IMG_3329From author interviews, lectures, readings, panel discussions, debates, and pub nights—to yoga & writing workshops, weekend conferences, and wine & literary pairings—Samantha hosts a monthly literary experience in Calgary, Alberta. Most events are listed on the WGA website.

Our recent Scotiabank Giller Light Bash (November 19, 2018) rose $6130 to support literacy programs in high-needs communities across the province. Big thanks to this year’s book defenders: Marcello Di Cintio, Lori Hahnel, Karen Hines, Fred Stenson and Poet Laureate Sheri D-Wilson. The event was a complete sell-out!

















Sage Island Book Trailer

Thanks to the the hours of help offered by my tech-savvy new teacher-friend Mike West, I have learned how to use iMovie and created a one minute book trailer for Sage Island.  Better late than never, yeah?

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Sage Island Book Trailer!

Thanks to the hours of help offered by my tech-savvy new teacher-friend Mike West, I have learned how to use iMovie and created a short book trailer for Sage Island.  Better late than never, yeah?

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Different Strokes Swim Club

Image for Different Strokes Facebook
I’m into my fourth year as head coach of Calgary’s LGBTQ (and friends) Masters swim team, Different Strokes.  I do my best to create imaginative workouts that are challenging and fun for the intermediate and competitive lanes.  Our dedicated and intrepid assistant head coach (and founder of the club) Dan MacGregor typically coaches and teaches the new swimmers.  Sometimes we switch places, and sometimes we recruit help if we can’t be on deck: thanks to Jim Ansell, Richard Goddard and David de Vlieger for their help coaching when we can’t make it to the pool.

Different Strokes Calgary (DSC) is a non-profit, volunteer run swim club inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender and their straight friends—dedicated to the Master’s swim program philosophy of “fun and fitness for life” in an environment that is both positive and supportive.  To this end, DSC attempts to provide a recreational, competitive and socially active atmosphere in which members may, at their option, participate.

Interested in getting your feet wet?  Newbies are always invited to try a practice out for fun—and for free.  Simply show up five minutes before practice so we can get your name, chat with you about your experience level, and answer any questions you may have.  Everyone is welcome.

In February and March we were fortunate to acquire pool time at Calgary’s high-performance Talisman Centre.  These additional practices were quite popular and we hope to continue offering multiple weekly practices in September 2015.  In the meantime, we train on Sundays at SAIT 5-6pm until the end of June – followed by Sunday morning practices at Bowview (outdoor) pool during the summer.  Check the website below for updates!

Different Strokes Calgary was co-founded by Dan MacGregor and James Cooke in March 1995 at the Lindsay Park Sports Centre.  Coaching staff consisted of Dan, Nancy Ingram and Rick Matthews.  Thirteen swimmers showed up on the first day.  Over the course of the year the club grew significantly and has been growing ever since!  We typically have 20+ swimmers in the water for most practices.

DSC is a member of Swim Alberta (and of course FINA)—as well as the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics (IGLA), a governing body for swimming, diving, water polo and synchronized swimming. To date, club members have attended swim meets in different parts of North America, i.e. Washington DC, Seattle, San Francisco, and Atlanta to name a few). Europe destinations have included Paris, Reykjavik, Amsterdam, and Copenhagen. Locally we attend meets in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver.

Every four years the Gay Games and/or the Outgames feature a five day swimming competition with participants from all around the world. Our past participation in these games were in Sydney, 2002, Chicago and Montréal in 2006, and Copenhagen in 2010.

The above mentioned history and mandate have been pulled from the DSC website.  If you would like further information, please email the club or show up on deck!

Beginning Swimmers (Typically Coached by Dan MacGregor)
Beginning swimmers are encouraged to come out and learn how to swim.  Dan is top notch with many years of teaching and coaching experience.  Dan is a busy accountant by trade so you may notice him vanish here and there through March and April (tax time!) but we do our best to ensure swimmers are always looked after.

Competitive Swimmers (Typically Coached by Samantha Warwick)
Samantha is NCCP Level 3 Certified with over 10 years experience coaching both competitive age-group athletes and Masters swimmers.  Participants with a more competitive outlook benefit from a structured and progressive goal oriented workout programme.  However, swimmers are not pushed beyond their comfort level or ability and can stop at any time when a rest is in order.

