Wednesday, June 20, 2012

I could use your help – Musoka Novel Marathon 2012

From our local newspaper when I participated in the
2010 Muskoka Novel Marathon.

OK, I don't think I've ever done this. Asked for money on this blog. I've asked for votes, I've asked for participation in blog contests but I don't believe I've ever asked anyone for actual cold hard cash (except my mother, who I have asked far too many times over my lifetime – sorry Mom). So here goes. Now's your chance to run away ... get going! Get!

Still here?

I could really use your help. I'm participating in the 2012 Muskoka Novel Marathon to help raise money for YMCA adult literacy programs. You wouldn't think, in this country, in this day and age of free, public education, that anyone could manage to go through life without being able to read or write but in the District of Muskoka alone, one-third of the population is illiterate. And according to recent studies, 27 per cent of Canadians aged 45 to 65 have zero to rudimentary literacy skills. Statistics are even higher in other countries.

You don't have that problem. Otherwise you wouldn't be a blogger. But can you imagine going through life not being able to read and write? Here are some examples, taking from one of the co-covenors of the Novel Marathon, writer Karen Wehrstein:

In these times, the written word is ubiquitous, in every aspect of life.
As a news junkie, I take it totally for granted that, any time I like, I can find out what’s happening, from every angle, all over the world. A person who can’t read is limited to what people tell him, or the relatively shallow and parochial views of TV and radio.
I need work: I whip through the want ads, looking in particular for wordy-type jobs.  He must rely on someone else to read the ads to him – and he knows not to bother with jobs that are anything but menial labour.
I tailor my resume on my computer to suit whatever I’m applying for.  He can’t write up one resume.  If he did, he’d have to reveal that he left school after eighth grade because he couldn’t cope (he can learn, but not with the teaching methods used in public schools) ...or his situation at home was too unstable to enable him to handle the pressure ...or else he is from another country and struggling to learn English.
More than three items on my shopping list, and it goes on paper.  He just has to remember everything.
I want to cook some dish I’ve never cooked before, and I can find a score of recipes for it by Googling.  He’s stuck with the few he knows.
My date book is loaded with appointments, consults, dates, special notes.  He schedules his life by memory.
Filling out forms—income tax, mortgage applications, emergency info for school, intake for medical services—I consider an unpleasant necessity of life.  He’d love to be able to.
I want to call a plumber or a lawyer or a dentist or an acquaintance whose number I don’t know: I get out the phonebook.  He has to be satisfied with the numbers he’s memorized or can ask someone for.  When he gets a bill, he has to have someone read it to him.
I have to write an important note to my child’s teacher or doctor.  He has to get someone else to write it (possibly the kid, when old enough) and he can only sign it with an “X.”
I sign a contract: if I don’t read the fine print, it’s my own stupid fault.  It isn’t his.  Being unable to read caveats, he is easy for the unscrupulous to rip off.
I want to know what’s going to be on TV tonight; I read the listings.  He’s limited to pre-announcements on other programs.
I want to know what ingredients are in a packaged food I’m buying, or a bottle of pills: I read the label.  He has to live without that knowledge or—with the indignity it entails—rely on someone else.
My young child gets a gift that says “Some assembly required.”  I carefully follow the enclosed instructions.  All he has is a bag of parts, the picture on the box, and an eager, impatient kid.
I curse that I don’t score perfect on the written part of the driver’s test.  He is hesitant even to try it.  He won’t be able to read street signs, or the vehicle owner’s manual, or license forms, or insurance documents.
I make friends and contacts all over the world, on the Internet.  All such opportunities are closed to him.
I journal; I track my life, my observations, my changes.  Sometimes when I read it back, I realize that my memories of the past are distorted.  He has to live without such a personal record and what it could teach him.
I draw inspiration, comfort and enlightenment from scripture or other spiritual writings.  He can only do so if someone else is willing to take the time to read them to him.
