Mural by artists  Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher, Ivan Ostapenko and Daniel J. Kirk

A mural in Calgary’s East Village by artists Kai Cabunoc-Boettcher, Ivan Ostapenko and Daniel J. Kirk

By the time you read this, I’ll be leaving on a jet plane.

Bye, bye, Calgary, forever known to me now – my friend M. said Monday night over a meal of olives, oysters, devilled eggs, pork belly, purple cabbage slaw, strawberry-basil cheesecake, cocktails, and wine – as the city where I learned how to knit (and ate a lot, apparently).

I didn’t know what to expect when I got here, when I started my stay in the (literally) up-(as in being built up)-and-coming East Village, before moving to a short-term rental apartment closer to the river and the bridge to my favourite Calgary neighbourhood (sorry, Inglewood) of Kensington. Birds sing at dawn outside my window; last night a trumpet player riffed off a nearby balcony. This morning the geese got me up at 5:30, which was okay, since a new short story has been unfolding in my mind.

My time here has been amazing. Calgary, with its river snaking through the city core, and my proximity to this waterway (I see it pretty much every day), reminds me of Peterborough, another place close to my heart. I’ve loved exploring the city, viewing art, going to movies, attending readings,  hanging out with other working writers and, on top of that, I’ve felt fulfilled and useful in a way that sometimes eludes me in my solitary, writerly life up north (note to self: get out of the house!)

In the past two months, as the AWCS Writer-in-Residence, I’ve taught two workshops, met with a writing class, done four readings and participated in one talk. In more than two dozen one-on-one consultations, I’ve been blown away by the diversity of writers who’ve walked into the Alexandra Writers’ Centre to sit across the table from me and talk, sometimes so bravely, about their work, their issues with writing, their anxieties and concerns and confusions. In short: their questions. I hope that I was able to offer good counsel, to help, to provide some useful feedback, including giving them an understanding of what they’re already doing well (very important, because we build on our strengths, don’t we?).

The river by my place

The river by my (former) place

It was especially profound for me to meet two writers who grew up in the north, one in The Pas and the other in Flin Flon. It felt like an incredible privilege for me to read their memoir writing and begin to have a sense of the impact that northern Manitoba had on these women, and how little I actually know of the place I now call home.

Last fall, up north, I had an interesting conversation with an artist friend of mine. He talked about how inaccessible the area can feel because of its immensity and the intrinsic danger of the surrounding wilderness.

I know he’s right: I have not yet felt like I’ve walked through a doorway into a connection with that land. Perhaps this is also because my history isn’t there, and so there’s a sense of displacement.

It’s weird for me to not be able to climb onto the rock of the shield and to be on flat land with no hills in sight.

But, you know, the conversations I’ve had with these women, and my long absences this year from my husband, my dog, my cat, my home have made me appreciate so much more the complexity of The Pas and its history, the beauty of the black spruce boreal, the wide blue-brown river flowing across the road from my house, the ravens clicking electronically into the big silence. I can’t wait to get back: to sit on our deck, sip a summer martini, dodge the spruce beetles and slowly, quietly, calmly and kindly make my way into the reading of my novel’s second draft.

But first, to Winnipeg, where I’ll be attending my first ever Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) conference, and have made a date to go dancing with my favourite Winnipeg poet. Plus, if you’re in the area on June 1st, please join me, Ariel Gordon and Tracy Hamon at our reading at McNally Robinson as part of the inaugural Envoi Poetry Festival.

Oh, Calgary, I hate to go.