On My Reading List: In the Slender Margin

Remember the interview I did with the wonderful, talented writer Eve Joseph?

Her new book In The Slender Margin was released this April, and I’m really excited to read it.

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Okay, so a work of non-fiction with a subtitle that reads “The Intimate Strangeness of Death and Dying” may not be typical fodder for a summer reading list, but if this excerpt from Eve’s award-winning essay “Intimate Strangers” is anything to go by, her ability to write about death in surprising, compelling ways is going to keep me turning the page, no matter what season it is.

An excerpt from the essay:

In North America, we don’t quite know what to do with our dead. We plant trees and engrave the names of our loved ones on memorial benches overlooking the ocean; we gather as families to scatter the ashes but are not quite prepared for their weight and texture or for the way the wind doesn’t disperse them as we had imagined. In movies, human ashes seem more like stardust; the bright dust, in the night sky, we imagined as children.

The reality is somewhat different. When we scattered my mother’s ashes off the dock in front of the Cannery Seafood Restaurant on Burrard Inlet they didn’t lift in an ethereal manner; rather, they turned a luminescent green as they sank in the water and swirled downwards. It appeared as if my mother had turned into a fish and left us abruptly with a flash of her new emerald scales.

I love the image of her mother, transformed, flashing her scales. It’s such a unique way to describe that moment and transition from life. This kind of writing makes me want to curl up with a stack of poetry and get lost in it, the way I used to when I was in the depths of my creative writing degree. It reminds me of why I wanted to become a writer myself.

I don’t have an excerpt from In the Slender Margin, but it’s official description says this:

“Part memoir, part meditation on death itself, In the Slender Margin is an exploration of death from an “insider’s” point of view. Using the threads of her brother’s early death and her twenty years of work at a hospice, Joseph utilizes history, religion, philosophy, literature, personal anecdote, mythology, poetry and pop culture to discern the unknowable and to illuminate her travels through the land of the dying.”

Sounds intriguing, right? And it’s getting excellent reviews…

From National Post:

“[Joseph's] meditations take her, and us, into the many rooms death inevitably visits. The darkness is never quite made light, but in her careful prose her encounters with the dead, dying and mourning take on a kind of grace. Blending elements of memoir, reporting, and bookish contemplation, In the Slender Margin is an intricate and beautiful essay on approaching that good night we all go into, gently or otherwise.”

The Vancouver Sun

“The wonder of personal essays is their meandering nature. The author has questions, may find some answers, but mostly she writes to find out what she is thinking. That’s the case with Joseph’s exceptional book, divided into short essays within four sections. She called on everything in her experience in order to be with the dying. We can be grateful for that work, calling upon everything to give sorrow a voice . . . Joseph’s words are the language of a poet, deliberate, careful and distilled.” 

And author Bill Gaston wrote:

“With a poet’s honest eye, from decades on the slender margin, Eve Joseph has done the miraculous, shining a light into everyone’s ultimate darkness. Her quest is respectful, wise, and contagious. In all seriousness, I have never enjoyed death so much.”

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Eve Joseph. Photo via evejoseph.wordpress.com

 

What do you guys think? Want to read In the Slender Margin with me? (For my readers outside of Canada, the book will be in print in the U.S. in 2015, but you can order it now through amazon.ca.) What’s on your summer reading list? I’d love to know—feel free to share in the comments!

For those of you in Victoria, the launch of In the Slender Margin is this Wednesday, July 11th at Munro’s Books. If you go, please tell Eve I said congratulations :)

xx~C

ps. My interview with Eve Joseph, and Eve’s interview with The Coastal Spectator, discussing The Slender Margin.

My Almost-Published Love Story

Last spring, one of my favourite writers/bloggers/inspirational women Danielle LaPorte, best-selling author of The Fire Starter Sessions and The Desire Map, announced she was starting a magazine. And calling for submissions.

Danielle Mag image

This was the lowdown:

We want your stories, your wisdom, your light. This is our first round of submissions for the inaugural issue of DANIELLE Magazine. This magazine-meets-journal will be unlike anything you’ve seen or read. High-minded, full-hearted, gorgeous — both in PRINT and digital!

