Posts Tagged ‘Amy Mattes’

Seven Treasures, Part 5: guest post by Amy Mattes

Read the series Introduction here.

An original Skirtboarder bred in the Kootenays of British Columbia, Amy Mattes has been called “a feminine tomboy with an old soul” and “a walking mood ring.” She loves to travel, drink Jameson, and take long walks on the beach with her Boston terrier, Louie. Amy is also attempting to write the next great Canadian novel. She’s got scars and stories from over a decade of skating, and while she no longer enjoys the feel of falling down, she still relishes the feel of getting back up and trying again. Perhaps for this reason she’s been called both “intrepid” and “wise.”



Here are my seven treasures.

On family . . .


After my mom’s mom passed away, my sister and I were presented with a Ziploc bag full of her jewellery to pick through. Most of it was costume style and tacky, and I could picture the bobbly rings on her bony fingers accentuated by bright nail polish as she smoked a menthol cigarette (she always wanted us to grow our nails too, so she could show us how to paint them), and the gaudy bracelets on her skinny wrists as she held a glass of vodka orange juice. I finally chose a long silver chain detailed with unique, flattened silver circles that seemed in style.

I wear it a lot. It has become my go-to for dates, and the most elegant way to dress up a basic outfit. I love its length, its weight, the way it lays between my breasts. The necklace makes me feel sexy and, to be honest, I get a lot of sex when I wear it. Even though I don’t know how long she owned it, I like to imagine that it made my grandmother too feel sexy, when she was younger and single, and before she got sick.


I had a selfish reason for learning to play the harmonica. I wanted my mother to give me the one that had belonged to her father. My New Year’s resolution one year was to learn her favourite song, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, and I did. I played it for her eagerly, hoping that in return, she’d let me have the instrument. But I discovered it would take more than that. It seemed I had to learn every Bob Dylan and Neil Young song as well as every obscure train-travelling song ever written.

When she was finally ready to part with the harmonica, my dad decided he was ready to part with his father’s as well, so I was given both my grandfathers’ instruments at the same time, a dear couple of heirlooms. They sit on a shelf in my apartment now, and looking at them transports me back in time to when my grandfathers played them. Every once in a while I pick one up at home and play, or take one camping, learning a new song or just playing one of those I practised to earn these gifts.


For my 30th birthday I wanted to play rich girl. I wanted a big to-do. So I planned a girls-only trip to Las Vegas and started organizing a black-dress-themed party. Only the dress I envisioned was nowhere to be found. I am very picky. I am also quite poor.

At Value Village I finally found it in the costume aisle, a perfect one-shouldered, ruffled LBD for $19.99. I decided that the only suitable accent would be a pair of diamond studs. Now, I had never owned a pair of diamonds, and I knew I shouldn’t spend the money on them (a month’s worth of groceries). Still, I was determined. I shopped around, but was unenthused by the ones behind the counter.

One day I mentioned the diamond search to my father, and soon after, in the mail, I received a note from my mother with something special attached:

Dear Amy,

Your father bought me these earrings when we first got married. As our marriage got better the diamonds got bigger. Just kidding. Happy Birthday.

Love, Mom

I wore them for my 30th birthday — with the dress, they were just right — and I’ll always honour this gift, its story, and my parents, who have now been married for thirty-four years.

On growing up . . .


The May long weekend in my hometown is a special festival with a May pole dance and pageant and parade. As kids we’d watch the girls in the pageant giving speeches and showing off their talents and we’d be hysterical with excitement for them, picking our favourite gowns. When I was fifteen, I entered the contest and was crowned Miss Kaslo Princess 1997. I still have my gloves, tiara, and sash tucked away in a box. The teen years are an awkward and often terrible time, but these treasures remind me I had a lot of fun visiting other towns as Miss Kaslo Princess, sitting on the back of convertible cars, waving at pedestrians, throwing candy in parades, and knowing little girls were admiring my dress. I’m sure the adults wondered how I smiled all the time. Well, I’ll tell you: the trick is to put Vaseline on your teeth. And when you wave to the crowds you chant to yourself, “Elbow elbow, wrist wrist, touch pearls, smile—switch.” And then you switch hands and say it again.


