And Sometimes They Fly: A Broken Pencil review

And Sometimes They Fly, Robert Edison Sandiford, 186 pages, DC Books, http://www.dcbooks.ca, $18.95

Step aside Justice League, there’s a new super team in town. Called to action following the cataclysmic events of 9/11, it’s up to David, Frank and Marsha, three young bajans, to accept their destiny as The Elect and restore balance to the world.

Myth and reality come together in “And Sometimes They Fly” to delivery a powerful narrative that explores the nature of good and evil, fate and courage. Our three protagonists do not pretend to have it all figured out. They are afraid, they doubt – which quite frankly is a natural reaction to being told the fate of the planet rests in your young inexperienced hands. Guided by Milton, a mysterious mind reading Elder who poses as a lecturer at their university, they navigate through a treacherous world slowly taken over by dark forces.

Set in Barbados, not only are we treated to beautiful descriptions of its landscape and people but we also discover characters like the obeah women, Heart Man and the Steel Donkey, prominent figures in caribbean folklore and culture. No matter where you come from these colourful people will ignite memories of your childhood bed time stories. Much like Sandiford himself, our heroes’ lives are also linked to Canada. Montreal even becomes the stage for one of the most poignant part of David, Frank and Marsha’s Journey.

Sandiford’s prose reads like poetry. Part patois, part english, his writing may be a challenge for some less familiar with the language but all the more beautiful. He leads you into a world full of magic, danger, action and presents us with the first truly caribbean superheroes.

Scorched

“Scorched” , a play by Montreal based writer Wajdi Mouawad tells the story of twins Janine and Simon, as they try to uncover the truth behind their mother’s years long silence.

I read the English version – the original, “Incendie”, is in French. It’s always interesting to see how the translator manages to capture the essence of a story in a different language especially in the case of this play where the power of words, whether spoken or written, is a particularly prominent theme . It is a story of love and war, the bonds of family and truth, no matter how dark. From broken promises to wills with odysseyan instructions, the play is unapologetic, earnest and surprisingly refreshing considering its heavy subject matter.

The narrative is almost dreamlike – time is fluid in this world with scenes happening simultaneously in the past and the present, its language poetic with an ending worthy of a Mexican soap opera sans the melodrama. Expect a few tears. “Scorched” is the second of four in Mouawad’s dramatic quarter set.

A few memorable quotes:

” I’m not the one who’s crying, your whole life is pouring down your cheeks”

“Take your youth and any possible happiness and leave the village. You are the bloom of this valley, Nawal. You are its sensuality and its smell. Take them with you and tear yourself away from here, the way we tear ourselves away from our mother’s womb.”

“There is nothing here for us. I get up in the morning and people say, “Sawda, there’s the sky,” but no one has anything to say about the sky. […] People show me the world but the world is mute. And life goes by and everything is murky. I saw the letters you engraved and I thought: that is a woman’s name. As if the stone had become transparent. One word and everything lights up.”

“Janine, Let me hear her silence.”

Tales of a maladjusted adult pt 2

How to break the spell, how to pluck yourself out of this endless cycle of sleeping, eating, being, not being, wanting to be, being afraid to never be. You would think one would be pushed into action with such dissatisfaction but it only seemed to fuel the tepid fire of self-destruction. Mine is a slow and painful death. A tenacious rot eating away at the foundations of a life half built. I might be more like my uncle Alphonse than I care to admit. Till this day his house in the village stands unfinished. Roofless rooms, doorless frames: a homeless house. No fraction could quantify its level of completion. Is that what my life is amounting to? An endless pile of fractioned sentences, fractioned thoughts, fractioned wants, fractioned wills? He only completed our own family house because my mother (bless her brand of crazy) moved us all into the fraction-complete building, still pregnant with Alphonse (named after the same uncle – the similarities ended there). A fraction of a life in a fraction of a home. A fitting abode of sorts. If only I took more after the woman. I stubbornly cling to my mediocrity, the fear of failure dragging me down like cement shoes in a sea of stagnancy. A writer. How can I call myself that when I barely put pen to paper? I think about it though. Oh that I do a lot of. I think. About not writing, about writing more, what to write about, how to make my words tap-dance, endless click clacking on blank pages. What am I scared of? That people will see me? That my words might reveal some unexplored truth? I am looking for something, anything, a lifeline (going down swinging) pouring over books, articles, tweets, binge-watching television. I’m not finding it. Whose voice am I looking for? Mine? Can I even hear myself? Will I recognize that “I”?

