Carin Perron: Poems & Prose

My Bio

I was born Carin Anne Balding in Cranbrook's old St. Eugene Hospital in British Columbia, Canada. I grew up reading, writing, and drawing in every spare moment (sounds idyllic when I write this, as though my past were cluttered with approving adults cooing over my angelic self, but in practical fact, this meant constant litanies of "go outside and get some fresh air," "put that book down and look at the mountains," and teachers mad at me because I finished tests too quickly so I could draw on the back of that wondrous vast expanse of white foolscap).

Drawing was my real passion. I drew more than I wrote. When I wasn't reading, I was drawing. My main passion, animation, was a far-off dream. People say to me now that it was natural for a young child to like cartoons, but they miss the point. All kids like cartoons, but I never met one of my contemporaries whose dream was to be hired on at Disney, and have Walt himself shake my hand and say, "Welcome to the team." No way. When I was nine -- I remember it was a Thursday -- Walt Disney died, and that dream died with him. I remember crying for two or three days, off and on. The first day was the worst, and my mother was driven to distraction.

I still could have pursued working for Disney, but in my mind, I had missed the moment. It would never be the same: I no longer had the heart to try to be a professional animator. Recently, I thought of this again, and as a test to memory, looked up the date of Disney's death: it was December 15, 1966, and yes, that day was a Thursday. I don't remember what I was doing when Kennedy was killed, but I'll never forget Disney's death.

I really didn't know what I wanted to do, if I wasn't going to be an animator. I do remember my cousin Donald had a friend who was a computer programmer, and it seemed really interesting. I decided that would be a good thing to do. The general consensus from all the adults was, "You can't do that! You're a girl! Besides, there's no future in it!"

With art, I mainly drew whatever was in front of me, or whatever was in my head. I didn't give up on animation completely: In Grade 9, I did my first animated film. I wasn't alone: my art teacher, David Stock, and two other classmates each did a film. I shot 3 minutes of 8mm film, using "paper cels" (just lots and lots of drawings on paper, coloured with pencil crayon). None of us knew quite what we were doing, but we learned a lot by doing it. Of course, colouring all my drawings was just too much work, so I had a "colouring party," and me, my friend Isabel, my mom and my aunt busily coloured all the drawings I had left. As for the film, there were some neat moments, but mainly the motion was a bit too slow to really seem like movement. And when much later, someone asked me why I hadn't used (transparent) cels, I said, "What are cels? -- You mean I didn't have to do my backgrounds over and over again?"

I also really got into portraits, but it was a struggle getting a likeness. Mostly I tried to draw the handiest subjects, myself or my mom. Little did I know how difficult we both were as subjects -- the worst! Round faces with very little bone structure -- no wonder I had a hard time! If it hadn't been for my successes drawing my Dad's craggier features, I might have given up. For me, "The Likeness" was the Great Obstacle to overcome. I even remember the day I put it behind me. Before that day, likeness was a fickle thing: one time, it would be there, another time it wouldn't. After that day, it was never a problem again. I still don't know how it happened, but when I was fifteen, a friend of mine, Laurie Roberts, had me over, and her houseguest (I think he was a relative, but perhaps just a friend of the family), Nicholas I think his name was, had such an interesting face and beard, I had to draw him. All I had was typing paper and a pencil, but I did him perfectly. Nothing wrong with the likeness. Something just fell into place, and after that, I never struggled with a likeness again. I began to feel there was more to strive for in a portrait than mere similitude, and I continued to pursue that.

As far as writing went, mostly I wrote stories and diary entries. In grade ten, I suddenly broke my rigid once-a-day diary habit, and I have never returned to it since. I started writing bad, overblown, self-indulgent poetry in that year, like most kids do, and luckily, I had no clue how bad I was, so I just kept on doing it. Lucky, because if you do something long enough, you tend to get better, if you don't get discouraged first. Around Grade 10, the question of "what am I going to be?" raised its head. Being an animator was out: too impractical, no money in it, can't be done (how wrong they were!) It seemed if I wanted to focus on art, my practical (read "money-making") options were few: teaching or commercial art. I hated the idea of teaching less than the idea of ad art, so I glumly agreed I'd go into Education.