Swimmers must bring a swimsuit and towel, goggles and a swim cap.  Investing in your own pair of training fins is highly recommended for both begninner and experienced swimmers, as we often integrate fin work into practices and most pool facilities do not Swimming Photo #2 Different Strokeshave enough or the proper sizes to accommodate the majority.  We recommend Team Aquatic Supplies for equipment purchases.  The staff are knowledgeable, helpful and the prices are good.   You can also bring your own lock for the locker room.

When you arrive on deck at the pool you will be welcomed.  Choose the lane appropriate to your level of swimming.  Lane 1 is for beginners and lane 6 is for advanced swimmers. Lane 2—5 are for varying degrees between beginners to advanced swimmers.  At the Talisman Centre we have 4 lanes vs. 6 but the arrangement is the same.

Sadly, SAIT no longer offers a hot tub for post-practice debriefs.  However the Talisman Centre does!   As mentioned, after Tuesday and Thursday practices we relax  in the hot tub where announcements are made.


Sage Island Book Trailer

Thanks to the HOURS OF HELP provided by my tech-savvy new teacher-friend Mike West, I have learned how to use iMovie (!) and created a short book trailer for Sage Island!  Better late than never, yeah?


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Ultrasound Room 12, Please

Medical research and studies

This story was originally posted on July 10, 2014 before I decided to pull it.  However, in light of the upcoming thematic shift of my blog, I am reposting this to illustrate my interest in the themes of medicine – though my interest in health, medicine, healing and literature reaches well beyond my own personal experiences.  Here, I accounted for one day of 605 living with a chronic daily headache.

It’s hard to know exactly what my doctors think when they see my name on their next patient chart:

a)      I wonder what she’s read on the internet this time
b)      I wonder how many questions she’ll have today
c)      …if she’ll have any highlighted diagrams
d)      I need a drink
e)        All of the above

I’ve had a headache for 422 days.  Of these 422 days, only about 15 of them would be considered debilitating.  Usually the ache is a steady 4/10 which allows me to carry on with my job and various activities—excluding late nights with friends—which have suffered and waned this past year.

Two weeks ago was my fourth appointment with a musculoskeletal specialist—Dr. Z—for ultrasound-guided diagnostic (and possibly therapeutic) trigger point injections into my neck muscles.  I have a lot of questions when I’m around doctors.  My mind is a reasonably quiet anthill outside of health and medicine, but as soon as a doctor or massage/physio therapist enters my exam room, pointed curiosity kicks the anthill into a chaos of thoughts and questions:

Why do no drugs touch this headache?  Why does my headache go away when I’m exercising?   Why does it go away when I’m in the steam room?  Why does it go away when I’m in the process of eating?  Why does it ALWAYS come back?  Can a trigger point in the neck cause tension and pain in the jaw?  But HOW are they connected?  What muscles are those?  No—this one—what’s it called?  Will a problem there refer the headache to here (touch top of head)?  Can you see the trigger points on the ultrasound?  What do they look like?  Like the size of a pea?  At the insertion or in the muscle belly?  Can we use the thinner needle?  How many gauges is it—22 or 25?  Can you check the muscle insertion of the splenii and semispinalis capitis?  That’s here, right? 

The week before we’d injected my sternocleidomastoid, and as he left the room at the end of the appointment he said, “Next time, a dollar a question!”

So two weeks ago—day 406—was uncharacteristically hot in Calgary.  Thirty-three Steigle Radlerdegrees, and I decided to bring him and the ultrasound technician a beer.  I’ve decided to introduce my doctors and health peeps to the Stiegl Radler.  But dudes generally like regular (not grapefruit) beer, and I’d heard the normal Stiegl is good, so I selected two regular Stiegls and one Grapefruit Radler.  I wanted to be prepared for a thirsty resident hovering like a ghost in the corner of the room as there had been before.

