up snow-packed stairs onto the footbridge that leads over the highway to the trail, but there was no trail. There was snow. It’d been melting at a furious rate, but was still at seat-level on the park benches. I gave up on the idea and, after exploring various shops and historic buildings, went back to the apartment. I usually go to galleries and museums when I’m in new cities, but I just wasn’t in the mood. I was feeling a strange agitation, perhaps the war I was trying to ignore, perhaps the need for spring air.

Tuesday night Kathy Mac and I did a one-hour live radio interview with Joe Blades of Broken Jaw Press. It was a relaxed event with chat and readings interspersed.

Even though Kathy and I have known each other for many, many years, this was the first time we’d toured in tandem. I’m hopeful we’ll find opportunities to do future events together, sometime, somewhere.

Wednesday morning I caught the bus back to Moncton, April 15where I had a few hours to wander around before boarding the train home. Once aboard, I found I was tired and retired to my single room early, opened the bed, turned out the light and watched small towns emerge from vast expanses of wilderness until I fell into restless sleep.

photos by Catherine Jenkins

©Catherine Jenkins 2003