Category Archives: Writing

Fall 2007

Although perhaps more Luddite than some, I’m also more technically savvy than others. I’m part of that awkward in-between generation that didn’t grow up with much technology, but was introduced to it at an early enough age to be able to integrate it into an understanding of the world and the way things work. As such, I may be a bit reluctant to embrace new technologies, but sometimes also pleasantly wowed.

I despair that kids these days figure they don’t have to learn to write or spell or do basic math because there are machines to do these things for them. I’m not sure how they’re going to cope when the power fails. But hey, middle-aged fuddy-duddies have been wondering about the next generation since the Ancient Greeks and somehow we’re still here.

The Internet enables the spread of information-and misinformation-at previously unavailable speeds. This has opened the door to a whole new arena of enlightenment and potential frustration.

I’ve been trying to correct some misinformation that got online about my involvement with a series of books. When I’ve contacted specific offending websites requesting that they correct this information, they generally shrug and claim that it’s not their problem; their information comes from the distributor, who, of course, gets its information from the publisher, who was responsible for creating the misinformation in the first place. As an individual outside this loop, I apparently have no voice, even though it’s my name and reputation being misrepresented. Needless to say, I was forced to go a more formal route to seek resolution. Although the situation has improved, it still isn’t resolved. Why? Because misinformation replicates itself ad nauseum, just as information does, on the Internet. As Caleb Carr pointed out in Killing Time, on the Internet, there’s no differentiation between information and truth. There’s no consideration of authenticity or validity; there’s only endlessly streaming data.

Not all Internet errors are so annoying. I occasionally receive fan mail, even from radio stations, for Katherine Jenkins, the Welsh Mezzo Soprano. What I find funny is that these fans don’t realize that our names are spelled differently, so they end up on my website rather than hers. Then, even though my website is pretty obviously that of a writer, rather than a vocalist, they still go ahead and e-mail me. But hey, I’m a good person. I redirect them. If I get back to my music, things may become even more confusing. Of course, I’ve also discovered one, possibly two, other writers named Catherine Jenkins. While they seem to be in the UK, there’s still lots of room for growing confusion, thanks to the globalizing nature of the Internet.

On the plus side, the Internet has enabled me to locate numerous people I’d misplaced or even forgotten. I’ve reconnected with people from high school and my old hometown of Peterborough, people I’d lost touch with for fifteen or twenty years. E-mail allows me to stay in greater contact with friends who live at a distance. While I still write an occasional letter or make an occasional long distance phone call, this is a way of saying “hey” at the moment of that thought, with an immediacy that doesn’t have the disruptive effect of a ringing telephone. It allows people to mention the regular minutiae of a day in a way we generally don’t in letters. It’s a hybrid form of communication that supports the advantages of both telephones and letters.

Professionally, electronic media and communication have made things much easier and more efficient for me. Writing research is a whole lot simpler using the Internet-as long as one keeps a critical eye on the information source. I’ve also been able to track down and contact other professionals to request information, guidance or input into something I’m working on. The technology is great, as long as it’s used intelligently.

I’m also pleased that some literary journals are now accepting submissions via e-mail. From my perspective, that reduces the time and cost of handling, office supplies and postage. Electronic submissions are especially welcome when I’m submitting outside Canada. I gave up on International Reply Coupons some years ago; they’re expensive and I found that not everyone on the receiving end knew what they were or how to redeem them. Whenever I travel to the US or UK, I buy postage stamps, but the rates keep changing, so I still have to research current rates and figure out how to make whatever stamps I have add up. If a journal accepts electronic submissions, I don’t have to worry about return postage on my SASE. I’m currently compiling data to see if the turnaround time on electronic submissions is any faster than those sent the old-fashioned way.

So, as with most things, I can see both pros and cons. I use what works to advantage for me and critically consider the rest, accepting that the technology is here now and it’s here to stay.

© Catherine Jenkins 2007

Summer 2006

It’s been a year since my last journal update. Where to start? As was apparent from my last entry, my Dad was failing. And yes, he did die, just after midnight on September 7th, 2005, after a lengthy, but painless, period of decline. There was nothing more that could be done medically and he communicated in many ways that he was ready to go, in fact, almost impatient the last few days.

I moved into the retirement home the last two weeks and am grateful for the support and many kindnesses of the owners, staff and residents. I was with him leading up to and during his passing, the most difficult and important moments of my life to date. And as exhausting and emotional as that was, I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I felt I was where I needed to be. I am also grateful to my many friends, acquaintances and clients for their patient understanding, love and support, which in many cases came from unexpected quarters. If my faith in humanity ever needed any bolstering, it certainly got it. And losing my Dad wasn’t as catastrophic as I’d feared it might be (for that I’m grateful too); it made sense and felt somehow correct.