I arrived at the procedure clinic early to rate my pain out of 10 and wait.  I rated 4 as I always do.  I stared out the big windows and wished I was tubing down the Elbow River.  “Samantha,” a young woman eventually called, and I followed her to the waiting cubicles where she handed me a gown, “Undress from waist up,” she said.
“Can I have Ultrasound Room #12 please?”
She glanced both ways down the hall, brow crinkled.
“The one just around the corner to the left.”
It was clear people didn’t typically ask for ultrasound rooms the way you ask for a favourite restaurant table near the windows.
“T is working that room today.”
“Perfect!  I have something for T—so that would be great.”
“I’ll check,” she said.

I’d been given a different room a few weeks before, and I did not like it.  Ultrasound rooms have dimmers, and the switch was not within my reach, and I did not enjoy the ultrasound tech as much.  Everything matters.

I waited in my cubicle, checking the beer was still cold, fidgeting with the ties at the back of my gown and catching a short nap while sitting upright against the wall.

“Samantha,” the woman’s voice carried into the cubicles, and I opened my eyes against the room, gathered my stuff.  “I can take you to room twelve,” she said.
“Thanks again,” I said.  “Twelve is the best.”
She left and I played with the dimmer until the light was just so.  I examined the MSK poster on the wall revealing the insides of a shoulder (or maybe it was a knee) wishing it was a neck.  I spread my notes and muscle diagrams on the exam table.

T entered the room, “Hi,” she said cheerfully.
“How are you doing?”
“About the same.”
She gave my papers the sideways eyeball and asked when I’d had my last period.
“I brought you a beer,” I said.  “The Radler.  Have you tried the Stiegl Radler?  It’s the only beer I’ll drink.”
“Really?” she said, “thank you.  It’s so hot out today.”
“So hot.”
She did some stuff at the ultrasound machine, “Let me go get the doctor.”

She left.  I touched my documents and glanced at my Post-it-Note of questions.  It had taken serious effort to reduce my questions to the size of a Post-it, but I had big news to tell Dr. Z and I needed to focus: a skilled myofascial and trigger point therapist had finally located and confirmed a stubborn trigger point in my upper neck that re-created my headache exactly.

T returned with Dr. Z.
“Hi, Samantha,” he said (exhaling or was that just my imagination?) and sat in a chair opposite me.  The exam table and my papers rested between us.  He glanced at the portfolio I’d brought with me.
“I have news,” I said.
“I saw C at PT—you know—who works with B?  She’s amazing.  She found this crazy trigger point in my splenius capitis!”
He seemed to take interest in my laminated images of the human musculoskeletal system.
“Someone gave me that,” I said.  “Cool, yes?”
I lifted the second diagram I’d brought of a head where the splenius capitis trigger point was marked with a star and its “classic” referral pattern highlighted.
“This,” I traced the referral pattern to the vertex of the head, “is so much like my headache.”  I bent my head sideways to move my ponytail.  “And she drew an X on the spot.”
“Well, well,” he said—or something like this—something hard to interpret.
“There’s something there,” I said.  “I want to know what you think.”
I don’t remember the dialogue that followed well enough to include it here, but he agreed to re-target the area.  Worth a shot, I should have said—ha ha!

“Did T tell you I brought you a beer?”
“You didn’t have to do that,” he said.  “I was only teasing you about the questions.”
“Don’t other people ask questions?”
“Yeah,” T said, “but they don’t usually have pictures with them.”
“But they’re so useful…” I said, an affectionate nod to my work.
Dr. Z seemed to struggle with whether he should accept the beer I had brought.
“…Well I suppose I’ve accepted wine before…” he said to the laminate.
“They’re on ice in my bag.”
“You have them on ice?”
I lifted my bag to show him the beers and the ice pack.
“And I’m your last patient,” I grinned.
I looked at T.  I looked at Dr. Z.
“Listen guys—I’m going to FORGET my three cans of beer on the exam table at the end of this appointment, all right?”

I cleared my stuff from the table and Dr. Z patted the surface, “Okay, let’s take a look at this X.”
I lay on my front in a prone position, propped up by a pillow under my chest so he could feel the back of my neck.
“I’m surprised it’s still so well-marked,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.  “I had my husband re-mark it.”
He palpated the X and proceeded with the injection with T at the ultrasound.

