Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Stories

“The story of life is quicker than a blink of an eye, the story of love is hello, goodbye.” Jimmy Hendrix I’ve been here for two weeks, rummaging, unpacking, sorting, and getting ready to let go. The letting go part is impossible even though I have no other choice.  A stranger’s text appears on the phone. The query, similar to others that have come, questions the age, size, and...

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“The past is to be respected and acknowledged, but not worshipped; it is our future in which we will find our greatness.” Pierre Trudeau I work from home. I don’t have to go anywhere except to my laptop. The physical isolation we’ve all been experiencing as a result of COVID – 19 shouldn’t present any challenges for me. And yet, it has.  I’m doing work I love (most of the time), I get out for walks every day, I work in my garden many times a week, and I have wonderful human interaction, albeit on line, with my students, colleagues and fellow writers. There is much to be grateful...

“Writing is a struggle against silence.” Carlos Fuentes I never know where I’m going to find inspiration or if I’m even going to find it. Nor do I know when I will receive some insight into my characters or their stories. Art is a difficult, solitary business. The struggle is lonely and typically quiet.  I am very fortunate to mentor students in the creative writing studio program at Simon Fraser University. Aside from our regular classes and workshops, we have been meeting most Sundays over the last couple of months for coffee, a chat and student readings. Even though these...

“Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.” John Updike  In looking at the written work of others and providing feedback, I have a tendency to zero in on two things: consistency of story and the experience I have within the story. In other words, for me a story needs to hang together and I want to be fully immersed in it as though I’m an invisible witness seeing and feeling every nuance of the story and the characters within it. My own critique group met this week. Along with the submissions of two other members of my group, a chapter of my new...

“Tradition does not mean to look after the ash, but to keep the flame alive.” Jean Jaurès We are celebrating Easter this weekend. This is one of two Easters I’ll be observing (Greek Orthodox Easter is next weekend). I grew up with two Easters because my mother was Catholic and my father was Greek Orthodox. Except for those times (every four years) when the two Easters happened on the same weekend, the two occasions usually meant lots of food in the house and more chocolate (my only preoccupation at the time).  Not that long ago my parents used to travel by plane to visit us at...

“Out of routine comes inspiration.” Mark Kostabi I’m about to tell you something you already know. I like routine.It’s how I get things done. And I like getting things done. As I tell anyone prepared to listen, I can handle any amount of work (or at least I think I can), but it’s very difficult for me to be stalled. About a hundred years ago, an acquaintance I’d only met briefly through a project I was involved in said, “if a wall is placed in your way, you wouldn’t go around it. You’re one of those people who likes to go straight through.” I can’t recall what our...

“I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim.” Frida Kahlo I’ve had a tough time writing of late. The work of my new project, a work of fiction is playing out on the news every night. Dystopian fiction, which is a new genre for me, has at its core one human calamity after another. I don’t think I’m writing history as it unfolds, nor do I think the question I’m trying to answer in my new project—what would we be prepared to give up for peace—is unique. Many writers, far better than me, have explored some aspect of this query. I’m stymied because I’ve been far too...

“Make use of what is in your power and take the rest as it happens.” Epictetus “So are you going to do it all in a day and half?” my friend Tatiana said. We were sitting in the wonderful Oryzae restaurant in Squamish. It was March 10th, prior to my reading at the Squamish Public Library. I had told her about the task that lay ahead of me: clearing the contents of my parents’ five-bedroom house in Calgary in order to put it up for sale. My parents were gone. It was time. I think I laughed out loud at Tatiana’s question, or perhaps it was simply a restrained snicker. I know I...

“Nothing in the affairs of men is worthy of great anxiety.” Plato I’m a news junkie. This won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has known me for, let’s say, five minutes. As a kid I wrestled the paper away from my father and insisted we eat dinner early so we could watch the 6 o’clock news. I wasn’t allowed to stay up for the 11 o’clock broadcast despite my foot stamping objections. I like knowing what is going on in the world, being engaged whether in forming my own opinions about an issue, entering discussions and debates or deciding what to protest. Knowledge is the genesis of...

Using headlines pulled from actual newspapers as chapter headings in my new novel Finding Callidora wasn’t even my idea. It was suggested by a member of my writing group which was critiquing the novel in progress. But I liked the suggestion right away. Why not? I thought. The Alevizopoulos family is politically engaged and opinionated (much like my own family). And they are voracious newspaper readers, so using headlines to delineate chapter headings made sense. In addition, the headlines would be a shorthand way to move the reader through different time periods and...

