About Susi Lovell

Susi Lovell lives in Montréal. Her short stories have appeared in Grain, The Fiddlehead, Stand, carte blanche and other literary journals. She has an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Lesley University, MA, and an M.A. in Contemporary Dance from the Université du Québec à Montréal.

Downsizing Decisions: Keep? Let Go?

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The time has come to downsize. Who knew we had so many boxes and bits and pieces tucked away? What a brutal job going through them. What to keep? What to let go? The decisions are overwhelming.

So I start with an easy one: lacrosse stick (c.1962?)

I can think of no earthly reason to keep my lacrosse stick. I can’t even think why I have it. I definitely didn’t bring it with me to Canada from England all those years ago. Probably my mother brought it over later when she was downsizing from the house she’d lived in for 50 years and wanted to be rid of it.

I played in the school’s 2nd eleven. Lax, we called it. I don’t remember actually enjoying it that much. It seemed an awful lot of bother to run all the way down the field and back again after a little ball (unless of course the boys at the next door grammar school happened to be lounging around beside the fence). “An animated tree stump,” one of my mother’s tennis group complained after I filled in for a missing member. Who would have thought I’d end up spending much of my working life teaching dance and movement!

A quick check online tells me that lacrosse sticks have long since changed beyond the point when anyone would find this one of any use. In any case, parts of the gut have shredded.

The stick reminds me of the smell of the games shed at the back of the school: a mix of sweat, vaseline which we had to rub into the leather thongs, and linseed-oiled wood. It reminds me of the sinking feeling as, accidentally catching the ball, seeing a certain girl in my class pound towards me and knowing there was no escape from a sharp rap over the head or the knuckles, of the phys ed teacher yelling at me: “MOVE!” And, horror of horrors, of the post game communal showers.

I imagine I played because of my older sister. On my first day of high school, the principal looked down at me from her then terrifying height and said “I hope you’re going to be just like your sister.”

My sister the brainy student, the lacrosse star. She was even the proud possessor of (oh my heavens!) a posture girdle, a long braided band in the colours of whichever school house you were in (gold, jade and two others I forget now) that you tied around your waist so the tassels rippled over your hip and down your thigh.

A posture girdle meant you not only walked with your back straight, eyes on the horizon, but that your shoes were clean and polished, your hair tucked away tidily, that you did not roll your skirt up at the waistband or let your socks drop over your ankles or let your straw boater slip to a jaunty angle. Oh how I longed to be like my sister and strut through the school with a gold posture girdle rippling over my hip and down my thigh.

Jesse Stong’s Writer’s Warm-Up

Early on in the lock-down for covid-19, the owner of the little local grocery store noticed I was rushing round his store and practically jumping into the freezer or bakery rack when other shoppers came too close.

He told me to relax, slow down. “You must surrender,” he said. “What will be, will be.”

“I’m not ready to surrender,” I told him. “I’ve a novel to write.”

Working on my first novel has been a godsend during the lock-down. The thought that I might die before I finished it gave me new focus and drive, but there came a point when I found I needed some outside energy…especially for developing the back stories of my secondary characters.

Developing back stories is always a slow business for me. So much to explore beneath the tip of the iceberg!

Iceberg off Fogo Island 2018

There are plenty of writing prompts available online, dozens of questionnaires to use when interrogating fictional characters. They just don’t do the trick for me.

Then through the ELAN newsletter (Quebec’s English Language Arts Network) I discovered Jesse Stong’s Writers’ Warm-Ups at Playwrights’ Workshop Montréal.

Jesse’s Writers’ Warm-Ups are speedy (15 minutes) and energetic, and the prompts are terrific. He breaks them down into bite-sized, ‘get to the meat of it’, no over-thinking segments which always spark some kind of useful information or insight about a character. I especially love the Meryl Streep-inspired prompts!

Jesse twins each Warm-Up with a charity. If you donate, you can send him what you’ve written and he’ll give you feedback. How great is that?

Live-streamed every Monday and Friday at 10:15 a.m., but if you can’t make those times, you can catch up on Jesse Stong’s Warm-Ups later, as I do.

 

UN International Mountain Day

Banff, CanadaI never knew there was a United Nations International Mountain Day until I started researching mountain eco-systems for the novel I’m working on.

Almost one billion people live in mountain areas, and over half the human population depends on mountains for water, food and clean energy. Yet mountains are under threat from climate change, land degradation, over exploitation and natural disasters, with potentially far-reaching and devastating consequences, both for mountain communities and the rest of the world. http://www.un.org/en/events/mountainday/

The theme of the 2018 International Mountain Day is #MountainsMatter….for water, disaster risk reduction, tourism, food, youth, Indigenous Peoples, and for biodiversity.

