The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, October 30, 2006

Finally, The Finalists! (Our Top 8 Canadian Travel Story Contest Entries)

I am pleased to announce the names of the writers who made the shortlist in our first contest at the Canadian Writers Collective.

We asked for travel stories that involved Canada. You could be leaving Canada, coming to Canada or going from one part to another. The real Canada or a Canada of the imagination. The travel could occur, be imagined, wished for or dreaded. We weren't picky. We wanted to see what we got.

Turns out we were picky! From the dozens of stories we received, only eight had more than half of our judges salivating. Surly crew! That was my criteria to make the finals- more than half had to be certain. A maybe, I only counted as half-a-judge. It was awful- the sawing of judges I had to do! But us Canadians are lumberjacks at heart. And I sewed them back together for the finals.

Without further ado, here they are, the Canadian Travel Stories Contest finalists:

Vanessa Gebbie for Reading the "Shipping News"
Martin Heavisides for e-mail
Leonard Joy for Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World
Kuzhali Manickavel for Hoodoos
Janisse Ray for Pangea Split
Kim Teeple for Lake Canada
Linda Wood Edwards for 1996 Grey Cup – The Best in (My) History
Heather Zorzini for Moon Over Dildo

P.S. Thank you to everyone who entered. It was a pleasure reading your stories.

On behalf of the judges (who read blind and are only now finding out the finalists names, after their last chance to vote has passed!)- best wishes,
Andrew Tibbetts
P.P.S.
Stay tuned for my tabulation of the final votes! And to see the top three stories posted on our blog throughout December!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sick




by
Patricia Parkinson

I have been sick, very sick, walking pneumonia. The results of my urine tests came back, cold in my kidneys and possible bladder infection too! My inner ear hurts as well as my throat and my back. Still waiting for the results of the blood tests. I know, it's thrilling isn't it? Sickness somehow becomes obsessive.

I have whined about this all week, actually, I'm not much of a whiner, however, I'm sick and those around me don't seem to get it that Mom is sick, that My Wife is sick that The Worker Patricia is sick. I sleep all day. I sleep all night, waking up in painful intervals to attempt to go to the bathroom, constipation is a side effect of my drugs. I've discovered a love of Metamucil, the orange flavor is best, and live in anticipation when it will take effect. Gross I know, but well, when we're babies, our parents talked about our bowels movements, our first bowel movement is most likely recorded in a book with our first wisps of hair and the event of our first birthday or Christmas. When we get older, bowel movements again return as a topic of conversation.

My father in law is a robust 82. When we chat his toilet habits take up most of the conversation that and home remedy advise, prune juice, fiber, and now, well, I should phone him about the Metamucil, actually, I think he recommended it to me.

I am not a good sick person. I am generally in very good health, on the go all the time, ready to do anything, regretting often plans made in advance but these are the times when I end up having a better time than the dreaded, tried and longing to leave time I thought it would be. however, when I crash, I crash big. I was a sickly child, a fake sickly child at times, bored with school. With an imagination beyond book learning, I professionally held the thermometer over the heat register, pressed the mercury to light bulbs for the accurate amount of time that produced the desired temperature for my mother to utter the words, "You're not going to school today!" as if it was some kind of punishment.

I missed weeks; really, I'd miss two weeks of school at a time 4 times a year, one spell for each season. No one questioned it. I was prone to bronchial infections, obviously still am. On the days I faked it, I gloried in the ability to eat Lipton’s Chicken Noodle soup for breakfast, with lots of crackers, they have to be Premium, Salted Tops, lunch and dinner. I read all day and watched some TV - we didn't have cable – or color. I napped and hung out and went through my mother’s things and then there were times when I was really sick. For real sick, not having to hold the thermometer over anything.

I hallucinated about things; about a plane crashing in my bed, my sheets were the fuselage. I was so upset and adamant and crying and flailing about. A plane had crashed and no one was doing anything about it. My mother sat next to me and cried while my family gathered. I hallucinated about my uncle, who came into my room - did he come into my room? I wonder still, not in a bad way. I think he was dead by then, so, maybe he was there. I like to think that. My mother cried. Our doctor came, I’m happy that I’m part of the last generation to receive house calls, and I survived.

I am not delerious this time round, have been having some pretty wild daytime dreams mind you, which leave me a bit disorientated, among other things which involve nudity. Friday, I’m writing this post early, will be the first time I’ve been out of the house since Monday. The thought of showering and doing my hair and actually putting on clothes that may have zippers makes me achy. I am planning on washing my sheets that day and having a bath before I go to bed, soak my aches away, maybe even shave my legs. No. That would involve bending and could lead to a cut, bleeding to death, maybe a clot.

There are no planes crashing in my bed, just me sliding in between cool sheets, warm and clean from the bath, wrapped in my blue robe, also freshly laundered, laying back on fluffed up pillows, the glow of my reading light casting campfire shadows across the walls while I pray that the Metamucil kicks in before I go back to work on Monday.

How to Get Through Another November Without Thinking Too Much and Still Have Something to Show for It

by Melissa Bell

I've been indulging in low-pressure activities lately - things like soup-making and knitting – things that can't be rushed, but don't take hours of preparation either. I've been watching movies – a lot of bad ones, mostly unintentionally – and "designing" scarves while dinner waits quietly for me to finish another couple of rows. It's part of my four-season world.

It's a pretty bleak time of year here in The Great White North.The city greys and turns damp. Mornings are dark as the nights lengthen. The garden dies away. We've already had our Thanksgiving, and the next holiday season is weeks away.

But when I next post to this blog, I will be at least 16,000 words into my "NaNovel". Hard to believe when I consider National Novel Writing Month officially begins at midnight on Tuesday and I still haven't the foggiest what I'm going to write about.

So I'm indulging in a late-fall inertia because I know I won't see it again for while.

This will be my fifth year as a participant. I've made it to the finish line twice (years 1 and 3). Last year started out all well and fine, but at about 35,000 words I sent my main character off to dinner with a handsome young psychiatrist named Samir, and I never got back to them. They're still sitting at "Rashid's" enjoying an appetizer of hummus and discussing the fate of Diana's ex-fiance, Sebastian. I never did figure out what to do with Sebastian's young daughter either – she's still at the sitter's.

There's a part of me, the responsible writer part of me, that says I should use the NaNo time to go back to one of those unfinished pieces – or even one of the ones where I hit the 50,000-word mark – and revisit and revise. But then that wouldn't really be what the spirit of National Novel Writing Month is all about. And it certainly wouldn't be as exciting.

