Category: Writing & Editing

Mitzi Bytes: Shoes Dropping All Over The Place

Last month I was lucky to be chosen as a first-reader for a new Canadian novel as part of the Harper Collins Canada First Look program. What a delight to read Mitzi Bytes, the first novel by indomitable blogger Kerry Clare whose words and thoughts I’ve long admired and giggled over. And due to this admiration, what a relief that I really did enjoy the book – whew!


Here’s the back-of-book blurb so you have the gist of the plot:

Sarah Lundy has a secret online life, and it might all come crashing down.

Back at the beginning of the new millennium, when the Internet was still unknown territory, Sarah Lundy started an anonymous blog documenting her return to the dating scene after a devastating divorce. The blog was funny, brutally honest and sometimes outrageous. Readers loved it. Through her blog persona, “Mitzi Bytes,” Sarah not only found her feet again, but she found her voice.

Fifteen years later, Sarah is happily remarried with children and she’s still blogging, but nobody IRL—not even her husband or best friends—knows about Mitzi. They don’t know that Sarah’s been documenting all her own exploits, as well as mining the experiences of those around her and sharing these stories with the world. Which means that Sarah is in serious trouble when threatening emails arrive from the mysterious Jane Q. Time’s up, the first one says. You’re officially found out.

As she tries to find out Jane Q’s identity before her secret online self is revealed to everyone, Sarah starts to discover that her loved ones have secrets of their own, and that stronger forces than she imagined are conspiring to turn her world upside down.

A grown-up Harriet the Spy for the digital age, Mitzi Bytes examines the bonds of family and friendship, and the truths we dare tell about ourselves—and others.

It’s funny to sit down and write a blog about a book about a blogger! But here we go. I’ve not read Harriet the Spy – but a quick internet search and synopsis-read reveals the book’s parallel/homage relationship to Mitzi Bytes, with protagonist Sarah’s blog serving as a modern-day notebook full of wonderings – not always kind – about those surrounding her now that her own life is happy but hum-drum and no longer exciting fodder for blog content.

I admire how utterly and absolutely author Kerry Clare captured Sarah’s life as a work-from-home, artistic-sort mom to two little kids of 5 and 7 years. I am just such a human, very much in the throes of balancing mom duties to two young kids, my work-for-pay from home, and my own creative work. I laughed and sighed and felt many feelings of camaraderie with Sarah. I had the sense throughout Mitzi Bytes that Sarah and I would be able to have a cup of tea and be instant kindred spirits. There is no doubt that I am the living, breathing demographic for Mitzi Bytes!

The part of Mitzi Bytes that was most unputtabledownable for me was when Sarah (who blogs under the pseudonym Mitzi Bytes) finally gets outed, the ramifications are as varied as are the characters  she wrote about. It’s a fantastic array of reactions once the truth is out! As things fall apart for Sarah, I enjoyed this imagery:

“She’d been waiting for it. There were so many shoes. The sky was raining with them.”

I’m glad that Clare didn’t subject her protagonist Sarah to an about-face in personality upon her reckoning. Sarah is stubborn and complicated and lucky through to the end. She’s not an entirely likeable character, but she is utterly relatable – she feels real and dimensional, her inner dialogues like so many I’ve had with myself-as-audience over the years. I loved that Sarah was as much sorry about being caught as she was for hurting anyone she’d observed or portrayed in her Mitzi blog over the years. I couldn’t help but cheer for her in the end!

I so enjoyed the inclusion of Mitzi’s “archival blogs” that were well-woven in-between chapters, giving us a sense of Mitzi’s voice and evolution over time. I fact I would have happily read more of them – though to be left wanting more is probably a good thing. I had the urge to go check the Mitzi Bytes blog a number of times while I was reading, only to remember that it’s a fictional blog! It felt like a blog that could/should exist.

As someone who’s blogged a bit, sometimes regularly and sporadically of late, I enjoyed the descriptions of blogging now  versus in the early 2000s throughout Mitzi Bytes. The ubiquity of blogging today is so different than 15 years ago when there were fewer options and the form was in it’s infancy. Clare is a master blogger herself – she teaches the art and work of it at university – and it’s interesting to see her thinking, experience, and evolution creep into Mitzi Bytes, giving me a real sense of “now” as I read.




MitziPatternPreviewPS: I’ve taken up my practice of cross stitch pattern design again after months away from it. Looking at the Mitzi Bytes cover, it struck me that it offered a great challenge to work with colour gradients. And so crafty readers, I humbly offer up my interpretation of the excellent graphic cover of Mitzi Bytes! If you’re a stitcher and you enjoy this image, you’re welcome to the pattern (download below) – I don’t have time to stitch it up right now, so if you do, please share!

Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels

Mitzi Bytes Cross Stitch pattern – pixels w/ symbols

*To save pattern, click on link, choose “export as pdf” under Files and save to desktop.*


Raising a Knee

Christa Couture KneeraiserI have spent the last month building a crowdfunding campaign to get a new, microprocessor prosthetic knee for my dear friend Christa Couture. She happens to be a childhood cancer survivor, though the disease left her without a  leg. As a musician without extended health care, the prosthetics available to her are serviceable, but there’s a world of microprocessor technology out there that helps immensely in balancing an amputee’s weight, allowing stair climbing and descent leg-over-leg (as we with 2 legs generally do) and backwards motion, among other things. As a musician who tours Canada and Europe regularly, Christa is often hefting gear and this knee component will make an enormous difference in her life — both day-to-day and professionally.