Helping my kids with homework, I can share with them all sorts of little tips and tricks that helped me become a straight-A student.  His kids are on their own.
Over and over I hear that the best way to give youngsters a head start in reading is to read them a story every night.  So I do, and when they start to read along, I correct and teach.  He can’t, and so he worries that if his kids grow up to live the same nightmare he is living... it will be his own fault.
I want to get involved in politics, I study the issues, learn about the parties and candidates, hand out brochures, participate in online forums, write letters to the editor.  Politically, he is invisible, because politics runs on the written word.
All around me is information.  Meaning leaps out at me from every piece of paper, book spine, package, window on my computer screen.  There’s a world of it available with a click of a mouse; I can research any topic under the sun.  He is a stranger in a strange land of incomprehensible symbols.  The doors easily and unthinkingly opened by others around him are locked and barred to him.  Knowledge is power, and without the primary way of receiving it, he is relatively powerless, and feels it keenly.  Competing in a verbal world, he knows he is at a huge disadvantage.
To manage in the information age, he has to work twice as hard.  Knowing the stigma attached to illiteracy, he uses many strategies to conceal his inability -- though he knows people will see through it anyway.  That takes even more work, as well as the shame inherent in the ruse.  Keeping himself convinced he isn’t stupid is a constant effort.
It’s a Catch-22.  He’d love to be able to train for well-paying work -- but without well-paying work, how can he afford reading lessons?
This is where the YMCA comes in.  Using funds raised through the Novel Marathon and other channels, and hours contributed by trained volunteers (many of them retired teachers), the Y offers free instruction in literacy, numeracy, computer and basic life skills to out-of-school teens and adults. 
Local literacy programming has produced some amazing success stories, including the recently deceased and much-loved centenarian Clarence Brazier, who learned to read in his 90s.  Some grads have since opened businesses of their own; others can now read and write well enough to help their children with their homework.
All have seen their self confidence grow in leaps and bounds as a result of the success they have had.
They are overcoming all the above challenges.  The squiggles that are everywhere in life are becoming meaningful to them, opening up the whole world.  They are going on to seize control of life, to participate, to contribute, to enjoy, and to make their mark in the world.  They are enriched, and so is the economy and society itself.  We ALL benefit from this work.
The novel marathon itself is kind of crazy. Well, not kind of. Just plain crazy is more like it. On July 13 at 8 p.m. a bell will sound in one small room in Huntsville, Ontario, and 30 mostly INSANE writers will start writing and keep writing ALL WEEKEND LONG. Some will carry on writing straight through to Monday, eating, not-sleeping and breathing the writing process. Some people actually will write most of a novel, start to finish, in those three days. Me? I'm not starting a novel, I'm going to FINISH a novel, the story I've been bleeding over for longer than I care to admit. I'm in the home stretch and I think another 30,000 words will get me to the finish line. And you know what? I do believe a weekend of intense writing should be enough time to get it done.

I think it's amazing that writers give up one of the prime weekends of their short summers to raise money for adult literacy programs. It's taking a skill they love and take for granted, and giving it to others.

I know money is tight. I KNOW. If you don't have anything to share, just wish me luck. If you can spare a few dollars, just click HERE and you can easily donate as little or as much as you like for the cause. I have set a rather lofty goal for myself – $2,500 – and so far I have raised $180 (which is why I thought it was high time to get busy and get fundraising). I have the following people to thank for their very generous online donations:

THANK YOU SO MUCH! Big hugs to you all!

I'm going to start listing the names underneath the Muskoka chair on the right, of everyone who donates. Perhaps I'll see your name there some day soon!

Thanking you in advance, dear friends, for your donations and/or your good wishes!

For more about the Muskoka Novel Marathon, click HERE.

To donate, click HERE.