NaNo can be like a month of Christmas in my head, and the self-imposed pressure to make this year "the best year ever". Then it becomes a month of Christmas on a cruise ship, and it gets more than a little tiresome around the two-and-half week mark. It's not so much about the writing at that point, but the temptation to get your normal life back for a little bit. However it is a very nice thing to discover there's never a lack of support to be found; the site's forums are filled with lots of places to regroup and refocus.

I'm not sure if I'm making this sound like a fun thing. I mean to, I really do, because it is fun. Of course it does make for some bad, bad writing – shameful, gruesome strings of words that urge one to quickly scribble away the mess or depress the backspace key and hope nobody was looking over your shoulder as you wrote such a bad smell. But during NaNo, that's not an option. It really is all about focusing on the word count. And trust that the good stuff, the stuff that's worth examining when you're not so rushed, will be in there. The trick is don't look back. Stuff is happening, will happen. It's not about work, it's about playing. And you're required to play a certain number of hours a day for an entire month. That's not really so bad is it?

So if you're sitting on the fence and thinking about whether or not to join the party, I say less thinking and more doing. You may decide it's not your cup of bourbon, and you would never want to do it again. But, whether you consider yourself a writer or a non-writer, you will certainly have no regrets.

And I will be more than delighted to try and bribe you with a cheap homemade scarf or a soup recipe.

***

Why look here! I just happen to have one of these on me...


BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP with BOURSIN TOASTS

This is my own version of a standard recipe, and really super-speedy.

2 scant tablespoons butter
3 leeks (white and pale green parts only), chopped
1 med. butternut squash, peeled and cubed (if you can buy it like this, so much the better for you)
1 med. potato, peeled and cubed
1 generous teaspoon dried thyme
Box of chicken stock (the Campbell’s handy-dandy stuff will do)
½ cup milk or cream
Salt to taste

Stick of french bread and boursin cheese to garnish

Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Saute leeks in butter until soft. Add squash, potato, thyme and chicken stock. Bring to a low boil and let simmer until squash and potato are soft. Add milk/cream and salt.
Using hand-held immersion blender, whiz it all up to a smoothish puree.
To serve, ladle (Hey, ladle!) into ovenproof bowls. Top with a piece of french bread upon which you’ve spread some boursin cheese, and pop under the broil for a few minutes until the cheese melts. (You might want to make extra toasts - they’re good.)
Remove from oven. Careful - those bowls are hot!
Eat in front of the TV.

(Have a great weekend, everybody!)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Setting Fires

By Antonios Maltezos

I wrote another flash the other day. Actually, it was supposed to be a short story. I’d imagined it topping off at around 2500 words. The idea slow cooked for a couple days in my head -- a good sign, since most ideas simply whip by like a face in a crowd. So I had this story worked out, the opening scene, a fat middle, and the ending, which I typed at the bottom of the page so I wouldn’t forget it.

... setting his hair on fire.

If everything was good to go, then why did my short story end up as a flash? What happened to the other two thousand words? I even had the first sentence, the opener.

We pushed our things out the front door, onto the porch, down the steps.

Stoked, I began to write, completely ignoring my handicap, that I’m a flash fiction writer.

I don’t remember exactly how I got the idea for this piece, but that doesn’t really matter. If it’s a good enough idea, it’ll stick, it’ll write itself. But it starts with an idea, never as a desire to write a piece of flash rather than a short story.

Here’s what I think happened:

I had to figure out where I was going to jump into this story. I needed an opener. I asked myself what makes the people in my story interesting to me? If I met them in the grocery store, would I single them out from all the other people doing their shopping? Probably not. They aren’t extra-ordinary people, after all. My characters never are. But they can find themselves in extra-ordinary circumstances.

We pushed our things out the door, onto the porch, down the steps. The unbreakables we flung, their first teddies, my wife’s slippers, a fist-full of the peppermint pillows we’d have to pick out of the grass, candy for the car ride, for the kids, an umbrella in case it rained. I could see us running through a downpour just as my wife showered me with the contracts and guarantees from the second floor, the fireproof box at the top of our closet, forcing me into the air reaching madly because they were important papers, perfectly safe in the box where they had been.

So now that I’ve got the “slowing down to stare at the accident” thing going, I can test these folks. Not all at once, of course. I’ve got to pick my victim. In this case, it’s the dad. Obviously, his house is burning, and obviously I’m going to tap into my own fears and worries as a father and a husband. Poor guy, I haven’t given him much of a chance to succeed. First rule to protecting your family is to keep them close by. Right? This guy’s wife is up on the second floor, tossing their valuables out the window, and his kids are somewhere else, doing their own thing.

The kids were frantic running through the house, around the pockmarked coffee table, cave drawings gouged out, smiling, determined to save as much of their stuff as possible, so much junk, things they’d stopped playing with long ago, Barbie dolls, little green soldiers, the poster board I helped decorate for the presentation on The American Indians, the bits and pieces of their whole lives, all the stuff that was impossible to throw away.

Notice what’s happening? The shit has already hit the fan in a big way. And then we have that last line I’ve already typed at the bottom of the page.

… setting his hair on fire.

Well, the piece is written, and yes… it’s a flash. And I’m just realizing something. I was fooling myself thinking I could get a bona fide short story out of this idea. There was no chance of that. Look at the opener. The house is already on fire!

And here’s something else I just realized. When you get so close to the action, you don’t even have to name your characters. You don’t give a moments thought as to whether they have brown hair, or blonde, if they’re tall or short, who their parents were, what their small town looked like. The reader will see the characters as they want, as they think they should look, saving your words by seeing themselves in your character’s situation, maybe.

That’s probably what happened. I started at the wrong place.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Being Heard. Art as Activism


by Tricia Dower

Two weeks ago, Colin and I went to a literary reading at UVic. Last Saturday we attended the screening of a documentary at the mental health wing of a hospital. On surface, the two events seemed unrelated but they were both about being heard.

The reading was billed as an authors’ panel “exploring perspectives on race and culture through writing.” Reading from their works were Dr. Larissa Lai, author and postdoctoral fellow at the University of British Columbia, and Dr. Ashok Mathur, novelist, critical theorist and Canada Research Chair at Thomson River University. Larissa is thirty-nine and Ashok, forty-five, making them mere kids to me. And sporting funky hair and an orange shirt, Ashok challenges the academic fashion paradigm. He and Larissa represent today’s intelligentsia of writing. Able to send me to the dictionary with words like transliteration, racialization, decolonisation and appropriation. Anti-racist activists resisting the pressure to sell out their heritage in order to gain acceptance by the mainstream. They want the public to have broader access to diverse viewpoints, concerned that our choice of what to read is limited severely by market forces.