I immediately wanted to be a part of it, of course.

Submission categories included “The Best Thing I Ever Did”, “Kindness You’ve Encountered”, and “I Used To Be…Now I Am”, all of which evoked some cool ideas. But there was one theme in particular I felt compelled to write on…

DANIELLE MAGAZINE SUBMISSION: LOVELOVE

Length Requirement: 500-750 words

Tell us your love story. Give us the hows: how you met, how you fell in love, how you feel now. And give us the real-life ups and downs, the issues and obstacles you’ve faced and overcome. Most of all, make us feel the love. We want a fresh, down-to-earth approach to the relationship subject.

At the time I was living in Saskatoon, doing long distance with Joe (who was in Portland) while waiting out our visa process. I missed him terribly. I had already written a little about how we met here on the blog, so I had a starting point. I felt our story was unique, and I really wanted to get published in the magazine. Danielle LaPorte has thousands of people reading her books, her site, her social media. (Her facebook page fan count alone is nearing 70,000). There was a lot of buzz around the magazine. Who knows what becoming a contributor could lead to?

So I stayed up until 2 a.m. the night before the deadline and completed my submission, fine-tuning it over and over to fit within the word count (750 words is not much for a love story!). I sent it in, feeling hopeful, but knowing there would be a ton of submissions, and mine getting chosen was a long shot.

Fast forward to June, when I received this in my inbox:

Congratulations, and Welcome to our magazine.

You’re in! We loved your submission to LoveLove, and we would be honoured to run it in the issue “Your true nature is luminous”.

Our art department will be in touch regarding imagery, and our submissions team will be in touch for your details.

We’re making something beautiful for the world.

With much gratitude,

Team Danielle

I was thrilled. I immediately shared the news with Joe, my dad, and my close friend Sarah. (I told Joe he had to wait until the story was published to read it—more fun that way.) The team asked for several photos of the two of us, which I sent in, imagining potential layouts in my mind.

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Courtney and Joe in Thar Desert, India. Edited.

Could this be a new turning point in my career? It sure felt like it.

Over the winter, the editor of the magazine also hired me to write an article called “In the Dark”, on floatation tanks. I researched for days (I knew nothing about floating prior), and wrote the piece, plus a sidebar detailing float locations around the world. I was paid for both contributions, with the door open for writing future articles. The magazine was to launch this May, and would include my bio and link to my site.

Fast forward to last month. My inbox.

Sweet, Smart Danielle Magazine Contributors,

Creativity is change.

Can you tell I’m leading up to something?

THIS: I’ve decided not to go ahead with DANIELLE Magazine.

(I think some sighing and teeth clenching occurred at this point in reading the email.)

There’s actually no back story, no drama, no implosion-like circumstance behind the decision. It came down to a matter of focus. And lifestyle. And grace. Do I want to make a gorgeous print magazine that would lift hearts, feed minds, and rumble the publishing industry? Fuck, yes. Do I have other things that are currently soaring that I’m just as devoted to? Yes! Devotion to current reality wins.

(Want. More. Details.)

That’s all. It was an easy decision to make, actually, because I’m really really clear that I want a small company of strong and healthy women. So, we made a choice for wellness and quality — both, quality of life, and quality of creativity.

(Fair enough.)

We’re going to use much of the magazine content on my site throughout the year. Watch that space — it’s about to expand, and deepen.

Thank you for believing, for writing, making, creating. What we began will blossom, in a new garden.

Only love,

Danielle

I’m not gonna lie, I was really disappointed. It felt like a huge opportunity had deflated in an instant. But I respect Danielle for making the choice that was right for and her creative path. (Check out her lessons from the experience on her post “How to Let Go of A Dream”.)

And! I have a blog. Which in essence is my own magazine, my digital world where I write, create, and express myself to an audience of readers regularly. So I decided my love story should be shared here, with you guys.

As I said, this was written last year (some of you might recognize the intro, from this post) before Joe and I got married in our wild and wonderful typhoon wedding. We celebrated our six-month anniversary last month, and the love between us just grows deeper.