And we have been so mind-blowingly successful! In just over 72 hours we have exceeded our initial goal of $15,000! A true testament to her wide reach as an excellent person and musician. This means we get to go for our stretch-goal of $25,000, allowing even more options for Christa. Check out our Kneeraiser!

The limited edition, guitar-toting Folk Matryoshkas I made for the exciting, raising funds for a microprocessor prosthetic knee for folk musician Christa Couture.

A number of Christa’s friends have offered their artistic work as perks for the Kneeraiser. I myself made some little felt matryoshkas and some exclusive Folk Matryoshka dolls, larger guitar-toting mama matryoshka dolls. I think there are a few still available — if you act fast you can get yourself a gorgeous doll and support a most worthy cause: Cheers!

The Really-Real-Make-Believe Collective

SusanKU_VVmugI am up to my neck in 5th birthday party preparations, but I had to stop and say, nay SHOUT, that this week marks the second anniversary of my lovely, indispensable editing/sanity-maintaining/friendship-over-miles collective The Veggie Vag! I wrote about it last year, so if you’re curious, hit the link and read on, the VV continues to be all it was a year ago, but better, deeper: solid goodness. I doff my hat to fellow members Christa Couture and Lindsay Zier-Vogel. And to our imaginary assistant Dane.

This year Lindsay wrote about the VV and you should check it out here, we are a charming trio if I do say so! She says of the VV: “We are each other’s backbones and backup dancers and I don’t think there’s a single word I send out that these two brilliant women haven’t read / edited / weighed in on.” 

Fron L to R: Christa Couture, Lindsay Zier-Vogel and Susan Kendal (that’s me!) cheers-ing their awesomeness and 2 years of formal Veggie Vagging.

Christa sent us a photo of herself cheers-ing with her 1st anniversary mug, saying, “It’s more than a mug – it’s a reminder every morning I’m home of the dearest friends, the biggest laughs, the quickest rallying of support/bat signal replies, the best edited grant applications, and the feeling of shrinking the geographical spaces between us.” Which of course meant that Lindsay and I had to promptly stop what we were doing and also Instagram photos of ourselves cheers-ing … the best kind of procrastination!

Cheers VV.

Happy 1st Blog-Birthday!

Today I am 1! Or rather, this blog areI are 1. I find that my usually-verbose self is quiet, not much to say of late, lots of percolating. And having moved to a new city and a new house over the holidays, I seem to have a moving/displacement hangover that’s taking a while to lift — probably the time of year too, I just want to hibernate, sigh. But alas, I am not a Bear and so I solider on!

wall painting

I am putting the finishing touches on my work space, the room-of-my-own that I am still silly with excitement over! Here’s Rudi helping me put paint to wall. I’ll share when it’s all done. And once it’s done, then the work really begins, creating stock, opening shop, joining craft fairs. It’s a big year ahead, I’m scared and excited and ready, especially since I put this plan on ice in September for the move. So I am ready to work … if I could only get over this hibernation hump : )

Rearview Fridays: Double Spine Art Book

Another Friday, another long-ago project to share. About 11 years ago my friend Lindsay Zier-Vogel taught me how to make hardcover books. I’ve made a lot since. It’s surprisingly easy (to make small, carfty, arty books that is, I am definitely not a professional book binder!) and I’ve made diaries, recipe books, poetry books with kids, art books. Lindsay continues to makes gorgeous art/poetry books, you should check them out here.

One of my most ambitious was a book I made in 2005, it’s two books in one with a double spine. A zig-zag book! I was researching Achromatopsia, a condition of the eyes that my mom has where her eyes see in a spectrum of grey, black and white, no colour. I was curious about how her eyes work because it’s hard for me to imagine not seeing colour, and I was working towards a conceptual dance work about seeing in black and white literally and figuratively.

I had read Dr. Oliver Sacks’ book The Island of the Colourblind. I has also written some poems about the content I’d gathered. I’m not particularly a poet, not publically, but writing poems can be a great tool when distilling technical info and autobiographical narrative towards a work of art, in this case the choreography, costumes and soundscore I was working on. I had a bunch of favourite quotes and my modest poems and thought they should have a home, so I made them a book, quotes on one side, poems on the other.

Here are a couple of favourite quotes from Sacks’ book:

What, I wondered, would the world be like for those born totally colour-blind? Would they, perhaps, lacking any sense of something missing, have a world no less dense and vibrant than our own? Might they even have developed heightened perceptions of visual tone and texture and movement and depth, and live in a world of heightened reality – one that we can only glimpse echoes of in the work of the great black-and-white photographers?

He is intrigued by the range of words and images other people use about colour and was arrested by my use of the word ‘azure’. (‘Is it similar to cerulean?’) He wondered whether ‘indigo’ was, for me, a separate, seventh colour of the spectrum, neither blue nor violet but itself, in between. 

And a couple little ditties about my lovely mom:

Her eyes lack cones

(they say)

so she sees in texture

instead of colour,

a world where red is equal to black

and dusk reveals the neighbourhood.