They mentioned a few ways around Big Publishing: producing chapbooks, self-publishing on the Internet, seeking out independent publishers. They spoke of refusing compromises that cut too deeply. Ashok told of an offer by Penguin Books that required him to change the name of the dog in his novel The Happy Life of Harry Kumar. The name is evocative of the Indian monkey god Hanuman and essential, he said, to the story’s meaning. We can’t have a dog named Han, Penguin told him. He walked away.

“Ideas shouldn’t be marketed like macaroni and cheese,” said Larissa, whose most recent book, Salt Fish Girl was published by Thomas Allen. Their mission, according to their website, is “to seek out and publish quality literary fiction and non-fiction…by and for Canadians…original voices, fine writing and uncommon ideas.” The independent Arsenal Pulp Press published Ashok's two novels.

Larissa believes fiction writing can be a form of activism. Her comments made me reflect on the relatively few people I reach through literary magazines. Editors, teachers and other writers. Maybe a few librarians. Privileged people with leisure time and a habit of reading fostered since childhood. Those who can pay for magazines and books or find their way around a library. Folks who are probably already aware of the social issues I tend to write about. If I want to reach a broader public, I need different media. Toronto has poems in subway cars —brief ones that can be read between two stops — but I’m not a poet. My good citizen husband picks up trash as we walk along the street. One night he picked up a narrow piece of paper containing the lyrics of a Bob Marley song. Littering? Probably not the way to go.

The documentary we saw was Iraq for Sale, The War Profiteers, a Robert Greenwald film. The message was powerful and I recommend the film. More relevant to this blog, however, is how the filmmakers are getting their message out. Their web site says their films “are both funded and distributed completely outside corporate America. Over 3,000 people donated to make Iraq for Sale, and it is up to you to distribute it. Give copies to co-workers and organize a screening in your neighbourhood.”

They offer a promotional kit for community screenings and an action guide for individuals and community groups. Their site lists the dates and locations of scheduled screenings. It also lists how each US Representative and Senator voted when anti-profiteering bills were introduced (and defeated) and suggests US citizens cast their votes in November accordingly. It’s clear the filmmakers hope to effect grassroots political change through their art.

A lamentation in closing: there weren’t many people at either the reading or the screening. Getting heard with integrity takes time and patience.

Photos: Canadian activists and writers Larissa Lai and Ashok Mathur, shown at different events. (Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera to UVic. These pics were — shamefully but with the noblest of intentions — pinched from Ashok’s blog.)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Writers, take your mark…

By Tamara Lee

Just as the NaNoWriMo start-off gun is being pulled from its holster (or however that image goes; I’m a city-slicker Canadian, so gun metaphors aren’t second nature to me), I am going over some of the outline notes I made earlier this month.

One of the exercises had me prepare a list of memorable novels I’ve read this year, the idea being that they are representative of the kind of novel I should be trying to write in November. Admittedly, I’m still lagging in my contemporary reading, but Michael Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburg and Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant would top the list of novels I read this year that made me immediately want to relive the experience. Full of dark humour and memorable characters with a smattering of lyricism, it’s not hard to understand why those novels appeal, at least to me.

But when I recalled the novels I didn’t enjoy all that much, in particular Zadie Smith’s epic, White Teeth and Richard Russo's Empire Falls, I realised my dissatisfaction says a lot about what I want out of my own writing.

With both these novels, I spent nearly a month trying to care about the characters, at least enough to make it to the finish line. I'd get through a chapter or two every night until I started to see a dent finally had been made, thereby committing me to the project of finishing what I started. Smith's felt like two novels, and I preferred the second one, and Russo's meandering plot has not felt Twain-y to me in any way, as the blurbs and reviews had instructed me to feel. In fact, I’m still struggling with Empire Falls, but the other night an especially hilarious learning-to-drive scene rejuvenated my interest in the book. That’s the Russo-writing of Straight Man I was initially hoping to find.

It’s not really the massive size of these novels that deters me, it's just that, well, did they really need to be so lengthy? Did the characters lumbering through their misery really need to take so long to get winded? I’m not slim-novel obsessed, honest. Mordecai Richler’s Solomon Gursky Was Here is gigantic, and I wanted it to go on and on; I wanted to live with that crazy clan, and watch them every day outside my window, doing anything, even washing their cars. I just wanted to keep going.

Quality over quantity; give me some poetry, some wit, some characters to whom I can secretly relate. This is what makes me turn pages. Not scene after scene somehow begging to be scanned over. I used to feel guilty skipping over a paragraph here and there, like I was taking a forbidden short-cut. But I don't feel that way anymore. Better to have finished the race than to have quit it entirely.

Of course, everyone’s criteria for motivating novels is different, but with one month to try to write 50,000 words, or damage an appendage trying, if I’m not writing what I want to read, why bother showing up to the starting line at all?

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Interview: Jacqueline Guest

by J.A. McDougall

Imaginative, well written stories are vital to every member of our family. Individually, we exploring our personal stages in what may hopefully be a lifelong romance with literature. Occasionally we are able to celebrate books and authors together.

A few months ago, I took my two oldest children to meet Alberta children’s author, Jacqueline Guest who was visiting our local Indigo store. My son led the way when he saw that beside Jacqueline was a table laden with hides and relics related to her newest book, Wild Ride. The story, set in Banff, introduces young readers to the issue of poaching. The four of us had a lovely chat about her books. She was completely at ease speaking to the children about their schools and the subjects they like to read about. I discovered that her books are set in western Canada and that one book is set just twenty minutes from my house.

Her personality was such that I felt comfortable enough to ask her a few questions myself. I told her that I was new to writing and would someday like to write a novel. When I shared with her my Cup of Comfort news and that I had an opportunity to participate in a signing in that same store this fall, she actually hugged me! Only another writer can truly appreciate how exciting it is to have something of your own appear in print, and in the bookstore.

This month I interrupted Jacqueline’s tour schedule to ask her a few questions about her life and career as a children’s author.

Where do you usually begin with a new story? An interesting character? An unusual situation?[Jacqueline Guest] A new story starts with one incident that fires the imagination. For instance, my new children's history book, Secret Signs, is set in the depression and is about a boy who travels across the prairies by hopping freight trains with an old hobo. To get by they use the secret hobo signs which were symbols that told travelers where they could get a free meal, or where it was safe to sleep in the barn, etc. These symbols were real and were used in Canada, the US and Europe. I knew boys would love the idea of a runaway living by his own rules and using a secret code to get by. The idea for this book came to me when a friend gave me one of the 'Hobo Signs' as a birthday present. She thought it was merely a cute tile to hang up on the side of my house. (It was the symbol which meant a kind hearted woman lived here.) I laughed and told her it wasn't just a tile, it was a book! And Secret Signs was born.

