Remembering Alistair MacLeod

 

Alistair MacLeod & 2003 Creativing Writing Class

I met Alistair MacLeod during the cocktail reception for Humber College’s week long Creative Writing Workshop. The year was 2003. Alistair had corralled his seminar students to meet them and to establish the reading plan for the first two days

Up until that evening, I believed that I was in Alistair MacLeod’s group because he had been my first choice for a seminar leader. What I learned after talking to fellow students terrified me. He had been the first choice of more than half of the students I was meeting. They had arts degrees; I had two science degrees. Clearly there was a problem. Why would I be given my preference over others who had been writing creatively all their lives? Self-doubt crept in and settled in my gut.

So, it was with an uneasy feeling that I met Alistair MacLeod with my fellow seminar students.

“Which one of you is Lendrum?”

Oh no. This was it. My stomach lurched. “I am sir.”

“Good. We will start with your submission tomorrow.”

I was as close to fainting as I have ever been.  With absolute certainty I knew I had been placed in Alistair MacLeod’s seminar group to illustrate how not to write. I approached the next morning with trepidation.

Alistair chose to begin the class with a discussion about writing, and deferred our reading of each other’s material until the next day. Perhaps he had seen my look of terror.  If so, I was grateful. Alistair set the tone early on by saying, “Some of you have good beads but don’t yet have a necklace.”  Had I been less caught up in anxiety, I would have known that nothing bad was going to happen in this group. We would be safe to explore our own and each other’s creativity.

My fellow students were an accomplished group and eager to share their work. They were bright, generous, and inquisitive. I listened intently to how they asked questions, provided affirmations, and I scribbled furiously whenever Alistair spoke. Somehow I managed to manoeuvre my way down the presentation roster, which only delayed the inevitable. It was not until Wednesday afternoon, with my presentation behind me, that I began to relax—a little.

I have kept my notebook from that week, and they are full of Alistairisms.  The admonition that keeps me going on slow writing days is, “Write what you care about. Write about what worries you.” Or something like that. My handwritten notes from the first two days are tight and cramped. I had not yet unclenched. If I had been able to muster the confidence, I would have said to Alistair that the week had been special, memorable, and that his encouragement left me convinced that someday I would be a writer.

Bonnie Lendrum is the author of Autumn’s Grace, published by Inanna Press in 2013.

(Photo – Front row L-R: Mary Jo Morris, Helen Du Toit, Alistair MacLeod, Bonnie Lendrum.  Back row L-R: Rob Marsh, Ian Colford, Sally Moore  . James Bartleman, Michelle Butler- Hallett, Rod McDonald)

Two Springs Times Two

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If there is anything on earth more luxurious than having two springs in the same year, I have not yet encountered it. The burst of landscape colour is exhilarating. The bird song is uplifting. The sunshine after the grey days of March is welcome.

We left Canada, mid-March, between two major winter storms. Eight hours later we arrived in Nice, France to warm, golden light and and yellow-green grass in its early shades of post dormant recovery. As we drove west toward Entrecasteaux we marveled at daffodils in full bloom. We have been here now for three weeks which means we have watched the flowers fade and then develop their seed pods. As we have toured from town to town in search of yet another fromage du chevre and vin rosé we have seen cherry trees in full blossom, forsythias in batch plantings brightening the hillsides, and naturalized irises poking elegant purple heads through the roadside fescues, We have enjoyed watching the trees come into leaf with the the willows in particular being most advanced for their shiny new leaves and downy green blossoms. Yesterday as we drove near Toulon we were delighted to see the first sight of green sprouts from the rows of gnarled grape-vines.

To say that a year with two springs is wonderful is an understatement. Our first year with two springs was twenty-five years ago. Our departure from Montreal had been fretful. Seven days before D-day I had had an amniocentesis, and had stupidly not realized before the procedure that a risk, albeit low, was a mis-carriage. While I was in a state of heightened anxiety and protectiveness, my husband was having difficulty breathing. Four nights before D-day Kenn was in the hospital emergency with “searing hot knife-like” pains in his chest. (This was the description from a man who usually is incapable of describing discomfort in words other than “It hurts.”!) A diagnosis of pleurisy was made and medications were prescribed. The much awaited vacation seemed almost out of reach, yet we mustered our courage and left Montreal in yet another a snow-storm. When we arrived in Paris it was spring, and while we knew that would be so, we had not realized the impact it would have on our spirits. Chest pains disappeared; breathing became easier; anxiety abated. For the next four weeks we cycled through the Loire and Dordogne Valleys reveling in the warmth, the colours, the tastes, the fragrances, and novelties such as sturdy iron frames covered with wisteria in full bloom. Toward the end of our trip we were in Lyon, sitting beside a pool when I first felt the baby. My best description is a sensation of champagne bubbles followed by a flip or somersault-like movement. It was a moment of bliss. A few days later we were back in Montreal where the snow had melted, and winter coats, wool hats and boots had been replaced with trench coats, ball caps, and leather shoes. That August, our son, Luc, was born in what we say was “Our year of two springs and a baby.”

Twenty-five years and two sons later we are encountering our second year with two springs. This weekend we are joined by Luc, who is studying in Prague. True to the first experience of him, he enjoys drinking champagne and while he may still be capable of somersaults, he prefers to snowboard or play basketball. This evening the three of us will head into the village for a night of jazz held in a former Moulin d’ Huile.

It sounds perfect, and it is … almost. However, we are missing our second-born, Mathew, who is Sackville, New Brunswick trudging through snow and writing his fingers to a bone as he wraps up his under-graduate degree. Were he here with us, the family circle would be complete.

Next week, the end of week four and the middle of April, we return to Canada. The last patches of snow will be melting under the evergreens, the crocuses will have started to sprout in the back yard, the maple trees will be in full bud, and I will begin making regular forays to garden centres. I will spend the next several weeks  digging in the garden, pulling weeds, and amending soil. There will be days when my fingernails will be as dirty as the knees of my jeans, and it is likely that my back will hurt from all the digging, pulling and lifting. I hope on those days that I remember to pause, sip some vin rosé and say “Merci!” for the privilege of being able to enjoy two springs in one year. May there be many more.