Category Archives: Arts in Northwest BC

Book Review – The Taste of Ashes by Sheila Peters

Taste of Ashes The Taste of Ashes by Sheila Peters reads more like non-fiction about actual living, breathing individuals and literally true events, than well-researched fiction that’s “merely” emotionally true. By praising it or raving about how much I enjoyed it, I feel I’m making light of real people’s very difficult, hard circumstances. Likewise, if I criticize any part, I feel I’m somehow slamming real people—and how dare I do that?

But I did enjoy it. Identified with it. Laughed out loud in places. The story’s written in a braided narrative, with three main point-of-view characters: Isabel Lee, one-time wild child, now recovering alcoholic and fodder for the small town rumour mill, Father Álvaro Ruiz, a priest seeking respite in Canada after enduring mind, body and spirit breaking torture in Guatemala, and Janna—Isabel and Álvaro’s daughter, born out of an intense affair the first time Álvaro was in Canada as a young Oblate priest—a child Álvaro knows nothing about. Once their voices were established and I knew who was who, I could hardly put the book down—though at times, out of stress, outrage and empathy, I wanted to throw it across the room.

Peters is incredibly skilled at showing the many-layered ways we hurt the people we love unintentionally (through ignorance and indifference—or just misunderstanding what they actually need from us)—and worse, the ways some people intentionally set out to damage and destroy others. She’s equally adept, however, at showing that healing also exists (if at a price), that love (in the furthest thing from a mushy, romantic sense of the word) endures, and grace—in sharp splinters of pain and light—can eventually pierce and change even the bleakest reality. She also shows and celebrates the power of beauty and nature.

Disturbing, challenging content adds depth to the pure pleasure of a well told, absorbing story and provokes thought. Like Isabel, I have lived in northern BC my whole life (I was born in Smithers and actually lived on Railway Avenue for most of my early childhood—the same street Isabel lives on), and any pain and personal hardship I’ve experienced has been on a small town scale. I don’t fear authorities. I have the luxury of “rights.” Torture at the hands of the government (shameful for me to admit) is the stuff of movie plots or awful newscast footage. I am moved and horrified by it, but in the detached way of one who is safe from such things. To explore the darkness and seeming randomness of that type of evil was very difficult and, I think, beneficial (though even that word—beneficial—reeks of privilege). I was shamed by my insulated safety, and by my lack of knowledge about South America, particularly Guatemala.

As all the best novels do, the ones that are read for generations because of the glimpse they provide into specific times and histories, The Taste of Ashes broadened my view of our world, and opened my eyes to aspects of human experience that shouldn’t be ignored.

I was driving to work in May, listening to the radio, and CBC happened to be interviewing a Forensic investigator about the trial of Guatemalan general Efrain Rios Montt (found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity, he was sentenced to 80 years in jail—a historic, and long overdue, achievement for the people of Guatemala), and I started to shake a bit. Not only did I recognize the name, I had personal reaction to the type of atrocities he was directly responsible for.

The Taste of Ashes can simply be read as an interesting story of a passionate, illicit love affair, its fallout and the subsequent lives of those involved, but for me it’s more—the type of tale that makes me consider the kind of person I am, the sort of life I am privileged to live—and what, if any, responsibilities come with that privilege.

Peters’ beautiful, strong writing and vivid, put-you-there descriptions made it easy to forgive the (very few) instances where I stumbled over a slightly awkward phrase or transition into a different point-of-view or time period that could have been smoother.

My only real “complaint” about the book is not about the story at all; it’s about its cover. While I know one can’t (or shouldn’t!) judge a book by the cover, I’m confused by its plain garb. I don’t see how the sedate, black and white photo of a babe in a blanket-sling on his faceless mother’s back fits specifically to the story or speaks to its themes. Nothing hints of the exposure (and exposé) the story provides of northern BC living. Nothing shows of the complexity of the cross-cultural, cross-generational relationships it delves into.

Don’t let the slightly boring cover put you off. The Taste of Ashes is well worth your investment of time and money. If you give it a go, let me know. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it.


North Words Creative Writers Retreat

North Words Creative Writers 2013 Retreat is running August 10 – 11 in Terrace, BC this year. As ever, it promises to be an inspiring, motivating time, filled with craft discussion and writing exercises, and I was thrilled to be asked to be a guest presenter. Maybe I’ll see you there? I look forward to it!

p.s. If you have any questions about the event, I’ll either answer them for you or find someone who can. :)

NorthWords Adult Poster 2013


An artist’s date, a.k.a. playing with paint

Playing!In my late teens/early twenties, I decided that was it. I was done writing. I would never pen again. I quit. (I could bore you with stories of my insecurity, of neuroses and perfectionism, of worries about what people might—gasp—think of me and the horrors that come from my brain, but as I now think all those “blocks” are common stuff that all artists struggle to work through—that might even be a necessary part of the process—I will spare you. Or I’ll spare you for now. I may write about young Ev someday!)

