Sunday, October 30, 2011

Terry Fallis, you're the best!

Kevin Smith, that actor and writer guy, was on TV the other day pontificating about his Big Life, taking questions from the audience.

This guy in the audience had two questions and his first one was a beauty, a dazzler. Smith answered with gusto. The guy with the question grinned ear-to-ear because he had asked a Good Question.

Then he came to question two. He was a writer too, he said. He’d been plugging away for a number of years and had never shown his work to anyone. “Would you mind,” he said, “having a look at it and telling me what you think?”

The audience, formerly eating out of the man’s hand, started booing. Smith looked discomfited.

On the chesterfield, in my living room, I writhed in embarrassment.

I had done exactly the same thing.

Not to Kevin Smith, of course, but to Terry Fallis, an award-winning Canadian author, the winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour and 2011 Canada Reads, no less.

(Cringing as I’m writing this.)

Obviously I’m not the only doofus on this planet to seek validation at the expense of one’s dignity. Knowing there are others like me is not, in any way, comforting. It just makes me feel like a regular doofus. Not a special doofus.

I did my doofusying about a month ago at the North Words Literary Festival here in Muskoka. As well as fawning all over Margaret Atwood on the Friday night, I fawned all over three of the authors at an appropriately named Authors’ Forum on the Saturday night. The forum included a veritable who’s who of Canadian writers, including Richard B. Wright (Clara Callan), Claudia Dey (How to be a Bush Pilot), Charles Foran (Mordecai Richler, Mordecai: The Life and Times won the Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction), Dr. Vincent Lam (2006 Giller prize winner for Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures), Gill Deacon (There’s Lead in Your Lipstick) and Terry Fallis.

The event was called “The Stories Behind The Books,” meant to give us mere mortals insight into how award-winning, successful authors get things done. So I was all about wanting to hear how they write because I am apparently challenged in that department.

I also wanted to do some fawning. Specifically, I wanted to fawn all over Richard B. Wright. We had a connection, you see. When my marriage fell apart a bazillion years ago, my good friend Mark treated me to a weekend in Toronto meant to cheer me up. Which it did. Unfortunately when his marriage fell apart a few years later, he wasn’t interested in a weekend in the country. (Can you blame him?) Anyway, while I was in The Big Smoke, I popped into a bookstore and saw a book called Adultery, written by an author I previously was unaware of, the afore-mentioned Mr. Wright. I snapped it up because my own marriage had suffered at the hands of my ex’s adultery so the topic was hot with me, to say the least.


The book was fabulous. Even though adultery turned out to be the least of the main character’s problems, and offered no insight whatsoever to my own predicament, I did enjoy the book and became a big fan of Mr. Wright who, I discovered, was FAMOUS and I didn’t realize it. His Clara Callan won him both the prestigious Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Award for Fiction. That’s what happens in Canada, by the way. You can win the country’s top literary prizes and people still don’t know who the heck you are. When I was bragging that I had tickets to go see Margaret Atwood, for example, there were plenty of people I work with who had no idea who Margaret Atwood was. Which slayed me. Knocked me over completely dead. One of Canada’s Grand Dames of literature and they didn’t know who she was. They know all about Charlie Sheen and Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory, though. Makes me wonder if there’s any hope for future generations.

The point is (yes, there is one), I was all set to fawn all over Mr. Wright. I lined up after the forum, with a dozen or so other fawners, waiting to meet him. When it was my turn I described, in bated breath, how much his novel meant to me when I was recently separated. I guess I was hoping he’d be as interested and excited as I was.

“Uh huh,” he said. “That’s nice. What would you like me to say in the autograph?”

I felt like Fred Flintstone, you know, when all the wind blew out of his sails and the tuba made a funny rumbling noise and he shrank to a mere kewpie doll size.

Oh well. I had other fish to fry. I also wanted to talk to Dr. Lam because I liked the answers he gave during the forum. He seemed approachable and he was. But when I told him I had spent all my available cash on Mr. Wright’s books and wanted to buy his but couldn’t afford it, he got a dazed, scared look in his eye and suggested the public library. No, no, I said, I’m not poor, even though I am, sort of. Things got even more awkward so I excused my self before he called security.

The other person I wanted to fawn over was Terry Fallis. I hate to admit this but I had never heard of Mr. Fallis before. After hearing what I told you about Margaret Atwood, are you really surprised? But Mr. Fallis (from here on in I’m going to call him Terry because he’s too nice for Mister) really caught my eye during the forum.

He wrote a book a few years back called The Best Laid Plans. He shopped it around traditional publishers for a year and it was thoroughly and completely ignored. Not one to be discouraged, Terry recorded himself reading the novel and released it, chapter by chapter, as a podcast. People liked it. They really, really liked it. Encouraged by their reaction, he self-published the book. Again, folks liked it.