Crayons were responsible for her early reading skills and the betrayal of her eyes. She learned to recognize their names through necessity: red, brown, blue, tangerine, aubergine – whatever that might be.

She generally steered clear of the exotic ones, to avoid being the lone pre-schooler who drew purple palaces sporting taupe moats and devastatingly beautiful green princesses.

She had been informed of the concrete facts by Miss Jamison 3 months into the school year: only dragons are green, dear and a moat is filled with blue water  just like the river, see?      

Rearview Fridays: Loulou Magazine Ripped Us Off

Rearview Fridays is a regular post in which I share an artistic project I completed sometime in the past. This one reaches back 20 years and is a co-pro with my childhood friend Christa Couture. It goes something like this …

Our slogan, settled upon early on in the process, was, “if it’s not a Lu-Lou then its a tacky Bu-Bou.” I’m not kidding. Born marketing geniuses.

Circa 1991 Christa was in the midst of a 3-year battle with cancer (deadly and serious). I was being homeschooled through junior high (socially deadly but not quite as serious). She was often in the hospital or home sick. I was able to visit or hang with her because of my loose schedule, plus she was by best friend, it went without saying that we had to hang whenever possible. We were very crafty (still are) and inevitably a project emerged: Lu-Lou. I have no memory of how Lu-Lou developed, or why we chose a periodical format, but it was an imaginary empire that grew, made us laugh hysterically and filled a lot of awesome, creative hours of companionship. Lu-Lou gripped our early teens.

We had and have very different artistic styles. But we shared a common love for the, ahem, extreme when it came to our designs. That’s my work on the left, Christa’s on the right. I still giggle at the disproportionately long and skinny femurs on my model.

In fact we published, er “published” 14 issues with about eight pages per issue. And this was in the days before computers and desktop publishing were common in the home. We drew each page, wrote every bit of copy by hand. It’s quite a feat, by true magazine publishing standards and in terms of sheer dedication to a purely fantastical, creative project. It represents some serious perseverance.

An assortment of Lu-Lou covers. Note the colour themes. We’d choose five colours to be the focal point of a month’s fashions by the great Lu-Lou (because Lu-Lou was more like Martha Stewart in that everything was “by” her. Yes, she was a living entity to us.)
Bikinis. Wow. We always set the price, as you can see here, this one was $75. Designer pricing in early 90s terms! I love the density of colour on the surf board.

And Loulou Magazine SO ripped us off! I was shocked when, in 2004, a Rogers Media publication showed up on newsstands called Loulou. So blatant. So obvious. Clearly someone had been into our secret Archive of Awesome. They. Ripped. Us. Off. We are currently suing for copyright infringement and various damages. They think they can add an “O” to the first “Lu” and get away with it?!

This “Galactic Hit” piece is a favourite. Back in the day I was jealous I didn’t draw the Jem-esque model or design her spectacular dress. Remember Jem and the Holograms?
Christa laughs, hard, whenever she sees or recalls this gem (gem. Jem. Get it?!). And she’s right. Really, just take a look. I love the librarian-chic of the model and setting that I’ve chosen. I don’t think I entirely understood the connotation of “worldly woman,” oh innocent self! And note how I carefully priced the socks and shoes separately, but the dress, belt and tank top, those are ONLY sold as a package bitches.

Okay, back to reality, I really was shocked when I saw Loulou, had a laughing fit in a Toronto subway station near the newsstand and immediately emailed Christa. What a coincidence! Who would have thought we had had such foresight, that we were so ahead of the curve?

We were so organized that we drew some of the same models from month to month, the ones that we liked. We tracked them on the back of each page with first and last name, age and tracking number. We should have had an agency. These were our faves: Christa’s on the left, Summer St. James, age 16, #15357, and mine on the right, Karen Salmon, age 16 (we weren’t 16 yet so 16 was the coolest age to be), #92007.
I was not joking when I said we tracked our models. Back of each page. Boom.

The funny thing is that, until last year, I worked in magazine publishing for 10 years and for a Canadian fashion designer for four years. I could never have predicted that at 14! And Christa works in electronic media and graphic design with panache and success.

We held a contest. We advertised it a few issues before we announced the winners. It was the “Lu-Lou-ist Girl in America” (modeled on Sassy magazine‘s Sassiest Girl in America, Christa was a dedicated Sassy subscriber, I wished I was). We profiled finalists and the winner. We created interview articles with them, drew head shots and photos.

The other funny thing, though not so surprising, is that we have both turned out to be fiercely, professionally creative. I’ve spent most of my independent career as a dance artist while she works as an independent musician. [Shameless plug: Christa’s got a fantastic new album out this month called The Living Record. You can get it on Bandcamp or iTunes. And you should.]

We created Lu-Lou products. There was a lipstick line, Dr. Zigma’s skin care, and these perfumes. The Essence of Life line. Daily, Funky and Romantic. And here are the slogans, I cannot make this shit up folks: “for any day and every day to feel good and smell great use Essences of Life Daily to put that extra spice in your life” | “For the exciting and fun moments in your life use Essences of Life Funky to put that extra pizazz in your life” | “For that special night or moment use Essences of Life Romantic to put that extra love in your life.” Note also my struggle with the spelling of “essence” yet I doggedly wouldn’t use whiteout, something about the Waldorf-kid in me I think!

