Welcome to my Why Create? interview series!
Do artists create works because they are producing objects for future generations to view? Do writers write to inspire and influence others? Or, is creative work conductive to our happiness? Our purpose? In my interview series with creative people, I hope to find answers as we explore the creative process and motives.
Today I welcome Author, Artist, Poet, Cook, and Traveller, Syd Blackwell to my Why Create? interview series!
Syd Blackwell is a native of Rossland, BC (Canada), a tranquil mountain town that was once a booming mining town. The peace of nature, and the remnants of history were instrumental in his formative years. He became a teacher and worked in schools and colleges for twenty-five years. These work years were interspersed with acting in amateur theatre, and planning set and sound work. Syd co-authored an historical atlas, wrote poems for a collection called Life Is A Poem, became a weekly newspaper columnist, featuring the local bridge club, created a newsletter for high school student recruitment, and wrote many published articles.
When Syd retired from teaching, he helped design a bed and breakfast inn and became the innkeeper of Wintergreen Inn in Revelstoke, BC.
I first met Syd and his wife, Gundy, when my husband and I visited Uruguay in 2009 to see if it would be a good country to move to from Mexico. As we pulled into their front drive, in Atlántida, Uruguay, I noticed a “hand-painted” sign on the gate. “Casa Inspiración.” I heard dogs bark, welcoming us, and thought, Ah, interesting people! That was eight years ago and we continue to marvel at the lives of these two curious and creative souls.>
Susan Joyce: Syd Blackwell, thanks for allowing me to quiz you regarding your life and various projects! How did you meet your wife Gundy? Why did you move to Uruguay?
Syd Blackwell: In 2002, I was an innkeeper. A woman bought a small B&B on the other side of Revelstoke. A couple of months later, she phoned to ask if she could meet me to ask some questions. I agreed. When she showed up at my inn, dressed in a black business suit, carrying a black attaché case, I hid my amusement. She had found it difficult so far, and sought experienced advice. Possibly my first suggestion was a more relaxed wardrobe. During the discussion, I learned she was single. Later, I suggested that she needed to know the area better to provide service to her guests. Then, I invited her to join me on my daily dog walk. And then things progressed.
In 2006, we came to Uruguay on a two-week trip seeking a quicker medical solution than Canada could give for Gundy´s deteriorating hips. Before we came, we checked out online house listings between $40,000 and $65,000. One, seemed much better than others. We thought we might look, if we found time. Well, we found time to look at several houses, and the one we had seen, with three bedrooms, carport, closed barbecue area, swimming pool, and perimeter fence, for $45,000, was such a remarkable deal that we agreed to buy at once. Five hundred dollars from an ATM started the process. So, we found ourselves on the plane heading home with the realization we had, de facto, decided to sell our businesses and retire to Uruguay. Quite a surprise, really! Later, Gundy got her new hips.
Susan Joyce: You taught art and music. Do you play a musical instrument? Do you sing?
Syd Blackwell: I took piano lessons as a child, but was never very talented. I played French horn throughout high school, but never since. Even the shower shudders when I sing.
Susan Joyce: The shower shudders? Oh dear! What did you learn through teaching? Did it change you?
Syd Blackwell: The most daunting challenges become smaller when you take the first step. Teaching forever changed me. Although I left teaching, teaching never left me. In this century, reconnecting on the internet with dozens of former students, has been most enjoyable.
Susan Joyce: I’ve observed, through your written works and art that you always tell a story. Did teaching help you develop storytelling?
Syd Blackwell: I think teaching provided more stories. I have always felt a need to tell stories. For example, in junior high school, we were tasked with writing a story and then reading it aloud in front of the class. A horror for most. At my turn, I began my story of “the life of a penny”. I already knew it was longer than most had written, but when the first funny line appeared, and the class laughed, I improvised more than what was on the page. I got top marks for presentation and a few questions later from Mr. Buchanan, about all the missing bits from my written copy.
Susan Joyce: Quite impressed that you have visited nearly fifty countries over the years. Which is your favorite and why? Which is your least favorite and why?