I took two weeks off to recover both from the loss and the physical strain. I don’t remember much about that period, except I spent most of it at home, doing what I needed to do for myself, whatever that happened to be. Nerves rubbed raw by circumstance, there were some harsh moments with siblings and my Mum, which was unfortunate, but not surprising. We were all at very different stages of grief, all handling it our own way, all sure our way of handling it was the correct way. And it was correct for each us, but not for each other. I found myself biting my tongue with family and needing to be alone even more than usual.

And then I went into workaholic mode, one of my methods of coping with extreme emotional stress. Even as I was doing it, I knew it was reactive, a socially acceptable method of avoidance. So I worked sixty to eighty hours a week for several months and by the spring, I knew enough time had passed that I could stop doing that.

In my Dad’s last weeks he was mentally in England a lot, the place he went to university and first worked and first married. It was obviously a quickening for him, a time of profound growth and change. One day last summer he said he “wanted out of this snake pit” a reference, I think, more to the situation than the actual accommodation. When I asked him where he’d rather be, he closed his eyes and said rather dreamily, “On the Thames on a Tuesday afternoon.” He wanted to be in England. So I made that happen as best I could.

I started planning the trip shortly after his death last fall and finally went in June. I travelled lightly, spending a week in London, staying in one of the residences of his old university, wandering around the Bloomsbury district he had wandered. I devoted Tuesday to the Thames, doing the London Eye, a riverboat tour and walking the embankment. On Wednesday, I took the tube to Ealing, found his old residence (no longer part of the university) and the church in which his friend had introduced him to Bach. I then continued to Kew Gardens and walked along the Thames path to Richmond. And there, on a quiet part of the river, surrounded by lush trees and grasses and birds, I scattered the small film canister of his ashes I’d been carrying with me throughout the trip.

And yes, I felt he was so close, even after the tangible remains had been combined with the waters and mud of that old river. I kept asking him for guidance, what I was to do with these ashes. I knew that the busy downtown London Thames on a windy, chilly afternoon wasn’t right. And I let him guide me to the right place, the place he’d intended. And when I reached it, I knew I wasn’t to go into Kew Gardens, but around it on the path. And when I reached the right place, I could feel him telling me that, pushing me to get on with it. And once I had, there was such a profound sense completion, of having done what I’d been asked to do, such a lifting of weight and grief and of things left undone. That’s stayed with me and now I feel I truly am moving forward again.

The trip to England continued with a driving tour through Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. I’m proud to say I drove 734.4 miles on English “highways” without serious incident. I have to admit it was a challenging learning curve though. Driving on the left was the easiest part of it; getting used to such narrow roads with stone walls on either side and minimal road signage was much more challenging. But I saw everything I set out to see: Bath, Avebury, Stonehenge, Salisbury, Corfe Castle, Looe, Polpero, St. Michael’s Mount, Boswell, Tintagel, Clovelly, Glastonbury and Wells. I did lots of writing and took lots of photos. And although I never stopped for very long, I came home feeling relaxed, refreshed and regenerated.

Since coming home, I’ve also taken my annual trip to the Shaw Festival in beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake. I saw two plays by G.B., Too True to be Good and Arms and the Man, both very timely vehicles with characters enmeshed in war; both typical Shaw plays, witty and intelligent, funny and pointed. Plays that make you think. I also saw Noel Coward’s Design For Living, a brilliant and honest consideration of a three-way relationship. It’s the sign of great writing when seventy years after the fact, it’s still relevant and all three of these plays are. I also saw High Society, which, after my afternoon wine tour, delivered an appropriate level of fun fluff. And I finally had an opportunity to sample some fruit wines (plum and blackberry), something I’ve wanted to try for years; I was not disappointed. So, another lovely trip.

Now that I’m back home for the rest of the summer (with the exception of short trips to the family cottage), I’m writing in earnest again. Well, not in earnest, because it’s a romantic comedy. I’m back working on the novelization of my screenplay Pairs & Artichoke Hearts and enjoying it immensely. An excerpt is posted on the Works in Progress page.

Wishing you a fun, relaxed summer to enjoy the company of those you love.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2006

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

Nov – Dec 2003

I’m writing this as the Santa Claus Parade is going by a block away. I can hear Mums and Dads hooting their horns as they jockey for parking positions. It would seem the holiday season is almost upon us. Not sure how that happened. This year seems to have passed exceedingly quickly. Yet, at the same time, it’s been a year of major upheavals and catastrophes, so in some respects, it’ll be a good year to have over and done with. Time to start making holiday plans, baking and perhaps buying gifts for friends and family. Looking for a good book? Here are some of my recent finds.

