BUILD GOD // shoot

So finally we went to Caronport to shoot BUILD GOD. The seven of us, five adults and two kids, plus Blanche and Susie, all drove eight hours south-east, then swung west at Moose Jaw and I found myself at twenty-five driving a pickup truck back into my childhood hometown. Dylan and I went a day early to dress sets, find places for all of us to sleep, buy groceries, and generally scope out the scene. Dylan wore a cowboy hat, moving more and more ambiguously back and forth over the line between costume and working uniform the farther out of the city we drove. On the one hand, cowboy hats are really more of an Alberta (rancher) than Saskatchewan (farmer) thing; on the other hand, irony in general becomes less recognized and appreciated once you leave the city. And Dylan was wearing the hat because outdoor film shoots are notorious opportunities to get sunburned. 

In Caronport, we rented two rooms in one of the Briercrest Bible College dorm buildings. We went and visited Carla--my old babysitter--who'd offered back in July to let us shoot in her trailer, and I think promptly mortified her by ignoring her beautifully decorated living room and dressing her storage room as an extremely cluttered, even neglected, child's bedroom. The rest of the cast and crew, still on the road, got a flat tire outside Lloydminster, which Dylan (always the producer) charmed the tire shop in Lloyd into fixing before the end of the day. We explored the drainage ponds across the highway, where I was envisioning a sunrise scene. The mosquitos were as horrific as they can only be in Saskatchewan, and we kept encountering hoards of them all week (basically whenever we went to shoot any kind of windswept, romantic, horizon-heavy, trailing-through-the-wheat-and-clover type scenario).

When the others (Alley-oop and August the actors, Ashleigh their endlessly forbearing mother, Jenna my assistant director, Tom who had supplied most of our equipment and was also manning a camera) arrived, we set up house between the two dorm rooms. Ashleigh and the kids had the one with the working fridge and the other bedroom set we'd created in the dorm livingroom; the rest of us slept on couches and bare mattresses in the other suite, where we also cooked and played Bananagrams until the small hours and stored the equipment. The dorms were lit with exactly three dreadful fluorescent tube lights each, so on the first night we set up the Arri lights Dylan had insisted on bringing, despite my protests, covered with some nice orange gels. (I thought I wanted a primitive, Dogma 95 ish set, without lights to slow us down or make anything look too idyllic. We used the lights in almost every shot. This is going to be a beautiful movie.)

The shoot itself was complicated. I'd subbed in August to play the part of Becky after my other actor cancelled the day before we had to leave. August changed the dynamic between the two characters--and the dynamic on set--drastically. We had to set up his scenes so that they would work if we just let August run in and do his thing. He brought an energy and level of pathos, violence, and comedy I probably couldn't have scripted if I tried, but trying to capture it all meant we couldn't count on much else. 

I almost expected to fall apart at some point. I've been a director, I guess, on all the film projects I've worked on since last summer and let's just say it's a learning experience I value more than it is a role that comes naturally to me. But I didn't fall apart. 

Sometime during the second day of the shoot, it struck me that there were six other people here in this tiny village with me, six people who'd driven hundreds of kilometres and donated a week of their time in order to work on my project. Doubtless, everyone had their own reasons for being there, and a movie is never one person's sole creation. Nevertheless. They were all there to help me do something that two years ago even I didn't think I could do. Living all piled together as we were, they weren't only running sound and setting up lights and hauling gear and battling mosquitoes and consulting on framing and composition, they were also cooking communal meals and washing dishes and taking out the garbage and making sure everyone was getting along. And I didn't have to ask them to do any of it. I found myself able to take naps when I needed to, and go to bed early, and still there was food on the table, the footage and sound files appeared on my hard drive, the kids were entertained. Life was good. Ally-oop kept up a steady stream of ethical dilemmas from his Book of Questions. August swore like a rig pig. Jenna went swimming in Moose Jaw. Tom seemed to survive on Tricuits. Dylan and Ashleigh talked about David Foster Wallace. When I got sick on the third day, I made ginger tea for everyone, which we dosed surreptitiously with bourbon (as far as I know, Caronport is still, officially, a dry town; but they'll have to dispose of the beer cans we forgot under the sink). I woke up from a nap to find Dylan and Jenna making spaghetti, Tom playing with the kids, and thought, This is what it must be like to have a wife. 

I had brought A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf along with me. I didn't get much of a chance to read while we were in Saskatchewan, but when we got home, I was still sick and I finished the book in a day. Woolf is concerned with the conditions under which women have written and can write fiction (read: produce art), and the combination of practical and psychological support that I experienced on the shoot is, according to Woolf writing in 1928, something that women have almost never in the history of the world been privy to.