Did you know that mountains provide “between 60 and 80 percent of all freshwater resources for our planet”?

Banff, Canada

The FAO is asking all those who enjoy (holidays? skiing? snowboarding? mountaineering?) or depend on the mountains (that glass of water?) to join the call to specify why mountains matter at #MountainsMatter.

elk, Banff, Canada

These photos are all from Banff. I had the great fortune to participate in a writing residency at the Banff Arts Centre in 2014.

Banff, Canada

 

 

Montreal’s Golden Fingers

For the last few years two friends and I have been meeting at different metro stops and exploring the artworks in the stations before heading out to investigate the area around them. Montreal has 68 stations so there’s plenty of exploring to do.

Last Friday we went to Continue reading

Quebec’s Door Museum

Last summer, inspired by Thursday Doors master Norm 2.0’s post, we decided to drive the King’s Road (route 138) to Quebec City en route to Charlevoix rather than the much much faster autoroutes 40 or 20.

I insisted we start right from the beginning of the King’s Road. This meant creeping along rue Sherbrooke through the city and past some rather desolate areas in the east end of Montreal where the oil refineries used to be. It took us an hour and a half to get off the island.

The Moulin de La Chevrotière was most definitely one of the loveliest sights on the King’s Road (which is full of many lovely sights). Continue reading

Want That Happy Feeling? Clean Out a Bookshelf!

One afternoon my husband disappeared. It seemed he had vanished from the face of the earth.

I eventually tracked him down in the Trauma Centre at Montreal General Hospital where he was lying on a board in a neck brace, one eye completely closed, lip swollen, beard caked in blood, face covered in bruises and cuts. The injuries from his fall on the ice led to complications that eventually meant we had to cancel our upcoming trip to the U.K.

My sister, obviously worried that I might become depressed after all the stress and anxiety and cancellations, forwarded me a link to an article about happiness and how to achieve it…positive thinking, controlled breathing, meditation… Yeah, yeah. Sure.

For me, there’s no better way to get back to a happier, airier frame of mind after periods of stress and worry than sorting my overloaded bookshelves.

That 1947 Encyclopedia Britannica is just gathering dust. A lot of dust. Two shelves’ worth of dust. We rarely (never) refer to it but keep it because it belonged to my husband’s parents. We have other things of theirs that we enjoy. Time to bid it farewell.

Encyclopedia Britannica - 1947

But what to do with it?

And with those books I know I’ll never read again?

And all those literary journals? I used to leave them in cafés around Montreal for others to discover, but kind baristas would keep them and return them to me the next time I went in.

There’s the local church bazaar of course, but that doesn’t happen until November. If I’m to find my happy feeling, I have to get them all out now.

So, off I go with the novels to the hospital’s Book Nook that I discovered during a break from the Trauma Unit when searching for a latte. The literary journals make their way to another Book Nook (Take a Book, Leave a Book) – this one in The Hive Café Co-Op in the Hall Building of Concordia University.

And the 1947 Encyclopedia?

Turns out no one wants an old Encyclopedia.

Put it in the recycling, I’m told.

Recycling? Really? Must I?

I hate the thought of any book going into the recycling.

But one volume a week, into the recycling bag it’s going to go.

Encyclopedia 1947

Montreal’s Compassion Machine is Watching You!

It’s hard to go anywhere in Montreal these days without stumbling into a surprise.

On Friday the surprise was Montreal’s Compassion Machine.

Montreal's Compassion Machine

The music – a spooky hypnotic sound – catches my attention first, then the way people are stopping in their tracks as they stream into and out of St. Laurent Metro station.

One brave person has stepped out of the crowd and is looking into the smiley face on the screen.

The machine tells her (only women stepped forward while I watched) that it is a surveillance system:

“I am a surveillance system equipped with face recognition algorithms and computer vision. I observe your face and your movements to predict your behaviour. I am supposed to identify your suspicious movements and your consumption habits.

But my algorithms have been hijacked.

Instead I detect your smile and your level of empathy […] Look into the camera to discover what I know about you.” Km3 Compassion Machine

The machine then goes on to try to determine whether the person is male/female, their age, whether they are empathetic or not, attentive or not (is that ‘criminal tendencies’ that just clicks onto the screen for a millisecond?), then what their next empathetic act will be.

I go to check out the back of the machine. “I can see you you looking at me,” it tells me.

Montreal's Compassion Machine

Then this ominous message: “I want the best for you.”

Montreal's Compassion Machine

 

According to the surveillance information given on one side of the machine, the average number of times you’re likely to be caught on video surveillance every day is …. 75!

The Compassion Machine is part of Km3 which has created 22 art installations in the Quartier des Spectacles of Montreal during the fall of 2017.

(P.S., I’m not totally convinced by its age estimations!)