Sunday, December 31, 2006


I have labeled 135 of my 168 posts, an interesting exercise. When I finish, I will go back and combine some of the categories. The exercise gives me a better idea of the structure of my blog, how I have kept to the theme, tracing, how I have deviated. Can I figure out which categories readers are interested in, because of course the idea is to communicate. Otherwise, I would write in a private journal, although most people who write in a journal have the idea that some day someone will read it. A friend was telling me the sad story of her mother’s journals, that her mother had obviously wanted them kept and read, but her brother and his wife had burned them, saying that they didn’t want people to know the family business. My friend harbors the hope that they didn’t burn the journals, just hid them. I treasure my grandmother’s two diaries and letters. They let me into a life I knew nothing about before.

Sharp Sand decided to start all over with his blog, giving it a new form, a new voice. I can see the temptation of that. Wipe the blackboard clean.

Tales from a Reading Room takes stock of her blogging year. She gives us a piece of etiquette that I didn’t know before, that it is customary to respond to the comments on your blog. That makes sense, to keep a dialogue going.

A New Year means something to students and teachers, starting a new semester. When I went to college, the old semester continued after New Years Day so I have never had that feeling. A New Year means something for my finances, my taxes. I begin a new calendar. I have never made New Year’s resolutions, so that aspect of the New Year is lost. Somehow the change seems arbitrary, unreal, even unimportant.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Fiddling with the Blog

Yesterday I sat down to the computer to continue revising the old novel. I had been up since 5:15 AM, so that after a while my brain became too weary even for revising. I began to fiddle with this blog, decided it would be fun to put on labels, learned how to do it (not hard, as I thought it would be), and did some of the 167. What use are labels, I wondered.

I found a blogspot page I didn’t know existed, telling how comments are to be received. It said that the only registered bloggers can comment. That must be the default. I didn’t know that. This must be why my friend Ted can’t comment. What function does this default serve – to prevent bad people from commenting? Do people surf the net looking for unprotected sites upon which they may type the f word? Or worse, I suppose. What would happen if I checked the box that allowed anyone to comment?

I found that I could have a comment window pop up, which I checked, that I could moderate comments, which I didn’t check, that I could have “type the funny letters you see here” section (I can’t remember if I checked that or not.)

I probably should have been following Another Country’s lead and re-organized my kitchen drawers instead of fiddling with the blog. The trouble with such re-organization is that for the next two years I would be looking in the wrong drawer for the peeler.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Idea of the Holy

Ten years ago I wrote an article about the arts every week for the New Brunswick Reader. One week I wrote about the art in Wilmot Church, citing the William Morris/Burne-Jones window, the Alex Colville decoration, the carved hand on the steeple, the magnificent vaulted ceiling, some other art treasures. I used my research for that article to write a tour guide of the church and that found its way into the church website. I wrote to SpiritConnection, the United Church TV program, suggesting the art of Wilmot as a program, and they came to film it. (I have been on the church communication committee for as long as it’s been in business.) SpiritConnection gave me my first (and only) TV credit as associate producer.

In the article I used a much loved passage from one of my favorite books, The Idea of the Holy. I have put it up above, in the blog description. For the past ten years, I have particularly savoured the ambience of the church every Sunday. I never tire of looking at the window (I always sit near it) and the vaulted ceiling. Occasionally, on the late Christmas Eve service, for example, the church lights are dimmed, the candles shine; the “mysterious play of half-lights” does indeed induce the numinous. On the Christmas Eve of 1988 that numinous worked its enchantment on my whole family.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Attending Wilmot Church allowed me to understand Fredericton better. We gradually came to know the people in the university and those in our neighborhood, but they weren’t usually from Fredericton. The Wilmot men were silent but pleasant and perfect gentlemen. The women were old-fashioned, unblemished by the woman’s movement. Most of them didn’t drive, so I would give them a ride home from the women’s group, Miss Chappelle’s unit of the UCW. Their presentation of food was perfect. When they made “small cakes”, the pieces were flawlessly square, with no ragged edges. I have never mastered that, and now I resign myself that I probably never will. The women wore hats to church.

They quilted. I had never known anyone who quilted although my grandmother embroidered, and one of my six aunts crocheted. Quilting requires a steady hand and absolute patience. The mother of a Japanese professor came to Fredericton, discovered quilting, and went back to Tokyo to begin the craft. She did the designs, but she hired women to do the actual quilting. She didn’t use the traditional designs of log cabin and the like, nor did she do Oriental designs, but she was influenced by Escher. The quilts were so wonderful that the Beaverbrook Art Gallery had an exhibition of them. I heard two women discussing them. The stitching was very poor, they agreed. I felt superior. The stitching might be poor, but the designs were so original and creative, I thought.

But all these long years later, I understand that wasn’t the point. The point was to do something flawlessly from beginning to end, with tiny perfect stitches, and using the traditional designs in a creative, original way. I can imagine Marilynne Robinson writing Gilead (which took many years – twenty?), every sentence perfect, using the traditional structure of the novel.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

More Tracing

Wilmot United Church is at the crossroad of King and Carleton, right in the centre of the city. There is no lawn, very little parking, and no room to expand. A while ago, there was talk of selling the church and moving to the suburbs. Our membership was dwindling and there were very few young people, but a series of excellent ministers, the decision to make them into a team ministry, one radical minister, and two women attracted young ardent people. It helped too that the competing United Church hired a fundamental, right-wing minister who drove many of his congregation into our arms.

One Sunday a few weeks ago, there was no room for me downstairs, and I had to go into the balcony. I sat in the second row on the side, and a mother with two active boys, perhaps 6 and 4, sat in front of me. The mother let her 6 year old climb under the railing and into the middle section, and then back, risking a fall of perhaps 30 feet. The 4 year old jumped up and down as if to vault over the railing. A terrifying worship service. I had a momentary desire for the good old days when there was plenty of room downstairs and no children.

When I started attending Wilmot, the minister at that time had a nasal voice, as if he needed to blow his nose. His sermons were uninspired. The music was insipid. After a year I decided I didn’t believe in the trinity and left to attend the Unitarians. A year ago someone told me that often the minister was weeping in the pulpit because his wife was having an affair. This accounted for the need to blow his nose. I felt very bad that I had not been understanding. I am too judgmental, a terrible trait and a bad habit. Resolutions to be better are not enough to conquer this addiction.

I yearn to be perfect. I know I could kiss a leper, like the saints of old did, but I can’t curb my grumpiness. However, I don’t attend church because it will help me become perfect, for I know it won’t, anymore than it will cure my arthritis. I don’t even know why I attend. Attending does punctuate the week and give it order. And there is always the tempting possibility that God will indeed honour us with his presence one day.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Back to Tracing

A month or so after we arrived in Fredericton, Bill was scanning the horizon with his binoculars. He came rushing into the apartment. “You’ve got to see this.” Our apartment was perhaps two miles from downtown, partway up the hill. What appeared in the binoculars was a steeple topped by a carved wood hand, the index finger pointing skywards.

We learned that the head of Bill’s department attended this church, and he suggested it was the church for me because it had been Methodist before the Methodists, Congregational, and Presbyterians had joined forces to become the United Church of Canada. Churches famously split apart rather than join together; uniting seemed to me to be a good thing for them to have done.

I did join that church, Wilmot United, and except for a few years when I flirted with the Unitarians, I have been a member ever since. Strange to say, although I still feel a little like an outsider, I am now one of the longest-attending members.

I had never been a part of such an impressive church, large enough to hold 1200 people, with a balcony, and handsome wood interior. The blue and maroon decoration had been suggested by Alex Colville before he became a famous artist. It was discovered just a few years ago that a particularly beautiful stained glass window came from the William Morris/Burne-Jones studio.

The congregations of the Methodist churches I attended always sang lustily, joyfully. For the first 30 years I was a member of Wilmot, the singing was insipid, and I missed the familiar hymns of the Methodists. I have a lousy nasal voice, sing in a male register always off-key, and so I am not a candidate for the choir. But I do love to sing. When I was a child in our little church there was a man who had a loud voice, sang slightly off-key but with great gusto. He was eccentric in other ways as well. Sometimes when I am singing, I remind myself of this man, George “Bozo” Reid.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Ideas for the New Year

I have started to read Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul, a combination memoir and ode to the city. Structuring a memoir around a city is such a good idea, that I am tempted to use it to get back to the “tracing my life from birth” theme of this blog. Moving to Fredericton, where I have lived for 41 years, is a central fact of my life.

All the different branches of the Pamuk family live in the Pamuk apartment building. My imagination has been stimulated by such a concept several times – my novel The Opening Eye is about a group of friends who decide to get individual apartments in a new building. The massive, unpublishable novel I just finished (except that I am still working on it) is about an apartment building where the inhabitants become friends.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


We’ve been having a lot of fun the last few days because our daughter is in a terrific commercial which just began airing. Advertising a Canadian lottery, it has her swinging on a chandelier. Her brother said he demonstrated his brotherly affection because he had to watch a lot of lousy television in order to see it. He has managed to videotape it. There seems to be two versions – a longer one and a shorter. It is a strange sensation to merely be tolerating the main show in order to catch a glimpse of the commercial and then to wish the ad would go on longer.