The most exiting writer I stumbled upon this year, was British author Kate Atkinson. As so often happens, someone else found her first. My friend Peter bought me a copy of Emotionally Weird and told me I had to read it. It’s the wittiest, most intelligent, most intriguing, most closely observed book I’ve read in a very long time. I’ve since read Human Croquet, which I didn’t think was quite as good. I have yet to read Behind the Scenes at the Museum, her Whitbread Award winning first novel. The “Wonderful Unofficial Kate Atkinson Website” is available at: Click on Texts to find blurbs on all her books or get a taste of her work by following the links to Not the End of the World, her new short story collection, and read “Tunnel of Fish.” Even her titles give you some sense of what she’s playing with.

Of course I also read the new Tom Robbins, Villa Incognito, with great pleasure. Although I think it’s his strongest work to date in many ways, this book got mixed reviews. Notably, Canadian critics loved it, while some American critics were really harsh. Mr. Robbins has always been one to speak his mind in his work and here, the gloves are definitely off. He’s pushed a lot of buttons in the American consciousness and I’m sure made a lot of people very uncomfortable. As I said to someone after reading it, he’s probably got the CIA or FBI or somebody camped on his doorstep. But we figured he’s probably used to that by now. Authentic writers say what they need to say, what they feel compelled to say, and damn the consequences (which is why we need organizations like PEN). Mr. Robbins is completely authentic, gutsy and incredible fun! He gets my deepest respect and loudest laughs every time.

I recently had the pleasure of being selected to do a reading along with Andrew Pyper. I was taken with the whole idea of The Trade Mission (cyber-nerds meet harsh reality in the Amazon jungle). It’s near the top of my reading pile and I’m hoping to get to it during the holiday lull.

In poetry, I highly recommend sub rosa, the new collection by Stan Rogal, with full colour graphics by Jacquie Jacobs. A multi-layered marriage of word and image, this book is a creative, evocative hybrid, which washes over the reader. A very successful experiment!

On the children’s book front, I recently picked up Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, a book about a little girl who enters an alternative universe with an alternative Mum and Dad. How to find her way back to her own reality when this set of parents wants to keep her in their universe? I have a feeling it’s going to have very interesting psychological overtones. Neil Gaiman, of Sandman comic fame, has been writing novels for the past few years, some more successful than others. My favourite is still Bad Omens, the project he undertook with Terry Pratchet (of Discworld fame). It’s a cheery little book about the end of the world. I first read it when I was feeling somewhat depressed and found it utterly uplifting. It’s one of those rare books that can radically adjust one’s perspective.

I’m also looking forward to The Morning Star, the third installment of Nick Bantock’s Gryphon & Sabine trilogy. His work never fails to intrigue me. It’s such an amazing synthesis of imagination, visual invention and compilation of artifacts from around the world. Transporting in a way that most picture books don’t manage.

With the plethora of books that are written and published each year, I’m sure there are many more out there that I’d really enjoy, that I’ve missed. They’ll find their way to me if and when they’re meant to and I’ll get to them as time allows. Please support your local independent bookstore throughout the year.

Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, Bodhi Gaya, Eid ul-Fitr, Lux Mundi, Saturnalia, Mother Night, Winter Solstice, Yule, Kwanzaa, (sorry if I missed your holiday of choice) or quiet day off in your jammies and fuzzy slippers to read a good book. Wishing you safe travel, much joy and peace. I think we’ve earned it this year.

© Catherine Jenkins, 2003


June – July 2003

It’s all about balance, one of those things in which there can be an enormous gap between theory and practice, between intellectual understanding and living it. And being someone with a natural tendency to obsess on intricate and specific things for long periods of time (‘tis the nature of writers and editors) sometimes that balance can get radically off-kilter. Don’t worry, I’m working on it.

By this time last year, Swimming in the Ocean, the first novel, a novel it took me ten years to understand how to complete, was out and I was in full tour mode. But by this spring, I was in a mild state of depression, a place I hadn’t been for quite some time. I think it was brought on by a series of things happening concurrently: let-down from finishing the book at long last, tour exhaustion, financial stress, too long and cold a winter, and finding several people dear to me also suffering various stresses. I was seriously considering packing my bags and leaving (Toronto, that is), not that I had any place else in mind. It was more an escapist consideration than anything else. Realizing that no matter where you go, there you are, I stayed.