Woolf mentions two factors that come into play: the self esteem (arrogance, really) necessary to create good art or do almost anything of consequence, and the logistical freedom historically enjoyed to a much greater extent by men.

On self-esteem, and how it has historically been gendered: "Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size. Without that power probably the earth would still be swamp and jungle. The glories of all our wars would be unknown. We should still be scratching the outlines of deer on the remains of mutton bones or bartering flints for sheep skins or whatever simple ornament took our unsophisticated taste. Supermen and Fingers of Destiny would never have existed. The Tsar and the Kaiser would never have worn crowns or lost them. Whatever may be their use in civilized societies, mirrors are essential to all violent and heroic action . . . That serves to explain in part the necessity that women so often are to men." 

On practical freedoms: "First there are nine months before the baby is born. Then the baby is born. Then there are three or four months spent in feeding the baby. After the baby is fed there are certainly five years spent in playing with the baby. You cannot, it seems, let children run about in the streets . . . People say, too, that human nature takes its shape in the years between one and five. If Mrs. Seton, I said, had been making money, what sort of memories would you have had of games and quarrels? What would you have known of Scotland, and its fine air and cakes and the rest of it? But it is useless to ask these questions, because you would never have come into existence at all . . . It is only for the last forty-eight years that Mrs. Seton has had a penny of her own. For all the centuries before that it would have been her husband's property--a thought which, perhaps, may have had its share in keeping Mrs. Seton and her mothers off the Stock Exchange. Every penny I earn, they may have said, will be taken from me and disposed of according to my husband's wisdom--perhaps to found a scholarship or to endow a fellowship in Balliol or Kings, so that to earn money, even if I could earn money, is not a matter that interests me very greatly."

It might seem far-fetched to address passages like these so directly to my own experience last week, but I think there is a connection to be made here. Bringing these people, all of them my friends, to Caronport to work on my short film was the culmination of a personal creative project in the making for more than two years already. Regardless of my own feelings re: my leadership qualities, in many important senses I was both leader and catalyst in this enterprise, and though the project was shaped by everyone involved in it, I was the reason they were all involved in the first place. The self-esteem (arrogance) I derived from this position had a profound effect on my ability to perform while we were on the shoot. If I hadn't had a whole team of people believing in me and the project, and backing up that belief by taking initiative and interest in their own areas of specialty, managing very gracefully to follow my (shaky) lead all the while picking up my slack, I wouldn't have lasted a day. As a woman, as a person, as an artist, I have never been in this position before--never had the privilege of so many flattering, encouraging, bolstering mirrors surrounding me while I worked.

I also benefited enormously from our communal, familial living arrangements. The constant presence of people, the mixture of children and adults, the shared responsibility for practical and psychological management (making meals, making sure everyone's various needs were met) made for a rejuvenating, ultimately relaxing environment (in spite of the stress of trying to avoid Wet Willies). Managing a living environment and taking care of people (especially children, but also especially husbands) has historically been a woman's job. Finding that this responsibility was not falling squarely on my shoulders was a huge surprise, and a huge relief. There's no way I could have focussed both on directing even this very small production while simultaneously keeping track of a meal plan for seven people. As it was, Dylan did that, and acted as director of photography to boot. 

Finally, none of us would have been in Caronport last week if it wasn't for the grant money I had been awarded, that I was using to pay everybody (shoutout here to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts). Woolf is famous for prescribing women writers rooms of their own, but in her book she always follows up with the need for women to earn or otherwise secure "five hundred a year" i.e. enough money to live and work on. 

So the movie is shot, and I have a beast of an editing job ahead of me. I plan to let the footage chill and my brain recalibrate for a couple of months, then get to editing with fresh eyes sometime before Christmas. In the meantime, I have another film to finish, stories to write and revise, a bar to work at, books to read. I just started Wolf Willow by Wallace Stegner, about the history of southern Saskatchewan, and Both Flesh and Not by David Foster Wallace.

Back home, the apartment is too empty and quiet. I think I am done with living alone; I want to live with a group of people, a pack of kids, a family I guess. The idea of a family seems more open and possible and creative-work enabling than before. 

some romantic ideas, with endnotes

The reason I appreciate non-monogamy so much is that it is, for me, protection against the airlessness and inertia of a couple passing their own limited resources back and forth, using them up like a shared breath. [1] It is protection from that.

And it is the excitement and risk of seeing your partner invigorated by someone else and trying to be humble enough to accept the benefit to both (all) of you. It's the excitement of knowing your partner is someone someone else wants to fuck and talk about movies with. [2] 

It's realizing the wholeness/complexity of your partner by placing yourself within the ranks of their lovers, people sometimes confoundingly different from you and from each other, all people your partner loves [3]. 

It's locating your ego within yourself, not your partner. 

