Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Tracy Nita Pender - Both Sides Now

Huntsville, Ontario, Canada
enroute to Arizona, U.S.A.

Facebook is in mourning today.
You'd think Tracy Nita Pender had up and died or something. There are tons of tributes and good wishes being sent her way, not because she's cooling on a slab somewhere, thank goodness, but because she's leaving town. And not only is she leaving town, she's leaving the country.
"It's official," she posts on FB. "I'm moving to Arizona in early July. But a wee piece of my heart will remain in Muskoka with my lovely northerly friends."
So far, there are 26 comments on that post.
Mandy wrote: "Are you serious? I think that sucks, Muskoka likes you here."
Brodie wrote: "We will all miss you so very much! Sometimes I don't think it's ever gonna be the same without you on the [softball] team. You're always a great shoulder to lean on and an awesome ball player! You are a strong woman and I wish you all the best on moving home with your family! Keep in touch! Miss you lots."
Her brother, Kevin Pender wrote: "Great – just when I thought we had a whole international border protecting us from you, they go and invite you in!"
(Only from a brother.)
Fact is, everybody who knows Mizz Pender is put out by her big announcement. Me just as much as anyone else. Tracy and I work together at a newspaper/magazine/media company in the Muskoka area. She's the talented editor of Sideroads, a popular magazine, as well as being the special sections editor for everything from gardening supplements to wedding guides.  As a graphic designer I work with Tracy on a lot of these publications and I've gotta tell you, nobody is as organized as she is. She is a sheer joy to work with. She has stories in early. She has photos to go with. She has layouts and dummies and headlines and contact info. She's got it all and she makes my job so simple I could do it in my sleep.
The other day one of the head honchos sat down beside my desk and said, "I'm really going to miss that girl. She really knows what's going on. She's got it all right here," and he taps his forehead.
It's not often the honchos miss anybody when they leave. But, as you can see, Tracy is a bit special.
She's also in a unique position to finish things off for American Weeks. She's a Canadian who has just gotten her Green Card. The rest of her family lives in the U.S. so even though she's leaving her homeland, she really is going home.
I sent some questions to this spunky soon-to-be ex-pat and she sent me a thought-provoking reply. Her story, by the way, is called Footsteps. And if it doesn't make you cry, nothing will.
Happy travelling, northern pixie. I'll miss you.

1.Who are you? Where are you from? Where are you going? What's with the three names? What's with the kitten hat (that I love)? What's up with the whole American-Canadian thing? Which one are you? Why are you leaving us? 
That's alotta things in one question, m'friend. I'm Tracy Nita Pender, a 35-year-old writer, editor and keeper of two nanimals (Jake and Stewart). I'm going to Arizona, the land of sand and backyard orange and grapefruit trees. The land where I breathe so much easier, for some reason. Try it: go to the desert, stand and stare at the horizon and inhale. Things smell calmer. I'm a fan of calm these days. I've used my three names ever since I got into the biz-ness at the age of 20. I put Tracy Nita Pender on all my written work because it makes it easier to track myself online - and yes, people have stolen articles I've sold for publication and blatantly put them on their personal websites without crediting the right peeps. An-NOY-ing. The kitten hat? I bought that hat in Parkdale when I lived near Roncesvalles. It's uber soft Angora and I liked the pink ears. If I have to jam a hat on my head, it better have character. No one can look at that hat and be grumpy. I know it makes me look 12, but it's worth it. I'm American (as of last Thursday) and Canadian (since March 15, 1975.) Well, actually I have permanent resident status for the U S of A (as of last Thursday). I'm both. Because I believe you can be more than one thing at any given time. ;) Why am I leaving you? Because I also believe in movement for the sake of progress. Because I believe in being happy and actively pursuing that happiness. And because after a long, long, LONG wait, now that I can work in the US of A I'd like to join the fan-damily. They're good people, and I miss them.

2. Because you know both countries so well you are a good person to ask: what's the difference between the two? Are Americans different than Canadians and, if so, what are those differences? What are our similarities? What can we learn from each other? and what are you going to miss most about us Canucks?
I don't know both countries that well, to be honest. I can tell you the random items you can find in American gas station snack areas are killer. I can tell you their drink sizes are large enough to choke an eph-elant. And yes, there are differences between Americans and Canadians. But I prefer to focus on how we're all humans trying to survive on this thing called Earth. I think trying to compare an American to a Canadian completely depends on WHICH American and WHICH Canadian you are talking about. We're all different. And I heart difference.
What am I going to miss? I'll miss the rampant recycling program we have here (honestly). I'll miss the change of the colours in the fall because as far as I can tell palm trees and cacti don't change colour. I'll miss how patriotic we all get on Canada Day, and I'll miss hearing other people say 'eh?' Because we do say it a lot. We do. Trust me. I'm intrigued to learn about the American political system, and I'm pretty sure I'm a democrat. And I'd marry Jon Stewart if he asked. 

