Sunday, May 12, 2019

Book or Movie?

The first movie I ever saw that was based on a book was “Der gestiefelte Kater.” That’s German for “Puss in Boots.” Not sure how old I was when I got the book, but the movie (black and white) was the first I’d ever seen, and the most memorable thing was that just before the end the film broke. Was the movie a good adaptation of the Grimm’s tale? I have no idea.

It’s difficult to find out the name of the first book that was ever adapted as a movie – so many early films are lost to us. But there was “Cinderella” adapted by Georges Melies in 1899. You can  find it on Youtube.

Another black and white movie based on a book that I saw much later was Dickens “Great Expectations.” My impressions from the time are that it was a fairly faithful representation of the book. I can still vividly remember the graveyard scene between Pip and the convict.

I recently watched “The Giver” and though I liked the movie well enough, the book was much more nuanced and detailed, as well as different in several instances. The movie portrayed the mother as very cold, but in the book she wasn’t so one dimensional. I also liked that in the book the ending could be taken for reality or for a dream of dying.

I saw the movie of “The Giver” first and then read the book. The same was true of “A Man Called Ove.” Again, although I liked the film well enough, the book had more details that rounded the characters.

Often, I’ve read a book before seeing a movie. “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy was one such. I had read and loved the books for many years, returning to them regularly. I saw the attempt in 1978 of a mixed animation film directed by Ralph Baksi that was pretty bad. So when Peter Jackson came along, I went to the first movie with trepidation. But I loved all three, despite that fact that some of my favourite things had to be left out (movies can’t go on forever). I was hugely disappointed and hated almost everything about Jackson’s attempt at “The Hobbit.” The only things I liked were the dwarves singing in Bilbo’s hobbit hole, and the dragon. I did not go to see the other movies in this series.

In the case of Michael Ondaatje’s “The English Patient,” I like the book and as always, was awed by Ondaatje’s writing. But it wasn’t until after I saw the lush and passionate movie directed by Anthony Minghella that I truly appreciated the book. I went back and reread it. Despite differences between the two media, I think that in this situation (which doesn’t often happen) the two complement each other in the best of all possible ways. You should always both read the book and see the film in this instance.

Another wonderful adaption for me was the “Anne of Green Gables” series with Megan Follows, Colleen Dewhurst and Richard Farnsworth, in 1986. When you get something this good it seems silly and useless to try to repeat with a different cast, etc.

And then there are the adaptions where the book(s) are quite bad and the films or tv series are much better: The Vampire Diaries, The 100, Jurassic Park (the book was terribly written, the film pretty good).

What other book movie adaptions have I liked? The Hunger Games, To Kill a Mockingbird, Gone with the Wind, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Remains of the Day, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep/Blade Runner, The Grapes of Wrath, Little Women (1949 movie with June Allyson, Margaret O’Brian, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor).

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Cake Doesn’t Rise, Jello Doesn’t Jell, Story Doesn’t Work

Have you ever attempted to make Jello and it never does jell? It’s been a long time for me. The last time I made Jello (and it actually worked) was with my grandson some years ago because he wanted to try a dessert with gummi fish. It was OK, but reminded me why I don’t make or eat jello anymore. And when the stuff doesn’t come together there’s not much you can do, although I’ve heard you can try reheating, etc. But it’s probably best to throw it out.

Neil Gaiman says, (in the Intro to ‘Fragile Things’) “Writing’s a lot like cooking. Sometimes the cake won’t rise no matter what you do, and every now and again the cake tastes better than you ever could have dreamed it would.”

In this blog, I want to talk about the times when it doesn’t work. I’m thinking particularly of a fantasy that started out as a short story way back in the late 1980s or early 1990s. I entered it in the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Short Manuscript contest, and though it got no award, the judge mentioned it and said that she thought it would make a good novel. So I began writing more of the story.

I now have reams of that story because when I started I was using a manual typewriter, and later when I started to use a computer, I printed out because I was afraid of something happening to the computer. We didn’t have The Cloud then or even memory sticks. The characters went through name changes. I wrote about their ancestors and the children. I even attempted bringing the fantasy into the present and back out again.

