amongst books

amongst books

Sunday, February 06, 2022

Everything Affects Everyone by Shawna Lemay: A Response by Means of a Fictional Conversation

 I love all of Shawna Lemay’s writing. I follow her blog, Transactions with Beauty, delighting in her gorgeous photos and her references to other writers and artists. I have devoured her essay collections and her novels. I’ve sat slowly with her poetry, surrounded by other books and little doodles. I relish the quiet thoughtfulness that Shawna’s writing provides. It nourishes me.

 Everything Affects Everyone (Palimpsest Press, 2021) is the story of friendship and art shared between women, the need to ask questions and not necessarily have the answers. It explores the idea of whether writing about one’s art removes the mystery or helps assuage loneliness. It’s not really an either or. This is not a binary question.

 “But if we don’t talk about women artists, if we don’t keep them in the air with our breath, they’ll vanish.” [206]

 Yes too, the angels. The angel. The mystery. The wonder. The pain. I’m leaving out much of the angel part of the book because I don’t want to ruin the mystery.

 For me the most satisfying response to work I’ve made is another creative work made by someone else.  I enjoyed the conversations between women in this book and so I’ve made a fictional one here that is my attempt to infuse some of the elements from the book into my own misfit whimsy. This is an homage to dear women friends I don’t get to spend time with anymore, either because of the pandemic or because they’ve moved away or both. A few names are anagrams for those I love.

  Background

 Alanah M Yews (AMY) receives a parcel from her dear friend, Lara Ema Dan (LED). The parcel contains a number of items, including Everything Affects Everyone (EAE). They speak regularly over Zoom during the pandemic.

 AMY lives in a house by the sea in the Maritimes; LED lives in an apartment building in a small Ontario city. This is their conversation, interspersed with quotes from EAE. Page references and descriptions are between square brackets.

 “The insane gift of two women talking. So commonplace and yet so elusive. Like two birds singing to each other in a stand of trees—it’s hard to find the one singing, and then one off in another tree responds. You spot one and the song comes from another place.” [62]

 AMY: I was so happy to receive your parcel in the mail last week. You know how much I adore receiving mail.

 LED: I still remember receiving that first parcel from you after you’d moved away. I missed you so much. Eel grass tea for womanly complaints, you’d written on the label of the tin container. And a little squiggle that I knew was supposed to represent an eel.

 No letter or note, just the tea. You were so full of grief. I imagined you sitting on the porch of the house you’d purchased, overlooking the sea and rocking in a chair as the waves rolled in.  [Sips tea from a flowered china cup, coughs briefly.]

 AMY: Yes, exactly that. I missed my darling so much. I still do.  [Unbuttons her cardigan, her face is flush.] Another hot flash. You know how it is. [Takes a gulp of water, fans herself.]

 “I was interviewing and reading about people who lived with extreme sorrow and loss. How they can carry these terribly sad things inside them, but also function completely normally, and how most people who met them were unaware of this deeply, deeply sorrowful side of them. So it as if they were constantly two different people, co-existing: the one who carried the unspeakable sorrow and pain, and at the same time, the one who was fine.” [184]

 LED: [Nods.] I do. I’ve got the balcony door open and it’s -10 right now. When my family moved away from the small town I lived in as a child, my classmates mailed me letters and told me all about what happened in 101 Dalmatians, the book we were reading in class at the time. There were drawings and everything. It was beautiful.  I still see mail as this intimate way for friends to connect and keep in touch. I know it was a hard time after Zoe died. Your sweet daughter. I miss her too.

 AMY: You have kept me going with your letters and these conversations especially. Thank you, my dear.

 LED: [a brief pause as the two women smile at each other]

 So did you open the parcel right away?

 AMY: Well…[blushing], you know how I like to savour things slowly…to look forward to them. I let it sit on my kitchen table for a few days. I contemplated those violets you’d doodled on the envelope. Thought about ordering some seeds, dreamed of spring.

 These tangents. … 

 LED: I love a good tangent. I like that we don’t have to follow some kind of linear path in our conversations. We wind, we leap! It’s marvelous.

 AMY: Yes, me too.  That’s important to me. We’re ourselves with each other.

 Eventually I couldn’t bear it any longer and I opened the parcel. The first thing I noticed was your card, your near illegible handwriting in purple fountain pen ink and on the cover the painting of colourful wings. So lovely.

 “Ink is more than you think it is; it’s a kind of air that you breathe together in a small enclosed space.”  [107]

 LED:  Yes, my handwriting, ha! It drives some folk crazy, but not you. I feel comfortable sharing my self with you too. All our years of chats over tea.  

 

I’ve been painting those wings for a long time. I’ve always loved wings. I think of angels. I used to collect feathers, but my mother worried about bringing insects into the apartment. Feathers seemed magical to me. When we moved, I used to dream I could fly back to my old house, an hour away from the city. 