It is meeting someone for the first time, knowing that your partner has slept with them and feeling immediately close to them for that reason. [4] It's becoming friends with the women who scared you. It is bringing new blood into the family.

It's watching your partner fuck someone else [5], feeling lucky for the number of times you've been the one whose hips they're grabbing, whose hair they're pulling back. It's watching your partner make out with a person you introduced them to with a look of joy and surprise on their face.

It's allowing someone else to be in love with you, even when your partner is not. It is allowing friendships to become sources of oxytocin--affectionate, profound, and erotic in a way that isn't allowed these days. [6]

It's allowing your partner to drive across the continent, knowing part of it is the allure of never-met women, part of it is being free from you, part of it is the freedom to be the sole interpreter of their own experiences, part of it is the subjective, censored, poetic version you get in letters.

It is allowing your partner to have desires unmediated by affection for you, by your presence. [7]

It's locating your ego, distributed [8] across all your relationships, to your surprise not just a monolith hulking in the space between you and your partner.


1 - Now that that beautiful statement is out of the way, perhaps we can come up with a better term, perhaps just 'life.' Hardly anyone manages to have sex with exactly one person anyway. 

2 - Hot.

3 - or at least likes

4 -Intimacy w/o jealousy is transitive, I think.

5 - The internet suggests to me that this is a relatable scenario, at least in the imagination.

6 - It's true that almost everything does, after all, lead to sex.

7 - It is protection against that kind of loneliness when you can only be who your partner wants to see. They can see other people. 

8 - with slightly different faces and bodies

 

On Being Non-Monogamous in Alberta While the Price of Oil Is Going to Hell

I live in Edmonton, Alberta. The Gateway to the North. Oil City. Everything here is built on oil and gas money—a situation that makes me by turns proud, sad, frustrated, and angry. My left-leaning sentiments (which I could over-simplify as anti-capitalist) come along with a certain working-class pride that sometimes makes even a vicarious participation in the industry exhilarating. I am at all times implicated in a system of capitalist consumerism which is ecologically unsustainable and seems to dilute culture and relationships—a system which replaces a human dependence on art, experience, and interpersonal interaction with a dependence on money and possessions.  

But I am beginning to think that the most eloquent statement I could be making on the economy is already manifest in my sex life.

    My partner and I are openly, actively non-monogamous. I’m a writer and he’s a filmmaker. We live with our cat Simpkin on 118th Ave, a veritable bakery district in the middle of the city where we can easily walk to the grocery store, the calzone place, the library. Our close friends live in the apartment below ours, and Dylan's cinematographer is moving in down the hall. We share meals, a vehicle, and a bedroom with each other, but often with other people as well—sometimes lovers, sometimes just friends. We're freelancers in our mid-twenties; by Albertan standards, we're poor (though there are many people in our neighbourhood subsisting off of much less). The amount of money I make is laughable to many of my peers; at the same time, Alberta has a poverty problem out of proportion with its overall wealth. Like many millennials, we depend heavily on a network of friends for everything from the use of an electric drill to help with website design. Dylan uses his truck for hauling film equipment, but he probably uses it more to move everyone's furniture. When Dylan or I want the apartment to ourselves, the other one has to go sleep on someone else's couch—or bed.

    This is not the way the so-called Albertan lifestyle works. I can generalize about interdependent groups of “millennials,” but I'm only referring to a small subset of the young adults in Alberta, the ones I know from university arts programs and house shows. Even since the price of oil dropped a few months ago, it's more common here for twenty-somethings to be working up north on the rigs or in the bars in Fort McMurray, earning more in a couple of months than I do in a year. 

    I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that traditional heterosexual monogamy is the only acceptable basis for a forming a relationship or a household in this culture.

    People are likely to tell you they’re up north for three years—or five years or seven years—just as much time as they need to save up the money to buy a new house in one of Edmonton or Calgary’s vast suburbs. The Albertan dream is to work as long and hard as necessary to attain self-sufficiency. These identical houses with four-car garages become physical manifestations of security, havens in which to raise a family, man’s home as his castle. And who can blame anyone who regularly works a dangerous job for two or three weeks straight, who’s being paid accordingly, who can afford it? Life is hard. Wouldn’t anyone want a home to come back to, a partner who’s not going to have taken up with someone else during those long stretches away?

    True, this dream makes less sense when you’re interested in maintaining a semi-permeable household and meeting new people to have sex with. These houses on the ragged outskirts of the city necessitate a certain level of consumerism just by their isolation from amenities and centres of community. You can't walk for groceries if you live in Terwilligar, but you can definitely park a couple of SUVs and a boat. I can't help but wonder if it's loneliness and insecurity more than anything that's actually fuelling this economy. Dylan was on a shoot recently in one of these suburban homes. He came home and told me about the giant calendar on the kitchen wall on which the seven-year old in the family was counting down the days until her dad got home. 