3. Why do you write and how would you describe your writing style? What are your writing aspirations? What is the writing climate like in Muskoka and what have you learned from writing here?
I write because I don't know how to not. I write very colloquial, and apparently I kill off a lot of characters (ask the judges from the novel marathon a few years ago. One of their comments was something like 'in 80 pages did five major players have to die?' But c'MON, two of them died in the 1860s of old age and they only showed up in FLASHBACKS. Sigh. I didn't kill them all in the library with a candlestick.) 
I write because I see characters in my head and think they have something to say. I write because I love language. I'd like to finish my novel A Fair Price and send it off to a publisher (dum dum DUMMMMMM). But writing and editing all day at work leaves me with little drive to sit at the computer once I get home. That, in itself, is an excuse because if I were more driven I'd just do it. But I find excuses. I need less excuses. Maybe I should work at a garden centre in Arizona and then I can come home and live and breathe my own characters. Muskoka is a wonderful spot for writers of all types. It's just up to people to look for the community. It's always there, just under the surface, hiding in the spaces between letters and the pauses between commas. It's there if you want it. My writing group is wonderful and I will so hugely miss Paula, Sasha, Tiina and Dawn. Cathy joined more recently and I haven't had the pleasure of sharing a group with you yet, but I will miss your enthusiasm and boundless ability to encourage other people to write. I'm glad the cheerleader (you) finally took her own advice.

4. Your story is heartbreaking. I understand you read that at a writerly event - what was that called and when was it? - what was the reaction of the audience and how did you manage to read it out loud without bawling? What did your mom think of the story? How do you think she survived this kind of tragedy - and how has it shaped your own life?
I didn't think of my mom's story as heartbreaking when I wrote it, I just thought of it as a story that should be told. Because I thought that her younger brother Bruce deserved to have his name said out loud by other generations of his family. I read the piece at In My Mother's Shoes, an event started by Krysia Bowers (I hope I spelled that right) and Maria Duncalf Barber. They started the event a few years ago, and it's an evening of art, poetry, music and sharing held on Mother's Day weekend. It's about how we walk in our mother's shoes - how they shape our world and how we are influenced by them. Someday when I grow up I hope I'm half as strong as my mother is. I don't know how the audience reacted, I was staring at my paper. :) And I did read it without crying, but when I practiced at home I cried twice. Musta been the wine I had beforehand. Haha. My mom liked the story, but I think she was really taken aback that I remembered it and that I wrote about it. I hope she found peace in it, and I hope it made her smile. I think she survived it like all people survive tragedy - by putting one foot in front of the other until this moment turns into that turns into an hour turns into a year. I think it shaped me because it really hit me like a sucker punch to realize how much there is that I'll likely never know about the woman who brought me into this world. 

5. What book most summarizes being American to you? And what book says most about being Canadian?
I don't think I can answer this, because being American or Canadian is different to every person (that whole 'judge the individual not the colour of their flag thing). But I can tell you some books by American authors that I will never ever forget: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; The Time Traveller's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow. AnYthinG by Nathaniel Hawthorne and recently I was brought to tears by Push by Sapphire. Canadian: The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence; most anything by Margaret Atwood - but the Robber Bride is stunning; Alice Munro (the woman is my idol); Swan by Carol Shields; and Not Wanted On The Voyage by Timothy Findley. 
I could go on and on, but I listed things I could pick up and read over and over and over and over. 