 AMY: I dream of flying still. The ground below blurs. I try to capture that sensation by taking the train. Remind me to send you the booklet of photos – my blurry snapshots on trains. I think you’d like them. I see a lot in the blur of things. Self-published, of course. Because who would publish it?


 LED: I’d love to publish it. If I had the money. I’ll take the booklet with pleasure. Blurry, yes. There are ghosts in the blur and angels. The way the light is captured. I’m excited to know what you looked at next.

“I touched the feathers, the dead feathers. And I felt everywhere he had been, everyone he had touched. I learned that everything affects everyone.” [80]

AMY: I read your card. I did manage to make out your handwriting. I know many can’t read it, but I always could. It’s art of its own, those slants and marks. I made myself a pot of tea as you asked, an aromatic chai you sent me in the last parcel.

LED: Tea makes me feel so much better. It warms the heart and sets my mind to dreaming. I should go make some tea too. [Wanders off, sound of water coming out of a tap, spoon hitting cup, returns.]

[AMY is holding up a tiny red notebook and little pen.] Welcome back.

 [LED] Sorry about that. I forgot to say I was going off.

 [AMY} I like hearing the sounds of tea making, of anything really, of another human being doing something that brings them joy. It’s so rare these days. We are both sequestered. There’s grace there.

 “Part of the reason I came here, to live out here by the lake, near Irene, or the ghost of her, is to let myself be me, for once. How many women get to do that? Some would use the word wild, but that’s not it. I just want to be myself with out any pressures. I want to be free to write things without any pressures. I want to be free to write things without coming to any point. I want to write as a bird might fly, in a direction of my choosing, free of obstacles. My flying is in multiple directions at once. Here it is lithe and balletic, there it is intense and furious, and then again it is dreamy., then fiery, then confidently muscular and airy and sexy. At last it is so quiet and faint it is a wisp.”  [194]

 As you instructed, I went over to my coat pocket and placed the notebook and pen inside the pocket for a walk with my thoughts. Then finally I opened the larger parcel. It was the book. Right away I was intrigued by the cover, a glowing white wing in the dark, its edges frayed or sparkling with snow. I couldn’t tell.

 LED: This book made me feel like walking through forests and writing down my impressions. I felt certain that I would find angels there. I haven’t been walking as much as I should during the pandemic. It’s rough in an apartment building, you don’t want to meet up with people and expose them or yourself to the virus. But I thought I might walk vicariously through you; maybe you could share your writings.

 AMY: I will. I promise. Maybe your colourful wing cards are a way to fly, to escape from the pent-up feeling, and the anxiety?

 LED: Yes, I think they are. I’ve given them to friends. My dear Violet Promches immediately sent back her own winged art, a textile piece with words from songs that feature wings. She’s a little older than us. She’s a rock star, ferociously driven to make art.

 “If you can believe in dreams and also in poetry, then you have probably already flown. You have moved through the air and soured over the mountains with steel in your wings. Your wings have been black stone, and carved dense snow, and have been covered with the finest moss, the sweetest small flowers. The believer of dreams and poetry and angels is a psychologist of flight and the reasons you fly and the sensations you experience while flying and your subsequent lightness and intoxication will be the subject of the book you write after you read this one, darlings.” [134]

 AMY: Women exchanging their art is such a wonderful thing. I’ve started an exchange with Ann Scrimritchie. Since the pandemic her garden has become so important to her.

 LED: Dearest Ann. She’s becoming a witch. I had some salves and tea from her not long ago. The lavender helps me to sleep. What did she send you?

 AMY: Dried flowers for tea, some of that salve and a pair of socks she’d knitted in my favourite burgundy and blue combo. [holds up a foot to show off the socks] [They both laugh.]

 LED: Don’t fall off the chair! They’re gorgeous!

 I see it’s late. Shall we resume our conversation tomorrow?

 AMY: Yes, please. I’d like to wander in the twilight for a bit.

 [They say their goodbyes.]

 [Next afternoon]

 LED: What I love about our conversations is that we always start in the middle. No small talk or meaningless banter. We just pick up where we left off.

 AMY: Exactly. I’m even drinking more of the chai tea you sent me.

[laughter] So where were we?

 LED: Hmmm. You were just starting to tell me about reading the book…

 AMY: Oh right! I took the pot of tea and the book out to the living room in front of the big picture window. It was early afternoon so there was still sunlight on the water and in the trees. I started to read. Right away I knew why you had sent me the book. There are friendships there, beginning with Daphne’s and Xaviere.

 “What does it mean when two women get together and hold a conversation, when they get to the point where only honesty comes into play?” [62]

 LED: Exactly that. How often do we read of women’s friendships? You and I have been friends since you lived here. I recognized you as a kindred the minute I saw you in the gallery, leading a tour of an exhibition of small things. I was there with another kindred, Diandra Lyres. She and I had just buried a poem of mine in her garden and had some lunch on her sunny back patio.