To date, none of this conglomeration has felt like a story that hangs together. But I’ve not thrown it out.

Writing may be a lot like cooking, but if you don’t throw it out, it doesn’t, thankfully turn green or rot or start to smell (except perhaps metaphorically).

Anyway, I’ve kept it and keep thinking maybe some time I’ll use parts of it or I’ll have a revelation about it.

Virginia Woolf wrote once to one of her friends, "here am I sitting after half the morning, crammed with ideas, and visions, and so on, and can't dislodge them, for lack of the right rhythm.” According to her, once you did find your rhythm, the words and the story came.

I haven’t looked at those pages and pages for a long while. Maybe it’s time. . .

Sunday, March 31, 2019


When I read a poem, story or novel, I do wonder what the author’s intention may have been, but I also have my own thoughts and reactions.

Last blog, I challenged readers to look for clues in one of my stories, that might reveal reasons for why the narrator saw what she did. These are possible answers.

The narrator in ‘Cold and Clear’ is pregnant and alone during a blizzard. Pregnancy and anxiety may lead to hallucinations, especially when drifting off to sleep.

Early on in the story we read, “I ate my supper some time ago – the last of the rye bread (somewhat stale) with homemade jam.” Rye grain can be subject to an ergot fungus, and consuming bread made from such grain can cause various symptoms, including hallucinations.

Exposure to sunlight can cause a variety of skin conditions. Later in the story we read of William’s aunt, “her face puffy and reddened.” As well, there are conditions that cause excessive hair growth (e.g. Werewolf Syndrome).

Frégoli Syndrome is a condition where a person believes that people he or she knows have taken on different appearances.

On the other hand, you can read the story more straightforwardly, as that of a woman who discovers something extraordinary and possibly dangerous about her husband, and after thinking of various things she might do, reaches a decision.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Cold and Clear

The following story is from my collection ‘A Rain of Dragonflies.’ It was inspired by Buffy Sainte Marie’s song, The Vampire. As is often the case, stories and characters take control and move things in the direction they want, so in the end, I didn’t write about a vampire.

The story, Cold and Clear, can be read as a fantasy or it can be read as a realistic story, with at least 3 possible explanations hinted at in the story as to why the protagonist sees what she does when she opens the door.

I challenge readers to find the 3 explanations. The first 3 people to correctly guess and e-mail me the answers will receive a free copy of ‘A Rain of Dragonflies.’
 E-mail me with your answers: booksserimuse@gmail.com