InjectionInjections of anesthetic into the muscles at the back of my neck have usually reduced the headache to some degree for a few hours—but my diagnostics have not been slam dunks.  The injections are unpleasant, especially up into the intracranial insertion points.  While he injected I stopped talking for 30 seconds.
“Are you okay?” Dr. Z asked.
30 seconds of silence and he thought I’d passed out.
After the procedure he toweled off the ultrasound goop from the back of my neck and we agreed to stop the diagnostic injections for a while, see how I feel.

“Thanks,” I said.
“Always a pleasure.”
I widened my eyes at him.
“What is it?”
“I don’t have any more questions right now.”
“Not possible.”
“Bye,” I said.
“Bye,” he said.
T laughed.
She stayed and I placed the cans of beer on the exam table.
“So I can request you, right?” I asked.  “You’re soothing.”
“Sure,” she said.  “I’ll watch for your name.”  As she headed toward the door she turned around before leaving. “I’ll definitely remember your name.”

Note: The dialogue in this piece is as I remember it, however—without a dictaphone, some creative license had to be taken.  Names of involved parties have been changed to random letters to protect the innocent.  I intend to continue blogging about my adventures in trigger point therapy.


Wordfest Blog Coverage: Women in Clothes

Blog Image 1 DressWordfest Blog
Part One: The Clothing Swap—Adventure of the Green Dress 

An hour-long clothing swap kicked-off this busy event featuring Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton in celebration of their new book, Women in Clothes.

Earlier in the day I’d ransacked my closet for three pieces to bring.  I decided on a strapless black and white dress and a pair of stylish baggy jeans I’d found in Barcelona, but the piece I was most excited about—the piece I really wanted someone to fall in love with—was a hand-made green dress (raw silk) I’d bought at a market in Shanghai three years ago.  I knew it was a nice dress; the green really popped—but for some inexplicable reason I hadn’t worn it enough.

Blog 6 at the RACKS
A participant in the busy pre-event clothing swap. Photo credit: Radim Rybacek

I arrived at Theater Junction Grand with my friend Kat.  She brought a pink and navy dress, a silk skirt and a pair of funky tights.  We made our way up the spiral staircase to the Theater’s lobby and into the racks where we accepted sticky-notes on which to write a brief story associated with each garment.  For my green dress I simply wrote, this dress was hand-made at a market in Shanghai.  On the jeans, perfect for Folk Fest.

What a beautiful green, I heard murmurs as I added my garments to the mix.  A young woman with fun, messy hair eyeballed the dress and pulled it off the rack to hold it up to the halogens and run her fingertips over the silk.

Because she had longer hair in her author photo at the back of Swimming Studies, I did not realize until later that this woman was in fact LEANNE SHAPTON.  She moved toward the change room.  I called after her, “Can I see you in that if you like it?”
“Sure,” she said.

In the meantime I slipped on a black leather jacket and faced Kat.  “Too big?”
“I think you can carry it.”
“I can layer it. Wear a sweater underneath.”
“Yeah, totally.”

Blog Image 2 Leanne Shapton
Author and book designer Leanne Shapton trying on my green dress!

We headed into the change rooms where Sheila Heti was deciding against a purple top and Leanne fit very nicely into the green dress.  She assessed the fabric and style before a big mirror.
“Can I take your picture?” I asked Leanne, still not registering who she was.
“Sure.”  She let me take a few shots.
She scrunched a first of hair.
“I like it a lot,” she said.  “But I think it might be a bit too shiny—for me.”

Alas. The adventure of the green dress would have to carry on.

Kat and I made our way back out to the racks where we ran into two women we know, Leslie Gavel and Laura Wershler.  Leslie had the pink and navy dress that Kat had brought.  “Hey, Kat brought that,” I said, and she held the dress happily against herself.

Blog 8 with Leslie and Laura
With Leslie Gavel (holding up Kat’s dress) and Laura Wershler – all of us with our loot. Photo credit: Radim Rybacek

After festival photographer Radim Rybacek took this picture of us together (left), I asked Laura what she thought of the book.  With a glass of white in hand and beaming under the dim lights she said:

So, the book is one big sociological study of what women wear and why they wear it, and it’s incredibly interesting—probably much more interesting than it would have been if someone had actually done a sociological study.”