Having read Free Throw and Wild Ride I notice that you have no trouble speaking from the perspective of young characters of both sexes. Is it as easy as it appears? [Jacqueline Guest] As I get older, (MUCH older!!!!), it becomes harder to keep up with kids interests and the vernacular. The problem with gender is another tough one. Guys aren't all that different, believe it or not, and writing from a male perspective, I try to imagine what pressures are brought to bear on a teen. The responses are sometimes tough to get correct, but again, I imagine what the character would do, then write it.

One of the things I found surprising when I met you, was how at home you appeared promoting your books. You have an engaging way of dealing with both adults and children. Does marketing come naturally to you? [Jacqueline Guest] No, marketing doesn't come naturally. It is a skill you have to work on, but when you know and believe in a product, it makes it easier.

You have a fabulous website that seems to be geared to children, parents, and teachers. Do you rely on others to help build your marketing strategy or do you lead the process alone?[Jacqueline Guest] I decide on how I want it to appear and I have a Techie do the actual computer stuff. (I just drive it, I don't build it!)

How much time do you spend writing each week versus touring and promoting? [Jacqueline Guest] I used to spend more time writing than anything. (It's always that way when you are passionate about something!), but lately, I have been very busy with promotion and tours. When I don't write, I have withdrawal problems! The guilt is terrible! I work best to a deadline and seem to always need one. If I don't have one imposed on me by a publisher, I set one for myself. This assures I will make the time to write and justifies my ditching other things.

How long does it take for you to complete the research for one of your books? What about one of the history based stories like Belle of Batoche and Secret Signs? [Jacqueline Guest] Research can take a lot of time. However, I love learning new things and don't mind if it takes months of reading and sourcing out information to add that one special line to a book. Sometimes, it's that one line that makes the book real for the reader and that makes all the late night reading worthwhile.

I checked out your tour schedule this month. Wow! Where do find the energy for so much travel and promotion? Do you miss the writing process while on tour? [Jacqueline Guest] I am very busy this month. I take my computer with me and write in my room before bed. It's a bit of a bear when you are tired from presenting all day, but I feel truly fortunate to be an author and refuse to complain!

For you, do you find it hardest to get started on a new book or more difficult to complete it? [Jacqueline Guest] Finishing a book is tough. The editing process can be very tiresome.

With respect to getting the work done, how do you maintain enthusiasm for a book you are writing? Do you love it all the way through? Can you tell me about lulls you have to work through sometimes? [Jacqueline Guest] Books sometimes take on a life of their own, no matter how well plotted out it is. When this happens it's exciting to see where the characters will take the story.

What do you read? [Jacqueline Guest] I read lots of everything. Kids books, adult, mysteries, humour, whatever! Mark Twain, (Sam Clemens), is my fav author. (That guy was a hottie!!!!)

How do you keep yourself tuned in to your audience? [Jacqueline Guest] Kids are amazing! I ask questions and then really listen to what they say. This allows me to see what is important to the audience and I can then gravitate in that direction.

Regarding your school presentations, what are your desired outcomes for the students and for informing yourself? Do the visits and presentations motivate you to write? [Jacqueline Guest] Kids are the reason I do this. I truly believe the future begins with literacy. Our kids need to be able to read and comprehend and that means reading books, not seeing the movies. If I can impress on them that reading the book Harry Potter is more interesting and will actually help them more than seeing the movie, maybe they will pick up the book and give it a shot. It only takes one good book to capture a child's imagination. Then the second book is no problem.

Thanks Jacqueline!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Playing Pretend in the Dark

By Ania Vesenny

If my four year old wasn’t screaming that she wanted to go out, I would have stayed home. It was 7PM. It was dark. Very dark. I considered my options – staying home equaled a tantrum. Going out equaled… getting dressed, getting my toddler dressed, helping my 4 year old getting dressed, and then staying out. I have a logical kid. “The fresh air will calm me down, and I won’t scream anymore, and I will sleep better,” she wailed. Some time ago I made a resolution to choose my battles. I got us dressed.

With my first step out, I realized how warm it was. Not October-Toronto-warm, but about +3C- with-no-wind-warm.

With my second step I realized that if my toddler was more than 5 meters away from me, I couldn’t see him. There were patches of complete darkness between houses. The streetlights were sporadic and dim. Many windows had black-out curtains, making the houses look abandoned. There were no stars.

We made it to the playground – six houses down the road. From there I could see the bay and a part of town called Lego Land, because of its red, blue, and green roofs. From where I stood it looked like the houses where right on the beach. I stared at the boat anchored in the bay – a triangle of light, reflected in the calm water.

My toddler was pretending he was a dog.

My four year old was pretending she was swimming with dwarf minke whales.

I was pretending I was in a sea-side town in Croatia (could have been Italy, but I’ve never been to Italy), in the middle of the Adriatic winter. There were palm trees around, and a short walk away there was a bustling, cozily lit downtown with art galleries and cafes. And it felt good.

But then we walked home and had tea, and no one screamed, and it felt good too.

Friday, October 20, 2006

The Egyptian Tradition of Yoga


By Anne Chudobiak

“Set your intention for this class,” J. tells us.

“Confidence,” I think, drawing back my shoulders, which are hunched from hours at the computer. I’ve been tackling the hardest genre of them all. Not the novel. The CV.

J. is my favourite yoga teacher. She came to the practice after a bout of anxiety attacks when still in her teens.

“Imagine,” she says, laughing, “what you’d all look like if you didn’t take the time to come to the Y.”

Twenty thirty-somethings running red lights and cursing anti-smoking laws, sucking their thumbs and yelling into cell phones--aimlessly, to no avail. Lululemons.

J. is not my only teacher. There is also L. She teaches bellydancing. She wears tight shirts with obscene slogans (“Ride a Cowboy!). She wears skinny jeans and has for years. For her, they’re not a fad; they’re a staple. She calls us girls.

“Okay, girls,” she says, with a glance over her shoulder. “Lets *#@* this up.”

She tells us that if we want to have more energy we should eat more protein. She herself lives on only eggs, bacon and souvlaki. Her hair is dirty blond and double-jointed, coiled.

She calls our imaginary audience “the victim.” One of the moves is called “Take the money.” She swears that we are learning the Egyptian tradition.

I get cranky if I miss a class.

I can’t write without J. or L.

“It’s so hard,” I whine to a friend.

“I know,” she says. “I wrote my C.V. last week. I got J. to read my statement of intention. Very helpful.”

