Category Archives: Arts

Reading

Reading is a mythic symbolic act in which squiggles are assigned to letters to create words and sentences and paragraphs and meaning. It really is a form of magic. And like many things in this life, it’s possible to overdo it.

Although I could read fine, I didn’t become an engaged reader until my teens, mostly because I was bored with the books I was offered. In grade 8, I discovered S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and never looked back. I devoured books by Erle Stanley Gardner, Agatha Christie, Ursula LeGuin, Lloyd Alexander, Johnathan Wydham, and H.G. Wells, before moving onto Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins. By university, I was engaging with Philip K. Dick, Mary Shelley, Douglas Adams, Samuel R. Delaney, Delacorta, Italo Calvino, and The Tao Te Ching.

My MA focussed on hard boiled American fiction, mostly from the late 1920s to the 1950s. I was quietly in love with Raymond Chandler, while appreciating Dashiel Hammett’s edge, discovering David Goodis, Jim Thompson, Leo Malet, and others along the way. I read, re-read, and analyzed thousands of pages of fiction and criticism and philosophy over a six-year period. (Is that a record for a Master’s thesis?) Once the dust had cleared, I made the unsettling discovery that I couldn’t read any more. When I picked up even a magazine article, an anxious nausea welled up making me stop. This lasted about a year-and-a half. And then I got into Umberto Eco, James Joyce, H. Rider Haggard, Jeanette Winterson, Ali Smith, Kate Atkinson, Michael Cunningham, and Bruce Wagner.

When I started my PhD, I was unsure and concerned about what the renewed academic work would do to my reading (or writing). Because the research wasn’t literary, I wasn’t required to read fiction, and I think that helped. I did, of course, read reams of academic work, realizing that now I actually read this type of writing much faster than when entering a fictional world I want to savour.

Once the PhD was done, I started reading things with lots of pictures; National Geographic, Eyewitness Travel Guides, and comics (which have opened up a new research area for me). I started catching up on about ten years of missed TV and movies, thanks to the Toronto Public Library’s vast collection of DVDs (old school, but free!). One of the (many) series I discovered was Wire in the Blood, in which a forensic psychologist and a DI unravel and track down serial killers (you may be noticing a recurrent theme by now). Intrigued by the complex plotting, I discovered that the series was based on books by Val McDermid, so now I’m working through them. So thanks to picture books and DVDs, I’m reading books without pictures again, and looking forward to future discoveries.

©Catherine Jenkins 2017 all rights reserved

Summer in the City

Spring has given way to summer with a sudden shock of heat and numerous street festivals. While Toronto’s Pride Festival has grown over the years, this year we’re hosting World Pride (June 20-29) and expect to entertain over a million people! Some years, the popular Taste of the Danforth (August 8-10) has drawn over a million! Personally, I can’t handle crowds this big (unless I’m onstage!), so I get more enjoyment from smaller festivals. While festivals shut down roads, they make pedestrians (like me!) very happy. They offer an excuse to wander about, camera in hand, enjoying the day. During June, I’ve hung out at three such festivals.

The Annex Festival on Bloor was a neighbourhood street festival held between Spadina and Bathurst on the afternoon of Sunday, June 8. While there were food and craft vendors, demonstrations, music and kids’ events, it seemed a bit lack lustre. The late-afternoon rain probably didn’t help. No idea what attendance numbers were, but it’s a relatively small neighbourhood event.

