Prairie Blues

moon

What she fears
is the starkness
this dry land where
trees are ink webs
against the blue-white snow

The land doesn’t lie
with lush palm trees
blue waters and small sky

The wind whispers, this is it,
make of it what you will.

the moon bleeds
blue blood
a mournful sight
on this cold night

the moon seems closer to her
than it has ever been before

She drives all night
blowing snow—
angels take flight

The Merits of Active Commuting

10703435_10152703071030042_1436081520_oIn 2008, when I lived in Calgary and often drove five blocks to a convenience or grocery store, I wrote an article about active commuting. Most articles I write don’t change the way I think and live, but this particular article made me a zealous convert to an active commuting lifestyle.

“Fit to Ride: Active Commuters Reduce Environmental Footprint, Save Money, and Improve Fitness,” appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Impact Magazine. As a part of my research, I interviewed a well-respected author and journalist, Gordon Jaremko, about his commitment to active commuting. What he said about active commuting, cycling in particular, resonated with me. “It’s just a fun, addictive way to get around that makes you know your community better, from its topography to its weather, wildlife, sights, sounds, and smells. A one- to two-hour bicycle commute is the complete opposite of spending time in a car. In a car, it’s expensive, dead, boring, and frustrating time,” Gordon said.

I instantly and completely subscribed to his view of active commuting. Since that day, active commuting has been my ideal, although I do fall short occasionally. When I moved back to Winnipeg from Calgary in late August 2009, I left my car behind. I dusted off my bike, got a good pair of walking shoes and began using my body to get around Winnipeg. I made a decision to live just outside the city’s core so I could active commute to my downtown job. Because I live near the chronically bottlenecked Osborne Street, cycling to work gets me there faster than driving. It also prevents me from starting my day in a road rage. I am not a morning person and I cannot think of anything worse than being stuck in traffic on my way to work.

Cycling is my favourite way to active commute, but many people walk, take public transit, roller blade or even run to work. When I use my body to get to work, I arrive feeling positive, alert and focused. Everybody knows that exercise keeps the body healthy, but it also keeps the mind healthy by reducing stress and activating neurotransmitters that help people focus.

Now I am not going to lie: committing to a lifestyle of active commuting ain’t easy. I walk around with baby wipes to clean myself up after a ride on a hot day or freshen up at my gym before work. I have business-attire wardrobe in my office. When I grocery shop, I do find it cumbersome to carry 30 pounds of groceries home from my local grocery store, but I do burn about 150 calories on the trek back.

Right now, I am a single, childless free spirit. I probably could not maintain this lifestyle if I had kids. Kids have lessons or need to be dropped off at birthday parties. Some of my friends who have children still make an effort though. For instance, a good friend in Calgary drops her son off, leaves her vehicle at one of the designated parking spots and then takes the CTrain the rest of the way to work. There are so many variations on active commuting and just about everyone can make something work.

Hopping on my bike in the morning, feeling the sunshine on my face (protected by SPF 60 of course), seeing people walk their dogs, hearing crows negotiate plans with their caws, and smelling freshly baked bread as I ride past the Fort Garry Hotel makes my soul sing. I just wouldn’t have that experience in a car.

What’s good for the mind and body is also good for the environment. By choosing to cycle to work, I am helping to improve our air quality and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. I am burning calories instead of fossil fuels. As a curvy endomorph-mesomorph hybrid, burning calories and building muscles is my only hope of staying compact and sprightly.

Now, it’s quite easy to tout the benefits of active commuting when the weather is beautiful. Come January, when the temperature plummets to -30oC, I know I will want to buy a car. But once again, I will look to Gordon Jaremko for inspiration. Legend has it that he tested out a new winter jacket during a work trip to Fort McMurray by walking to the airport with a temperature of -40oC. If Gordon can do it, I can do it. I love winter cycling, but it’s too dangerous in rush hour. Walking will be my active commute of choice in the winter. Stay tuned for reports about frosty, invigorating walks.

Into the Night

Silver moon
starless sky.
Tonight the wind howls
while the woman’s fingertips flutter
against her window
like moths
trying to escape the night.

Luminous—
her pearly flesh
is pulled tight
across tiny bones.

She could be one of Picasso’s ladies—
tortured by impossible angles
tongue-tied
trapped in a barren landscape.

Only an ethereal dance
of carved flesh and shadows.

Five strategies to beat the winter blues

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It’s 8:00 a.m. in Winnipeg in late August. The sky is the colour of nicotine-stained apartment walls. It’s no December sky, but it’s certainly not proper August light—and it’s only going to get worse.