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dreamsoaked

By Andrew (pause) Tibbetts

I’m in a very strange state these days, because I have a three hour commute in my life all of a sudden, twice a day. I’m getting up at odd times. 4am on weekdays. Sleeping in the afternoon on weekends to compensate. Yesterday, I stayed over in Toronto and had a nap in the afternoon. Of course, I was wide awake all night. I was so furious at myself. I’m a walking zombie so sleep-deprived I’m having trouble remembering words. Easy ones like ‘send’- not just hard ones like ‘prestidigitation.’ The other day I fell into the crack between thoughts while I was talking to someone. I stared into space until they coughed. It wasn’t just that I forgot what I was going to say. I forgot that I was saying. And despite all this, last night I’m staring at the ceiling at 3am.

On the plus side, this strange zombie state is very creative. I have written four stories in the last 36 hours. I cannot tell you if they are any good. Because I can’t read. I may not be uble too profred this bloggpostt, either. This morning I almost put a second set of contact lenses in. The world was that blurry.

If I didn’t have to work or interact with people or do the ordinary mundane aspects of life like pay the rent, I might experiment with this state further. My dream life may be creeping in to my waking life. That’s got to be good for one’s art! Did you hear about the research study where they kept a squadron of healthy red-blooded marines awake for three weeks straight- one made a string art sculpture of the base, another invented string theory, three of them made a radical documentary about string ties and one of them turned into Strindberg. This was in the thirties. They did eventually spontaneously combust. I should really go back to bed.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

6.6, or On the Surface: A Prairie Boy in an Earthquake.

by Steve Gajadhar

7:00am Sunday, October 15, 2006.
I’m awake and thinking about getting my ass out of bed, brewing the coffee, and settling in to watch the NFL. Maybe my Saints will be on TV? Only a few things to do today: some work, start my blog so that I’m not jamming it out Tuesday night, and finish the day off by joining up with some friends to hit a new snorkel spot.

7:05ish.
Still thinking about getting up. Decide to cuddle instead.

7:07.
It starts out small. We’re used to small ones on the Big Island. The volcanoes burp a lot, little 2 and 3s on the Richter scale, nothing to worry about.

7:07:03.
Still going. The house is starting to shake. The bed is starting to shake. I’m starting to shake. And it’s loud. Like the earth is growling. But it has to end soon, doesn’t it? My wife says, “Holy shit.”

7:07:06.
Holy shit. I am aware of nothing but motion now. All other senses have shut down. It feels like we are on the back of something that no longer wants us there. We should get outside, or under a door, anywhere but on the bed, awaiting the arrival of the second floor on our laps. The TV is walking toward us. Something like glass crashes in the living room; must be the windows, or the dishes. And the growling. Maybe it is the end of the world?

But it ends. Shock has frozen us. We slowly take up refuge under the door, waiting for the aftershock, the back end of the wave. It hits at 7:10am, a 5.5: another earthquake instead of the aftershock. We ride this one out before stumbling into the living room, outside into the backyard. Most of the neighbours are there already, and our little cul-de-sac steels itself against further fury. I wander around the house, looking for cracks, or shifted columns, any visible tilt. Sirens in the distance signal it’s over.

We were lucky, only a couple broken dishes and frayed nerves. My wife had to go up to the mountain to assess the condition of the Canada France Hawaii Telescope. I spent the rest of the day alternating between weeding and catching radio updates in the car—staying outside, because the house didn’t feel like shelter anymore. The power was back on by 3pm. People back to work on Monday. We humans are a resilient lot. Like Fleas.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Nuf Said?





By Craig Terlson

This week I had the honour of writing an intro to my friend's syndicated comic strip, Spot the Frog. It fascinates me how comics, the best ones, are able to create characters that we want to visit every day. We visit them not just because we hope they will say something funny (and sometimes they don't), but more so because we wonder what the characters have been up to. In my intro, I compared this to Hemingway's iceberg theory -- how the 1/8 of the told story is supported by the 7/8 of the story that remains hidden in the water. The "underneath" is not what the authors tell us, but it is what they know.

This is a huge challenge for me as I try to write characters that live and breathe and eat, characters that have full time occupations, loves, desires and addictions, people that have to go to the bathroom or don't feel well when they drink too much red wine. I think a way of doing this is to let someone loose on the page and follow them for awhile, they're bound to do something, and in the process show us what they are about.

Mark Twain has been quoted on this, to paraphrase: it's how if you just let the characters loose, they will write the story for you. That way you won't have to use any of your own valuable ideas.
I also like a few other writer's quotes on this:

"First, find out what your hero wants. Then just follow him." 
Ray Bradbury

"Characters take on life sometimes by luck, but I suspect it is when you can write more entirely out of yourself, inside the skin, heart, mind, and soul of a person who is not yourself, that a character becomes in his own right another human being on the page."
Eudora Welty

This leads me into the other overall impression I had while writing the intro. It is about compassion. My friend cares for all his characters, quite deeply, and that alone breathes life into them, it forms the rest of the iceberg even if it hasn't be said, or written, out loud.

What you do with this compassion is up to you. I like what Stephen King says:
"I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose."

Or Twain when he talks about what happens if that compassion is missing.
"The test of any good fiction is that you should care something for the characters; the good to succeed, the bad to fail. The trouble with most fiction is that you want them all to land in hell, together, as quickly as possible." 


I am left pondering, as I often do, about the challenge of creating life out of alphabetic characters on a page, truth in fiction, I guess. How to not just imply there is a rich life behind the characters I write about, but to somehow KNOW that there is a rich life, and there is so much more that I could say, but choose to leave unsaid.

It's not easy, in fact it's damn hard. And I think that's the way it should be.

"The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say."
Anais Nin

Nuf said? For sure.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Brocolli Wockolli



By Patricia Parkinson

Written after talking to a friend on my cell phone while grocery shopping.



Today we talked on the phone while I did my grocery shopping. I felt like you were with me, walking next to me. If we really were together, I think I'd keep bumping into your heels with my cart. I have a feeling you're one to stop in the middle of an aisle when something catches your eye, while I, I am the type of shopper that likes to centralize my buggy between various departments eliminating the need to push it altogether. I like to stroll and pose and touch things and pretend I'm at Saks 5th Ave. or Tiffany's and I'm really not Patricia Parkinson, I'm Audrey Hepburn. This is my grocery shopping style.

The only draw back to this style, are the times, all the time actually, when I forget which department I left the cart in. Panic hits. Did I leave it in the feminine hygene aisle? No, I wouldn't leave it there. At age forty-five, the fear of running into a cute guy while holding a box of kotex pads remains. It could however, be in the meat department. There's something about hanging out with raw meat that's very primal. I poke at my meat. Sometimes I break the plastic wrap and get blood on my finger which brings on panic of the ecoli variety, and yet, there's nothing like mixing hamburger with my bare hands - hamburger and raw eggs - The feeling of the cold meat squishy between my fingers forming it into a meatloaf or rolling it between my palms into balls. It's likely my buggy could be found in the meat section.