Cold and Clear

© Regine Haensel

The howl of wind round the house tonight sounds like a human cry. I long for someone to talk with and keep trying to make out words, but there’s only the sift and scatter of snow against walls, the movement of air nudging against corners and rattling the eaves. My grandmother used to say the wind carries the voices of all those who have vanished in storms. She believed in things like that – ghosts, herbal lore, and strange tales – but after she died I lost the knack or the inclination. I wish that husband of mine had made it home before the storm. Hopefully he’s not caught in it, but has found shelter somewhere.
    I go to each window in turn, scrape away frost, set a lit candle. Just in case. I can’t see any other lights out there, but wouldn’t unless someone carrying a lantern came close. The nearest farm lies at quite a distance. At the moment it feels as if I’m the last human left in the world, but I mustn’t think like that. Earlier, before the storm hid the sky, I noticed the full moon laying a path of light across the snow. Anyone should have found the way home easily thenWhen I decided to marry William, leave that eastern city and come out to his homestead, I had no idea how truly isolated we’d be or how strange this land was. Some neighbours when I first arrived delighted in telling me the most bizarre stories, usually about weather – like the time it rained frogs, or the year spring didn’t come until June and it snowed in August. It’s not that William lied to me, but I was in such a hurry to get away that I didn’t pay close enough attention to what he said. I know that he’s got no living relatives and inherited this property from an uncle who died in a blizzard. Oh, I wish I hadn’t remembered that just now. Still I never regretted my choice to go with William. The openness of the land expanded my heart so that I felt free again the way I did as a child in my grandmother’s house.
Tonight, however, I’m restless and feeling closed in. The baby kicks in my belly. I prowl – kitchen and living room combined, tiny crammed bedroom, and back again. I ate my supper some time ago – the last of the rye bread (somewhat stale) with homemade jam. Cleaned up. There’s nothing left to do but wait and hope that nothing has gone wrong. The doctor told me that I must remain calm, that with a first child a woman often worries excessively, or has odd cravings and fantasies.
William has been so kind. He didn’t laugh when I woke in the middle of one night wanting snow with syrup. If I have a nightmare about the baby having extra fingers or being born without arms, he holds me and rocks me.
Most of the time when we need supplies from town or when we’re going to visit the neighbours, William and I go together. Although he does like to wander off on his own periodically, walking on the prairie at night. Looking at the stars, he explains. I don’t mind; I like time to myself, too, always have. Grandmother encouraged it and sometimes joined me on my walks in the fields and woods. Early on in my life she began to tell me the names of trees, pointed out birds’ nests, and the tracks of animals. Later she showed me how to gather plants to make poultices, syrups and other concoctions for coughs, colds and more serious maladies. People came from miles around for her remedies. My mother tolerated it in those days, though she said they’d be better off going to real doctors.
The nearest doctor here is miles away in the town, so I’ve seen him only a few times. William wanted me to go and stay in town now that I’m well along, but I didn’t want to leave him. One of the neighbour women has six children; she said she’d come when I needed her. Lately William has been insisting that I stay close to home. It has fretted me. Not only because I’d rather be with him, but also because it reminds me of my mother and stepfather. Before she met him, my mother didn’t seem to mind my wanderings, but once she married again she changed, anxious all the time about being respectable and doing things in the proper way. My stepfather is a clergyman and very conscious of his position in the community. He always said a clergyman’s family had to be above reproach. I married William because he wasn’t like them.
If only I could remember more about my real father. Grandmother once told me that he called me ‘Sprout’ and used to carry me on his shoulders. He died when a tree fell and crushed him. I was barely three at the time. He was a lumber jack, supposedly a good one, but I guess things can go wrong for anyone. My mother never talked about him much and the only picture of him she kept was their wedding portrait. Even that one disappeared when she met my stepfather.
It’s a bit chilly in the house, so I go to the wood box. William brought in enough before he left to last several days, though he wasn’t planning to be away for more than one. He’s thoughtful that way. As I pick up a split log a spider dashes away. I wait until it has found a safe hiding place in the box before adding wood to the fire.
It seems to me that my mother wiped my father out of her life the way a teacher erases the chalk on a board. Later, she did the same with my grandmother. People died and they disappeared for her. I wonder whether she’s forgetting me now because she doesn’t write very often.
The warmth of the candles is starting to melt the frost on the windows. I peer out. Is that movement, a dark shape slipping behind a snow bank or just an illusion created by flickering light and moisture? Wild animals live out there. Foxes, coyotes. But my husband might be out there, too.
I go to the door. Press my ear to the wood. Can’t hear anything but the wind. I push the door against the force that holds it closed. Then I have to hang on with both hands to the wooden handle that William carved, so the door won’t be torn away from me by the gale. Snow stings my face. It’s almost impossible to see anything in that whirling storm.
“William?” I shout. “William!”
The growl of wind swallows my voice. My eyes are drawn by the vortex, hypnotized by swirling snow. The wind is singing an accompaniment to a dance of vague shapes.  I can imagine ghosts or spirits of wind and snow playing there, calling and beckoning. But I mustn’t listen, mustn’t let them seduce me with their wild song. My mother didn’t want me to marry William. She said he reminded her of my father. That was the first time in a long while that she spoke of him. She said the forest got into his blood and lured him away. I pull the door shut and latch it securely.
My face is numb and my fingers nearly frozen. I drag the rocking chair close to the stove and wrap a blanket around myself. Start to rock, stroking my belly and crooning to the baby, an old Russian lullaby that my grandmother taught me. I don’t remember all the words and know the meaning only vaguely – bear cubs snuggled up with their mother, wolf pups safe in the den. She would hold me on her lap and sing it to me nights that my mother had to work late serving at a party at one of the big houses – doctors, politicians, lawyers. My mother was housekeeper to a lawyer for a while, before she met my stepfather. She didn’t go out to work after they married and I wondered sometimes whether she missed the parties. My mother wouldn’t like William’s homestead at all, though I think Grandmother would have been in her element here. It seems strange that such a woman could have my mother for a daughter. I wish Grandmother had lived long enough to see me married.
