So now it's begun.. the inevitable gathering - of courage, of fear, of missing archival copies.
Dear Station Attendants,
I've kept myself so busy these past few years that I haven't been much of a blogger. In fact, I haven't done a lot of writing either. A filling Station editorship, a couple or three bands (Ross Priddle likes to tease me that there are 8 or 10), a marriage, a subsequent failed marriage (but one less band out of it, at least), and a stream of undesirable day jobs (mostly administrative work), along with a healthy (or unhealthy) fear of the passage of time and eventual death, have kept me almost constantly occupied, frantic to fit as much as possible into my busy day. But right now, with the summer partied out of me over 2 folk festivals and a rockabilly mini-tour, with a summer storm pushing itself away off the roof of the house like a swimmer - I need to stop mid-air. I need grounding. For some reason unknown, I feel the need to explain.
Despite the neglect of my own writing in recent years (aside from songs which somehow occasionally still beat their way out of me on a strong bassline), I feel like a part of the thrumming inner workings of Canadian letters. Every time I write an advertising piece or a grant, I sell filling Station to myself once again in the process, reminded about why it's important to keep this magazine going, to try to improve it. It is the only literary magazine in Canada that provides a consistent outlet for alternative literature. Other magazines sometimes include it for flavour, but we like the taste of it, all the time -- because we believe that's how new writing happens. Truly original words come from taking measures to try to get to them, sometimes risky, drastic measures, not from waiting for them to come to you. Like other words, they need encouragement, someone to say yes, you’re strange, and different, and that is completely worthwhile. Just like an artist is different from the other kids, filling Station writers tend to be artists different even from other artists. I really feel like they need us, and that therefore, this magazine plays a vital role for these emerging writers. Yes, we publish established authors too, but that's because we love to juxtapose them with emerging writers, starting an artistic dialogue between them that can also carry on off of the page. Each benefits from a relationship with the other, just as any student benefits from a supportive teacher or mentor. And, we are an 100% volunteer-run, non-profit literary magazine – there could be others in Canada that are run the way we are, by truly Collective decision-making, but if there are I don’t know about them.
And so, I go about my busy days of paper-pushing contract gruntwork perpetually stoked to be part of filling Station, a secret literati in secretary's clothing swilling back coffee meant to keep truckers awake, ready to defend fS's glossy perimeters from any attacker, be it ninja, zombie, or other variety of asshole. Despite disappointments such as fundraisers that sometimes haven’t raised funds, or promising Collective members who suddenly get more interested in bar culture and other 'normal' activities than writing and disappear, or one more longtime subscriber who decides they really spend more time watching cable, anyway, and don't re-subscribe, I feel very palpably the potential for filling Station to grow so that more good things can happen -- payment for writers, colour interiors to better display visual work, a bigger annual festival, an office where Collective members can not only come to work on filling Station, but to work on their own writing when they need a place to go, an amazing new website, a network of reading series -- there are a lot of changes that could come "with just a little more money, and a little more time", as one of our designer James' rootsy songs goes.
Success with grants last year has definitely fueled my imagination too. My very first grant cycle as Managing Editor, I was full of worry. I didn't want to crib heavily from previous grant applications that seemed to use the same language and logic since the beginning of the magazine, but I didn't want to lose our grants. Also, I have a bit of an inferiority complex at times for all my cheeriness -- I might be the least formally educated of Managing Editors so far, having had to quit my English degree partway through for a number of reasons including being broke/hungry/lonely in Ottawa, and a severe illness in the family which brought me back to Cold Lake, and after a couple of years of Northern Alberta quirkiness and hell, to Calgary. I feel I have absorbed a lot of learning from my own reading and by association with filling Stationers over the years, but there’s something in me left from Byward Market street busker days of hardening living and addict boyfriend betrayals that seems to crust the edges of certain turns of phrase so that I can’t quite trust my tongue or my pen when I’m worked up. Were my applications professional enough?
Luckily, my fears were quieted by the rustle of grant letters rolling in for 2009, telling me that the Canada Council, Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and Calgary Arts Development thought we were worth more dollars, too. We hired a new magazine designer, reconsidered our production materials, looked at the possibility of other printers, and found a new web design company. We held our annual Blow-Out Festival at both Pages Bookstore and the beautiful Arrata Opera Centre, a converted cathedral. In 2009, our 5th annual Blow-Out, there were 7 events over 3 days including an Art Show & Sale, a Small Press Book & Arts Fair, and two Exploding Concerts, along with two big reading-performances that incorporated members of the theatre community. Our Collective membership grew as our outreach activities attracted more new faces to our fold, that delightful notched crease our printer puts on the spine of each issue. We learned the value of piggybacking on other events, and did so whenever we could -- at the High Performance Rodeo, Calgary Folk Music Festival, Banff-Calgary International Writer’s Festival, and, this year, at Sled Island including bands Woodpigeon and Savk.
Things can only get better - why shouldn't they?, is an easy inner mantra I try to pass on to the fS Collective members, some 15-25 hopeful writers (depending on the meeting) and U of C English students who choose the poetry and fiction that makes filling Station happen. I don’t really understand my enduring hope at times, as many shitty things have happened in my life – I honestly think it comes from having had a pretty damn happy childhood up to age 10 or so. If you can keep the happy going in your kids’ lives til that point, I think it gives them a lot versus the world. Anyway, there's so much cynicism out there, and a decent number of opportunities to accumulate it as a writer, as writing is rejected by publications, and manuscripts are rejected at publishers in turn, not necessarily due to quality of writing at all but because there are simply a limited number of magazines and publishers with a limited amount of funding. If a writer is an example for a type of person in the world, being that the world is so packed with people that one person can be considered a cross-section, then no matter what you’re writing, there’s an audience out there for it. But publishing isn’t always easy, for sure.