I murmur this into the past: oh 13 and 14-year-old selves, you were utterly, absolutely awesome. Cheers to exploding creativity in our genes and excellent friends with whom to share  and cultivate it. You grow to be amazing women if I do say so myself.

Even a mail-in offer for Lu-Lou jewellery for the dedicated subscribers of 1991.
Of course we had a special bridal issue. We were teenage girls after all. And since then we have both gotten married. And if I do say so we were both turned out genuinely stylishly. But neither of us thought to consult our bridal issue for ideas. Maybe a do-over for an anniversary is in order … I could get behind that blue number on the right, and I’ll never tire of Christa’s extravagant head pieces.

The Travelling Treasure Jar

I went on the longest road trip I’ve ever taken this summer. My boys and I drove all the way from Southern Ontario to Alberta — Prairies and Rocky Mountains and my family — then back again. We wondered if we might be insane to attempt such a drive with a 4-year-old and a 10-month-old, but off we went, and it was truly a great adventure. There was only one roadside timeout for the kid (there probably should have been a few for me, ahem, lucky I’m in charge!), occasional nursing breaks for the babe and the usual gas/pee/food/photo-op stops.

I wanted to do something crafty with Rudi to keep him engaged along the way. So in addition to borrowing a portable dvd player (a total godsend) and the required colouring materials and books to read, we made a diary book for each day and prepared an antique glass canning jar to collect simple treasures along the way: Rudi’s Travelling Treasure Jar, a.k.a. The Jar!

The Jar itself is a beaut with its glass lid and metal flip attachment. And every day, once or twice, we’d gather a stone or pine cone from the roadside, parking lot or forest path of the day, or a coin from the US, or an arcade token from the movie theatre, or some grain or oats from the fields we were passing, or a beer cap from mommy and daddy’s adult pops in the hotel room (we drink beer with really cool caps okay? It’s all for the kid. Honestly) .

I only had to suggest collecting pieces the first couple of times, after that Rudi would gather things for his Jar in his pocket and in the evenings in our hotel, or at Granny’s house, we’d open The Jar and review the contents, talking about our journey thus far and then add the new trinket/s to the collection. A couple of favourites are the little white figurine of a man with a walking stick and rifle, his paint all but gone. Rudi spotted him in my aunt’s garden and she said, “take it! the bird’s are always dropping crazy things in here!” We can hardly imagine what adventures the wee old fellow has endured! And the mini horseshoe, which was smithed for Rudi right before his very eyes at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village where I worked in my teens.

The final result is a jar full of prairie flotsam and jetsam, a beautiful collection of the in-betweens from our trip. And those were my favourite parts — the in-betweens. Being cooped in a car with my husband and our boys for 5 days of driving each way was my favourite. Kicking stones in the hotel parking lot in Lake Louise and then running through a forest path to catch the sight of the passing train was my favourite. Stopping for an emergency pee on a prairie back road that looked so quiet only to be overwhelmed by the earsplitting cricket song outside was my favourite. Standing on the car to get a better view of the massive hoodoos in the North Dakota badlands … you get the drift, I could go on and on about the favourite moments that The Jar conjures.

Of course there were the standard squabbles between all of us, usually to do with hunger, exhaustion or sore butts (around hour 5 Rudi would always moan spectacularly and say, “my bum hurts!”)  but really there was more harmony than I’d anticipated and I loved that it was just the 4 of us in our Toyota Matrix ship, rocket or pirate depending on Rudi’s mood, zipping across the miles and miles and miles and miles between my adult and childhood homes. I’d do it again in a heartbeat. And I look forward to opening the jar from time to time with Rudi and remembering.

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Jennifer Dallas

I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a series of interviews with some lovely creative types I want to share with you. Since I’m heading to Alberta this summer maybe I have gold rush on my mind, but truly, each of the women I’ll feature here is a golden nugget of excellence in the career she’s carved out for herself!  Therefore, I am delighted to present the inaugural:

Pocket Alchemy Nugget of Awesome Interviews: eight  interviews with eight inspiring, artistic, self-starting women over the eight weeks of summer. I am proud to call each of them friend and am delighted to share them and their work here. Please note that I am replacing my regular Rearview Fridays posts with these interviews over the summer.


Jennifer Dallas. Photo by John MacLean.

JENNIFER DALLAS is true colleague and friend — for nearly a decade now. For instance, she danced in a show I choreographed and co-produced in April of 2008 for 4 nights, then (because of course I went into labour on closing night) she stood with me through the 30-odd hours of labour and delivery for my first son Rudi. She is simply above and beyond in my life professionally and personally. Jen is a profoundly dedicated artist, she has stamina and curiosity to beat the band! She’s a prairie girl who’s found artistic truth in a number of African countries. She travels, creates, performs and teaches between Canada and Africa regularly. I think she is courageous yet delicate, serious and silly, an artist to the core. Full disclosure: I’m on the board of her company. I really believe in the  work and art and intention of this woman. Jen is also a champion knitter, sweaters and blankets and scarves, oh my! And I think I helped her fall in love with pedicures and bright toenail polish this spring, we may or may not already have a spa date for the fall, ahem. 