I rouse suddenly from a doze, sure that something is wrong. A sound woke me, but I don’t know what it was. All the candles have gone out, and it’s very quiet; a faint glow comes in through the windows. I get up to look out of the nearest one where frost has started to form again. I breathe on the glass, clear a space.
The full moon hangs in a coal-black sky scattered with stars, and moonlight gleams on snowdrifts, transforming them to silver. It’s a storybook landscape, a scene from one of the Russian fairy tales my grandmother used to tell. I almost expect a troika to come dashing over the fields or the Baba Yaga to cross the sky in her mortar and pestle, screeching and waving her broom, on the trail of Koshchey the Deathless, perhaps. But there’s no movement at all.
Then I hear a thump against the house. I can’t see William or the sleigh and horse through the window, but maybe he got lost in the storm and came from the wrong direction. What else could it be? I hurry across the room and fumble at the latch. Press against the door, but it won’t move. There’s an obstruction on the other side – a snowdrift maybe, but what if it’s William, collapsed there, hurt? I exert force.
Call through the crack. “William?” All I can hear is an odd snuffling noise. “Husband? Are you there?”
“No,” a hoarse voice whispers, “don’t open the door.”
It’s William’s voice, though he sounds as if he’s got a sore throat or a cold. So ignoring his words, I manage to get the door open enough to poke my head out. He’s huddled nearby in a snow bank, arms around his head.
“William, what are you doing?” I push a hand through and reach for him.
Between his elbows I glimpse eyes gleaming, but there’s a shadow over the rest of his face. Or is that hair? William’s beard grows awfully fast if he doesn’t shave regularly. Surely he hasn’t been gone long enough for this much hair, unless I’ve lost track of time. Are those sharp white teeth grinning in a misshapen mouth? This can’t be William. I am rigid, frozen to ice.
“Sorry, Anna,” William’s voice growls. “Tried to stay away, but got lonely for you. I know I should have told you about this before, but I wanted you so much. Shut the door now, leave me out here.”
Then he snarls and snaps at my still extended hand. My paralysis melts. I pull back. 
“Sorry,” he growls again. “These mood swings.”
I peer at my husband through a crack in the door. I’m probably still asleep, dreaming one of those tales of my grandmother’s. Werewolf. The word twists on my tongue, but I shut my lips on it. Then I put a finger into my mouth and press my teeth into it, hard. It hurts and I don’t wake up. Whether this is a dream or not, I can’t keep standing here in the cold.
For better, for worse, that’s what we said in the marriage ceremony. I’m sure, however, my mother and stepfather would say in cases like this I’m under no obligation. If a husband turns out to be radically different than you thought perhaps you should leave him, even with a baby coming. My mother and stepfather are a long way from here, though.
The first time I saw William he was leaning over the neighbour’s fence, wearing that big hat he likes to wear in the sunshine. Later he told me that he’d come east for the funeral of the aunt who raised him after his parents died. I remember that woman, a recluse who seldom ventured out of her yard. I caught a glimpse of her once, her face puffy and reddened. My mother said she had some kind of skin condition. The day I met William, I’d gone into the back yard because my mother was cleaning again, making a lot of noise and commotion. There was a patch of herbs in the corner under the trees that Grandmother had helped me plant, and I liked to crush a few of the aromatic leaves between my fingers or rub them on my skin.
“You’ve got an oak leaf in your hair,” William said. “Does that make you a dryad?”
He’d startled me, so that for a moment I just stared. Looking idiotic, I’m sure, though William said afterwards that to him I just seemed alive with light and life. He smiled at me out of the mysterious shadow of his hat, and I barely noticed the scars on his cheeks. I wanted some of his mystery for myself, a little adventure perhaps. Wanted out of the gloomy house and the gloomy life that my mother was making for herself.
William may be fine if I shut the door and leave him out there. He could sleep in the shed with the horse and wagon; there’s hay in there and I know he had a blanket with him. Though maybe the horse won’t like it. Will it be safe? I’ve been waiting for William all night.
I don’t know what might happen if I let him in. If this were truly one of those stories, he would bite me and I’d turn into a werewolf, too. It’s too crazy to believe. Still, I have to consider our child. I grew up without a father, and though my mother worked hard, and my grandmother loved me, I still miss him. I don’t want that to happen to this baby.
What comes to mind from those tales of my grandmother’s are silver bullets and wolfsbane. But I have no gun or silver bullet and even if I did, I don’t want to kill my husband. I haven’t seen wolfsbane in years; however, if we get through this night, perhaps I’ll look into getting a plant. There’s one other thing I remember suddenly. I push hard at the door again and it springs open.
For a moment I feel as if the world has tilted and I’m standing on the edge of a cliff. A false move and we’ll all go crashing down. He’s lying some distance away in a hollow of snow, face hidden, unaware of me. There is no wind and the night is silent as if holding its breath. The babe in my belly is still.
“Courage,” I hear my grandmother whisper.
William and I chose each other. Maybe we married in haste and there are things we need to talk about, but already our lives are intertwined the way the threads of a spider’s web join to make a whole. My grandmother would tell me to believe in what I know in my heart.
Stepping out into the crisp night, I take a deep breath of cold air. It’s like jumping into an icy lake after a steamy sauna. Invigorates you.
 “William,” I say. Loud and clear.
It’s the third time I’ve addressed him by his Christian name. I’m not sure if this will work, or if I’m supposed to say his name three times in a row, close together, but I can always try again. Will do whatever it takes. My husband raises his head.
“Anna?” he mumbles.
The moon blazes behind him, throwing his face into shadow and dazzling my eyes so that I can’t see his expression. The tension between us is a rope stretched tight. What will happen if it breaks? I take another deep breath. “You’ve been gone a long time,” I say. “Come in and get warm.”
William rubs a hand over his face. Lurches to his feet.