Laura caught sight of my green dress. Someone had put it back on the rack.  “Look at this green!” she said, reaching for the hanger and moving past me toward the change room.

Blog Image 5 Laura
We have a winner – Laura Wershler takes the dress!

She emerged from the stall. The dress fit her perfectly.  All the women in the room nodded, emitted collective sounds of approval.  “I could maybe wear this to my son’s wedding next year,” she thought outloud.

I squealed.

Part Two: The Program—Why Do We Wear What We Wear?

“Clothing is not necessarily just about style and fashion,” host Shelley Youngblut opened the event, “but individuality.”  She introduced both Sheila Heti and Leanne Shapton and I threw my head back in embarrassment, groaning on the inside, now recognizing Leanne clearly.  I’d seen her photo in the Globe & Mail last month.  And she’d been with Sheila Heti in the change room.  Duh.

Blog 9 Leanne Shapton Reading
Leanne Shapton reading ‘The Mom Coat’ from Women in Clothes. Photo credit: Radim Rybacek.

Leanne read first from a piece in the collection called The Mom Coat by Amy Fusselman—an essay I imagine every mom will enjoy and relate to.  The end of this particular essay was arm-pricklingly poignant:  “I’m reminded of Emily Dickinson’s words, ‘Beauty—be not caused—It is,’” Fusselman wrote, “I think this speaks to the trickiest thing to embrace about fashion and style, which is that the product of all the effort is ultimately not that important.  This is hard to accept because it’s absurd.  But I think it’s the truth: you can’t actually make yourself beautiful.  It’s similar to writing: what’s beautiful about writing is not the words.  The words are a recording of the beautiful thing.  The words are a recording of the beautiful thing in the person, the thing that becomes beautified only by action, and ultimately becomes most beautified only by the most beautiful action of all—love.  This thing, this transmitter of beauty, is ultimately unadornable and undecoratable.  It is invisible and it bedazzles.  That we can’t see or touch it should not stop us from paying homage to it, and we do this by imitating it.  We do this by sincerely and wholeheartedly beautifying to no end.”

Blog 11 Sheila Heti Reading
Author Sheila Heti reading from ‘This Person is a Robot.’ Photo credit: Radim Rybacek

Sheila then read from two pieces, one amusing, the other sad.  The first was from This Person is a Robot by Leslie Vosshall and Heidi Julavits; A smell scientist sniffs coats in a busy New York City restaurant’s coatcheck closet.  You’re going to have to check this one out for yourself to do it justice.

The second reading was from Clothes on the Ground, an essay by American writer Julia Wallace who has spent three years interviewing garment workers in Cambodia.  Here, from the perspective of a young garment worker named Leap: “I used to think that if I could have one quality and beautiful bra like I make, I would be really happy and I would be very beautiful.  But it’s impossible.  These bras are for export, and the price of one of the bras I make is almost equal to my salary.  While working, I hold the bra up in front of my face, then I ask myself who is the woman who will wear the bra I am sewing. I also wonder how the woman in those countries are so rich and lucky to wear these expensive bras while the person who makes that bra just wears a very cheap one bought from the pile of clothes on the ground under the umbrella.  So I feel jealous.”

Leanne returned to close the reading portion and to say that Women in Clothes truly runs the gamut of perspectives on clothing and fashion.

A special guest was invited into the discussion that followed: fashion designer Paul Hardy.  He brought some of the unclaimed clothes from the swap and shared the attached stories with the audience:

My husband loves me in this shirt, yours will too…

I last wore these jeans on a date night; I think they’re lucky…

However many blouses with blue polka-dots she acquired, the fact remained: She looked terrible in white with blue polka-dots. Please save her from her sad Ghost World existence. Breathe new life into this dating number…

The discussion with Sheila, Leanne and Paul—led by Shelley—was animated and interactive.  They discussed the book—the interviews, survey questions and the volume’s unique physical design.  They’d wanted the collaboration to look more like an art book than an anthology which they most certainly achieved.  The book includes essays, poetry, art work and photography—a beautiful result of their shared fascination with our global obsessions, accumulations, preferences and personal narratives around clothing.

