- Ellen J.
- With a B.A. in English, an M.A. in Education, and advanced training in psychotherapy, I have more and more been following my passion and the field where I want to put my energy: writing, and teaching writing. And also enjoying life and the people around me, while trying to explore and protect the world around us.
Monday, October 4, 2010
There has been something wonderful about flowers this summer -- the on-going morning-glories, the pink climbing roses still budding, the zinnias springing up now from seeds I thought had disappeared in the soil and summer heat, the Rose of Sharon bushes in both the front and back yard -- slow to blossom in spring but lasting into fall. And I've cherry tomatoes and basil since July, still going strong. All this has given me a lot of peace this summer, and I like spending time just looking at the flowers. Perhaps this is because I have had a chance to slow down this summer, dig my roots deeper, just take time to live rather than dealing with crisis.
Although, of course, life hasn't been stress-free. I had a virus in early September, just before Rosh Hashanah, that mimicked some heart symptoms, enough to send me to the hospital for a stress test -- stressful in itself. One friend thought the test would measure how much anxiety and stress I was feeling -- but no, it's walking fast on a treadmill and having a CAT scan roam over your body, taking before and after pictures. As it turned out, my heart is fine, which is an affirmation and a relief. I think all the walking in the woods I did during my holiday helped me on the treadmill, and has made me decide to continue walking in the woods -- at least while the weather is good.
This reminds me of my university English teacher, Naomi J. Diamond, at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In first-year English class, she had us read Robert Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay," and walk around the college lake -- about 2 hours -- really looking at nature, the leaves, early buds, debris from seasons past. I was one of the few who actually did this -- and enjoyed this: as a girl who grew up in the city, this was one of my first solitary walks in nature -- and I have never forgotten it, and how I learned to see how the poem sprung from really seeing and being in those woods. Naomi was from Thunder Bay (then Fort William) and Winnipeg -- though I didn't know it at in college. She returned to Toronto in the early 1970's, and was often a guest on Morningside with Peter Gzowski.
I came to Ontario in 1979, and had the joy of meeting her again at Ryerson in 1988. She was a professor I really wanted to see again, and I was touched and pleased that she remembered me. In our English 100 class, she had been hard on my writing with her red-pencil -- but always, I felt, to make it better, to make me think harder, see more clearly, feel more deeply. I began attending her reading groups in Toronto, and -- now with more experience -- appreciated her sharp intelligence and deep compassion even more keenly. We became, in a sense, friends. Her special loves in literture were Chaucer and George Eliot -- two writers who could see the whole range of human behaviour and life, and who, without judging, helped us become more human. Naomi died this past August, at age 84. We will miss her. Nothing gold can stay (but it is certainly worth loving while it is with us).
Another golden character, Kerry Schooley of Hamilton, also died suddenly this September, at age 61. Kerry was a big man, with a generous spirit, a big heart, a deep love of writing, of his family, and of Hamilton. He had a sense of humour -- and of "noir" fiction. He helped create the now-thriving Hamilton literary community, and encouraged us as a group and individually. He will also be deeply missed; his spirit will live on.
Finally, I had the pleasure -- and challenge -- of hearing David Suzuki speak in Hamilton on October 2. So as we approach Thanksgiving, let us give thanks for what we enjoy on earth -- from flowers to beloved people -- and do what we can to atone for what we hurt, and help each other -- and our green-gold earth -- to thrive.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
My mother is moving to another country
one without borders or passports.
She doesn’t need to buy a ticket – the moving date
is open, and it’s only
a one-way trip.
They speak another language there,
vaguer than ours, with no past
or future tenses,
just an eternal present.
She doesn’t need to pack up her property;
everything will be taken care of
by the proper authorities.
In fact, her body is getting lighter,
little by little –
these organs, muscles, bones
She still reaches out, casting lifelines
to people back home,
she remembers names, faces
(even her grandfather’s three sisters,
so long ago – she throws me this memory
like a faded rose, almost disintegrating
in my outstretched hand)
but they are losing their meaning, their connection.
Does it really matter who is who,
or who said what to whom,
or even who’s on first?