One day he decided to enter the book in one of Canada’s top literary contests for humour – The Stephen Leacock Award. This is one of the few literary contests that allow self-published books. One of the stipulations, however, is that 10 books be sent in with the entry form. Terry counted the books he had left in his garage. He had exactly 10.

He told me at the forum that, if he had nine, he would gave up right then and there, not having the further chutzpah and will to publish more books. But he had 10 books and he had the chutzpah and he entered the contest before he could talk himself out of it.

Well guess what.

He won! Beating out major authors from major publishing houses. He won, he won, he won!

“Twenty minutes don’t go by in a day when I don’t think, ‘I won the Stephen Leacock Award.’ It never gets old,” he told me.

Suddenly publishers wanted Terry Fallis. Not too much longer after he won the Leacock award, his book was picked up by McClelland & Stewart, one of this country’s most prestigious and oldest publishers.

The Best Laid Plans has done extremely well for Terry. In 2011 he won the Canada Reads contest put on by CBC. He has already published a second book, The High Road, and his star continues to rise. Just a week ago he announced he had finished another manuscript. 

It’s funny, I went from never having heard of Terry to admiring him greatly. He did what the rest of us dream of doing. He wrote a book. He was ignored by publishers. He said, “to hell with you,” and did it himself. And now he has the what must be too-delicious knowledge of knowing they were wrong and he was right.

How cool is that?

He was definitely the coolest guy at the forum. And he was nice to me. We struck up quite a conversation, me fawning, him laughing and smiling and giving me really wonderful answers to sometimes silly questions.

After talking to him for a few minutes I summed up all my courage and asked him if he ever read newbie writers.

“Yes,” he said. I think his sunny smile dimmed a slight bit, or maybe it was just Deerhurst Resort hadn’t paid their electric bill.

There was a slight pause. I spit the words out before I could change my mind.

“Would you,” I asked, “read mine?”

“Sure!” he said, dissolving me into a heap of happy bubbles.

Anybody who knows me knows I suffer from perpetually low self-esteem, especially when it comes to writing. Yes, I’ve been writing all my life, as a reporter – but that’s a completely different kind of writing than fiction. I only started writing fiction less than two years ago when I was encouraged by a blog buddy named CJ. She wrote Friday Flash stories once in a while (really, really good stories) and she talked me into giving it a whirl. CJ changed my life. The stories changed my life. I discovered I liked writing fiction and I was kinda, sorta good at it. I joined a writers’ group here in Muskoka and started mingling with people who wrote novels and I began to think about writing a book. It was so scary, though. Me? Write a book? It was almost too ostentatious to even consider.

As time as moved on, and I have continued writing, I am beginning to accept that I am a writer. I am also plodding through my novel. It isn’t easy. If anything, it’s probably the hardest thing I have ever done and every day I wrestle with self-doubt.

Sure, my friends and colleagues who have seen my work are encouraging. But I wondered how much of what they were saying was because they are my friends.

I asked Terry, who didn’t know me from Adam, to give me honest feedback.

“I want you to tell me if I suck,” I said. “I have to know.”

He nodded. He promised to be completely honest. I went home that night with a happy heart. The next morning, I sent him the first chapter of my novel and waited, heart in throat, to hear back.

In the meantime, I started reading his book and fell in love with it. He. Is. So. Funny. I dropped him a quick e-mail to say how much I liked the book and how good he is.

And, this is what he sent back.

(Cue happy music.)

Hi Cathy,

I’ve just read your chapter, and you’re good too! I really like Weezie. She’s my kind of heroine. You succeed in conveying a lot about her without just telling us. Funny too, and funny is hard. I’m a sucker for the kind of humour you’ve injected. The purple splotches on her face had me smiling and feeling for Weezie at the same time. I liked the finish too. I think you were right to end the chapter there. There’s not much more to say after the little guy loses his breakfast.

I don’t really have any criticism to impart. I quite liked what I read and think you’ve hit upon a wonderful voice. I think most readers will want to know more about Weezie and what sounds like a great ride.

My suggestion: keep writing and let Weezie do her thing...

Glad to have met you in Huntsville. Keep me posted…



I was squeeing all over the darn place when that e-mail came in. An award-winning author telling me to keep writing! My happiness ranneth over. It was just the inspiration I needed to buckle down and get my novel written. In fact, I have signed up for NaNoWriMo this year and for the month of November I will be immersed in novel-land. Forgive me if you don’t see me online much. I know this will be all-consuming. I don’t have much extra time in a day as it is and I’m going to have go give up some of my favourite things – including blogging, television, potato chips and sex – in order to find two hours a day for writing. (My kids never read my blog. They think I’m boring. Thank gawd.)

As for Terry Fallis, I am so impressed with this man. He is such a fine writer. As I’m reading, I laugh out loud – no mean trick, I can assure you. It takes a lot for me to laugh out loud at books. When he writes about his character, Daniel Addison, catching his wife with another man, I just about fell over laughing. Not usually a funny subject, but Terry made it hilarious.

