Back to School… or not?: Education after the Apocalypse and in the Dystopia

The Book Wars

Post Apocalyptic Toronto! So much better than another shot of the Statue of Liberty ;) Post Apocalyptic Toronto! So much better than another shot of the Statue of Liberty 😉

As a dystopia and speculative literature lover and critic I get asked a lot why kids like these kinds of incredibly bleak books (which I don’t really think are all that bleak, but that is not the general perception). Thinking about this month’s theme a potential reason (among so many) dawned on me… Perhaps dystopia, and in particular post-apocalyptic literature, is so popular amongst youth because there is no school. And even better, school and the entire education system is often totally destroyed. I mean what better wish fulfilment could a young person ask for? If kids aren’t flocking for a kind of education that is magical and  mysterious as with the Harry Potter series (and the like) or hilarious schools full of more hijinx than actual education as with so many middle grade series (Pseudonym Bosch’s…

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BookKids Celebrates Banned Books!



It’s a special week. September 21-27, 2014, is Banned Books Week. This week, “is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Banned Books Week brings together the entire book community – librarians, booksellers, publishers, journalists, teachers, and readers of all types – in shared support of the freedom to seek and to express ideas, even those some consider unorthodox or unpopular.”

banned book display

Here at BookPeople, we celebrate the right to read 365 days a year, and for the next month, there is a special display in BookKids highlighting some popular books that have faced challenges. Bookseller Merrilee says, “the banned book display is my favorite one all year. I love seeing people react to the books that have been banned and reading the cards as to why. It’s great fun.”


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52 Flashes of Fiction Week 2: Letting It Go

I like this a lot

The 365 Poetry Project

I always have to pee at the gym. I think it’s probably my body’s last-ditch excuse to get out of pain, like some kid who didn’t study for his math test and would rather get caught unraveling toilet paper and get sent to the front office than stay in the room and sweat. I did that once.

But this kind of torture is different because I’m doing it to myself- is this how grown-ups behave? I ask myself this as I’m holding it as long as I possibly can because pausing for a potty break will throw off my whole workout. I’m not supposed to stop running for another six minutes.

I’m actually considering adult diapers when this like ten-year-old kid comes in and skids into the bathroom on those stupid little wheely shoes that save exactly zero seconds from just walking like a normal person. I don’t even think…

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Collaboration from beginning to end

Next phase of the collaboration with Jane Astley

Gwenno’s gaze moved to a cracked glass vase of Hydrangeas jutting from the edge of a tall flimsy table. Pastel tissue paper butterflies, the colours of summer fruit-infused snow. Light yet so devouring. She had always considered them nature’s wedding bouquet. Even though her grandmother insisted that it was a curse to bring Hydrangeas into the house, Gwenno remained connected to the omens of superstition. She was troubled more by the women who believed in them. The woman who collected the same style of knickknacks adorning the mantelpiece in front of her now. Surely they were not to Rhodri’s taste. Basset hounds wearing trilbies and cats in Victorian dresses holding parasols. Who actually wants this shit in their house, in their space? Clutter for cluttered minds, fanning all size of fire.

Gwenno looked up at him looking at her. It wasn’t the first time someone had looked at her that way. She was not bewitching but almost faddish like velvet or waistcoats with backs of a crimson sheen.

“You don’t look like a hoarder” she commented, her fingertips pressing against the bone coloured mantelpiece where new ornaments sprung to attention. Dogs with long faces, brass bells, and candelabra slotted between opened and unopened envelopes.

He smiled, “It’s not my house.”

“Ah” she sounded relieved. She didn’t want to know more about this story yet. It would open up the crevices in a portal to a whole new world. A tiring prospect for somebody who didn’t need to know all the details about anything.