Friday, December 22, 2006


I remember the moment I learned there was no Santa Claus. I was nine and a half. We had just moved into a new house where my brother and I found many treasures left by the previous owners in closets, built-in drawers, and in the barn. The kitchen had the high ceilings of the Victorian house, with cabinets that went up to the top. I thought there might be treasures up there, so I climbed on the sideboard to look. I saw toys. I knew enough not to mention this to my parents, and Christmas morning when those toys came from Santa, I knew for sure. I wasn’t disappointed; instead I had the feeling of discovery, of having figured something out on my own. Quite satisfying.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


I sent a letter to the Globe and Mail. It didn’t appear in our edition, so of course I thought it hadn’t been accepted. In a Christmas card, a friend wrote, “Liked your letter to Globe, Nancy. Last thing we need is charismatic leaders – Charlie Van Horne, Bill Van der Zam, PET etc. Leaves a bad taste in the mouth!”

I searched the Globe and Mail on the internet and came up with the following. In my letter I mentioned Doyle and not LeBlanc, so apparently there were three people who used the term geeky on Dec. 4.

The Dion verdict
Print Edition 05/12/06 Page A22
Jeffrey Simpson (Will Dion Or Critics Have The Last Laugh? -- Dec. 4) and Daniel Leblanc (The Master Of Proving People Wrong -- Dec. 4) describe Stephane Dion as ''geeky.'' I learned 50 years ago that, when choosing a man, geeky is better and a funny-looking haircut beats a good one every time.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Coming and Going

It is hard to believe that soon the day will start to get longer, although as my friend explained to me, because of the proportions, it will not seem to be any longer until well into January. I should get him to explain the situation to me again. The sun is out now, yet so low on the horizon that it seems to be rising rather than having risen two hours ago. I am once again bombarded by people – clerks and radio announcers -- bemoaning the lack of snow. “We won’t have a white Christmas.” Was this ridiculous yearning started by Bing Crosby: “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”? At a time of year when everyone is on the road, making an heroic attempt to get home for Christmas, who wants snow? Who wants a loved one to be driving on the awful stretch of road between Riviere-du-Loup and the New Brunswick border in a blizzard? Someone waiting to collect the insurance money? Someone I love is going to be in a bus on that stretch of road today. Tomorrow two people I love are going to be in a car on that road going the other way. I’m dreaming of a brown Christmas.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Co-ed or Not

The Saturday Globe and Mail had an article about the controversy at Randolph-Macon Women’s College in Virginia. The board of directors has voted to change it into a co-ed college. The students and alumnae are up in arms, but the board argues that they won’t be able to attract students unless they become co-ed. When the same question came up at my college, Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, I wrote defending the status quo, and I was happy that the board decided to remain all-women. For me, it was wonderful to have four years to work unstintingly, in deep concentration, without the distraction of men. I know I would have been quite susceptible to that distraction and to their opinion of me. I could go to class in pajamas, hair uncombed. The G&M article says that the Women’s College Coalition once had 300 affiliated institutions but now has only 57. Only four all-male colleges remain in the USA.

Now I am not so sure that I would object to MHC becoming co-ed. Times have changed (maybe you hadn’t realized that.) Where once we could have the weekend excitement of a blind date at a men’s college, now those colleges are co-ed and the men would not be motivated to go far a field. Where would I have met a future partner? It used to be said that women were reluctant to speak up in a class with men, that men would dominate the discussion. Once a group of Amherst students came to an MHC play and during the discussion afterward, it was true – the men did dominate the discussion. But would that be true now? Probably not.

As I have been tracing my way from birth, I realized (or rather, realized once again), how important my MHC education was to me, how rigorous it was, how liberating, how grateful I am for it. Later I came to realize that other people at my college and at my husband attended in large part for the social cache. I didn’t choose it – it chose me, but today, when a larger percentage of teens go to college, would it choose me again? I doubt it. Or would I even choose it? It now costs $180,000 to go to MHC for four years. It is hard for me to comprehend that figure, but it seems too much and I think that now public universities and colleges have an equal quality of education. Still, the Red Sox just paid a hundred million dollars for a pitcher for 6 years, so yes, the times they are a-changing.

Sunday, December 17, 2006


This morning, after I had finished my writing stint, it came to me how magical it is to create a whole new character. The character I was creating had been mentioned earlier in the novel, but this was the first time she had appeared. The character I set down (or that any writer sets down, for that matter) doesn’t have the complexity of a real person. That would take an unimaginable number of words. I had delight creating her, picturing her sitting on the living room floor, a little jump of my heart. The contentment of writing; nothing like it. I thought back over the characters I had created in the last ten years, not one of whom will be known by anyone but me.

Someone said, I can’t remember who, that a novel is only half-done when the writer finishes it; it needs a reader to complete it. Is that true? Reading it aloud to my two writing groups is probably not as good as it would be to have someone with manuscript in hand, seated in a comfortable chair, with a good reading lamp, deeply immersed in it: the union of teller and told, as the quotation in my blog description has it. I should make more of an effort to publish, I know that, but it is such an awful process, whereas the process of creating a world and the people in it is so satisfying that it makes me serene the rest of the day.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Christmas is Coming

Our granddaughter is coming for Christmas, a delightful surprise. One of my neighbours was almost as excited as I was. I wouldn’t have put up a tree or made much of Christmas at all, if she hadn’t decided to come, but yesterday we bought a small tree, and today I will put it up and get out the crèche. She is a vegetarian, so I will also get out my recipe notebook. Vegetarian cooking is labour intensive, I have discovered. You must dice things small and make sauces. I suppose that is in keeping with the celebration of someone who lived in the middle east two centuries ago.

I do send about 60 cards. I have talked to people who don’t send cards, telling me that it is a waste of time and money, but I couldn’t bear not to send them and lose complete touch with people who in the past meant so much to me.

Maybe my granddaughter will like to go to the midnight Christmas Eve service, and Santa Claus will come in the night, even though the roofers boarded over the chimney last summer. I will be thinking of my aunt and uncle, whose 58 year old son died December 22 two years ago while he was home for Christmas. She went in to the guest room to wake him up and he was gone. Christmas will never again be a joyful time of year for them. A young friend of ours is giving his girlfriend a diamond this year. Emotions of any kind are heightened at Christmas. I don’t know why. Something to contemplate.

Friday, December 15, 2006

This and That

My first arts column will be a discussion of whether it is better to have many centres of art, art-making going on in every little corner, or whether it is better to have one dominant centre, such as New York City or Toronto. New Brunswick has at least three centres and no one dominant centre. Nova Scotia and Newfoundland each have one dominant centre, Halifax and St. John’s. Maine has several centres, no dominant one. In fact Maine is more fractured than we are, and yet it is a hotbed of artistic endeavor.

Microsoft Word seems to feel that centre is a correct spelling, but not centres. In The Opening Eye, one of the group activities is “centring.” I spelled it “centering”, the American way, but the publisher wanted it “centring.” Microsoft Word doesn’t like “centring” either. The man who edits our church newsletter wants us to use British punctuation, but the publisher of The Opening Eye used American punctuation. In Canada, things are all mixed up.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Going Public

Shameless Words comments that he doesn’t write about the people in his life, that he prefers to write more anonymously. I don’t write about certain members of my family because they have requested that I not. There is a great fear of the internet, and I can see why. I have heard several stories about marriages breaking up because one of the partners has met someone on the internet. These are not urban legends but about actual people I know. Parents in particular are nervous that their children will encounter an evil person on the internet.

I have had to get over the fear of going public because I have published so much. When my first novel was coming out, I was afraid that two of my relatives in particular would be offended, and so I told my father not to tell anyone. He was like me, big-mouthed, and had a hard time holding in this news. When the two relatives did eventually find out, they were pleased! Wondered why I hadn’t told them before! Said that because at the time they were going through a bad patch, this news would have been a bright spot! Only these two people provided models for the novel, and they were heroes. My stepmother read the novel first and told my father that he was in it because there was a character who had been the youngest child and the only son of a large family. This character was the opposite of my father. How my stepmother could think the character was like my father, I don’t know. When my father read the novel, he was obviously disappointed that he wasn’t in it. Very few of the characters in my novels have a model; in fact I can’t think of any others. I employ the smile of one person I know, or an incident, or a detail of a room. Yet, my son said reading my novels was “like putting my finger in my belly button and twirling it.”

I still tremble when something of mine gets published, but I keep doing it. I am not being guilty of false modesty when I say that I am not a great writer, that the world has plenty of novels and blogs and reviews and columns. Why then publish? I am not sure. Perhaps the words in my blog description provide some of the explanation.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


I am in the process of writing for my new arts column. At first I hesitated to take on the job, thinking that I could never come up with something every week. When the editor suggested every other week, I agreed, yet still with fear and trepidation. But now, to paraphrase the old punch line, “Everything reminds me of an arts column.” The magazine won’t be launched until January and already I have written five columns with many more ideas for others. My new schedule of getting up at 5:30 is working great – I am writing more than I have for several years. To think that I wept when I contemplated giving up my office -- strange. In the past I sometimes had the feeling that I was being led, but I honestly didn’t know how, or why, or to where, or by whom. I have had that feeling for the last month.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Writing a Christmas Newsletter

I’ve just finished writing my annual Christmas newsletter. I’ve read brutal satires of these newsletters, but what are the alternatives? Write a personal note to all 60 people on my list as I used to do and wind up sending out cards in February; write nothing but our name as some people do, leaving us wondering what is happening to them; or give up sending cards all together and lose touch with people who meant a lot to us in the past? I myself like family newsletters, but then I always have had an intense curiosity about other people’s lives: why I like to read blogs; why I love local gossip; why I was utterly absorbed in my grandmother’s diary even though nothing exciting happened and there was no soul-searching.

