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Pondering Writer’s Block

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

—E.L. Doctorow

Writer’s block can be an obstacle to creativity. Just ask Fran Lebowitz. On second thought, judging by Martin Scorcese’s seven-episode documentary, Pretend It’s a City, she has made an art of what she calls ‘writer’s blockade’. Not the person to ask, but then again, perhaps the ideal person.

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Breathing into Creativity Workshops

Three members of our Digital Literacy/ Storytelling group were among the participants in the two-part Zoom writing workshop “Breathing into Creativity” hosted by the Atwater Library on the consecutive Thursdays, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, 2020 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. Organized and facilitated by Elise Moser in conjunction with AWE (the Atwater Writers Exhibition project), and offered free through the generous support of the Canadian Cultural Action Fund of Canadian Heritage, the two workshops were led by poet, artist, and educator har leen, coordinator of the South Asian Youth (SAY) collective of the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC).

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Group Poem from Breathing into Creativity

    Three members of our Digital Literacy/Storytelling group were among the participants in the two-part Zoom writing workshop “Breathing into Creativity,” an AWE (Atwater Writers Exhibition) event hosted by the Atwater Library on the consecutive Thursdays, Nov. 26 and Dec. 3, 2020 from 2:00 to 3:30 p.m. Organized and facilitated by Elise Moser, and offered free through the generous support of the Canadian Cultural Action Fund of Canadian Heritage, the workshops were led by poet, artist, and educator har leen, coordinator of the South Asian Youth (SAY) collective of the South Asian Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC). You will find the complete AWE workshop description, including a detailed profile of har leen, and listings of more upcoming and past events, here: http://awe.atwaterlibrary.ca/activities/events-listings/

For South Asian Youth:
https://www.sawcc-ccfsa.ca/EN/sayjsa/

And har-leen’s website and social media links:
https://stormcalledharleen.com/
http:www.facebook.com/stormcalledharleen
Instagram:@stormcalledharleen

I found har leen to be a proverbial breath of fresh air–gentle, sensitive, attentive, enthusiastic, en-couraging, and dynamic in the moment. As I have recounted from a personal perspective in a companion blog post, har leen led us through an evocative series of individual prompts and free-writes to the community creation of a group poem–a poem conceived as our message from the pandemonium of our planet in 2020, a message sent out into the vastness of universal space.


Above: Har-leen in her NASA shirt: Aim for the stars!

Below is the second, more recent version of this group poem, compiled and carefully edited by participant Wanda Potrykus of AWE, who generously volunteered her time and skill to the project. (Wanda, with professional transparency, has also privately documented the in-progress versions and arrangements, with notes on her editorial decisions, for the contributors.) Wanda was also the unsung hero in encouraging and empowering the workshop writers to let their voices be published here.

I’m posting the poem now with the kind permission of Brian, Donna, Karin, Lynn, Marlene, Susi, and Wanda, as well as that of coordinator Elise Moser on behalf of the Atwater Library and AWE.
The order of appearance of poets will, in keeping with our spirit of spontaneous community, remain anonymous in this post. However, with the exception of section I. “Buried alive…,” which Wanda, with permission, chose to use as a repeating and closing refrain, each numbered passage represents a complete submission as composed by an individual poet.  We also acknowledge the in-spiriting presence and voices of the workshop participants whose contribution is not manifest in the text.

Buried Alive II

I.
Buried alive…

II.
Hello, are you there?
Are you there?
Can you give us a sign
that you’re listening?

This is the sound
of a bullfrog. Our last
bullfrog. We are wondering
if you have bullfrogs there —
and whether you could spare
us a few. Also we are short
of blue girls — the ones
who stand tall in the water

III.
I’m a slouching feeling, scaly skinned.
The beings I desire are beacons, statuesque.
I am a crag among crags.
Surely this isn’t unique: surely
There is a match for me.

IV.
Immobilized by my enduring nature,
Longing for the familiar.
How did I get here?
Have I nowhere else to be?

Buried alive…

V.
Extinction. Extinction.
The nipple taken away.
I cry in the night, inconsolable.

Here in the Great Extinction
The darkness gathers
All the dead ones
All the victims
The darkness gathers the song.

In the presence of mine enemies
The lost helpful animals
Return for the others
Who remain with a leg in the trap
Till the sun explodes as a nova
And melts our chains.

VI.
Fresh rain beckons us
Painting everything alive
Dancing to sunshine.

VII.
What am I seeing?
I’m coming into being
Re-engineering what was there before
Disappearing, fleeing from my unconsciousness,
The door is opening
I am metamorphosing
Parts of me are decomposing,
Oh, what is this wonder that I see?
It’s me…I have been reborn,
Reformed as a fragile, seedling tree.

No longer buried…still alive
I thrive.

Wanda has offered her suggestions and insights to both our poets and others, as individuals and in community, to take the opportunity for further creative exploration and reflection:

“Whether a neophyte or an experienced writer, from time to time we all need encouragement, thus compilation of this poem is inspired by a previous event commemorated on the AWE website:”

Rapid-Fire Readings, Ricochet Writing: Montreal Authors Write Before Your Very Eyes!
“On April 30, 2015, twenty-four contemporary Montreal authors from across the impressive range of our literary scene offered rapid-fire readings from their work. They also created a brand-new literary jewel by adding a line each to a collective text. At the end of this fast-moving happening the final product was read aloud with panache and brilliant comic timing by playwright Colleen Curran. The Quebec Writers’ Federation and the Atwater Library co-hosted this exciting event.” Source: AWE website: https://awe.atwaterlibrary.ca

So have some fun with our group poem. Feel free to play around with the verses, and reorder the sequence of the verses as you wish and in terms of what makes sense to you. There’s no right or wrong way…Add your own lines to this text, even if you don’t choose to share them with the rest of us. You might surprise yourself at how well yours fit in. I like to read poetry aloud so I can play with alternative intonations along the way. The choice of title too is up to you. Enjoy! As Paul Valéry, (French poet and philosopher), once rightly said, ‘A poem is never finished, only abandoned.’ Keep on putting pen to paper! One never knows quite what poetic jewel may appear.”