I can relate to so many things he says in the book. Like this, for example: Addison lives in a boathouse. A BOATHOUSE! When my marriage fell apart, I moved into a boathouse! Who DOES that? Only me and Daniel Addison, obviously.

The other thing, one of his other main characters is named Angus. That’s my son’s name!

There are lots of other aha moments in the book but they’re not really what gets me going. It’s the writing that gets me going. The humour. The plot. The characters – all the characters are so well-written, so quirky, that they leap off the page.

This is how I want to write when I grow up.

Like Terry Fallis.

And until a month ago, I didn’t even know who he was.

I do now, though, and I’m singing his praises to the skies. Find the book. Read it. Or listen to his podcast. It’s still on iTunes and it’s still free. A bargain, for sure.

For links to his podcast and his book, you can visit Terry’s website here,

Thanks, Terry!

You really are the best.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Invisible Commenter

So there's this blog I like, a lot, actually (no, it's not yours) and I used to visit it all the time – happily dropping witty comments like breadcrumbs in a gingerbread forest. This blog has more commenters than cats have hairballs. And people don't just comment once, they comment over and over. Eventually the comments take on a life of their own that have nothing to do with the original blog post.

They're a family, these commenters. Close-knit, with nicknames for each other and seamless and sightless adoration for the blogger.

When first tossing my comment gems into the mix I noticed that nobody commented on my comments. I thought, OK, well, I'm new. It will take time to be one of the cool kids. Months went by. My comments continued to be ignored. After a while I thought, what am I doing here? Not that I wanted to be one of the in-crowd, not really, because I have my own cool crowd (love you guys, I really do) but it was the studious lack of involvement that made me feel like an interloper. So I stopped reading for a while.

I started again because this blog is a bit like crack and this morning I couldn't help myself: I left a comment. It was rather like sending a boy you like in school a love note to see if he loves you back. Sort of like that, I guess.

I went back tonight to see if anybody noticed.

It was there, alone, other comments walking over it and on it and through it like it wasn't even there. It was road pizza, this comment. All guts and glory in the middle of the highway while the cars go whizzing over it, its little comment face pushed up against the yellow line. Poor wee flat thing.

I don't tell my commenters here on the River how much they mean to me very often because I don't like to be all smarmy. But I really appreciate you taking time out of your incredibly busy life and reading my drivel and leaving a comment. I don't always reply because I'm geeky at replying – I always feel awkward. It's like, my blog was my comment and now I want to hear from YOU.

Do know my heart does a happy little skip when I see a new comment. Even from spammers!

But especially from you.




Are you?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Francine's Mad Typing Skillz

My friend, let's call her Francine, is the worst typist.

The. Worst.

Which is funny because she's a self-confessed computer geek who spends all day in front of a computer screen at work, then all night in front of her home computer either working, or searching for new cat videos. She knows every cat video ever posted on You Tube.

When Francine is typing, she types really loud and really fast. Everyone in the next town knows when Francine is chatting someone because her fingers are like ninjas, karate chopping the keyboard. Oh, I should talk – I type loud, too. My excuse is learning the newspaper business on an old Underwood manual typewriter. Man, you had to hammer those puppies, and then throw the return with muscles you didn't even know you had. I had a left arm like Thor. I had muscles in my crap.

With all this computer experience, though, Francine can't type to save her ass. Her typing is an ongoing joke around the office because what she's trying to say is invariably not what comes through her fingers. Sometimes you can figure out what she's trying to say. Sometimes you can't. And sometimes it's just plain funny.

Take last night, for example.

Last night I was in a baaaaaaaaaaaaaad mood. So bad, I found a picture of a growling dog and posted it on Facebook, and wrote this:

Am particularly grumpy right now but it helps to growl. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

Right away, Francine wrote this: why so frumpy??

When I saw that, I was BUAHAHAHAHAHAing all over the kitchen. When I stopped laughing, for, like, two seconds, I wrote this: ARE YOU CALLING ME FRUMPY?

Then I was BUAHAHAHAHAHAing again, until I had to run to the bathroom so I wouldn't pee my pants.

Later on, Francine added another couple of comments, trying to explain that it is only her typing skills that suck, not her tact.

She wrote this:

you said you were grump YOU know what a bad typis I am how about a nice big glas af arm milk

A nice big glas af arm milk? 


Monday, October 24, 2011

People Suck

What is WRONG with people?
Just now I was watching the news and saw the shocking video of a toddler being run over in a Chinese market. Not only did the driver leave the scene but, even worse somehow, were the 18 people who passed the little girl lying in the street in a pool of blood. Eighteen people! Just walked by, stepped around her, stepped over her!
What is this world coming to?
I mean, really? What is going on?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Momma Bear, the eff word and other crappy subjects

Maybe eating Fibre 1 for breakfast isn't the best idea when you've had the poops for two weeks.
I'm having a Crohn's flare-up, or something. I can't get through the day without a fistful of Imodium. I know. You don't want to hear this. Trust me, I don't want to live it. Life is just shitty that way sometimes.