Monday, December 11, 2006


Several of the people on my blogroll have changed templates: “Sharp Sand”, “pages turned”, and “my space” most recently. This creates a curious feeling, as if an acquaintance of mine should show up having had cosmetic surgery and dyed her hair.

For quite a long time I thought that Shameless Words was a woman, but then he wrote something that told me otherwise. He travels alone quite a bit, and I thought that was unusual, until he revealed himself to be a man and then it didn’t seem unusual at all. I began to think, Men do travel alone more than women do. The friends of mine who are my age travel a lot, all over the world in fact. That seems to be the thing to do with one’s retirement, but the widows travel in groups, never alone, and even the couples travel in tours or with another couple.

Bill and I are like the geese being fattened for foie gras: we are tied to a rope that allows us to travel in a certain small circumference of the northeast section of the continent.

A long while ago, the writer John Metcalf wrote an essay about how to punctuate a thought. Do you put it in italics? In quotation marks? After much discussion, he determined that it was best to use a comma and then a capital letter. He convinced me, and I have done that ever since. I did it in paragraph two.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Change Made Palpable

The new people in back of us have bedecked their deck with Christmas lights which they left on all night so that they were twinkling when I came up to the study at 5:30 AM. The people next door to them have lights in back too but they put theirs out when they go to bed. Except for a wreath, we don’t even decorate the front of our house. Decorating with Christmas lights seems to be the creation of the men in the family. I wonder if they do it for the creative pleasure of it or just because the neighbours do. We live right at the curve of our short street, and not one of the five houses on the curve has lights, so that our section does seem to be lacking in Christmas spirit. At Halloween, three of these houses were in darkness, signifying “Don’t come here for treats.” We used to have over a hundred kids come but for the last few years, we have had only 20. In the beginning, forty years ago, our short street had 53 children. Now we are down to eight.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Hoping For a Sudden Floater

When I first started to write in earnest, about 1967, I came under the sway of Viktor Shklovsky, of his novel A Sentimental Journey, and of his formalist writings. Instead of starting off as a sensible person would have, with a traditional novel, I devised complicated forms and schemes. I was not interested in publishing, in fact the possibility terrified me, so I was not constrained by having to write a publishable, a popular novel. My husband was the bread-winner, so I didn’t need a financial reward. What interested me was whether writing could help me make sense of my world, help me make order out of chaos. In A Palpable God, Reynolds Price articulated the reason I wanted to write novels back then and why I continue to write: “the chance that in the very attempt at narrative transaction something new will surface or be revealed, some sudden floater from the dark unconscious, some message from a god which can only arrive or be told as a tale.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eureka #2

The second lost book I found is The Story Book of Houses, written and illustrated by Maud and Miska Petersham, published in 1933. I have another one in the series, Food, and Bill has one about transportation. I googled the Petershams, and discovered that their lithographs had illustrated some 60 books and they had even won the Caldecott award. On the inside cover my youngest son has put his stamp, and I on the title page I have written my name in what looks like my grade two handwriting.

I can remember closely examining each detail of each pictureof the book and imaging what it would be like to live in such a house: a cave, a Chinese junk, a tree house. When I am writing, I have to make a deliberate effort to describe nature, but I describe the interior of a house and food too effortlessly. One editor said that she was hungry after working on my novel. In my first nine years we lived in nine different houses, and then, oh happy day, we bought the house that my parents lived in until they died. The purchase and refurbishing of this house was the major project of their lives.

Poor Mad Peter over in The Pilgrim is re-reading Elizabeth Goudge’s Scent of Water. That inspired me to re-read it too. It is about a woman who in middle age goes to live in a country house she has inherited. The story is about the house and its chattels, its gardens, and its neighbors. I think that Goudge invented a new plot, the story of the creation of a home, or at least she advanced it. My favorite of her novels is the Damerosehay trilogy, with the same plot. She comes so close to sentimentality that she sometimes veers across the line, and if she were alive, she would probably agree to have her editor expunge one of her favorite words, “ejaculated”, as a synonym for “said.” She does use the more conventional plot lines: courtship and the resurrection of a benighted character.

For many people, the making of a home is their major creation. Nothing tears at my heart like the words “homeless” and “refugee.”

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


I have uncovered two of my favorite books, both missing for at least a year. One is a book I mentioned when I first started this blog in March, and another is one I was looking for when I did the writers workshop in February. The first is Houses, and it was among the books I brought home from my office. It is thin and easily hides itself. The second is A Palpable God by Reynolds Price. I was so sure that I had loaned that book and that it was gone forever, that I looked on the internet to see if I could buy another copy. Going through the bookcases, culling out so that I could find room to put the books I brought home, Eureka!, I found it. I had been looking for a blue book, and it is white.

Price, at a crucial time in his life, decided to translate some of the Bible, knowing no Hebrew or Greek, working from an interlinear Bible. I have read over and over his beginning essay, “The Origins and Life of Narrative.” I have underlined and made notes and whited out one of those notes so that I could photocopy a portion for my class. Bill has a note or two in it, and I see that my friend Ted, he of the uncooperative Mac, has made several of his characteristic marks in it. I will put one of my favorite quotations from the book in the blog description. More anon.

Monday, December 04, 2006


Having organized the papers I brought home from my office and found places for the books by culling out other books, yesterday afternoon I tackled the so-called archives room down cellar. Everyone in my family has given me the archives they have collected, letters, photos, clippings, birth and death certificates. Yesterday I was dealing with a banker box full of papers my stepmother gave me after my dad died. I was going through these papers one by one, weighing whether each should be saved or not. I would think, I can’t throw this out. And then I would think, But who would want it after I go? Would anyone want the tender love letters my mother wrote to my father before they were married?

I have a box full of my mother’s letters to me. I know how happy I was to get the letters sent to my great grandmother, so I am pretty sure that some great grandchild would be pleased to get these. But where will they go in the meantime, where will they rest for the next hundred years? And for that matter, where will my great grandmother’s trunk go, the one filled with a hundred letters, two diaries, a fur cape and lace she made, jokes and valentines and calling cards? She died in 1913, so the trunk and its contents have survived for nearly a hundred years already.

And where will the horse chestnut go, the one that Bill’s great great grandfather carried in the Civil War for luck? It was lucky, too, because in the Petersburg campaign he was shot through the mouth and survived, the story being that he talked so much that his mouth was fortunately open.

Would anyone want the cartoons of my father that the artists in the Boston Globe art room drew? Often they would use these cartoons in ads, so there are not only the originals but the actual ad. My father was the director of the art room. Sometime ago the Globe asked for memorabilia for their archives, and I joyfully offered them all of these, but they must have changed their mind, perhaps after the paper was sold to the NY Times, because I never heard from them.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Macs vs PCs; links

My friend Ted has discovered that because he has an older Mac he can’t have a blog himself and can’t comment on my blog. I have noticed that Mac users are utterly faithful and invariably love their computers, whereas Microsoft PC users invariably complain and curse theirs.

I have dropped three blogs from my link list. One hadn't posted since the beginning of August, one was too scattered and confusing to be followed and one just wasn't interesting enough to me. I notice that other blogs have very long lists of links, but I use my list to read every day and having a long one would mean I would never get anything else done. Still, I have room for a few others.

Saturday, December 02, 2006


You have heard that old saw, genius is one percent inspiration, 99 percent perspiration, something like that. Once I was talking to Molly Lamb Bobak, a wonderful painter based in Fredericton. She asked me if I had many talented people in my creative writing classes. I said I did, and I was surprised that they never went on to write more. She expressed the same surprise with the people who took her painting classes.

It is my experience that some people with little talent can learn to write if they spend a lot of time writing and studying. Their work is often pedestrian, but they get published. Some people have talent but they don’t develop it; the rewards are not great enough. One man said to me after he had had something published, “Why would anyone do this?” He had received something like $25 for his effort. He could make more money picking up beer bottles, he said.

Blockbuster talents, however, start off great, and I for one couldn’t teach them anything. They don’t take creative writing classes or do degrees in CW unless they use them for an excuse to get time for writing. I remember the initial time one young kid, David Adams Richards, read to our writers’ group. We were bowled over. Here was an authentic talent. He went on to write to great critical acclaim and to win many awards. Into my husband’s MA creative writing class came Wayne Johnston, a natural born comic writer. He too has gone on to critical acclaim, won prizes, and had his novel on the front page of the NYT Book Review. Bill said that the only thing he could do with such a writer was to let him write. “What could I teach him?” Nothing. Such people do need an excellent, sympathetic editor, need to read widely, but they do not need much teaching.

At the writers’ group, I would amuse myself with predicting the next word in a poem being read. Then one night came a young kid who read a poem whose words I couldn’t predict. He hadn’t read much, hadn’t seen the big world, knew only that he was a poet. Joe Sherman went on to publish, also to critical acclaim, and to be made an Officer of Canada. Alas, he died of pancreatic cancer a year ago. After his diagnosis, he wrote for the nine months he had left, and two terrific books came out of it. Over the years he would send every manuscript to me and to Robert Gibbs. I would comment, make suggestions, fully realizing that I was only providing a sympathetic, dedicated ear.

Friday, December 01, 2006


My friend Ted has been trying to figure out how to leave comments. He even has got himself a Google account and password in order to do so. Still he can't do it. So he e-mailed his comment to my blog on creative writing, and I put his comment on under my own name. Others have told me they can't record comments. I would like to make the blog comment-friendly, but I can't figure out how.