The cultural hybrid

The cultural hybrid serves as a bridge, a point of contact between A and B. A bridge doesn’t not presume to know everything about either, it just connects the 2 locals. However we should view this bridge not as linear but as rhyzomatic. Its relationship to its environment is complex; it is in a constant state of flux, connected to bridge Z, which itself links point Q to point ii, crossing over river 4 that’s feeds into sea ¥.

Tales of a maladjusted adult

I’m not sure why I kept going, why despite my repulsion of his dudebroness, if invited to spend time with him, I would. It was easier to pretend at first, my roommate had convinced me that and him and I were compatible on multiple levels. In retrospect I’m not quite sure why I trusted her judgment. It’s dubious at best on a wide variety of subjects, as if she’s just learning how to interact with the world and subscribes to cookie-cutter opinions and schools of thought as per her vision of what’s in vogue in young afropolitan circles, conforming to a carefully curated individuality with near religious fervour.
Still, I listened. The obligatory sexual tension was thoroughly explored by our first three meetings. It felt stilted, like we were re-enacting some pre-ordained script: Insert hand between leg. Touch left breast. Press X for arousal. We had the decency to stop pretending ours was a carnal arrangement after that. No more sexy time. I can’t say I was disappointed by this turn of events. Now there was a chance to develop an actual friendship however, the awkwardness that plagued our initial interactions had not yet subsided. At first I thought it was just the clumsy baby steps of a fledgling relationship. I was very wrong. Socially we were oil and water. In the name of civility, I tolerated his pompous superiority. At least that’s what I told myself; admitting that I was so alone that any presence, even one as patronizing as his, comforted me on a fundamental level was a truth I wasn’t quite ready to confess.

Listen up future me (a prophetic prayer of sorts)

Wake up early, stretch, light exercise, meditate
Take a shower, not too cool, not too warm, scents of mint and berries
Get dressed. Hopefully you live somewhere warm so thin cottons, silks and if you’re feeling fancy,lace and organza
Make breakfast, fruits, meat, eggs bread and fresh juice, the mind is your palace but the body must live
Sit down and create till noon
Make a light lunch, sandwich maybe, and take a walk or a bike ride around town, beach, market, forest
Just outside doing nothing but soaking up your surroundings, people watching, unplugging
Find a spot, take a good nap, wake up and and head back home
More creation till early evening
Make dinner. For sanity spend this time with others, talking, laughing, sharing
Ready yourself for bed, preferably within the pages of a book but a loved one’s arms will do
Thank the forces that keep you going, be they within yourself or in some transcendent being
Sleep, for everyday must come to an end.

Running The Whale’s Back: A Broken Pencil review

Running The Whale’s Back, Andrew Atkinson and Mark Harris, 303 pages, Goose Lane editions, http://www.gooselane.com, $19.95

Editors Andrew Atkinson and Mark harris have accomplished a great feat with this anthology. It often is hard to discuss issues of faith without sounding overly preachy or cynical but “Running The Whale’s Back” does just that. This collection of short stories and novel excerpts puts a mirror to Atlantic Canada, reflecting the life of its inhabitants as they navigate – sometimes literally – through their lives.

A common man buries two frozen travellers while a nun refuses to perform funeral rites. A baby is miraculously found by the river banks while another drowns in one. This idea of duality is a running theme in the anthology and reflected in its structure. The sacred seems ever present, perhaps in part due to the almost god like force of nature and the religious legacy left by the early settlers in these small communities.

While most stories are more realistic in nature one stands out in particular. “My husband’s jump”, a ski jumper who takes off never lands. In one of the anthology’s weaker pieces, “Doves”, the narrator’s inner monologue is punctuated with culturally inaccurate images that slightly detracts from the story.

Despite this small hiccup what we have here is a strong body of work whose subject matter is relevant in a society where the role religion is constantly in question. The writers do not shy away from the raw and the gritty. Nothing is black and white and we are invited to explore this greyness through diverse and unique voices.