Author’s Retreat: Changing the World with Your Mind and Faith

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Hoar frost-covered snow pillows, near Manning Park, B.C. (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Some time ago I went on an author’s retreat at my friend’s cabin near Manning Park in British Columbia. Some of them were going skiing at the nearby ski hill and Anne thought I’d appreciate the rustic setting as an ideal place to write. I leapt at the chance. I had lots of writing to do and had set myself up for quite a work schedule: I’d promised ten articles and some excerpts to my publisher, three articles to the online magazine I write for, a review of my manuscript contract with my other publisher, and to write as much as possible on my prequel.

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Zermatt in winter

I’d set myself up for quite a work schedule…Hey, didn’t I say that already?…There was no internet access at the cabin. In fact, no cell phone coverage either. We were pretty isolated from the rest of the world—except for the bustling ski hill not far from us…

Then my computer refused to work…

The ski hill beckoned…

The snowshoes came out…

The sun blazed…

And the hoarfrost on the frozen lake sparkled like jewels in the snow…

…My promise to myself to write melted like giant snow crystals in the sun as I indulged in outdoor walks and diverting conversations with my friend, Anne.

Later in the evening, after the boys finally got the fire going, Anne and I got to talking about the book I’d leant her—Calculating God, by Robert J. Sawyer. We were soon discussing God and faith; what it meant to have faith in oneself and in others and ultimately what it meant to have someone show faith in you.

After returning from Manning, I ran across an article in Time that featured Dr. Andrew Newberg (professor of radiology, psychology and religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania) who’d recently authored the book, How God Changes Your Brain. What I found incredibly interesting was the connection made between faith and well-being.

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Nina Munteanu explores with friend Kai near Manning Park

According to Newberg and other neuroscientists, when people engage in prayer or meditation they engage the frontal lobes of the brain, since they govern focus and concentration. In fact, if you pray or meditate long enough you may change your brain permanently; creating thicker frontal lobes. “People who describe themselves as highly spiritual tend to exhibit an asymmetry in the thalamus—a feature that other people can develop after just eight weeks of training in meditation skills,” says Newberg. Better functioning frontal lobes help boost memory, by the way.

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Angel-winged Anne fishes for a treat for her black lab

That faith can play a key role in how our mind and body regulate our general health and determine our own well-being is proven in experiments involving “placebos”. First described in the medical literature in the 1780s, the placebo effect has been documented in some amazing examples of mind-over-matter. Time writer Jeffrey Kluger in his February 23, 2009 article “The Biology of Belief” describes how Parkinson’s disease patients who underwent a sham surgery that they were told would boost the low dopamine levels responsible for their symptoms actually experienced a dopamine bump. Newberg described a cancer patient who regulated his tumors based on his belief of a drug’s efficacy (his tumor shrank).

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Hoar-frost covered shrub

In a post about Brain-Mind-Interfaces (BMI) on The Alien Next Door, I discussed the notion of using our minds to control computers and robots either inside us or close to us and the current technology that is making that possible. Then my good friend, Margaret, told me about this workshop on neurotherapy that she’d attended given by a Dr. Paul Swingle in Vancouver. “He uses biofeedback for the brain to treat attention deficit and hyperactivity

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Hoar frost covered buds

disorders, epilepsy, anxiety, migraine, trauma, and depression,” says Margaret. “It’s all based on the idea that we can control our brain activity and that through training, the brain can learn to modify its own electrical patterns for more efficient processing or to overcome various states of dysfunction.”

 

Neal Krause, a sociologist and public health expert at the University of Michigan, found that people who maintain a sense of gratitude for what’s going right in their lives have a reduced incidence of depression. In another study, he found that people who believe their lives have meaning live longer than people who don’t. Victor Frankl could have told him that!

p.s. speaking of belief, I got all my writing done in the end! My computer decided to behave itself and I got very productive…especially after the chocolate cake.

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Zermatt Alps (photo by Nina Munteanu)

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Waterwill be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in May 2020.

Corona Virus Testing in a World of False Negatives

Atlantic salmon farm escape copy

broken enclosure of Mowi fish farm off British Columbia coast

Some time ago, I wrote an article to express my dismay about some poor science reporting by CTV on the escape of Atlantic farm fish into native fish waters of the Pacific. My dismay arose for two reasons: 1) the ecological impacts of this accident; and 2) the failure of CTV in appropriately reporting the seriousness of it. Their biased and incomplete reporting failed to include accurate and relevant scientific expertise (they did, however, include the biased accounts of irrelevant “experts” who were associated with the fish farm company).

Need for Better Risk Management (Type 1 and Type 2 Errors in Risk Assessment) 

The scientific method relies on accurately measuring certainty and therefore reliably predicting risk. This means accounting for all biases and errors within an experiment or exploration. In my work as a field scientist and environmental consultant representing a client, we often based our formal hypotheses in statistics, which considered two types of error: Type 1 and Type 2 errors.