I remember meeting an elderly writer - a hero of a hero of mine - who, in the first few sentences of a conversation with him after his reading in Ottawa at SAW Gallery, told me in all bitterness and seriousness to stop being a writer if I can. I didn't believe him, but I definitely resented his trying to quell me, a 17 year old determined to write my best and publish my first book before I'm 30, as old as rob was at the time. Now I'm 31 and I still don't believe you, dear Mr. Beissel. In fact, I still can't quite believe you meant it, you seemed so sweet, and wrote so well.. I wonder if you're still alive. One thing's for sure, I never want to be telling younger writers not to try. So, with an almost disgusting faith which I can only hope is more contagious than annoying, I do my best to manage filling Station.
Here I am now, writing you from the home office, a modest place I'm grateful for. First time in my life I've had a place without a ton of roommates, aside from Mom & Dad's. Having inherited the filling Station archive (to Issue 33), overstuffed into a filing box under the window, Issues 34-47 on a nearby bookshelf. Issues As grant letters are stuffed into envelope headed to Box 22135, the one we've had for 17 years over at Banker's Hall, my heart palpitates uncomfortably, my head echoing the words of last year.. "Funding cuts coming.." "Canadian Periodical Fund could be just the beginning.." "Harper says the average Canadian doesn't care about the arts.." “Maggie says he’s full of shit..” (at least one voice in my head about all that is saying something positive – thank you for that glorious Globe & Mail article, Ms. Atwood). It’s hard to know what to do with this mixture of nervous energies. The filebox under the window seems to vibrate, maybe with distant thunder I can’t hear, or maybe for another reason.
filling Station will have published 50 issues by the end of 2010, and has been publishing for 15 years. This has been a tag line, a point of pride I've added to the fS Managing Editor's email signature. Behind it are so many stories, many more than I know right now. I'm interested in those stories, and have now, tonight, begun reading the entirety of the filling Station archive. While my friends challenge themselves to read 95 Books on Tumblr, I challenge myself to read all of the books that come into filling Station – the ones that aren’t scooped up by the Collective before I get through them, that is. (Right now – Glimpse by George Murray). And I will add to that this archive – except for 9, 14, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 38.. these are sadly missing from the archive I’ve inherited. If you’ve got one of these issues, please get in touch. There’s a complete collection at Simon Fraser U, I’ve heard.. anyone good at B&E’s? (Not serious! Please put down that crowbar).
Reading the archive is also a sort of reconstruction for me of the Calgary of many of my filling Station friends, one they’ve known much longer. Tonight I read Issues 1-4 and noted a number of random things:
The first issue features an editorial written by the Collective as a whole, explaining why it’s called filling Station. My personal favorite answer is, “We’re a literary dialysis machine on wheels, a big honkin kidney passin stones at the side of the road.”
Issue 1 mentions that someone named Kevin first thought of the name filling Station. (Kevin who?)
Anita Rau Badami, Roberta Rees, and M.A. Laberge read at the first filling Station fundraiser.
The first filling Stations had no funding as was supported by local advertisers.
Calgary bookstores mentioned that may longer exist: The Book Company, Books n’ Books, A&B Sound Bookstore (seriously!), Doctor Hook’s Used Tapes & Books, Book & Cranny Quality Used Books, A Woman’s Place
Cafes and bars mentioned that also may no longer exist: Max’s Café and Bar (home of weekly meetings according to Issue 1), The Elephant’s Knee (where the first reading series was held)
Bios in Issue 1 were mostly 1 sentence long, except Ashok Mathur, who was just too damn prolific.
Roberta Rees was U of C Writer in Residence when Issue 2 was out.
Issue 3 included a surreal postcard (just a cut out on one of the back pages) by Rylymo Afosed referencing Gordon Lightfoot.
While my Collective emphatically told me last year that ‘Poets don’t wear t-shirts’, they were for sale in the very first issue for $15. By Issue 2, they included the caveat (X-L only) – probably having sold out of the other sizes! A-ha, I knew it.
The Issue 2 editorial was co-written by Theresa Smalec and jacqueline turner.
Issue 4 begins with an elegy for Rob Brander, founding editor of filling Station, written by Blaine Kyllo.
The revelation of that last note moved me among the rest of the happy surprises being discovered. The very first filling Station Managing Editor, the fellow whose work we are continuing some 15 years later, is not around because he passed away. There aren’t a lot of the old guard in town dating back as many years as Issue 1, although Marilyn Heinen is featured in the first two issues, someone I see at the Ship n’ Anchor most Saturdays. And I ran across Russ Rickey (r rickey) over the phone when I had to find out who owned the filling Station Domain Name in order to renew a couple years ago, and called the number the web hosting company had for him. Seemed to me he had just had a baby. But I always wondered where Rob Brander went to, this name I found here and there scrawled on old paperwork.
Now I feel some of the spirit behind filling Station that was his has carried forward through this blind faith I and other Collective members feel in the importance, the goodness, of what filling Station has to offer, up against all cynicism and other odds. Maybe it’s something like the feeling that filled him when he started filling Station, when he did what can be so hard to do as a catalyst, but so thrilling when you’re caught up in that energy – when you ‘catch religion’ as Karen Ball said the other day, no biblical context necessary. Rob motivated people to believe in something only he could see until together, they could make it concrete and see it together. I’m not someone able to believe in life after death, but I do believe in life after life.. that your life, when it leaves you, can leave a lasting impression on the living. Rob, I thank you for this gift to all of us, the readers, writers, and Collective members of the past-present-future. I will be honoured to dedicate Issue 50 to you. And hopefully one day, Issue 100 (so help me Harper).