Kids playing in the bouncy castle; Annex Festival on Bloor

Kids playing in the bouncy castle; Annex Festival on Bloor

Superman kneads dough at the Annex Festival

Superman kneads dough at the Annex Festival

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Taste of Little Italy was held the weekend of June 13-15 along College. I wandered its length from Bathurst to Shaw and back again early Saturday afternoon. It was notably busier on the way back, but I suspect it’s craziest in the evening. While I haven’t found attendance numbers, I suspect that over the three days attendance is in the hundreds of thousands, but it’s spread out both geographically and temporally, so it doesn’t feel particularly crowded. Similar to the Annex Festival, Taste of Little Italy has food and craft vendors, music, and stuff for kids; it’s simply more plentiful and splendid. Numerous restaurants along the strip extend into the street with portable kitchens, so cooking smells pervade the air. Bands play at four different venues throughout each day and evening, with music ranging from traditional Italian to rock; sometimes traditional dancers add to the festivities. At each end of the festival, away from the crowds, kids’ rides and amusement activities are set up. Because this year’s festival coincided with the FIFA World Cup, event organizers also constructed an enormous video wall inside a large licensed beer tent, so fans could come down and watch Italy play. Team jerseys were in evidence and clearly this year’s festival attracted lots of soccer fans. The highlight of my day was relocating Dolce Gelato so I could enjoy two scoops, one of cioccolato and one of pistachio Siciliano, a taste sensation I discovered with my Dad when I was seven and we were living in Rome.

Traditional dancing at the Taste of Little Italy

Traditional dancing at the Taste of Little Italy

Little Paco--an Italian soccer fan

Little Paco–an Italian soccer fan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steam on Queen was the afternoon of June 21 at the historic Campbell House on Queen at University. As well as attracting vendors and entertainers, what I love about this festival is that it also encourages grown-up dress-up in vintage or steampunk fashion. While some of the vendors are local, many travel from out of province to sell their wares. Some sell vintage or handmade clothing, others sell jewellery or other trinkets handmade from repurposed watch parts and found objects. The entertainment is somewhat esoteric, including acrobatic rope work, belly dancing and a theremin player. Inside Campbell House, was a display of the inventions of R. Phinius Bodine (aka Russell Zeid, an educator from the Ontario Science Centre). Also on display inside Campbell House were some props and rushes from a remake of the 1927 Fritz Lang silent film Metropolis (at least that was my understanding… I might be wrong).

A dashing steampunk gentleman

A dashing steampunk gentleman

Very glad that this steampunk insect is caged!

Very glad that this steampunk insect is caged!

 

 

 

 

 

Not sure what mischief I’ll get up to in July, but I’m on the look-out!

Dr Zeid  accosted by one of his own weapons (by me!)

Dr Zeid accosted by one of his own weapons (by me!)

© Catherine Jenkins 2014 all rights reserved

Old Friends and New Transit

This is my update for Marpril (March and April), even if that does sound like an Agatha Christie heroine. It was an overly busy winter and between an out-of-town reading, researching and writing two articles for peer review, teaching five classes—oh, and trying to write my PhD dissertation—I kind of ran out of time to post anything in March. So this post, on the last day of April, will have to do double duty.

On March 10, I was in Ottawa. I was invited to read at the Carleton University Art Gallery for an event celebrating the work of Dennis Tourbin. I was flown in, put up at a hotel overnight, flown home, and paid a reading fee. Poets don’t usually get treated like that. I felt like a rock star.

The flight left from the Toronto island airport. Calculating transit and the half-hour buffer requested by the airline, I figured that leaving 90 minutes to travel the maybe 40 minutes to the airport, was ample. The subway, which had been closed for signal upgrades the previous weekend (I was travelling on a Monday morning) moved painfully slowly down the University line. I waited 20 minutes for the airport shuttle that runs every 15 minutes. I waited 15 minutes for the airport ferry. I arrived at the island airport as my flight was gunning down the runway. For the first time in my life, I actually missed a flight. They readily re-booked me, and another passenger, on the next flight to Ottawa. But seriously, there’s no way it should take 90 minutes to get from the Annex to the island. That’s longer than it takes me to get to Pearson International airport. It just shows how truly broken Toronto transit is.

My old friend Michael Dennis picked me up in Ottawa. When I hadn’t arrived as expected, he wondered if we’d missed each other, if we’d failed to recognize each other after so many years. But in fact, we recognized each other instantly. He drove me back to Kirsti and his house where we spent the afternoon talking. Their house is full of art. It made me realize that I need to get the art back up on my walls. I took it down to repaint a couple of years ago and still haven’t gotten around to putting most of it back up. I realize that this is part of why I feel somewhat dislocated these days. We picked up Kirsti from work and went for dinner, then on to the main event.