Sunday, January 6, 2019


Anthony Storr wrote a book originally called The School of Genius, published in 1988. I bought it years later when it had been retitled Solitude. I was intrigued by that title because I enjoy my own company, and consider that a good thing. For those who believe in labels I might be called introverted. But that designation can have negative connotations, and I also like spending time with good friends, and people who share my interests. So I prefer to say I enjoy my own company.

In the Introduction to the book Storr writes, “Current wisdom, especially that propagated by the various schools of psychoanalysis, assumes that man (and woman – my addition) is a social being who needs the companionship and affection of other human beings from cradle to grave. It is widely believed that interpersonal relationships of an intimate kind are the chief, if not the only source of human happiness. Yet the lives of creative individuals often seem to run counter to this assumption.”

Storr then goes on to list a number of men that he calls great thinkers, who lived alone or never married or raised families. Here’s few women that he should have added: Roberta Bondar, Emily Carr, Kim Campbell (did you know she was born Averil Phaedra Douglas Cambell? I have no idea where the Kim came from), Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austen, Elizabeth I, Helen Mirren, Katharine Hepburn, Georgia O’Keeffe, Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothea Lange, Gabrielle Roy, and there are many more. Which is not to say that women who marry and/or have children can’t crave and have solitude.

Further on in the book Storr writes, “Modern psychotherapists, including myself, have taken as their criterion of emotional maturity the capacity of individuals to make mature relationships on equal terms. With few exceptions, psychotherapists have omitted to consider the fact that the capacity to be alone is also an aspect of emotional maturity.”