Jennifer Dallas is a Toronto-based dancer, choreographer, teacher and costume designer. Hailing from the Canadian Rockies, she began her formal dance training at a very young age in ballet and contemporary dance and is a graduate of the School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Jennifer is the artistic director of Kemi Contemporary Dance Projects, which she founded in 2008 after her first trip to Lagos Nigeria. Since then, trips to Africa have been a focal point of her dance research and include teaching and creating in Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Ethiopia.

Jennifer Dallas and Bienvenue Bazie choreographing together in Burkina Faso, July 2012.

Jennifer’s dance work has been presented by the Nigerian festivals Truefesta and Dance meets Danse. In Toronto she has been co-presented by DanceWorks and has presented numerous productions of her own. She has created commissioned dances for the Scream Literary Festival, The Crazyfish Collective and The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. Jennifer has performed in dance works by Tedd Robinson, Marc Boivin, Susie Burpee, Adedayo Liadi and has created two works with dancer/choreographer Bienvenue Bazie of Burkina Faso. She performed solo with the Juno-nominated afrobeat band Mr. Something Something from 2005 to 2009 and has presented movement workshops coast to coast. Jennifer is the resident costume designer for The School of Toronto Dance Theatre and has done costume design for Kaeja d’Dance, Princess Productions and Blue Ceiling Dance. She currently sits on the board of directors for the Canadian Alliance of Dance Artists – Ontario Chapter.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Jennifer DallasI am a contemporary dance artist, which for me right now means that I am a dancer, choreographer, teacher, arts administrator and a costume designer.

Jennifer Dallas in her solo “Zetetica”. Photo by Andréa de Keijzer.

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

JD: People in their habits, idiosyncrasies, languages, relationships and physicality as they move through the world.

Sound natural and created. Currently I am interested in the sounds of peoples’ voices and the different intonations within a personality and a voice. The changes in tone when communicating with different people reveals relationships, histories, desires etc. As I write this I am in Burkina Faso, West Africa, where the European language spoken (French) is not my mother tongue. I have learned to hear  and understand the language through tonal nuances. Often the conversation shifts to a native tongue such as Mossi (most commonly spoken on the streets of Ouagadougou) I find myself following threads of speech to hear the song of the words. I try to stay awake to these nuances which reveal and inspire at the same time.

Jennifer Dallas. Photo by Anthony Taylor.

Spontaneity and physical reactions, habitual and instinctual are also filtering through my sieve of creative input. How does one’s culture affect the way they walk into a room, the physicality they present, the rituals of greeting and social generosity. Alternately, if I present you with a cold glass of water on a hot day – what does your body naturally do. What moves first? Your face your hands? Is it that you lick your lips, salivate, or do you reach for the glass immediately? Do you hold it in your hands for a while and feel the cold on your skin before you drink? I like to draw a parallel between the instincts we use everyday and new movement research [for dance creation], new language. They overlap more than you might guess.

The French language, and playing with words to find clarity. As a person learning a new language I often use the same, safe word choices (also because I still get so tongue-tied on conjugations…) but this uncertainty can translate to the studio too. The body is comfortable with certain movements, now I’m talking about words, even this movement is part of what gives a choreographer a signature. It is important to have a signature but I am currently shaping the dialect of my physical language while I am finding my way with an entirely new voice, a French one.

Improvisation, life is full of it. I almost always use it as a starting place when I am researching a new idea. I will give myself parameters to work eventually, but I always film my improvisations because the freshness of that moment can sometimes contain so much information. Occasionally I look at the film to see if something interesting has arisen or I look at it later in the process to remind me why I have chosen an image or where I might like to go with that image. 

Jennifer Dallas teaching and choreographing in Burkina Faso, July 2012.

PAQ: How do you structure and manage your days/weeks/months to get it all in? Do you have micro/macro plans that you stick to?

JD: I have just finished a rough draft of a 3 year plan. I am learning that the dance world works at least 1 year in advance with bookings and funding applications etc, so instead of running alongside it I am trying to get in front of it. This is a great challenge for me as I am an improviser. I have been assured by various people that a 3 year plan still has room for improvisation!

Generally my work is structured on a project to project basis. I have 1 or 2 major projects each year, usually the creation of a new dance work and/or mounting a full-length production. Of late, my projects have been structured so that I have a creation period that is all-consuming and requires me to block off a specific period of time. I may not have very much time in the studio prior to or after the fixed period. Most administrative work and slotting-in of commissions or costume design happens around the major projects. I think of it like a pond of lily pads, including the balancing act involved in crossing it.

I have come to accept that I need a lot of processing time in my life. I used to think of this as procrastination but now I revel in it.

Irit Amichai and Erin Shand in “Knot” by Jennifer Dallas. Photo by Krista Posyniak.

PAQ: What is a current favourite resource or material?

JDMusic of all kinds though generally I return to some old faves to get the engine going. I feel strongly about the connection between music and dance. I almost always work with music first then the dance. Hmmm, maybe this is a challenge for my next research period: sans music a la debut!

Photographs of people and places that I know and don’t know.

Fabic and clothing: I love to work in costume as soon as I can. I like to see how the costume informs the work, to allow it to become fully integrated in the work.

PAQ: Give me 4 great songs to work to!

JD: Abdoulaye kone: Djeli. I love the playful use of traditional sounds from Mali and full bodies brass sounds. | Duke Ellington (particularly the 1920’s era). I am currently researching a new work with music inspired by the Jazz great. | Feist: Metals. Love the play she has with her voice on this album, it is full of surprises. | Toumani Diabate with Ballake Sissoko New Ancient Strings. I always spend some time with this album when I am researching. It’s like a first love for me.