By Tracy Nita Pender
My mom, who is all of 5-foot-3 on a good day, is actually small enough to put in my pocket -- because I bring her everywhere. Her voice is often in my head when I am struggling with some decision. If I'm having a particularly bad day I can feel her arms around me, hugging me across the miles. She's there, I know.
It's funny. Through much of my life I've ventured into new areas, only to find that my mom has walked there before me. I sometimes forget that she had a life before I showed up. 
When I moved to Toronto's West End I called her to tell her about this great park right by my apartment. 
"High Park," she said. "I know, dear. I used to take you and your brother there when we lived near the Junction. You were pretty young, you probably don't remember it."
At the age of 30 I decided I needed a change of pace. Some new scenery. I decided to move to Muskoka on my own. Mom was supportive. But she worried. Because it took me hours further away from the safety net of family. 
I promised her I'd be careful. I promised to watch for bears. I promised to call often.
I had no idea my move to Huntsville would weave my life with the fabric of my mom's childhood memories.  
A few years ago my mom and dad came to visit, flying in from Arizona. We went to Algonquin Park with the intention of dining at Bartlett Lodge. 
As we drove out, mom and I sat in the back of the truck, chatting.
About boys, about work, about the blackflies.
It was grey and a bit drizzly. I wanted the day to be perfect. I wanted to show them they didn't need to worry about me, because I was all grown up and fine.
"I haven't been back here since my brother died," she said quietly.
I stared at her as she stared out the window.
As the details of a strange, unknown truth spilled from her, my mom seemed not my mom. But younger. Far away. Lost in her own thoughts. 
She told me of the family vacations to camp in the park. Of her younger brother Bruce. Of how he had slipped under near the bridge. Was missing. She remembered the search party, the police, the people. She remembered grownups talking about him. About how he must be in the water still. And she was little. Really little. It was getting dark. She took his coat and started walking. Down the road toward where everyone was looking. Walking, clutching the jacket. Because the water was cold, and he'd need it when they found him so he could warm up. And she walked. 
I imagine her footsteps, small but steady. I picture the stars coming out. I feel the grief of my grandparents when it ended how no one wanted it to. 
And suddenly my grandmother's anger at me for going swimming at the dock without my brother, without a lifeguard, made sense. 
And suddenly I understood why papa always made me wait for my brother to go the beach with me.
Mom said they packed up that night and drove home, never to return to Algonquin Park. 
I can't fathom how heavy the weight of that memory is. The grief of losing her younger brother in a place so full of life, beauty, vitality. 
I can't imagine how I would take a single step if I were to lose my brother. 
Since then, her feet, the ones that walked across Highway 60 to find Bruce, the feet that carried her through that crazy, ridiculously grown-up, painful night, have borne both her weight and mine.
Because she carries me when I'm feeling low. She makes me laugh when life is all too serious. She reminds me of the brat I was as a child, and the bigger brat I was as a teenager. She brings comfort with a smile. She is my co-conspirator, my best friend, my euchre partner.
I'd imagine going through that kind of an experience would make one hold close to their family with both hands.  Never let them out of sight.
But my mom did. 
She encourages us kids to try our own paths. She tells me to find my own happiness, wherever that might be. 
She encourages me to write, believing in my fiction when I feel I have nothing to say.
She encourages me to walk in my own shoes.
And she lets me know that no matter how big or small, how hurried or leisurely, my footsteps can always carry me home. 
Where she is with open arms.

Two songs for you, Mizz Pender: one for you and your mom from my Canadian heroine, Jann Arden. And the other is to remember Muskoka by.


  1. Oh, Tracy. I'll miss you so much. And thanks, Cathy, for putting the spotlight on our pixie so even more people can appreciate how utterly _awesome_ she is...

  2. So rarely do you happen upon friends who make you want to be better, stronger, smarter... who unapologetically wear their beliefs on their sleeves... who is tough as nails doing the job of two or three people, then lights up as she recounts a funny thing one of the nanaimals did last night... You are one of a kind Tracy and you'll be missed terribly...

  3. Tracy, what a sweet tribute to your mom. Really nice piece and Cathy, you did another amazing job with the interview.

    Oh and Tracy, good luck in Arizona!

  4. Great interview, Cathy and a wonderful story about your mother, Tracy. It must be extremely tough to put yourself in her shoes, trying to recollect the emotions of a tragedy like that.

    Let us know when you get a blog up and running (through Cathy). I'd like to read more of your work. Best of luck in the USA!

  5. Cathy, thank you for introducing us to Tracy.

    Tracy, that is a beautiful, heartfelt story about your mother. Good luck in Arizona.

    Oh, and I love the kitten hat!

  6. What a wonderful young woman Tracy is. So glad to meet her here.

    Poignant story. Very tender, very moving.

    Best of luck in your new home!

  7. I just moved from Arizona last summer. It's nice... I never got sick while I lived there, but it's so hot... eh.

    The heat comes from the ground as well as the sky above.


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