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the banff centre.

September 13, 2013

jesus, what a place. it’s truly so bizarre and luxurious to have a space that is dedicated only (well, mostly) to artists. i have an ID card that says “ARTIST” on it in big block letters. when i check books out of the library, they ask me “are you an artist?” we get artist discounts. artist designated tables at meals. for a woman who doesn’t even feel comfortable calling herself a “writer” (at what point can you claim that as your job or livelihood? never? when you can support yourself solely on writing?) this is almost an overload. when i introduce myself to other artists, i say “i’m a writer.” being on a self-directed residency means i have all day to literally. only. write. that’s it. of course there are other things to do – go into town, see museums and art galleries, climb mount sulphur, do the tunnel mountain trail, walk by the bow river, take a day trip to lake louise – but still, most of the day is dedicated to writing. that’s what i paid to come here and do. i don’t have classes, or seminars, or one-on-one sessions with a facilitator. and i’m being forced to acknowledge my insecurity in my writing and even calling myself a writer or even an artist. i feel a little out-classed because i don’t have a book and i haven’t had other residencies, but then i have to remind myself that i got a grant and i deserve to be here.


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it’s quite lovely, meeting people from other mediums. painters, sculptors, composers, playwrights. those are the people i’ve been talking to the most, not the other writers. maybe it’s like two same ends of a magnet – they repel each other. it’s because i don’t much want to talk about what i’m working on, and the sculptors don’t ask me that. i’ve met people from ireland, australia, mexico, quebec city. it’s such an interesting little city we’ve created here. and some people are here for up to 7 or 8 weeks, just working on whatever their projects are.

see, this is a funny place. there are major conferences that happen here, and sometimes the businesses that end up here alongside the artists seem so incongruous – nexen (a big oil company), shell. the dining room gets very full on nights when there are big conferences on campus. when i asked the literary arts facilitator about this, he said something very interesting. “these conferences are here to pay for and support the arts programs and the artists. never feel uncomfortable around them. you can go into any building or room you want to. … except don’t eat their food. that’s off-limits.” the artists are top dog. this is not real-world. but it’s a nice world, a weird world. i sit and i write and i stare at the mountains. from my balcony, i see mountains. i’ve had the strangest headache for a week now – acclimation to the altitude, i think. it means i go to bed at 9 30 and wake up at 6 am before the sun rises. not a real world. a weird world. but such a nice world.


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a hiking guide who took us for a walk along the bow river told us that banff calls to people, and if you answer the call, things start to move or change. that this place heals broken hearts.

mary schaffer was a watercolour artist who explored the mountains with her husband before he passed away. in 1928, she said:

No-one may know I went among those hills with a broken heart and only on the high places could I learn that I and mine were very close together. We dare not tell those beautiful thoughts, they like to say “explorer” of me, no, only a hunter of peace.

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