My first literary success in high school was an honourable mention for a short story I entered in a Canada Permanent Trust writing contest (a story typed by my Dad). By Grade 12, I felt ready to enter a poetry contest sponsored by the University of Victoria. I was blessed with a tough-as-nails English teacher named Paul Dickeson, who in looks and sheer, intimidating presence was like a cross between Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Patrick Stewart. I wanted him to look at my poetry, and he agreed. I handed over a ream of pages, and watched the blood drain from his face. I waited for days, and waited still longer, and still waited, tense and sleepless. "I'm reading through it, but it'll take a while," he told me. Finally, the day came. I met him after school. I was ready for the worst. He started with, "Of course, you realize that most of this is rubbish.." and I broke out into a cold sweat, and began to laugh nervously. "Only MOST of it? You mean ANY of it is any good?" and he took me through things, pointing out the few pieces of wheat among the chaff.

When he was done, I really didn't have enough to send in, so I wrote some more, and most of it was better. This time, my typing was done by my boyfriend...this was getting to be a trend. There were two ways to win this contest: one was to win the trip to the Symposium, the better way was to be asked to present your work when there: I won a trip to Victoria, took Mr. Dickeson with me, and presented my poetry at a long-weekend Symposium for high school students. It was heady stuff, and great fun.

Meanwhile, I was working on my second animated film, in Super 8mm. This time, I used watercolour backgrounds, and transparent cels, or whatever I could get that would pass as cels. My art teacher came to the library with me, and stood over the dragon-lady librarian, and made her hand over all her precious overhead transparencies she had been hoarding and refusing me access to. She couldn't believe how many I needed. When they were gone, I used rolls of acetate, and cut them up, and when I couldn't afford that anymore, I used storm window plastic cut into rectangles (even though it's milky and easily dented, storm window plastic doesn't look as bad as you might think: you adjust the colours of the background to be a bit brighter to overcome the dulling effect, and it looks just fine).

Of course, painting cels is even more work than colouring paper cels. This time I didn't have a whole entourage, but I did have a new boyfriend (not the one who'd typed the poems). He was my cel-painter, and worked long hours into the night to help me get my project done -- I feel guilty admitting this, but everyone needs help, and guys get their girlfriends or wives to help them all the time without a twinge. Of course, I painted as many of my own cels as I could. Not only wasn't I using standard cels, but even if I had ever heard of cel paint, it would have been impossible to find at the local Bapco Paint store that doubled as an art supply store. We used acrylic paint. It worked, but over the years, some of it has peeled off the cels. Sometimes I inked on the front of the cels, using a nib pen and special acetate ink, and painted the back, and for some effects I painted directly on the front of the cels. All of it looked surprisingly good on film: my ignorance gave me no fear.

With this film, I overcompensated on my timing, and a lot of it (especially the lip synch) was so fast it was hilarious. But the very last scene, where the merman leaps out of the water, trying to touch the face of the sun -- it was just perfect. Of course, nobody had ever told me about pencil testing (not that there was any equipment for that available to me).

After graduating high school, I moved to Calgary, Alberta, and went to University. Still not totally convinced about Education, I did my first year in the Fine Arts faculty. Later, I switched to Education, majoring in Visual Art, and minoring in English. I was lucky: not a year went by that I didn't have one outstanding, memorable instructor, and for me, that was all I needed to make the year worthwhile. For Design, I had John Chalke, who not only taught me many good things about positive and negative space, figure/ground reversals, and many other essentials, but inspired me to write a number of poems over the years.

In Silkscreen Printing, I had Bill Laing, whose instruction made a lasting impression, and whose work I found so seductive I had to fight mightily not to imitate it. Perhaps if I had simply imitated it, I might have learned even more, but I was always afraid of being assimilated by someone else's style. By now, I no longer wished I could have worked for Disney: the "house style" one must adopt seemed as horrifying to me as the clichés of advertising art.