  1. Hey, Cathy's blog readers, here's another reason to help her reach her goal. There are prizes for the top two fundraisers at the marathon. Don't you think Cathy deserves his and hers paddles from Algonquin Outfitters, a gorgeous hand-dyed and woven scarf from Marni Martin, and/or big fat gift certificate from either Coles/Chapters/Indigo or our local Bookcase? I sure think so.
    Good luck, Cathy!

    1. PRIZES ? There's PRIZES?????????]
      Ooooooh! Even more reason for me to bug people. Thanks Paula! (Paula, by the way, is the other co-convenor of the marathon as well as being the head honcho of my writing group, a fabulous writer and singer and a very good friend.)

  2. Good luck Cathy! I'm sure you'll reach your goal! I wish I could help out but we'll be lucky if we make rent next week.

    1. Thanks so much, JoJo! I totally understand - I have my OWN money issues!!!!! Good luck with the rent (stupid rent - imagine how rich we'd be without rent and food to pay for?)

      Your greatest gift is your continued presence here. Thank you so very much. oxo

  3. Good luck, Cathy! I can help next month, if that's okay. Nobody should be unable to read. I could just cry to hear of such a high illiteracy rate in this day and age.

    1. Thanks Austan but listen, PLEASE, if you can't afford it, DON"T!!!!! I loves ya whether you do or not!

  4. As a journalist, and broadcaster, and blogger, I guess I take reading and writing pretty much for granted.

    I shouldn't do that.

    Thanks for making me re-think.

    1. Hmmmmm...... the mysterious Rob-bear has a broadcasting background... who IS the Rob-bear???? Who? The mystery deepens...

  5. Gosh, I thought I left a comment earlier but guess it didn't stick.
    Anyway, good luck with the project Cathy.

  6. Your blog post touched me. I gave my allowance!

    1. Daisy! Your ALLOWANCE??? You are now my FAVOURITE kitty-cat EVER! Thank you so very much! oxoxoxo

  7. Yeah, all my money is already tied up in this family emergency, but I'll certainly wish you luck, Cathy. I hope you have a good time and do really put the nail in that novel.

    1. Pass me the nails, John, I'm hammering!!!! (And thanks!)

  8. IT is that double edged sword. Tony hails from Portugal, his mother speaks little English. She avoided having a checking account until she was 71. Seriously. None of us could figure it out.

    Until she said she had no idea how to write out the numbers and dollars in English.

    She has a cheat sheet now and does just fine... but really... 71.

    I can't even imagine.

    1. Wow. 71 and unable to read. That's crazy... and that's precisely why people should never give up in their quest to read and write. Thanks Juli!

  9. Wow, that's really cool. I'll stop by later when I have my wallet.

  10. Thanks for the comment on Briane's blog, yesterday! I really appreciate it!
    If you made it by again today, I certainly wouldn't complain. :)

    I wish I could donate, but we just don't have extra $$$ at the moment. I strongly believe in literacy, of course, but giving cash to it, at the moment, is a bit beyond us.

    1. Me too!!! No problem at all Andrew, I will pop by again asap! Best of luck with the contest, I hope you win!

  11. Oh, Cathy. A cause so near and dear to my heart! I think it's a wonderful thing you're doing, so thank you for using your skills and talents for such a great cause. I loved the excerpts you shared with us from Karen, too; they're written with such insight and empathy. I've donated what I can. I wish I could donate a whole boatload. Good luck on the 13th!

    1. You are AWESOME! See? I knew only a person who creates such incredible blueberry cheesecake squares and shares them with the neighbours (mine never made it to the neighbours, trust me), would have a generous cheesecake heart! Thank you so very much, Aimee!

    2. A generous cheesecake heart!!! Hahaha. Can I put that on my resume?! I love it. You're most welcome, Cathy!

  12. I can only wish you good luck! (We're barely squeezing by.) What a great cause.

    1. Thanks so much Christine! I need lotsa luck - especially in the writing department!!!!

  13. Good luck! This is such an important cause. I wish you much success!


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