Broadway Bridge Now

Broadway Bridge Now

Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Days like Horses, Run Away (Writers You Probably Never Heard Of)

The words came to mind recently, for reasons that I can’t fathom. Anyway, as most of us do today when we want to find something out, I did an internet search. I must confess, that first I did attempt to look up, what I was pretty sure was a quote from something, in my copy of “Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations.” Yes, I do own a real copy of this book, hard cover, too, from many years ago when some of us had never heard of such a thing as an internet.

Anyway, I discovered that there was a writer called Charles Bukowski, who published a book in 1969 called “The Days Run Away Like Horses Over the Hill.” Now that, I thought, is a beautiful line. But I knew that I’d never heard of Bukowski and so that’s not where I would have come across the words. I was intrigued, though that Bukowski was born in Germany, as was I, though he was an American citizen. His grandmother was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) as was my mother. Paths diverge, however. Bukowski’s father was German American and fought in WWI as an American soldier. He met his wife, Katharina in Germany and they lived there for a few years until the difficulties of post war inflation convinced them to move to the United States. Bukowski didn’t have a great life, at least from my point of view, but he did publish many short stories and poems, novels, non-fiction. There are many recordings of his work, and films that use some of his work. I read the poem “Wild Horses …” on line. Not sure if I’ll read more of his work, though I very much like some of the titles of other poems: A Poem is a City, and When you Wait for the Dawn to Crawl Through the Screen Like a Burglar To Take Your Life Away.

Further research found me at a U2 site with the lyrics for “Dirty Day.” And there I found the words in the last line. When I looked at my copy of the CD (yes, I still have CD’s and play them), I found a dedication “For Charles Bukowski.” U2, an Irish band, has German connections – their album “Achtung Baby” was recorded in Berlin. In 1982 German filmmaker Wim Wenders approached the band looking for music for his film “Until the End of the World.” “Stay (Faraway, So Close)” was another song for a Wenders film.

Recently, I found a book in the library called, “Hidden Folk: Icelandic Fantasies” by Eleanor Arnason. Since I’m planning a trip to Iceland next year, I picked it up and read it. I’d never heard of this writer and enjoyed the book very much.  Arnason lives in Minneapolis, but her family background is Icelandic. I also discovered that she has written science fiction, and been compared to Ursula Le Guin (one of my favourite writers). So another connection and  new discovery. I will read more of her books.

I was pretty sure that Arnason is a name of Icelandic origins, and it is (internet research again). I do know Canadian author David Arnason, who I met many years ago when he was teaching at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. I even wrote a review of his collection of short stories “Fifty Stories and a Piece of Advice.” He was born in Gimli, Manitoba, on Lake Winnipeg. The land was granted to Icelandic settlers by the Canadian Government in 1875. The community became known as New Iceland. After reading Eleanor Arnason’s book, I decided it was time to read more of David’s work and I recently finished reading “Baldur’s Song: A Saga.” David Arnason has written many other books including, “The Dragon and the Dry Goods Princess,” “The New Icelanders: A North American Community” and “The Demon Lover.” Another connection – my fantasy (second in The Leather Book Tales series, coming out later this year) “Child of Dragons” has Icelandic characters.

Like wild horses running across the prairie, the mind at times wanders and forages where it wills.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Mother Courage and Her Children


Between 700 and 900 migrants fleeing the conflict in Libya may have died at sea this week.

4.8 million Syrians are refugees from the war in their country

John F. Kennedy once said, “Mankind must put an end to war before war puts an end to mankind.”

Have we made any progress in this area? Are things getting worse instead of better?

Theories of the causes of war generally look at three area: biology, culture, reason. The biological theory posits that we are naturally aggressive and territorial creatures. Some cultures have been more warlike than others (e.g. ancient Rome); some have worked hard to eliminate war and even to remain neutral during times of conflict (e.g. Switzerland). Reason may tell us, on the one hand, that a particular war is necessary (e.g. to protect citizens or to prevent a dictator taking over), while on the other hand it may tell us there should be alternatives to war.

In 1939 Bertoldt Brecht, in collaboration with Margarete Steffin, wrote his play, “Mother Courage and Her Children.” The story takes place during the Thirty Years War in Europe (1614 – 1648). It’s considered a classic drama and an anti-war play. Brecht wrote it in response to Hitler’s invasion of Poland, and apparently finished writing in in just over month.

“What they could do with around here is a good war. What else can you expect with peace running wild all over the place? You know what the trouble with peace is? No organization.” – From “Mother Courage and Her Children” a sergeant.