I was also fortunate to be able to study Creative Writing under Dr. Christopher Wiseman, a caring and well-respected poet, who estimated his intensive, year-long workshop class was equivalent to an average of five years of development. I believe that was true. I still didn't send out poems for another five years after the class, until I felt my stuff was ready. These poems tended to be shorter and more lyrical than my later work.

During this time, I met many of the characters that people the poems featured on these web pages. Details of these people can be found in the page referred to as "The Story behind the poem" for each relevant poem.

I also discovered, while reading details of the development of the early Christian church (before the Council of Nicaea), a missing key to some of the sweeping changes in belief and practice of the early church, and its direct relation to anti-Semitism. This is something I would like to research further and develop into a book -- a project I never have seemed to have time for.

My earliest poetry was published under the name "Carrie Laurie," a name I kept until 1985. After this, my work has been published under "Carin Perron." My début under my new name was at a local Poetry Sweatshop, a writing competition where, armed with nothing but a page torn out of a thesaurus for inspiration, you write a complete poem in 30 minutes, and present it to a judge and the night's audience. I loved it, went there any time I needed money (I always won) and became, after awhile, before the Olympics took it over, the champion. Afterwards, I turned my energies towards sending my poems abroad.

Over time, I found my poetry growing longer as it became more narrative, and the restrictive line lengths many publications and contests had made it harder and harder for me to place my newer work. I have seen line limits increase, however, from about 20-25 lines to 40-50 lines, so there has been some easing of the situation in the last few years. I originally turned my attention from poetry magazines to contests because of the high cost of double postage for submissions and the low payment from magazines compared to the potential return from a contest.

This turned out to be a better way to go. I won a few honourable mentions, and for three years in a row, I won a prize in the Bournemouth International Festival Poetry competition, tying third, winning third, and finally winning first, and buying bicycles for the family with the proceeds! I also ran a reading series for a year, combining both poetry and prose, and including an open reading at the end. It was interesting, and fun at first, but a year of this was enough for me.

I continued to pursue "The Idea of the Portrait," which in my mind was so much more than just a likeness. I decided the key was the life, the gesture. I came to realize that people "do not look like themselves" perhaps up to 90% of the time, or at least one feature is "off" at any given moment. It is a matter of timing, which is why the camera always seems to catch you "at the wrong moment." Most moments are wrong. Likeness is a composite built up in people's minds, and it is almost a characature. It is something statistically unlikely to occur. I determined that it was an elusive butterfly I would capture.

I started drawing animals at the Calgary Zoo, and found that, like a song, they always returned to the chorus, so one could have several sketches of characteristic poses going, and wait for each one to "come around again." Being animals, they were merciless, and would shift poses in the middle of a pencil stroke. I taught myself to go with their rhythm. Then, I tried it with humans. No posing. Just talking to me, or someone else, or watching TV, or reading a book (anything that would restrict their range of movement). I would observe for characteristic poses, pick the one I liked, and work on it whenever it came around. Other times, less critical details (background, clothes, hair) could be worked on. Eventually, I learned how to extract similar information from photos, usually working from many, many snapshots. One day, it came to me that I was approaching the problem of portraiture from the viewpoint of an animator, which pleased me enormously.

In the workaday world, I taught with the Calgary Board of Education for six years as a substitute teacher, and -- irony of ironies! -- after two horrible years of not knowing how to control the kids and still be myself, I found I actually liked teaching. Loved it. Loved the kids. (I have since taught adults -- even a roomful of lawyers, once! -- and I prefer the kids, hands down: give me 30 "obnoxious teenagers" any day!)

One of the things I would do, when teaching an art class that was out of control, was to take the worst-behaving student, sit him at the front of the class, and draw his portrait. This accomplished several things: 1) It gave me instant credibility as someone who could actually draw, which they didn't anticipate, but respected; 2) It gave the wise guy the attention he wanted, in a constructive way; 3) It gave the students a demonstration on how to approach a quick portrait sketch; and 4) It kept them in line: they could look at what I was doing from time to time only if they worked on their own stuff. If they stopped, I stopped. It worked, and it was great practice.

