Were our Experiences Worth Recording?

With thanks to The Story Reading Ape for first publishing this post.

This was the question I asked myself all those months ago in March 2020, when the WHO declared Covid19 a pandemic. At first, I didn’t expect the resulting lockdowns and self-isolation would last very long or that there would be not just one wave, but three or four. However, since so many were experimenting with innovative virtual platforms, where we were already recording new episodes of our weekly radio show, Word on the Hills, it seemed a good moment to try to maintain connections and support within our writers’ group.,

Photo by Ted Amsden

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We moved our monthly meetings to Zoom and set up critique groups in the following months. We discovered that people reacted differently to the strange, often frightening, conditions of 2020, and many were writing in response to them. Kim Aubrey and I decided to set up a blog on our Festivals’ site, festivalofthearts.ca, called A Journal in Times of Pandemic and Lockdown and were delighted to receive a great variety of poetry and non-fiction ranging from the philosophical to the humorous, travel and opinion pieces, memoir and nostalgia as well as extracts from novels which some of our authors were then working on. The blog became a useful vehicle for keeping in touch with our fellows.

Photo by Ted Amsden

As the year progressed it became clear that we were building a collection of pieces that could become the basis for an anthology. When the blog closed down at the end of February 2021, we started work on its transformation into an e-book. The blog pieces were short but many of them were illustrated with photographs of the world around us, reminding us that nature in our area was flourishing in the face of the pandemic, or pictures of the people or events being written about. We saw an opportunity to publish more photography and art work and solicited these from those of our members who have skills and experience in these fields. And to extend the range of writing represented by the blog items and include some longer pieces, we also asked for short stories from those who had been writing them during months of lockdown.

Richardson Road Photo by Ted Amsden

Though we originally saw the blog as just a record of a difficult and challenging year and still believe it has value as such, we found that it also encouraged innovation and experimentation among our writers as they tried different modes of expression, wrote about their feelings and experiences in alternative ways and, in spite of the limiting circumstances, continued to publish both short pieces and full-length books, finding new ways to market their work.

Photo by Ted Amsden

Our experiences have shown us that difficult times, which affect us both globally and locally, prompt innovation, creativity and even new opportunities to address long-standing societal problems and injustice. This anthology is published on behalf of The Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 an organization dedicated to celebrating the role of the arts in building strong and healthy communities.

Our vision is to bring together artists and communities in Northumberland and beyond to celebrate the meaning and value of art in our lives, the joy of creative practice, and the role of art in helping us to better understand both place and people.

Planning for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts, 2022, is underway. Follow our progress at festivalofthearts.ca.

Can Curiosity fuel your Creativity by Felicity Sidnell Reid, originally posted on The Story Reading Ape’s Blog

Curiosity has a two-sided, Jekyll and Hyde character. Its negative connotations have been enshrined in a proverb, no less, —who hasn’t heard that ‘curiosity killed the cat’? Is this a warning to mind one’s own business, or to avoid interference in ‘other peoples’ affairs? In fact, the saying’s origin can be traced to a misquotation from Ben Jonson’s 1598 comedy Every Man in his Humour. “Helter skelter, hang sorrow, care’ll kill a cat….” Care in those days most commonly meant either worry or sorrow and had no relation to inquisitiveness. But in the days when children were discouraged from asking questions, which their parents or teachers found difficult to answer, the old saying provided a neat standard answer. Since children have always been curious, wanting to find out about both themselves and the world they live in, they still ask awkward questions, often at the worst possible moment, and no doubt the old answer sometimes springs to the mind of their “interrogatee”.

However, most of us have recognised that curiosity is the foundation of education— especially self-education. Eleanor Roosevelt once said that if a mother could ask a fairy godmother to give her child the most useful of gifts, that gift should be curiosity. Scientists have always valued it as the key to discovery and invention. Philosophers, religious and secular, eternally questioning have produced the theories and the structures that influence the ways in which we live. Albert Einstein summed up his thoughts on the topic in the following quotation, “The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing”. We need to preserve the enthusiasm for information and new ideas we had as children, if we want to live life to its full.