Speaking of stink, it's raining like stink outside. It's been raining for two weeks solid. The only good thing about this much rain is it makes you appreciate blue sky when you see it.

Just got off the phone with the vice-principal of my son's high school. I had a mouthful of Fibre 1 when I answered so I was all muffley and "bl-hell-umph-o," like that. He sounded confused at first. But it was 7:45 a.m. and I'm still in my nightie, the pink one with "Best Mom" on it that I bought for myself because my children are boys and they wouldn't set foot in a women's lingerie department. So there was a big hullaballoo yesterday morning. I was in the same Best Mom nightie (no, I never wash it, never), drinking my coffee, recovering from my latest trip to the bathroom, when I spotted this boy talking trash to my son on Facebook. This Grade Nine person must be an english major because he used the eff word extremely creatively as he invited me son to the high school parking lot at high noon to show how effing tough he is.

I'm sure he just wanted to have tea with my son. Maybe discuss the use of the eff word in modern literature, something like that. Because he insisted, in a later FB blurb, that he had no plans to beat the crap out of my son.

Apparently my son, who I love but who isn't perfect, much like his mother and the entire rest of the human population, said some very mean things to a young girl. My son said she had said mean things to him first. So we had a big discussion about not saying mean things to anyone, anyone at ALL, but especially not to a girl because, well, if you ever hope to have a lasting relationship with a woman, talking trash to them is not going to win them over. So this other kid was coming to the girl's defence, like a knight in shining armour, ready to take a round out of my son to defend her honour. Which, you know, is admirable in a way. The girl probably really appreciated it. Hey, if my husband wanted to take a round out of someone for talking bad to me, I'd appreciate it. (In a big way. Like, he'd be smiling for a week afterwards.) But I really couldn't have some kid beating up my son in the parking lot, could I? I mean, I'm his mother. It's my job to defend my children. Not just my job, my calling. I love them and, while I respect the knight in shining armour's decision to defend the girl, I can't have him laying a thumping on my offspring.

So I copied the entire conversation onto a text document and e-mailed it to the principal and then the vice-principal had both boys in for a separate visit and straightened them out. At least, I hope it's straightened out. The last thing I want is more anger, more retribution. The thing about kids today, the thing about Facebook and texting, is it's all there for the record. It's not like the old days when you could threaten someone verbally and then deny it ever happened because there was no evidence. When you threaten someone on Facebook, it's there for the world to see. You can delete it, sure, but if someone (like me) has already copied it and pasted it somewhere else, you're euchred.

And the way kids talk on Facebook? Unbelievable! The things that come out of their mouths is reprehensible. Why do they talk like that? It's disgusting! Is this something they're going to grow out of or is this next generation going to live life verbalizing like sailors? When they're grandparents, are they going to talk to their grand-babies that way? "C'mere you effing cute effer, sit your effing arse up here on your effing grandma's effing knee, you effing effer-snapper."

Anyway, that was my day yesterday. The vice-principal called this morning just to catch up and fill me in on the details, which was nice. And it was nice that he caught me in between trips to the bathroom. Tomorrow I go to the hospital for my Crohn's treatment, which is a very good thing. Cause life is too short to be this shitty.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Wedding Crasher Ramble

I do my best writing when I'm not writing at all. You should see the stuff I've never written, driving home from work. My mind ticks through the deepest, funniest truths as the wheels turn. The minute I get out of the vehicle? It stops. It's like the alarm goes off and I've woke up from whatever I was dreaming.

That picture? That's me on board the Wenonah II last Friday night. Dave and I scored some free tickets for the sunset dinner cruise from my lovely boss. Everyone else got to go for a lunch cruise a couple weeks back but I couldn't go because I was already booked off for the North Words writers' workshop. My boss, being the nice guy that he is, got tickets for me and Dave to go on our own time. Funny how time goes – I kept thinking I had weeks to use the tickets. Then suddenly time ran out and it was do or die as the cruising season drew to a close on the weekend. So, even though I haven't been feeling well lately (stupid Crohn's is flaring up), I bunged myself up with a heavy dose of Imodium and we set sail.