He was still watching her observing the new space, acclimatizing herself to it as though he wasn’t even a part of the landscape. If he adapted to a quizzical glance she might have asked why. Instead, he drifted off to the kitchen and with the physical motion, his mind parted ways toward the dull ache of what was now extinct. He’d always allowed the mind free rein. It wasn’t simply an overseer but the ultimate controller over the minutiae of his existence. The power bestowed bent him into submission to the point he had begun walking to a new soundtrack. If he watched its progress from another perspective, he would see himself gradually roll into a ball. How much of his life he had spent slowly becoming a statue made of stone. Eventually he would return to his original existence – a rock. Then someone would launch him through his own window. The mind evaporated these observations and led him by calloused palm to the very pinnacle of deprivation, to the worst of his worst. Pausing before asking him to arouse familiar feelings now. How far had he come in distance in spite of the curvature? Could he realise it without being it? How much of it is inlaid in our mortar, our essence? He felt the origin of all pain, pulsating in his chest this hard, heavy imprisoned weapon.

The sudden influx. Nothing hurt this much.

“What are you doing?” she yelled at him. She was in the kitchen with arms flailing.

She had hurled the kettle and grasped him roughly by the wrist. Cold flowing water on hot static skin as boiling water coursed to the floor. It felt interminable. She would not let go and he didn’t want that anyway. In the quiet that was infused with water pattering across a basin and dripping to the lino, the dark shifted to crimson and to gold. He had known the bliss of that dawn to be alive, as transitory as it was, felt its backlash, which hid all the exits out of its converse. He had never worked out that there was more than one way out. How had a mind as complex as his present so little option? That was the sort of question that Ann Marie would pose. The chest burn faded, compounding to the fresh sensation in the sink. The present moment. He started to laugh, was it really a gift when so often he discarded it in favour of what came before.

She was looking at him in a new way, scavenging the new indelible impressions on his face. Her grip was still strong, impressively so, protecting what was now mottled and numb as though her life depended on it.

Still closer to the beginning, but ever approaching the end

Why didn’t she ever reply? She knew that it did his head in. He had told her, or, at least, he had thought that he might have meant to tell her, but she should know. He would know. She said that there is no point imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes, because they can never fit, even if they are handmade. “The enormity of something so trivial,” that’s what she said to him, the first time he had met her and what he had sent to her. So, why didn’t she reply? She was there now, but still nothing, nothing is still. Five words that meant everything and nothing, that said everything he had ever thought and the smallest part of all that she had known.

Why do I worry? Why does any of this matter?

had never liked things left unsaid, but had embraced the spaces between the lines, the words hidden in plain sight, that you simply couldn’t miss. He wanted to talk, but the words were there still, waiting for the lines to snuggle between, cwtched top and bottom, but ennobled and enabled.” Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,” he thought, “but to be young was very heaven.” He had said it numerous times, to many people, in dark evenings, honeyed afternoons, and witching hours beyond the stroke, but now, only now, did he finally get it.

Rhodri felt what it was to feel young for the first time in… well…ever. Finally and totally free to enjoy a moment, a second that would lead to a succession of moments; a moment that could define everything. He had never seen the point in Wordsworth, and his precious little daffodils, and had never really understood what he meant about bliss and dawn and being alive, until then, now. He had never really got Ted Hughes either until she had shown him ‘Lovesong.’

He said without thinking, as he stood entranced in a sea of vicious, blossoming green. He saw her eyes looking way beyond them and spots far from sight and comprehension.

“Her eyes wanted nothing to get away

Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows

He gripped her hard so that life

Should not drag her from that moment

He wanted all future to cease

He wanted to topple with his arms round her

Off that moment’s brink and into nothing

Or everlasting or whatever there was”

Ted Hughes understood and finally so did he. She finally looked at him as he spoke the words in a low rumble, ever threatening a crescendo, but like Nirvana’s ‘Come as you are’ never getting there. There was so much more to the poem and so much more that he had wanted to say to her, but it always felt that others had said it better before or would come to say it soon. No-one would ever be quoting him at dawn while walking down a grey street, in a black and white town, not knowing what she was thinking. He wanted to find the stillness that Gwenno so visibly exuded, even when doing the eternal dance of the mad thing in the sweatiest of moshpits. Always moving, but ever still.

“You’re like a brook or a bridge…or something else.” Gwenno smiled and said, “Can I be something else? I can’t be someone else, I’m just going to me, and me is everything you see and all that is me and everything around me. I am nature and nature is in me. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sort of, but not really.” Rhodri palmed his keys that had become trapped in the lining of his shorts, strands of cotton preventing their early release. He wanted to be home by the quickest route, the only route, but quickly. Patience was a game played by others, alone. Gwenno spun in ever-increasing, graceful circles, unthreatening her beatific stillness. He had known before, but knew more than ever what he wanted.