Things turned very suddenly. For several weeks, I found myself overcommitted to paying work, sometimes juggling three clients simultaneously, afraid to turn projects down, getting up at five or six in the morning to start work, just to try to get it all done. That phase seems to have passed now, allowing me some time and energy to get back to what I’m really here for: writing.

Depression is a low-energy state, a state in which it’s difficult to locate creative energy; too long without a creative fix can send me into severe depression. Being overworked is a high-energy (or high-anxiety) state, a state that, while invigorating, is a difficult one in which to locate creative time. I seem to function optimally when there’s too much going on. I need a great deal of stimulation to keep from getting bored; if I get bored, I also become depressed (something that keeps me away from routine jobs). I think a period of hyperactivity was necessary to snap me out of the state I was in. Since rebounding from these two extremes (both of which had a negative impact on my writing productivity), I now feel like I’ve relocated my centre, my balance.

My psycho-emotional life is a bit of a tightrope by times, an exercise in extremes – anyone who’s read Swimming in the Ocean is probably already aware of that. You may be relieved to hear that I’m considerably less volatile than I used to be. I’ve worked to understand what to avoid and how to explore difficult emotions, which are often necessary to the writing, more safely. Which isn’t to say I don’t go out on limbs anymore; I certainly do, but I usually tie off the safety rope first.

Although statistically people are more prone to depression the more times they experience it, personally I feel that the work I’ve done in understanding my depression has made me more conscious of when I’m moving in that direction and more able to redirect my energies more productively.

Although I have been offered the quick magic of pills to alleviate the symptoms of depression, I’ve always declined. I’d rather develop my own coping strategies, no matter how rudimentary. It gives me a greater sense of control. There’s no denying that antidepressants help a lot of people, but recent clinical evidence, which agrees with my experiential evidence, supports the notion that talk therapy alone can change brain chemistry. Unfortunately, I think we as a society are too busy or too lazy or too disconnected to sit down and do the work of actually figuring out what the problem is and would generally rather pop a pill to feel better, while not addressing our damaging behaviour. While medication can make talk therapy more approachable in some instances, the drugs alone don’t fix anything. They’re a little like putting a bandage on someone’s toe while gangrene is consuming their leg.

I recently heard stats on the rapid growth in the use of antidepressants in Canada. Hopefully this dramatic increase isn’t simply the result of mass-marketting campaigns by pharmaceutical giants out to pad their earnings reports, but I’m not sure what to make of it. If we, as a society, are becoming more accepting and supportive of people with depression and other mental illnesses, I think it’s a good thing and about time too. Denial, the inability to discuss psycho-emotional problems, even among families or with friends, is damaging and has caused tragedies to be needlessly repeated. However, if the dramatic increase in the use of antidepressants points to an increase in depression in our society (and there’s a lot to be depressed about in our world), that’s frightening. Maybe we all need to take a serious time-out this summer, reassess our priorities in life, turn off the news and stop trying to run our lives around the technology that keeps pushing us to produce ever-faster. What have you done for yourself lately?

I’ve gone back to playing the piano, working primarily on Bach Inventions (for now) in an effort to get my hands and focus back. I was surprised at how much better I felt and can’t figure out if it’s the playing or if it’s the Bach (used extensively in music therapy because of the soothing effect of it’s mathematical stability). I felt calmer and more in control. What surprised me even more was that when I got busy and stopped making the time to play, a friend of mine commented on the difference. I knew playing was helping me internally, but it was helping externally more than I’d realized. So I’ve been playing again this week and now that I fully appreciate the point, I shall continue.

This is the sixth summer I’ve been in Toronto and I have yet to really engage with the city. My presence here has just felt too tentative, but that’s beginning to change. This may be the first summer I’ve really enjoyed for a long time. I have tea plans with various friends, have made note of some historical walks, have picked up tickets to see the big Rolling Stones concert, and generally I’m just keeping my eyes and ears open for interesting opportunities.

Now that the mad rush is over, I’m settling in to complete the rewrite of the novel version of Pairs & Artichoke Hearts, the gender-bender romantic-comedy screenplay I wrote in ’96. I like the idea of publishing work in the order in which it was conceived, so I want to complete this project before turning back to the new novel, which is well on its way.

I need to produce, to keep on keepin’ on. It makes me feel alive, most comfortable in my own skin. And maybe someday, if I persevere long enough, the work will provide for me and I won’t have to spread my time and energies so thinly. That would make me genuinely and deeply happy. In this life, we aren’t necessarily rewarded for our efforts, at least not always immediately or as expected, but as a music teacher of mine once said, “I find the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

©Catherine Jenkins 2003