I’m writing. Not songs, for the time being, but pages and pages of stories. True stories: some of the ones I’ve been telling in songs for years are now finding a new place as I continue to try and understand and share the experiences, and some I haven’t told before.

As it stands, I’m writing a book about loss. And as I write and research, I’ve been reading many other books about grief and also memoir in general.

This week, a column I recorded with Shelagh Rogers for The Next Chapter aired on CBC about the books I’ve turned to.

You can listen to that interview here.

But let me explain.

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The first three — H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, Certainty by Madeleine Thien, and Hot, Wet, & Shaking by Kaleigh Trace are explained in the interview.

But in case you skip the audio, the inclusion of the third needs elaboration because at a glance you are saying, “that’s not a book about loss, that’s a book about sex,” and well YES you are right.

I read Hot, Wet, & Shaking because I was looking at forms of memoir; I read it because it’s written by a disabled woman and as a disabled woman myself HOLY SMOKES is it hard to find our voices represented, much less on the subject of disability AND sex (gasp).

And there are ways that I have equated disability to grief — the space it can take in my days and the planning around it. So this book made it’s way on to the list for that reason as well.

AND Trace’s book empowers difference and different bodies. Which is pretty much everybody/every body. I felt really good about being in my skin after I read the book. You probably will, too.

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The Boy in the Moon by Ian Brown is a book I read at my son Ford’s bedside during the months he was in hospital. Brown and his family spend time navigating the medical system for their disabled son, and I felt comfort is seeing that part of my life reflected. It may not be a book about loss, exactly, but it is, to me, a book about adjustment, acceptance, and parenting.

When speaking about Hawk during the interview, I mention the inspiration I’ve found in books about the natural world. Trauma Farm by Brian Brett is included in this list as one of my favourite examples of that. I find the descriptions of life and death in the animal world refreshingly frank; I relate to the visceral presence of breath, blood, and bodies.

Brett is also very funny.

(I stayed at Trauma Farm, the actual place on Salt Spring Island, while on tour with C.R. Avery in 2012, before I read the book, so I had the delightful insight of knowing the sound of Brett’s voice as I read his words — not required to enjoy the book, I’m sure, but look up some interviews with the guy, he has warmth and character.)

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion is like the grief classic. I read it just a couple month’s after my son Emmett died and it was the first truly understanding voice I heard in those months. Her experience of loss, in this book, is that of her husband. It didn’t matter the type of loss: the blurriness of time, the in/visibility of the bereaved, all of it was “yes, yes, yes, exactly that, thank you for saying so” for me.

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All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews. Well, goodness. This book ties for first with Magical Thinking as far as Books That Best Articulate Grief and Chronic Trauma for me. It is full of dark humour, as a life filled with loss often is; it’s beautiful and it aches.

Sorrows, like Certainty on this list, is fiction. But I feel little difference between non- and fiction on the subject, and these two are books that grew out of lived experience; both are full of the author’s own heart break. What feels real is real in these stories.

Pema Chodrin’s When Things Fall Apart is a good, heart-opening approach to suffereing, though I must admit when I first read it, the hardships she was talking about didn’t seem hard enough. This book is perfect for ordinary heartache — not easy heartache mind you, but the kind we’re surrounded by. The book vibrates with compassion.

theheartandthebottle-220If you have, in your thoughts or on paper, written letters to a loved one, perhaps with the things you wish you could have said in person, Paula by Isabel Allende will reach you.

Lastly, the kid’s book The Heart and the Bottle by Oliver Jeffers is on the list as sometimes pictures and just a few words is all you need. There are many kid’s books about loss, and a lot of them bad. This is one of my favourites, as far as how we carry heartache forward.

And that’s the 10 that came to mind when I was asked to put together a list. I am always looking for more friends in books, and I hope you may find a friend in at least one of these, and if not, at least, a little joy or comfort. We can all always use a little more of that.


In eight days I hit the road for seven weeks of touring. I’m not yet ready, but I think I will be by the time I start loading the car next Friday.

Summer technically has a few weeks left in it but I never really got used to not thinking that Summer ended when school started, and so with September, and this tour about to begin, I feel I’m shifting to Autumn. I’m shifting to something anyway, and thinking about these summer months coming to an end.