Blog 10 in discussion
Shelley Youngblut, Sheila Heti, Leanne Shapton and Paul Hardy in conversation. Photo credit: Radim Rybacek

Paul Hardy offered meaningful anecdotes of his experiences as a fashion designer working with individuals.  “Everyone’s got a story,” he said.  “Life in its essence is about relationships.”

At the end of the session, several audience members were invited to answer questions onstage.  The first woman, Mary Susanna, wore a necklace adorned with a small Boston Terrier pendant.
“Why a Boston Terrier?” Leanne and Sheila asked her.
“Because my best friend is a Boston Terrier.”

“Do you have any rules around shopping?” they asked a man named Bob.
“I don’t shop,” he said. “I buy.”
Everyone laughed.
“What do you find beautiful?”
Bob contemplated.
“It’s not about whether you’ve won the genetic lottery [like we were talking about earlier].  It’s the sense of the individual…in her own right.”

Blog 13 BOB
Audience member – Bob – answering questions about beauty and shopping. Photo credit: Radim Rybacek

This story is also posted on the WORDFEST WEBSITE
You can still check out the Women in Clothes Survey of interesting questions here:

Tour de Blog

Thank you to 2013 Leacock Winner Cassie Stocks for passing her baton in this “Tour de Blog”—a literary relay for Canadian writers to answer the same four questions about their writing.  Links to other writers who’ve participated can be found at the bottom of my post.  I now pass my baton to Calgary-based nonfiction writer and blogger, Shaun Hunter.

What am I working on?

girl covering eyesI’m rewriting YET ANOTHER draft of my second novel—a story that follows twenty-six year old Jace Bell as she attempts to make sense of her double-life as extroverted bartender and outpatient of invasive (secret) medical procedures.  The story alternates  between Montreal and Cuba and involves a complex relationship with a troubled med student negotiating challenges of his own.

I’m also working on a collection of stories/essays on themes of Medicine in Literature and magazine articles that explore movement, endurance sport, brain chemistry and the body.

I recently did some blogging for Wordfest in October, Calgary’s international literary festival, and interviewed one of Australia’s biggest authors, Christos Tsiolkas, about his latest novel, Barracuda.  The story follows a talented young swimmer with a working-class upbringing, cutting between the boy’s life and that of the adult man many years later, still angry at the world but more comfortable in his skin, with himself and his sexuality.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m drawn to exploring scenarios that place my characters in challenging and unusual situations that test their mettle.  I love to play around with unique (and sometimes unsettling) ‘voices’ in fiction, even if my characters are not consistently likeable, or sabotage themselves along their path.  Nobody is perfect.  Perfect characters are boring—oh, and they don’t exist in real life anyway.

Why do I write what I do?

To echo what Cassie wrote, “I write to explore issues and characters that intrigue me in some way.”  Over the past number of years I have become more and more interested in the relationships we have with our physical bodies on all levels: aesthetically, medically, athletically, sexually and so on.  How we feel in our skin has great power over our choices and perceptions.  The more I learn, experience, overhear and encounter only deepens my curiosity around our physical existence, medicalization, and how these shape our psychological and emotional worlds, our relationships with others, and ultimately how we decide to live our lives.

How does my writing process work?

CIGARIn a PERFECT WORLD without obligations and distraction a.k.a “day pollution,” I’d write every weekday between 8am-1pm, and spend the rest of the afternoon working on my event series for the WGA, doing hot restorative yoga, running, swimming, listening to music, and fuelling my spirits with friends and my husband Dave each evening.  But I have yet to achieve such a perfect balance.  Realistically, my writing process is a somewhat jumbled version of the above, broken-up by responsibilities and other activities.  I need a pair of pyjama pants for every day of the week, and the occasional absinthe martini and Cuban cigar don’t hurt the process either.

Ali Bryan Leanne Shirtliffe Bradley Somer Janie Chang Theodora Armstrong Kathy Page Lorna Suzuki Barbara Lambert Matilda Magtree Alice Zorn  Anita Lahey  Pearl Pirie  Julie Paul  Sarah Mian Steve McOrmond Susan Gillis  Jason Heroux