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the heraclitus family.

October 29, 2013

having had time to reflect on the mania (possession!) of the banff experience, i can now sort of sit down and parse it. i kept on calling the banff centre ‘campus’ (‘i’ve seen him around campus’) and, yes, it felt like that. we all lived in the same building, and kind of started to act like dorm students. (case in point: when ernesto, gibran, michelle and i raucously decided one night at the bar to go to breakfast the next morning in our bathrobes. which we did. and had to go back to our rooms to change after getting turned away by the grump at the dining hall desk.) in truth, the centre is very weird. it’s so much smaller than i anticipated, and everyone is churning away in their own little pods for most of the time, so when all the artists congregate their minds are like creative silos that need to be coaxed back into social interaction. and it’s strange being alongside conferences (major, major oil companies eating alongside the artsy-fartsy writers and composers.) you start to go a little stir crazy – eating the same, drinking the same, waking up to the same window, seeing that one same deer around campus.




but there were so many worthwhile interactions at the BC that i never would have had otherwise. things are handed to you like gems, and it’s your job to do what you will with them. not only that, as a writer, i was able to expand my social circle to other artists: visual artists (painters, sculptors, photographers, visual artists not otherwise specified), composers, the odd musician. that was one of the things i found most rewarding. writers have the tendency to clump together and snark, and because i wasn’t a part of the writing with style workshop that was at the centre at the same time as i was, i was forced to expand my social circle. this felt awkward to me at first. i’m a creature of solitude, and i would get to the dining hall as soon as it opened for breakfast and sit and eat my oatmeal by myself and stare out at the sunrise, and that was completely satisfactory for me. but little by little, i started to meet these absolutely incandescent people. these people who were also focusing on mastering their own art, whatever it was. and how rewarding that was. after a summer of working alongside journalists and newspaper editors, who think in a different way (linear rather than lateral) than i did (most of the time), it was rewarding in a whole other way to be alongside the weirdos and the creatives once again. no judgment was had if i said “listen, i really can’t come to dinner today. i have to write.” “listen, i have to go and cast a mountain in bronze.” “listen, i have to go to a ghost town and rub graphite on a piece of paper that i’ve taped to the wall of an abandoned building.” everyone just nodded and accepted. that’s a rarity. that’s not real life. but what a lovely section of life it was.

there were so many very good moments:

sitting in janet‘s studio, just the two of us. as i looked at her paintings, she probed me about my emotional state. i’m not the most forthcoming person, and she wanted to check in. she knew that i was in a sad state of mind, and had been since coming to banff. and i felt safe enough to sit and talk with her. we talked about heartache, and sadness, and ‘the cry for the beloved.’ as a writer, i’m always hyper-aware of writers’ tendencies to talk a lot about themselves. which is never a good plan, because then you can’t sit and absorb the stories of others. so i tried not to blather, but what i didn’t realise was that sitting and writing all day in a fragile state of mind was making me loopy. compressed. teary. when the two of us walked back through the leighton colony in the pitch black dark (what an inkiness that colony had at night. you could just picture things staring out at you from between the trees. bears in particular.) and when she called out ‘goodnight sweetie’ in an offhand, perfect way, i walked to my room all quivery but feeling better.




salsa dancing with ernesto, carlos, adan, and gibran. canadian girls are not renowned for their buttery, dancing hips, are they? i don’t like dancing in front of people, especially not sober. but carlos was so persuasive, so adamant that we needed to let go and have fun after our respective days of hard, solitary work, that i couldn’t say no. it was amazing to see the four mexican men singing and dancing. what shock when we told them that our own men don’t dance too often. (“they DON’T!??!?!” “er… no.”) i forgot how remarkably freeing it can be just to dance like a maniac and not care if you trip over your own feet, or if you don’t know the steps. there’s really always someone to teach you.




any day trip out of banff. charley had a van for a portion of her time there, and because of this, i was able to see lake minnewanka, bankhead (the coal mining ghost town), and the vermilion lakes. anytime we got out of the centre, we felt lively. just like the feeling of getting off campus for an adventure. banff is lovely, but the mountains on their own have never made me feel overwhelmed like they can do for some people. i prefer the hard, eerie landscapes: muskeg, desert. the mountains combined with the wild, uncombed beauty of the yellowing wetlands, though, make me weak in the knees. it’s not that i was writing about mountains – my own work is about northern canada, but a different province – but that standing in the middle of great beauty, i remembered how much i do love this country. why i defend it relentlessly. that every province is so different from the next, and that sometimes standing wordless and tiny in the maelstrom of the wilderness can be inspiring without being overtly inspiring. did i come away writing poetry about the mountains? nope. will i ever? probably not – but something about the colours and textures still refreshed me.




did the place inspire me as it was rumoured to? tunnel mountain is known as a spiritual mountain, that it controls dreams and emotions. no, that didn’t really happen. the mountains were beautiful in their newness, the altitude dry and clear, the nights’ sleeps good, but what i was most inspired by were the geniuses i met there. we became a transient family – one day there would be 14 of us, the next day someone would leave for the next part of their adventure. and then a new residency would come in, and we would be forced to open our ranks again and envelop. because of this, i was always learning, always in a fluid state of friendship. nothing ever became boring. my social anxieties were kept at bay, because we were the family of flux. like stepping in heraclitus’s river. the heraclitus family.




my facebook just alerted me to the fact that ernesto has commented on a picture that i’ve also commented on. it’s a picture of paul, andrea, eugenio, and mariana standing in the snow. because facebook does a strange job of translating spanish to english, ernesto’s comment is a little choppy, but even with the syntactical oddities, the emotion struck me as true:

“My body back, my mind is in transit, but my heart is still there. I think that we are several in this trance.”

several in this trance, indeed. and will be for a long time, i think.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Janet permalink
    November 23, 2013 7:15 am


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