They arrived. Rhodri stood at the gate, Gwenno gazed upwards past him to the cracked frames and peeling paint, the scarred brickwork and then focussed in the near distance at overgrown ferns and brambles. Two tea roses in pots, splashed colours of purple, and orange, and red amongst another sea of green broke and created monotony.

“Do you really live here?” Gwenno asked.

“Sort of. Do you want to come in? I’ve got an espresso maker, sugar, milk; I made some Madeleines last night.”

He held her hand and they walked to the front door, skipped around the side, past boarded up windows to a garden with potted plants, shells, statues, a grotto and three apple trees. Rhodri pocketed his keys  and opened the back door, as Gwenno kicked off her boots and glided into the kitchen.

Frida Kahlo obsession

“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.”

#fridakahloobsession #fridakahlo quotes

“to feel the anguish of waiting for the next moment and of taking part in the complex current (of affairs) not knowing that we are headed toward ourselves, through millions of stone beings – of bird beings – of star beings – of microbe beings – of fountain beings toward ourselves”

“‎I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows, but now the damned things have learned to swim.”

The beginning of the dawn or the end of the night

Gwenno hadn’t alluded to the text from the other night. Oh dear, another miss-send. Or maybe she wasn’t that responsive to the chorusing dawn. Leave it unsaid; things expressed in that state were better left to that state. He didn’t want to vocalise it, nor envision the moment he woke up in a car boot in the car park of some industrial estate cash & carry.

The sticky sap from the Lyme tree nearly fooled them that it was raining. Noticing it for the first time that day, they looked up at its quivery ultra-green leaves. Rhodri was mesmerised by the way it stood in the bed of its own blossom.  Adding a new dimension to its beauty and provoking him to wonder why humans didn’t form a nourishing base around themselves to help them grow. Perhaps it is because we are always moving. The human condition ever exacerbated by the deficiency of stillness.

“What are you doing?” she demanded, looking at him as she twirled the single long strand of purple-black hair which stood apart from the shorter hair, lace-whirled and tied at the end with a feather at her clavicle.

“Checking for keys,” he murmured as he began marching home. Gwenno leapt to his pace as graceful as a Gazelle in spite of the boots. In fact, she was more like a Blackbird, inquisitive and picking amongst the leaves. She always wanted to walk amongst obstacles: leaves, puddles, Rose gardens, mazes, forests (especially forests), and sand dunes. Asymmetry drew her as she repelled the straight, the narrow, the rigid form. Skew was her thing, hinges that weren’t quite parallel to the door. Free and feisty. Born of a million stars and dreams, and created from parents who knew love deeply. They had wanted to name her Star. And if it wasn’t for a cantankerous grandparent and their untimely death, that is what she would have been. Yet she didn’t hanker after sentiments especially when there was, at this moment, an offer of hot chocolate and the possibility of real coffee.


The early shop shutters were up; newspaper bundles lounged at roadsides. The chink and the purr of a milk float undulating through residential streets. His street maybe.

“Did you say you had milk?” Gwenno asked, “Because I could buy some now.”

“Yes, I have a goat in the back garden,” Rhodri said grinning.


“No. But I have milk.”

Walking the cambering avenue taxed danced-out legs. Life reminded them they hadn’t slept or eaten for hours, but Gwenno relished the sensation of a drum skin torso, tight and hollow. The waistband of her skirt slipping to her hips now that yesterday afternoon’s risotto had digested. It was her capable hour and she knew that she could do anything she wanted with some degree of success and a smaller margin of error. Who knew why? The next pile of leaves she kicked with her heel.

Rhodri stopped by a rickety gate and waited for her to register. He looked at her face and then to her playful kicking foot.

She paused and shifted all her weight onto one foot, “This is where you live?”

She had walked this way before but never imagined it was someone’s home.