For as far back as I can remember, the shorter days of fall ushered in a more sober, down-to-business mood. But some years, the lack of light put me flat out of business; and the December solstice, the darkest day of the year, usually marked my lowest low.

I’d start to feel draggy in October. I found it harder to get out of bed and my energy would start lagging around 3:00 p.m. In an effort to pick myself up, I’d often go for a sugary carb like a muffin. (Back in the ‘90s, we actually thought muffins were a healthy snack, not a carby calorie bomb). Invariably, I would get a burst of energy followed by a crash that would leave me feeling even more lethargic.

I also noticed a shift in my thinking. Self-doubt and negative thoughts would start to take hold in the fall; whereas in the summer, I could just brush them away like a pesky mosquito. Performing mundane tasks would suddenly feel overwhelming. I grew increasingly irritable with people and would occasionally say the things I would only think during lighter months.

By November, I would be in a full seasonal depression. I would gain weight from trying to perk myself up with the carbs, which would cause me to further spiral into a bad place. For many years, I had a winter wardrobe and a summer one.

By December, I felt like I was in a bleak, black-and-white Scandinavian film shot in the dead of winter and my life seemed futile and doomed. Every minute would be packed with more existential angst than Woody Allen film. Somehow I survived these winter funks, but it was downright miserable. When I finally got the official diagnosis that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) just over a decade ago, I felt relieved because the sleep specialist not only gave me a diagnosis; he offered viable solutions.

Over the years, I have mastered the art and science of combating winter blues. Here is my attack strategy:

1. Light Therapy

I start using a portable light therapy device in late August. My light therapy product of choice is The Litebook. Clinical research showed the wavelengths of light emitted by The Litebook likely assists in regulating the body’s melatonin levels. It also increases the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. I like the Litebook because they conducted clinical trials and it’s Canadian company. I use the device for 30 minutes each morning and it staves off that groggy, draggy feeling.

2. Exercise

Although it is often the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling lethargic and it’s minus 30 out, exercise instantly elevates my mood, clears my thinking and makes me feel vivacious. I exercise as much for the mental benefits as I do for the physical. I work out at least five times a week, and I feel best when I exercise long and hard enough to break a sweat.

3. Proper Nutrition

Although my body wants nothing but processed carbs, I’ve succumbed enough times to know that giving my body sugar and starch will only end in sugar spikes and crashes and weight gain. I strive to eat lean and clean because there’s nothing more depressing than popping buttons and splitting pants—and that is what will happen if I don’t watch it. When I fall off the wagon like I did last weekend (mmmmm BBQ chicken pizza), I do not sweat it because that will only lead to more self-sabotage, but I do get right back on the wagon.

4. No Alcohol

Alcohol is a depressant and it’s full of sugar and empty calories. For those reasons, I abstain. I can remember years that I felt in tipsy good cheer, but it was an inauthentic buzz and I would always feel blue the next day. If you suffer from any kind of depression, putting a depressant in your body is generally a bad idea, although self-medicating with alcohol is extremely common.

5. Bright Lights, Sparkles and Charity

I used to despise Christmas and all the emotionally exploitative marketing and commercialization that goes with it. Railing against it, however, did not help my mood. Over the years, I have learned to love lights, the festively decorated houses and all the sparkly, glittery wrappings. I regard them as a kind of light therapy. I also make sure I have glittery toenails so I can look at the sparkles when I practise hot yoga.

Charity also helps. By focusing on those in need, I get into the spirit of giving. One year I was Santa to a senior. “My” senior provided a list of things she wanted and I shopped around for toiletries that I thought she’d like, consulted beauty advisors about what body sprays seniors prefer and got her a sweater the colour of the flower after which she was named. It did wonders for my soul and I get excited when I think about her opening all the goodies I put together for her.

So that’s what works for me. I could easily succumb to it and live like a nocturnal beast for half the year, but I do not like to waste time and suffer needlessly. Bright light therapy, exercise, good sleep hygiene, proper nutrition and sleep and soul activities keep me in good cheer even during the darkest days of the year.

Why I got hooked on hot yoga

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It wasn’t David Beckham, Lady Gaga, George Clooney or Gwyneth Paltrow who turned me onto Bikram yoga. It was my dear friend Melinda. She’s an accomplished executive in the energy industry, a mother of two and a devoted yogini. She touted the benefits of hot yoga, and she looked fabulous with her glowing skin and toned body. She also seemed at peace with herself and whatever life sent her way.