She will have the last word,
which may be silent,
not waving, not drowning, but disappearing
before our eyes – the final act of magic
in this earthly cirque de soleil et de la lune.
My mother is moving
far away, alone,
into another, unknown country.
Ellen S. Jaffe, for Viola A. Jaffe, May 17, 1918—August 31, 2009
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Saturday, April 14, 2007
I read at Chapters Bookstore in Oakville, Ontario (at Oakville Town Centre), along with a group of writers from the Inkwell Poetry group in Oakville. My friend Victoria Fenner recorded my reading. The readings will be broadcast on the blog-site of Radio Free Peterborough: watch this site for an announcement of how, when, and where to find it.
Poetry is meant to be heard aloud: for poets -- and other writers -- who would like to record their work, either for their own use, for podcasts, or for other uses, it helps to know a professional and writer-friendly recording artist. I can recommend Victoria, who has recently returned to the Hamilton area from travels in Nova Scotia and India: firstname.lastname@example.org
here's a post-Passover poem, to keep us going:
Into the Wild(er)ness
The crumbs of leaven are gone
Swept out of every corner.
Hubris, illusion, ideals
stale and out of date
beyond their shelf life.
We eat flat matzah, baked
in a hurry, food of travel
leaving the old -- no excess,
In the wilderness, we eat manna,
food grown on trees, dropped
from the sky, a miracle,
and we drink water from the oasis
springing up in the desert.
Desert flowers bloom suddenly,
colourful as desserts,
fields of yellow like small suns.
Birds gather left-over straw to feather
their new nests, bits of wool
gleaned from lost mitts and winter's scarves.
We pack lightly for the wildnerness,
paring memories down to essentials,
not lost but finding new realities,
turning toward the light.
Ellen S. Jaffe, 2007
Sunday, December 31, 2006
I began writing this on Jan. 1, to wish you all a Happy New Year, with happiness, good health, and joyful surprises. Life intervened, and I am now sending this out in March 2007, the beginning of my birthday month, so a new year for me -- and soon, we hope, the beginning of spring. The days are getting longer, although my yard is still covered with snow as I write this.
The autumn of 2006 saw the publication of my novel Feast of Lights (Sumach Press, Toronto, 2006), in time for the Hanukkah season, and I hope this coming year will bring us all a feast of light, peace, and travels to new places we'd like to go, as well as a greater sense of coming home.
In this blog, Writing Your Way, I will comment on the passing scene, especially in writing, theatre, and related arts; provide news about workshops, readings, and other events; and share pieces of writing that I have discovered and enjoy.
I'll start with the discovery of a U.S. writer, Josephine Herbst (1892-1969), whom I just learned about, thanks to my friend Irene Briskin, who knew "Josie" in New York over 40 years ago. Born in Iowa, Josie became a radical woman writer in the 1920's and '30's, travelling to the U.S.S.R., Germany, and Spain during the Civil War. She later worked for the U.S. during World War II but was fired because of some of her earlier political activity. She wrote of that time, "common sense always looks treasonable in wartime." (doesn't sound anything like Washington DC. today, does it?) For much of her life, she owned a house in Erwinna, Pennsylvania (Bucks County) --near where my mother lives now, although both my mother and I grew up in New York City, where Josie also lived. This writer's activities are reminding me of my own in the late 1960's -- and I'm surprised not to have heard of her before. Elinor Langer wrote a biography of her, Josephine Herbst: The Story She Could Never Tell (Little, Brown, & Co., 1983, Boston), and four of her essays have been reprinted as The Starched Blue Sky of Spain (Harper Collins and Harper Perennial, 1991). And there was recently a play about her in New York City.
In our own writing this year, let's try to follow Josie's advice: "Come now, be muy inteligente, be valiente. Just try!"
Tribute to Gilda Mekler
I would like to honour the spirit and life of Gilda Mekler (1955-2007), who passed away suddenly in the early morning of February 7. Painter, wordsmith, editor, wife of the poet James Deahl, mother of Simone and Shona, and stepmother of Sara, daughter of Lucy Mekler, a good friend and a genuinely good human being. Her cheefulness, compassion, generosity, common sense, and sense of fairness will be deeply missed. "May her memory be a blessing."