When we arrived at the wharf in Port Carling all we saw was a sea of really well dressed passengers. Like, suits and fancy dresses and high heels well dressed. Like, suddenly Dave and I, both wearing jeans, felt like total slobs ... me in my periwinkle Gore-Tex Pro Bass Shop fishing jacket, a bobber, lip balm, emergency lighter and half a box of Kleenex in my pockets (I really do have to clean out those pockets after our fishing trips). We had no idea there was a dress code! Turns out, there isn't, but almost the entire boat had been booked for a wedding reception. A private room on the top level of the boat had been booked by a small but rowdy group of seniors who kept ordering rounds of drinks from the harried waitress. Other than them, there were only four people on the boat who weren't wedding guests: me, Dave, and Obnoxious Legal Student and his Pretty Girlfriend. This guy, wow... where do I begin. This guy thought he was all that and a giant economy sized bag of chips. All he talked about was himself – yeah, I KNOW, that's all I do on my blog... and in real life... but I'm discussing his failure as a human being right now, not mine ... anyway, he never shut up about himself for the three and a half hours we were on that boat. It was all "law course this" and "what inspires me that" and "would you like me to buy you a cottage in Muskoka braggin" and, I dunno, he was just obnoxious. Everyone makes jokes about lawyers but, after listening to this lawyer-in-training, I could understand why. That poor woman he was with was like a deer in the headlights. I'm sure she thought she had found herself a "catch," a guy who would buy her all the fancy things in life, but at what cost? I swear her eyes were glazed over for the whole trip. She had that Stepford Wives smile pasted on her pretty face. He never asked her one question about herself. Is that what it's like, to marry for money? You give up your soul? I was tempted to push him off the boat when no one was looking, save her from a lifetime of servitude. But she'd probably just find another one. You can't help people who won't help themselves.

It took us no time at all to figure out we were in the midst of a wedding but it was a few minutes longer when two brides walked by, hand in hand, and I realized this wasn't any ordinary wedding. I heard the lawyer-dude whisper to his girlfriend that there was not one, but two wedding receptions on board. I leaned over and whispered, "I think there's only one wedding." He looked at me like I was a bug. So I raised my eyebrows and waggled them a bit in the brides' direction. "Do you see any grooms?" I asked. Lawyer-dude still didn't get it but his girlfriend grinned ear to ear and she pressed her hand to her mouth to suppress a giggle. "Oh, I see," she said, eyes dancing. Her boyfriend still looked stunned. I thought, he'll make someone a real smart lawyer some day. A real student of human nature.

So not only had we crashed a wedding, we had crashed a lesbian wedding. What an absolute trip we had! Surreal, hilarious and perfect in every way – the brides came over and introduced themselves and invited us to join in their festivities. I thought, I gotta get a picture of me with them for my blog but time flew and before I knew it we were docking again, the brides were surrounded by well-wishers and I missed my opportunity. I hate it when that happens. Life is so short. I like grabbing it by the balls and savouring every single moment.

There wasn't much to see, scenery wise, when it was dark by seven o'clock and it was raining cats and dogs outside. So we cozied up in the bar and got talking to the friendly bartender, a ginger-haired lass named Kate who wanted to know where we were from. "Bracebridge," we said. And, oh yes, she was from Bracebridge, too, whereabouts, she wanted to know. I said she probably wouldn't know it, just a little known road off into the woods along the Muskoka River and I said the name and her eyes lit up and she started laughing. "Oh, I know that road!" she said, and then told us she was our neighbour, living just down the road from us. Well then we had a merry old conversation about what a small world it is and promised to get together some time and have coffee and chat more. It was a lovely trip, and I had a couple of drinks (something I rarely do) and a slice of chocolate mousse cake (also something I rarely do) and life was very, very good.

I did well at Weight Watchers last night – down eight pounds in two weeks for a total of 39 pounds so far. I can't believe I've lost that much already (since the last week of July). I'm starting to see and feel the difference. Not too long ago I hated photos of myself. Now I look at them in no small amount of amazement. I post them without worrying about it. To someone who doesn't know me, you may look at that photo and think, "there's a chunky girl." But to me, I see smaller legs and cheekbones starting to appear in a round face. I see I have far to go but I appreciate how far I've come. I can't believe how well I'm doing – losing weight is the hardest thing for me, harder than quitting smoking, harder than anything. It takes constant attention, constant will. But the WW program is sensible and easy to follow and I know, as long as I keep my eyes on the prize, that I can be as slender as I want. One day at a time. I got an email yesterday from a relative who is struggling with addiction to alcohol and drugs. He wants a place to live, far away from his temptations, where he can clean up. After some thought I sent him the contact information for a nearby treatment centre. He wrote back that he just needed a place to stay, he could do it on his own. No, I hasten to disagree. He can't do it on his own, like I can't lose weight on my own. I need the accountability that Weight Watchers gives me. That scale, once a week, that judgement. Plus, I get support from the women at my meetings, from the leader, from the WW plan. I've tried to lose weight on my own, but I am not strong enough. Few people are. When I quit smoking, I asked for help from my doctor. I know plenty about addiction. Many people in my family have struggled with it. My own father went to a treatment centre for his alcohol addiction and you know what? It helped him. He never drank again (with one exception, just before he died, he went to the corner store and bought a bottle and had one shot, just to see how he felt about it. Obviously he didn't think much, because the rest of the bottle was untouched). If everyone could do it on their own, there would be no need for WW or AA or residential treatment centres. We need help and there's no shame in asking. I think this relative is still in denial – until he stops blaming his surroundings and shoulders the blame for the demons in his own head; until he decides to accept help, he's not ready to be clean. I think what he wants is to live with us, but I can't share my life with an addict. Can't. Won't. Been there and got the t-shirt. I don't plan on enabling anybody.