For many reasons I couldn’t, I wouldn’t, listen to the deep inner-whisper that never let up, Write, write, write, write, you need to write, it’s you to write, you love to write, write, write . . .

Then one day I was at a friend’s cabin on Lakelse Lake (Mark Anson—I am forever grateful to you!), and I came across The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

I asked Mark about it, and he raved about how good it was, then added, “Actually, I pulled it out because I was thinking you need to read it.”

It sounds cheesy to say the book revolutionized my life. But that’s what happened. I “did” the book. (It’s laid out as a 12-week artist recovery program. But don’t laugh. That’s exactly what I needed.) I answered all the prying questions. Took the assignments seriously. Adopted a habit of morning pages. Started taking artist dates . . .

And by the end, though I realized I’d no doubt be plagued by insecurity again off and on (and that’s definitely been the case!), I had the tools to overcome the negative voices that would see me stifled and sure I couldn’t create—and more importantly: I was infused with joy and excitement and a huge AHA! I was a writer. A storyteller. Maybe even a poet. Not crazy. (Or at least, not all the time.) Not depressed. (Ha—again, at least not all the time!) Just angst-ridden because I wasn’t doing what I was meant to do. What was essential to making me me.

Does it all sound more than a little self-helpey? I guess so. But did it help me? Absolutely.

To this day, whenever I feel my courage regarding my writing start to wane, whenever I begin to second guess the time and effort I put into something so “selfish,” whenever I doubt that I’m working in the direction I need to be, I return to the steps in The Artist’s Way. I take up morning pages again. (I probably should never stop them to begin with, but that’s another topic.) I strive to “fill the well,” which basically just means intentionally doing things that nourish your soul, like going on artist dates (a.k.a. visiting inspiring places), taking classes or workshops directly related (or not!) to fostering/developing creativity, treating yourself to a little craft-related splurge, etc.

This month I found myself needing a little encouragement, a little more play in my work (and a lot less obligation), so I decided to bring back artist’s dates. Yay! (What’s not to love about taking time out to do things that you know will inspire or refresh you?)

Running With BrushesMy first “official” date was a workshop called Running With Brushes, led by Noreen Spence and Dianne Postman. It was incredibly fun. And what we “put out” was . . . Well, I actually have to say, it was art. :) Judge for yourself.

The two-hour paint fest was pure fun, but it also had practical carryover for my writing life—a reminder (with exuberant “practice”) to not over think, plan to death, obsess about each detail . . . just CREATE. Worry about craft and polish at some far off date when the created work is out there in full, where you can see its whole shape, wackiness, potential, nightmare spots, etc. At least that’s what I took from the workshop anyway. :)

I don’t know if you’re feeling a bit slumpish, or burned out, or burdened with lofty goals in whatever creative pursuit you hold dear . . . And don’t get me wrong. Goals are good. Plans are great. But artistic dreams shouldn’t feel like drudgery or chores. There will be agony and sweat and work, yes—but there should also be joy and euphoria—fun!If you’re experiencing lots of the former, not so much of the latter . . . Maybe you, like me, need to give your inner artist a play date or two. I highly recommend paint! ☺

Now I leave you with a quote Noreen gave us at the beginning of the workshop. It was exactly what I needed to hear, to remember, and to celebrate. :)

“Nothing is a mistake. There is no win and no fail. There’s only make.” ~ Corita Kent

Running With Brushes!


A Theme of Value

The following was originally posted on my website September 13, 2012 (before it was hacked), but as I was going through material I managed to save, these thoughts still resonated. If you’ve read them before, I hope you don’t mind my re-sharing.

"In the Distance" - Photo by Ev Bishop

“In the Distance” – Photo by Ev Bishop

On holidays this year, I met up with Angela Dorsey and Barb Cameron (wonderful friends who also happen to be excellent fellow BC writers) for a sushi feast, a bookstore binge, and lots and lots of writerly talk. (Such a needed refuelling and refreshing!)

At one point I asked them why they write. I guess I was looking for some grand eureka. I also asked if there were topics and/or subject matter they personally considered taboo or off limits.

The conversation zipped all over the place in a myriad of fascinating (to me, anyway) directions and off shoots. One comment, made by Angela, particularly struck me: everything she writes must explore something that (for her) is a theme of value.

Other than that, she has no rules regarding things she will or will not write about, or how a theme is explored in terms of language used, situations depicted, etc.

She went on to explain modestly, maybe even a little self-consciously, that by saying that she doesn’t mean every story she writes has some big deep theme (though I’d argue most her stories do). A focus can be as simple (or complex!) as looking for home or valuing friendship.

Work must explore a theme of value. The idea, to me, is profound. Is, perhaps, the Eureka I was looking for when I ventured into my forest of questions.