PAQ:  What about your work keeps you up at night (for good or ill!)?

Jennifer Dallas and Bienvenue Bazie perform in Toronto, spring 2012. Photo by Omer Yukseker.

JDIf I am creating I generally sleep very little. I like the tired energy that it produces. My mind is open somehow and I have less energy to spend on filtering and questioning. The energy and ideas come from an instinctual place when I am tired. What it is exactly that keeps me up I can’t necessarily pin-point. Images of where to go next with the work is something.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

JD: While I still like to work with line, rhythm and timing, I have stopped placing so much importance on finding and reproducing exact steps. Dance is a living art and I seek to create and enjoy an experience on stage rather than something constrained.


Jennifer Dallas returns soon from a trip of teaching and creating dance in Burkina Faso and Israel. Her company Kemi has an event in Toronto in November where you can check out her latest work in progress. Jennifer will also return to her costuming work at The School of Toronto Dance Theater so watch for her thoughtful work, both textile and choreographic, coming soon!

Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 20th: Bess Callard

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 6th: Michelle Silagy

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 24th: Susie Burpee

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Michelle Silagy

I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a series of interviews with some lovely creative types I want to share with you. Since I’m heading to Alberta this summer maybe I have gold rush on my mind, but truly, each of the women I’ll feature here is a golden nugget of excellence in the career she’s carved out for herself!  Therefore, I am delighted to present the inaugural:

Pocket Alchemy Nugget of Awesome Interviews: eight  interviews with eight inspiring, artistic, self-starting women over the eight weeks of summer. I am proud to call each of them friend and am delighted to share them and their work here. Please note that I am replacing my regular Rearview Fridays posts with these interviews over the summer.


Michelle Silagy. Photo by Michael Haas.

MICHELLE SILAGY taught pedagogy to me at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. She has a magical ability as a dance educator for children, I remember her commanding a huge gym full of grade 3s without hollering, extraordinary! Michelle makes delicate, thoughtful dances and immerses herself in the work of an artist. I think she has a backdoor pass to fairyland as her work on stage and in the classroom often seem dusted by something intangible and delightful, wild and beyond reach for the rest of us. Once I graduated from school Michelle hired me as a teacher in the School’s Young Dancers’ Program. She is a mentor who has become a loyal friend, she manages to be my boss yet works with me so collaboratively she feels like a colleague — it’s a fine, rarely achieved balance. Michelle is deep and wise-cracking and an enduring champion of dance and art and joy, she is a quiet gem in Canadian dance.


Michelle Silagy has her BA (Hons) Drama from San Diego State University, California and is a graduate of The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Professional Training Program. She has been active in Toronto as an independent choreographer, dancer, and teacher since graduation. She began teaching in the School’s Young Dancers’ Program in 1989 and is currently its Program Director.

Michelle Silagy in her own dance, “Time Folds.” Photo by David Hou.

Over the past 23 years, Silagy has received many awards through the Ontario Arts Councils Artists in Education program to bring dance to schools throughout the province where her kindhearted approach to working with children has been lauded by educators and parents alike. Michelle has also taught dance to youth at the Canadian Opera Company, the Institute of Child Study and in schools across Ontario. As a mentor artist with The Royal Conservatory of Music’s Learning Through the Arts program, Michelle has worked across Canada and abroad as a creative movement specialist.

Michelle’s dance work has been presented across the country in galleries and theatres, and at Series 8:08 — a monthly Toronto choreographic workshop — which she co-founded 1992. Michelle travelled to Vienna this summer on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts to take the Danceabilities Teacher Certification Course as taught by Danceabilities founder Alto Alessi within the ImpulsTanz 2012 Festival.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Michelle SilagyI am a Contemporary Dancer who loves/seeks collaboration with contemporary artists from other arts backgrounds. My work is largely influenced by nature and by a curiosity in the human form in all its stages of development.  This is what makes up the guts and viscera of my movement vocabulary. I work extensively within Ontario’s numerous communities through education with a vast range of ages and abilities.  The nature of this experience allows me to reflect on how I wish to create within a dynamic, malleable society. This influence finds its way into the dances that I make since my intent is always to cultivate a unique expression with the overarching goal of portraying the beauty of the human form, of humanity itself. Each time I venture into the studio to create anew, I revisit my vision for dance. I invest together with interpreters and collaborators, the most valuable catalysts, since the work unfolds through them. It is through this collaboration, I feel, that intimacies within a given work are revealed, accented and brought forward for the viewer to receive.

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

MS: Nature, people, garden lettuce and books. | The garden – and how life seeks water and light and a place to grow. | Working with Dancers in the Young Dancers’ Program. Having the privilege of working with Patricia Fraser and with all the people who make the Young Dancers’ Program sing. | Being in the studio and finding where the light is landing in the studio that day. | Working with Jennifer Lynn Dick on any day in the studio. | The thought of going to Vienna soon to study for 4 weeks with Alto Alessi and learn everything I can about DanceAbilities. | My family always. | Any and all conversations with the ever-brilliant Sarah Chase. She remains an extraordinary influence in my life and in my aspirations to make something that someone else will love and remember.