    I realize it's audacious to suggest that commitment to ideal monogamy is directly correlated with consumerism and the perpetuation of a capitalist economy. In my own city, however, I see oil money being earned in order to establish discrete, traditional, single-family households, I see the loneliness and isolation that result, and I see the excessive consumerism used to combat this loneliness and all the while maintain self-sufficiency. 

    In monogamous relationships (including previous monogamous relationships I've been in), the threat of cheating is potent enough to inhibit the kinds of interactions Dylan and I have with other people, even though not all of our relationships are sexual ones. Many couples do not feel they can afford to entertain the possibility that close platonic friendship or neighbourly collaboration might lead to any level of physical intimacy, and I think that a fear of cheating often leads to a kind of emotional isolation that I see mirrored in the physical isolation of living in a big house on the edge of the city.

    It's too easy to limit monogamy to a simple question of limiting sexual interactions. There's a reason why every house on a suburban crescent has its own lawn mower, and it's not because everyone needs to mow their lawns at the same time. The individualism promoted by our economy also reproduces itself in our relationships, in particular in our romantic/marital ones; the jealousy and protectiveness that a fear of cheating produces often makes the alternative small-scale communal sharing economies impossible. Once the threat of cheating is removed, it's not only the idea that one lawnmower could be shared amongst several households that becomes plausible. In my experience, non-monogamous partners who have their own friends, who are not accountable for every moment spent with people other than their primary partner, do not need to feel the same protectionism over the practical intimacy of household-sharing (carpooling, communal maintenance, shared meals, distributed parenting duties that might limit the need for expensive daycare). 

    We had an unseasonably—a freakishly—an apocalyptically warm winter here. There has been much talk about the future of the planet versus the future of oil. It's not a hypothetical question. With the drop in the price of oil, capitalism in Alberta is floundering (again). People have lost their jobs, their houses. The suicide rate is up. No one knows what to do; everything from construction to arts funding has been affected. Effective community-building seems like the best antidote to excessive consumerism and dependence on the work/life imbalances that fuel corrupt capitalism—and strong community is something that many (I would even argue most) people in Alberta do not have. The Albertan economy, which facilitates (and is facilitated by) discrete, monogamous, single-family households, does not facilitate measures to alleviate the isolation that families living in this situation experience. For example, while shared child-raising, networks of emotional intimacy, and inter-household dependence would make sense in a culture where one parent is away for weeks at a time, Albertan culture does not accommodate these practices. 

    I know many people who practice monogamy lovingly and well, as a considered choice, and I do not wish to discredit them at all. But I don't think that monogamy as a norm produces strong communities or stable societies, as has often been assumed. On the contrary, it seems to put up barriers between people, cutting them off from each other and making them more and more dependent on material wealth, more and more at the mercy of a corrupt and unstable system. I'm convinced that moving toward a sustainable future will need to involve not merely a turn to renewable sources of energy, but a simultaneous turn to alternative kinds of families, households, and relationships. 

 

I wrote this for the GUTS magazine blog, back in March, on the subject of 'Futures'. You can find their post here.

 

Sam

This is my brother Sam. He plays the most hilarious British villains imaginable in the murder mystery films he makes with Grace and Eva. He has incredible hair. He can make a weapon out of anything. I moved out when he was five and I wish I knew him better. 

dog days

I make a batch of waffle batter and it lasts me for a week of breakfasts.  It storms every day. Hannah and I go to the pool.

Our livingroom window looks down onto the porch steps of the church across the alley. St. Faith's Anglican, where I went with my family until I stopped going to church when I was fifteen. The past two mornings, a woman in her forties has been sitting there, crying and screaming and cursing someone. She's tall, with short, professionally-coloured hair, long legs, bracelets, earrings, and a big belly. She's not talking into a phone. She's wailing and screaming herself hoarse with rage. Sometimes she gets quiet and sits in the sun for a few minutes, then she starts up again. She's unselfconscious about pausing mid-cry to light a cigarette. She picks up where she left off. She says she won't be made a fool of, that you can go fuck yourself, that you're a fucking liar and she's sick of it. At intervals she lifts up her shirt to scratch her stomach. Yesterday around 4, she finally stood up, put on a long coat even though it was blazing hot, and walked off down the sidewalk. This morning she's back. I haven's seen her eat anything. 

I get a job at the bar that's kept me sane two summers running. I've written poems there, been on countless dates there, gotten drunk alone there, read most of Infinite Jest there. I've got 100 pages to go. I start tonight. 

I finish my first big book-editing project, and gosh I'm proud of the finished product. I listen to Amanda Bergman's new record about twenty times and cry. 