More than fifty people packed into a gallery full of Dennis’s work. I got to see folks I hadn’t seen in decades, folks from Ottawa and from Peterborough too. There was John and Terri and Billy the K, Grant and Rob, Gilles and Larry. I was only in Ottawa overnight, so wasn’t able to see Peter or Sandra or Stuart, but so happy to see the people I did see.

I hadn’t done a reading in a while, and it felt good. Mostly, I read Dennis’s work, adding a couple of my own poems about his death. Being there, reading that work, to a largely familiar audience, was incredibly moving. I was also humbled that Nadia, Dennis’s wife, enjoyed what I did and said that my reading of Dennis’s work gave her chills. That got me thinking about how we are, in sometimes unexpected ways, products of our mentors. I learned cadence and a lot more from Dennis, embodied it without realizing. I felt privileged to be part of this event. Thankful to Dennis for pulling us all together once again; he always did have that kind of magnetism, that light, that pulled people together, that ignited the room with joy. In addition to the artwork and the words, he also left behind a strong sense of community. Thank you.

Waiting to hear about the two articles I submitted. Just received proof pages for a peer-reviewed book chapter being published this fall. More on those happenings as news comes available. As of this morning, I’ve finished this term’s classes, grades are in, and I can relax about teaching for a while. I’m presenting at three conferences in May, two in Toronto and one a day-trip to St Catharines. Mostly, I’ll refocus on the dissertation over the next few months. Some events in the offing for late summer, but if I tell you now, it’ll spoil the fun.

© Catherine Jenkins 2014 all rights reserved

What I did on my summer vacation (and what gives me nightmares)

I remember dreading this first-day-of-school assignment, because we did the same thing every  summer. We went to the cottage, which I enjoyed on some levels, but it forced me away from my Dad and my friends, which I didn’t enjoy. I loved the daytime, being outside, swimming, lying on my grandmother’s quilts on the lawn reading comics and eating watermelon. But at night, the sheets were clammy with humidity and it was far too dark. Inevitably, I’d wake in the depths of the night, unable to see my hand in front of me, and get so scared I’d start crying. For years, all my nightmares were of being hunted by malicious forces at the cottage. Having spent months up there as an adult, I’m happy to report that the place of the cottage in my dream world has shifted to one of light.

This past summer, for the most part, I stayed in Toronto; the brief time I was at the cottage, my allergies were awful, so I avoided a prolonged stay. This summer’s highlight was certainly the band reunion, and everything leading up to and away from that.

In August, I made my annual foray to the Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (NOTL). I was late booking, so missed one play I wanted to see and was unable to book my usual B & B, although I did have a visit with Lynn, the owner. I had mixed feelings about my last-minute accommodations, but I enjoyed the birds’ nest behind one of the window shutters. The chatty chicks were nearly as big as their parents and beginning to venture into the huge maple a few feet away.

A small part of the Niagara peach harvest.

A small part of the Niagara peach harvest.

This year, I didn’t visit as many stores or spend much money, and I think I enjoyed NOTL even more as a result. For the first time, I was there during Peach Festival and I think that’s something I’d like to repeat. Three blocks of the main drag, Queen Street, were closed to traffic, allowing vendors to sell locally grown peaches and peach baked goods. In the evening, tables were set up along the street for gourmet dining and local wine sampling. The festival was alive with music; folk, rock, jazz, salsa—even bagpipes. The street felt very different, more relaxed, in part because I could wander back and forth as things caught my attention. The weather was fantastic, beautiful, clear and sunny. At one point, the local biker gang buzzed through town, about thirty of them, so hard not to notice. An interesting contrast. Lots of people were out enjoying the weekend; I even saw Shaw Festival actor Patrick Gallaghan out with his wife buying baked goods.

