Mill Woods Artists Collective: Building Community Through Art

In November 2011, a new arts initiative in Edmonton’s SouthEast was born: the Mill Woods Artists Collective.

Jannie Edwards

Canadian Authors Association writer-in-residence and poet, Jannie Edwards, and poet/hip hopper/NDP candidate Rod Loyola (also known as Rosouljah) began organizing monthly meetings to connect artists of all genres, get new projects off the ground, and contribute to the local community.

I’ve been involved with this as much as possible given my other work and life commitments, and am excited about the projects and events that are underway (or upcoming). Right now the main project is being headed up by historian Catherine Cole and video/theatre producer Don Bouzek. They are  collecting the stories of the people and the vision of this community—from the aboriginal presence on this land , to the unique urban plan of the early 1970s, to the waves of immigration that give Mill Woods its sense of vibrant diversity. The first phase of this work will be a six-panel exhibit to be launched at the Mill Woods Canada Day celebrations. The exhibit will then travel around the community to schools and community leagues.

Rod Loyola

Other upcoming events include:

  • Artists Cabaret to be held June 1st at the Southwood Community Hall
  • Public art creation
  • Monthly coffee houses

If you live or work in Mill Woods and are a creative person at any stage of your “artistic journey” (i.e. enthusiasts to professionals are welcome!), please email mwartistscollective@gmail.com. You can also ‘like’ our Facebook page!

A Season of Goodbyes

A season of goodbyes
Of memories
Falling like snow
Settling
On Me.

So many promises
Hopes tied together
Finger in the middle
Holding place
Making sure
Wishes wrapped up tight
As arms around waists.

A Poem of Parting

Last night I went to my last Rock Springs Poetry Slam hosted by my good friend, Janice Grover-Roosa (yes, another hyphenated last name!) of the local library system. While my first passion is writing books, there is something about the instant gratification of poetry that I love, and that has kept me coming back to the form over the years.

This is one of the pieces I read last night:

Wyoming Love Song

A sweet country
Ignored by most
Lost on the map intentionally.
A place of rough necks
And oil widows
The wispiest of rainbows perched atop
Precarious citadels.
Sandstone slipping down
Adobe towns
Full of swallows
And swallowed hikers
Led astray
By intermittent appearances of civilization.

Deer staring with children’s eyes
When surprised at first light
Hawks fan above
Dodging wild winds
Air currents that
Rip at clothes
Hit at houses
And make skin so raw.

A heart-stopping flap of wings
Erupting from sage brush
0 to 60 in a coyote’s breath
A countryside of death
Of Malthusian midnights
Where bones are picked clean
By the sun
By everyone
Everything fighting for a bit of green
A hint of happiness
Barest survival.

No bucolic panoramas
But people always try
Always irrigate
Now irradiate
Grasping for biblical splendour
In what some might call
The land of Cain.
The land of rocks
Of sky
Of little ties to populations
Of bigger size.

Peopled by antelope
Running from predators long gone
White rumps still flashing
Shouting urgency
While humans saunter
Unhurried
Heads up, nods exchanged
A currency of grudging respect
Where fancy doesn’t fuel you
Like a big buffet
Like cheap gas, bud light
Or half-strength coffee
Like slow friendships
Lengths of prairie grass tucked together.

A Northern Valentine

I was delighted when writer and aviation historian John Chalmers (apparently inspired by the spirit of Robert Service, ‘bard of the Yukon’) sent me the following lines last week. He has generously allowed me to share them with you (with some pictures I tracked down online)!

Danielle Goes North

Strange things are done in the midnight sun, when a writer works on a novel she’s just begun,
When words fall onto the page like a winter’s rage when snow obliterates the sun.
But sometimes it just ain’t enough, even though for the story you’ve got all the stuff,
And you have to go north and let your words pour forth in a land that is ready and rough.