Teaching Creative Writing, Part Two

I have often thought of the hubris that was required of me when I began teaching creative writing when I had not published much of anything and did not know the cw drill. I hope that I made up in enthusiasm for my lack of experience. A faithful student who took my classes regularly, an older woman, invited me for tea. She had found out that Bill and I loved lubney cheese, and as she was of Lebanese origin, she had made us some. She shyly but proudly showed me her writing space, a closet under the stairs. Over a makeshift desk there was a bookshelf, and I was surprised, because the books were the ones I was always referring to in class. She explained that every time I mentioned one, she would purchase it. Looking at the shelf, I realized what an eccentric collection it was. After she died, her husband had a Lebanese friend make us lubney cheese, and he delivered it to express his appreciation for what I had meant to Madeline. She had published a few things in small magazines; that had made her happy, he said.

Two of these books were Malcolm Lowery’s Under the Volcano, and a study by Sherrill Grace about him. Grace had examined his manuscripts and determined that instead of cutting out, he had added details. His sentences became more and more dense as he revised. That had been a revelation to me when I read it, because I had up until then thought of revision as cutting out superfluous words. I realized that beginning writers didn’t put in enough specific details, and when they tried to, they would make the detail a complete sentence rather than a phrase or clause in the midst of a sentence. It was true too of beginning poets (unless they had the innate poetic ability); there was too much generality, not enough specifics.

In a recent article in the Globe and Mail, Brian Fawcett is quoted as saying that he stopped publishing his poetry in the early 1980’s because no one reads poetry so it is pointless to publish. Yet he continues to write poems. “It’s not about making aesthetic objects; it’s like a pitcher practicing a curve ball.” I think the impulse to write is more than practicing a curve ball; it is an urge to make order out of a messy world and then to show it to someone else to see if the order holds. I read yesterday somewhere in the blogosphere, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” I would add, who didn’t quit because the impulse was so strong that he didn’t need the reward of publishing. Whoever invented the blog had hit upon a deep human yearning; you only have to read the statistics about the number of new blogs that are created every day.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Teaching Creative Writing, Part One

Bloglily said she would like to hear more about my creative writing workshops. They have played an important part in my life. As in most of my life, serendipity played a crucial part. A graduate student was going to teach a non-credit workshop, found that she couldn’t, and asked me to fill in. I had never attended one, never mind teach one, but I thought I would give it a shot. After that I taught many, from non-credit to undergraduate credit and once a graduate course.

The college I attended had a two stream English department. We concentrated either on writing or on literature. Because the professors wanted to make sure the writing concentration wasn’t a Mickey Mouse choice, we had a literary criticism course that was alleged to be the hardest in the arts faculty. Of course we took literature courses too. The writing courses were not like those of today – they were not focused on creative writing, but on writing in general. There was only one that was like a creative writing course, short story, and it focused more on reading short stories and writing about them than on writing one. So I had no model to base my course on.

My husband has taught creative writing too, and we agree that the main business of teaching is to keep the students writing. Getting feedback from the teacher and the other students gives the student a sense of an audience: what works, what doesn’t work. Once I taught a ten week course, half poetry, half fiction. A participant in the class, a teacher in elementary school, took the course because she was interested in writing fiction, but she cheerfully wrote a poem, her first, for the first class. It was a stunning poem. In her case, my only task was to provide an informed audience and keep her writing, with some technical advice, such as about enjambment, thrown in. Heather later went on to write a lot of poetry, to have her poems published in magazines and in two slim volumes, and to take an MFA in poetry.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Family History Part Three

I have become acquainted with a whole set of relatives that I barely knew existed. Very heady stuff. And now, going over it all again, sorting out the documents, I am reliving those great eleven years of being introduced to a missing grandmother. What I had known about her before was that she died of TB and that every year on Candlemass day my grandfather would say to my father, “Well boy. This is the day our luck ran out.” I knew that she was a sweet and beautiful woman. I didn’t know anything about her sisters, even though one of them lived just a few miles from us. It is a mystery to me why I didn’t know anything about that side of the family. That mystery will never be solved.

The hunt has become less productive, but it still goes on. Just this morning, coming across a note I had made about an obscure book on the sanatorium where my grandmother stayed for a few months, I thought, I wonder if I can find anything on the internet about it. And lo and behold, there was the book for sale – and for only $10!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Family History Part Two

I wanted to know who all the people were in the diary, not just the relatives, and after a few years I began to piece together the place and the neighbors. Bill and I spent many a happy hour in the Belfast Library reading old copies of the Republican Journal, in the Penobscot Museum going through family folders, and in tramping around the area where my grandmother had grown up. I joined some family genealogy associations,meeting people there who helped me. I met a man at the Penobscot Museum who was doing research on part of my family – and it wasn’t even his family. He was a pilot, had been in the Vietnam War, had retired to the coast of Maine after having several heart attacks; the history of the area had become his passion. Through censuses, cemetery lists, vital records, I figured out who all the people were and found out quite a bit about them in newspaper accounts.

Later my cousin gave me my grandmother’s trunk, filled with letters, another diary, and other treasures. I typed up the 100 or so letters to add to the diaries and annotated both the letters and the diaries. I gathered family photos and eventually compiled a family history of about 250 pages. I wrote to my cousins to ask who would like a copy, and finally I printed out 35 copies.

Now I am organizing what I have accumulated into two categories: important documents that shouldn’t be thrown away, and papers and notes important only to me that can be chucked when I bite the dust.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Doing Family History

One part of my tracing my way from birth that I haven’t mentioned is my researching my family history. It began eleven years ago. My aunt Tempy, my father’s youngest sister, had given me my grandmother’s diary perhaps 20 years ago. I had looked into it, but it was like many diaries of the time, filled with the day to day, mentioning names and places I had no knowledge of, so not too interesting. Someone has said that reading a diary is like walking into a room full of strangers.

Eleven years ago, Bill and I went on an Elderhostel in Belfast Maine, and part of the course was a trip to the Penobscot Museum, near where my grandmother grew up. I became interested in the area and in my unknown family.

My grandmother died when my father was three. All that he remembered about her was once being brought into her darkened bedroom. She was dying of TB. I never heard any stories about her or her family, and that is odd because my father and my aunt were great storytellers. The sad irony of my search is that if I had begun it when his three older sisters were still alive, I would have been spared some of the work.

I went back to the diary, read it, and decided to type it so that my cousins could have a copy. Bill typed it while I read the cramped small writing on the brittle paper. As we progressed, we got intrigued by the characters – who were they? Where was this place? It is astonishing how much of the puzzle of family history you can figure out. The hunt is what grabs people, what makes genealogy such a captivating activity.

More anon of what I found.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

God's in His Heaven

I had a backache when I came up to my aerie this morning, got immersed in my new novel, then in my new arts column, and after three hours, I realized my backache was gone. At the moment, the members of my extended family all seem to be relatively happy, content, healthy (knock on wood). Sunday is usually a peaceful day; God’s in his heaven, all’s right with my world if not the world in general.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Short Term Memory

Since I’ve never been athletic or strong, the physical deterioration of strength or agility is not what I find troubling about growing old. What is bad is the loss of short term memory – having a thought and two seconds later being unable to recapture it. Where have I put something? The explanation is that what you learned well gets disseminated throughout your brain so that you can retrieve long-term memories from various parts, through many pathways. But short term memory must go “through the narrow funnel of the hippocampus” and that part of the brain deteriorates faster as you grow old.

I tried an experiment. A friendly young woman, new in our church, knew my name but I couldn’t remember hers. I was embarrassed that I kept forgetting so that when I went to introduce her, I would have to ask her again. After the last time I asked her, as soon as I got into the car, I wrote it down and for several days I practiced it. Now I know it. This is time-consuming for unimportant details.

In February I saw a daily book being sold for peanuts, and I thought, if I wrote everything important down, I would have a record. I went home without buying it, but a few hours later, thinking how useful it would be and a cheap experiment at $2, I went back and bought it. Now I wonder how I have done without it. I write down important details such as financial transactions, but unimportant details as well, such as when I watered the plants.

Not only do I forget real people’s names, but I forget the names of some of the characters in my novels. I think that is because I changed their names at the last moment because they were too close to the names of real people in my life.

Last winter I conducted a writers’ workshop, the first one I had done in a number of years. I was alarmed that the method I had always used wasn’t available to me. In the past I would have a general outline of the course, but rely on my memory to bring forth helpful examples from writers I have read. I couldn’t do that. I vowed never to teach another workshop because this was so painful, but now I have gone and said I would again. I will have to find another modus operandi.

I don’t worry that I have an incipient dementia because I have read about the symptoms and know that I don’t have any. Although I may have forgotten where I put my reading glasses, when I find them I don’t mistake them for an elephant.

Friday, November 24, 2006


Kathe Kollwitz is one of my favorite artists. I had a reproduction of her “Seed Corn Must Not Be Ground” on the bulletin board in my office. It was her last print, a lithograph, done in 1942 when she was 75, in defiance of Hitler. I cut a photo from the newspaper of an Iraqi mother in a ditch, sheltering her children in just the same way, her expression and those of her children so like those in “Seed Corn.” She had been warned by the German authorities about her activities but was never imprisoned. The title is a line from Goethe. Someone who saw her a few months before her death in 1945 “had the feeling that she was living in a bright and serene inner world, more and more withdrawn even from her own art.” Her husband had died in 1940 and a son and a grandson had been killed in the two wars.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

When Will I Be Old Enough?