In closing this ramble, I want to express my sincere condolences to my cousins who recently lost a close friend (almost family member) to cancer. Jane was lovely and wonderful and appreciated everything life had to offer. What an incredible shame to lose her. I am so sorry. I also want to send hope to my cousin and my friend Kelly, who is fighting an equally horrific battle with post traumatic stress disorder. Kel, I worry about you every day. I think about you all the time. I want to do something to help you – I just don't know what to do other than to say you are loved, you are special, we need your spirit, your talent, your sunny laugh. Keep fighting, Kel. I'm being selfish, now, I know. But it's my strongest wish. Hugs to you and everyone in your family.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Poetry in Algonquin: Thanksgiving 2011

Dark water and sunshine in the beaver meadow,
marsh grasses whistling on the October breeze.

Black woods, gnarled roots, dead things, smell of rot.
Brilliant youth, beloved and bright, dappled in sunshine and forever.
"Look at me! he shouts, his voice like music, and how can you not?

White pines, home of the beaver, Tom Thomson's ghost smiles from the pond,
mighty moose, somewhere, wandering at will.
"Boomdiddyahdah," in my head, on a loop, Girl Guides in a canoe,
skinny dipping, when it was still okay to be naked under a yellow moon.

"All the diamonds in this world
that mean anything to me,
Are conjured up by wind and sunlight
sparkling on the sea."
– Bruce Cockburn

Apple doll in the sunshine, heart light, happy.

Polka dot stepping stones for tiny creatures of the pond, bullfrogs croak their ballet.
"You're gonna drown, you're gonna drown, you're gonna drown," but the green frogs
connect the dots, slower now, slower still, their skin cold as death.

The leaves are almost done, hilltop maples are bare, only orange oak and True Grit poplars
paint Algonquin hills. Look close, though, bend down, and colour bursts from the earth.
David versus the Goliath of weather, wind and time.

Patriotism sings now, it's the distant hills that call out,
symphonies of splendour. Foolish pride swells my heart, a beer commercial on my tongue.
I. Am. Canadian.

John Wayne, Glen Campbell, Little Blackie, Little Sister, moving through the gold poplars.
It's my favourite part of that classic movie, it's my favourite part of this walk,
my men walk ahead, footsteps shifting in the sand.
I take the photo, I take a breath.
And hold.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay it Forward Blogfest

I don't know how I get sucked into these things. I woke up this morning with no intention of joining any blogfest, then Stephen Tremp mentions I got mentioned on Laura Eno's website and I see my pal Laurita Miller is doing it and, hell, I'm nothing if not a cool-kid wannabe... so.


(Man, I can't stop thinking of Kevin Spacey's iron-burnt face and Twister Helen in her tight-ass jeans looking for bottles of hooch in the kitchen light and that kid, that poor sad-faced little kid who did a bunch a sad-faced movies and then disappeared into kid movie star notoriety. I'm bad at names. And way too lazy to google 'em, cause really, who the hell cares?)

So here's the deal: I mention three blogs I really really like. And then you go visit their blogs and give 'em a follow, because you will love them as much as me, I promise. Then off I go like Red Riding Hood with a pic-i-nick basket and a Yogi bear in tow, off to visit as many blogs as I can muster. If you feel the need to get sucked in, here's the link to the linky list:

Here's the hard part: narrowing down my favourite blogs to just three.

One of my favourite blogs, very, very favourite ones, doesn't have a lot of followers, doesn't get a lot of traffic and doesn't really care. My Great White North may have eschewed popularity but its purveyor, Deb, embraces humour, photography and a love for Muskoka, the rugged, beautiful place we both call home. Give Deb a chance to win you over. She will, I promise. Since I've been blogging she has become a friend and an inspiration. You can visit her blog here:

Lake Muakoka from the vantage point of Deb's deck.
Photo by Deb or Dave at My Great White North.

If there's anybody who can make me laugh out loud, it's Siren. I've mentioned Siren Song a few times because I can't get over how crazy-funny she is. Her latest thing is posing dead, dessicated frogs (or maybe they're toads – it's hard to tell they're so mummified), photographing them and putting words in their mouth through cartoon bubbles. Ridiculous fun but scathingly, cuttingly sharp at the same time. Yesterday she blogged about her Halloween display of zombies. Gotta love her. You can visit her blog here:

I feel a little lax about blogging lately, if truth be told. I'm trying to write a novel (hahahahah - how ostentatious does that sound!) and all my extra time that I used to devote to blogging and writing short stories is now devoted to novel-writing. I'm no Laura Eno or Stephen King. Every chapter comes down onto the page encased in blood. So I apologize for being distant - it's not that I don't love you all... because I do. You know I do. Blogging has changed my life, gave me the confidence to write this book, this tome, this blood-spattered albatross around my neck.