I began to experiment with loose scribbling, building up a likeness with large, random gestures, so the features emerged like a camera lens focussing. Much later, I did a very large (double-elephant size) double portrait in pen and pigmented ink, using the same loose scribbling technique, which was very effective. I found this experimentation very freeing. Later, I did portraits on the main downtown avenue, and eventually cut my time down from about 45 minutes for a portrait to about 10-15 minutes.

Through a former student of mine, Scott, I met my husband, John Hooker, which gave my life quite a different trajectory. When our daughter, Jasmin, was about 2 years old, I had a breakthrough in my own researches into colour theory, and began to work out a new paradigm for looking at colour, which I have not yet fully documented.

When there seemed no hope of ever securing a job as an art teacher, I went into office work. I missed the kids, especially junior high age (I know, I know, I'm insane, but there you have it -- nobody on the face of this earth can have more energy or enthusiasm than a kid 12-15 years old, and it can be addictive!) I continued to tutor kids over the years, mainly in Math and English. I found myself getting more into technical writing and corporate training, database design and management, as well as coming up with solutions to simplify the maintenance of numbers of manuals.

My husband, John Hooker, and I have been in business together for many years: originally, we dealt in art and antiquities, and more recently, have focused on providing manuals, maps, databases, conferences on CD, and websites for clients. Our most recent project has been putting Oxford University's Celtic Coin Index on-line, an undertaking that will take some years to complete.

In the early 1990's, I joined the Quickdraw Animation Society, and discovered the joys of pencil-testing (looking at your movement before your film is completed and it is too late), and the luxury of using good, industry-standard equipment. In 1998, I was on Quickdraw's Board of Directors during a very tumultous, time-consuming, and emotionally gruelling period, where we were having Board meetings weekly, sometimes more than once a week, and often running past midnight.

I had fun that fall (1998) being on the jury of the Calgary Society of Independent Filmmaker's $100 Film Festival, and that led to our company sponsoring the world premiere in Calgary of Don McKellar's "Elimination Dance" in front of his feature, "Last Night," an even more fun and exhilarating experience. This effort later won a prize for promotion of a short film in English.

In 1999, I became President of the Quickdraw Animation Society, and helped it to consolidate changes and growth after a major move, large equipment acquisitions, and various changes of Board and Staff. In 2000, I discovered that the breast cancer I had had in 1992 had returned, so this made me take some time off for treatment and recovery. I did not run for the Quickdraw board after my term ended in the spring of 2000 (shortly after my diagnosis).

I stepped into the fray for Quickdraw three times when things started to fall apart (twice on the Board, and, this spring, as staff), but I will not be doing so again. It's more important to me than ever that I focus on my priority projects, and not let myself be pulled into the vortex of others' agendas.

After a wonderful divine healing on May 6, 2000, which shrunk my tumours visibly over a 2 1/2 hour period, and removed my previous feeling of sickness, I went into chemo (FEC), and generally sailed through it, considering I was taking a high dose, though one does get kind of tired and dragged out with it all. With treatment, though, I felt better than I had for years, so the cancer must have been growing slowly all these years, sapping my strength like a parasite. I'm also reassessing what I like doing and don't like doing in my life, and have more time for the former.

In August 2001, I saw Mr. Dickeson, my old English teacher, after many years, and we had a great visit, catching up, and I was able to tell him what an important influence he had been to me.

In the fall of 2001, tests showed the cancer had recurred and spread. Spookily, one test at the end of August showed slow growth, but a second test at the end of September showed the cancer had spread like wildfire - I'm convinced the emotional stress of September 11 (and its reminder of the 20-year-old disastrous plane crash in my home town, with over 200 killed) had something to do with it. Anyway, I began a second round of chemo (Taxotir), and tried to keep my spirits up, though I was often feeling exhausted and distressed. I began to focus on the things most important to me: finally writing poetry again, after a long, dry spell, and assembling a book towards publication.