Of course, Storr’s book was written a long time ago, and psychology has changed as far as I can tell. However, many people apparently do not like to be alone. A Psychology Today article (Nov 2017) on Loneliness as a Subjective State of Mind states, “According to a recent study, many people prefer to give themselves a mild electric shock than to sit in a room alone with their own thoughts.” The article goes on to say that people who are alone are not necessarily lonely.

I have known this for most of my life. I love to spend time reading or listening to music or going for a walk or going to a movie or going for lunch or coffee – and all of these are activities I can happily do alone. I can also share them, but it’s not a case of need, but rather one of choice, and what I feel like doing. After all, you can feel very lonely while surrounded by people, even family or friends. And if you find yourself alone and it’s not your own choice, you can embrace the situation and find ways to enjoy that time.

I have another book, Words on Solitude and Silence that contains beautiful quotes:

“Listen in deep silence. Be very still and open your mind … Sink deep into the peace that waits for you beyond the frantic, riotous thoughts and sights and sounds of this insane world.” – Rabindranath Tagore

“Learn to be quiet enough to hear the sound of the genuine within yourself so that you can hear it in others.” – Marian Wright Edelman

“Loneliness is the poverty of self, solitude is the richness of self.” May Sarton

“Inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that’s where you renew your springs that never dry up.” Pearl S. Buck.

I’ll end with George Gordon Lord Byron:

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more,
From these our interviews, in which I steal
From all I may be, or have been before,
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne'er express, yet cannot all conceal.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Cognomen and Sobriquet

My big Webster’s dictionary, which I bought for $75 many years ago and still like to use tells me the following about cognomen:

Surname, especially the third of the usual three names of a person among the ancient Romans. Compare praenomen (the first name of the usual three), nomen (the second of the three usual names), and agnomen (an additional name given in honour of some achievement).

Cognomen is also defined as a distinguishing nickname or epithet (a characterizing word or phrase).

I did a bit more research, looking at my book, ‘The Roman Emperors’ by Michael Grant. Many of them did have three names. For example, the emperor Hadrian was named Publius Aelius Hadrianus. However, Gaius Octavius seems to have had initially only two names. An on-line site https://www.behindthename.com/glossary/view/roman_names tells us that during the early Roman Republic men had two names, so perhaps that explains Gaius Octavius. Gaius was the great nephew of Gaius Julius Caesar, and later adopted by him as his son. Gaius Octavius changed his name to Gaius Julius Caesar after his great uncle’s (adoptive father’s) death. Gaius Octavius was apparently called Octavian until granted the designation of Augustus (i.e. august), an agnomen. The above web site also states that a nomen was originally a clan name and the cognomen was a family name.

A man’s name might include his patronyms (father’s and grandfather’s names – I wonder if that’s the origin of Russian patronyms?) and a tribal name (I’m not sure if that’s different from a clan name). So the emperor Marcus Aurelius was at his birth given the names Marcus Annius Verus. His paternal grandfather was Annius Verus. The emperor Antoninus eventually adopted Marcus, who became Marcus Aurelius Antoninus. Aurelius was one of Antoninus’ names. Could get very confusing as a Roman could be called by his praenomen, nomen, or cognomen, or a combination of them. (Remember trying to read one of those Russian novels where the names keep changing?)

Roman women were apparently known by a feminine form of their father’s name, plus if there was more than one daughter, by their place in the family. So Antonia Major, Antonia Minor (or perhaps Secunda), Antonia Tertia. Later a feminine form of the father’s cognomen was also given to the daughter, as Antonia Juliana (father Antonius Julian).

I have three names, thus a praenomen and a cognomen, but my middle name is not a clan name so it probably would not be a nomen. Also I don’t have an agnomen.

A sobriquet on the other hand is defined (Webster again) as an assumed name, a fanciful epithet (that again) or appellation (name or title).

A sobriquet can be applied to a person or place.

For example, Saskatoon is affectionately called by some ‘The Paris of the North,’ also ‘The City of Bridges’ as is also Pittsburgh.