Recent research into health in old age has shown that curiosity is associated with the maintenance of a healthy central nervous system and significantly influences survival and longevity. Curiosity often requires us to process complex information, but also activates our senses of wonder and excitement. This combination of the intellectual and emotional is powerful. Thomas Hobbes, the English philosopher (1588-1676) best known for his controversial argument that a social contract giving all authority into the hands of government protects the individual, because man, in a state of nature, must live a life “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” also, surprisingly, wrote, “Curiosity is the lust of the mind.”

Curiosity however doesn’t only prompt our investigations into the nature and construction of the world around us, or produce innovations and practical inventions, it is the driving force behind our imaginative and fictional constructions. Aristotle’s five questions Who? What? Where? When? Why? may help us organize our material, but a more ancient need inspired the stories and legends passed down through generations. They offer explanations of the nature of the world, and of people, and were created when people became curious and asked questions. Storytellers have always had a special role (not always recognised) for they make their own sense of the world we live in, and in building characters delve into why we act as we do. They may be inspired by the question “What if?” or speculate about future, or alternative societies, thus commenting on, or examining, the moral framework we accept in contemporary times. Speculation also liberates the imagination.

Creativity can also contribute to our survival and mental health. All sorts of adaptations and innovations to the way we live have been made as a result of the Covid pandemic, just as many were spawned in other pandemics and times of war or disaster. And for the individual who looks for the opportunity to create, taking up a new hobby for example, or getting caught up in making bread, composing a poem or song, making an ice rink in the yard, photographing their surroundings, sewing masks for family and neighbours, painting a picture, gardening, making connections with others, even virtually, the rewards are great. Concentration on a new, or already beloved, activity leaves less room for stress and worry, providing a welcome break on those many days which seem so like each other and so dull.

So never stop asking questions—and may those questions lead us all to a more creative life.

Under the Second Wave

 
 She pined in thought, 
 And with a green and yellow melancholy 
 She sat like patience on a monument, 
 Smiling at grief. 
 (Viola, Act 2 Scene 4 of Twelfth Night), William Shakespeare
 
 Grey days and silent streets
 states of emergency declared 
 now a stay at home order  keeps
 her at the window
 looking out—
 isolated
 once more.
  
 The news is grim—the cases climb—
 exponentially increase they say. 
 She hurries to reconnect herself,
 hunches over, nose too near
 her screen, she becomes
 bug eyed, reading numbers 
 of cumulative cases worldwide…
 ninety five million, eighty six 
 thousand, two hundred
 as of today.
 Can she smell death, in spite
 of locked doors and closed windows?
 For don’t forget that two million 
 thirty three thousand, three hundred 
 and twenty of those people died
 worldwide---that she knows about.
 And how many more have passed away,
 been buried in a hurry or their records
 lost? 
  
 Numbers do not 
 mean much on this scale—
 pandemics dehumanize
 depersonalize— leave us all
 to absorb the horror  
 on our own.
  
  
 Perhaps that’s why so many 
 want to deny the facts, rebel
 against the edicts of government ,
 the advice of medical experts,
 she thinks…
  
 Can she, and everyone, 
 find such monumental
 patience as to carry 
 them across uncertain times?
 As vaccine rollouts shudder and shake
 supplies are tangled in red tape.
 And logistics…. do they know what 
 they’re doing, she worries
  
 And when will the world 
 wake up to its need to mourn,
 come to terms with such 
 enormous grief? 

School’s Out for the Holidays

CHRIS THE STORY READING APE’S BLOG

READER – WRITER – CURATED RESOURCES – & MORE

School’s out for the Holidays – Guest Post by Felicity Sidnell Reid…

Posted on  by Chris The Story Reading Ape

Afternoon darkness cloaks

the road.  The school bus,

late, puffs up the hill.

Its stop signs shoot

out, left and right,

as it stands still.

.

Scarlet paddles open, glow

on pumpkin coach, not

yellow school bus,

as small dark shadows,

fearing nothing, leap

into the piled up snow.

.

Towards a string of diamond lights

each cluster marking someone’s house,

a band of spirits twirl and dance.

They call like birds in their delight

as lit up firs show them the way

and reindeer on a rooftop prance.

.