Type 1 errors are false positives: a researcher states that a specific relationship exists when in fact it does not. This is akin to an alarm sounding when there’s no fire.

Type 2 errors are false negatives: the researcher states that no relationship occurs when in fact it does. This is akin to no alarm sounding during a fire.

Put simply, environmental risk management assesses two types of cost through statistical probability: one to environment and one to investment. Risk analyses are often used in cost-benefit analyses in which the risk posed by errors as a cost to the environment vs a cost to revenue are assessed and balanced. Type 1 errors create false positives (that a cost to environment exists when there is little or none). Type 2 errors create false negatives (that there is no cost to environment when there is). Industry and their consultants predominantly focus on avoiding Type 1 errors (while often ignoring Type 2 errors) to protect their investments.

The reason why the down-playing remarks made by vet Mitchell and the fish farm company in British Columbia are so dangerous is because they make assumptions that are akin to not sounding an alarm when there is a fire; they are committing a Type 2 error and increasing the risk of a false negative. In risk assessment, this is irresponsible. And ultimately dangerous. Instead of targeting “environmentalists” “activists” and certain groups for opinions on issues, CTV should have sought out evidence-based science through scientists with relevant knowledge (e.g. an ecologist—not an economist or a vet (particularly one associated with the culprit)—for an environmental issue). Does this sound familiar on the topic of COVID-19 and the behaviour of the Trump administration?

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Sockeye salmon

The Difference Between Perceived Cases and Actual Cases

In his comprehensive March 10 article Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now in The Medium, Tomas Pueyo argued that Washington State is America’s “Wuhun”:

“The number of cases there [in Washington State] are growing exponentially. It’s currently at 140. But something interesting happened early on. The death rate was through the roof. At some point, the state had 3 cases and one death. We know from other places that the death rate of the coronavirus is anything between 0.5% and 5% (more on that later). How could the death rate be 33%?

It turned out that the virus had been spreading undetected for weeks. It’s not like there were only 3 cases. It’s that authorities only knew about 3, and one of them was dead because the more serious the condition, the more likely somebody is to be tested…they only knew about the official cases and they looked good: just 3. But in reality, there were hundreds, maybe thousands of true cases.”

 

The False Negatives in Corona Virus Testing

In a March 11 The Atlantic article entitled “What Will You Do If You Start Coughing?”, Dr. James Hamblin mentioned the 1.5 million diagnostic tests for the Corona virus to be made available by the end of last week in the United States (according to Vice President Mike Pence). They never materialized. “But even when these tests eventually are available, some limitations will have to be realized,” Hamblin wrote.

For instance, these tests are diagnostic tests—not screening tests.

“The difference comes down to a metric known as sensitivity of the test: how many people who have the virus will indeed test positive. No medical test is perfect. Some are too sensitive, meaning that the result may say you’re infected when you’re actually not. Others aren’t sensitive enough, meaning they don’t detect something that is actually there. The latter is the model for a diagnostic test. These tests can help to confirm that a sick person has the virus; but they can’t always tell you that a person does not. When people come into a clinic or hospital with severe flu-like symptoms, a positive test for the new coronavirus can seal the diagnosis. Screening mildly ill people for the presence of the virus is, however, a different challenge.”

‘The problem in a scenario like this is false negatives,’ says Albert Ko, the chair of epidemiology of microbial diseases at the Yale School of Public Health. If you wanted to use a test to, for example, help you decide whether an elementary-school teacher can go back to work without infecting his whole class, you really need a test that will almost never miss the virus.”

“An inaccurate test—one prone to false positive or false negative results, can be worse than no test at all,” argues Ian Lipkin, an epidemiology professor at Columbia University. The CDC has not shared the exact sensitivity of the testing process it has been using. When Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, was asked about it on Monday, he hedged: “If it’s positive, you absolutely can make a decision,” he said. If it’s not, that’s a judgment call, he said.

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Doctor in Germany testing for COVID 19

Diagnostic testing is a classic case of a Type 2 error scenario: increasing the risk of concluding that there is no fire when there is one. It is a highly combustable (pardon the pun) scenario. False negatives can breed over-confidence. In the case of a disease, this can lead to people who are actually sick spreading the disease further when they should be self-isolating.

The absence of a quick, sensitive, ubiquitous screening test that can decisively rule out coronavirus infection—and send healthy people back out into the world to work and to live—presents unique and grave challenges.

Back to the environment (of which diseases are of course a part):

The Need for The Precautionary Principle in Environmental Science and Reporting 

Environmental scientists generally pride themselves on the use of the Precautionary Principle when dealing with issues of sustainability and environmental management. According to the Precautionary Principle, “one shall take action to avoid potentially damaging impacts on nature even when there is no scientific evidence to prove a causal link between activities and effects.” The environment should be protected against substances (such as an exotic species) which can be assumed potentially harmful to the current ecosystem, even when full scientific certainty is lacking.