Pack up your computer and like a literary commuter you put everything behind
To head for the land of snow and ice, and you’re gone in a thrice to seek your solace of mind,
Where the goldfields called, to all miners hairy or bald, to seek their fortunes and wealth,
And they gave it their best to pass every hard test at the risk of their saneness and health.

But a writer’s the same when searching for fame and quite willing to pay the price
Of putting a life behind for the inspiration she’ll find and knowing damn well it ain’t nice
When the winter’s gales and the hoary tales she’s heard all start to come true,
And try as she might to settle down and write, it’s hard when the frost makes her fingers blue.

In the land of gold, Dawson City has a strange hold that grips you like you belong right there,
Where each mountain and hill offers its own unique thrill to go with the cold northern air,
And whether it’s the Klondike Follies with its painted dollies or the men who need to shave,
It’s the northern folk in saloons full of smoke who provide the characters you crave.

At the Yukon River where each breath makes you shiver, you’ll know you did the right thing,
Or by Hunker Creek you’ll find the inspiration you seek to make your words just ring,
And Pierre Berton’s ghost will offer the most to inspire your work, you can bet,
So the North is the choice that will give words to your voice in a decision you’ll never regret.

* * *

Family-Friendly U.S.A.

Last night I went to another Poetry Slam event in Rock Springs. Not content to sit on the sidelines, I composed a few and entered the competition. I had a blast and got some good scores and feedback – luckily! It has, after all, been many moons since I’ve written and performed poetry. Here is my favourite of the three I did last night:

Family-Friendly U.S.A.

Playful City
Scenic byway
For most just a pit stop along the way.
Green sister,
To the stoned centre,
Of a red state.
With white-washed streets,
And trailer parks,
The brochure didn’t mention.
Family friendly
Meth heads
Loose dogs
Rig pigs and oil widows.

The guy in the Walmart parking lot asking:
“Do you like to party?”
The only interaction
In a West Side Story
Simmering in the kitchen of Taco Time
While Chilean sheepherders
Are forgotten in the hills.
56 nationalities de blancos
Apocalypse-spouting sales clerks
A coal-fuelled massacre
And gas-guzzling ghost trucks.
Family friendly
Prostitutes
Slum Lords

A Flaming Gorge
Ready to swallow it all.

Writing Fever

Forgive me father, for I have sinned, it has been 10 days since my last blog entry…
Ah, but I have so much to show for it: Today is my editor’s official ‘draft is due’ deadline for the Laurentian book, and miracle of miracles, I’m just about ready to send off the final chapters! Of course there will still be editing, rewrites, formatting, and so on, but the manuscript is largely finished, the publisher has all the photos and captions in his possession, and he is confident enough in our May launch date that he has done the mock-ups for the cover and is going to list the book in his spring catalogue (it will be paperback, $30.95 CDN, approximately 225 pages, and have hundreds of photos!).
Can you tell how excited I am? Staring at my double-spaced prose in Word it’s easy to forget that this is not just an extended paper, but that it will actually be a professionally-designed and printed book. Yippee!!
Adding to my excitement is the fact that my article, “Flying away from it all,” appeared in the February/March issue of The Beaver: Canada’s History Magazine. I definitely did a little happy dance when my copy came in the mail (and when the money appeared in my account) and it is just way cool to have an article in the same publication as one of my history heroines, Charlotte Gray! (p.s. un gros merci au directeur artistique, Michel Groleau, pour la belle mise en page!)

Here’s the first page of my three-page article in the Beaver, which is available now on Canadian newsstands (unless you’re in the Gloucester, Ont. area, in which case I think my mum and mother-in-law have bought up most of the copies!).

My next article project is a profile of John Bogie, president of Laurentian for several decades, and all-around aviation pioneer. This piece is for the Journal of the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and I have a week to write it, which shouldn’t be an issue because I have all the materials at my fingertips from the past year and a half of research, interviews, and photo gathering. Even so, I’ll have to be careful not to indulge my cabin/spring fever too much.