On occasion when I lose track of my grocery cart and it's no where to be found and I've drifted off course to the far end of the deli section where dolmades float in extra virgin olive oil and I realise I've drifted far past the allowable time of leaving my cart unattended and now a stock boy is ununpacking what has taken me what seems like forever to find back onto the shelves meaning I have to start shopping all over again. I will have to decide, Corn Pops or Froot Loops? Ragu or Classico? Sweet Basil or Red Wine? Crowns, or Brocolli Wockly? The thought of having to do it all over again is to much for a woman nearing menopause to take.

And then I think when I'm standing there, carrying three jugs of milk with my purse strap threatening to slip past the bone at the end of my shoulder, that I do these things on purpose, I create this panic, and then I think, PP, you lead an awfully boring life where the only excitement you get is the thought of having to re-grocery shop.

I needed to change my shopping style and talking to you today, having to pause and not butt up against your heels, but stop and look at the food, maybe buy a papaya or a bag of lentils. Next week, I'll call from the new Safeway. They have a great deli, fabulous rice salad and a Starbucks, which, well, is odd since everyone knows it's impossible to push a buggy with one hand and drink a coffee with the other unless you have the worlds perfect buggy, of which there are none. So, I have to get my coffee at the end of the trip when I have raw meat and cold cuts which does not fit into the implanted vision of drinking coffee outside at one of those tables with uneven legs, pretending I'm her, Aud, as I prefer to call her, Aud, it fits don't you think?. So, if I call you from this store, I can only buy non parishables, unless, well, bananas would be okay, and I'll sit outside at a table looking over the parking lot while talking to you on the phone, like we're really together, and I'll try to remember where I parked my car.

Friday the 13th

by Melissa Bell

Hi Everyone!
Please forgive me, but this is a gorgeous (but chilly) fall morning here in Ontario and leaves are all turning their wonderful colours and the sky couldn't be bluer, so I'm going to cut this really short and go outside and play. You should too.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Itchy Sweaters

By Antonios Maltezos

-Caught a glimpse of Margaret Atwood on TV last night, or was it the night before last, chatting up a storm with an older fellow who may or not have been Bill Moyers. I’m lazy when it comes to research, plus I don’t have time to look up the PBS website that might have a schedule I could look through, so we’ll assume it was Bill. Anyway, they were going on and on about God (it’s called theology when you use the big words). Because it was Margaret Atwood, I lingered a bit before clicking the remote. Actually, it was the expression on Bill’s face I wanted to check on. Did he seem uncomfortable at all? No. Click.

-The cats that have my neighbors by the balls. I called the SPCA, once, to ask if they knew of any tricks to keep the cats from my garbage bags. The woman on the phone suggested I go over to my neighbor’s house and inform them of how disgustingly unsanitary it was to allow your cat to roam the streets at night. There are maggots in them heftties, she said, especially in the summer. She said a lot more, but you get the point. I told her I didn’t want the neighbors to think I was an asshole, but that I was just fed up of having to double up on my garbage bags. Did she know of any product on the market? No. Thanks anyway.

-Writers who bitch about the misuse of they’re and their, lay and lie, like someone else’s typo makes any foinking difference in their lives.

-Lol and heh, the two most insincere words of this internet age. Hahaha just sounds insane, so I don’t mind that one.

-Deja-vu.(have I mentioned my neighbor’s cats before?)

-itchy sweaters.

-weak coffee.

-a trail of egg whites from the carton to the fry pan.

-sirens. Who’s having all these emergencies, and when is it going to be my turn? (Knock on wood.)

-thumbtacks.

-staplers that don’t work properly.

-The fact that I couldn’t bring myself to listen to a smarter person than I speak willingly about God with another person smarter than me, but I can easily waste time ruminating about stuff I hate.

Btw, it was Big Bill conducting that interview.

Also check out this great interview of Margaret’s. CBC archives

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Here's Looking Up Your Nose


by Tricia Dower

“They teach almost no art appreciation in school,” our friend Ava said in response to my telling her Colin and I were befuddled during an evening of experimental French films. They were part of the Antimatter Underground Film Festival, held last month right here in Victoria, one of the Culture Capitals of Canada. Over 200 films as brief as two minutes or as long as an hour. The flash fiction of film.

“We spent twenty minutes looking up a man’s nose,” I told Ava, speaking of one of the films. “After a while, I wondered if they were just having fun with us, seeing how long we’d sit there. We would’ve watched a test pattern, I’m sure, if someone said it was art.”

The curator of the French collection had introduced the evening by exclaiming about the exciting things a group of young filmmakers in Paris were doing with celluloid. I looked forward to learning what the printed programme meant by, “A rejection of the disembodiment of vision has established itself as a formal principle in this collection of new work.” After the screening, Colin and I chatted with the curator who told us the nose film was intended to make us uncomfortable. We’re not used to staring at someone’s face for that long. “After a while, didn’t you begin to see landscapes?” he said. I did, that’s true. But, then, if I stare at any object for twenty minutes I begin to see something else.

Together Colin and I viewed forty-nine of the films; he took in a bunch more, having gotten hooked on their quirkiness. A few will stick with me for a while, including Naked, ten minutes of hairless mole rats living in a laboratory, climbing over each other as they go endlessly backwards and forwards in crowded plastic tunnels. I was incredibly depressed by the end of it. “If you’re looking for a metaphor for the pointlessness of life,” I told Colin, “this is it.” Not that he’s looking for such a metaphor. He’s found Camus.

Ava came out for the first time to the dullest evening imaginable. I was sorry we had encouraged her. Colin concedes only that the films were “slow” and reminds me that I did like the one about the county fair. The theme was Rural Route and the films were supposed to explore “traditional and cultural histories – their relationship to disappearing rural landscapes and the encroachment of the modern world – while excavating the rituals and ways of life attached to them.” I got a better sense of that standing on Lumpy Butte.

“I quite liked SAVE,” Ava said — five minutes of camera shots of a boarded-up gas station. Was she trying to make me feel better?

“Really,” I said. “What did you like about it?”

She gave me a wary look as if she thought I was mocking her.

“I’m serious,” I said.

“The camera angles,” she said, “and the whole question of what is there to save.”

Well, okay. Ava’s an artist. She has a clue. I don’t.* Some films were so abstract I wondered how the filmmakers knew when to end them. With little sense of their vision and no background in filmmaking, I couldn’t appreciate what they had accomplished. I wondered if anyone would consider it art if I wrote the same word over and over. Could they grasp the difficulty of the decisions I had to make: which word, what font, how much leading between the lines, how wide the margins, one page or more?