I found 2002 has been an interesting year, full of incident. We adopted a second dog, a lovely female Border Collie who was on "death row" at the S.P.C.A., and she's quickly fit herself into the family, though the cats aren't as sure about her as our other dog, who is a Black Lab-Border Collie cross. In the spring, I had the opportunity to go on a week-long "Tapestry Retreat" in the mountains, on a program through the Tom Baker Cancer Centre. It was a great time, and I am still nourished by it, and those beautiful, spunky, irreverent, loving, and fiercely honest men and women I met there. I also got a good look at the planets when they went into alignment, since we were high up enough to see them clearly.

In the summer, I was also reunited with my former student and old friend, who now goes by Nikolai Diablo, when his sideshow came to the Calgary Stampede. It was great to get together with him again, but such visits are always too short.

As of August 2002, my latest tests show the cancer is in a surprising remission. It ain't gone, but it's "quiescent," which is good enough for me. No more chemo for the time being, and I'm just recuperating from the side effects of these wonderfully-effective poisons that are still a bit hard to take. I get very upset and protective when people call the prettiest drug, the ruby-coloured "Epirubicin," the horrible name of "Red Devil." I'm glad I'd never heard that name, because when I took the drug, last time round, I imagined lovely ruby lasers melting the cancer away. It's redness was a comfort to me, and I resent others putting it in a negative light. Being overfond of a poison - how weird is that? Well, the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and this poison was the enemy to the cancer.

I just spoke last night (Sept 8, 2002) to a friend who has had colon cancer, and now has no sign of the disease (like my cousin), and we talked about how many awful stories everyone hears about people getting sick and dying, and not enough of the stories about people getting better, at least for quite some time, and going on to live their lives. She's been able to encourage other people after their diagnosis. Myself, I haven't been so successful with giving people hope - but then, many people seem to have been bullied by well-meaning friends and relations into talking to me, and the depression and despair that follows a cancer diagnosis is a very tough thing to drag yourself out of, especially when you're not quite ready yet. I have heard that, indirectly, other people feel encouraged at seeing I'm still going strong. There are too many folks worried about giving people "false hope" and not worried enough about giving them "false despair." Hope is a healing thing in itself, just like love and laughter.

I've added two new poems of mine to the poetry section, Sleep Gently, Now, and The Spider. I got a nice email about the first one from Mr. Boden's son, and the second one has just been freshly published in an anthology. I've done a couple of readings, but I'm really not into that very much right now. Maybe another time. One funny thing: I was writing up a bio for one reading (I like writing bios - the short kind - I've never used the same one twice). I wrote a humorous one about how every hospital I've ever had surgery in, from the one I was born in to the one my daughter was born in, to others where I've come under the knife - have all met their doom. Some have remained standing, but no longer are hospitals, and one was destroyed in a spectacular implosion. We're talking four hospitals, here. Within a week of writing this funny bio (which I haven't used yet, and probably won't), my mother called me to tell me the St. Eugene Hospital, where I was born, was burning down, and she was running out to see it. Kinda creeped me out. Then I remembered that two hospitals I've had surgery in are still open, but strangely enough, they were both ones where I had elective surgery. When I haven't had a choice, they seem to be toast. Strange.

Meanwhile, I've been busy, preparing John's manuscript, Celtic Improvisations, for the publisher, finishing the Celtic Coin Index Online, and trying to keep up with regular living. Too much hard work, too much fighting illness - I'm ready for some fun! I had a great birthday party, and I'm trying to think of other nice things to punctuate the days. I'm too prone to simply find another project! As of September, everyone around me is in a whirl of activity - teachers and instructors going back to school, as is our daughter - and everyone seems to have family weddings, and those who don't, have close family who are having babies this month. My old friend, Geoff, is going to be a grandfather this month - my first friend to reach that milestone - and he's in for a heap of kidding about being a Gramps, at least from me!

Well now, I'm sure, you know much more than you ever wanted to know!

© 1999-2002, Carin Perron

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