Hannah and I start designing a new chapbook together. Our main sources of inspiration are paperbacks printed in the 70s and 80s, a copy of Cinema Scope, and a box of peppermint Nutratea. Flat, saturated colours, black and white on colour, right angles, slab-serif fonts. I'm relieved that Hannah picks up on what I have no words to describe when I present her with the collection of print material and say I want our book to look like "this." 

Try to Praise the Mutilated World

 

Try to praise the mutilated world.

Remember June's long days,

and wild strawberries, drops of rose wine.

The nettles that methodically overgrow

the abandoned homesteads of exiles.

You must praise the mutilated world.

You watched the stylish yachts and ships;

one of them had a long trip ahead of it,

while salty oblivion awaited others.

You've seen the refugees going nowhere,

you've heard the executioners sing joyfully.

You should praise the mutilated world.

Remember the moments when we were together

in a white room and the curtain fluttered.

Return in thought to the concert where music flared.

You gathered acorns in the park in autumn 

and leaves eddied over the earth's scars.

Praise the mutilated world

and the grey feather a thrush lost,

and the gentle light that strays and vanishes

and returns.

 

 

- Adam Zagajewski

 

 

BUILD GOD // place

Laura and I were in Saskatchewan partly so that I could go back to Caronport and find a house where we can shoot my film in August. I went door to door up and down Spruce St, the last street in the town, the street where trailers back onto the village cemetery and then onto fields. I told people I was from Edmonton but I used to live in number 87, just down there, could I possibly come back and film in their home? I'd forgotten what it's like to be an outsider in a town so small. I told one woman about my partner and she assumed I was a lesbian and immediately became unkind to me. I told another woman that this was my first real movie project and that it was, among other things, about a conflicted relationship with Christianity, and she said she'd love to talk over coffee and would we need any meals while we were on the shoot?

This is how I tried to explain the movie in the grant application I wrote for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts:

Set in one of the small Bible-college towns scattered across the prairies, Build God explores how a vaguely religious impulse manifests in a child caught, simultaneously, within the void of the prairie, and the airtight belief of an evangelical community which denies the reality of this void. How can a child find concrete, comprehensible meaning in such a situation? If, as that child has been told, God is “up there”—the only agent in a terrifying expanse of space—it seems to be up to the individual to fill in the blanks and try to understand his immediate world through significant actions. Josiah tests the bounds of his own agency, his effect on the environment and its effect on him, the ways in which he can impose on others and they in turn infringe on him. Under a seemingly limitless sky, what are the limits?

Josiah’s story is based heavily on my childhood experiences, and my interest in making it stems from a desire to unpack the interactions between religion, community, the landscape, and the individual which have been formative in my own life and which are so particular to this part of Canada. At the same time, I think that Josiah's disconcerting activities recall universal elements of human childhood—which is not nearly as simplistic or innocent as many people prefer to remember. I can't think of a place where the darker aspects of childhood are more apparent than the setting of Build God: a dirt-poor village set down in the middle of a field, where the church has catalyzed a sense of mysticism and where in the summers there is literally nothing to do.

Laura on location

Laura and I drove to Saskatchewan to scout locations for our respective projects. I took more pictures of Laura than of wheat fields, clover, and crumbling outbuildings combined.

the fireworks

 

To the boy watching, the fireworks are like 

the chandeliers lighting a tri-colour carwash. Inside

the car being washed, a child’s small hands

blink, the soap smokes down, and larger

hands drape down all around. On a piece

of lined paper on a hardcover book on his lap,

a spirograph turns jerkily.

He is using a four-colour pen. His mother

opens the lighted glove compartment, flips down

her little lighted sunshade mirror, smiles

at him, and spins a dollar on the dash.

A line cracks across the windshield. A garage door 

rolls up like a frame of film advancing. 

His mother turns to inspect his four-colour rose.

White chrysanthemums explode above her head.

prairie wave // wheatcore

Dylan just got stick and poke tattoos of wheat and canola on his forearms. He is teaching me to drive in Blanche the Malibu. His bike, which used to be his dad's, exploded at an intersection downtown last week. We had to call a TappCar and the guy who showed up to rescue us had the cleanest black SUV and about five diamond rings. I finally convinced Dylan to watch Sister Act 2, the other night, and he showed me Dave Chappelle's Block Party. Sometimes we have discussions so honest they're almost fights, but this is still my favourite person. 

Don't write about being white

There is a reason why

everyone around me

my partner and I 

have smoked, drunk, and dressed,

educated and dentist-

appointed our way

into debt.

 

Because several men hold the money hostage. 

 

Or it’s as if 

they’ve eaten it, now

it’s shit flushed down

the white toilet. It doesn’t

fertilize our balcony garden.

 

They put it away for so long

that it died.