Mother Courage, the main character of the play, a single mother, runs a canteen wagon with the Swedish Army as a way to take care of her family. Over the course of the story, she loses both her sons and her daughter in the very war where she tried to make a living.

After the Protestant Reformation in Europe in the 1500s, a cultural upheaval that splintered Catholic Europe, there were various conflicts from 1524 to 1651, in a number of countries. These ranged from The German Peasants War, and the French Wars of Religion to The Thirty Years War, and the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. The Peace of Augsberg in 1555 was supposed to have settled things, allowing more freedom of religion. However, religious oppression continued on both sides.

The war began in the Holy Roman Empire, and though initially about religion, it spread to other countries (over 200 states of various sizes) and became a war for territory. Over one million men fought in the war. German cities lost one third of their population, the rural population was reduced by two fifths. The population of the Holy Roman Empire was reduced from 20 million to 16 million. As well, famine, plague and other diseases such as typhoid and influenza ravaged the population of Europe. Most deaths occurred in towns and cities where refugees had fled and lived in crowded and unhealthy conditions.

(Painting By Sebastian Vrancx - Sotheby's, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15997992)

“Dangers, surprises, devastations –
            The war takes hold and will not quit.
But though it last three generations
            We shall get nothing out of it.” – Mother Courage at the end of the play.


Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Power of Sleep


Winston Churchill used to have afternoon naps.

Years ago a friend gave me a book about napping. It was colourful and fun, but I can’t remember the name of it and I gave it away at some point. At the time, I was going through menopause, which can be a very sleep disturbed and sleep-deprived time. It was for me. During one period I never seemed to get more than 6 hours a night. I couldn’t nap much during the week because I still worked full time, but I did start taking naps on the weekend to catch up on sleep.

Eleanor Roosevelt napped before speaking engagements.

Now that I’m retired from jobs of any sort, though I still work – I’m a writer – I sleep whenever and however long I need to. My circadian (biological processes that occur naturally in a 24 hour period, even without reference to light) rhythms seem to vary from time to time. If I’ve been visiting my grandson, who gets up fairly early – 7 am usually – I get into that cycle. If I’m on my own at home, I may have periods where I stay up late and read, write, the creative juices flow and it could be after midnight before I sleep. At times I go to bed fairly early, then wake up at 4 or 5 am and am awake for a few hours. After that I may sleep until 10 or even noon.

Here is a web site about several famous people who napped regularly. Unfortunately they’re all men, but I’m sure there have been and are many women who understand the power of a nap: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2011/03/14/the-napping-habits-of-8-famous-men/

According to some things I’ve read, if your circadian rhythms get out of sync with night and day you may have a sleep disorder. Well, I reject that. I think that we’ve gotten too attached to our modern day world of work and how we need people to function for that world to work. If someone couldn’t sleep at all, I could see that being a problem. The body needs to rest. But why do we all need to be awake or asleep at a certain time? In reality, of course, our world does have people who have to or choose to work at night.


I do think it’s important to get enough sleep for your personal health. Sleep deprivation is linked to heart disease, diabetes, poor immune systems, poor mental health, and obesity. I know someone who suffered from severe insomnia for many years and ended up with memory problems. The doctor said this was a result of the constant insomnia. The amount of actual sleep may vary from person to person, and I think when and how you get that sleep may not matter. There are lots of examples of people who sleep differently and need varied hours of sleep.

I recently had a bout of flu that didn’t make me feel very sick, but made me incredibly tired for several weeks. I’ve also had quite a bit of stress in my life for a while. All I wanted to do after the flu, was to sleep and read. I felt in need of the kind of holiday I loved as a kid, where I could just laze about and read as much as I wanted. So I relaxed and let sleep heal me.

Sleep patterns also change with age, but there is some difference in how this is viewed. Some studies apparently show we need less sleep as we age, other experts say we need just as much. But our sleep does become lighter and more fragile as we age. For more on this: http://bodyandhealth.canada.com/channel/Mental-Health/Sleep-disorders/Sleep-patterns-and-aging

My own belief is that the thing to do is to accept who you are, and what your body and spirit are doing and needing at any particular time. Then find ways to make that work for you in the best way possible.

“I love sleep. My life has a tendency to fall apart when I’m awake, you know?” – Ernest Hemmingway

“He loved his dreams, and cultivated them.” -- Colette

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Travelling Through the Heart of Darkness to Reach a Far Green Country

You may recognize my title as fragments of quotes from two writers.