Copyright © 2020 Felicity Sidnell Reid

With thanks to the Story Reading Ape hanks for posting this poem.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake by Cynthia S. Reyes and Lauren Reyes Grange: Review by Felicity Sidnell Reid

illustrated by

Jo Robinson

What makes a picture book special? Perhaps, in this case, it’s a “marriage of true minds” between two authors who love children and the bond they have developed with their illustrator, Jo Robinson.

The series is dedicated to building children’s self-esteem and confidence, achieving self-acceptance and celebrating difference. Myrtle’s adventures illustrate the importance of friendship, of supporting those who are facing difficulties, of giving and receiving help and encouraging empathy.

Myrtle and the Big Mistake is the fourth book in this successful series which takes on important topics in a way that engages the hearts and minds of young children, but also appeals to older siblings, parents, teachers and grandparents, offering opportunities for discussion about problems that many children face every day and giving young listeners an opportunity to develop their own ideas about how to tackle these.

Myrtle is a loveable character, self-aware and serious but at the same time friendly and curious. Each story extends Myrtle’s experience of the world and expands her community of friends. In the first book she is hurt when a bullying stranger turtle claims she can’t be a turtle since she is purple. She longs to be green like others in the Big Pond. Her friends however point out that each of them is different —one is a brownish colour, one has spots, another has a differently shaped shell and that they all love her purple shell.

In Myrtle’s Game, the turtles’ favourite game is a form of water-soccer. When they discover that some of the woodland animals play a similar game on grass they encourage Myrtle, their best “blocker” to ask if she can play. When the team tells her that turtles can’t play soccer, she and her friends get together to help her to become an even better player. After training hard, she asks if she can try out for the woodland team and they admit she is a good goalie so she plays with them, cheered on by her turtle friends. As she leaves the field she invites the team to come over and try playing water-soccer with them in the Big Pond.

In the third story, Myrtle Makes a New Friend, a fox family moves into the neighbourhood and some turtles become suspicious and angry. Adults say things that make Myrtle and her friends afraid. Myrtle is nervous but, when she meets young Felix Fox; he is hiding behind a bush and crying because he thinks that all the children will hate him. Myrtle kindly insists that this is not true and says she will be his friend. When Myrtle tells Felix, she is going to be late, he gives her a ride on his back to school, where Myrtle is able to introduce him to the others as her new friend and he becomes part of their play group.

The fourth book examines the fallout, when one of Myrtle’s classmates mishears and spreads a false story about another member of their class. This time Myrtle immediately steps up to defend her friend, Snapper, and tells the gossiper that the story is untrue. But the gossip spreads quickly and Myrtle and her friends have to track down the source of the story, Garret the parrot, and set the record straight. Garret tells all the animals he is sorry and that he made a big mistake. Still feeling bad and unhappy he is about to leave, but before he can fly away, Myrtle and Snapper to his surprise invite him to play. Children are engaged here in understanding complex problems and solutions, allowing them to sympathize with the characters and appreciate Garret’s remorse and his honesty at the conclusion to the story.They can also share in his relief and the happiness of the group of friends as they all go “off to play together”.

Myrtle, and her friends, new and old are deftly developed by the authors into characters who are hard to forget and easy to love. Jo Robinson’s well designed and colourful illustrations capture the emotional moments and turning points of these appealing stories. Young listeners will want to hear these tales repeated over and over again and will, no doubt, be anxious to hear the about Myrtle’s further adventures.

The End of Summer

Homesickness –
Guest Post on the Story Readig Ape's Blog for the end of summer, by Felicity Sidnell Reid…
Posted on  by The Story Reading Ape

A ragged bird is swallowed by dark trees
and stirring water, grey as packs of rats,
runs widdershins, below the heavy cloud.
Marge, swaying on the dock drops to her knees.

Her long dark hair trails down to touch the boat,
but cargo handed over, up she jumps,
her tanned face cracking with both smiles and nerves.
she hauls at jeans and buttons her red coat.

Neighbours drift in close, shouting their goodbyes.
She waves and calls, “I hope we’ll be back soon.”
Rolling down the long road to Ohio, Frank​
will murmur soothing phrases, while she eyes

the crushing weight of concrete towers which swing
across truck windows, like a pendulum.
“We will come back,” he’ll say. “No problem babe!”
But when? Suppressing tears makes her eyes sting.