 

They invited the world to a 

banquet and left the food to rot.

Like rats in the pantry

we’re stealing it back— 

stealing it back to lock it up,

buying a second truck.

 

Technically, tragically, none of my friends can afford to live.

 

 

 

The title is a quote that I actually disagree with, from a piece called "What It Is" by Reginald Dwayne Betts, published in the March 2013 issue of Poetry magazine.

I'm trying to write poems again, but I find myself not caring about getting them published in magazines no one but other submitters read. I wrote in my journal today, "It just occurs to me now that stories are great, but poems are the way I think." So.

Open House

Today I sent out a rough cut of the film my friend Kyle Hubbard wrote and I directed. It's called Open House and it concerns an old woman, a young man who leaves the door open, and a young man who comes in. 

But I don't know exactly what this film is about. The mood is tricky; I don't know which way it's going, and I don't know how to manage it yet. Even though we shot a coherent script with full coverage (pretty proud of that, gotta say), the possibilities for manipulating the fundamental tone of the whole story in editing and post-production feel overwhelming at this point. Lots of work ahead.

OPEN HOUSE.00_04_28_04.Still002.jpg

email to a publisher

This is an email I had to write today. 

 

Hi Associate Editor,

I'm concerned about the six-month expected delay in payment that's noted in this assignment. Freelancing is my sole source of income, and I've come across reports online about your company failing to pay writers for up to a year following the publication of their stories. As much as I want to take on more work, I don't want to set myself up for months of haggling over a few hundred dollars for writing I've already done. I realize that you probably have no control over this, and perhaps it's unfair of me to even direct this complaint to you. But I can't in good conscience take on an assignment under terms that don't respect content producers enough to pay them within a reasonable and clearly-defined timeframe.  

Lizzie Derksen

Erwin

This is my Opa, who is one of the people who has loved me most and shown it best. He and my brother came over for breakfast, and he brought me irises and a wild rose from his acreage. I think he was proud of me today. Peter and I both graduate this month. I wonder if Erwin thought it would never happen.

summer

I found this picture on my camera when I went to upload photos of a cafe in Vancouver. I don't even want to write about all that we've been doing, because listed it seems impossible. Nevertheless, when in early May I called the Alberta Foundation for the Arts to ask whether it was possible that my letter of grant acceptance or rejection had gotten lost in the mail or sent to the wrong address, because Dylan had already gotten his good news, the man on the other end of the line, the Literary and Film advisor said, Let's see here--Oh, you got it, and I shrieked a bit and Dylan poured me a scotch even though it was 10 in the morning and we toasted while I was still on the phone. So two years after writing it, I have the money to make BUILD GOD this summer, and we will go back to Caronport in August to shoot it. 

The day I made that phone call was the day I took the bus to Vancouver. I interviewed a man named Sammy Piccolo, visited his cafes, and wrote an article about it that will come out in a week or so. My second-last night there, I was on my phone on my bunk in the hostel when I got an email saying that my story "Thrift" won the MacEwan University short story prize, named for Gloria Sawai, a writer who also grew up in Saskatchewan and then moved to Alberta. There's something sobering and strange about success. It suddenly becomes all about the work and you realize now that the money is here, the work is just beginning. I bussed back home to Edmonton, 15 hours to Calgary to meet with the man whose memoir I'm editing, then three more hours home. 

Yesterday I shot a short film based on a story my friend Kyle wrote. It was a practice-run of sorts, a chance to direct actors and use a camera at least one more time before August. Kyle, Dylan, and my friend Dorothy acted, and we filmed it at my friend Heather's house. I want to put it together this weekend, but I also want to read a couple hundred pages of Infinite Jest and finish the first draft of another Caronport story called "Christian Internet."

I convocate in two weeks. 

And I started lifting again, going to the gym with my badass beast of a little brother who's graduating high school this spring. We spot each other and I feel like I have body guard. He's already showed me a ridiculous abdominals exercise that's a cross between yoga and a dumbbell class from hell. My numbers are all pitiful right now, but already going up and I have confetti-coloured lifting shoes and I'm biking everywhere all the time and wearing shorts and getting a tattoo to cover my right leg in bouganvalleia flowers and peonies and it's six months in and I'm still working for myself and it's so hot that I've slept outside one night already and our deck has tomato plants and I go out there and drink my coffee in the morning.

after reading Baranczak

 

Walk through Edmonton with a small tablet in your hands 

that you have to juggle even if you want to 

touch the lilac cones or pick up a grocery list.