Women, when they are old enough to have done with the business of being women and can let loose their strength, must be the most powerful creatures in the world. Isak Dineson

I am not sure when a woman is “old enough to have done with the business of being a woman.” A neighbour of mine, a well-known weaver, died of cancer at home at about 80. Nel determined that she and I would knit sweaters for our grandchildren. I protested that I did not know how to knit. She would teach me. I protested that the instructions were in Dutch. She would translate. We worked away on the sweaters. Finally she said, “You aren’t going to be able to finish.” I promised her that I would finish mine. After her death, when her daughter took up her mother’s sweater to finish it, she found many uncharacteristic mistakes, due, she was sure, to the morphine. Nel had lived through the war, had once stood up to a German officer, had been in the underground. When she first came to Canada, she had joyfully lived in a wood shed. At her end, she had become a most powerful creature.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Am I Old Enough?

Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force. (Dorothy Sayers) Having been, by fits and starts, in no discernable order, tracing my way from birth, I will start on my being old, inspired by two quotations I have unearthed from my newly dismantled office and by the novel I am now about 15,000 words into.

What are these controlling earthly forces? Responsibility for family is the main one, I suppose. Gradually, I am feeling less responsible for saving my children and grandchildren. It occurred to me a while ago that, unfortunately for them, they are probably going to have to save me in the not too distant future.

What are other things that control a woman? I no longer feel it is my duty to save the world. I can even look upon global warning as something not in my power to correct. This provides me with an immense amount of freedom. Looking respectable, even attractive is a control, but I can see that when you are old, the harder you try to look attractive, the more ridiculous you look. As my daughter said, “Botoxed lips make you look like you’ve been punched in the mouth.”

One morning, when she was about 95, my grandmother came downstairs in the morning to find that a thief had come in the night, stolen her old age pension money, and cut the phone wire, so that even if she had heard the thief she couldn’t have used the phone beside her bed. She didn’t seem frightened by this. About the same time, she was putting out the trash, and a swarm of bees covered her arms. She had something like 100 stings. This also didn’t seem to bother her as much as it would have most people. Pain and fear, all controls, were lessening. In a few years she began to long for death. Dread of death, the last control.

I have always wondered if I would be brave enough to risk my life for another. Now, I am pretty sure I would, especially if the other was younger than I. A liberating feeling.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Creating a Cosmogony

In my office I would tack up quotations that were pertinent to what I was writing at the time, and yesterday, going through all the paper I’ve carted home, I unearthed some of them. This, by Eliade, is one of my favorites: A house is not an object, a “machine to live in”; it is the universe that man constructs for himself by imitating the paradigmatic creation of the gods, the cosmogony. Every inauguration of a new dwelling is equivalent to a new beginning, a new life.

When you live in a house for forty years, as I have, you have no way of making this new beginning. I used to rearrange the furniture every once in a while, but that takes a lot of physical strength. To envision again the possibilities of a house I have become so accustomed to seems impossible. How can I imitate the cosmogony? Evolution, part of creating a cosmogony, is one way: Changing one bedroom into the library for Bill’s growing Maine collection, bringing the washer and dryer upstairs (an unspectacular but immensely satisfying change), constructing a screened in porch and now, making this study into a writing office.

Poor Mad Peter over in The Pilgrim is in the process of creating a cosmogony. Creating cosmogonies from scratch is rather a difficult task.

Sunday, November 19, 2006


Poor Mad Peter responds, “Religion is the mother. Next question….” He is suggesting, I suppose, that there must be a father of the arts. Is the father of the arts history, some necessity to say that here, in this place, a certain person experienced the world as a whole creation with a palpable order? Hocking calls this the prophetic consciousness. He suggests that whenever an individual deals with reality with assurance, with skill, there is art.

A pileated woodpecker just attacked a tree in our backyard. If I could skillfully connect that act to my world in a poem, or a painting, or perhaps use the rat-a-tat-tat in music, would that be art? On a certain day, November 19, 2006, at 8 AM, a woodpecker was in the backyard of Nancy Ruth, and she, observing, was connected to him (I assume it was a him, because he was brightly coloured), and they were connected to the world at that moment.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

The Mother of the Arts?

My original intention for this blog was to explore various quotations that had in the past grabbed me, but the form was so new to me that I didn’t realize the dailiness of a blog, how quotations, except for the one on the title description, disappeared. Does anyone read earlier posts of another’s blog? Probably not. Yesterday an editor of a local newspaper phoned to ask me to write a weekly column on the arts. I have always wanted to have my own column (this blog partially fulfills that desire), but now I am hesitant. Would I have the stamina for 52 columns? Ten years ago I had a weekly spot in the paper, but that was of profiles of artists and craftspeople. No shortage of those around here. Is it true as my new title description says that religion is the mother of the arts, and if so, does it go the other way, that the arts have a religious function? Does this religious function strive to give form to the dailiness of life, to the weekliness of life, to the bits and pieces, some that seem important (birth of a child) and some that seem unimportant (dusting the living room furniture)? My favorite contemporary artist does painting after painting of the view out his studio window – an ordinary backyard. He does huge paintings of a banana, of a lemon, of a teapot. You never look at a lemon the same way after you have seen his lemons.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Surprise

Bringing books home from my office, I unearthed the one from which the above quotation was taken. The quote but not the title was on my bulletin board. Ascent of the Mountain, Flight of the Dove was published in 1971. It is obviously a used book because someone else’s handwriting is in it, a textbook by the look of the notes. The back cover says that the author was an associate professor, and I wondered what had become of him, so I googled him.

My goodness. He has metamorphosed from a professor of philosophy and religious studies into a research fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. I know about this organization because an old Air Force acquaintance of ours is a member. It’s a conservative think tank. Novak has become such a partisan Republican that he could write just before the recent election that Donald Rumsfeld was the best Secretary of Defense that the USA has ever had. Even most staunch Republicans don’t think that. He has his own very elaborate web site. I remember now getting another book by him from the library and not being interested in it, but I can’t remember which of his many books it was or why I found it uninteresting.

I have been looking for the quotation to make sure I have it right and to see the context, but I haven’t found it yet. If I had tried to trace his life forward, to predict it from this one book, would I have got to the AEI?

When I was trying to figure out a theme for a blog, I thought of writing a kind of autobiography in which I could get a grip on what my life has been as a whole. I figured that the quotation was right for the project. When I was trying to get a name, Blogspot kept telling me that this or that title was taken, and when I hit upon the one that it became, Blogspot suggested hyphens. This has proven to be a very awkward title, but it is too late to change it now. I decided to use the name Nancy Ruth because I googled the writer of the poems that gave me that name and got so much information about her. I was especially tickled to find out that she was the rival of the much ridiculed Edgar Guest. Edgar Guest and Michael Novak. How strange life is.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Kindred Spirits

I daily read the blogs on my list. Recently I made the list alphabetical. Later I will reverse the list. Some of these blogs have short, anecdotal posts, some long, dense essays. If I am in a hurry, I give short shrift (or is this shift?) to the long ones at the end of the list, saying to myself that I will go back later and ponder. Some of them reveal the writer behind the blog quickly; some take longer to figure out. I can’t remember how this list was formed, and I wish I had kept track of that. Too late now. I am about to take Chopsticks, who hasn’t posted for three months, off the list and add a couple more. There are millions of blogs, and I fantasize that out there is at least one blog that would be completely my blog’s “kindred spirit”, to quote Anne of Green Gables. But how to find that blog? In my life I have met a couple of “kindred spirits”, but alas, they moved on and disappeared from my life. Does everyone long for such a rapport? When these kindred spirits change, as they must, they can become less attuned. Very sad.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Maritime Writers Workshop

A graduate student, Mary Lund, came to our writers’ group. She was what you might call a creative writing workshop junky, having been to many, and she got the idea for us to have one. She enlisted my help. Because I wasn’t working, only having three children, I was eligible for all sorts of volunteer activities. We had a trial run, giving a creative writing class together one summer. Neither of us had ever published anything, and I had never had a creative writing course or been to a workshop, so a bit of hubris was involved. In the winter of 1975, through the UNB extension services, we planned and organized the Maritime Writers Workshop for that summer. It was the only such workshop east of Toronto. The teachers came from our writers group, but we decided we would have one “star” from away. He was John Metcalf, who had been writer in residence at UNB. Mary was a dynamo. She even had us cooking and serving a buffet supper for the first Sunday night. When I think about the energy I had in those days, I could weep. The workshop was a great success and is still going strong, although it now has quite a bit of competition.

Monday, November 13, 2006

New Brunswick Chapbook

The drawing of Bill was done by Marjory Donaldson.

New Brunswick Chapbook

Here is Kent Thompson's chapbook. The drawing of him was done by Bruno Bobak.


One of the rewards of coming to New Brunswick for me personally was that I was thrown into a minor renaissance of art. Two years after we arrived from the US, Kent Thompson came from the US with his family. As he put it, he could do immediately what he had only dreamed he would ever be able to do, that is, teach creative writing, edit a literary magazine, organize a writers’ group, and publish. His enthusiasm was embraced by some, satirized by others, but for me, it was catching and exciting. In his first year the Canadian poet Dorothy Livesay was writer in residence, and she began to have students come to her apartment to read their work. Soon Kent was going too, and when Dorothy (one of those larger than life individuals – how she got up out of our basement is a story for another post) left, Kent carried on. I had been writing after the kids were put to bed, and Bill told Kent. Kent invited me to come to the writers’ group. I was having so much fun there that Bill decided he would write too so he could come along. Bob Gibbs, then a graduate student/teacher, also a poet, began to attend. A succession of students, townspeople, professors attended from 1967 until 1983.