In “The Return of the King,” J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “The journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass. And then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” So spoke Gandalf, the great wizard, to the Hobbit, Pippin, at what seemed like the end of their world in the white city, Minas Tirith. The city was under attack, many of their friends were far away, the evil Sauron seemed in the ascendant, and hope was dead. It was a very dark time and place for them right there, but Gandalf saw beyond the moment.
Joseph Conrad, in his book “Heart of Darkness” wrote about the evils perpetuated in a Belgian colony of Africa, though the story begins on the great river that flows through London. “The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth. . . ‘And this also,’ said Marlow, ‘has been one of the dark places of the earth.’” The story, continues, eventually taking us to the Congo and down the river into another darkness. As we journey with Marlow through the story, we eventually meet Kurtz, an ivory trader who has set himself up as a god, and who is now ill, probably crazy, and dying.

For me the best fiction tells great truths, of individual lives, of society; it reveals, as Carl Jung might say, the great archetypes of our lives and our world, that help to illuminate the journeys that we all set out on from the instant of our births.
Both of these books recently came to mind as I was ruminating about old age and what may be in store. There is much of darkness – loss of memory, loss of function, illusions. Do we really understand what happens to us and our brains? Again, I quote Conrad on an ancient Roman sent to Britain, sailing down the Thames: “There’s no initiation either into such mysteries. He has to live in the midst of the incomprehensible, which is also detestable. And it has a fascination, too, that goes to work on him. The fascination of the abomination – you know, imagine the growing regrets, the longing to escape, the powerless disgust, the surrender, the hate.”

I have watched my parents age, and thought about what might come to me if I live another 20 years or so. Memory fails even now, though it can do that at any age. The body has more aches and pains, doesn’t recover as quickly as it used to. Friends tell me stories of their aging parents, the strange things they did, the delusions they suffer from. “Don’t get old,” is said not uncommonly by people who are old. They may become more demanding. Others complain about nearly everything and seem to find little joy in life. Some may have difficulty coping with life, yet refuse to admit it and refuse help, feeling that their children or others are trying to take over, or take advantage. I could go on and on. Friends give examples of those who live well into their nineties and maintain clarity and activity. But it seems to me there are no guarantees. Certainly books and internet posts, so called experts, tell us how to live well into old age. But do they really know if exercise, eating well, keeping active will make a significant difference? Where are the long term studies?
At times, I’ve thought that those whose parents died when they were relatively young were lucky. As were those who had moved and didn’t live close to their parents any more. My paternal grandfather died before I was born. I met my father’s mother only once many years ago in Germany. My maternal grandmother lived with my parents and me when I was very young, but I don’t remember her. My grandfather lived with us in Germany until I was seven and then we moved to Canada. He moved in with my aunt and I never saw him again.

So I haven’t seen much of the details of people aging. Often I’ve wanted to run away from the difficulties. But something keeps me here, keeps me trying. Perhaps it is partly the fear of what might happen to me as I age, and a hope that I’ll reach some kind of understanding that will make it easier. It’s also the hope that I can bring some joy into my parents’ lives. Not that they are never happy, but often it seems that no matter what I do, nothing really makes a difference. Age “Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” to quote Shakespeare. And should we really, “not go gentle into that good night” but “Rage, rage against the dying of the light,” (Dylan Thomas) or go quietly?
I am on this journey and I want to make sense of it. I always want to make sense of things. And so I write, and think, and read, and find a really good counsellor. The journey continues. And one day I have an amazingly good day with my mother, and I think that this is why the journey has to continue. Other times I have incredible times with my son and grandson. There is joy and sorrow in life; there are challenges and high points in the journey, valleys, and mountains, storms and sunshine.

To quote Tolkien again:
The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.”



Two notes:
I know that there has been contemporary criticism of “Heart of Darkness” suggesting that it continues stereotypes about African people, and does not deal with racism. I think that it is a book of its time (first published as a serial 1899), and also that it illuminates much. Anyway, read the book, and come to your own conclusions.

I highly recommend that you listen to the beautiful song from the end of “The Return of the King” movie, sung by Annie Lennox “Into the West.” You can find it on line, also. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4wD_PT_jgk)

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Winter Getaways


February, although it’s a short month, can be difficult in the prairie provinces of Canada. This year has been an exceptionally mild winter, but often January and part of February can have bitterly cold weeks. Besides that, it’s often gloomy and there aren’t many hours of daylight. Then, we can often expect a last blizzard or big snow fall in March. So how do we cope?