 In between bites of macarons, I told her about the exhibit. She loves small things. We jumped into her car and went to the gallery. There were tiny close-up shots of creatures and plants. I came over to you and asked you a question. Don’t remember what now. We chatted about them, and I knew we would be friends. This happens rarely, this feeling of recognition. Old souls meeting again.

 The artist was really something. I can’t remember her name.

 AMY: Elly Faye Vim. It took me a long time to convince her to show her art. She was a friend who hadn’t shown her work publicly. She gave her art out to dear friends as gifts. I collected these little canvas watercolours and collages she sent to me. I contacted others who’d received them and asked them to let me borrow them for a show. Some had given them away. It was like a treasure hunt, talking to people, finding the pieces. I felt like a detective. Eventually, and this would have been several years later, I had enough for a small exhibition, and I asked Elly if she’d mind if we put on a show. She was so touched by my efforts to find the pieces that she couldn’t resist. She agreed.

 “If we could lose our fear and truly become free making art, then maybe the rest of the world could also learn to be free. And by free, I mean sharp and innocent and incorruptible and utterly clear. We are scandalized by such humans, and this makes it hard for them to create the necessary space they need.” [96]

 LED: I’m glad you convinced her. I saw another collection of her work: slogans to piss people off, in the gallery after you’d left. It was fun and empowering. I’m glad she’s now able to be bold and show her art.

Did you read a long time?

AMY: I read only the first chapter. This is a book that I needed to read slowly in small bites. The little photo reproduction of the Albrecht Dürer artwork, Left wing of a Blue Roller. I gazed at it until my tea went cold. All those variations of blue in the feathers, and the join of the feathers to the body of the bird. I contemplated that connection. They say he painted it when looking at the dead bird. I thought about art and immortality. I went off for a while to my office and looked it up to see the painting online. I don’t know the author, but I believe she would like that her inclusion of this piece set my mind off on tangents. I’d like to make some woodcut stamps. Wings perhaps.

 LED: I agree. It’s inspiring to me when something I make leads someone to explore. You have a lot of ideas for making things! Me too. I thought you would like the descriptions of photography, the “time between seeing and capturing”... the hallelujah.

 AMY: Yes! Absolutely. It inspired me. I picked up one of my Polaroid cameras from the cabinet in my office that is filled with many cameras, both digital and film. I put on my coat, and I dashed out to the beach, which was covered in a light dusting of snow that glistened on the trees and I took 8 photographs, 8 being the number of film squares in the pack.

 LED: I remember reading that part and wanting to wander into a forest. There’s a forest of old trees in the middle of the city. I haven’t been there in ages. I wrote for awhile about those trees, how I see them as friends. Chauteaubriand wrote a whole memoir called Memoirs from Beyond the Grave where all the trees represented different ages of himself. This is something I wouldn’t do. I see trees as old friends, companions. They represent immortality to me too, even though they eventually die.

 “Trees are angels. Their bark can be read like braille, and I walk through the trees and feel each one, closing my eyes.” [115]

 “A: We’re having a love in!

M:  When women get together this happens, though, when we really listen to each other and look at each other. It’s simply that. That’s what’s happening. And I really do believe, if I can be said to be a believer, I believe that everything affects everyone. What we’re doing here has meaning. This is where meaning is found. where it arises.” [219]

//

ANAGRAMS

 Shawna Lemay - Alanah M Yews

Amanda Earl - Lara Ema Dan

Emily Falvey - Elly Faye Vim

michele provost – Violet Promches

Christine McNair – Ann Scrimritchie

Sandy Ridley – Diandra Lyres

 

//

 Biography: Amanda Earl (she/her) is a Canadian pansexual polyamorous feminist writer, visual poet and publisher, living in Ottawa, Ontario with her husband, Charles. 

She’s the managing editor of Bywords.ca, the editor of Judith: Women Making Visual Poetry and the fallen angel of AngelHousePress. 

From February 1 to March 12, 2022, Amanda is raising money by means of an IndieGoGo campaign to pay AngelHousePress contributors to NationalPoetryMonth.ca and Experiment-O. Please contribute if you can. 


Author of Kiki (Chaudiere Books, 2014, now with Invisible Publishing), A World of Yes (DevilHouse, 2015) and Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl (Coming Together, 2014), over 30 chapbooks, Earl’s most recent work is the short story, “Do Smurfettes Dream of Electric Blue Blush” published in Big Book of Orgasms: Volume 2, 69 Sexy Stories (Cleis Press, 2022). Most importantly, Earl is a reader. Please visit https://linktr.ee/amandaearl for too much information about Amanda Earl. Or connect with her on Twitter @KikiFolle.

photo by Charles Earl


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