 

It is easier for you to think about it as a tablet, Egyptian wax,

or a tablet, Laura Ingalls's slate,

than the portal you are stepping halfway through to the information,

 

a place without lilacs or old receipts, without 

faces in the crowd of a metro, without green curry,

coriander like crunching down on perfume,

 

without the homeless, only portals beginning three-quarters 

of the way through the bus stations before them,

like your ex-husband with the suggestion

 

of endless varieties of intercourse, but here's a new portal 

opening to the sound of j-pop, three-quarters, seven-

eighths of your way through, so you can't come here, you won't arrive.

 

 

 

(I'm reading this new poem tomorrow night, 7 o'clock, at here w/ u, a balcony poetry show with Theo Fox, Jenna Heineman, Charles Gonsalves, and Corey Polo. If you'd like to come, please call, text, email, tweet--and I'll make sure you get the address.)

in which Porfiry messes with Raskolnikov

My friend Matt showed up at open apartment a few months ago and announced that he'd written a poem he wanted to share with us. We didn't realized he had already launched into the part of The Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov which begins, 

 

"Do you know Alyosha--don't laugh!--I made a poem about a year ago. If you can waste another ten minutes on me, I'll tell it to you."

"You wrote a poem?"

"Oh no, I didn't write it," laughed Ivan, "and I've never written two lines of poetry in my life. But I made up this poem in prose and I remembered it. I was carried away when I made it up. You will be my first reader--that is, listener. Why should an author forego even listener?" smiled Ivan. "Shall I tell it to you?"

"I am all attention," said Alyosha.

"My poem is called 'The Grand Inquisitor'; it's a ridiculous thing, but I want to tell it to you."

 

A few weeks later, Matt came back with Porfiry's speech from Crime and Punishment. We made a video of it, and here it is.

driving to Fort McMurray

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Fort Mac is burning and tomorrow Evan Prosovsky is flying in from LA so he can shoot the disaster on IMAX film. He's making a documentary about Alberta, and this is part of living in Alberta. Dylan doesn't want me to drive up north with them; I'm begging to go.

 

Friday, May 6, 2016

10:23 am - I ask Dylan where he got his sunglasses from. "I got these in Italy because everyone was wearing huge, douchey sunglasses and I was 19 and I thought that's what I wanted." He turns to me, the mirrored lenses tilt in at the bottom, making his forehead and jaw both bulge, somehow. "I think I got these in Florence." I say, "Florentine sunglasses?" and Tom says, deadpan, "My Tuscan Eye-Windows." 

We're on our way up north. In Edmonton, the smoke is starting to seep in. I've never been up above the 53rd parallel before. 

We have a flat of water bottles and 5 cans of gas to fill up before we leave the city. Evan has a sleeping bag; we only have blankets. We'll probably sleep in the cars.

I'm trying not to worry that I'll spend the weekend playing the part of a useless woman. My job on this trip is to write what I see and what happens to us. So here we are. Dylan and I in Blanche, Evan and Tom in the SUV that Evan rented yesterday. No one knows how far we're going to get or if we'll be able to see anything. 

Dylan is playing the Summering demos that aren't on Bandcamp anymore and I've heard or misheard a lyric like, "I keep waking up in a past voice." Already I am farther north than I have ever been. The highway out of town is all smooth brown road and overpasses layered over slabs of green grass. The air is still clear but the sky is hazy.

 

11:13 am - In Smitty's this morning a man with a tucked-in shirt answered his phone cheerfully, "Well, there no Fort McMurray any more!" Tom and Dylan were eating male breakfasts--eggs, shredded hash browns, sausages, fruit--and I was eating multigrain pancakes with chocolate milk and black coffee.

The colour of the sky against the stands of trees with new leaves is the colour of a piece of romaine lettuce dropped on the surface of blueberry yogurt. The double lines on the highway are so yellow they're almost orange. Dylan and I barely talk. Already I wonder about the people heading south, what they've seen.

 

12:39 pm - Stopped on the side of highway 63 so Evan and Dylan could pee. They compared gas mileage (Blanche is not doing so well), Evan described buying his jeep, Sweet Pea, from a drug dealer in San Jose who wired up an iPhone charger right to the engine and took the bulbs out of the tail lights. Apparently Evan took the jeep to get checked out once, the guy started the engine and knew immediately that 3 things were wrong. "I guess I was only running on 6 out of 8 cylinders?" Evan says. "Jeep whisperer," Tom says. "I don't know anything about my car."

 

3:08 pm - A camper flipped over and crushed on the highway going south. Evan stops to film it. Buckled styrofoam panels. Food, dishes, toys, a baseball cap, a padded envelope with an electronic part from an RV supply centre addressed to Craig Lockyer of Fort McMurray. There seems to be an inordinate amount of literature related specifically to owning a Recreational Vehicle. Ritz crackers flung free of the wreck. Windex. Dawn dishsoap. Watermelon-printed tea towels. A matching set of red-handled cooking utensils. Hotdog buns. I wonder if I am going to see blood or body parts thrown beyond the yellow police tape into the grass, into the cattails. Nothing of the sort. The scene of the accident, like the whole highway only 2 hours out from Fort McMurray is strangely clear and serene. A couple of women in fire patrol t-shirts stop by the side of the road to ask if we have water and gas. Evan asked what it was like up ahead, where the road closures start. The brunette woman said well, this highway's closed already, but we're all here. The blonde woman, aviator sunglasses, hair in two braids, said more convoys were headed south today. There are certainly more cars heading south than north. I haven't seen anyone behind us since we left Grasslands.

Evan was obviously thrilled with the first thing to shoot, just as I began picking through this dead family's flung possessions. He homed in on a toy dump truck. Dylan was uncomfortable with this trip to begin with, worried about exploiting a tragedy rather than documenting, recognizing it. Found crash scenes are not his idea of filmmaking.

 

3:32 pm - It strikes me that I'm jealous (envious?) of all people who face disaster, especially as a community. Driving up here, safe as we are, we're appropriating a sense of vitality, urgency, clear-headedness that inevitably comes with crisis and devastation. I hate myself for saying that it feels like a vacation. We can see the smoke now. We're driving right into it, passing trucks with boxes full of water bottles and juice boxes. Dylan wonders if the IMAX card will get us places a CBC card won't--past the roadblocks.

 

4:10 pm - There is something erotic about a man peeing on the side of the road. We're stopped about 70 clicks from the city to film the smoke billowing up into the cumulous clouds, which the smoke seems to form itself around. How odd that this is what making art looks like--finding the vantage point from which the disaster is reduced to smoke blue on cloud white on dune orange on young grass green. The smoke takes on the form of a seal's body flopped sleekly across the horizon. We are driving at its belly.

 

7:29 pm - We got the roadblock around 5:00 and found a gaggle of news vans and amateur photographer set up in the ditch and on the highway shoulder in a long line, filming what they can, smoke pluming up black and white and sulphur yellow by intervals a kilometre or two back from the highway. There are a few cars full of Fort McMurray residents here with us. Some of them have been here for days. They want to go back in to rescue pets, mostly. I don't blame them, the way a disaster becomes much more real than rules conceived of by people in peacetime, unaware of how precious and precarious life actually is. Dylan notes that the people who've stayed have enough respect for nature to continue to wrangle with it, even when it becomes a sweeping inferno. Dylan made a few calls to see if anyone could get us past the roadblock, but it's Friday night and no one in the police force or the government is in the office to answer their phones.

The people parked in front of us are in a camper and towing a boat, which they're sitting in as if to enjoy the view. Their large black dog is tethered to a wheel, in front of a metal bowl of water. He seems terrified. They ask us if we're ok for water and gas, and we ask them the same. Every few minutes a vehicle on its way south slows down as it passes and a driver asks if we're ok for water, ok for fuel. A photographer from Toronto has convinced Evan to stay until it gets dark. The little boy in the boat, who's probably 12, keeps loading two plastic guns from a big container full of pellets. He has a machine gun and a hand gun. Dylan has a cold in the teary stages; they've got the camera out in the ditch but Dylan has to walk back to the car for tissues every couple of minutes. He's the one who convinced the boat family to let Evan shoot their portrait--7 seconds or so of IMAX footage, the three of them in their boat on the side of the road. The little boy raises his demanded cut of the movie profits from 30% to 50%. On a cellphone, the woman says she's slept 6 hours in three days. They all look rough--t-shirts and pajama pants, dirty hair. The man comes out of the camper with a carton of apple juice and something he's eating off a stick. Either a pickle or a sausage, I can't tell. 

 A convoy of Diversified buses rolls past. These must be some of the people from up beyond Fort Mac, who have to be escorted through the dangerous zone. Dylan opens the backseat door and stuffs an armful of coiling, sprawling film into our plastic garbage bad. I turn around in my seat. "That doesn't look happy." "It's all good," he says, "this is probably about 10 seconds." 

The sun is getting low. We're easing into golden hour. The amateur photographers are mostly gone, the smoke acting as a light diffuser. People are eating, chatting. There is nothing to do but wait. The boat people wait actively, not getting distracted by much, pointing out the planes overhead, white fish against the smoke; the helicopters with their round, red, hanging udders--water bombs or dye. 

So far I am, from cinematic and humanitarian points of view, useless.

A little boy and his father, bald with a construction company t-shirt, diamond earring, were at the roadblock when we got here, hoping to get 12 kilometres back in to rescue their cats. A man driving a water truck, who was going to be let through, told the police he needed another driver and the man and his son ran and got into the water truck. "Well, I have a class 1 license," the man was saying as he ran. The water truck roared off toward Anzac, which we can see burning.