It has been almost entirely a summer of sweet – the sting coming one July afternoon in Vancouver when I watched a wasp land on my arm. I’m terribly afraid of bees, wasps, and buzzy things that sting and have been convinced for years, despite a lack of evidence, that I’m allergic to such things. Frozen by fear and envisioning, should I try to swap the wasp away, that it would only fly into my face and disfigure me for life, I watched the bugger slowly hump my arm before I just closed my eyes and practiced my breathing. Despite my stillness, it stung me – jerk – and I in turn, was fine, save for the mild stinging in my arm. Thus, not allergic. And actually, now, less afraid. Phewf!

But back to the sweet parts.

I’ve mostly been in “head down, album out” mode these last couple months, but a number of festival gigs did keep me coming and going out of the town and province.

It all kicked off with a band at Aboriginal Day Live in Winnipeg. That was a sweet gig. I was delighted to perform with a full-band, and have a king sized bed all to myself in the lovely Forks Inn. I like how I can lay in any direction in a king bed without even a toe hanging over the edge. I’m little that way. Despite being on Vancouver time, I woke early each day in Winnipeg and spent the first couple hours getting computer-y stuff done from my laptop in the middle of that cushy island of a bed. Delightful.

Here’s the view from my hotel room of the Abo Day Live festival being set-up the day before:

and here’s me and the band – Niko Friesen, Murray Atkinson and Don Benedictson –  after our set, which was a blast:

See? I’m little.

Backstage we were noticeably – in comparison to a couple of the other artists performing that night – lacking an entourage. Murray quipped:

and we returned to our hotel rooms to drink whiskey. It was a great weekend.

In July I traveled to the All Folked Up festival in  Montmartre “the Paris of the Prairies” Saskatchewan. It is a darling festival run by a group of inspired, dedicated and energetic woman. This was its third year and I look forward to seeing that festival grow. Raised in Alberta, I’m a prairie girl at heart and it was nurturing to be under those big skies for a few days.

Singer-songwriters Corinna Rose and Gabrielle Paplillon and I spent the week following that festival playing a handful of shows in Saskatchewan. Here we are a the start of those days, in front of Montmartre’s own tour d’eiffel:

and near the end of our week together, all smiles in Val Marie:

They are lovely poetic songbirds both of them – check them out at corinnarose.com and gabriellepapillon.com.

This summer also included my first trip to ArtsWells. Now here in British Columbia, it seems every artist has been to ArtsWells. It’s like Christmas, as far as familiar faces, family and friends in the music community go. So I’d HEARD. It hadn’t panned out over the years for me to go, but this year the stars aligned. And YES, it might well be the best. Corin Raymond described it well as “a place where a song can change your life” and I’m so glad I made it to that mountain town this year. The calibre of music and artists is outstanding – Geoff Berner, C.R. Avery, Kris Demeanor, High Society, Jaron Freemon-Fox, Steve Brockley, Morlove, Scott Cook… damn. It was all very, very good. Here’s Orkestar Slivovica rocking the crowd outside the hall (they’re in there somewhere, but blocked by the happy dancers):

There’s only a glimpse of it above, but every house and building is painted a different colour in Wells. You’d like it there.

Then back to Vancouver. Then my sixth flight to Winnipeg in the last year, where the road lead to TroutFest in Ear Falls.

After I picked up Veda Hille, my TroutFest carpool buddy, and an artist whose work I’ve admired and adored for  years, at her friend John’s, I asked her as we drove away “is John a musician?”. “Um, yes he’s in a band called The Weakerthans.” Oh. THAT John. I’d never seen him up close, what can I say! I did take a second to text my husband that I’d refilled my water bottle in THAT John’s kitchen, thinking of the early days of our courtship when he would play Reconstruction Site for me on the guitar. Husband does a pretty good rendition, actually. After that brief moment of squee, Veda and I drove into the Canadian Shield and shared stories of children and husbands and music and Bill Richardson and were very fine folk fest buddies indeed.

After TroutFest (lovely), I played Desert Daze – another blossoming festival in its third year that I also look forward to seeing grow and thrive – and with that my folk festival season ended.

Which brings me to today, and to my to-do list, and to my album coming out in a week, and to the CD release kick off show in eight sleeps, and to packing light so Scott and Jeremy and I can fit the many instruments into the Mazda 5 for our weeks on the road… after C.R. and I first spend five days on the island. So. Much. To look forward to.