After high school I went to Europe with a backpack and acted like I was discovering everything myself. In Barcelona I made a friend from Sweden who offered me a free ticket to see Depeche Mode, the English electronic band, so like any young rebel who doesn’t care about money, I decided it was worth missing my flight to stay for the concert. I spent this stolen extra time in that great Spanish city and had the night of my life. I have never felt so alive. I still have the ticket stub, which is stuck to a Polaroid of me in front of the Eiffel Tower dated September 13, 2005. The energy and freedom of that Barcelona night put my impressionable youth behind me, and a wild sovereignty took its place.

On love . . .


The first act of change was to take all the photos of us off the walls and put them face down, eventually moving them to a milk crate by the garbage pickup. The one photo I did keep is a strip of three black-and-whites of us together that we took in one of those three-dollar photo booths, at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California. I remember it was taken right before we played a game of pirate mini-golf, and right after we drank large Cokes and went on a spinning ride that messed my hair and made both of us laugh, a lot. In the photos we’re making faces and striking comical poses and having a good time. I have a hard time looking at them; they make me sad. But I don’t want to get rid of them either.

On home . . .


My last item is a vintage suitcase, currently used as décor. It reminds me daily that I’ve come from somewhere and have places to go but that home is where the heart is. If I needed to, I could put my whole life in that suitcase and be portable. I love old, second-hand treasures, and this one is a symbol to me of movement, but also of foundation.





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Amy Mattes participated in Namaste Gardens Writing & Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica, January 2012.




Thursday, May 24th, 2012

Seven Treasures: a memoir series

Photo credit: Donna at An Enchanted Cottage blog:

Memory fascinates me.

Why do people remember, and forget, what they do? What triggers their memories? If they focus on an object that uncovers a memory, using “involuntary memory” as a springboard to “voluntary memory,” how deep can they go in recalling emotions and details?

What significant personal stories, unique and at the same time universal, can result from this process?

In Remembrance of Things Past, Marcel Proust writes famously about how a squat, plump little cake called a “petite madeleine,” when dipped in tea and tasted, evokes memories of his childhood in Combray. He describes the experience beautifully as it unfolds:

“And as soon as I had recognized the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping in it little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognizable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann’s park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea.” (Read more of the quote here.)

In memoir workshops I suggest that those seeking a way into their writing begin by looking around their homes, or cottages, at the belongings they keep close. Aside from basic utility items — that vegetable brush is unlikely to elicit emotions, though you never know! — many of the items we refuse to part with, whether used regularly, hanging on a wall, set out on a dresser, or tucked away in a drawer or cupboard, may be keys to memory. Each has the potential to remind us of the distant or not-so-distant past: a person, a place, an experience.

And if we look closely, each tells us something about who we were, and who we’ve become.

For “Seven Treasures: a memoir series,” I asked writer and editor colleagues, former students, and friends to share something about their most memory-imbued belongings. The results have been a pleasure to read, the writers’ choices and the reasons behind them unique, often surprising and always revealing.

I hope these writings help you see anew some of your own cherished items, and find your way to the underlying stories that make them special to you.

~ Allyson

Explore this brimming chest of Seven Treasures guest posts.


Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

Spring Publishing News: Writing on Skirtboarders, Seder, Songs, Shame and More

Photo credit:

Here’s a spring roundup of recent publishing and writing-competition news from my former students and workshop participants, along with details of a new contest for poets (see HEIDI STOCK, below). I share these success stories here to celebrate these writers’ accomplishments and also to encourage other emerging writers.

The opportunities to reach a reading audience through memoirs and other forms of creative nonfiction, fiction based on life stories, poetry and fiction are almost limitless. As you’ll see …

(Names appear alphabetically.)


CHRISTINE BARBETTA’s memoir “The Party” is second-prize winner in the recent writing competition co-sponsored by the Canadian Federation of University Women (Aurora/Newmarket) and The Era/The Banner, with the topic Life Lessons. A reception for winners and finalists will take place April 17. Christine’s story was one she’d begun writing in my University of Toronto Memories into Stories course.

SHARON BROOKS-WALLACE’s memoir “Keikikane” (Son) is a finalist in the CFUW/The Era/The Banner competition. Her story is a mother’s reflection on the near-drowning of her two-year-old son on the island of Kauai.

Sharon, a student in the Fall 2011 session of Memories into Story, has founded the writers’ group OMG (Online Memoir Group) with others from her class: Ruth Fitzsimmons, Stephen Goldberg and Sarah Calvert. A fifth member will join this spring. Sharon’s current project is a book about her Scottish great-grandmother, Nellie, who sailed to Canada at age nineteen, and she is writing an article for the Troon Ayrshire Family History Society about her research and writing process.