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Botanical Beach, BC

Unfortunately, politicians, engineers and the scientists who work for them tend to focus on avoiding Type 1 rather than Type 2 statistical errors. To avoid the risk of cost; they risk the environment. There is an irony to this, though. In fact, by traditionally avoiding Type 1 errors, scientists increase the risk of committing Type 2 errors, which increases the risk that an effect will not be observed, in turn increasing risk to environment. Environmental effects in turn incur added costs, which are often far greater in the end.

In describing the case of the eutrophication of a Skagerrak (a marine inlet), Lene Buhl-Mortensen asks which is worse: risk a Type 2 error and destroy the soft bottom habitat of Skagerrak and perhaps some benthic species, or risk a Type 1 error and spend money on cleaning the outfalls to Skagerrak when in fact there is no eutrophication? “Scientists have argued that cleaning up is too expensive and should not be done in vain,” writes Buhl-Mortensen. “But more often the opposite is the case. The increased eutrophication of Skagerrak could end up more costly than reducing the outfalls of nutrients [to the inlet].”

“Because threats to the environment are threats to human welfare, ecologists have a prima facie ethical obligation to minimize Type 2 errors,” argues Buhl-Mortensen in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin.

We can draw lessons from these environmental science examples in addressing disease—such as the current Corona virus pandemic. Differing strategies of countries to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in Type 2 (economy-driven; no fire when there is one) or Type 1 (health-driven; fire when there may not be one…yet) scenarios—with revealing results. Countries like Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan have acted pro-actively and decisively with excellent results in containment and mitigation. Others such as the USA, France, Spain, Germany, and Switzerland have lagged behind, with disastrous results.

DailyGrowthRate of COVID Cases

The strategy taken by the Trump Administration on major issues from climate change (by denying it) to the recent COVID-19 pandemic (by downplaying it) exemplifies the promotion of false negatives, with disastrous results.

The incredibly irresponsible behaviour of the Trump administration will more than likely cause more deaths than otherwise. This behaviour is borderline criminal.

Peter Wehner of The Atlantic reported that, “The president reportedly ignored early warnings of the severity of the virus and grew angry at a CDC official who in February warned that an outbreak was inevitable. The Trump administration dismantled the National Security Council’s global-health office, whose purpose was to address global pandemics; we’re now paying the price for that…We may face a shortage of ventilators and medical supplies, and hospitals may soon be overwhelmed, certainly if the number of coronavirus cases increases at a rate anything like that in countries such as Italy. (This would cause not only needless coronavirus-related deaths, but deaths from those suffering from other ailments who won’t have ready access to hospital care.)”

Trump is not the only politician who has purposely downplayed the disease or obstructed science and its disclosures to the public. This has been happening from the beginning. Writes Laurie Garrett in the March 11, 2020 issue of the Lancet:

“Had China allowed physician Li Wenliang and his brave Wuhan colleagues to convey their suspicions regarding a new form of infection pneumonia to colleagues, social media, and journalists without risking sanction, and had local officials not for weeks released false epidemic information to the world, we might not now be facing a pandemic. Had Japanese officials allowed full disclosure of their quarantine and testing procedures aboard the marooned Princess Diamond cruise ship, crucial attention might have helped prevent spread aboard the ship and concern in other countries regarding home return of potentially infectious passengers. Had Shincheonji Church and its supporters within the South Korean Government not refused to provide the names and contact information on its members and blocked journalists’ efforts to decipher spread of the virus in its ranks, lives in that country might have been spared infection, illness, and death. Had Iran’s deputy health minister, Iraj Harirchi, and members of the country’s ruling council not tried to convince the nation that the COVID-19 situation was “almost stabilized”, even as Harirchi visibly suffered from the disease while on camera, the Middle East might not now find itself in grave danger from the spread of the disease, with Saudi Arabia suspending visas for pilgrims seeking to visit Mecca and Medina. Neither Iran nor Saudi Arabia has are and open journalism, and both nations seek to control narratives through social media censorship, imprisonment, or even execution.”

COVID 19 testing in Calgary

Drive through COVID 19 testing in Calgary

According to Pueyo, countries that are prepared (e.g. containment and mitigation through en masse social distancing) will see a fatality rate closer to 0.5% (South Korea) to 0.9% (rest of China); while countries that are overwhelmed will experience a fatality rate closer to 3% and 5% if not higher. “Put in another way,” writes Pueyo, “Countries that act fast reduce the number of deaths at least by 10x.”

COVID-19-Epidemiology

Given that 26% of contagions happen before there are symptoms, use of the precautionary principle will save lives—and ultimately all costs—in the end.

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in May 2020.