At that time, chapbook publishers were springing up all over Canada. Here in Fredericton, Professor Fred Cogswell was publishing the Fiddlehead books, but he wasn’t publishing New Brunswickers, so Kent and Bob decided there should be a chapbook series entirely devoted to the poets of the province. They asked me to be the editor. Without any experience in publishing or editing poetry, I took on the job. I consulted Marjory Donaldson, an artist at the UNB art centre, and she got Bruno Bobak, artist in residence and a major Canadian artist, to design a cover. It was simple but strong – at the top a band of colour in which the title would be embedded and at the bottom a drawing by one of the province’s artists. Marjorie silk-screened the colour band. Someone would type the manuscripts, and they were printed offset at the Provincial Artisans, 250 copies. We would have a collating and stapling party at our house. We didn’t need government money. We sold them for sixty cents. Ah, those were good times.

Friday, November 10, 2006

On the Way Back from Chaos

Chaos has been created, but there are steps being taken to subdue it. All the books, manuscripts, and furniture are out of my office and sitting in the living room. It looks as if we are getting ready to move. My knees are protesting all that carrying down the two flights of stairs, two long flights too, since the ceilings are high in Gallery 78. The knees will get over it.

The rusted bathroom sink has been replaced with a new countertop to accommodate it. When I told the plumber’s salesman that the old one was 40 years old, he said, “This one won’t last forty years. I can guarantee that. All these sinks are made out of recycled metal.” At 72 and 74, we really don’t require it to last 40 years. I will post a photo of it to accompany Poor Mad Peter’s photo of his renovated bathroom.

Yesterday, the technician came and repaired this computer. A C-Mos battery is what was needed, but the man ran a battery of tests to make sure everything else was good. I also have a new up-to-date BIOS. I looked up what BIOS stands for: Basic Input/Output System. The technician was obviously highly intelligent, competent, and knowledgeable. A great relief.

My scheme of getting up at 5:30 to write is working, although by 8 PM I am ready for bed.

The sun is coming up, and I can see the crows flying through the gray sky and the black trees. The backyard looks like a black and white movie. The study, an addition to the original house, is a story and half up with big windows on all four sides, an ivory tower.

New Sink

Monday, November 06, 2006

It Takes a Village Etc.

The most terrible decision I ever had to make was whether to come to New Brunswick. I knew that my mother would be distressed if I decided to come here, so far away from her. My husband left the decision up to me, but I knew he wanted to come here. The schools around my Massachusetts home that had offered him a job weren't really suitable for him, I knew, although he would have made the best of it, as he always does. There was something about NB that called to both of us.Finally, I said we'd come here, and to soften the blow for my mother, said that maybe it would be just for a year or two, for a lark, to see what living in a a foreign country was like. "Two roads diverged in a woods."

We had been through a difficult two years in North Carolina -- I've chronicled it earlier on the blog -- and coming here would seem like a new start. While Bill was being interviewed at UNB, I took the two kids for a walk down Queen Street. It was just before Christmas, cold and dark. A "little old lady" stopped me, looked in the stroller, and said, "That child isn't dressed warmly enough." When I was agonizing over the decision of where to go after graduate school, I kept coming back to that incident. I longed for this place where little old ladies would help bring up my children, would look out for them. I had been an over the top responsible child, and then adult, and that trait weighed heavily on me and continues to do so. On the surface it is of course a good trait, but there are downsides, I know, extreme meddling in other people's affairs being one of them. Not letting things take their course. Many others.

My instincts about NB were right. Not long ago I compiled a list of people who had helped bring up my three children, and it was a long one, including people who had helped them right into their twenties. The people of this neighborhood were prominent on the list.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Bringing Home the Books

Yesterday afternoon Bill and I carried more books down from my office. In two more days they will all be home. A lot of steps. Bill kept saying, "I've never seen this book before." He was pleasantly surprised, even though we now have to find space for them.

I was surprised too. There were books I had forgotten were there: Priestesses, by Norma Goodrich, a book I used in writing The Irrational Doorways. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, by Charles Taylor. Carlos Fuentes' essays, Myself With Others. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird. Poems by the Persian poet Firdausis. There were books I can't remember having read: The Parables of Jesus by Joachim Jeremias. Genoa: A Telling of Wonder by Paul Metcalf. There were my talisman books: The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. My childhood favorite, Houses. The Pilgrim's Inn by Elizabeth Goudge (how I was led to the blog of ukbookworm.) There were two talisman books that came to me by serendipity: Creative Imagination in the Sufism of Ibn 'Arabi by Henry Corbin. My oldest son brought this back from a trip, twenty years ago, thinking I might like it, and I have pored over it every since. Bill bought me The Meaning of God in Human Experience by William Hocking at a UNB book sale. It is now held together with packing tape. There is my "religious" reference library. Fifteen years ago I found a mail order business that sold wonderful religious classics at bargain prices. There is my extensive Dead Sea Scroll library, from back when I was fascinated with the subject. Or rather, fascinated by why other people were fascinated.

My scheme of writing as soon as I get up, this morning at 5:45, is working so far. Knock on wood. I get the coffee ready to go the night before, so there is hardly anything to do but sit and write. I have been checking the e-mail while the coffee brews, but I think I will change that and not check until my writing stint is over. I am feeling happy about my decision to give up my office.

Friday, November 03, 2006

A New Way

Wednesday I began a new way, writing early in the morning at 5 AM. No distractions then. So far, knock on wood, it is working out. This summer I had written what I thought was a short story, but now I have an inkling that it is probably a novel. I have no guilt about starting something new before the other novel is revised because it is on the new computer, in Microsoft Word, rather than on this old computer in Lotus Word Pro. Also, today Bill and I made two trips up to my third floor office, bringing down armloads of books. Bill says he is happy to have my two volume Pseudepigrapha home. I think he is joking.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


My 8 month old computer crashed yesterday, and I am trying to post on my reliable 8 year old one that has never given any trouble at all. Dear thing. It appears that the C-Moss (?) battery has gone bad on the new one. The company is mailing me a replacement battery and will send someone to install it. Fortunately, I paid extra for an on-site warranty. Here goes.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Elephant Talks to God

The launch Friday night of our friend’s book, The Elephant Talks to God, was a success, with about 150 people attending, and some forty books sold. It was held at the new Charlotte St. Art Centre, created from an old school, using the example of the Aberdeen Art Centre in Moncton. The whole of the Goose Lane Editions fall offerings was launched, with an unusual number of New Brunswick books, six, in the fall catalogue. Flora, Write This Down was the first Goose Lane edition, 24 years ago.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Moving On

Yesterday, after the apocalyptic sunrise, I started on the next stage. Stephen May’s exhibit was coming down today so Bill and I wanted to go to Gallery 78 to see the work again. While there I paid my November rent for my office. The new gallery administrator, Germaine, said, “I hate to take your money. You never use your office. Inga [the owner] phoned you about it.” Yes, she did, and afterwards I agonized over whether to give up the office or not. Bawled my eyes out, actually.

I replied to Germaine, spur of the moment, that I had decided to give it up, that I would take the month of November to clear my stuff out. I gulped and fought back tears. She was surprised, and my husband was even more surprised. I was surprised. But relieved. Mightily relieved. The end of a stage. Sixteen years at my wonderful office, but time to move on.

It is a beautiful space, at the top of a tower of a Victorian mansion, with thirteen windows overlooking the Saint John River, the green, and the Cathedral. It is – was – all my own. Several years ago my daughter gave me a box of Asian decorations to spruce it up – a rug, a strange hanging thing, miniature Chinese garden artifacts, a carved book rest. Over the years I had put up posters. An artist friend had given us a self-portrait, which I love, but which my husband couldn’t bear to look at, so I put that up. I had my religious reference library there, a table that had been in the kitchen of my childhood, a desk. Chairs. A chaise lounge.

Germaine and Inga had already decided that if I gave it up, they would make it into a lounge, where people could go and be shown art work from the bank.

After we saw the exhibit (we were gratified to see that most of the paintings had been sold), we went up to my space and gathered up some of the belongings to bring home.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Red Sun

Red Sun

Red Sun

This morning from my desk, I saw a red sun, and the red quickly spread over the sky.I've never seen so much of the sky red. It had such a feeling of the apocalyptic that our guest woke up and came up here to comment on it. The white globe is the wasp nest, a picture of which I posted when it was just being constructed.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Meditation on Psalm 139

I got the bright idea to make a failed novel into a blog, thinking that because the novel was written in journal entries, it would work as a blog. It didn't, so I have deep-sixed it. Are there any successful novels written in a journal form? I can't think of any at the moment. The pleasure of reading published journals is partly in knowing that the people are real and are going through real experiences, maybe even akin to your own.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Writer Friends

I belong to two writers groups. One is of long standing, meets in my house, and produces a variety of fiction, occasionally a poem or two and some memoirs. The other one I started at our church about a year ago. Various people attended or said they would attend, but the church group has settled down to seven or eight regulars. This group produces a wider variety: memoir, a first novel, other fiction, haiku, other poetry, theological examinations, anti-war proclamations, comic routines.

I have now belonged to several such groups, the longest running one, 1967 – 1983, housed at the University of New Brunswick. I have also taught many creative writing courses and writing workshops, from grade one to graduate students. What these groups have in common is that the participants become very close. We get to know each other in a way that doesn’t happen in other contexts, from the inside out. We get to know each others’ writing voices, obsessions; as my husband said one time, we educate the others to what we individually are trying to do, how to listen to us.