Friday morning 3 a.m. (or maybe the middle of the beginning or the end of the middle)

That first night ended too soon, they always do, but beyond the minutes and hours of days tripping into nights and falling again they found themselves in the same room with no space. They left the building and walked, with that mild ringing in their ears and the gig sweats in full cascade – hot and cold but neither.

He took her to the park, it was dawn, the preceding hours had flowed swiftly before and beyond them and now they only had each other and the morning sun and the mist as it rose above the boating lake. He wanted to whistle, but quietly sang ‘Strawberry Wine.’ “Misty morning in the springtime…these lips will find strawberry wine.” A little obvious but hand fitted glove and the harmonies rose with the tide. She had two t-shirts on only, above her leggings and baby doll dress and German paratroopers boots daubed with circled A’s. Gig shirt over other band shirt (you never wore the shirt of the band you were seeing to the gig, no-one knew why, but no-one did; only newbies maybe) and she started to shiver lightly.

Should he put his arm around her? Fitz wasn’t wearing a jacket, he had left his 1960’s pin stripe suit jacket, (the one he had appropriated from someone’s party somewhere, at some insignificant point) somewhere. He had never felt the cold, well not like other people seemed to. There was no-one else there, the ducks were wherever they go, and the late night lovers, policemen, and thieves were clearly about their business elsewhere. It was just them, the mist, the sun, the lake.

“You know Killing and Arab?” He would have added by The Cure, but it didn’t need saying. She nodded and said, “What about it? I was thinking about it and the scene from L’Etranger and Robert Smith and the fascists who didn’t get it, and it is just us and the elements; we are indivisible from them and they form us and right here, laid out before us there is the immutability of love, and life, and death. Right now, anything is possible…Sorry, what were you saying about the song?” Fitz had thought that he had something to say and it was something like Gwenno had just said, but it wouldn’t have touched it, so he said, “This, here, us, is everything.” “You say it much better than me!” “I wish I could.”

Pause, breathe, release, feel the freedom.

“Have you got any hot chocolate at your house, I’m cold? Where do you live? Is it close by?” Gwenno again. She had put her arm through his and into his pocket.

“Just up the road past the crossroads and the Trustees Saving Bank, I’ve got coffee and cocoa and bread and a toaster and Marmite.” Pause. Breathe. Release. “Are you coming back to mine?” Fitz looked ahead across the water.

“How could I refuse marmite and toast? Is it real coffee?”

“Isn’t all coffee real?” Fitz said, his gaze remaining above the horizon.

You know what I mean,” Gwenno said.

“I really don’t.” Fitz thought.

“It doesn’t matter. I’m coming back, now in a minute, but let’s just sit here for a few more minutes. Have you got any tabs?” Gwenno asked feeling for her pockets.

“Cigarettes or acid?” Fitz asked. It wasn’t trip Friday. He’d forgotten what day it was.

“Either, but I could do with a smoke. Got any gig fags?” she asked, having long given up her own search.

Rhodri reached into the left front pocket of his shorts and pulled out a crushed soft pack that once had 20 pristine Marlboro Lights, he’d nicked them off a table at the gig when he had first got there (from each according to his something to me according to my need or something is what he sometimes said and often thought). They were American with white filter tips. He indexfinger-flicked the bottom and two crushed broken cigarettes flew up, the next two the same and the next one. He’d use them later. The next two were bent out of shape, but whole, he put both in his mouth and flicked his Zippo (fake from Kensington Market) into life by squeezing top and bottom simultaneously, and then clicking his middle finger over the wheel. He inhaled deeply on both and then handed the one on the left to his left and between Gwenno’s glistening lips. He tried not to bum suck it, she probably would have said if it had. He didn’t know. They sat and smoked and watched the light play on the water and around it, diffused through the plumes of grey-blue smoke billowing lightly in the four a.m. breeze. Rhodri feared silence and wanted to break it, but for once he couldn’t. He finished his first, his throat was dry, Gwenno flicked ash on his trainer and inhaled so slightly and exhaled so slowly, it could hardly be called smoking.

Half way through, his long since stubbed, Gwenno asked, “Can I have another?”

He wanted to go, but knew he couldn’t say it. “Any time,” not as lightly as he had hoped.

“No, let’s go back now, I have seen tomorrow now. Let’s go.”