Ava, Colin and I showed up for Cold Hearts on September 29th and my determination to keep trying the festival ‘one more time’ paid off. On the screen as we walked in: a woman in a strapless red gown, sitting on a cloud, waving on continuous loop like a ‘50s Homecoming Queen. In store: eighteen films and music videos from Iceland that the printed programme quite accurately said demonstrated “the whimsical Icelandic imagination.” Best of all I “got” them! The secret life of moss. A digital Jesus. The build-up and fall-out from two boys kissing at a soccer match. Who’s Bardi: a sort of Spinal Tap meets The Life and Hard Times of Guy Terrifico but starring the Bang Gang’s Bardi Johannsson in a send-up of himself. It’s hard to say what was the most novel but Toilet comes close. Four and a half minutes of a blond — done up like a sex-kitten in pink slip and high heels with ankle straps — on her knees next to an open toilet bowl licking whipped cream, maraschino cherries and chocolate sauce off of the seat. Beats looking up someone’s nose.


* Colin says I’m being unfair to that film and myself. I didn’t catch most of the narration at the end (my hearing aids spurned the tinny sound) where the filmmaker said he thought the boarded-up gas station was beautiful but, after he filmed it, a car pulled up and a guy got out and took a piss against one of the walls. So the filmmaker said wasn’t it interesting that what he found beautiful someone else would find utilitarian, so to speak. I don’t think he used the word utilitarian. Colin said that if I had heard all of the narration I might have liked that film, too. I shall have to stop asking him to proofread my blogs.

Photo: Icelandic songwriter, producer and performer Bardi Johannsson

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ennui and the Blank Page


By Tamara Lee

I love ennui. Not the feeling, but the word and the way its syllables seem to get stuck in my nose. I love the way the word conjures images of leisurely women lazing about on divans, half-heartedly eating bonbons. It’s a word too glamorous and full for such an empty feeling, but maybe that’s the attraction.

Last month, for 12 days, I was on a restricted diet, and for the bulk of that time I was filled with ennui, while temporarily restricting consumption of certain culinary pleasures and gagging down handfuls of herbal pills. It may seem like a crackpot thing to do, but in some circles, it is a heralded annual event akin to buying a smashing new coat for the season. It’s rather an investment, but it can also cure what ails you.

This was my second go-‘round with the regimen, and it was a lonely endeavour. Afraid to go out with friends lest I be tempted to eat the unholy foods, and a little too lethargic to get much else done, the first week was a tough one for me. That week of ennui was like a lifetime. Not my lifetime, mind you, because quite frankly I’ve been blessed with a pretty eventful life, but someone else’s life, someone much more bad-tempered.

The first week saw me bitching at neighbours about decibel levels, and getting testy with co-workers about incompetence. And the things I said to the poor, hapless telemarketer, so clearly just out of high school. Crimey. Sure, the no sugar/no dairy/no flour diet rids you of all the bad stuff, but waiting for the good stuff was like a believer waiting impatiently for passage to the holy end.

So why on earth go through it? Well, by day 8 my energy finally started to return, my nagging skin problems showed promise of clearing up, my arthritis and other joint ailments lessened. Nice payoff, for a week of sacrifice. Too bad I didn’t get much writing done with all that spare time. Seems my creative energy was sapped, as well.

But with the physiological breakthrough came the creative one, and by day 9 random story ideas began to take form. Psychological and physical traits in people, and art and music, prompted new story ideas. I bought art and photography books, and downloaded random music. Inspired by new sights and sounds, my spirits were lifted in the way that only a personal achievement can lift them. Now, three weeks later, I’m still energized and hopeful, with ideas coming at me leftrightcentre.

Having once again successfully completed this 12-day programme, I wonder how I’ve managed to convince myself I am not capable of real commitment. Least of all, say, committing to an intense project like writing a novel in 30 days during NaNoWriMo. But this is just what I’m gearing up for.

The ideas for the novel have been evolving for some time, but my fear is so much bigger than my ideas sometimes. My stories generally don’t grow larger than 3,500 words, so the thought of 50,000 seems colossal. But I’m now realising I have committed to, and accomplished, much more difficult tasks before this one.

The trouble is, the only times I’ve ever achieved something really big have been events approached on the sly, when I didn’t over-think the idea, and just up and did it. My decision to return to university, both times, was simply announced after I had secretly applied and received my acceptances. And when I quit smoking, I just told people I ‘wasn’t smoking much these days’ until one day I said, ‘No, I don’t smoke.’ But these and other big decisions have one small thing in common: They all came after a brief yet significant bout with ennui.

So why now announce my intentions? Am I jinxing myself? Setting myself up for certain failure?

In spite of my two previous failed attempts at NaNoWriMo, I've been pondering this third attempt for months. Now others in the CWC here are planning to NaNo, too. And so, with such a spirited force of brave souls with me, I feel emboldened by their energy. These are the same folks who were so encouraging with this blog-project: Safety in intrepid numbers.

I am also hoping that revealing my secret intent to write a novel in 30 days will prompt folks to follow along, while some of us force ourselves to hammer out those 50,000 words in a month and live to blog about it. If that sounds like a spectator sport only a little more amusing than watching bowling on TV, then why not join us? There’ll be a nice payoff for the month of sacrifice, meanwhile commiserating with others as we cleanse ourselves of novels not-yet-written.

Be a sport, or be a cheerleader. Either way, during the notorious month of ennui, this NaNoWriMo project is sure to cure what ails you, and you won’t even have to give up white flour.

Friday, October 06, 2006

How to Write a Short Story

By Anne Chudobiak

“Inspiration can strike at any time, so carry a notepad [or bank receipts] with you wherever you go so that you can write down story ideas as they come to you [but remember that if your snippet does not reveal its story within seven years, you must surrender it to no fewer than eleven other writers or suffer a curse on your house and keyboard.]” wikiHow

***

JUN 20-00 18:24 Mach. No. ZE06
WD CHEQ $60.00
BALANCE IS: $557.59

[Please excuse the handwriting. Penmanship has never been my strong point.]

“One group, working with Tide, saw it as Sylvester Stallone. ‘The positive side of this was that the product gets your clothes clean. It gets the job done,’ says Gross. ‘The negative is that the product seems a little bit crass.’

Another group saw a familiar brand of detergent as a s!ut who stayed out all night at 14, was pregnant at 17, and attended a Hallowe’en party wearing a loincloth and no top. Gross’s interpretation: The product is ‘easy,’ promising too many features to too many people, most of them lazy people.”

***

I’d credit this if I could. I think I read it at the laundromat. I want to say Reader’s Digest, but do they do PG13?*

*Note to our friends in the UK. Where you live, PG13 is called 12. They grow up so fast. I for one blame the loincloth manufacturers and their shameless ad campaigns. When’s someone going to write about that?