Some people head for a winter holiday – Mexico, Hawaii, etc.

Others find wonderful places in the cities where they live (Saskatoon has the conservatory at the Mendel Art Gallery – in the process of changing locations). Edmonton has the wonderful Muttart Conservatory (the glass Pyramids). They have regular displays that don’t change a great deal, and there’s always a special display – this year it’s been ‘The Year of the Monkey.’ It’s wonderful to get inside and feel the different air quality, look at the flowers and other lush plants, enjoy the arid zone, browse the gift shop or eat in the restaurant.

And, of course, one of the cheapest get-a-ways is through books. I’ve been reading fantasy – The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer, and the Septimus Heath series (eg. Magyk, Flyte, etc.).

Movies, and video offer great escapes as well. I’m looking forward to watching the sequel to ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’ – ‘Sword of Destiny.’ The latter is my get-a-way today when the temperature has dipped from above zero and melting, to minus 15 degrees centigrade with the wind chill.

Enjoy your breaks from winter, whatever they are!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

What It Means To Be Canadian


Canada is a mosaic; we don’t try to make everyone leap into a pot and melt our characteristics together. To me, that is one of the definitions of what it means to be Canadian. This topic recently came up among a group of my friends. It seems to me that at one time we and others questioned if there was such a thing as a unique Canadian identity. I think we are past wondering that now. We know who we are.

I still remember going to the citizenship ceremonies with my parents when we all became Canadian citizens. My father had received several booklets ahead to time that talked about Canada’s natural resources, agriculture and industry, history and politics. I read those booklets, too and ever since, have gone out of my way to discover what this country is about.

I recall my father saying once long ago that Canada had no writers. He was thinking of the long tradition of literature in Germany where we came from. So for Christmas that year I hunted up for him a little book of short stories written by Canadians. It included stories by W.O. Mitchell and Sinclair Ross. We now have writers known around the world – Margaret Atwood, Pierre Burton, Joseph Boyden, Margaret Laurence, Yann Martel, Lucy Maud Montgomery, William Gibson, Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen, Farley Mowat, and so many more.

And of course there are musicians, who are uniquely Canadian – Gordon Lightfoot, k.d. lang, Alanis Morissette, Barenaked Ladies, Diana Krall, Our Lady Peace, The Guess Who, etc. Artists – Robert Bateman, Mina Forsyth, Alex Coleville, Honor Kever, Lawren Harris, Martha Cole, Yousuf Karsh, William Kurelek, etc. And on and on.

To me being a Canadian means being polite, friendly and kind. Of course, we have people here who aren’t that way.

We don’t carry guns in our everyday life. My brother told me of his son who works in Saskatchewan Parks and teaches gun safety as well. He attended a gun safety workshop with people from various Canadian police forces, as well as Americans. At a break one of the Americans asked, “So what’s your personal weapon?” The Canadians all looked puzzled. “You know, the one that doesn’t belong to your police force that you have to leave behind at night. The one you carry to the grocery store.” He was astounded when the Canadians said, “We don’t carry a gun to the grocery store.”

We believe in public health care aka Medicare. We don’t consider it a Communist innovation.

According to Statistics Canada, in 2013 more than 9 in 10 Canadians believed that our Charter of Rights and Freedoms (just in case you don’t know what it says, check here: http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/Const/page-15.html) and our national flag were important symbols of our identity. Next on the list were our national anthem, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and hockey. Further from that 2013 survey, “The majority of people believed that Canadians shared specific values. This was most often the case when thinking about the value of human rights (92%), and less often in relation to respect for Aboriginal culture (68%) and linguistic duality (73%).”

We pronounce words differently than some other English speaking peoples, and we have words and expressions that are uniquely Canadian (and no we don’t all say ‘eh’), many of them from our Aboriginal peoples – wapiti, toque, parka, lacrosse, biffy, Loonie, Twonnie, kitty corner, chinook, rink rat, and zed.

We aren’t afraid of minority governments.

We have paper money that is pretty as well as useful and doesn’t remind you of toilet paper.

We have fantastic national parks.

And though what we eat is eclectic, to match our mosaic culture, we have foods that may be hard to find elsewhere – butter tarts, Saskatoon berries, Nanaimo Bars, Canada Dry, Montreal smoked meat, Crispy Crunch chocolate bars,  We love our Tim Horton’s (not all of us), and it’s difficult to find in other places.