Syd Blackwell: I could make a case for one country to answer both questions, but as I only visited two places in Indonesia, Bali and Jakarta, it would hardly be fair. Besides, the Bali I knew doesn’t exist any longer. My favourite country is Canada. It is so amazing and big and diverse, but, as I am Canadian, I will pick New Zealand, which has abundance and variety of natural beauty. My least favourite is also the smallest, the Vatican. I don´t think this is the place to discuss why.
Susan Joyce: In your travels, did you have any dangerous situations? Any scary moments?
Syd Blackwell: Quite a few of both. One dangerous encounter was in New Delhi. I was weak, recovering from hepatitis, and doing an evening walk in a narrow street near my lodgings. I was being pestered by persistent people trying to sell things. One kept grabbing at my shirt as I tried to ignore them. Hepatitis doesn’t help your patience, and after the second or third warning, I turned around and hit him in the shoulder, knocking him to the ground. Well that wasn’t the right thing to do, as an angry crowd instantly materialized, screaming, yelling, and threatening. I had my back against a wall and worked my way as quick as I could back to the corner and a busier street, where the crowd dispersed.
Of the many scary things, climbing Uluru (Ayers Rock) in Australia was terrifying; I have acrophobia. I wrote a poem, Vertigo Australianus.
Susan Joyce: One fun thing I’ve learned is that you judged the annual Amsterdam Cannabis Cup. What year? How did this opportunity arise? Was it a fun assignment? Did you write about it?
Syd Blackwell: In 2001, I decided to celebrate my 55th birthday. On the internet, I found that the 13th Cannabis Cup in Amsterdam, would nearly coincide with my November birthday. I invited my friend, Byron, who had helped at my inn, to join me. Soon, another friend, Phil, decided to come. We landed in Amsterdam on my birthday. The Cannabis Cup, involving judging marijuana and hashish samples from 22 different coffee houses, began two days later, and lasted four days. There was private bus transportation between coffee houses. There was also a trade show and nightly musical acts. Anyone who paid the $200 fee could become a judge. It was fantastic – as far as I can remember. I have told the story often, but not written it.
Susan Joyce: Why do you make art? Why do you write?
Syd Blackwell: I create because it makes me feel good. I am happy when others can also see and share in my pleasure.
Susan Joyce: Your walking sticks are awesome! What projects are you working on now?
Syd Blackwell: I already have too many Travel Stories and Travel Highlights for entry into Robert Fear´s newest contest, yet I just wrote another one today. Check out Red Shoes by Syd Blackwell.
No new mega-projects happening, like last year´s privately circulated Uruguay Days, a book of poems and photos.
Syd’s memoir, Innside Stories: Anecdotes from Wintergreen Inn 1995-2004 is a delightful collection of tales by an innkeeper who loves sharing stories.
Thanks Syd Blackwell! Delighted to get to know you better..
Welcome S. J. Francis, author of Shattered Lies –a suspenseful story of deceit, bigotry and a family’s deep dark secret.
Susan Joyce: Greetings! Knowing that Writing is your passion, but animals are your world, I’m curious to know more about your childhood. Where were you born?
S. J. Francis: In the city that never sleeps: New York, New York. The most unlikely place for an avid animal lover.
Susan Joyce: Did you have a horse? Other animals?
S. J. Francis: No horse in NYC, but later on, lots of animals beginning with a cat. Fish, turtles, salamanders, parakeets and more quickly followed. My parents indulged my love of animals, especially since they loved them, too.
Susan Joyce: Who were you as a child? Shy, curious, or did you always have that adventurous spirit?
S. J. Francis: As a child, I have to say that I was a bit of everything, but first and foremost, I loved animals more than anything. I definitely have an adventurous spirit, which led me to my love of traveling and my love for the outdoors, culture, sightseeing, and museums, and, of course speaking up for animals.
Susan Joyce: How many animals share home with you?
S. J. Francis: Currently, I’m blessed with three dogs and three cats. All are rescues. I also have two fish tanks, and all the wildlife that visit us on our property in the country regularly.
Susan Joyce: At what age did you start writing? Who encouraged you to continue?
S. J. Francis: I wrote a great deal in school. I wasn’t always crazy about writing assignments, but when given one I always attacked my assignment with fervor. It wasn’t until high school, though that I realized my love for writing. Thanks to a good friend who listened to my stories and encouraged me to submit my stories that I began my writing career.