The Subversive Side of Colonization & The Emerald Ash Tree Borer

Col-o-ni-zation: 1) the action by a plant or animal of establishing itself in a [new] area; 2) the action of appropriating a place or domain for one’s own use; 3) the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people [or other native species] of an area.

 

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Ash tree decays with help from colonizing blue stain fungus (Photo by Nina Munteanu)

In a previous article, I wrote about how escaped Atlantic salmon from farm pens in the Pacific posed a threat to the wild Pacific salmon. Some argue that these interlopers will outcompete their Pacific cousins for habitat and food like many exotics when they are first introduced (think of Purple loosestrife in Canada).

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Insect bore holes in dead tree (photo by Nina Munteanu)

Purple loosestrife spread rapidly across North America’s wetlands, roadsides and disturbed areas after it was introduced in the 1800s when its seeds were included in soil used as ballast in European sailing ships and discarded here; Purple loosestrife is present in nearly every Canadian province and almost every U.S. state. This plant can produce as many as two million seeds in a growing season, causing dense stands of purple loosestrife and outcompeting native plants for habitat. This results in changes to ecosystem functions such as reductions in nesting sites, shelter and food for the native birds, as well as an overall decline in biodiversity (which causes ecosystem fragility).

What we often forget to consider is the indirect impact of the invasive: disease. What something considered innocuous brings with it. When the Atlantic salmon was brought from its native Atlantic habitat to be farmed in the Pacific (because it grew so fast), it brought its toolkit of adaptations—and what it carried—that was unfamiliar to a vulnerable Pacific wild population. The piscine orthoreovirus (PRV) that makes the Atlantic salmon sick, kills the Pacific native (think how the European settlers inadvertently brought in smallpox that killed thousands of indigenous people in Canada).

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Ash tree succumbs to Agrilus in Rouge Park

The emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis) is a “disease” inadvertently brought in by Chinese or Russian traders to North America that is destroying the native ash tree (e.g. green ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica; American ash, Fraxinus Americana; Black ash, F.nigra; Blue ash, F. quadrangulata). A native to East Asia, including China and the Russian Far East, the ash borer has no natural predator here. It was likely brought to North America on wood packaging materials in the early 1990s. They were first detected in Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario in 2002; and have since spread to more than 30 states and 5 provinces since. Most species of North American ash trees are vulnerable to the beetle, which has already killed millions of trees in Canada in forested and urban areas. No North American natural predators (e.g., woodpeckers, other insects or parasites) have slowed the spread of the emerald ash borer. Up to 99% of all ash trees are killed within 8-10 years once the beetle arrives in the area.

In a note on the text of his small collection of stories entitled “Trees Hate Us” (Odourless Press, 2019) E. Martin Nolan writes on behalf of the Ash tree:

Dying Ash-Patrick ButlerThe Emerald Ash Borer hasn’t a real predator here. Don’t blame it for doing what it does, for being in the crates humans ship across oceans. Killed 30 million in Michigan, where it was first found. It’ll kill clear to the ocean.

I am a living ash. For my own safety, I cannot disclose my name or location. Call me Last Ash. The humans do not understand why I lived. I believe it to be a curse—one I’m prepared to live out. Perhaps I contain a deformity that kills the beetle. Maybe I don’t attract it. Call that evolution. Your words will always be your words.

I have watched all of my kind die around me. Dying gives them the art of poetry. Foreknowledge of death opens their language so a human can hear it. One human. Immune, I am left alone like a city tree, to converse in prose among strange maples, birches, pines and firs reluctant to share speech with a member of so plagued a species. As I live out my natural days, these poems—at least the middle bit—will bring me some small contentment. And we may yet return. The trees’ story is long and slow, despite this lightning-fast shrapnel from the human timeline.

E. Martin NolanE Martin Nolan is a poet, essayist and editor. He edits interviews at The Puritan, where he’s also published numerous essays, interviews and blog posts. He teaches in the Engineering Communication Program at The University of Toronto, and is a PhD Candidate in Applied Linguistics at York University. Born and raised in Detroit, he received his Bachelor’s Degree in English Writing at Loyola University New Orleans, and received his Master’s in the Field of Creative Writing from the University of Toronto.

 

 

 

The Group of Seven Reimagined: An Ekphrastic Celebration

Shimmering Water by Lawren Harris

2020 marks the centenary of the formation of the Canadian iconic Group of Seven artists. The Group of Seven movement “dragged Canadian art into the modern age,” writes Christine Sismondo of The Toronto Star in her review of “The Group of Seven Reimagined,” an ekphrastic celebration of the Group of Seven by twenty-one flash fiction authors (including my own “Alien Landscape” inspired by J.E.H. MacDonald’s Lake O’Hara). Sismondo astutely identifies and encapsulates the resonant meaning of the Group of Seven, then and now:

“A hundred years ago, seven Canadian painters got together and decided to start a movement. It was born out of the horrors of war. Now, the potential horrors of climate change are giving the movement an unexpected new life and meaning.”

