Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Chance Meeting in the Blogosphere

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"If you 'google' yourself too often," my husband wryly commented, "you will grow hair on your palms." Still, what almost famous poet/musician/artist/filmmaker/whosoever can resist the activity? Seeing how many google links pop up when you search your name lets you know exactly how almost famous you really are.

I just checked for the first time in ages--a week or two counts as ages, right?--and, according to the search engine's goodly automated tracking system, 304 "relevant results" or links pop up when I google my name. I can stroke my own fragile ego even more if I don't omit "some entries very similar to the 304 already displayed;" then, if I had a few days, I could sift through 2,910 albeit repetitive links. (I can't however, compete with my brother, Avery Shenfeld, Chief Economist at CIBC World Markets; there are, evidently, 64,600 results linked to his name--a comment, perhaps, on the relative value our society places on the opinions of illustrious Harvard-educated economists and little known poets.)

I realize that folks who are as famous as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, or Margaret Atwood, probably don't spend any time at all googling their names. And folks who have common names, such as John Smith, have to go to some effort to refine their search. I, on the other hand, seem to be the only Karen Shenfeld walking the planet; though I have discovered a Hilary Shenfeld, who is apparently a marathon runner and journalist living in Chicago. (Are we related?)

A while ago, my uber-geeky and handsome mathematician husband, whom you met in my last blog, caught me googling myself red-handed. "You know, you don't have to do that," Stephen said. "I'll just set up a 'Google Alert' for you. Then, anytime, anywhere, that your name appears in cyberspace, you will automatically receive an email notification."

Well, since I started writing for Open Book Toronto, Google Alerts have been flying into my inbox, letting me know about the posting of each of my blogs. But I was surprised last week when I received an unexpected alert: someone named Matilda Magtree had, on December 7th, evidently posted a blog on called Any Excuse for Il Giardino; and, in it, she wrote a vivid, colourful, poetic description of the indie documentary I made two years ago on the backyard gardens of my home neighbourhood.

Now, my film, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was indeed screened at the 2007 Toronto Italian Film Festival (which I then went on to help Festival Director Fred Lamberti coordinate for several years) and the Planet in Focus International Environmental Film and Video Festival, and it even garnered some media attention. But, still, I was honoured and tickled that someone, who was neither my best friend nor my mother, would have been so inspired by my film that she would write about it even two years after its screening. So, I couldn't, of course, resist posting a comment on Matilda Magtree's blog and leaving her my email.

Well, in less than a day, Matilda wrote to tell me how astonished she was that I had found and read her blog. (I am now a devoted fan.)

Sending something off into cyberspace is, I have realized, a little like putting a message in a bottle and casting it into the sea. We know that the odds are that the cork will leak and the bottle will fill with water and sink down to the sandy depths, forever lost. But we hope secretly that, against all odds, it will float and drift to a far, far shore, where it will be picked up by a passing stranger who will find our message and be forever transformed.

When I wrote to Matilda, I didn't let her know that I, myself, was writing a blog this month, and that I had decided to blog about her blog. Should I tell her, or just wait to see if she scoops the bottle from the water and discovers it by herself?


Hi Karen,

It was great meeting you; love your 'hood. And your neighbour was so charming... I felt honoured to be invited in to see her 'art'.
I actually wrote a post on Matilda about the afternoon.

Looking forward to a meeting in Whitby down the road!


A quick comment to let readers know that I got together on Saturday with blogger Matilda Magtree, with whom I had my fated chance meeting in the blogosphere. It seems that, besides writing her wonderful blog, she is working on a novel, and we know a number of writers in common, including Steven Mayoff, who lives on P.E.I.!

It was delightful to drink a glass of Valpolicella with Matilda at Il Gatto Nero on Saturday and to introduce her personally to a bit of the College Street ‘hood — even in the sleepy doldrums of winter. On our way back from the cafe to her car, one of my neighbours showed us her indoor Christmas display, which was, truly, an astonishingly elaborate piece of folk art.

Matilda was kind enough to give me a present: a terrific book of essays by Anne Simpson. I plan to read it before my next meeting with Matilda, in her home territory of Whitby.

Hi Karen,

Happy New Year!
So glad to know you'll continue blogging occasionally. I've become a fan of Open Book this month through your posts and your poetry. (Just read I Go Canoeing with Pauline Johnson. Lovely.)

A meeting at Il Gatto Nero sounds great. I'm thrilled at the prospect of chatting with the creator of Il person!