“If we don’t believe in free expression for people we despise, we don’t believe in it at all.” Noam Chomsky I typically see myself as a fair-minded person, someone open to the opinions of others. I enjoy engaging in lively discussions and I love debate that either solidifies my point of view or gives me other ways to look at an issue. At least this is what I tell myself. Then I hear some of the things I say and in particular the way I say them. Man, am I opinionated.  It’s not as though this comes as a surprise to me. I’ve been teased about it my entire life. Friends, teachers,...

“Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down.” Ray Bradbury As many of you know I’ve started a new writing project. Yikes! That blank page is such an invitation, a promise of what might come. And yet, it can be the source of much frustration. I take a step into the world I’m creating, only to realize that it’s not that easy to build a new world, particularly when that world is 50 or so years into the future. What will life be like? Will the world change? How? Why and when? I write down all the questions. I figure this will help dislodge some answers...

“I can’t write without a reader. It’s like a kiss—you can’t do it alone.” John Cheever “I don’t typically like author readings,” the gentleman said by way of introduction. “Someone going on and on.” I had just completed a reading at the Pemberton Library. I stood answering questions and signing books for those who had so generously bought copies of my new novel, Finding Callidora. I had given an introduction to my novel prior to the reading, shown the trailer for the book and when I read, there was a silence in the room that assured me I had everyone’s attention. I can’t really...

“Grief seems at first to destroy not just all patterns, but also to destroy a belief that a pattern exists.”Julian Barnes  My father died just over three months ago and my mother has been dead for almost nine years. I continue to function, do whatever it is I’m supposed to do.  I’m a planner so I make lists upon lists upon further lists, then I go about getting whatever tasks need getting done, done. Stuffing more into my life has always been my sure-fire way of coping. I convince myself to keep moving.  This week I had to be in Vancouver for a few appointments. We...

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”Aristotle Christmas 2019 is now in the past as is the downtime from my responsibilities for the festival and literary programs I organize. As I look ahead at the 2020 festival, I’m overwhelmed. Part of it is the insane amount of work.   But that’s not really it. I’m used to a great deal of work. I’m not smart enough to do things any other way. I typically put one foot in front of the other, jot down a plan, make umpteen lists and go for it. I think of the consequences later. We had one of the best...

“Science is a beautiful gift to humanity. We should not distort it.”A.P.J. Abdul Kalam  “They say that scientists are close to recreating the human brain, fixing the problems in the brain that go wrong. Things like dementia. Can you imagine? Pretty soon, they’ll be able to fix all our broken down bits. What do you think about that?” He says all of this with the same light in his eyes I’ve noticed in my grandchildren when they’ve opened their Christmas presents. He’s a friend of mine. We used to work together many years ago. We’ve already spent most of our time together over dinner...

“We become eternal by being held in memory’s loving arms.” Richard Wagamese  Fragrances of simmering lamb, baked desserts, and aromatic spices will ignite a memory, a sense of something familiar. She is reminded of a home she once lived in and has visited more often as her parents have aged.  As with smells, her recollections can also be triggered by a glance or words uttered. “Where is the bread,” her father asks, and she imagines her mother cursing herself for forgetting the bread in the oven.  Her mother is not here anymore. But the table is still there; its...

“And sometimes against all odds, against all logic we still hope." Unknown She was sure the kitchen table would buckle. Its scrawny legs couldn’t possibly hold up the hefty Christmas plates, the silver cutlery brought here from somewhere else, the hand embroidered napkins, her mother’s own handiwork and all those bowls and platters of food, every single one foreign to this country they now lived in: avgolemeno, kleftiko, moussaka, eggplant stew,zucchini in olive oil, potatoes, humus, babaganoush, taramasalata, and Greek salad with slabs of feta. The...

“The charity that is a trifle to us can be precious to others.” Homer There are many, many worthy charitable organizations and at this time of year, it is particularly difficult to choose where to share your good fortune and support. I’m about to make your decision that much harder. I’m sorry. We started a fundraising campaign at the end of November to help support the Whistler Writers Festival, our Authors in the Schools program, our Writer in Residence Program and our Spring Reading Series.  I’ve written about the festival a great deal in the past, how it started, how it’s...

“There are things known and things unknown and in between there are the doors.” Jim Morrison And if I could add to that quote I’d say there are many, many blank pages. So where to start? Usually I begin by banging my head against the wall, questioning myself about why I bother writing. I persist (with the head banging) until the pain becomes too great and I have no choice but to get on with the story I feel needs to be told. I sit with the original idea that brought me my anguish. In my last novel, Finding Callidora, the idea for the novel came from two sources. My aunt referred to some...