Jack Pine by Tom Thomson

Sismondo goes on to describe how the movement itself took form:

“At the time, people were trying to put the horrors and sacrifices of the Great War behind them and look to the future to reimagine and redefine Canada itself. It was a pivotal moment, given the role the country had recently played in international affairs and the challenges it faced in becoming an increasingly modern nation. These seven artists—friends and colleagues, many of whom worked together in a Toronto design firm—felt they could help shape this conversation with bold strokes and bright colours to bring out the beauty of the Canadian landscape.”

But in those early days—and more than thirty years after Van Gogh painted Starry Night, Canada still wasn’t ready for Impressionism, or any other art form whose roots came from that movement. Canadian critics disliked the Group of Seven. They were too modern, too experimental. The Group were dismissed as “the Hot Mush School” “a horrible bunch of junk” “the figments of a drunkard’s dream” and “daubing by immature children.”

Mirror Lake by Franklin Carmichael

In his article on the Group of Seven’s reception in England vs Canada, Adam Bunch writes about the reception of the Group of Seven shortly after their formation after the First World War:

The Entrance to Halifax Harbour by A.Y. Jackson

“The reviews by Canadian critics were harsh. The Toronto Daily Star compared Jackson’s work to “a spilt can of paint.” But the English critics loved it. The Morning Post called the Group of Seven “the foundation of what may become one of the greatest schools of landscape painting.” One piece of Canadian art was even sold during the British Empire Exhibition — and it was Jackson’s. Entrance To Halifax Harbour was bought by the Tate Gallery. It’s still part of their collection today.”

“And despite the poor Canadian reviews, the show in London helped to establish the Group of Seven’s reputation back home. Now that the British took the Group seriously, Canadian collectors started taking them seriously, too. The Group even used the bad press to promote their upcoming shows: they printed posters with the angry Canadian reviews side by side with the glowing English ones.”

The Group of Seven Reimagined, published by Heritage House, was elegantly edited by flash fiction author Karen Schauber. Karen had invited me to contribute a piece of flash fiction (a piece of less than 500 words), inspired by a Group of Seven piece I would chose to inspire me. I took my time; this would be the first flash fiction piece I would write. It was an art form I was not familiar with, but was happy to experiment with. But I waited too long to decide and when I finally submitted my first choice for a painting, Karen informed me that it had already been selected by another writer. To my great frustration, this went on for a few pieces.

Shore Pattern by A.J. Casson

I finally took a short trip to the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg to find my piece. In the main hall, I passed the pieces already claimed by my twenty colleagues; I sighed that I had waited so long. By chance, a large selection of artwork by J.E.H. MacDonald—one of the founders of the group—was currently on exhibit on the second floor. That was where I first saw the original oil sketch called Lake O’Hara by MacDonald. It was perfect! My story “Alien Landscape” emerged from the sketch like they had always belonged together.

Lake O’Hara by JEH MacDonald

The Star wrote: “while you might expect a lot of peaceful communing with nature on the page, a surprising number of the written pieces are actually dark tales of conflict and danger—forest fires, mining accidents, boat thieves and murderous plots in the woods. Nina Munteanu, a Canadian ecologist and science-fiction writer, takes J.E.H. MacDonald’s Lake O’Hara in a novel direction in ‘Alien Landscape’ by reimagining it as a refuge for a space heroine fleeing a world that had destroyed nature in pursuit of progress and ended in post-apocalyptic chaos.”

Gift shop at McMichael Gallery

The anthology has found itself gracing the gift shop shelves of several art galleries and museums such as the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC, and the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg. It has likewise received much praise and accolades and appears on several ‘best of’ lists for ekphrastic works, art books, and more.

The anthology was long-listed for The Miramichi Reader’s “The Very Best” Book Award for 2020. The Miramichi Reader writes:

Sunset in the Bush by Frank Johnston

“There’s a very good reason that as I write this, The Group of Seven Reimagined, Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings is sitting at, or near the top of bestseller lists in Canada (currently #3 on the Canadian Art bestseller list at Amazon.ca).  The result is a most attractive book that any lover of art and literature would enjoy, even if they already have more than a passing familiarity with the iconic Group of Seven. All the stories that accompany each image are in the “flash fiction” style, just a page or two in length, a little story that the authors were inspired to write after choosing a particular G7 painting.”

 

Jules Torti of Cottage Life  describd the book this way:

“Seeking equilibrium? This book is like a yoga session without the scheduling logistics and hustle to class. Balance is found in The Group of Seven Reimagined both as an intelligent coffee table book and tangible source of meditation.