SARAH CALVERT’s memoir “Eat, Pray, Songwriting … Keep It Simple,” about the pleasures and perils of being on tour as a songwriter, has been published online on the Songwriters Association of Canada website (6 Feb 2012). Also: Watch for an interview with Sarah here on my website soon.

JAN CSILLAG’s poem “Missing at This Time” appears in the Canadian Jewish News Literary Supplement (April 2012). Her poem is about the joyful expectancy of the Passover seder when the family gathers as well as the feelings of loss over loved ones who are no longer here.

STEPHEN GOLDBERG’s memoir “Silence Isn’t Golden,” a surprising story about his son’s speech therapy, has been published online at The Write Place at the Write Time. Steve told me and his fellow students that he enrolled in Memories into Story so he could get one work published and call himself a writer. And so he has, and is. (Don’t stop now, Steve.)

TILYA GALLAY HELFIELD’s memoir “Shame” appears in the recent Canadian Jewish News Literary Supplement (April 2012). “Shame” is an excerpt from Tilya’s memoir collection Metaphors for Love, currently seeking a publisher. Tilya’s describes her recent experience recording another of her memoirs, “Sweet Adeline,” for CBC’s The Sunday Edition in “On the Air.”

AMY MATTES’s  memoir “10 Years of Skirtboarders” has been published in Color Magazine. Amy is an original member of this Quebec-based group of female skateboarders. Her piece celebrates the Skirtboarders’ decade of accomplishments, which include making movies, organizing contests, and touring California, Sweden and Mexico to showcase their talent. The Skirtboarders range in age from 17 to 40 and are still thriving. Read more about them here.

MARY E. McINTYRE will see her short story “Kidnapped” published in Whispered Words, the latest anthology by Writers’ Community of Durham Region. “Kidnapped,” one of two stories by Mary to make the semi-finalists’ list, is about a young woman, distraught from a still birth, who steals another’s baby and hears her guilty conscience whispering in her head. The anthology is the published result of WCDR’s annual short story contest and comprises stories from the top 25 semi-finalists.

Mary’s memoir “Harmless” received an Honourable Mention in the CFUW/The Era/The Banner competition mentioned above. In the story, a farmer forces her to confront her irrational fear of cows.

Iron Horses: The Forging of Old and New Paths

VICTORIA SCHELE, of Santiago, Chile, is the author of Iron Horses: The Forging of Old and New Paths, a book of photo essays about the history of South American railroads that launched March 21. Iron Horses is published by Ceibo Ediciones. You can read more about it, and about Victoria, here:

LORYNNE SCHREIBER’s memoir “Internal Compass” will be published in the upcoming anthology Living Legacies IV: A Collection of Writing by Contemporary Canadian Jewish Women, edited by Liz Pearl and published by PK Press of Toronto. The story is about a gift from her grandmother that influenced her life.

SUSAN SIDDELEY read this week from her book Home First: A Memoir in Voices at the Parliament Street Library as part of the Toronto Public Library series “Keep Toronto Reading.” She’ll read soon as well at the Ryerson University Library & Archives. Home First, which begins in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, is a memoir of “three generations spread over three continents.” Find out more about her writing and self-publishing journey here: Writing “Home First”: A Memoir in Voices. Susan is founder of Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat in Santiago, Chile.

HEIDI STOCK recently launched the Canadian Aspiring Poets Contest, a competition for as-yet-unpublished writers. The contest opened April 1st, the first day of National Poetry Month and closes June 1, 2012. Evelyn Lau, Vancouver’s Poet Laureate, is the contest’s honorary patron, and poet Catherine Graham is judge. Winners will share $1,000 in prize money to be directed toward individual online mentoring with Catherine, and I’ll interview the first-prize winner here on my website. Contest guidelines can be found here.

Happy spring, everyone, and keep writing.

Writers mentioned above have participated in one or more of the courses or workshops I’ve led for University of Toronto [in partnership with the New York Times Knowledge Network; online], Koffler Centre of the Arts, North York Central Library (Canadiana Department), Otter Lake Writers’ Retreat in Ontario, Canada; Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat in Chile; Sabino Springs Writers’ Retreat in Arizona; and Namaste Gardens Writing & Yoga Retreat in Costa Rica.



Friday, April 13th, 2012