One of the queens of England was unaffectionately called ‘Bloody Mary’ for the persecution of Protestants during her reign.  London was known as ‘The Smoke’ because of its terrible periodic smog from coal fires. In early December of 1952 London suffered a ‘Great Smog’ which lasted five days, contained toxic pollutants, and said to have caused thousands of deaths. As a result, in 1956 England passed ‘The Clean Air Act’ in an attempt to reduce pollution. This act is referred to in China Miéville’s alternate city novel Un Lun Dun as the Klinneract, a secret weapon to combat The Smog.

Abraham Lincoln was called ‘Honest Abe’ apparently because when he worked as a store clerk and discovered he had short-changed a customer, he would go out of his way to find and pay that person what was owed.

Calgary, Alberta is sometimes known as ‘Cowtown’ because of all the beef cattle produced in the area, and because of all the cowboys around. Check out this site: https://albertaonrecord.ca/is-glen-cartoon-m-8000-40

One of Canada’s Prime Ministers, John G. Diefenbaker was often called ‘The Chief’ e.g. ‘Dief will be the Chief again.’

‘The Famous Five’ were a group of women who fought for women’s rights in Canada, and from 1927 – 1929 were involved in ‘The Persons Case.’ In 1928 the Canadian Supreme Court had ruled that women were not persons under the law (British North America Act) and thus could not sit in the Canadian Senate. (Most Canadian women got the vote for the Federal Election of 1918). The women (Emily Murphy, Henrietta Muir Edwards, Nellie McClung, Louis Crummy McKinney, Irene Parlby) appealed to the Privy Council of England, which reversed the Supreme Court’s decision in 1929. Cairine MacKay Wilson became the first Canadian woman to take a seat in the Senate on February 20, 1930. Her husband was opposed and had informed the Governor General that she would decline the nomination. Ms. Wilson accepted the Prime Minister’s nomination over her husband’s objections. In her first Senate speech she saluted the work of ‘The Famous Five.’

Enough of sobriquets, except to say that a long time ago a friend used to call me ‘Gretel’ in reference to my last name which is Haensel.

I love the connections words can make.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


On November 14 I listened to an interview on CBC Radio with Tom Power on Q.  He was talking to Heloise Letissier, aka Christine and the Queens aka Chris. Letissier is a French performer who, similarly to other entertainers, has created personas for the stage, and choose a stage moniker.

I really liked what she said about exploring classic masculine theatrics, and about the constructs of masculinity that we create, as well as about choosing her narrative. This made me think about identity and the stories we tell about ourselves.

I’ve had a number of different identities in my life so far. I was a young German girl, then an immigrant – a ‘stranger in a strange land.’ Later I became a university student who found friends and groups to belong with. Then I became a young wife and a teacher. Eventually a mother. Divorce happened and I was a single parent and continued to be a working person. Somewhere in there I took up my dream to be a writer and I began to think and speak of myself as a writer. I changed jobs a few times and each job opened up new ways of being, taught me new things about myself and the world. Now I am single and older, mainly retired, but still writing, learning to cope with the aging process.

Letissier describes herself as pan-sexual. I have thought for a long time that we spend too much time categorizing people as male or female, as actions, feelings, and ways of being as one or the other. Someone said to me some time ago that he admired my femininity. Which puzzled me because I don’t spend every day thinking that I am feminine. To some people I would probably not be seen as feminine because for a long time I have lived alone, been independent, cut my own grass, shovelled snow, fixed things around my house, and so on.  I choose to do the things I want to do, feel the way I want to feel, without thinking about whether these are masculine or feminine. Why can’t we accept each person as they present themselves without having to put labels on, without thinking that any of these are better than others?

I do understand that some people put labels on themselves, and that is a choice. Perhaps to identify with a group or to set themselves apart, or to clarify who they are. I’m glad that there is a lot more dialogue than there used to be about gender, politics, culture, racialization, and identity.

It disturbs me to see an increasing lack of tolerance in various societies. I hope for a future where this changes so that we are more accepting, open and kind to each other.