Authors of the anthology

Twenty-five writers with notable street cred contributed “flash fiction” to colour iconic paintings by the Group of Seven (and their tagalongs). Flash fiction are stories categorized by length—they are 500 words or less which means they allow for one decent, undistracted cup of dark roast or whisky on ice. For writers or artists, the temptation to reimagine these works will be irresistible. And, what an intriguing resolution to make! Fiction and paintings both rely on interpretation and consideration. Fill in the gaps and colours with your chosen or perhaps newly discovered medium (watercolour?). As Jim and Sue Waddington suggest in the foreword, an art gallery visit becomes suspended in time. We keep returning to certain paintings that resonate and haunt and inadvertently, ‘Your mind sets off on a journey.’”

Author and reviewer Patricia Sandberg describes the anthology through metaphor: “Like a fine wine with dinner, some things cry out to be paired. In Reimagined, the nearly hundred-year-old brandy that was the Group of Seven is introduced to a fresh vibrant cuisine that is flash fiction, and both are the richer for it.”

Stormy Weather by Frederick H. Varley

“As a disciple of the Group of Seven and an aficionado of Canadian wilderness, every page gives me a little leap of pleasure.”—Robert Bateman

“These sharp, imaginative evocations of the world of the Group of Seven are both a joy in themselves and a welcome prompt to make us look at the paintings again. It’s refreshing to find that, a century later, they still speak to us about our lives and our country.”—Ross King, author of Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven

Nina Munteanu with the anthology

“Words, the writer’s paint, are artfully chosen and applied, not one wasted. The stories all compel the reader to dive beneath their surface and linger long after the reading is complete…In 1920 The Group of Seven introduced a new vision for the Canadian landscape. One hundred years later, twenty-one writers in the Group of Seven Reimagined offer a new lens for appreciating their art.”—Ottawa Review of Books

“From one region of Canada to another, a national identity is captured and shared with writers all over the world who, in turn, have crafted beautiful flash fiction pieces that accompany and extend the meaning of the art.”—Niles Reddick, Literary Heist

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in May 2020.

 

 

 

Finding the Right Time and Place to Write

Look and you will find it—what is unsought will go undetected —Sophocles

 

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Snow in the Beaches, Ontario

During a time when I had a demanding job as an scientist with an environmental consulting job, was a devoted wife and mother and community volunteer, I wrote and successfully marketed five books, over a dozen short stories and many articles and reviews. Some people, including my publishers, thought I never slept (true) or had cloned myself (possibly). They couldn’t believe my productivity when I was so busy with life.

But I did what I did, because I’d worked out a system. One that I could live by. One that fit my lifestyle. One created out of respect for my art as part of my “busy” life of commitments.

The truth of it is that we all lead busy lives. If you are going to finish that novel you’ve been working on over the years or book of poems sitting in the bottom dresser drawer, you need to make a commitment. Aside from giving your art the respect it deserves, it comes down to creating a time and place to write.

It starts with being realistic about your daily schedules and routines and inclinations and picking a time and place accordingly. Try to be consistent. It’s actually best to create a routine related to both time and place; the key is to be realistic about it. Don’t fight your inclinations or habits; instead, build your writing into your lifestyle. This will ensure success.

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Nina Munteanu teaching in Mahone Bay, NS

Choose a Sacred Time

Finding the time to write is critical to succeeding. If you don’t dedicate time to write, you won’t write. Believe me, you won’t. Make it sacred.

Writer Louise DeSalvo shared a common story about her experience: “Many people I know who want to write but don’t (my husband, Ernie, for example) or who want to write more than they have but say they can’t find the time (my friend Marla) have told me that taking the time to write seems so, well, self-indulgent, self-involved, frivolous even. And that finding the time to write—even a diary, much less fiction or memoir or poetry—in their busy schedules is impossible. I’ll write when I have the time, they say.”

It doesn’t work that way. You don’t find time; you must create it. Writing of any kind is a commitment you make to yourself. So, choose a time that’s right for you. If you’re a morning person, don’t pick the end of the day when you don’t function as well. Instead, pick the early morning to write, a time before everyone else gets up and the day’s distractions pile up.

It’s actually best to create a routine related to time of the day (e.g., fixed time such as every morning or right after supper) or based on some other constant in your life, say the school calendar or your daily activities. The key is to be realistic about the time(s) you’ve chosen. In other words, your goals should be realistic and realizable.

The second part of the commitment is sharing it with your family and friends so that they will respect your sacred writing time. By sharing how important it is to you, you also give them the gift of sharing the experience with you and they are more likely to respect your time alone to write. This is also why choosing a routine makes more sense; it is something your family and friends will better remember and abide by. Making it easy for others is part of making it easy for you.

Find Your Own Rhythm

the beach-2013There’s no rule for when and how often you write. Because frequency and schedule of writing depends on the kind of writing you do (e.g., novel, short stories, articles, research) and on your own rhythms, you must decide what works best.