Seagull Cottage by Shelagh Duffett

I have one more blog to mention and it's one I think you'll enjoy. Shelagh Duffett is an artist living in Nova Scotia, Canada and she blogs at Alice in Paris Loves Art and Tea. This blog puts a smile on my face with its colourful whimsy, the chatty conversation of its host and its remarkably happy paintings. One of these days I'm going to dust off my credit card and buy one of her paintings, just because they make my heart smile. Shelagh blogs here:

One of the things I most enjoyed over at Shelagh's blog was her posting of this simple song. Take a minute and enjoy... it will make your heart smile, too. I promise.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Memoir Writing

Other than blithering on about Margaret Atwood, I haven't talked much about the North Words Literary Festival in Muskoka (Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, 2011), but I want to. North Words was one of the most inspiring, most fun, most fabu-lishus celebrations of the written word I have ever been to.

This year I signed up for a full day writer's workshop, the Margaret Atwood speech and an authors' forum but there was more I would have enjoyed, including a live book club, readings, and breakfasts with well known authors. Next year, for sure, I want to buy a weekend pass and go to every darn thing they've got.

When I signed up for the writer's workshop, I was more interested in the morning presentation (how to find a publisher and an agent) than I was for the afternoon (memoir writing). I only signed up for the afternoon session because I already had to book a day off work and, what the hell – lunch was included. And you know me, it's always about the lunch!

As a former newspaper columnist and a blogger, I thought the memoir writing workshop couldn't teach me anything new. I thought it might be leaden lessons for a bunch of old ladies who want to know how to write their boring life stories – boy, was I wrong. I mean, yes, the room was full of old ladies, including myself, as well as young ladies and some men of various ages; and yes, they wanted to learn how to write their life stories – but they were anything BUT boring.

The workshop was led by Cori Howard, an award-winning journalist who has written for some of the top newspapers and magazines in the country. She is the editor of the best-selling anthology Between Interruptions: Thirty Women Tell the Truth About Motherhood. Cori started The Mommoir Project to teach and inspire mothers to find their voices and inspire the confidence necessary to believe the mundane details of their everyday lives matter – and make compelling stories.

She started out by reading a few memoirs to us, including Lit by Mary Karr. The segment she read absolutely stunned me – I need to read the whole book asap. Yes, it was first person. Yes, it was a memoir, but it read like a finely crafted book of fiction, and the prose was undeniable – hard-edged, poetic and magnetic in its appeal.

Cori then talked about finding a moment, or a scene, from our own lives and how to write about our lives from the perspective of that scene. She gave us a half an hour or so to write something and then some of us read our stories out loud.

I was obnoxious – I know, hard to believe. But I was so excited about what I had written down that I started waving my arm in the air when she wanted to know who wanted to read first. Picture Arnold Horshack from Welcome Back Kotter and you get the idea. Other people were also excited to share what they had written and everyone was excited to hear what they had read. Laughter rang out through the Huntsville Public Library as funny bits were read. Tears were shed at other parts. By the time the afternoon was done, everyone felt a new closeness as well as a confidence that, hey, we could do this.

Cori's right – everyone does have a story to tell. Many stories, actually. All it takes is a little direction and inspiration to get them on paper.

Because I really am like Horshack, here's what I scribbled down:

It’s a wonder I don’t fantasize about the Maytag repairman. Not someone who goes ga-ga over a man in uniform, perhaps that’s the reason; maybe it’s also because Gordon Jump is the actor who is playing the latest Maytag man in the TV commercials, and I can’t think of Gordon Jump without thinking about the dumbass character he portrayed on WKRP in Cincinnati.

No, it’s not the Maytag man that keeps me coming to the big white boat of an appliance hulking in the back corner of our little log house. It’s the dirty socks and underwear that seemingly breed in the washing machine’s presence. My husband and two sons are veritable factories of filthy laundry.

Diesel oil, road dust and gasoline on Dave’s once-navy-blue work coveralls, the ones with “Angelo” on the embroidered nametag because, when he started working at the Huntsville Chrysler dealership three years ago, the woman who ordered work clothes ordered the wrong name. I don’t know how she mistook Dave for Angelo, but she did, and while she has been promising for three years to get Dave his own name on his own shirts, it hasn’t happened yet.

So I wash Angelo’s coveralls, and hoodies out the yin-yang from Angus and Sam. It’s all they want to wear. Hooded sweatshirts, even in the sultry thick of a mid-summer day. The hoodies belonging to Angus, who is 14, come back to me and the Maytag smelling vaguely of goat. It must be a teenage thing, this heady goaty aroma, a mixture of B.O. and, gawd, I don’t even want to imagine what else. I remember my boyfriends all smelled the same way. When I was 14, I thought it was sexy. Not so much, anymore. Sam, who is still only 11, has hoodies that smell clean, like fresh air, like sunbaked sand.