I did eventually make my way down to a hot yoga class and my only regret is that I didn’t do it sooner. It proved to be the antidote to so many of my ailments from my migraines to a sluggish immune system.

For those of you who have never been to a hot yoga class, here’s what you can expect: the room is set to 40 degrees Celsius and it’s humid. Classes last 90 minutes, and during each class you methodically work your way through 26 postures. The classes are über-structured and there’s etiquette about when you can drink, blow your nose and pee (before and after class). Leaving the room is frowned upon.

You may pour sweat. Some people occasionally take the “wind-clearing” posture literally. During almost every class I ask myself, “Why am I doing this to myself?” I asked myself that every single day during a 30-Day Challenge I did a few years ago, but at the end of those 30 days, I felt like a goddess, albeit a sweaty one.

What I put into Bikram yoga is nothing compared to dividends it delivers. My attention span has improved, I feel more relaxed and I sleep better. I can better manage the stress of a demanding full-time job and my part-time freelance gigs. The classes also help mitigate the impact of cycling, running and weight lifting. I believe that practising regularly goes a long way to minimizing injuries and strains.

One of the other perks is the incredible people you’ll encounter. They are the friendliest, most supportive of group of people you’ll ever meet. They come in all shapes and sizes; there’s no body shaming.

I have heard about diehard Bikram yoga lovers just walking out of class one day and never going back. They’re burnt out on the 90-minute time commitment, the sweaty yoga apparel, and the repetition of the same 26 postures over and over and over again. I feared that was happening to me when I recently had a rough class and did the unthinkable: I left the room and didn’t go back for a few months.

At first, I enjoyed the break, but then I noticed my attention span grew shorter as did my patience. I started to experience aches and pains after runs. I also missed my sweaty family. I recently returned to classes and I’m not turning my increasingly flexible back on hot yoga again.

Practising Bikram yoga has given me things I lacked: structure, focus and discipline. I am a rebel and I hate being told what to do. But the rewards have been so immense and have trickled into other areas of my life. For 90 minutes a day, about three days a week, I do what I am told.

There’s a saying that if you can control your breathing, you can control your life. There have been times when it has been difficult to breathe in the heat and humidity, but I listened to my instructors and breathed through my nose and all anxiety dissipated. I have used that technique outside the hot room to control anxiety and anger.

I know that the 90 minutes away from my iPhone, my work email, my personal email, Facebook and Twitter has also changed my life. I shut the world out for 90 minutes in class and I don’t know if I could do this on my own. I have been known to text from the treadmill. You’d be surprised how much a 90-minute break from all the noise and constant communications will reduce your stress level.

I go to Studio 26 Hot Yoga, a well-respected studio in Winnipeg, because the instructors stick to the dialogue and sweat the sweat. Several of the instructors used to be professional dancers and the owner of the studio, Todd Miller, has worked in the fitness industry for 30 years and danced professionally for many years. I have a dance and gymnastics background and I appreciate the corrections I get from people who have similar training.

So I am officially hooked on hot yoga and will be getting my sweat on for years to come.

#TBT Poem

This is the first poem I published in a literary journal. This piece appeared in Grain in 1992. Under the influence of Lorna Crozier, I wrote this poem at the tender age of 21. I studied with her in my second year of university. She assigned my class a prose poem and the following poem is what I submitted:

men love women love men

Some men love bisexual women others love straight women who scream during sex, who leave tiger marks on their backs other men love women who wear black tank tops in the middle of the winter & dance on speakers in nightclubs  & some men love women with wild blonde hair, jeans that don’t lie, and kiss-me-red lips some men love women who write poetry about violence & sex others love women who give head and swallow

Women love men who won’t ask when the threesome is   other women love men who look at their faces during sex and kiss them & women with large breasts love men who notice the colour of their eyes other women love men who won’t talk of old lovers like a stamp collection & some women love men who won’t let them say fuck in the bedroom & women poets love men who read between the lines.

–Candice G. Ball

Q&A with Arts Promoter & Winnipegger Kelly Hughes

11796319_10152950300067051_7757043110665948378_nA proud Winnipegger and a passionate promoter of the arts, Kelly Hughes owned and operated Aqua Books from 1999 to 2012. Noah Richler described Aqua Books as “one of the craziest, most amusing and well-ordered second-hand bookstores I have ever frequented.”