Susan Joyce: What inspired you to write “Shattered Lies”?
S. J. Francis: That’s not an easy answer. It all began with one question, “What if?” What if a young woman with a perfect life found out a secret that changed it all?
Susan Joyce: If you could tell every single person one important “something” what would that something be?
S. J. Francis: Always give yourself a chance. No matter what the odds are, you must never allow yourself to fail by failing to take a chance. I believe that if nothing is ventured, nothing is gained.
Susan Joyce: Thanks S. J. Francis for giving me a chance to ask you questions! Wishing you great success with your writing projects and blessings for speaking up for animals!
To learn more about S. J. Francis and her projects visit her author site:
So very proud of my friend Jake French. I knew him when he was a young lad hunting, fishing, snowboarding and chopping wood. His family lived near us in rural Oregon. He was a non-stop active kid with an amazing ‘I can do anything’ smile. He still has that smile, even after a tragic accident one can live life to its fullest, , no matter the daily obstacles one encounters. Go Jake! You’re my hero!
Make your world a better place! Give unto others. A smile. Your hand. Make a difference. Kindness counts.
Lima Peru public park where hundreds of cats are adored and taken care of daily with food and water. And care if needed. Perfect place to sit and get your cat energy renewed. A treat!
Thanks Diane Donovan for reading and reviewing my book!
“I watched Alon and Dylan take in sails and lower the speed.
Another storm! More bashing waves. I sighed. Wish I could flap my wings and fly to the closest strand of land. Best to grab my book and move back inside to stay safe.
“We’ll ride them,” I heard Dylan say as I went below.
I returned to our room. Charles was nowhere in sight. He must be using the bathroom. I waited.
Wild waves hit us from all different directions and thrashed the boat about. I sat on my bed and listened to the alarming bashing sounds. Would the hull hold up? With all this stress?
I heard a gagging sound coming from the bathroom. Charles was retching. “Heaven help us,” I said out loud. Poor Charles! Bad enough to be depressed. Being sick on top of it all? I waited to see if I could help him.
After more vomiting, he staggered out of the bathroom looking pale.
“Can I get you anything?” I asked. “Ginger tea is good for the stomach.”
He waved me away and crawled back into his bunk.
I waited and watched the violent storm spin around us from our porthole window. It slapped us side to side with blasts of wind and pounded us with mountains of waves. My perspective shifted and in an instant I saw myself and the world in a different way. Perhaps I wasn’t atop an ocean on planet earth. Perhaps instead I sat in a turbulent area outside the atmosphere of earth? Perhaps in a vast field of past and present time in deep space. And how did my soul fit into this grand scheme called life?
Dust to dust took on a new meaning. I saw myself as a tiny speck of matter temporarily filling a space while living on earth. Absolutely scared to death, I felt more alive than I had ever felt. My senses were heightened to a whole new level; a new and different perspective of my finite reality. I felt a unique awareness beyond the normal five senses; an awareness on a higher level of understanding.
I thought of my upbringing; raised in a religious home, my parents instructed me to ask God for guidance for everything. Now I found myself asking myself for guidance. A voice told me to shine a positive light of energy around the boat to protect us. The message rang true. So I did.
In that moment, when everything looked upside-down and inside out, I sensed that everything was fine—just the way it was meant to be. Would this ‘positive energy’ be my savior?
By facing reality head on, I was discovering the meaning of living life to its fullest with senses wide open to listening and learning. Being aware, I felt empowered by the hum of nature and collective unconsciousness. It was a soothing song.
My friend Betty is arriving tomorrow for a five day visit. She is an American woman I met while studying Hebrew in Israel in the late 60s. Haven’t seen her since 1974, following the Cyprus War. It’s exciting to know we can share those “Remember when?” moments and celebrate being together.
Not sure she will recognize me when we meet at the Montevideo port tomorrow morning. Perhaps a “Welcome Betty!” sign will jar her memory. There aren’t many woman named Betty in South America.
Take a moment and give thanks for your good, long-lasting friendships! Mine inspire me. I am blessed!