I inhale this 11-year-old hoodie fragrance, so beautiful it should be bottled, because I know that some day soon, it will change. I am tempted some days not to wash it, to put it away in a bottom drawer, to keep it as a sweet vestige of a time before everything changes, for good, and forever.

Monday, October 10, 2011

I'm Alive

Everything hurrrrrrrrrrrrts.
This was the best Thanksgiving. The weather was fantastic. I mean, middle of July fantastic, except that the temps got down to zero Celsius at night but the skies were blue and the sun was shiny and the leaves in Algonquin Park were at their most fabulous.
But oh, I am a hurting unit. Three solid days of biking and hiking has jellified these old bones and now I am salivating at the thought of a hot bath and a handful of extra strength Tylenol.
Tomorrow marks the end of my 50th year and I have much to be thankful for as I say good-night to another Thanksgiving Day. A year ago I couldn't have imagined myself biking all over one of the most beautiful places on earth in my baggy-assed sweat-pants, looking for moose and bear, and passing 11-year-olds in a single bound.
I have so much to tell you about but it has to wait, it does. I just wanted to let you know I'm alive and well and looking for the heating pad.
And tomorrow?
Tomorrow I eat cake.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Meeting Margaret Atwood

Those eyes. Those dazzling clear blue eyes; maybe blue; maybe grey. Maybe both.

I can’t stop thinking of Margaret Atwood’s eyes.

When you see a photograph of her, on a book cover or the internet, you notice them right away, because you can’t help it. They’re stunning.

But when you meet her, and she’s sitting down only a couple of feet away, signing a book, it’s her eyes that draw you in. Those eyes, the ones that stared back at you from books since high school, now trained on your own imperfect self, and you think, when you can rustle up a lucid thought, “I am in the presence of Greatness.”

Rarely do you live in the moment, despite Oprah’s constant urgings to do so. But last night I did. Two minutes. Or so. The stage lighting at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville, Ontario, shutting out the hundreds of people lined up behind me, books clutched to their hopeful chests, like schoolgirls, shutting out their distractions, pooling Canada’s greatest writer, Canada’s most iconic author, and me, in a shroud of stillness.

“For Cathy,” she began writing in the book I had just purchased, “In Other Worlds,” her newest book, so new it won’t even be officially released for another week.

I wanted to ask her something.

“With best wishes,” she continued to write.

I leaned forward. She was just finishing “Margaret” when I blurted it out.

“Did you ever doubt your writing?” I asked, because that is what is in my own writer’s heart. “When you were starting out?”

She signed “Atwood,” with a messy flourish, and turned those amazing eyes up to meet mine.

I was struck by her resemblance to one of Canada’s most beloved prime ministers, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, her curly hair, her clear, almond-shaped eyes; but also to my friend Mark’s mother, Mary Champion, a historian, a woman of intelligence. I was struck by the feeling that I knew her, that I had always known her, yet I knew nothing at all. Most of all, I realized that I was meeting a living legend and what I really wanted to know was, what is it like being this legend, this icon, this Atwood person?

Instead, I listened to her answer.

Our gaze locked for a moment. She seemed to choose her answer carefully, or maybe she was just sizing me up. Her voice was measured, throaty, as remarkable as her eyes, actually.

“No,” she said. “In those days I worried mostly about who was going to publish it.” At least I think that’s what she said. And she said more, of course, all kinds of interesting things about the publishing world when she was beginning her writing career. It’s just that, as soon as the words left her lips, as soon as they reached beyond the pool of stage lighting, they were as lost to me as if they had never been said.

And then, oh then, I interrupted her.

I did.

I can’t believe it.

I actually interrupted her, in mid-sentence, to say something inane about the many people who were lined up behind me, and not wanting to take up too much more of her time, but would you mind having a photo taken with me for my blog?

I am such an ass, sometimes.

There was a split second where my ineptness seemed to startle her. Then she asked me to come behind the table and stand beside her. As Dave took two photos, I joked about making me look skinny. She joked back (she is very, very funny), then she asked me what my blog url was, and wrote it down on a yellow sticky note. She wondered if I would let her know when I posted the photo, and my heart did a fast soprano trill, and I told her I followed her on Twitter, and how much I loved her Tweets, how funny she was.

“I’ll tweet you when it’s posted,” I said.

“That would be great,” she replied.

(Me and Margaret Atwood. Talking about Tweeting each other. Un. Bee. Leeeeavable.)

Before I left her side, before I stood up straight and walked off the stage into the chilled evening of the last day of September, before all that, I whispered in her ear, with such grave reverence that it almost brought me to tears, “It was such a great honour meeting you.”

I straightened up and those incredible eyes met mine one last time.

Then the next person came up and I walked away.