This has been great fun; thanks for including me in the experiment!

Hi Matilda,

It's a quarter to midnight, and I should be tucked under the covers right now, instead of sitting awake in my study and cruising around cyberspace (especially since I don't have to be up, frantically adding a few finishing touches to a blog). Out of curiosity, I checked OBT to see if Emil Sher had posted his next blog, and just luckily I found your recent comment.

If any readers are listening in on our chat, I just thought I'd let them know about your recent blog about my blog about your blog.

As you so eloquently wrote:

"Aside from its (mind-bending) ability to practically embrace the whole earth in a single moment, cyberspace also has a kind of zen influence, allowing us to stand back and ’see’ just how amorphous communication has become, maybe always was, how really we’re all so connected in these indirect, invisible, ways.

Unsettling as all that connection may seem at times, it’s nice to remember that a lot of good—and very entertaining!—things can come of it…"

How right you are...

Is it only me, but can you also hear Marshall McLuhan chuckling up there, in that great global village in the sky!

I'll give you a shout next week and we'll arrange our get-together.

Much affection,


Hi Karen,

I'm impressed that you can function at all at a quarter to midnight, much less navigate cyberspace!

Yes, wouldn't it be fascinating to know what Mr. McLuhan would have to say about all this. Read/heard something recently about how everything he predicted has come about in one form or another.

As for meeting on College Street...will we have to wear ribbons or odd hats so we'll know each other? Of course I can just work with the OBT picture and look for a happy long-haired brunette behind an empty wine glass...

It all sounds like fun; I look forward to arranging something.

take care,

Hi Karen. Guess what... the 'message in a bottle' arrived intact! Several days ago actually, and (for the sake of research) via google alert. (Kind of spooky to think how google keeps track of, and knows, EVERYthing.) Anyway, I loved the post (hairy palms -- eeek!). Thanks too for the kind words and the sheer fun of the 'experiment'.

By the way, have been reading you ever since and thoroughly enjoy my vicarious trips to College Street for coffee, books and ambience. I'll miss them once your WIR stint is over and hope maybe you'll keep blogging somewhere in the blogosphere (if so, let me know where!).

all the best,

Hi Matilda! Yes! I actually knew you received my message! I received a "Google Alert" and I read your great blog about my blog about your blog... I was just trying to figure out which blog I should append a "P.S." to, to let Open Book readers know about our continuing experiment, and to surprise you again!

I am very flattered to know that you have enjoyed my writing. It's been fun doing this... though a bit difficult these past two weeks for I have had a lot of guests and have also been out of town visiting family.

I am actually allowed to continue to post blogs on this website even after my WIR stint is done...And I probably will post the occasional one (though I am also eager to get back to writing poetry and working on my next documentary film). But blogging is habit forming! As I know you know!!!!!!!

Perhaps we should not only meet in the blogosphere... but on College Street! I'll email you and we can meet at Il Gatto Nero!



A good exploration of the wild 'n' wacky webworld, Karen. It is ego-satisfying to self-Google, and I've found reviews of my books that I didn't know about. I also discovered for sale a used copy of one of my titles "autographed to a prominent Latin American writer" -- I don't know any prominent Latin American writers!
My name is not quite so rare as yours, but I've been entertained discovering who else bears it (besides my father, whose PhD Thesis on the land snails of Ontario is still listed).
1. The late founder of the US's first clinic for alcoholism
2. The former head of all government purchasing in the UK (a very popular guy for coporate folks)
3. the captain of a deep-sea fishing boat in Florida
4. the least savoury -- the "Paper Bag Rapist" arrested for a long series of rapes in Vancouver.. worse, he's about my age and has threatened to publish a book of his jailtime experiences ... people will think it's me!
Should I change my name to "Karen"?
John Oughton

Hi John,

Thanks so much for your entertaining comment!

Years ago, I had intended to write a poem for Stephen Watson, about all the other Stephen Watsons... it's still on my list... though your own spin-off of the same poem might be even better....


The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Karen Shenfeld

Toronto poet Karen Shenfeld is the author of The Law of Return (Guernica Editions, 1999) and The Fertile Crescent (Guernica Editions, 2005). Her work has also appeared in well-known journals published in Canada, the United States, South Africa and Bangladesh. Her personal documentary, Il Giardino, The Gardens of Little Italy, was screened at the 2007 Planet in Focus Environmental Film & Video Festival.

Go to Karen Shenfeld ’s Author Page