The end of Aqua Books took its toll on Hughes, but he has found new ways to champion the arts and connect with musicians, poets, playwrights and artists. His weekly radio show, The Ivory Tower, on CKUW is just one of those ways. Hughes has no qualms about openly discussing both his triumphs and troubles of life after Aqua Books.

Why did Aqua Books shut down?

We were shut down three years ago in the middle of the Fringe Festival. We didn’t have our occupancy permit due to a combination of factors. It wasn’t entirely the city’s fault, not entirely the landlord’s, and not entirely my fault. I was very desperate to get opened up. Aqua Books had been open since 1999. We were closed for maybe two months and we re-opened in a new space on Princess. I was concerned about losing my continuity.

At Christmas, I had booked a bunch of out-of-town Fringe performers. Even though I was up against some challenges, I couldn’t make the decision to say, “I can’t do it.” On the second day of The Fringe, an inspector from the City of Winnipeg saw that Aqua Books was a Fringe venue. He came across an ad and let’s just call him a stickler. We were shut down and I never re-opened.

What happened after Aqua Books closed?

After five months of various mishaps, I sunk into a deeper depression. It had been coming on for a while. I ended up in the psych ward at the Victoria General Hospital. I had lost my apartment. I’d moved out on December 31, 2012. I’d never stiffed anyone in my life, but I couldn’t pay my rent.

After I got out of the hospital, I held onto this idea that I might be able to get Aqua Books open again. I kept telling myself I still had a chance. I couldn’t talk about it. I’d put so much of myself so much into the place. I felt like if it didn’t exist, I didn’t exist. I just didn’t know what to do. I felt like I had nothing else to offer and I was done.

How have you been able to move on?

I’m in a better place now. It’s been three years since that whole thing with getting shut down. I really kicked myself. I felt like that was my fault and that I was a failure. I owed some people who did construction work money. I didn’t pay them for a year and a half, but when I had the money, I contacted them squared up. They weren’t mad. The only person who had kicked Kelly Hughes in the ass was Kelly Hughes. For the most part, nobody was being harder on me than me. Realizing that has helped me to move on.

Why are you so passionate about promoting the arts?

I really love to create new things. I don’t want to foist my vision on the world. I love to facilitate what other people are doing. I want to create a space for creative people to show their art.

There are never enough venues. I really liked to promote musicians because they needed a place where they could share their art and make mistakes. It’s a lot easier to book a gig if you’re a bunch of old guys doing cover songs than if you’re starting out.

Music used to happen at community centres, but it has become increasingly harder to find venues and book gigs. Musicians need that experience. Musicians used to be able to book weeklong gigs in Winnipeg. The singer and songwriter Steve Bell said on Monday they’d be terrible and by Saturday they’d be great.

At Aqua Books we gave Nic Dyson his first gift when he was about 17. He’s gone on and established himself and has put out two EPs and speaks out against bullying. That always gave me great satisfaction.

I do the same thing with my radio show. It’s ostensibly a music show, but I’ve probably had about 20 Fringe performers on the show. I am always interviewing people whether they’re musicians, fringe performers or poets. On Kelly Hughes Live, I’ve done lots of live interviews.

The CKUW radio show has been good. It’s a way of staying connected to the arts scene. I will admit that when I was coming out of the depression, it was sometimes hard to go, but I showed up and things got better for me.

Facebook was another way I stayed connected. It was a gateway back into the world for me. I posted a lot of introspective stuff. I am quieter on Facebook these days. I have actually been busier doing stuff again—I am in a different phase. You don’t want to be the same way all of the time.

What’s next for you?

I am working on something right now that I’m not going to be specific about. I’m still pretty shell-shocked from the way everything went down three years ago. I’m not working 100 hours a week. I’m trying to find a new way to work and participate more in the scene.

In the meantime, I am doing honest labour. I don’t mind doing that. It’s not bad for me because I need to lose a couple of pounds. My business is called Fat Man Little Truck. I do carpentry, renovations and junk removal.

I have a different plan. I think a person needs to be versatile. You need to be able to reinvent yourself—and you may have to do it more that once. I did ask myself the question: does Winnipeg need Kelly Hughes? Is there a place for me in this cultural scene? I decided yes there is. Stay tuned. You’ll be hearing more from me.

Lost

forest

All that we can be remains lost in the forest,
lingers among quivering pine trees,
wild mushrooms, moss-covered stones.

In the city, something wild
beats beneath my chest, wings
flapping   it is breathing. My lover can’t tame it
so I came to you.

