Archive for June, 2013

The Light Altar

Candles, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Manhattan

Candles, Cathedral of St. John the Divine, Manhattan

A quiet pardon is a graceful sound.


Dr. Salvador Ferreras appointed KPU Provost and Vice President, Academic

A gifted musician will be stewarding the academic programs at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) starting this fall. I am very much looking forward to working with Dr. Ferraras.

From the news release:

KPU is an institution that is full of energy and forward-thinking people,” said Dr. Ferreras. “As the new Provost and Vice President, Academic, I see great things ahead and am honoured to join a remarkable team of students, faculty, staff, administrators and board members who are ready to seize a bold and exciting future.”

Dr. Ferreras brings extensive academic experience to his new role at KPU. Most recently, Dr. Ferreras was the Vice President, Education and Student Services at Vancouver Community College (VCC). In addition to also teaching at VCC, Dr. Ferreras was an instructor at number of Canadian institutions including the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, the University of Victoria and the University of Windsor.

Dr. Ferreras is an accomplished musician, inducted into the BC Entertainment Hall of Fame in 2003. He is the Artistic Director of the Literary Cabaret at the Vancouver International Writer’s Festival and is also a Leo Award nominee and two-time Juno Award nominee.

An active member of the community, Dr. Ferreras contributes to the production and performance of several arts and charity benefits, including Arts Umbrella in Surrey, the Sarah McLachlan Music Outreach, the Vancouver Bach Choir Children’s Chorus, the Richmond Arts Coalition and the Vancouver Food Bank.

Dr. Ferreras holds a master’s degree and PhD in ethnomusicology from the University of British Columbia and a bachelor’s degree of music in performance from the University of Windsor.


Sculpture by Charles Satterlund


My students rescue the best in me.

My niece makes her New York Times debut …

Screenshot 2013-06-07 at 9.43.03 AM

… at about 2:05 in this sweet video about New York City’s “Sing for Hope Pianos” project.

Three new posts …

… on my sister site, NoContest.CA. Swing on by!

Diane Middlebrook’s biographies

The late Diane Middlebrook was my graduate-school advisor at Stanford University. She was a truly wonderful friend, too, for more than two decades. After I had left academia (and the United States) in 1996, Diane asked me to edit the first draft of her biography of Billy Tipton, an American jazz musician who was designated female at birth but who lived his adult life as a male, hiding his “secret” from everyone, it seems, private as well as public.

Shortly before this biography was published, I interviewed Diane for my old ezine Ellavon. I asked her whether she had any “moral qualms” about “outing” Billy Tipton or possibly causing embarrassment to his family and others.

“The dead cannot be shamed,” she replied. “They have been removed from their social sphere where all of their defenses – let’s say their unconscious or sideways ways of not being known – those are over. And their secrets are useless to them.”

Diane continued: “A living person can feel shame being exposed to curiosity [and] manipulation. … But dead – in a sense, the problem with being dead is that people ignore you.” But what if these people wanted to take their secrets “to the grave,” I asked?

“But not BEYOND the grave,” Diane replied.

She added: “You have to be very tough-minded to be a biographer. You have to avoid casually exposing people. A biographer ought to preserve a certain amount of darkness around people who are involved with someone in the public realm, though not public figures themselves. But it is the penumbra of their *own* privacy. Friends or relatives cannot censor the life of somebody else, just because they don’t find certain information very agreeable. … Somebody else’s life is somebody else’s life, and the biographer is writing about that, and your proximity to it is just something you are going to have to deal with. As a human being you have to accept the ethical position that *it ain’t your life*. If you feel invaded, that’s *your* problem.”


I finally bought and read Diane’s last published book, Her Husband: Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath – A Marriage. Reading this vivid book about the two poets I was immensely moved to hear my friend’s voice again, so full it is of affection and clarity.

The last line from the book made me gasp: “the only thing the living can give the magical dead: empathetic but pitiless attention.”


Middlebrook’s masterpiece is Anne Sexton: A Biography. It is hard to think of a book that made me more uncomfortable while reading it. But it was also truly thrilling: Having one’s scorn and aesthetic prejudice dismantled is a vertiginous blessing. (From the time I started reading poems, I had disliked the “literary figure” cut by Sexton, and thought her poems drippy and garish; Diane turned me around on both counts.)