Her freedom lost she’s curled against the seat,
She has no explanation for the dread
She feels as links to her one sanctuary
Stretch and stretch—threads so thin must surely break.

The cabin stands on rock strewn shore—at edge
of forest, river, lake and tiny town,
where her family, left behind, still lives.
She chose to leave them, giving Frank her pledge

to make a life with him—and he’s the best!
They have work and steady pay in Cleveland,
but she, a compass, always pointing north,
yearns to return— and with the geese to nest.

Copyright © 2020 Felicity Sidnell Reid
Felicity Sidnell Reid

Reprinting a guest post on the Story Reading Ape ‘s Blog from 2016

CHRIS THE STORY READING APE’S BLOG

READER – WRITER – CURATED RESOURCES – & MORE

#Read about Guest #Author Felicity Sidnell Reid…

Posted on  by The Story Reading Ape

Felicity Sidnell Reid

When I move house I always ask myself, how long will it be before I feel at home in this new place? I worry about being able to join a new community? Will I meet people who will become friends? My novel Alone: A Winter in the Woods probes those questions and others that arise for immigrants and settlers, wherever they find themselves.

01

I’m wearing a T shirt today which says “Never stop exploring,” but I discovered long ago that exploration doesn’t necessarily mean travelling, but instead digging deeply into one’s surroundings. When I left Toronto, to live in the country after many years teaching in the inner city, we explored the area around our new home. One of our favourite places is Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a small peninsula which curves out into Lake Ontario. Mixed woods and a marsh harbour a multitude of birds, animals and wild flowers. The park also contains an abandoned farm, but not that of the first settler in the area whose name is preserved on a cairn just outside the park gates. A small plaque also records the fact that he, Obediah Simpson, brought his young son and some cattle to their land grant in January 1796, over the lake ice. After building a cabin, he returned to his previous home to collect his wife and young family and bring them up the lake by boat in the spring. The 12 year old boy, stayed alone in the woods taking care of the cattle and the tiny homestead for a couple of months. It was an unforgettable story, prompting questions, which seemed unanswerable.

02

The Cairn outside the park

After some research, I found that Obediah and his wife died little more than ten years after their settlement. Documents about Simpson’s military service and ones relating to his land grant were readily available and he left a will and an inventory of his belongings. His eldest son took over the farm and raised his young brothers and sisters. But the family left no letters or journals that I could discover. What they had thought and felt remained a mystery.

03

For a time I brooded over these questions: were families so very different in the eighteenth century from those of today? What might the feelings of the boy’s parents have been about leaving their son alone and what were those of the boy himself? Did parents have very different expectations of their children than we do today? And how could a youngster cope with the responsibilities of keeping himself and the cattle alive and his frightening isolation? In our “connected” world, being completely unable to communicate with family and friends is almost unimaginable, especially for young people. How would the boy deal with such solitude? I wondered how my own sons and some of the students I had met in my years of teaching would respond to this dilemma and concluded that though the challenges and their responses might be different, they would rise to them and that many had already done so. Perhaps it wasn’t so difficult to imagine this boy’s experience, after all.

Slowly the character of John Turner began to come to life and his family grew around him. Alone: A Winter in the Woods is the product of those years of trying to answer the questions which haunted me. The family left behind at the old community became important in the exploration of beliefs, ideas and feelings that might motivate people at that time. Their life is recorded, in her journal by Josephine, a young woman from Montreal, adopted by the Turner family after her mother dies. She has own adventures as she struggles to overcome her feelings of isolation as an “outsider”. Pa and John, travelling through the icy woods to an empty township, have a strong relationship and build on this to increase their trust in each other, while they clear the ground and build a first cabin on their land. That trust strengthens them both, when they have to part. During John’s solitude he comes to know the land grant well and begins to love his surroundings. But it is the work he puts into taking care of the animals, planting a garden, defending the homestead and preparing the cabin for the arrival of his family which most contribute to his perception of the land as home.