I did make a break for it last week and attended my first ever poetry slam session in Rock Springs. As the newspaper write-up describes it, a poetry slam is “known as the Olympics of performance poetry.” Basically, a few judges are picked from among those present and judge participants’ poetry and performances. Participants must bring three original poems (for a possible three rounds of competition) and are eliminated each round based on their scores. Then there are cash prizes at the end for top finishers!

I didn’t bring anything to read, but I enjoyed myself immensely, made some new artsy acquaintances, and was seriously inspired. So much so that I wrote a couple of rough drafts that night, and another the following morning. Now I just have to polish them up in time (and psych myself up) for the next one…

My friend, Luke, won the prize for “most intense audience member” – no surprise there! Luke is the creator of The Fiddler, a bi-weekly publication that features local businesses and fun stuff like comics, games, etc. He has a background in acting and design. If you want to see how nuts he is, check out “The Farthest Outhouse” on https://www.skippyswell.com/.

Writing through it all

I really try to believe in the saying that the universe (or God, depending on your belief system) only gives you as many challenges as you can handle. In Christianity, the story of Job is often used to illustrate this point. I am not a religious person, but this story of God testing the faith of one of his most faithful still resonates.

On a daily basis I find my faith tested, be it my faith in myself or the rest of humanity; faith that life has meaning; or that the world we live in is essentially a decent place. Generally, though – like most people – I’m pretty optimistic, resilient, and do believe that life is not out to get me.

Over the past few years, however, a few events have really rocked this faith and it has taken a lot to get back to my centre. One was my grandmother’s death from an asbestos-caused lung cancer in 2003. She went from a feisty and perfectly healthy 80-year-old woman to a weak shell of her former self in a matter of weeks. Then there was my mother’s diagnosis of an aggressive form of breast cancer in 2006: not only was I scared that I might lose her, but I realized that this was now an ongoing part of my reality – when I turn 30 I need to start getting mammograms because my risk is substantially higher. Grad school rocked my faith in my own abilities as a writer, researcher, and thinker. Even this latest move to Wyoming has caused more than its fair share of instability and frustration.

It’s amazing how much tougher we are than we think, though. With time, and maybe a little therapy, most of us do return to our ‘normal’ selves. I certainly have not come away unscathed from my experiences, but I definitely feel more compassionate, wiser, and more grateful for the life that I have.

My therapy has been my writing. Mostly it happens in journals, letters, emails, and now on this blog. It has also happened in poems, stories, articles, and soon hopefully in books. I channelled my grandmother’s life and death into several pieces, including a children’s book. Some of my struggles with my mother’s illness have made their way into a novel I started in Vancouver and plan to return to soon. Even my non-fiction works are touched by these experiences. This current book on Laurentian Air Services is in many ways a tribute to my wonderful grandfather – a pilot – who passed away a few years ago.

The universe has sent another major challenge my way: my young, vibrant mother-in-law, Dawn, has just been diagnosed with bile duct cancer, something that usually affects men in their 70s. It just seems so unfair and so strange, and has been a terrible blow to Doug and I. In true universe fashion, the timing has also just been rotten. I am thousands of miles away in Wyoming and Doug is now in Scotland for training for three months. We were able to go back for a week-long visit to Ottawa for an early Christmas, because we likely won’t be back for December 25th.

It was one of those wonderful, bittersweet visits. I think we often take for granted the moments with our loved ones – we think they will be around forever and rush through things. I know I am particularly guilty of having wandering-mind syndrome, and am often already thinking about the next activity before the one at hand is done.

Last week I tried so hard to bring my attention back to the present: to feel every hug, to taste every bit of food, and to enjoy every moment. Now that I’m back in Wyoming, it’s hard for my mind not to wander to Ottawa or Scotland. But, with the realization that our days on this planet are numbered – and we don’t often know that number – I am going to try my very best to focus on the book. Not only is it important to me that I keep my promises to myself, my publisher, and all the people who have been involved in the project so far, but more than anything I get the chance to honour the lives of so many men and women in this book. We only truly die when we are forgotten.

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.