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sometimes literature teaches us about the virgin mary in the bathtub

cleanliness is next to godliness
tonight i finally made a point of going out to a poetry and prose reading. i get invited to these things fairly often, but i never end up going because i'm usually beat by the end of the day and feeling much to grumpy to deal with people other than dom, who has end-of-days kate inflicted on him on a regular basis. however, since i'm no longer office-bound, i figured that i have no excuse and, more importantly, i think it would make me a better writer to have contact with other people who have been doing this longer or more successfully than i have.

the reading that i attended is one of a series held at the yellow door, which is sort of an underground [literally and figuratively] montreal institution. readings are held there once a month or so and feature poets, prose writers and musicians performing for friends and curious strangers. tonight's reading was mostly poetry, although there was some prose and just a hint of music, along with what could more accurately be termed "spoken word" pieces- i.e., writing created to be read out loud, before an audience, rather than read on the page.

and indeed, the evening was educational for me. and shaming. the shaming was almost immediate, because the first woman who read opened by talking about how she'd been making a point of trying to write one poem every morning, since that's when she feels at her most creative. cue the heavy cloak of fail descending upon me. i think about writing every day, but i sure as hell don't do it. i can't even write blog posts every day and, as you might have noticed, those aren't exactly polished. so thank you for the reminder: if i'm going to be serious about this writing thing, i need to put more serious time into it.

one thing that also occurred to me as the evening drew to a close is that i may in fact be intolerably morbid, brooding, paranoid and generally dark. most of the people reading this evening made reference to beautiful, positive, life-affirming things that broke through pain and monotony of their lives and inspired them. there was a decided paucity of corpses and angst [which is what i think i'm going to call my next short story anthology, now that i think about it]. by comparison, most of my writing [see links to the various poetry and prose entries at the top of this page] is more about the things that will eventually grind you up or grind you down and bury you in a pile of your own meaninglessness. ok, it's possible i've written happier things, just not very many of them.

but most interesting to me was something i discovered after i had crawled out from under the stone of shame but before i realised that i'm remarkably off-putting. author alice peterson read a story from her anthology all the voices cry and by way of introduction, talked about her efforts to find a claw-footed bathtub for her home in rural quebec. when she asked the locals, she was told that she could find them everywhere, in disused lawns and gardens, because the damn things grow like weeds. that's a hard thing for someone who doesn't come from a rural or religious background to grasp, but indeed, the wilds of quebec are evidently in bloom with claw-footed bathtubs sprouting from the ground.

you see, many families want to build a shrine to the virgin mary, but need to do this on the cheap. so rather than order from their trusty "shrines-r-us", people take a d.i.y. attitude and construct a shrine out of whatever they happen to have laying around. like their bathtub. this raises a lot of questions for me. i mean, it seems like a lot of work to dig a hole to stand a bathtub in. plus, don't most families need their tubs? [on second thought, maybe i don't want to know the answer to that second question.] and what happens if you move? do the shrines come with the house? or is everyone responsible for digging up and transporting their own tub-shrine? isn't it a little bit sinful to show the virgin mary in the bathtub? or at least intruding on her privacy? shouldn't she at least get a shower curtain or something?

i opted not to interrupt the reading, but you'd better believe that as soon as i got home, i rushed to google "quebec bathtub shrines". i really wanted photographs, but i also got a link to a wikipedia entry for "bathtub madonna", which i believe was the b-side of "lady madonna", now that i think of it.

and i found out that this is by no means limited to quebec. in fact, putting the virgin in an upended tub in your backyard is a thing in a lot of areas traditionally inhabited by poor catholics in north america. they're a well-enough known icon of white trash ingenuity in the united states that john waters has made fun of them, ironically in one of the few films of his i haven't seen. [nor would i have believed it was a real thing if i had seen it, because, let's face it, waters isn't known for his gritty realism.]

perhaps these shrines are built to recall the humble origins of jesus, but i suspect that they're simply testimony to the power of god and religion in the lives of people living in an inhospitable region for hundreds of years. you'd kind of want to believe that you had god on your side. personally, i'd just like to float the idea that if the choice is between building a shrine and having a bathtub, maybe the almighty would be cool with you not building a monument to the girl he deflowered and knocked up.

but let this be a lesson to you all: reading is important. books are important. you can learn things about yourself and about the world from every literary experience you have. also, when you come to quebec, you might be able to find a free range bathtub to take home with you.

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