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Arriving

Three summers ago I boarded a bus in South Korea, heading to a festival in a town called Boryeong. I wasn’t thinking about husbands. I was thinking about the beach ahead, and the beer in my bag. If one of the friends with me had said,Your future husband’s going to be on this bus,” I would have laughed; I would have bet my life he wasn’t.

My future husband sat three rows behind me. If his eyes hadn’t been as blue or if I had taken a different bus, we probably would never have met. But his eyes were blue and they were beaming. I saw them, kept turning around in my seat to see them again.

Joe is from Chicago and I’m from Victoria. In Korea he commuted 40 minutes from his apartment in Jangsan to my apartment in Yeonsan-dong, riding three subways in the winter dark so we could spend our nights together. “I don’t mind,” he said, again and again.

I don’t mind didn’t prevent me from fearing that he might stop arriving, stop standing over a pan in my small kitchen each Saturday morning, frying eggs for us to share in bed, stop writing words like tropical island getaway on the list of things we planned to do together, stop listening when I told him of my mother’s surgeries, of my brother’s addictions, of the depression that clung to me the year I turned 21. “I don’t mind,” he’d say again, and I started to believe he would continue arriving, that this man wasn’t going to walk out of my life like the other men I had loved or thought I might love.

Joe is 26. I’m 34. He was born the year I started grade three. While he was racing sticks with his brother and sister down the creek behind his backyard, I was moving out, taking ecstasy at raves, serving tables at an Italian restaurant, saving for a year away in Europe.

I have a degree in writing and Joe has a degree in biology. Med school is a mountain before us, high in the nearing distance, with a lot of dreams on the other side. Maybe we will live in Haiti one day, or Uganda. Maybe Joe will start a clinic in a neighbourhood where too many people are dying. Maybe I will write about their lives.

Our home is in Portland now, but I’m in Saskatoon. My dad and stepmom have welcomed me to stay with them while Joe and I wait for my K1 Fiance Visa to be approved, a process we started months ago. The list of things we want to do together when I return is growing: hike up to Pittock Mansion and watch the sunset; bike ride across the river to Mt. Tabor; gourmet picnic in the rose garden. Our time apart will culminate with an interview at the U.S. Consulate in Vancouver, where I’ll show photos to Consulate officials of Joe and I on a ski hill in Korea; in the Thar desert in Rajasthan; of us standing with his parents on their deck in Illinois; with my mom in her kitchen in Victoria.

I worry that the eight years between us is pulling Joe too quickly into his future, into facing the potential of becoming a father and a med school student at the same time. He worries that the demands of learning to become a doctor will force him to miss too many moments in the life of the child we hope to have. It would be easier, we both know, if I was younger. If we could wait a little longer. But eight years didn’t matter when I leaned against him on the backs of motorcycles, sun blazing our necks, winding past Land For Sale signs in Lombok, Indonesia, green, green, surrounding us all the way to the horizon. I am hopeful that eight years won’t matter when we hear the cries of a soul we’ve created, when we begin teaching a child how to embrace their tiny place in the world.

This fall we will marry each other on a beach near a forest on the Oregon Coast. When I imagine this moment I see us standing next to a row of trees. My hands are in his hands and the tide is pulling out, the sun low, not sunset, but late late afternoon when everything shifts to gold and the whole evening lies ahead, the stars preparing to glow.

(I love you, Joe!)

Thanks for reading, friends.

xx ~C.

Danielle photo credit: Taylor Allen

Wedding photo credit: Melissa McFadden

ps. Other relationship posts. Including Honeymoon Highlights and Relationship Wisdom From My Ladies

 

Confession: I’ve been spending my nights with Keith Richards

Keith Richards book cover Life.08-10

It starts around midnight–I settle in under the duvet, adjust the lamplight, take a sip of water. Then I flip open the page.