Your cerulean eyes dishevel me
I forget my name, forget who I am
in this city I used to love.
Suddenly neon lights blur, hot pavement
becomes soil, crickets and loons drown
out crackling street lamps.

Tomorrow I’ll begin my journey,
but I know I’ll never find you.
You who forget to answer your phone
for weeks, hate traffic and streets crowded
with lonely people.

Where do the pine trees break?
Where can I see sunlight
streaming down on you?

When can I stumble towards you
my legs scratched and bloody
from wild roses and weeds?

—Candice G. Ball

Q&A with Winnipeg Artist Wanda Luna

wandaWanda Luna is a Winnipegger with Chilean roots who lives and breathes art. When she’s not making art, she’s posting or tweeting about art on social media—and she’s not afraid to engage in political debates.

A community-minded artist, Wanda founded The Dream Room Project (La Sala De Los Sueños Inc.) in 2009 with the mandate of transforming kids’ bedrooms into hope-filled spaces with her murals. She works with both children and teens who have experienced trauma and creates murals based on their requests.

Wanda met with me at Café D’Amour on Osborne Street to discuss her art, Winnipeg and her aspirations.

When did you know you were an artist?

As far back as I can remember, I have been decorating or making art. As a child, I’d draw on paper or I’d decorate myself with Christmas lights or whatever medium was around. Even though art has always been important to me, I didn’t start calling myself an artist until 2002. Up until then, I drew all the time, but around 2002 I started to work in particular themes and do research. I also started putting in regular hours at the studio. It became more structured and disciplined.

My first series focused on fat, smoking women. It seems today there’s more tolerance for all shapes and sizes. In 2002, things were different and being fat and smoking were both seen as very vulgar. I thought, “Why? Who cares?” I did large-scale paintings and the women would be lying around with a cigarette and chocolate cake. It was a decadent series and people bought them. One of the paintings ended up in Italy.

You are a proud of your Chilean roots. How does your background influence your art?

It was really important to connect the relationship Canada has with Chile. I thought it was great to create that space for an ongoing dialogue. Next year, Canada and Chile will celebrate their 75th anniversary of diplomatic relations. There are more than 40,000 people of Chilean original living in Canada and Chile and Canada are important trade partners. Canada imports precious metals like gold and silver, fruits, seafood and wine.

I am indigenous to Chile. I’m always exploring indigenous themes in my art. As with Canada, Chile has volatile relationships with indigenous people. In Chile, you were looked on more favourably if you appeared Spanish. In Winnipeg, I have connected with Aboriginal communities and recently gave a talk about making art at Neechi Niche.

Has Winnipeg been good to you?

I wouldn’t have the same opportunity back home. For one, the visual arts aren’t given a lot of regard. They really appreciate their poets and novelists. The poet Pablo Neruda is revered as is the fiction writer Isabel Allende.

We’re seen as pests. My artist friends are busking their art in the streets. It’s a hard living. I have a voice here. That’s what I love about Winnipeg. I can talk about these issues that in Chile I would never be able to address.

What are you currently working on?

I am doing a series on coffee. I am looking at the relationship Canada has with South America. People don’t want to know where their coffee is from. So we don’t really give it a lot of thought. A lot of coffee comes from farms in South America and the people who pick the beans are underpaid and exploited. They’ve probably never had a cup of coffee.

I am creating images that depict what a Chilean farmer looks like. The series features a 12-year-old farmer and the medium is paper collage over disposable paper cups. On top of the human exploitation, the industry is destroying the Andes, which is where I am from. I want the series to get people thinking about where their coffee comes from and generate awareness about fair-trade coffee.

Where would you like to be in ten years?

I would really like to be able to keeping doing what I’m doing. I want to continue to generate interest in Latin America and pay homage to my heritage. I will continue sharing the old stories that my grandfather told me. Many of the pieces I have done featuring indigenous cellos are based on his stories.

She’s Gone

moon

She comes to me after midnight
when my mind is nurtured be milky moonlight
my mind succumbs to the tune—
jazz trumpeting from the radio.

For four months
she fluttered
inside of me.

The blood stained our mattress—
the wound won’t heal.
The maternity clothes dangle, lifeless
on metal hangers.

Alone: you are driving away from me
towards moonlight on farmers’ fields.
The harvest. Stars go on forever.
Do you hear the jazz tune playing?

I want my butterfly child back—
her tiny heart beating beneath skin.
Even though she’s gone
she’s still closer to me
than you’ll ever be.

—Candice G. Ball