Most writers recommend that you commit to a regular writing schedule that is realistic to your overall routine and biorhythms. Some recommend you write in the morning, after a refreshing sleep; others suggest you write at night, at the end of the day when your memories are more fresh with the day’s activities and stimulations. Yet others suggest you take time out during the day to jot down relevant experiences as close to the time as the muse hits you, then spend some time at the end of the day compiling it into your work.

In the end, it’s up to you to choose what works for you and your own rhythms. When is the best time for you to write? And for how long or how many pages? Once you decide, stick to that schedule.

Choose a Sacred Place

Writing is a reflective activity that requires the right environment. The best environment is a quiet one with no interruptions and where you are alone. A reflective environment will let you find a connection with your muse. You need a place where you can relax and not worry about someone barging in or other things distracting you from your reflections. You should also feel physically comfortable and the place should meet your time requirements.

Because the suitability of a place can change with the time of day, learn the rhythms that affect the place you wish to write in. For example, the kitchen may be the centre of activity during the day but an oasis of quietude during the evening. Similarly, learn what kind of environment stimulates and nurtures your writing. Does music help or do you need complete quiet? Do you respond to nature’s soft breezes and sounds or do you prefer to surround yourself with the anonymous murmur of a crowded café for company?

C'est La Vie Cafe

a coffee shop in Val David, Quebec

Places that work for me include the local coffee shop, where its desultory conversations and laughter—and wonderful smells of fresh coffee—provide a pleasant living-landscape for my muse. I also enjoy my daily walk with a notebook or iPad in the park along the river near my house. I teach writing at the University of Toronto St George campus in downtown Toronto and just recently discovered an enclave that excited my muse. The outside breezeway at Knox College, with arched ceiling and columns, adorned with hanging plants, is pure magic. The breezeway cuts through an outside courtyard of gardens and yard, populated with songbirds and the gentle rustle of a refreshing breeze. Benches and small tables and chairs line the breezeway, ensuring a writer’s sanctuary.

Where you write may reflect what you’re writing and vice versa. To some extent, you are environment and environment is you. You might try a few places first and see what happens to your muse. What you write while sitting under an apple tree in the breeze hearing the birds singing may differ from what you write while sitting in your living room by the crackling fireplace with music playing or sitting at your desk in your bedroom in total silence or in a crowded café surrounded by cheerful bustle.

Again, as with your choice of time, tell your family and friends about your sacred place. Provide rules, if you have to. Let’s say it’s a desk in the study. You may, for instance, let others know that your “mess” is part of a work in progress, perhaps even explain a little about it so they understand the nature of what you’re doing and why it should not be touched or moved or used, even while you are away from it. This will ensure that they respect your things and what you’re doing.

In the end, it comes to finding the right integration and balance of time and place. Letting others know of your choices is equally important; this will ensure that they can help you, not hinder you in your writing. While writing is to a large extent an activity done in solitude, the journey is far from secluded. Ensure that you have a good support network.

This article is an excerpt from my fiction writing guidebook “The Fiction Writer: Get Published, Write Now!” (Starfire, 2009).

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in 2020.

 

Nina Munteanu Shares Her Journey With Water

Nina’s recent presentation at the Don Heights Unitarian Congregation on water—”Reflections: the Meaning of Water“—explores the many dimensions of water. She describes how its life-giving anomalous properties can lead us to connect with water and nature to help us be the caretakers we need to be during these changing times.

Based on her celebrated book “Water Is… The Meaning of Water”, Nina shares her personal journey with water—as mother, teacher, environmentalist, traveler and scientist—to explore water’s many “identities” and, ultimately, our own.

 

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stream in Westcoast rainforest of BC (photo by Kevin Klassen)

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in May 2020.

Reminiscing on 2019…

Diary Water cover finalThis week is a wonderful time to reflect on the past year, 2019. It’s also a good time to be thankful for the things we have: loving family, meaningful friendships, pursuits that fulfill us and a place that nurtures our soul.

It’s been a very good year for my writing…and my soul…

Last year I received a writer’s dream Christmas gift: a signed contract with Inanna Publications to publish my ninth novel: “A Diary in the Age of Water” about four generations of women and their relationship with water during a time of extreme climate change. The book will be released by Inanna in May 2020 with a launch in Toronto on May 26th at Queen Books as part of the Toronto International Festival of Authors. The book is now available on Amazon.ca for pre-order!

Publications   

LBM 2019 ClimateInCrisis2019 saw several of my publications come out. In January 2019 the reprint of my story “The Way of Water” was published by Little Blue Marble Magazine. It will reappear in a print and web anthology devoted to climate fiction called “Little Blue Marble 2019: Climate in Crisis” on December 27, 2019. That will be the sixth time “The Way of Water” has been published!