My church writers group met today. My pleasure was intense, far out of proportion to the amount or quality of the writing. Tonight a friend who used to belong to both the long-running UNB group and the one that meets at my house comes to stay with us. He is here for the launch tomorrow night of his latest book. Most of the writers from our group will be at the launch. I was going to describe the reunion as a family reunion, but that is not precisely how it will feel. A family reunion carries the tension of caring too much, whereas this reunion will have the quality of familiarity, of caring, but not of caring so much it hurts.

Apropos of my previous post, my own favorite hymn is Dear Lord and Master of Mankind, also by John Greenleaf Whittier. He was from my neck of the woods.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

New Music, Old Brain

One of the many things that perplex me is the content of contemporary popular music. Clearly this is much beloved of everyone born after World War II. In the past I was able to understand and appreciate some of it, but I am totally baffled by the latest music. I search for melody and find none. I listen to the lyrics, and if I can make them out, they are still incomprehensible. Why is this? Is my brain so set in its ways, so adverse to new things that I can no longer appreciate the new?

I was sitting in church with a good friend, my age, when I noted in the bulletin that we were going to sing, “Come in, come in and sit down, you are part of the family.” I was quite tickled because I know how much he dislikes the hymn. I try to be open-minded about these new hymns, but oh how I miss the old ones. On the rare occasion when we do sing one of these old ones, I will often find tears appearing in my eyes.

When our son got married, our daughter-in-law had a lovely thought. Because my father couldn’t be there, we would sing his favorite hymn, "Immortal Love", by John Greenleaf Whittier. “We may not climb the heavenly steeps to bring the Lord Christ down.” She photocopied the words and music for the guests, but the organist played an unfamiliar tune that my brother and I couldn’t sing, a terrible disappointment. I then realized how much the tune and the words belonged together.

Often before the organ prelude Irma Brewer would play a few of the old hymns on the piano. Last week she died, and a week from Sunday, in her memory, we are going to have a hymn sing an hour before the regular service. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Stages Along the Way

I see from writing this blog that in my memory I divide my life into stages. The first stage, childhood, ended in 1952 when I went off to college and became peripatetic: college, Texas, Connecticut, and North Carolina.

In 1965 we moved to Canada. This third stage, the period when my life was immersed in children, my own and the neighbours’, finished in 1978. In that time also I began to write regularly, four novels.

In 1978 the fourth stage began when my son went off to university, beginning the emptying of the nest, heart-rending but satisfying too. By 1984, the three of them had left, coming back of course for periods, but essentially, gone.

My first published novel came out in 1982. In the next twelve years I had five novels out, taught full time at UNB for a brief period, was on several Canada Council juries, traveled throughout the Atlantic Provinces, to Ottawa and Toronto and Minnesota, was writer in residence at two universities, had two different offices away from home, and began to write arts journalism.

In 1994 the last of the five novels came out, and my husband retired from UNB. My father died in 1997. I seem to have been marking time in this stage, as if I really don’t know where I am going and where I will arrive. Lately, though, I am feeling as if I am close to arriving at the inn of this sixth stage, have rested for many nights, and am about to start out on the seventh stage, perhaps the last. Since March, on this blog, I have been tracing my way from birth, in no particular order, just as memories come to me. I am going to re-read the blog from the beginning and re-read the five novels, to see if I can discern something in this tracing that would give me a hint about the next stage.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Miracle Cactus

The Miracle Cactus

Twenty-four years ago, on the occasion of the launch of my first book, a friend gave me one of two cactus leaves she had brought back from California. It was a special and rare cactus, she said, and would produce beautiful flowers. I planted it; it took root and grew. For nineteen years it produced a lot of green leaves but no flowers, and then, inexplicably, buds appeared and indeed the resulting flowers were spectacular. For the first two years, it blossomed once a year, but now it blossoms three times a year. As far as I can remember, I did nothing different to induce it to bloom. We would comment on what an ugly plant it was, but because it was a special gift, we did not have the heart to throw it out. Was it our loyalty and patience that prompted it to produce? Even after five years, Bill and I are still amazed and pleased each time it blooms.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

The Hubba Hubba Night Club

I mentioned The Hubba Hubba Night Club in a recent post. When I was 10, my parents bought a beautiful late Victorian house. It had a two-story barn of the kind that was usually built in the village proper, with clapboards that had to be kept painted. Inside there was dark wood, huge beams, mysterious little closets, holes and a winding staircase to the second floor. My father used the first floor as his woodworking workshop. Upstairs there were trunks filled with treasures: a Gibson girl style jacket, green with black velvet. A maroon 1930ish evening gown. A fez. A Russian type fur hat. High heel shoes. A beautiful cloisonné stamp with the initial of the previous owner, N, other small pieces.

My best friend Ellie and I played their endlessly. I invented many scenarios, but the one I remember best is The Hubba Hubba Night Club. We scrawled the name in chalk on the door to the stairs. It is still there. It goes without saying that a ten year old living in a small Massachusetts village had never been in a night club. How did I even know such things existed? As I remember, our play consisted of our dressing up in the costumes, and singing and dancing.

Someone suggested that we get dressed up and walk the two miles to entertain a woman in the village, Isabelle, who had awful arthritis that completely crippled her. It was not long before the high heel shoes gave us blisters, the Gibson girl jacket was unbearably hot. We accumulated an entourage of boys on their bicycles intrigued by this parade. We got to Isabelle’s house, were welcomed enthusiastically by her mother, and ushered into the bedroom. I had never before seen such obvious suffering. We became shy, but we soldiered on, singing and dancing. I can’t remember which songs we sang, just that one of them was about a tropical isle. I think these were some of the words: “See the pyramids upon the Nile, na na na na na a tropic isle. Just remember na na na na na, you belong to me.”

The bedroom was on the front of the house (I think it must once have been the living room), and I could look out and see our entourage – Bobby Peterson and Richard Haberman are the only ones I remember – waiting for us, eager to hear about our adventure. Isabelle seemed to enjoy our performance. The mother served us kool-aid, urged us to come back again, and we said we would, but we never did.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Stephen May

Stephen May

Our friend Stephen May has an exhibit at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery this month and one at Gallery 78. The images below and above are from the Gallery 78 web site. He did the drawing of me that appears in my profile. I needed one for a short story being published in The Fiddlehead. The editor had decided that instead of photos, she would use drawings. I bought the drawing, and he obliged by framing it. We have two other works of his. One is a self-portrait and one is a drawing of our son. Stephen is widely regarded as one of the best artists in New Brunswick. His BAG exhibit was curated by our Lieutenant Governor, his Honour Hermenegilde Chiasson.

Stephen May

Sunday, October 15, 2006


One Word (aka Zhoen) left a comment and a link to a newspaper article about my last post. She disagrees with my conclusion that women are different from men. I should elaborate. I would agree that women and men are essentially the same, that humans are essentially not much different from apes, or dogs, or ants: living, breathing, consciousness-filled creatures whose reason for being is the big mystery we would all like to solve and alas never will. But the gender differences I am talking about are incremental and small in the great scheme of things. Yes, it is true that these differences have been exaggerated, “over inflated,” and it is thought that this exaggeration is generally to the detriment of women.

The article quotes a psychologist saying that boys want to play with boy toys and girls with girl toys so there must be some deep biological difference. Our son played with GI Joe dolls and our daughter with Barbie dolls. In both cases the joy seemed to be mainly in constructing and creating: scenarios, forts out of cardboard boxes, dresses out of bits of cloth and ribbon. Our daughter remembers playing Barbie’s on Patricia’s back deck when she was about 10 and thinking, “Right now I’m as happy as I am ever going to be.” My son remembers the joy of playing in Dan’s basement with their accumulated GI Joe equipment. I must get them to tell me how exactly they played. Where exactly did the joy reside?

And while I am at it, I will try to remember where the joy resided in my own childhood games. Why was playing Sardines so exciting? Croquet? The Hubba Hubba Night Club?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Female Brain

I have wondered about the profound change that came over me when I had my first baby. No woman expects this, and it is impossible to convince anyone until it has happened to them. One woman, who had expected to be able to go right back to work after her baby was born, said to me, “They told me I would be able to have a family and a career. But they lied.” When I read The Female Brain this change was made clear to me. “Motherhood changes you because it literally alters a woman’s brain—structurally, functionally, and in many ways, irreversibly.” For example, at the birth of her baby huge doses of the hormone oxytocin are released into the mother’s body, and the hormone is maintained by the physical connection to the baby. This hormone gives a woman a great high. When the physical connection is severed the hormone decreases and the stress of the lack is great. The oxytocin is further stimulated by holding other babies. I could have sat still holding my grandchildren for hours, the pleasure was so great. There is no joy comparable. The profound change of giving birth also affects the way a woman views the world, altruistically. I am simplifying the book of course.

But what happens as the woman gets old? These hormones dissipate; there are no more grandbabies or they live far away. And the great revelation for me in reading the book is why I no longer feel as if I want to take care of everyone. This deficiency has been making me feel guilty. When I read the chapter “The Mature Female Brain”, I thought, Eureka, yes this is how I feel and why I feel this way. This is why some post menopausal women fly the nest. In tracing my way from birth, I find I am now in an amazingly different frame of mind, wanting to look after myself, do things I want to do. I remember thirty years ago I was driving for meals on wheels, tending to every forlorn creature in sight, reading manuscripts for all sorts of people. At one point I realized I was burning myself out. In fact, I landed in the hospital.

