Book Review: 13

13, Alexis Kienlen, Frontenac House Ltd., 2011, ISBN: 978-1-897181-53-9

Reviewed by:  R.D. Girvan

Originally Published in The Spruce Grove Examiner, October 2012

I was introduced to Alexis Kienlen, poet, fiction writer, editor and journalist, when she appeared as one of the panel members at the 2012 LitFest Event, “Author Promotion in a Digital Age”.  I was impressed with the way she expressed herself verbally, in terms of both speed and clarity.  I bought her latest book, 13, a follow up to She Dreams in Red.

I am very glad I did.  13 addresses issues such as childhood depression and the loss of love openly, truthfully and without self-pity.  Even given the often dark subject matter, Kienlen managed to produce a book that is also playful; there is a whimsical yet compelling section on the inner musings of a queen bee.  My favorite poem is called “clue”, one of the pieces that use children’s board games to speak to adult issues, laying the teen/grown-up transition bare upon the page.

I recommend this book because of Kienlen’s searing honesty.  Her work is deceptively simple; it is a quick read, and drops like a pebble into the waters of one’s mind.  Yet, much later, its ripples continue to spread.

Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness (and other Proverbs)

Better to Light a Candle than Curse the Darkness

(and other Proverbs)

I read the blurb on the back of Robert Fulghum’s book “Maybe (Maybe Not)” yesterday, where he speaks of holding opposing notions at the same time. He says, “…I wore two buttons on my smock when I was teaching art. One said, “Trust me, I’m a teacher.” The other replied, “Question Authority.”…’
It’s a concept that resonated with me, how we can simultaneously believe equally valued—and wildly conflicting—ideals such as:
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “Risk is a four-letter word”;
“Honesty is the best policy” and “Don’t tell tales out of school”; or
“Pride goeth before a fall” and “Don’t hide your light under a bushel.”

Brought up in a very English environment, I developed qualities our family valued, such as a stiff upper lip, a sense of reserve and a touch of understatement. But if I would like to get a word in edgewise at home nowadays – well, let’s just say that one needs to be a little more forward in order to be heard. My mother would call that type of wading into a verbal melee “interrupting.” This forum, however, is loud, it’s excitable, it’s quick and witty, and if you don’t sharpen your elbows at the buffet, there will be nothing left but salad. Luckily, I like salad. I guess that set would be: “One can never be too rich or too thin” and “Life’s short, eat dessert first.”

On October19, 2012, I attended the LitFest Panel discussion, “Author Promotion in a Digital Age” with a friend of mine. It was fantastic. Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail was the facilitator, and Dana Di Tomaso, Alexis Kienlen and Noah Richler covered items such as blogging and social media in an informative discussion on digital marketing techniques.

Following that, organizers found space for extra chairs, so we were able to buy tickets to Richler’s sold-out workshop, “Narrative Construction in Literary Nonfiction.” This talk addressed life as a writer and provided writing tips to improve the story so the idea can stick better. He also gave encouragement that struck home for me, saying that one doesn’t need to be young to be a “fresh new voice” as a writer. He said many people do not begin their writing career until much later in life, and that if one is compelled to do so, one should just write. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” – and “Truth will out.”

Afterwards, so fired up and enthused by the event and the atmosphere, I saw someone I wanted to talk to and marched right over there. Unfortunately, the individual was speaking with somebody else at that moment. Even less fortunate was the fact that they both seemed firmly ensconced in the Reserved Section, rather than the Festival Seating of Communication Techniques… Now, I’m there as a newbie writer, the ink is barely dry on my figurative press card, and I would have preferred to impress them favourably. “There’s many a slip, betwixt cup and lip” and “I got nuttin’…”

The embarrassment of that faux pas still sniggers at me, heckling from the cheap seats in my mind. “Those who do not remember the past are doomed to repeat it” and “Let it go”.

A few days later I was at my writer’s group, telling this story, carefully threading my way through the minefield between self-deprecating and self-denigrating humor. “Know thyself” and “Don’t be so hard on yourself.”

I had just reached the part where my enthusiasm overtook my manners and I interrupted a private conversation, when my daughter came up and said, “Sorry to interrupt, but…” Then, confused by our collective reaction, she asked, “Why are you all laughing?”

This brings me to my last and favorite dichotomous duo: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” and “Every generation, better than the last.” Thank goodness.

Canadian Karma

Leanne Myggland-Carter, Marketing & Communications Supervisor, Spruce Grove Public Library (on left) presenting Award Certificate to R.D. Girvan

I had entered Spruce Grove Public Library’s Post Card Travel Story Contest… and on October 20, 2012, I was thrilled to discover that I had won the Contest!  Here is my entry:

Canadian Karma ©2012 R.D. Girvan

On our last road trip, I stopped for fuel at a station with a drive-through.  I can’t mention their name, but it rhymes with “Lim Lorton’s.”  Not needing gasoline, I aimed for coffee, dispensed around back.

Two lanes waited, merging at a red-on-white sign that read:  “Please Alternate.”  That’s so Canadian.  Like a commercial for “Jim Jorton’s.”

We proceeded politely: right, left, right.  Then it happened: left, right, left, left…  A woman driving a small car scurried before a gentleman piloting a pick-up truck.  Occupying his rightful place in line, she sat squeezed against my back bumper like a spider evading a broom.  So close, you could not have slipped a “Gim Gorton’s” gift card between us.

The lady in front of me saw everything in her Lexus’ rearview mirror.  We shook our heads in shared disapproval.

The gentleman acted like a prince.  He was honorable.  He was dignified.  He was on the phone and may not have noticed a thing.  Not to worry.  Karma was calling, and I was just the girl to answer.

Reversing my SUV into Small Woman’s vehicle seemed slightly overzealous…  perhaps, instead of punishing her behavior, I should reward his.  I ordered Prince Pick-up a donut.

At the window, I overheard employees congratulating Prince.  He and I exchanged solemn nods, saluting through our side mirrors, right over Small Woman’s head.

It was fair.  It was just.  Then, I discovered Lady Lexus had bought my coffee.  It was karma—to go—at “Rim Rorton’s.”