“There are some things one can achieve by a deliberate leap in the opposite direction.” Franz Kafka I’ve started a new project. I rarely use the word, novel, when I embark on something new. That word denotes hundreds of pages, lots of up and down emotions and years of hard-fought battles with myself to turn words into stories. The word, project sits a bit better with me, it’s not so intimidating. I feel as though I could abandon it if I wanted to, even as I know once I get started it won’t let me go so easily. My new project is not very far along and I have no idea where I’m going with it....

“New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Lao Tzu During the Question and Answer period at the end of my reading in Edmonton, someone asked, “How do you feel when you finish writing a novel? Is there some relief? Closure? Or?” Great question with a complicated, and as always, emotional response. I felt a deep sense of sadness at the completion of Finding Callidora. With the first two novels, I already had the next book in mind and had begun to write outlines and content. I looked forward to getting those previous novels out into the world and starting a new project. I had...

“This above all: to thine own self be true.” William Shakespeare I’ve begun clearing out my dad’s house, a house my parents lived in for 54 years. They collected art, artefacts and souvenirs from their travels and in and amongst all of these things they also kept their children’s home economics projects, arts and crafts sculptures and hand-made cards. Their pride in their children was endless. Then I came upon an envelope kept deep in one of the dresser drawers, underneath shirts encased in a drycleaner’s plastic wrapping. The label on the envelope read: To The Parents of Stella...

“A faithful friend is the medicine of life.” Ecclesiastes I’m home after a few weeks of being on the road. I read from my new novel, Finding Callidora in Calgary, Edmonton and Victoria. I’ve lived and worked in all three cities over the course of my previous career. However, I haven’t been in Edmonton for four years, a city I left some 25 years ago, and I haven’t been in Victoria for four years either, preoccupied with other matters I don’t regret. I worked in Victoria 14 years ago. I only realized how many years had passed when I got lost and couldn’t recognize some landmarks I came to...

“The great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.” William James My father used to say, when God came calling, a person had no other choice but to heed the call. While that is true, my father died the morning of October 9th on his own terms, in his own home surrounded by memories of the life he’d built and lived. Pictures of my mother, his three kids, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren were on the dresser in his room. He looked at those pictures every day with a pride that was beyond limit.

“From caring comes courage.” Lao Tzu I spent the month of September with my father in his home, the home I grew up in. His lawn was a green we rarely see in Calgary in the autumn. After a hot summer everything is usually parched. But this year it hadn’t been hot. I felt compelled to keep it green and tidy so when the leaves began to tumble, I was out, every day, sometimes several times a day, raking, and picking up. I cursed each windstorm. At some point, I wondered why. Okay, I know I’m obsessive about a lot of things, but this seemed ridiculous even for me. Yes, it’s my parents’ garden...

Discourse “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is spoken as to make us think him credible.” Aristotle I grew up in a household where debate, discourse and conversation was loud, insistent and always expected. “How will you understand the world around you and what you think and value without discussion?” my father would ask and go on to remind me, “but you have to have facts and speak truthfully from your own experience, be prepared to listen to others and perhaps change your mind.” His words encouraged me to value discourse, form opinions (some would...

“Language, identity, place, home: these are all of a piece—just different elements of belonging and not-belonging.” Jhumpa Lahiri   At the core of all my work is the exploration of home: how to find, define or create it. I’m fascinated by this issue likely because I was born in a country where I could never secure citizenship, raised in another country, but always felt at home in the country of my original culture, a place I’ve only visited for brief periods of time throughout my life and miss every day.   Given these circumstances it is difficult to...

The Scar “There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus   I was a probation officer. That was many, many years ago. I remember those days fondly. I loved my clients. They challenged me to figure out ways to understand them. How did they get to where they were and what, if anything, could I do to help? Each and every one of them was an individual with lots of promise. And now they continue to live within me. I wonder where they are and how they’re doing. Did they find their way? This week, one particular client came to mind over and...

Walking and Love “A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” Greek Proverb   It’s been just over six weeks since my father came to stay with us. As you can imagine, each day brings new challenges, but thankfully (fingers crossed) I’m keeping my head above water. Most days. My one complaint: I hadn’t been out for a walk in weeks because I was afraid to leave my dad on his own. I had one horrible thought after another imagining he’d end up walking out of the house into the forest or up the side of...