The idea that women aren’t different from men (“biology is not destiny” is one way it is put) has always seemed to me to be ridiculous. How could they not be different, built so different, with such different hormones. One day after I had gone through menopause, I thought, in a flash of insight, This is the way men feel – no changes, no PMS, always the same. It was wonderful.

I have read three reviews of The Female Brain, one a so-so review and two slams. The reviews concentrate on Louann Brizendine’s use of generalizations of the pop culture variety, with no real scientific back-up. Women are more social, talk more, that sort of generalization. I ignored that part of the book. What I found so interesting was the more scientific account of the hormones in different stages of a woman’s life. Yes, it is true that her imagery was a little over the top: the woman’s brain was “marinated” in the hormones, for example. I don’t think women are better, more social, talk more, etc. but I do think there are probably reasons that there are not many women composers but there are many women novelists. Women are different from men, and the “political correctness” that makes it impossible to say that aggravates me.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Foolish Fantasy

Sometimes when I am overwhelmed by people, responsibilities, a houseful of disorganized stuff, I engage in a little fantasy. I run away from home with only the bare necessities and get a room (for some reason it always has green walls) where I read and write and have no contact with people.

I was thinking of this daydream this morning because we have a guest whose life is exactly that. He lives in a motel room, has only one friend, his barber (and he is nearly bald), and only three relatives, Bill and I and his brother from whom he is estranged. He carries the sum total of his possessions with him in a weekender bag, the kind that airline stewardesses drag behind them, and in a pillowcase which is about half full. He takes either a bus or a taxi where he needs to go.

The next time I begin my fantasy, I must remember what that kind of life would actually be like.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The Beta Version

I have migrated to Beta Blogspot, thanks to the recommendation of ukbookworm, and I am now supposed to be able to do wonderful things. I haven’t yet figured out what. Fiddling with the technical end of the computer is relaxing for me in the way that doing the crossword puzzle is, but exciting also, the way no crossword puzzle could be. I am now on Instant Messenger, thanks to my son and his WebCam, two other marvels. According to The Female Brain what is missing is the actual physical touch. More about that later.

Monday, October 09, 2006


When I got back from Maine, I had a lot of catching up to do, reading the blog posts on my list, back nearly a month. I had to read them because of my insatiable curiosity. My kids have always kidded me about this curiosity about other people’s lives. “Who’s their doctor?”, they mimic me. This is a practical question, the only way really to find out who is a good doctor and who is a mediocre one. You have to be roundabout in determining this. At one point I heard many tales of a back surgeon who was bad. Eventually, probing, I realized that the many tales was just one tale of a person who had a bad experience and had broadcast this widely. Probing further, I discovered that the surgeon in question was really very good. Fortunately I have never had to use this information because none of us has had to have back surgery.

Blogs do give me some of that same kind of information. For example, today Anecdotal Evidence writes about Isaac Babel, one of the few notable Russian writers I haven’t read, giving me the urge to find one of Babel’s books.

Reading some blogs is very much like reading published journals, the ones of May Sarton, for example. After I had read one of her journals, I read some of her poetry and one of her novels, Anger. They are not nearly as good as her journals. In fact, she writes about the experience on which the novel is based in one of her published journals. This is so much more immediate and unmitigated. In the blogs, I follow the adventures of a man moving into a new house, of a woman with a new baby and still having time to homeschool her children, of the comforts of a woman having a toothache, the details of ordinary lives, but with those details thought about, philosophized over.

A while ago I went through my blog list and took some off it because it was becoming unmanageable to read all of them daily. Recently I added two. There are millions of English blogs (since I am unilingual, those are the only ones I know) and I have only found a tiny percentage of them. I am sure there are many that I would find fascinating if only I could discover their whereabouts.

Because I took as my theme, tracing my life from birth, I do not write about the day to day as much as others do. Saturday night Bill and I watched the end of the Detroit Tigers game where the young players were so excited by their victory that they ran out into the stands and squirted champagne at the fans, unadulterated joy and high spirits. Wonderful. A few days ago the new premier put the first Aboriginal to be elected MLA into the cabinet as Minister of Justice and Attorney General. The Aboriginal MLA was so excited that he used the word “extremely” many times in the newspaper interview. Today in a quote of a few sentences he again used the word three times. Is he going to do a good job? I would bet on it. High spirits and joy and thoughtfulness. Ah yes.

Yesterday we had Thanksgiving at our lake camp with part of our family and some friends, a delicious meal, a beautiful warm day, leaves turned, great company. While we were there our daughter phoned to say she was to be in a commercial in which she has to swing from a chandelier, shouting “Whoopee.” "Whoopee," I say.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Being Reminded

In the Globe and Mail this morning is a thoughtful column by Neil Reynolds, the second in a series about an economics book by Dan Usher. Reynolds is one of several excellent Globe columnists, world class, in my opinion. He, Rex Murphy, Margaret Wente, and Christie Blatchford all have the ability to look at the world with fresh eyes and let me see various sides of any discussion. My idea of a good columnist is that he/she surprises me. When I read many columnists and letter to the editor writers, I know what they are going to say on any side of an argument.

Neil Reynolds was the editor of several newspapers. When he was the editor of the Kingston Whig-Standard, he made it into a newspaper with an excellent reputation, especially for its coverage of the arts. Later he became editor of the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal, turning it into an exciting paper. He hired several investigative reporters who uncovered all sorts of skullduggery. He created a Saturday magazine, The New Brunswick Reader. Near its beginning, he asked me to write for it, and for two and a half years I wrote weekly articles on craftspeople and artists. I even had the heady job of selecting the photo for the front cover.

My education in the arts began when my friend Joe Sherman became editor of ArtsAtlantic in 1979. Because he couldn’t find anyone from NB to write about the arts, he enlisted me. I had not been educated in arts and crafts, although my father was both, so I was reluctant to write. To compensate for my ignorance, I spent an immense amount of time educating myself on the particular art or craft I was to write about. It was my first foray into becoming an autodidact, quite exciting. Later I was asked to write an introduction for a book on NB crafts. Reynolds, a lover of crafts, read it and asked me to write for the Reader. I had always wanted to have a weekly column, and although it was immensely time-consuming, I enjoyed the job. Bill and I traveled all over New Brunswick interviewing artists and craftspeople. The ArtsAtlantic and Reader experience has been an important part of my journey from birth to where I am now. I should write more about it. When my father got sick and we were spending a lot of time visiting him, meeting the Reader deadline became too hair-raising, and when Joe left ArtsAtlantic, there was no one to badger me out of my inherent laziness.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Being Lulled to Sleep

We have a new radio station affiliated with ESPN. It is broadcasting the baseball play-off games. Last night I went to bed at 9, put the light out, snuggled down, and prepared to listen to the Yankee/Tiger game. I lasted for the first half inning and woke up at 12:40 in time to hear that the Yankees had won. I began to remember my mother. She would go to bed with a snack and a magazine to listen to ballgames. In those days she could even get minor league games, and as a consequence she knew all about the rookies who finally made it to the major leagues. My dad worked nights, and after my brother and I left home, she would be by herself. We didn’t even have locks on our doors. She loved baseball and the radio broadcasts must have been a great comfort to her. A game has a plot, interesting characters, a soothing jargon, my own partisanship and yet its outcome has no dire consequence.

Sunday, October 01, 2006


Today is World-Wide Communion Sunday, a fine idea. This got me remembering various communion services I’ve attended. In the little village church of my youth, we went to the altar and kneeled, receiving the bread and little silver glasses of wine from the minister bending over us from the other side of the altar. The choir came down from the choir stall to sit in the front pews, where we had a good view of the soles of the kneelers’ shoes. Once when I was about twelve or thirteen, my friend Ellie and I saw that one of the soles had a hole in it. We got to giggling, and the more we tried to stifle the giggles, the worse they became. I was pleasantly surprised today that I could recall the event without embarrassment.

When my brother was in seminary, he decided to conduct a Watch Night Service, complete with communion, on New Year’s Eve, using John Wesley’s program. It was memorable for many reasons. First of all, the church wasn’t heated, it not being a Sunday. My brother determined to have the sanctuary lit by candles, so there was the strangely moving power always provided by such unusual light and shadows in amongst the pews and altar. There were only a few people there: our mother and father, Bill and I, and a few of our parents’ friends. One of the women had just undergone a sadness, I can’t remember about what, and afterwards she told our parents that the ceremony had touched her deeply. The service was very long, perhaps two hours. John Wesley never spared his congregation. He used to preach outside the collieries to the miners coming off work, and he would preach for an hour on, for example, justification by faith.

Once when my sister-in-law was having an operation, I went to look after their children, then about 6 and 8. After school I set out a snack for them, grape juice and cookies. As they were drinking the juice, the younger one said, “Aunt Nancy, you gave us the communion juice.” They thought that was a great joke. Afterwards my brother explained that he kept Welch’s grape juice in the refrigerator so that he could bring communion to the sick and shut-in.

When I first came to Fredericton, I was charmed by the communion. The members of the board of sessions would come to us in the pews and serve us cubes of bread on silver plates and little glasses of juice carried in silver cases. We would hold the cubes of bread until everyone was served and then eat it all together. After we had all been served the wine, we would drink together, and then you heard clink, clink, clink as everyone put down the glass on the holder on the back of the pew. Now we usually go up to the altar, dip a piece of bread (sometimes a piece of pita bread) into the wine, communion by tinction, it is called. There is available a rice cracker or water for those with allergies. Today we did it the old way.

Sometimes in church, my tears spring up, often for no reason I can discern. Today they had something to do with gratitude – just a flash of thanksgiving accompanied by tears.