We’re currently in the middle of ’76. Richards has brought his seven-year-old son, Marlon, on tour through Europe–the two of them drive to the gigs, Marlon holding the map, Richards at the wheel. Marlon has been instructed to tell his dad when they’re 15 clicks away from the borders. Then it’s time to pull over, so Richards can “have a shot.” (After, he either dumps or re-sorts his stash, before crossing into the next country.) His heroin habit is very, very bad by this point in “Life,” but it never stops him from missing a show–though sometimes he arrives three hours late. He’s also taken to sleeping with a gun under his pillow.

I’m not a massive Stones fan–not that I don’t like their music–I just never took to the songs in the same immediate way as those of the Beatles, The Doors, Hendrix and Joplin. But I’m fascinated by the era they lived through. I used to think I was born in the wrong time. I wanted to be like Jenny in Forrest Gump (before she gets messed up.) I wanted to move to San Francisco with my friend Stu. (I still dream of living there.) I remember my mom belting out Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” and thinking it was one of the best songs I’d ever heard. (Eventually I learned how to play it myself, on my little red guitar.)

I bought “Life”–Richard’s 2010 autobiography–last November as a belated birthday gift for my dad, who is a Stones fan. So when I moved into his and my stepmom’s house in March for my temporary stay and spotted it, I decided to give it a go.

Reading the book is like swinging back in time as Richards’ silent sidekick, then watching him fight, stride, and stumble his way through the chaos that makes up his days. You’re with him as a kid-in postwar Dartford, England, where he was frequently beat up on his way home from school. You’re there when he discovers records and Elvis and Chuck Berry, and in the sweaty London clubs where the Stones first performed, trying to become the best blues band in London. You’re with him in a smoke shop in Tangier, Morocco, and along for the acid-fueled road trip he took with John Lennon. You’re in a police chief’s office in Arkansas and in the back of a blue Bentley driving through Spain with his bandmate’s girlfriend.

In one chapter you’re in a prison in England called Wormwood Scrubs, another you’re on an Italian speedboat called Mandrax, pulling into Monte Carlo with Mick and the boys for lunch. All this is conveyed against the backdrop of rock and roll’s thundering sweep over Britain, the U.S., and the generation that viewed its message as a ticket to another existence.

But beyond the drugs and the stage, the women, the road, the feuds, the houses and hotels, the arrests and the exile, lies the central theme of Richard’s life–his relentless, life-sustaining passion for music. He writes:

“What is it that makes you want to write songs? In a way you want to stretch yourself into other people’s hearts. You want to plant yourself there, or at least get a resonance, where other people become a bigger instrument than the one you’re playing. It becomes almost an obsession to touch other people. To write a song that is remembered and taken to heart is a connection, a touching of bases. A thread that runs through all of us. A stab to the heart. Sometimes I think songwriting is about tightening the heartstrings as much as possible without bringing on a heart attack.”

If you play guitar, read this book. (Richards will teach you his tricks.) If you’re fascinated by what makes up a life, the characters that inhabit it and the passions that fuel it, read this book. It will make you grateful you haven’t made the same reckless choices as the man named No. 1 on a list titled Rock Stars Most-Likely-To-Die. But it also might make you gaze down your own winding path, and wonder if the adventure could be amplified.

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Richards and Jagger on their 1969 U.S. tour. Image via: time.com

 

p.s. Funny 1964 footage of the Stones, and a powerful piece by Russell Brand on heroin, abstinence and addiction

THE NINE: Eve Joseph on The Irrational Madness of Writing

“. . . I want to know about blindness. I want to

ask poetry where the birds went when they disappeared and how it

was they reappeared in cursive loops like a new language above the

daffodil fields one afternoon in late March.”

~Eve Joseph (from “Questions”, The Secret Signature of Things)

Eve Joseph

Ask Eve Joseph if it’s day or night, and she won’t be able to tell you. At least, not when she’s consumed by writing.

The author of two books of poetry: The Startled Heart (2004) and The Secret Signature of Things (2010), and the recipient of multiple awards and nominations including the CBC Literary Awards shortlist for Creative non-fiction, Eve calls her writing process a “compulsive, irrational, self-absorbed kind of madness.”

She explored this compulsion in her interview with me for The Nine, opening up about what drew her to language as a young girl, the years she didn’t write, and the ways in which writing surprises her.  Read more

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