I have long pondered why some novels’ scenes on difficult subject matters, for example, rape—feel somehow wrong or almost sensationalist, while others on the same topics, perhaps even more graphic in their detail, etc., feel somehow right and important to the story and to your reading/relating to it—even while they’re deeply disturbing or unsettling or rage-invoking or whatever.

In my own work, I’ve worried about crossing the line between honestly exploring and rendering what it’s like to be human and being gratuitous.

My worry was foundless. Theme dictates content. If one’s exploring a theme of value—which resonated with me as something I do, too—events in story, regardless of how graphic, disturbing or sexy they may be, will not feel gratuitous. The work’s objective prevents it.

Thoughts? :)


November’s River

A friend wrote me a note the other day, part of which read, “ . . . It only reminded me that I used to write and that I don’t anymore and that is only one thing in a long list that I have lost along the way.”

Her words came back to me this Saturday as I considered the stark landscape of the depleted Skeena beneath the old bridge. Rocks, bare. Trees—no, trunks. Severed. Separated. Set apart. Stripped of bark and branch and leaf. Rootless. They looked like ivory bones on the earth’s silty guts.

She needs to get back to the creative things she let go of, I thought. She needs to.

Fall is an introspective season. Perhaps it’s because the weather forces a physical slow down and a turn to inward contemplation. Or perhaps it’s more primal: as nature goes dormant or dies, thoughts tune to the occurrence of the same in other parts of our lives. Or maybe, for me, it’s more personal. My parents both passed away in October, and fall seems indelibly linked to my own mortality. Whatever the reason, this time of year I find myself thinking about how I live and what I put my energy into.

I had a hard week. Month. Year. If it wasn’t for my writing, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Sounds melodramatic—and maybe it is, but I don’t care. I look at our world, at the things that go on in it, and I don’t know how—without music, without art, without poetry and stories—people stay sane.

Most people loved some creative pursuit, I hate to say it, when they were young. What is it about adult life that makes so many of us forsake the things we enjoy most? Sometimes it’s because dreams and desires honestly change, but a lot of time (maybe even most of the time) we give up those passions, those unique activities that make us us, out of fear, out of misplaced feelings of obligation, out of pressure from people who don’t get it (and don’t get us even if they love us).

I’ve long battled feeling selfish. I spend hours by myself—and I need more than I get. I don’t keep a tidy house. I tune my family out sometimes. (I also love them sincerely and passionately, and try really hard to know them, respect them and give them space to be who they need to be, etc.—though that’s a whole other column). I can be distracted—and unapologetically disinterested in some things, like small talk.

Yet my writing has made me a better wife, mom, person. I think. I hope. It is good for people to pursue their passions—and as a parent it’s critical. We have to model what we value: thoughtfulness, a pursuit of things with intrinsic value—things with cultural, emotional, mental, or spiritual significance. Society will do all it can to sway our children (and us!) to a life of materialism, vapid pleasures, and looks-based self-worth. We need to counteract that influence the best we can, and I think the best way to do that is to show the rightness of thinking, learning, and expressing.

Letting ourselves sing, play an instrument, carve, write, garden, fish, quilt, sew, work in a shop—the list could go on and on—is crucial in so many ways. It helps us deal with stress, with sadness, with anger. It reminds us that joy can co-exist with sadness, beauty can survive hard times, and one can find peace even amidst inner storms.

The Skeena is lonely in November, but there’s beauty in her sharp grey-on-black-on-white lines and something inspiring in her resolute journey onward. If you have regrets about things undone or neglected, make this the year you take up that dropped course, cause, art, or hobby. Live as you feel you’re supposed to. That’s the thing about things that get lost along the way. They can be stumbled upon later. Found. Reclaimed.

This piece was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 21, 2012 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to share here (normally it would’ve been archived at evbishop.com, but that’s another story as you may know!). “November’s River” is not your typical December reading, but ah, well . . . We all experience November rivers at some time or another. I’ll post something lighter and Christmassy when I’m . . . feeling lighter and more Christmassy. :)


To Capture the Moon

The yellowed-ivory moon rose over the snow topped mountains in the near distance. Huge bellied and magnificent, she sat heavy in the periwinkle sky of the early spring evening, queen of all she surveyed. And I, a peasant beneath her, awed by her visage and her serene scrutiny, deserted my leaf-raking and flowerbed cleaning and ran for a camera—completely taken in: this was the night I’d capture the moon.

I fetched my camera, and . . .

Completely failed in my quest. I have seen gorgeous photographs of the moon. The people who take them are magicians. Or perhaps they too think, You call this image beautiful, breathtaking, magical? No, you should have seen the moon that night. I didn’t even come close.