Jennifer Dick in “HOME/WORK.” Choreography by Michelle Silagy and Jennifer Dick of The Identity Project. Photo by Ecstatic Photography.

PAQ: How do you structure and manage your days/weeks/months to get it all in? Do you have micro/macro plans that you stick to?

MS: You are the third person who has asked me this over the past 2 weeks. The other 2 presumed that I had this one figured out – how I wish it were true. Still I love trying to make it all balance.

Regarding a plan. My Macro Plan includes – getting enough sleep, sweating every day and eating home made organic food grown as close to home as possible. I am most balanced when the doing of dance is driving the day – when I am rested and not slogging away at the computer too much. As an independent dancer balance is hardest. When trying to do too much myself, it doesn’t work. Working with a creative administrator who knows dance and knows how I work is essential. Beyond that: knowing when to ask for help, when overwhelmed, combined with my own commitment to finding simples/elegant solutions makes for more balance. I also know that reciprocating the generosity extended to me by helping others get things done when ever possible (hard to do with a full schedule) is a lovely and absolutely necessary part of my survival as a practicing artist. Consistently keeping the daily function of my home life as light and simple as possible helps a great deal – as does giving loved ones plenty of notice when work demands more attention than usual.

Michelle Silagy teaching at Kimberly Public School in Toronto. Photo by Sheena Robertson.

Regarding scheduling a career pastiche together with a selection of varied projects and 3 annual contracts, priorities are made easy by being clear and knowing what can be achieved within the timeframe given. I am a big fan of careful and fun planning with whomever I am working with.  That goes a long way in keeping things in balance energy and time wise.  Having said that, when left to my own devises I still come way too close to the wire regarding deadlines. And so now that I’ve got my e-box cleaned up and files almost cleaned up, the new goal is to bring things to completion before the eleventh hour.

Teaching makes up the majority of how I make my living in dance. It is important to me that I only teach where I can joyfully contribute – no one benefits from a teacher who isn’t happy in their environment. I am always making dance work with people who inspire me from process to performance. Any excesses in my dance life fall away, in the presence of being in the studio and working hard with people who I admire and enjoy. Lastly, each part of my life has to feed and nourish the other. If it doesn’t, then a change has to be made. I know that seems cliché, but truly that is how I keep things in balance.

PAQ: What is a current favourite resource or material?

MSSun, Water, Dirt and Love. | Music from all eras, all corners of the world. | A beautifully sprung floor with light spilling onto it. | Anatomy of Movement by Blandine Calais-Germain. | The Poetics of Space, again, read and purchased long, long ago. | The Name of the Tree. A Bantu Tale retold by Celia Barker Lottridge. | Roots to Fly by Irene Dowd (still). | A hoola hoop given to me just last week.

PAQ: Give me 4 great songs to work to!

MSSongs, okay, you mean with words. Hmmm – so many. Strange Fruit by Billie Holiday | Smile by Charlie Chaplin | Stranded or Steady On by Shawn Colvin | I Paint My Sorrow by Stephanie Martin and Chad Irschick

PAQ:  What about your work keeps you up at night (for good or ill!)?

MS: This is hard since my days are full, making sleep come easily. There are so many artists and there are so many people who help artists whose work is still undervalued. Progress is being made but not nearly enough. And though carrying on against all odds remains second nature, still, I find this a hard reality.

Megan Andrews, Andrea Nann and William Yong in “Necessary Velocity” by Michelle Silagy. Photo by John Lauener.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

MS: I am even more interested in creating works for interesting environments in addition to creating work for stage. Collaboration with extraordinary artists in other mediums changed the way I work. Meeting and working with Kai Chan, a senior visual artist who creates incredibly unique realities with textiles and found objects, altered the way that I view collaboration with artists in other disciplines. Kai is the one that insisted that he respond to and interpret the dance work that I was developing on his own terms rather than acting as a craftsperson who was hired to realize what I was imaging his contribution might be. And since He was not at all interested in crafting a set based on what I was imaging the set could or should look like, through him I embraced a new way of communicating with partners during the making of work. I am also trying to work with live music whenever possible. I feel it monumentally changes the nature of a dance performance – for the better.  In terms of my aesthetic evolving, I have always aspired to foster a process where the interpreter is respectfully revealed to the audience as much as is possible within the comfort and willingness of the interpreter to do so. I wish to continue along these lines and become increasingly fluent at doing so.


You can always find Michelle Silagy at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre’s Young Dancers’ Program, of which is is Program Director. She is also part of The Identity Project with Jennifer Lynn Dick. She presents her dance work regularly in Toronto and teaches in schools across Ontario through the Ontario Arts Council’s Artists in Education program and Learning Through the Arts. If you are a school teacher, I highly recommend getting her into your classroom to share her passion for dance with your students!

Michelle’s blog from her summer at ImpulsTanz Festival in Vienna

Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 20th: Bess Callard

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 17th: Jennifer Dallas

August 24th: Susie Burpee

Nugget of Awesome Interviews: Bess Callard

I’ve been tossing around the idea of doing a series of interviews with some lovely creative types I want to share with you. Since I’m heading to Alberta this summer maybe I have gold rush on my mind, but truly, each of the women I’ll feature here is a golden nugget of excellence in the career she’s carved out for herself!  Therefore, I am delighted to present the inaugural:

Pocket Alchemy Nugget of Awesome Interviews: eight  interviews with eight inspiring, artistic, self-starting women over the eight weeks of summer. I am proud to call each of them friend and am delighted to share them and their work here. Please note that I am replacing my regular Rearview Fridays posts with these interviews over the summer.


