A note on my last post. It was written before I saw Nik Korpon’s review of Pink Icing, which is why I was pleased that Nik said what he did about my narrative disappearing act.
It’s my second day in Calgary. Tuesday, March 3rd.
From Aruna Srivastiva’s office, to which Robert Majzels has so kindly brought me through ice and snow and melt, I can glimpse a strange, bare landscape. It’s not just the emptiness of winter. It maybe looks as if someone has skinned the earth, as they would skin an animal, and what I’m looking at is what’s underneath. The mountains ringing the city on the low horizon are like folds of skin, pulled back from the exposed torso and piled up at the sides of the excoriated body of the beast.
I’d heard about Aruna before I met her – we had friends in common. We talked a bit before going off to her class and she told me some more about the course being done by the students with whom I’d be visiting. She’d already said via e-mail that English 492 is a course on postcolonial and globalization studies in which students look at literature in the context of cultural and political issues. They worked in groups, and so did not often meet as one large group, and they were mostly well motivated, and got on with what they had to do. I was interested, especially in the fact that they were assessed in non-traditional ways (one being that they blogged) rather than by means of tests and papers. I told Aruna that it seemed like it would be a lot of work to mark, more harassing than correcting papers, and she admitted it was.
But it would obviously be challenging for the students and would offer insights into their progress, a grasp of how well they were acquiring skills and knowledge and navigating concepts. Also, she would quickly have a handle on any problems they might encounter.
Aruna had been concerned about the student turnout and lured them with the promise of food after the class, which I subsequently told her was a lunatic thing to do, because I think every man-Jack was there! I enjoyed the session. Via an Internet hook-up, Tracy, an admin assistant, if I remember right, who would normally have been present except that she was ill, could participate. We all waved to her on camera and she waved back at us. The students were alert and interested and clearly very bright.
I was a bit angry with myself, though, for getting distracted. I found myself talking about getting published, what constituted a bestseller in Canadian and American terms, etc., etc. I wish that I’d just stayed with reading stories and poems.
Aruna treated us to dinner in the grad lounge, good food and vivid cocktails. There was lively chatter, somewhat constrained by the fact that we were at a long, thin table. Across the table from me was an Asian woman who diverted us with a tale of being thrown out of a bar by a bouncer. She never went to bars, she said, and this one time had all been a crazy mix-up. Beside me a white Canadian woman spoke of spending summers picking mushrooms that grew wild. She loved it. She told me which mushrooms – it might have been morels, which grow wild in British Columbia, but I can’t remember now.
It wasn’t a very mixed group, racially, and the evening ended with an interesting conversation – by that time everyone had left and there were only the five of us – between three white young men, one of Finnish heritage, one Danish and one of Bosnian background. They discussed racial purity, which I got the impression they all thought they had. Aruna is East Indian. I am a child of so many admixtures that they are lost in the mists of generations of miscegenation.
I would see Aruna again before the end of the week, to share a cup of tea and a slice of Jamaican plum pudding at the house of my friend and hostess, Cecille DePass, a Prof in Education and another innovative teacher. Cecille was why I was in Calgary to begin with. She had approached the Department of English in 2007 about having me do a reading at U. of C., to wind up my mini tour of Winnipeg, Vancouver and Edmonton, and that had led to the current invitation. Louise Saldhana came with Aruna. During tea, Louise and I hatched a project concerning children’s literature.
It was a privilege to be with these women, as it had been to meet Mutriba Din, Senior Financial Analyst at the University. Mutriba had us to dinner before my reading at Pages the day before. Cecille DePass, Aruna Srivastiva, Mutriba Din, Hiromi Goto, Louise Saldhana, Larissa Lai, Nadine Chambers, Noga Gayle, Yvonne Brown, Jean Springer, Julie Hendrickson – women, most of whom I met on these two trips to the west. Dionne Brand, on a visit to Vancouver in fall 2008, described a “world beneath the world,” meaning the world that would have existed if all the dire things that have snagged it, had not. In a recent blog post, Larissa Lai referred to Dionne’s affirmation of the existence of this under-world, and observed, “There are women… actively making that other world...”
These are some of those women.