04

With my grand-daughter at the launch of Alone: A Winter in the Woods

I wrote, with a colleague while teaching, several text-books and books for teachers, but later became interested in writing fiction. I, with another friend, wrote two mystery novels that we sent to a few publishing companies but then forgot about them. I’ve published poems and short pieces in anthologies and journals and belong to a regional arts’ group, Spirit of the Hills. The writer-members have produced two anthologies, a mixture of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction called Hill Spirits and Hill Spirits II (Blue Denim Press, 2012 and 2015) I have been one of the editors for these as well as a contributor.

05

And finally, I am the co-host of a local radio show Word on the Hills in which we interview regional writers and invite them to read from their work.

06

In the studio

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Alone: A Winter in the Woods released as e-book

First published on the Story Reading Ape’s Blog August 19th 2020.

I’m excited to announce that almost five years after the publication of Alone: A Winter in the Woods as a print edition, the book is now being released as an ebook

Alone: A Winter in the Woods is a story for all ages. It quickly engages the reader in thirteen year-old John Turner’s adventures. Forced to grow up quickly, while left alone on the family’s land grant in a virtually unsettled township, on the shore of Lake Ontario, in the winter of 1797, John has to overcome devastating isolation and loneliness. With only a pair of oxen, a pregnant cow, a handful of chickens and his dog to keep him company, everyday tasks become ten times more difficult than they were while Pa was still with him, building their tiny cabin. Meanwhile John’s mother has adopted the orphaned Joséphine, who keeps a journal recording the life of the Turners and her own experiences, while the family waits for Pa to return to Adolphustown to escort his wife and young children up the lake to the new settlement once spring allows water traffic to resume. This tale explores the differences and similarities between family life and expectations in the eighteenth century and the present, as John and Joséphine reflect on what home, family, and friendship mean to them and struggle to find the courage, determination and faith needed to face the future.

Reviews:

Felicity Sidnell Reid delivers a compelling, at times harrowing, adventure story that will be enjoyed by readers of any age…The book is filled with such vivid descriptions of the forest of Upper Canada, the rivers and marshes, the glimpses of Lake Ontario in the distance, and the changing seasons that the reader easily imagines sharing these surroundings.

Peggy Dymond Leavey, biographer of Mary Pickford, Laura Secord and Molly Brant, and author of nine novels for young readers.

Alone introduces us to a panoply of characters–homesteaders, loyalist refugees, a young woman from Quebec, a family of Ojibwas, and a Methodist circuit rider. They made up the cultural patchwork of Canada then and foreshadow the multiculturalism of today. Alone is a coming of age story crowded with life and youthful derring-do.

Erika Rummel, author of many prize winning novels, the most recent being. The Road to Gesualdo and Three Women and Alfred Nobel

The novel, Alone, skilfully combines historical fact with the writer’s imagination. Felicity Sidnell Reid’s writing brings us into the heart of a boy’s thoughts, and his courage, calm in the face of fear. She weaves history into the story much as an artist underlays a painting so that when one is finished, one has been on a journey back to 1797 with a young teen.

Patricia Calder, photographer and author of Roadblock

Felicity Sidnell Reid’s skill as a historian, observer of humanity and wordsmith allows her to add depth and nuance to this story in the detail with which she presents the routines of everyday life, the human themes she addresses, and the incisiveness of the language she employs. Both principal characters are captivating. For the greater part of the story, John is physically isolated from his family and lives entirely without neighbors save for the occasional passing trader, Ojibway band or circuit rider. Perforce he must learn how to best cope. Josephine, though living with the rest of Turner family in Adolphustown, is within an alien culture and not yet quite adapted to her new environment. John’s perspective allows us to see what is going on at the ‘sharp’ end of settlement where no roads or villages yet exist; Josephine’s graphically illustrates what a small colonial settlement was like in those days and the pressures that bore down on a lone and vulnerable young woman.

Ronald Mackay author of The Fortunate Isle: A Memoir of Tenerife and many short stories and travel articles.

.The e-book can be found on the following sites:

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Wanderings of the Mind by Felicity Sidnell Reid

Northumberland Festival of the Arts

Pink Lotus, Photo by Peter Rudlinger from Pixabay

Recently I came across a file containing part of a novel I started writing a number of years ago, then put away and more or less forgot. Since re-reading it I’ve been trying to continue the story, which has allowed me to “travel” in this time of Covid, since the novel is set in northeast Thailand near the Cambodian and Vietnamese borders.