I know in seeking that illusive picture of the moon, concepts (magic spells!) like aperture, ISO, and EV 1 or 2 units come into play, along with tools like telephoto lenses, tripods, and the like. I have heard that I can master them. And perhaps I will. Strive. Try.

My first pronouncement—“completely failed”—softened under her encouraging glow as the night darkened around her. I emerged instead with a lesson, applicable to my writing and so many other parts of my life. The attempt is the joy, is the success, is the purpose. The moon will never be captured fully, but she can be suggested, alluded to, conjured, imagined, dreamt. . . .

And as if to affirm that truth, I discovered that two of the twenty or so shots I took turned out . . . not bad. Though nowhere close to how beautiful the moon actually was on April 6, or how she overtook the horizon and my imagination, I hope they hint. . . .

So the aftermath of my night’s chase? Most often with words, but sometimes using picture, paint or other, I’ll keep seeking to express the beauty and mysteries that sometimes surprise us in the day or wait and appear only fleetingly at night. And most often I’ll miss the mark, not accomplish what I’m shooting for, but that’s okay. I accept the quest. I revel in it. I delight in it. And who knows? Sometimes I might come . . . close.


It’s all rock ‘n’ roll to me.

Digital image, Copyright 2011 Marriah Bishop, used with permission.

My daughter has started painting. She also takes a lot of photos (digital and old school 35mm). Lately, I’ve been struck by the contrast between her two arts—and how those differences relate to writing.

Photographers strive to capture images of what’s already visible in the world and focus in on it, with the goal of revealing what exists—what is tangible, what is right there in front of us—in a new way, making people see.

And, of course, most artists wielding a camera hope to make us feel—to invoke peace, hope, or joy showing the lovely things that exist all around us. To stir up empathy or make us angry (thus, hopefully, motivated to do something about whatever issue riled us up). To kindle awe or understanding about the world around us. To make us laugh. To make us cry. But they attempt to do that by showing us what already exists.

Painters, or the ones whose work I relate to most anyway, seem to approach their work the opposite way. They start with reaction (emotion) triggered by something real and try to express how feeling looks. The results on the canvas may be realistic and identifiable—a brook, a tree, a face . . . but they just as easily might be abstract colours and shapes and form, or some combination thereof. The final piece creates something real, yet isn’t fact-based or often a literal representation.

For me, those visual processes are close cousins to writing—non-fiction is like photography. I write about what really exists, for a variety of reasons—to create a record, to encourage, to challenge, to entertain, to inform. . . .

In fiction, I start with an idea or emotion or question and explore it through story—sometimes realistic, sometimes absolutely fantastic. Every time, with the hope of stirring the fears, concerns, rages—and the dreams, worries, and hopes—of the reader. I’m not concerned with the factual at all.

Whether the setting is a modern high school classroom, the moon, or a castle in a land of fairies, what I want is for people to feel—to recognise that emotional truths exist separate from literal events, times and places. After all, there’s something surreal about being human—there’s our physical reality, but then again, something so, so much more than that, in which we live and move and have our being.

Poetry and music are like what mixed-media is to visual arts—seeking to express what almost defies expression, to give substance to what is invisible yet is also somehow the crux of existence. Oxygen to plant life.

I read a comment on a blog recently that said that “real” writers don’t write blogs. (The irony that the comment was made on a blog, by a writer made me smile—and in a large part helped fuel this slightly odd post. As much as I see differences within the forms, mostly I see connections and related pathways between all modes of artistic and creative output. I’m not sure there’s any definitive definition for a writer—except that he or she writes. And although it’s interesting and fun (perhaps even helpful, occasionally) to wax poetic on the purpose and function of various forms of writing, I don’t know if it really matters how or why or what a person writes.

What about you? Do you write in a variety forms? Are you a writer and another type of artist as well? If yes, how do your processes/intentions differ according to the craft? If no, any specific reason why not?


Art lessons with Noreen Spence!

Radelet's Cherry Tree. Copyright Noreen Spence. Digital Image used with permission.

I was ecstatic to receive an e-mail the other day from one of my favourite artists (her trees, her trees!), Noreen Spence, announcing that she has her “fabulous new studio set up” and is back to painting large (as in huge canvases!).

AND she’s offering painting lessons–at said new, fabulous studio where you’ll be “ surrounded by the nurturing forest, where the generous light pours in through five enormous windows, and where there is room to move.”

In addition to be wildly talented, Noreen is a really caring, thoughtful, affirming person and whether your goals are just to try something new, to have fun, or even to yes, give yourself permssion to be or become an artist, I know her lessons will enhance your life and your craft.

She offers three different fee structures:

Individual 1 hr lessons, $30 per hour
Group lessons, 1.5 hrs, 3 people, $15 per session
Individual 2 hr lessons, $50 per session

To find out more or to register, give Noreen a call at (250) 635-6938.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 3,228 other followers

%d bloggers like this: