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Here at the Black Bear Review, not only do we believe that everyone has a story to tell, but we also believe that the finest form of story-telling is through our art. Art grants us all an escape into a whole new reality, and gives us an opportunity to share our stories in a way that is both beautiful and unique. Whether it be paint on a canvas, words on a page, the perfect camera angle, or the notes in a song…the possibilities are endless, and entirely up to you.

We are officially in gear for another year of the Black Bear Review, and we want to share your stories. We accept a wide variety of art, including poetry, fiction, non-ficton, visual art, and other forms of media such as film and audio works. You can submit right here on our website, or email us your submissions at blackbearreview@gmail.com

The possibilities are endless…What’s your story

Baba

Before I had a say in the matter, my weekends were dedicated to being with her. The quaint apartment became my part-time home. As years past, our adoration for one another grew stronger. The routine would start with my mother dropping me off on Friday evenings. I never realised that she followed me through the door, carrying my small baby pink backpack filled with my sleepover essentials. By then I had already scurried my way through the door like a playful puppy. Ninety-nine percent of the time my baba could be found hunched over a tall stainless steel pot of boiling borscht. I always joked that she needed to get a stool. From afar it looked like she didn’t have arms, as she stirred the mixture it appeared that her short stubby arms were boiling as well. All in a commotion I would announce my entrance “Baba! Baba! Here I am!”. She was the only person I found safe to be myself around, not an ounce of shyness present. She faced me with a smile only angels could carve, the young wrinkles under eyes lifted as a gleam in her eyes shined. Her hair had been recently permed. White tight curls crowned upon her head like a halo. To me she always looked like an angel.

She’d put down the ladle,  and before her arms even opened up I  already squeezed my body through the gap into her embrace. The aroma of cabbage, carrots, fresh picked dill, and heavy cream wrapped around us like a warm blanket. The vapours tickled beneath my nose and teased my stomach. In a silent agreement, we were both ready for a bowl of the borscht. Without asking I’d graced my way to the cream coloured drawers and retrieve two tablespoons and a butter knife. I set them on the violet, hand crochet placemats that rested on the white oval kitchen counter. As I did that, she would cut us two pieces of bread from a loaf she had baked that morning. Following that she would grab two of her watercolor flower glasses and fill them with peach iced tea. A straw placed in each one. As we both sat down for our meal her soft palm would grasp my tiny hand as she recited The Lord’s Prayer, in English but her accent laced throughout.

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy Name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those

who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

and the power, and the glory,

forever and ever. Amen.

Dinner was followed by the washing of our dishes. She did this while I played with the toys she kept for me. My favourite was a small gingerbread man stuffy. He was the softest, which at that age I greatly appreciated. I always used him as a character in my playtime stories. Once the kitchen was cleaned it was my turn. My baba would give me a luxury bubble bath. I never thought it was for my hygiene, I thought it was to soothe me. She made it like a spa treatment with a rich smell of lavender. Her hands would caress my scalp as she washed my hair, making me feel as light as a feather. I still believe she was a hairdresser in a past life because the way she would massage and rinse the suds from my ringlets always had me dozing off.

Once dried and dressed in warm cotton pajamas, I was placed upon her grand bed. It was cloud straight from heaven that my body would sink into. As we snuggled close together she would continue to soothe me by telling me a fairy tale. It was always Cinderella but her own version. She would call it the Russian version because instead a glass slipper being tried on, the prince tasted different kinds of borscht. Obviously Cinderella’s borscht was always the best. Before sleep crept up I would whisper “I love you” but it was loud enough for her. Before sleep reached her she would respond with “…And I love you”.

I reminisce this routine as sadness places a hand on my shoulder.  I find nothing cozy about this retirement home. My baba’s final residency. There’s nothing to sugarcoat. The place is bleak. I could swear the thermostat is broken because the moment I enter her room a cold sweat embraces me. It’s nothing but a shoebox with minimum belongings. One wooden dresser of clothes, a shelf with a vase of roses my mom brought, and a collage board of her favourite pictures. Oh how I miss her garden and pictures in frames. The gingerbread man I once played with now rests on her small bedside table. As well as a clear plastic cup of water. With a straw in it.

I lay beside her careful of my fidgeting movements on a small bed. Nothing about it reminds me of a cloud, it’s more like a stone. I murmur our tale of Cinderella.  Her eyes drooped close and small specs of crust rest beneath her wrinkled, aged eyes. I carefully wipe them away and place a kiss on her clammy forehead and tell her I love her. It takes longer than it use to, but I still get a “…And I love you”. She drifts into her afternoon nap so I grab a chair and curl up beside the bed. Due to her Parkinson’s her right leg starts to shake. I place a gentle but firm hand upon it. Now it only slightly quivers.

She still hasn’t forgotten who her favourite great-grandchild is. Not even her state of dementia has taken that away from her. I wish had the answer to why that is, but I like to believe it’s because we hold each other closer in our hearts than our minds. Our bond is something I will never take for granted. The one thing that will always bring me an immense feeling of love. What does bring me heartache is knowing she is unhappy here. My heart syncs to hers in sadness. Knowing that she spends her days helpless and in pain. Her time is coming. I know I still have heartbreak and tears ahead, but I know that I’ll forever be her favourite. She’s forever going to be my angel, and in my heart.

Grief Bloom

grief lays dormant, a dead perennial
awakens in a moment of soil turning soft with warmth
spreads fresh green shoots up inside
until you are warm with the great heaving in your chest
an uncomfortable heat and then
nothing

the shock of death, a vacuum
sucking air from heaving lungs
rips away all you understood to be true
leaves a still thing in you
place no one touches,
silent scar

you bled no blood,
yet bear thick layers of tissue sclerosed
a blade would not cut clean through you
still
you are alive and breathing like a dewy spring blossom,
bright colour a shock
to the quiet world of white that came before

and you, through the still shock,
the bloodless scar and unclean,
you breathe alive
and bloom

Fire

Fire boiling in my veins
transmitted through pheromones
the lightest touch
was less than I needed

While the fire rages
launching me forward
it burns too
grinding my insides with fire
Until they are molten

Burn me so hard
that all that’s left is ash
I want your waves of flames
to set me ablaze
until my dental records are unidentifiable

burn, burn, burn,
burn it all down
ruin me
it’s all I ever wanted

She has another
She’d hate to kill
but she chose to give me a spark
that I never deserved

Subtly and subconsciously
trying to sway her to murder her love
so that I may be
the next lamb she chooses to slaughter

Expecting

A young woman stood over a freshly painted yellow crib, carefully adjusting some stuffed toys. She gently placed a smiling elephant next to a scarf-wearing fox, and then stood back, admiring the effect. She gazed at the fluffy creatures for a moment, entranced by their blankly cheerful expressions and cartoonishly bright colours, such a stark contrast to much of what she and her husband had been forced to witness in the last six months or so. Already, it was hard to imagine the world in which these silly toys had been manufactured, a life where cuddly toys like these ones would have been loving gifts from friends and family members, anticipating the arrival of a little life. Running her fingers lightly over the ever-growing evidence of her advancing pregnancy, the young woman wondered how many toys similar to these had been clutched close to feverish little bodies, how many smiling elephants were dampened first with fever-sweat, then splatters of blood, coughed up. How many scarf-wearing foxes had witnessed a child’s final, rasping breath. She looked at the false animals in front of her and for one wild moment,  imagined their lifeless glass eyes narrowing in disdain at her. “What do you think you’re doing”,  they jeered at her silently;  “How do you think this ends?”.

Giving her head a firm shake, the young woman gave the cuddly arrangement another once-over before turning away from the crib. It wouldn’t do to let herself get carried away with those kinds of thoughts. She glanced over at her husband, who stood by the nursery window, peering out. He flicked the blue curtains open with one practised hand, the other hand wrapped firmly around the stock of a heavy shotgun. She walked over to him, and stood behind him, running her hand over one of the curtains, wondering if she should have sewn them out of the yellow fabric he had managed to scavenge instead. Yellow was more cheerful, but blue was supposed to evoke feelings of calm. She also vaguely remembered hearing that the colour blue made people feel sleepier. It would be good for the baby, then. Good sleep pretty much assured good health. Rubbing a piece of tatty blue fabric between her fingers, the young woman thought back to the day when her husband had come back from a scavenging trip with all the tools she needed to sew these curtains. She had been so angry with him that morning, because he had been gone for almost an hour longer than they had discussed and she had begun to fear the worst. Had he run into other survivors, hostile men and women who had been driven mad by terror and isolation? Had he fallen to his death  through the flood-dampened roof of some abandoned warehouse, breaking his neck? Or had he somehow contracted the sickness while outdoors? When there was still people, when they had still thought there might be a fix, the illness started to run its course faster and faster as if mocking their hope. Toward the end, there was less than a day between when people started showing symptoms and when they fell dead. Being left alone with those dark thoughts for nearly an hour had almost driven her mad, so she had managed her mounting terror by turning it into anger- anger that evaporated as soon as he walked through the door. He was sweat-drenched and covered in dirt and dust, and he had smiled at her so triumphantly, his white teeth startling in his dirt blackened face. She had looked down and saw the bolts of fabric tucked underneath his arm, and listened in numb awe as he explained to her that he’d brought her different colours to choose from, unsure of what she’d like.

And now he peered through the lovely blue curtains he risked his life to make possible for her, and experienced a dizzying wave of emotion. They had found out about her pregnancy right around the time reports of a mysterious and fatal virus had started dominating the news. At first it was localized, and newscasters assured the public that quarantine measures were being taken to ensure that the virus would not spread, and these measures were guaranteed effective. And they weren’t effective, and the virus began to spread. Rapidly. And so any joy they may have otherwise felt about the pregnancy -which was so wanted-was lost in the absolute certainty that they would soon be dead. They were still unsure of why they were not, but had long given up wondering in favour of building some semblance of a life for their child. The young woman saw the fabric her husband had scavenged for her as a irrefutable sign that he was still with her, was still willing to play at normalcy in some small way for the sake of their baby, even if it was insane. She was grateful.

She wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly, the small bump under her sweater pressed against his back. She stood on her tiptoes and looked over his shoulder into the street below. They were two stories up, but they had a good view of both ends of the street if they only craned their heads. There was nothing new out there, the streets just as ruined as they had been for months, as empty as they had been for days. Shattered glass littered the sidewalks, gleaming in the weak mid-morning sun. Several suitcases lay cracked open, spilling clothes into the streets, dropped and abandoned by those who had thought they could escape. And then there were the bodies. Not too many, only those of the poor souls who had wandered into the streets after the trucks stopped coming through. The armoured trucks that were driven by stone faced men and women in Hazmat suits, going from door to door to collect the dead from any house with something red tied around its front door handle. After the trucks stopped coming, some people had ventured outside, wandering up and down the streets as if they still thought someone would come and rescue them. Only some of those who wandered had been sick, at first.

The first day she had gathered the courage to look outside, after they thought the worst of it had to be over, she had looked out the same window they stood at now, only then there had been no curtains. Her husband was out on his very first scavenging trip, and she stood alone at the window. A man had wandered into her sightline, weaving like a drunk. He stopped, so suddenly, like he could sense her gaze upon him and looked right up at her. He stumbled closer to the building, until he was standing almost directly underneath the second story window. She saw then that he was really more of a boy than a man, with only the faintest stubble covered his pallid cheeks. His bloodshot eyes met hers, and she recognized that he was in the final stage of the illness. There was a bloody foam collecting at the corners of his mouth, and his nostrils were ringed with dried blood as well. She had no idea how he was able to stand, let alone walk. He lifted his hand, as though to greet her, and she found she could not break eye contact with him. There had been the strangest expression in his eyes; at the time she thought it was disdain, but now she thought it was almost like he was resigned. How do you think this ends?.

He took a step toward the house, his eyes glassy with pain and never leaving hers. Then there was the deafening crack of a shotgun blast, and half of his head disappeared in a spray of blood and gray matter. His entire body was thrown backward by the force of the blast, landing with his limbs splayed like a doll dropped carelessly on the ground. What was left of his head was turned away from her; he wasn’t looking at her anymore. She looked down the road and saw her husband, a shirt tied tightly around his nose and mouth, the shotgun he’d managed to loot held at his side in a trembling hand. He gazed back at her, his eyes wide and almost animal. Even from where she stood at the window, she could see how rapidly his chest was rising and falling. She didn’t think he had ever fired a gun before. Before, he had been a writer. Later that evening, as she rubbed the shoulder that was sore from the shotgun’s unexpected kickback, he would show her calluses that were starting to form along his palms. She had laughed then, as he teased her by rubbing his newly-rough hands over her still soft face. She had laughed even though there had been a wildness in his eyes she hadn’t seen before, a desperation that help him forget what he had done, what she had seen him do. She shuddered a little, remembering it, and pulled away from the window. Her husband looked back at her, and she smiled at him reassuringly and moved back toward the crib that stood waiting for their baby. She rubbed both hands over her swollen belly, hoping to feel a kick.

The Blood Red Sunset

All The Pretty Horses
By Cormac McCarthy
Vintage International, 303 pages, $22.00


Somewhere in our hopeful hearts we believe the hero should get the girl, bravery should win, and the hardest worker should get rich. Then, we read a tragic little tale like Cormac McCarthy’s ‘All the Pretty Horses’ and the western, coming-of-age, girl-power, romantic tragedy slaps us in the face, reminding us that fairy tales are for chumps.

McCarthy saddles the reader and leads us on the journey of John (Grady) Cole and his sidekick, Lacey Rawlins. At sixteen, Grady gallops away from the tragedy of death, loss, and disillusionment in search of his beautiful destiny. Poetically, “like young thieves in a glowing orchard, loosely jacketed against the cold and ten thousand worlds for the choosing,” the cowboys ride horseback from Texas into the sweeping Mexican landscape.

While the book has won awards and received expert accolades, the plot is mundane. A disillusioned teenage boy sets off with an innocent head full of dreams, meets ‘the’ girl, gets his heart ripped out, nearly dies, and keeps on keeping on. I’ve read it before- it’s the disillusionment in ‘The Glass Castle’ meets the tragic romance of ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Hell, I’ve lived it. I believe that it’s not in spite of McCarthy’s simplicity, but because of it, that the story works. Set in 1949, its familiarity transcends time and its brilliant relatability sucks us into McCarthy’s vortex.

Literary techniques seal the deal. McCarthy writes such a simple story that he decides conventional punctuation isn’t required. He then uses polarized themes and characters to pull the reader deep into his emotional tale. Conflicting character values connect to a wide audience, ensuring we all buy in at one level or another.  The author’s choice to narrate in third person offers continued genius. He reveals events, but doesn’t reveal the intimate character commentary that accompanies them; that is left for the reader to apprise. Essentially, I helped McCarthy write the book, filling in the emotional blanks as I went.

Female character development in the novel is flat(ish)ly effective. Alejandra, the love interest has “long black hair”, which is nice because cowboys like nice hair. Knowing most westerns involve the hero dominating his woman’s body at sexy time, I read with trepidation waiting for the conquer. I would like to personally thank McCarthy for sparing us the lurid details. McCarthy deepens the dynamic nature of the female characters by illustrating their power, which directs every outcome in the novel. From Grady’s mother, to his lover, to the controlling old Aunt, the women had the men jumping around like jackalopes. Yet still, these powerful women are confined by social norms. Aunt Alfonso explains of Alejandra, “I wont have her ill spoken of. Or gossiped about. […] I have seen the consequences in the real world and they can be very grave indeed […] a gravity not excluding bloodshed”. In 1949 in Mexico (like my high school in 2018) women were whores or virgins. Another example of social confinement is women portrayed as either a selfish bitch, like Grady’s mother who abandons his tiny heart for 2 ½ years, versus a proper ‘mother’ like Abuela who lives in the kitchen till death.

Our relationship with the characters is determined by our personal perspectives and belief systems.  We get to decide if our hero is John Grady Cole “who rode […] a horse not only as if he’d been born to it which he was but as if were he begot by malice or mischance into some queer land where horses never were he would have found them anyway.” Grady is a character so moralistic he mentors ‘trouble’ and so testosterone fueled he whisper chants to a rippling stallion ‘soy comandante de las yeguas […] yo y yo solo”. Grady is a class above the common caballero; he is comfortable to stand out in the crowd, naturally getting the coolest job on the hacienda. Alternatively our values may persuade us that the more feminine (and aptly named) Lacey is the hero. Lacey Rawlins is the more grounded, realistic, and intuitive of the two men. Lacey correctly “got an uneasy feelin about (the) little son of a bitch,” Blevins, a younger boy who frequently brings them trouble. Lacey is in a lower class structure of cowboy; happy to work with, and blend in with, the oppressed working class Mexicans. He is a friend who knows that Grady’s choices are “fixen to get (them) fired or run off the place” yet chooses to obediently follow. And he is the guy who, even after facing the ultimate feminine torture and masculine beatings, chooses to forgive his pal.

Grady’s coming of age transforms him from masked cape flying horse dominator, to horse equal when in a dream “he is among the horses running”. He’s transformed from idealistic leader to lonely cowpoke with a broken trail of failed relationships dragging in his dust. I recommend this ugly little story, as it will make you laugh and may even make you cry. Tragically, the book starts and ends with the death of Grady’s dreams, with the random happenings in between showing no mercy for heros. McCarthy illustrates that, in our random everyday experiences, lies the tragedy we call life. All the Pretty Horses reminded me to simply ‘be’. It reminded me that like a wild-flower, I will be battered by rain and pounded by sun. And I can sit in safety to minimize the assault or choose to continue being battered and pounded as I keep on keeping on into “the dust against the blood red sunset”…

Snuggles

My cat was the baddest cat on the block. She was not afraid to use her nine lives. Aptly named Snuggles, she was fiercely independent and as curious as they come. She had long silver hair that glistened in the right light and penetrated any and all clothing, carpets, blankets, hats, your own hair, or what have you. Her eyes were bright olive green and seemed to glow in the dark. My parents got her before I was born from their friends who had taken her in as a stray. They gave her to my parents because she kept fighting their other cats.

Snuggles had a good run as center of the house before I came along. My parents were worried how she would react to not being the center of the household. Would she try to sabotage their newborn child? The opposite was true. Snuggles became my protector. My parents couldn’t get her to leave my side. The game of getting the cat out of my room when I was sleeping became too much of a hassle, and the cat won the right to sleep in my crib with me hassle free. My mother always worried she would sleep on my head and suffocate me. It was unlikely though. Anytime I cried, Snuggles would bug my mother to tend to me; it was clear she considered me too important to suffocate. When friends and family would come to see me as a baby, she would stand guard, staring them down, and swatting them away if they tried to pick me up. Snuggles was not a cat that you picked up without consequences – unless you wanted severely scratched arms. She was not a cat you messed with. She was a cat to be obeyed and respected.

Snuggles spent her summers outside. We lived in Kinnaird, five kilometers South of downtown Castlegar, up on the mountain above the valley. Dense forest lay all around and behind our house, and a flat landing lay in front of the hill before it continued upwards. When our family went away, sometimes for up to a week, we would leave food inside the garage with the door open just enough for her to get in. We would return to find the food hardly touched, or on a few occasions infested with maggots – sorry Snuggles. She could handle herself though, as long as she was outside and able to hunt.

One time, though, when our neighbours were winterizing their trailer, she decided she wanted to go nap inside. She slipped through the door as they were shutting it and got locked inside. Ten days passed with no sign of our cat. I was young at the time, so my mother explained to me there was a possibility that she was in cat heaven. My parents put the word out that our cat was missing. Finally, after hearing weird noises coming from his trailer, our neighbour opened the door – Snuggles bolted out. She was in rough shape. After two weeks in a tin can with no food, presumably drinking the condensation off the windows to survive, her hair was matted in some places or missing in others and she had lost a lot of weight. Although I cannot personally testify to the state of the trailer, I heard that it did not fair any better than the cat.

Along with open trailers, she also enjoyed sleeping in the warm backseats of cars when owners left their windows open in the summer heat. Snuggles went missing again. After a month, my mother sat me down for another cat heaven talk. She told me it was pretty certain Snuggles wasn’t coming back this time. This was during a time when lost or unknown pets could be reported on the Boundary Kootenay Radio station, and shortly after our talk, my mother heard about a long hair grey cat that a lady reported feeding, located in Robson, five kilometers North-West of downtown Castlegar. We contacted the lady who told us that a cat had been coming around for food that matched our cat’s description. She also mentioned that this cat did not get along with her other cats – sounded like Snuggles – and it was. After almost three months we were taking our cat back home from Robson to Kinnaird. “So this is this cat heaven?” I asked my mother. She had more explaining to do.

Snuggles was very protective of our property. Anytime another cat even came near she would fight them and win. Our neighbours wouldn’t get a cat because of her. But they loved her, too. She even spent time at their house, whether they wanted her to or not; she especially enjoyed playing their piano while they were on the phone.

There was, however, one cat that Snuggles did not fight. I was in kindergarten and my mother was getting ready to take me to school when someone started pounding on the door in a panic. It was our mailman,

“Your cat is sitting in the tree above your car having a staring contest with a cougar.” He said.

What does one even do with that information? The mailman took off. My mom had to take me to school. But she also had to not get eaten by a cougar. So we waited until the contest was over. Out of some sort of feline respect, the cougar just walked off into the forest. I like to think they were friends.

As she aged, protecting our property became a little more difficult or her. Young and spry cats entered the neighbourhood. And one day, for the first time, at fourteen years old – Snuggles lost. I did not see the fight but boy did I hear it. At first I didn’t know what it could be. It sounded somewhere between a wailing child and a car wreck. By the time I made it outside it was over. I never even saw the other cat. But by the state of Snuggles there was no doubt there was one. She made her own way inside: bloodied, swollen, and limping. I would have picked her up, but this was not the time to add insult to injury. Down into our crawlspace she went to sleep in a pile of old blankets. My mother fed her crushed up aspirin in tuna over the course of a week, until she emerged. This marked the beginning of the molasses paced aging of our cat that would ensue.

Her age began to show even more when she was eighteen. She started spending far less time outside and slept more often. Still, she had so much life in her and for the next five years she managed quite well. When snuggles was twenty-three it became apparent she was in constant pain. It began to feel like her time was coming. We petted her and gave her lots of attention while she slept, but very seldom did she purr. Snuggles was hell bent on living forever, it seemed, consistent with her toughness. When she was twenty-four we made the tough call and we booked an appointment with the vet to have her put to sleep.

My mom took Snuggles to the vet alone. I was eighteen at the time, and I never realized how much I would regret not being there. Snuggles passed peacefully and as the injections began to calm her, and the painkillers set the stage for stopping her heart, my mother said she purred like she used to years before.

Losing my cat was more than just losing a pet. I grew up an only child in my house. I had never known life without my cat. She was there from day one. It was like losing a sibling.

Because the chemicals they used to put her to sleep could leach into the ground, her grave had to be at least three feet deep. I set out up the mountain that was behind our backyard to dig her grave. Heavy rain poured down the hillside and off the leaves of the surrounding trees as tears poured down my face. Digging the grave was my therapy for losing my cat, my sibling, my lost family member. It was last thing I would do for her. Three feet down I hit a rock. I dug around it and exposed a large boulder that I was unable to move. So I dug around it more, and I got a towel. I rolled the boulder onto the towel and used the ends of the towel to heave the rock from the hole. The boulder was the size of an awkwardly shaped semi-truck tire; the top third of it can still be seen sitting above where Snuggles is buried. The grave ended up six feet deep and five feet round.

We gathered around that evening. I laid her down in her resting place. My mom said a prayer. I filled the grave and muscled the boulder on top. After 24 years of life, Snuggles was gone.

The Way Man

Going into this interview with Tom, I knew I would learn a lot, but I never could have predicted how enlightening and entertaining my time with Tom would really be. Not only did Tom answer all of my questions, but he went beyond that. Within our two-hour conversation (which I was only expecting to be half an hour long), Tom shared valuable knowledge – from the importance of reading, to the importance of learning to turn off your censors, and write freely. Additionally, we were also able to discuss his views on the education system today, as well as the publishing industry.

I think I can speak for all writers when I say we can learn an awful lot from writers like Tom. Thank you so much for sharing your time, wisdom, and words with us.

Regards, Samantha Smith & The BlackBear Review

Q: What makes for a successful writer?

A: Success is how you define it. Some people consider it to be successful if you become a best seller, with that being said, very few Canadian writers are able to accomplish this. You can redefine success as being able to make words do what you want them to, but this is also very rare. Success is really what you shoot for, and you have to be able to live with ambiguity and uncertainty.

Q: How do you think writers can engage readers?

A: There’s an element in writing that nobody really talks about – luck. I think writers, or any artist for that matter, need to produce for themselves. You can never predict what audience you’re going to reach just out of pure luck. You’d sure kick yourself if you had an idea and didn’t do it, then someone else came along with the same idea, did do it, and was wildly successful.

Q: What is the importance of reading as a writer?

A: Reading is absolutely vital from a writer. Reading is learning the history of your own art form, so that you don’t have to start from square one. You need to read to find ideas that you can steal, as well as ideas that don’t work for you.  I think it’s the same thing as musicians listening to music. It is no different than The Beatles starting by playing covers of musicians that inspired them, then they could begin to write their own music that was very close to that material. From there they could go on, and it’s the same ideas with reading from writers. Nobody is a genius that just falls from the sky. It may look like that from the outside looking in, but the more you know about how a writer is developed, you’ll see a lot of great writers did a lot of close reading so that they could find a style that really speaks for them.

Q: What is your biggest piece of advice for young writers.

A: It all begins with reading. Reading is the best self-education a writer has. Through reading, a writers can learn what they like, as well as what they don’t like. Writers can learn from each other, and I’ll call it reading, but it’s really stealing. Once somebody recommended to me a writer from Santa Cruz, California that I had never heard of before. So, I had bought one of his books, but I put it aside because I had never heard of the writer. I got around to reading the book this fall, and I ended up reading it back to back twice, because there was so much the author was doing that I thought was really interesting. It was interesting to see how much of his thoughts were completed, and how much was open ended. He also discussed ideas that I wasn’t familiar with, such as traditional Chinese poetry, which spoke to me as ideas to try.

Q: Do you have a favourite place for writing?

A: Just like anything in the arts, there is no right way of doing things. Personally, I need a quiet space. I know that’s not what everybody likes, there are a lot of writers that can work in various coffee shops and enjoy the bustle and conversation happening around them, or they can have music going. For me, I need a quiet space to myself to get my writing done.

Q: Do you have a ritual or routine?

A: I’m not much for rituals. I know that I’m freshest in the morning, and I always do my best writing first thing. By early afternoon, my brain is kind of fried in terms of writing. When I’m home, then the afternoons are usually spent doing physical things. In the spring, summer and fall that would usually consist of gardening or biking. In the winter, it’s going skiing, or bringing firewood in from the shed.

Q: What are your thoughts on using substances (such as marijuana, alcohol, or other mind-altering substances) as a creativity enhancing tool in your writing?

A: I think it is really an individual matter. For me it doesn’t work, but I would never make that a blanket statement. Everyone’s creative process is somewhat different, so I imagine there are some writers who can be inspired that way, and I think there is enough evidence that some people really needed or used stimulants in a way that was good. A lot of writers can become paralyzed by that voice in their head that’s saying “this isn’t good enough”, and if a drink or smoke can shut that voice up and prevent a writer from censoring themselves, then go for it. For me personally, I have to have a clear mind to write.

Q: What is the best money you’ve spent as a writer?

A: I would have to answer with books – it all goes back to the importance of reading as a writer. For example, that book by the author from Santa Cruz has provided me with a whole direction of writing, a whole different set of ideas that I have already gotten a few poems out of; all because of reading. Certain books that I’ve bought have opened up worlds of writing, and different approaches to writing that I never would have known without reading.

Q: How important do you think it is to collaborate with other people when producing your work?

A: Personally, I started writing fiction later in life. When it comes to writing my fiction pieces, for a long time I was afraid of them, and wanted another eye to look through them. It really depends on the person, some feedback you just say thank you to, and then don’t pay any attention to it. But if their suggestions made your work better, then it’s worth it.

Q: What does writing do for your state of mind?

A: It depends on what I’m working on. With a long form like a novel, I live with those characters for years, as well as I’m thinking about the next novel. With poetry however, it’s kind of over and done. I may think about a poem for two or three days after, but that’s about as long as it goes on, so there’s that difference in regards to what it does for my state of mind.

 

Tom Wayman has published innumerable books of poetry and prose over a long career. His recent collections of poems include The Order in Which We Do Things (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2014) and Helpless Angels (Saskatoon: Thistledown, 2017). His newest fiction is short stories, all set in the Slocan Valley of southeastern B.C. where he lives, The Shadows We Mistake For Love (Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre, 2015). A selection of his essays and interviews 1994-2014, If You’re Not Free at Work, Where Are You Free: Literature and Social Change, was published by Toronto’s Guernica Editions in spring 2018.

In 2015 Wayman was named a Vancouver, B.C. Literary Landmark, with a plaque on the city’s Commercial Drive commemorating his contribution to Vancouver’s literary heritage through his championing of people writing for themselves about their daily employment. Since 1989 he has been based in Winlaw, BC, although he has taught widely in the BC community college system, and most recently (2002-2010) at the University of Calgary. Currently he is on the organizing committee for two West Kootenay literary events: New Denver’s Convergence Writers’ Weekend and Nelson’s Elephant Mountain Literary Festival. www.tomwayman.com

Fighting the Tides

I drive in silence. My fingers itch to press the car stereo on, craving something to pay attention to and occupy my time. Yet I resist. The news will only make me annoyed, and I ought to be in a pleasant mood when I arrive.

I pull into the parking lot behind the council building, and wind my way through the fancy new electric cars to the section at the back. It is reserved, on occasions such as today, for the old retired ladies like myself. They wouldn’t want to make us walk too far. I step out into the warm sun and gusty afternoon air, wobble a bit in my heels, and chuckle to myself. I hadn’t realized it’d been so long since I had an occasion to wear them. Another old lady waves to me from a few cars away. I smile with relief, grateful that there will be at least one lady from my time at today’s lunch conference.