Canadian inventions include insulin, Superman, basketball, Standard Time, canola, snowmobiles, the snow blower (what choice did we have? – we needed it!), the fog horn, sonar, the goalie mask, IMAX theatre, Trivial Pursuit, the electron microscope, Pablum, the caulking gun, the jolly jumper, Plexiglas, the McIntosh apple. I could go on.

We’re not afraid of winter, and though we may complain about it, many of us revel in it – walking, skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, etc. After all, for most of the country it lasts for several months. And we have great other seasons.

Canada is a conversation (I got this from the Canadian Encyclopedia - http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/canadian-identity/). I like that idea – a conversation is ongoing, between more than one person, an exchange of ideas that can encompass diversity, argument, change. Yeah! 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Repeating History

“Those who cannot remember the past, are condemned to repeat it.” So wrote George Santayana in The Life of Reason. Born in Spain, in 1863, Santayana lived for forty years in the United States and later in Europe, though maintaining his Spanish citizenship. He was a philosopher, poet, literary and cultural critic, and died in 1952.

In the wake of the recent Paris attacks, some have been questioning the wisdom of accepting Syrian refugees, or talking about a Muslim takeover of Europe. The whole idea of a “Muslim Conspiracy” to take over the world is not new. Writers such as Bruce Bawer, Gisèle Litman, Oriana Fallaci, Pamela Geller and politicians such as Newt Gingrich, and most recently Donald Trump have made statements in this vein. In general, these people have not taken the time to actually research the claims they make.

It all reminds me of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” a document first published in Russia in 1903 and subsequently translated into many languages. “The Protocols” were supposedly the minutes of a meeting of Jewish leaders discussing the takeover of the world by controlling the press and world economies. Henry Ford paid for the printing of 500,000 copies for distribution in the 1920’s. The book was exposed as a forgery in 1921. Nevertheless, Adolf Hitler used it as a basis for explaining the disasters that had befallen Germany – the losses of WWI, the depression -- (a conspiracy of the Jews), and based his policy of restrictions and extermination on it.

We talk and worry about the “radicalization” of certain youth. Do we remember the Canadians who took part in the Spanish Civil War? In 1936 Franco attempted a coup in Spain to overthrow the fairly new Spanish republic. Many of the world’s governments had a policy of non-intervention, and some actively supported Franco. (Sound familiar?) Thousands of volunteers (including nearly 1700 Canadians) from around the world flocked to Spain to join The International Brigades, and support the republicans. Some of these volunteers were unemployed, living in work camps (it was the depression), some were recent immigrants and had been subjected to discrimination including anti-Semitism, and restrictive government policies. Not all fit this mold, however. Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor, as well as writers Ted Allen and Jean Watts were among those who travelled to Spain to help – Bethune in his profession and the other two to publicize the war.

Does anyone remember Students for a Democratic University? Students for a Democratic Society? The Weather Underground? These were all much more recent movements. The Weather Underground was an American radical group founded in 1969 at Ann Arbour University, an offshoot of Students for a Democratic Society. The goal of “The Weathermen” was to overthrow the U.S. government. Opposed to the Vietnam War, and in favour of Black Power, the group took part in bombings and other actions, including protests, and the jail break of Timothy Leary.

I don’t excuse or condone the killing of anyone by anyone. Not the Paris attacks, not the air strikes in Syria that have killed civilians as well as fighters. Not the shooting of blacks or First Nations by police.

I think all countries need to focus on killing as a crime and treat the perpetrators accordingly, without trying to brand large segments of our population (who are by and large peaceful and law abiding) as criminals.

All countries need to look at how they treat immigrants, find ways to engage disaffected youth, develop jobs and alternatives.  Does anyone remember The Company of Young Canadians – a short-lived organization established by the federal government in 1966 to encourage, social, community and economic development? Youth volunteered and were trained in social animation techniques, paid modest salaries and sent around the country to engage communities in worthwhile projects. I also remember government grants given to organizations to work on these kinds of issues.

It seems to me that when the world gets difficult we have choices. We can hunker down and close ourselves off, hoping to protect ourselves and our ways of life, or we can open ourselves to change, to looking at the world in new ways, to finding partnerships and alternatives.

There will likely always be criminals, but there will also be good people with good ideas. They are all around us now. Let us listen to those who make us think critically and carefully, to those who search for cooperative solutions.

Let us not be ruled by fear, and let us read history and not forget it.