I’d intentionally left my Saturday evening free, thinking I might indulge in a gourmet meal. But I didn’t feel like it, so instead, I went on a Ghost Walk of NOTL with Lady Cassandra. This was a significant year for such a walk, as it’s the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. For six months during 1813, the Americans occupied this small, but strategic, town, then called Newark. This summer, NOTL flew the vintage fifteen-star American flag alongside the Canadian flag, to mark the anniversary. Historically, there’s a lot of pain in this soil. When the Americans left, they razed the town, leaving about 400 residents, mostly women, children and the elderly, without shelter in December. Many froze to death. This cruel civilian attack was condemned by both the British and Americans. It also laid the course for reprisals, including the burning of the original White House. While the town was rebuilt, many lives were lost, some brutally, during the war years. And the losses didn’t end with the conclusion of that war. The room I stayed in is occasionally haunted by its former occupant, a young woman who committed suicide after her American husband was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg in the summer of 1863 during the American Civil War. Abagail reportedly doesn’t haunt romantics, so I was left in peace, however, those of you who know me well know that I’m highly impressionable when it comes to spooky stuff. I don’t do horror movies because the images haunt me for weeks or even months. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep well and yes, I had to check under the bed a couple of times because I kept getting flashes from an Evil Dead movie trailer.

Self-portrait in Abagail's Rest. Spooky.

Self-portrait in Abagail’s Rest. Spooky.

And, oh yeah, I went to three plays. With the number of actor friends I have, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’d never seen the classic, Guys and Dolls. I was surprised that I knew at least half the score. Although I’d heard Bugs Bunny described as a Damon Runyon-esque character, I’d never understood the parallel until seeing this play. Wow. Talk about a culturally influential show! Peace in Our Time, a later Shaw play, wasn’t, in my opinion, one of his best. Although full of social and anti-war comment, it lacked the level of wit I generally associate with GBS. It felt very heavy handed and static. Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, on the other hand, was lovely. A thrilling satire that skewers Victorian morals, it contains such immortal lines as: “I can resist everything except temptation” and “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” I really enjoyed the acting, staging and costumes in this production. The music choices between acts were…unexpected: Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties,” Rufus Wainwright’s “Art Teacher” and Katy Perry’s “Firework.” While I kind of understood the significance of the first two, the final choice seemed to overwhelm the play’s finale, but that is a minor complaint. If you want to visit Shawfest, all three plays continue into mid-October or early November.

This was the second time I took transit to NOTL and it just doesn’t work well, so I’ll probably go back to renting a car. The GO schedule doesn’t take curtain time into consideration, so play-goers may have to cab it from either St Catharines or Niagara Falls. Of course, the  other advantage of a car is that I can stock up on local fruit and wine before heading back to the city.

Morning Glory

Morning Glory

At home, my balcony garden really took off this year. As well as violas, morning glories, marigolds, portulaca, begonias, impatiens, and sweet potato vines, I tried a gerbera daisy for the first time. It’s been sending up bright new blossoms all summer. The quality and range of floral colours have been lovely and it’s been really gratifying to have bees visiting my sixth-floor balcony. Additionally, I tried growing vegetables this year. I started them indoors from seed, probably a little late. I have about a dozen tomatoes, half-a-dozen cucumbers, and an uncertain number of peppers coming along. It was more successful than my previous attempt at a balcony vegetable garden, and I learned a few things, so plan to try again next year.

CNE midway at dusk

CNE midway at dusk

My friend James and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE) and did some of the usual things and a few new things. We saw an intimate performance of the Flying Wallendas’ high-wire act. We missed the Super Dogs, so we checked out the miniature horses instead. We also walked through the cat show, which consisted of a variety of over-bred felines, mostly sleeping in their carriers. I was really taken with the Savannah cats, until I found out that they’re a cross between a wild serval and a domestic cat, only recently accepted as a new breed. Although a striking and affectionate cat, I don’t know why people can’t just leave wild cats alone to do what they do in their natural habitat. I was also really glad to see a large booth for Ninth Life Cat Rescue, an organization that rescues cats from death row in shelters, housing them until they can be adopted. If you’re considering feline companionship, personally, I think adopting from a shelter is a more responsible way to go. We wandered through the international pavilion, watched people on midway rides, and, after much consideration, I ate a deep fried Mars Bar, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

In other news, I completed the revised draft of Pairs & Artichoke Hearts. I got some great feedback from one of my first readers, and there’s some further work I’d like to do before sending out queries. I was also able to get back to writing my PhD dissertation; last year’s car accident did a number on my cognitive abilities, among other things, but I feel like my head is finally fully back in the game. I drove for the first time since the accident, even at night and in the rain, and nothing bad happened. I attended four funerals and a wedding, the ratio perhaps a sign of age. I did some non-academic reading, including Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 (all 925 pages), as well as some hybrid hardboiled science fiction, and some comic books. I went to a few movies, notably Red 2, Iron Man 3, and Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.

I took more time off than I’d intended, but the upside of that is now I’m eager to get back to schoolwork! And that’s a good thing.

© Catherine Jenkins 2013

One Mind Band Reunion!

“We’re getting the band back together. Really.” That was the message I got from Ian in April. (Where would we be without The Blues Brothers and Face Book?) One Mind hadn’t played together in (gulp) 28 years! A gig was booked at the Hunter Street Caribbean Festival, a Jamaica Self-Help fundraiser in Peterborough, and most of the other band members had already been tracked down; some of the guys were travelling from Bermuda and Calgary, as well as Peterborough and Toronto. In spite of a certain trepidation (When was the last time I played on stage? When was the last time I even played?) I jumped at the chance. The idea was to keep it simple, make it fun. Dub-reggae with two basses was definitely going to be fun!

Ian and me together gives a whole new meaning to double bass. Rob on the kit in the background. Special thank to Loren.

Ian and me together gives a whole new meaning to double bass. Rob on the kit in the background. Special thank to Loren for most of these photos!

I’ve been a closeted musician for years now, essentially since I left Peterborough. With the impending gig, I pulled out my bass and my flute, and started trying to sing again. I discovered that I’d forgotten how to tune a guitar. My fingers were stiff and clumsy, with nothing of the speed I remembered having. To my surprise, I got sound out of my flute on the first try! I practiced a little each day and everything started to come back, kind of like opening the lid on a past life.

 

With eight of us scattered across Canada and beyond, the reunion proved to be a positive test of technology. Ian posted a bunch of old songs online, and after I figured out how to digitize my wonky old cassette tapes, I posted a few more. We’d never written anything down; it was all done by ear, so having and sharing the recordings was essential. We voted on our favourites and came up with a set list. Old-school reggae never gets old and Chet’s poetry is still surprisingly relevant. While it’s good that the words aren’t particularly dated, it shows how few social injustices and inequalities have been addressed in all this time.

Chet on lead vocals at the Toronto gig.

Chet on lead vocals at the Toronto gig. Parts of John and Rob in the background.

The week before the gig, those of us in Toronto got together for a half-band practice. Ian and I doubled up on bass, with me also doing a bit of flute and vocals, and Ian sometimes playing with percussion toys. Rico pulled out his percussion instruments, and John, who’d just flown in from Bermuda with some rum, supplied guitar chops. And yeah, we did practice, but some of us hadn’t seen each other in decades, so it was also a chance to catch up on life. Then we trekked up to Peterborough to join the rest of the band for two more rehearsals. Rob, the only one of us still gigging regularly, has been playing guitar with Dub Trinity, a fabulous Peterborough-based ska band. Chet, our intrepid lead vocalist, has recorded four CDs in the last few years, continuing to write politically charged lyrics addressing existing and new political situations. Tim, joining Rico on percussion, flew in from Calgary, and so did David, complete with his keyboard in a substantial travel case. (There was some conjecture that perhaps some of the smaller band members, i.e., me, might be transported safely to out-of-country gigs in a such a travel case.) Rob negotiated rehearsal space for us at Artspace and the set came together surprisingly smoothly.

August 1, I came in from the cottage early to check out my old stomping ground of Peterborough. They’d closed the street between George and Water for the Festival, making way for vendor and food tents, as well as the stage, and people were beginning to drift in. The guys started to arrive, several with partners and kids. There was entertainment throughout the late afternoon and evening, with One Mind taking the stage at 7:45.

Me belting out lead vocals on one number. David on keys.

Me belting out lead vocals on one number. David on keys.

Was it perfect? Well, no. Was it fun? Hell yeah!! We had a great time and had overwhelmingly positive feedback. We saw people we hadn’t seen in decades. Part of the magic of reggae is that even when the message is critical, the music makes you move. A cluster of little kids danced in front of the stage and Ian’s Mum, in her 80s, was there, dancing and smoking in front of her chair, a little smile on her face. When I tried to introduce myself to her later, she said, “I know exactly who you are!” She actually remembered me, which was a surprise. Dub Trinity came on right after us, so Rob immediately switched from the drum kit to his guitar, something he said was a bit of a relief. We get used to doing what we’re doing now and it’s challenging to try something one hasn’t done in a long time. Eventually, we all ended up at Rob and Sarah’s seated around the table in their backyard, talking well into the night.

The next day, we all made our way to Toronto, for the second, more intimate gig, in Patti’s garage. Rico and his partner William hosted another barbeque (the first was at Rob and Sarah’s on one of the rehearsal nights) and so, yeah, we were definitely running on Caribbean time for set up! It was a smaller audience, again with some family, some folks who drove down from Peterborough and some Toronto friends.

Left to right, me, Ian, Rico and Tim at the Toronto gig.

From left to right, me, Ian, Rico and Tim at the Toronto gig.

 

Rico’s Mum commented afterwards: “What a wonderful group of people you all are and you all looked happy playing music. You are all good people and good friends.” No one wanted it to end, the goodbyes hanging on. People said their goodnights, but only made it as far as the walkway. I kept thinking of the little character at the end of Just for Laughs who cries, “Mommy, it’s over!”

I woke up at five the next morning, around the time a couple of the guys would’ve been leaving for the airport to head to their respective homes. One Mind indeed. And now I’ve had a couple weeks to reflect on something so special that it’s difficult to articulate. As Rob noted, there wasn’t any of the “back in the good old days” which sometimes pervades reunions; maybe because we’re all feeling pretty happy in our lives, “these are the good old days” (to quote Carly Simon). When Tim told me “You look exactly the same!” I said thanks, then suggested that he’d better not look too closely, but essentially, we do all look pretty much the same—except for Rico, who looks even better! David noted that none of us have gained weight; in fact, in spite of a few accidents, a couple considerably more catastrophic than mine last fall, we’re all in pretty good shape.

From left to right, John, Chet, David, Rico and Rob enjoying the barbeque before the Toronto gig.

From left to right, John, Chet, David, Rico and Rob enjoying the barbeque before the Toronto gig.

I love these guys. I feel really fortunate to have been part of this band, then and now. This feels like a reconnection, a lost link regained. Amazing how quickly the connections come back together, how fast we were back in synch; only a couple of full band rehearsals and we were reading each other like old paperbacks. This is the way people play together, through the transmission of body cues, even if most of us haven’t played with anyone in years. And getting back together again supercharged a creative energy in me that had been running kind of low. After trying for several years, I’m finally back into the music. It revealed some things to me about my youth, about how, in spite of some external criticisms, I was on a positive path. We’ve all made it to middle age with most of our youthful ideals, ethics and humour intact. I mean sure, we’ve grown up, most are happily partnered, some with kids, most have bought houses and cars, and some have lost parents, but all of us seem to have settled into lives we enjoy, doing things we value and feel positively about. There’s no sense of resignation common to middle age, no jaded cynicism. And when we play, it’s like we’re twenty-something again, with that same spirit and energy. If we’ve made it through to the middle years with our youthful hearts intact, I think we’ve got a good shot at making it into old age the same way; I think we’ll help keep each other young in all the right ways.

It was fun before, but it feels like so much more fun now. A reunion of something so positive and affirming, that no one wanted it to end. And it won’t. We’ve been sharing photos, videos and sound recordings of the gigs online (links coming!). There’s already talk about another reunion again soon, maybe in Calgary or Bermuda, where some of the other band members live. There’s talk of not waiting another 30 years until next time, or there won’t be room onstage for all eight of us with our walkers.

Thank you all. Blessed be. Safe journeys (“life is a journey”). One Love.

Me and the boys after the Toronto gig.

Me and the boys after the Toronto gig.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2013