***

I emerge back into the sun several hours later from the grand chrome and glass council offices, feeling revived. I can’t help but smile, filled with youthful energy. I look to the four retired women walking in line with me as we stride down the front steps. I feel powerful. Like I am back in the game.

Just as I had suspected, the lunch was more of a publicity ploy than a real “founders appreciation” event: a desperate attempt to maintain leader support, and belief in the system. Nonetheless, I am so glad to have gone. Like flipping through a photo album, it has left me overflowing with nostalgia and sentimentality for my working days. As we each go our separate ways, I’m inspired to take a walk to the other side of the city through Centertown Park. It’s a route we took often in our younger days, when we were ambitious and lived only ten minutes away from the Council.

On afternoons like this, the park is alive with people. The sun shines down through fresh spring foliage. Fallen rose petals drift across the grass that kids kick soccer balls on and teenagers spread picnic blankets across. With my diminished old lady balance, especially in these shoes, I stick to the paved paths.

I hear the echo of a megaphoned voice before I can see the protest. I am still in the trees and the voices are muddled, but I recognize the telltale call-and-response cheers, and know it must be activists. It brings me right back to the early days of The Bill, when it was first proposed. The other council women and I held rallies in this same park. We would get on stage and yell, start cheers, make speeches gathering support, and use our rhetoric to sway the opposition. The governments were already run mostly by women at that point, but we were still desperate for the The Bill to pass. We had to prove that women could run the nation on our own, just as men had for centuries. We needed it to be fair.

As if in a trance, and flooded by the nostalgic pull of activism, I make my way across the bridge where hordes of college aged men and women are gathered. I watch them, and feel my heart warm. I can see the energy rolling off the leaders, the way it does, and bounce from person to person as they each add their own to the mix. It is such a unique feeling, being in that type of crowd. It’s one that I miss. I am all the way across the bridge and amidst their territory when realization overwhelms me.

“Open to all!” They cheer. “Fake equality is no equality! Down with The Wall”

‘The Wall’. It’s been all across the news. The term these children have adopted to demean the legislature that created women-conducted government. The legislature that I fought for. The bill that changed history. If these children even bothered to open a history book they would learn of the years that women were excluded from government. They would realize that it is finally our turn. They would appreciate what we have fought for and not try to undermine it in desperate teenage rebellion. I look away, lift my head, straighten my posture, and stride right out of the park. Leaving only the clicking of high heels in my wake, I cross the street and escape into a cafe.

Wrapped in the warm scent of fresh pastries and ground beans, with a coffee in hand, I take a seat up front by the window. Staring out into the world beyond I try to focus my attention on the cars passing by and the people walking the sidewalk, but to no avail. My gaze is held by the congregation of youth filling the park. From afar they could be supporting anything. Their only identifiable feature is the passion and excitement that fuels their actions. Their faces are alive with the feeling of power.

“It is exciting, isn’t it?”

A voice starts me out of my contemplation. It comes from a young man with floppy auburn hair who is looking at me from the adjacent table. “They are going to make a real difference in this world,” he says.

I shake my head and sigh, turning towards him.

“No” I say to him. “It is not exciting. This is not some game they’re playing. They are causing real damage to the progress that was achieved by people of my generation, without any thought to the history behind the issue. They are demanding change just so they can leave their mark on the world, and not considering the effect that mark will have. So no,” I finish “I do not find it exciting”

The young lad looks at me for a moment, wide eyed and taken aback, before replying methodically.

“I understand that the change you made is important to you. But don’t you think we all deserve a chance to feel powerful? To feel like we can make a difference? Even if you don’t agree with the cause, you can understand what it feels like to have a purpose. I think that is something they too deserve to feel.”

I stare at him in silence, and then back out the window at the protesters. The young man is right, I do know what it feels like to have a purpose. I think I miss it.

***

Driving home I gaze through the windshield, not really focusing on the road. I let my memory guide me while my mind wanders. The radio hums softly and I mostly ignore that too, until something the announcer says catches my attention. The voice is talking about the protest led by a college group in Centertown Park.

 “The leader is very disappointed with today’s experience,” they explain.  I turn the dial up. “After a Pro Women-Conduct group showed up at the demonstration it took a violent turn and had to be shut down by police. Several bystanders were entangled in the hostility and are now speaking out against the movement.”

I sigh. I know from experience exactly the crippling effect this poor publicity can bring. The discouragement is a feeling I remember well, and I am no stranger to the effort needed to keep fighting in spite of social disdain. But I have no concern for them. Just as we once had, they’ve found their purpose, and believe in their cause. So they beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.