EcologyOfStoryImpakter Magazine also published my article “How Trees Can Save Us,” an essay on five writers’ perspectives on trees and humanity’s relationship with them.

In June, I published the 3rd guidebook in my Alien Writing Guidebook series—called “The Ecology of Story: Worlds as Character” with Pixl Press in Vancouver. The launch on July 4th at Type Books was well attended with presentations by several local writers and artists.

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Nina Munteanu with The Group of Seven Reimagined

I was commissioned along with twenty other writers to write a piece of flash fiction for a commemorative anthology to the Group of Seven, entitled “The Group of Seven Reimagined,” with Heritage House in Vancouver.

I’d never written flash fiction before and it was both exciting and challenging to write. I was asked to pick an artist’s piece as inspiration for a flash fiction story. The beautiful hardcover book was released October 2019.

October also saw another of my pieces published. I was asked to contribute something to the Immigrant Writer’s Association’s first anthology, entitled “Building Bridges,” about the immigrant’s experience in Canada. While I’m not an immigrant, I did share my parents’ experience who had immigrated to Canada from France. I wrote a piece on the hero’s journey.

 

Age of Water Podcast 

AgeOfWater-HomePage

On November 22, 2019, co-host Claudiu Murgan and I launched the Age of Water podcast.  The podcast covers anything of interest from breaking environmental news to evergreen material on water and the environment. We interview scientists, journalists, writers, academia and innovators who share their knowledge and opinions about the real state of the environment and what committed individuals and groups are doing to make a difference. We talk about the problems and we talk about the solutions.

Appearances & Media / News

On June 22, I traveled to Port McNicoll at Georgian Bay to help give a writing intensive, hosted by publisher Cheryl Antao-Xavier at IOWI. I was also invited to speak at The Word is Wild Literary Festival in October. The event took place in Cardiff, in the Highlands of Ontario. In late October, I traveled with friend and editor Merridy Cox to Vermont to give a presentation on water to the Lewis Creek Association. Entitled “Reflections: The Meaning of Water”, the talk focused on our individual connection with water. I will be reprising this talk at several venues this year.

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Nina Munteanu with a metasequoia in the Beaches (photo by Richard Lautens)

I was also featured in the news a few times. The Toronto Star asked me to answer two questions about climate change and the Vancouver Sun published an Oped of mine entitled “Why Women Will Save the Planet.”

Research & Adventure

Cedar Giants copy

Giant red cedars in Lighthouse Park

In Summer 2019 I travelled to British Columbia to visit friends and family in Vancouver and elsewhere. Following a dream of mine, I travelled with good friend Anne to Port Renfrew on Vancouver Island to see the ancient forests and the west coast. I had wanted to see these old-growth forests for some time since I’d been to Carmanah many years ago. The ancient forests were magnificent and breathtaking and so nourishing for the soul. Recognizing these forests as living cathedrals, I felt a deep reverence. The silent giants rose from wide buttressed bases into the mist like sentinels, piercing the heavens. A complex tangle of beauty instinct whispered in the breeze with the pungent freshness of pine, cedar and fir. Anne and I even had a chance to hug Big Lonely Doug, the second tallest Douglas fir tree in Canada.

Nina looking up dougfir copy 3

Nina Munteanu stands, dwarfed, by a Douglas fir tree in Lighthouse Park

While in British Columbia, I also visited a small enclave of old-growth forest in the heart of Vancouver at Lighthouse Park (West Vancouver). I went with son Kevin and then again with good friend Margaret. This majestic forest of redcedar, Douglas fir, spruce and hemlock is deeply awesome and humbling. And a real gem for the city.

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Nina Munteanu in Ladner, BC

Then, with just a few days before my flight back to Toronto, I slipped and fell and broke my ankle. I got a “boot” and a cane then hobbled on the plane and went back to work at UofT.

It has been a wonderfully inspirational year for me in writing and teaching. I still actively teach at The University of Toronto in several writing centres and classes throughout the downtown campus. The students are bright and challenging. I also still coach writers to publication and have helped several finish their works in 2019.

 

I hope the beauty of the season has filled your heart with joy. Wishing you a wonderful 2020, filled with grace, good health, and sweet adventure!

 

 

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Nina Munteanu is a Canadian ecologist / limnologist and novelist. She is co-editor of Europa SF and currently teaches writing courses at George Brown College and the University of Toronto. Visit www.ninamunteanu.ca for the latest on her books. Nina’s bilingual “La natura dell’acqua / The Way of Water” was published by Mincione Edizioni in Rome. Her non-fiction book “Water Is…” by Pixl Press (Vancouver) was selected by Margaret Atwood in the New York Times ‘Year in Reading’ and was chosen as the 2017 Summer Read by Water Canada. Her novel “A Diary in the Age of Water” will be released by Inanna Publications (Toronto) in May 2020.