Bess Callard and her son Edwin.

BESS CALLARD and I were students together at The School of Toronto Dance Theatre. We were in different years but I remember watching Bess dance. She had a simple, efficient, calm and sophisticated way of interpreting, she was arresting yet subtle. I think those qualities have travelled with her into her graphic design work. Her charming custom name art graces my sons’ room and her Everyday Objects Calendar graces my kitchen wall, giving me a smile as I walk by and reminding me ever-so-pleasingly of the date. Bess’ blog offered inspiration in my own blogging start up, and I am excited to see how she and shifted from one professional artistic passion to another while negotiating independent work in the midst of early motherhood.


Bess Callard is an illustrator, graphic designer, and sometimes dancer. In 2006, after a successful career in contemporary dance, she began the transition to the world of design.

Going back to school to pursue her new passion, Bess attended The School of Design at George Brown College in Toronto before she had the opportunity to move to Europe. Bess spent three years living in Vienna and travelling throughout Europe.

While living abroad Bess found she had the time and freedom to explore what she was most passionate about and founded her children’s illustration company, English Muffin. English Muffin offers beautiful, fun and educational prints and posters for kids. It was through this venture that she honed her skills as an illustrator and made her initial foray into entrepreneurship.

Upon returning to Canada, Bess was offered the opportunity to illustrate for the online magazine Pure Green Magazine. Since then the magazine has made the leap to print and Bess is an integral part of the design team. Pure Green Magazine is available across Canada, the US and Europe and currently publishing its third volume in print.

Originally from Toronto, Bess is currently living with her husband, new baby boy and miniature pinscher in Montréal.


Pocket Alchemy Question: Tell me about your artistic work.

Bess Callard: I am an illustrator and graphic designer. I create prints and posters for my children’s illustration company and illustrate for a quarterly publication, Pure Green Magazine. 

PAQ: what is currently sparking your imagination?

BC: I recently had a baby boy and find my inspiration and imagination wrapped up in him. It’s a joy to watch him discover the world around him and I love the adventures he takes me on. As a parent I don’t think one can help but see the world through the eyes of your child, the beauty in the simplicity of colours, shapes and patterns is something we’re both very interested in these days.  

PAQ: How do you structure and manage your days/weeks/months to get it all in? Do you have micro/macro plans that you stick to?

BC: Oh, Susan, what a question for a new mom! I used to work off of a handwritten daily to do list, I’ve tried online to do lists (my favourite being Teux Deux) but there’s just something about being able to make changes on the fly and apply my own scribbles and notes as the day goes on that I can’t let go of, and, crossing things off is the best part. I would have long-term plans, projects I’d like to accomplish and goals for the shop. It is really important to have at least the next three months planned out when working in an industry where seasonal holidays and themes are so important. These days however, my son Edwin is my fulltime job, and I try to take care of small projects while he’s napping or asleep for the night. It really is a one-day-at-a-time operation around here now.

Bess’s serene, simple work space.

PAQ:  What is a current favourite resource or material?

BC: I love the paper I print on. It took me a long time to find 100% recycled paper suitable for high quality printing, but I did it! The texture, look and feel are just perfect for printing English Muffin prints on.

PAQ:  Give me 4 great songs to work to!

BCThese ones are on my “get your butt in gear” playlist:

Your Easy Lovin’ Ain’t Pleasin’ Nothin’ by Mayer Hawthorne | In Spirit Golden by I Blame Coco | Dog Days Are Over by Florence + The Machine | Dance Dance Dance by Lykke Li

PAQ:  What about your work keeps you up at night (for good or ill!)?

BC: I love a new project and the anticipation of starting work on something new is usually what will keep my mind busy as I’m trying to fall asleep. Figuring out a tricky design problem or thinking about how best to convey an idea, especially when I’m working on layouts or illustrations for Pure Green Magazine, will also keep me up.

Some English Muffin pieces by Bess Callard.

PAQ:  How has your aesthetic evolved over the years?

BC: I think it has evolved to become more “me”. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gotten braver and more confident in expressing my voice and ideas. I’m less concerned with what’s “on trend”, and what others in my field are doing. It’s great to be inspired by your contemporaries but I’ve found that my favourite illustrators and designers are the ones that have developed their own style. I strive to stay as true to my own artistic voice as possible. 


There you go, Bess Callard/English Muffin, a solid favouite! Bess’s English Muffin blog  is so worth following — I particularly enjoy her recurring perfect pairs. Check out her work in Pure Green Magazine (and support a new magazine, hurray!) or look to her shop for wonderful maps, prints and custom name art using her original alphabet.

The English Muffin Shop on Etsy

Pure Green Magazine

Twitter: @BessCallard

Facebook: English Muffin

Check out the other Nugget of Awesome Interviews:

July 6th: Christa Couture

July 13th: Lindsay Zier-Vogel

July 27th: Quinn Covington

August 6th: Michelle Silagy

August 10th: Siobhan Topping

August 17th: Jennifer Dallas

August 24th: Susie Burpee