May we all go bravely forward in the Plague Years, playing, despite all, with optimistic abandon and joy!

 

The Ups and Down of Learning to be Digitally Literate

I had an interesting and challenging few days this week trying to transfer a large audio file to someone else through Wetransfer.  I’m not really familiar with this file-sharing program, but since the audio file was very large, I was told that this was the best and quickest method to use.  Apparently, this should have been straightforward process, but it turned into a preoccupation and at least one sleepless night.  Wetransfer couldn’t complete the process despite many attempts.

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I Could Drink a Case of You – A Joni Mitchell Grocery List by Leanne Shapton

https://wepresent.wetransfer.com/story/literally-leanne-shapton/

I discovered this story while trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to transfer a very large audio file using WeTransfer.  The story popped up, and I had to read it because I love Joni Mitchell.  It’s a lovingly illustrated story, by Leanne Shapton, which incorporates some of Joni Mitchell’s food-related song lyrics and Leanne’s personal menu.  Leanne doesn’t like to cook, preferring restaurant meals, but she had little choice but to resign herself to preparing meals for her daughter and herself during the Pandemic since restaurants were and continue to be off-limits.

 

“Mechanical Draftsperson”

In my follow-up readings by and about Donna Haraway, I hadn’t yet picked up Eric’s reference to weaving as a specific topos within techno-feminism.  Noting the digital punchcard system of the Jacquard loom, however, I recognized a personal connection.
I worked in the Montréal needletrade from about 1989 to 2005, in commercial embroidery design for garment embellishment. When I started as a mechanical draftsperson, the next-stage digitizing of the designs that instructed the industrial machines was still sometimes encoded on rolls of punched paper tapes, although diskettes were replacing this medium. My boss–an old master of his trade–was still entitled Embroidery Puncher, and I remember him at work unspooling great coiling mounds of pink or purple tape, as he searched, I think, for the coded errors or points of adjustment he was to repair and improve.
Well, “mechanical draftsperson…” I’ve used the most descriptive terms I can come up with–graphic artist would be too catch-all, and the usual job title, Embroidery Designer, sounds extravagantly misleading.
My first job was in Ville St-Laurent, although we served larger companies in the Montréal garment district around Chabanel, notably Conrad C. Collections. And I say mechanical or technical drawing because I worked by hand, at a drafting table, with instruments such as mechanical pencils, rules, compasses and dividers. The standard procedure was to take the customer’s  artwork, usually printed at 1:1, and enlarge it by wall projection to 6:1 proportions (3:1, if by practical necessity), tracing the image on large sheets of paper cut from a hefty roll. (I think we used white bond at the time, only later translucent vellum.) I then redrew the design with geometric accuracy while incorporating specific modifications that would permit it to be rendered in thread. For example, lettering in a logo (uniform or jacket embroidered ID was a common customer item) had to be no smaller than 6mm enlarged height, and spaced accordingly, to be legibly sewn. A line to be embroidered in satin stitch similarly equalled a minimum of 6mm width. (Machine sewn running stitches were too unstable to replicate legible design consistently across large runs; they were more often used for floral decoration.) At the same time, a “left chest” embroidery should at best not exceed 3.5 inches, maximum 4; and of course the look of a copyrighted design had to still be preserved within these technical constraints. A balancing act, yes.
(This is only lesson 1 in course 100, you understand; imagine all those police, firemen’s, fraternity, and municipal crests with titles and mottoes tightly inscribed within concentric circles…proudly worn as embroidered patches on the shoulders of the elect.)
At each stage we worked the traditional enlargement process to ensure minimal design error upon reduction to actual size–a compensation for the irregularity of rapid mass production by multiple machines and operators.
My large drawing then went to the board of the Puncher, who scanned it with a mounted, sliding cross-hair cursor to create the sewing programme that was plotted onscreen at an adjacent monitor. This was micro-engineering at a much higher level of complexity than drawing, because the Puncher digitized a dimensional design path both spatially and temporally for production, planning for the greatest efficiency and economy in colour changes and stops, the fewest repeat passes, the optimal stitch count. In the very best work, the inevitable consequence was the greatest elegance as well.
But the bottom line was never romantic. Time is money: “IS THE MACHINE STILL RUNNING?” My first boss claimed to have once threaded the sewing heads as they ran, despite having a needle or two plunge through his thumb in this School of Hard Knocks. Little wonder a master puncher’s heritage of time-honed techniques, his private programmes and strategies, were hard-earned, closely-guarded trade secrets before the coming of the Microsoft share-ware era that swept first local production and then digitizing offshore to the Orient.
So, just as a final aside: I worked about 2 years at this first job, at a fixed rate of $7.00 an hour, and commuted by Metro and bus for a total of 2 1/2 to 3 hours each 8 am to 5/6 pm weekday–with occasional Saturdays, of course. And while my senior colleague, Suzanne, was “The Best Girl,” I was still ” A Great Girl.” Me too. But…yeah, kinda proud of it. 
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