I pulled out books of faded photographs, guide books, one of Thai phrases and even a journal and settled down to recall the excitements and challenges I experienced travelling alone to an unknown place, where I didn’t know the language and where I had committed to teaching English at a teachers’ college for six months…

Thais are a wonderfully hospitable people. I was assigned a house on the campus and frequently taken to town to shop and eat out and…

View original post 431 more words

Loosening Covid Restrictions

Summer has come upon us after a long and, for many, a frightening and lonely spring. But there have been some positives to that lockdown season where I live; people have, on the whole, felt safe—instructions have been clear; politicians have listened to expert medical advice and followed it.

Communities pulled together to help their residents. Local organizations kept in touch with the elderly and stores stepped up or initiated delivery services. Telephone services for young people who need help in this difficult time, have risen to the challenge of responding to a large increase in calls. National Arts organizations have made video performances of both music and drama available for free, as well as discussions between artists, organizers and other participants, while local associations have encouraged their members to continue to create by setting up virtual art galleries and blogs where writers can share their current work or reflections.

Most of us have become familiar with platforms like Zoom, which have enabled us to attend family get-togethers, meetings with colleagues, and in my case, continue to record interviews for our radio series Word on the Hills. Not everyone has been able to work from home, but education, businesses, and other services have managed, with much effort and many challenges, to move online.

We’ve gratefully acknowledged the courage and dedication of essential frontline workers whether in health care, maintaining infrastructure or necessary services such as security, stocking shelves in the grocery store, or cleaning and disinfecting objects and spaces the public is obliged to use, but I hope that a fuller recognition and a deeper understanding of their contributions to our societal well-being will be part of our future.

Path through the Woods

Stage 2 of the recovery plan for the economy, instituted last week in areas of my province where infection rates are acceptably low or now non-existent, has brought some relief and excitement, but also more uncertainty and stress. Rules are less clear. While maintaining social distance is still regarded as key to preventing a new outbreak of the virus, meetings of up to 10 people are now allowed and family and friends may visit each other.

In public places like restaurants, service is only possible on the patio and regulations for the safety of both workers and customers have to be observed. Many businesses have, as essential stores did months ago, set up plexiglass barriers between dining tables, or between vendor and customer. Everyone who enters a store is advised to wear a mask, as is anyone who works there. As more people go back to work, Public Transit is requiring passengers to wear masks. Preparations for opening up can be elaborate and expensive. Not all companies are ready to go.

When restrictions were first loosened for Stage 1 several weeks ago, I was thrilled to be able to return to our local provincial park with my dog and delighted to find that people were conscious of social distancing regulations and willing to observe them. It was our first adventure— actually walking in a public place beyond my garden and neighbouring streets. Both these locales had left me more appreciative of my neighbours and neighbourhood, but being able to go further was real freedom.  I discovered that our favourite trails were less popular than the shore; we seldom met anyone but another dog walker or occasional cyclist, from whom we kept our distance while exchanging cheerful greetings.

So last week when we entered Stage 2 of our recovery plan I asked my hairdresser, who runs her business on her own, if she was ready to open up. She told me about all the precautions she’s taken and gave me an appointment. Last Friday, feeling I must confess a little nervous, I presented myself at the proper moment and was greeted by Val and her dog, Cody. Sanitizer in hand, Val smiled from behind two protective masks, while Cody blinked at me from his basket. We spent a relaxing time together, and I left with my hair tidied, trimmed and pinned up, determined to continue growing it until it can be easily styled even by me!

But our uncertainties and worries remain. How safe are we as governments loosen restrictions? Will people follow advice once it is no longer a strict rule? Will we find ways to support vulnerable members of our society needing homes, food and jobs? Will money and profits once again become more important than people and healthy communities? Will we remember and act on the lessons of the pandemic with regard to health, travel, education, modes of living, politics, justice and climate change— systems and issues that affect the whole world as well as each individual life?

Thanks to Chris Graham, The Story Reading Ape, who first published this post on his blog