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Thoughtlessness, Like Stretchy Pants, is Put On Just for Fun

By Andrew Tibbetts

It occurred to me last night why my writing output has dwindled. I’m taking it too seriously. I spend a lot of time thinking about short stories, reading other people’s short stories, reading doctoral dissertations on the short story, arguing with other writers about the short story, thinking about my writing career, plotting my ascension in the literary world- oh and so much more! And it all sits like a weight on my brain. No wonder a poor little tale can’t crawl out from under it.

I just read an article about David Lynch’s new film, his first in five years, “Inland Empire”. He started filming before he knew what he was doing. Before he knew what it was about. Instinctively. Now, you may not like David Lynch but you have to admire the guts it takes to do that. He’s come out recently as an adherent of transcendental meditation. Which makes sense. His art is an extension of his practice.

I need to have more fun with writing. I need to be mindless about it…I’m going to stop right here, before I spin this new insight into yet another grand theory. The grand theory of how you shouldn’t have a grand theory.

Nanowrimo is coming up and it’s the perfect chance to write without agenda, just for the fun of it. National Novel Writing Month is an event with thousands of participants all around the world. The goal is to crank out a short crappy novel in November. Hey, if it’s not crappy- that’s bonus! But don’t worry about quality. It’s the perfect excuse to send your inner critic out for coffee and then move away so he can’t find you until December. You can always take the rest of the year to revise if you like and shape it into something ‘worthy’. Or you can just use the experience as practice in being spontaneous as a writer. That’s what I need. I’m going to David Lynch my way through November. Meditate and write mindlessly. Or mindfully. Or that intersection where mindless and mindful cross.

Many of the Canadian Writers Collective will be taking part in Nanowrimo this year and we’ll take some time to share our experiences with you and each other. It’ll be way more fun for you if you join in. Post your comments on our blog. Our blog is your blog!

Have fun!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Creatures of Habit


by Steve Gajadhar

"I think action is best when it emerges from a profound apprehension of the universe and human destiny, not from some wildly passionate impulse of romantic but disproportioned self-assertion."
--Bertrand Russell

In varying degrees, we are all in some way attuned to a schedule: work, school, television shows, and for some, biorhythms. Perhaps the need to schedule springs from modern man’s need to be productive, or perhaps it’s just natural for humans to break our lives into discreet, manageable chunks. But the ontology of habit is for another post, for this one I’m ruminating more on the genesis of the schedule and my many vain attempts to break out of old ones or into new ones.

My wife recognized it first. Routine gives me comfort. Whether consciously or not, every morning I set up an idea of my day spinning smoothly and if the unexpected jams in my spokes it literally gets me bent out of shape. I’m not sure what this says about me, but it’s probably not good, and no I don’t have OCD. Yet.

I recently started working from home. Initially, I relished the idea of the freedom from the office. No more work schedule. I could make my own hours!

Sometimes it amazes me how poorly I know myself.

My whole adult life has been dominated by work. Work and night classes. Work and partying. Work and writing. And then the regularity of this was instantly gone. Permanent vacation, sort of. I started like that, took the first month completely off. Completely idle. Some would say useless, but I have always praised idleness, the acquisition of useless knowledge, and the virtues of entire days blown in front of the Xbox 360. But how does one introduce schedule into the void? Slowly?

Or all at once?

And why do I (and most of us I think) always fall into the same default schedule that got me started on this topic? Blogging this up the night before has become my routine. And it shows. Every time I intend to start composing early, tumble some ideas around until one rises to the top, and then idle on it through a game of Madden.

Perhaps it’s willpower that I lack. This is certainly the case with my on again off again running schedule, and my promises to write more. You see, to me, schedule is hopelessly influenced by and intertwined with the shifting nature of commitment. For everything is schedule and schedule is everything. It’s only a matter of which one you buy into, which one you commit to. Think about it for an hour. Diets. AA. Marriage. Pets or kids. Everything in this life has some form of schedule hanging over it. A time, a place. And if you’re a believer in fate, even death checks his appointment book. So where does that leave those of you who, like me, are always starting something new and never finishing the old? As if I have the answers. I’m tired. All I do know is that next week I’m going to start writing my blog sooner, you can bet on it (but I wouldn’t). For now, I need to go check the door three times and rinse for 30 seconds before I go to sleep…

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Dreaming Big

By J.A. McDougall

Autumn has always been my true New Year. Its hopeful mood inspired resolutions and possibilities especially when I was a student, but also in later years since I’m fortunate to live with a passionate teacher.

Each morning, as I walk my children to the bus, I try to hang on to promising fall feelings. Seasonal earthy scents and leaf crunching sounds stir elementary school memories: well-rested smiling teachers, the scrubbed faces of old friends framed in back to school haircuts. Temporarily flawless workbook covers and neat binders they carry home at the other end of the day remind me of my enthusiasm as an older student, when it was time to get back to learning following months of mind numbing summer jobs.

Now that I’m the parent of students, cluttered days threaten to spoil my favorite season. I still feel the excitement of the student around new teachers, new classmates, new shoes, and I still perceive the wonder of a student presented with novel activities and situations, but now I’m also responsible for keeping the student clean and clothed and well behaved, in spite of early morning scrambling, hectic evening routines, and an endless cycle of arguments about television and homework and bedtime.

At no other time of the year is the demand to be organized and proactive greater. There are schedules to mesh, carpools to arrange, homework habits to encourage, nutritional snacks to create, and the (seemingly) momentous fashion choices between corduroy and denim. And let’s not forget all the expenses which start in late August with school fees and sports registrations, continue with October fundraising schemes, right through to holiday spending at Christmas.

Last week, the physical results of fall pressure began for me: jaw cramped with TMJ tension, headaches from too little water, short cut meals and nonexistent exercise, lower back tight with anxiety. I had to wonder, why must I miss out on the gifts of autumn?

To make matters worse, the urge to plop onto the couch with a junky magazine, or play a childish memorized piece on the piano, or pick up an old knitting project seizes me whenever I feel overwhelmed. Procrastination has officially arrived.

Of course October isn’t the only month I put off what I should be doing and it cuts both ways. In summer, when I finally locate a perfect two hour segment of quiet time to write, I have the urge to scrub a toilet or weed the garden.

My desperate need to escape responsibility this fall resulted in something wonderful this weekend: a rare BIG idea. Three characters appeared in my mind chattering about their lives and teasing me with their back stories, possible plot lines for a tangle of relationships, their husbands, their professions, their kids. I can’t get rid of this trio and I haven’t the time to sit down and have a proper chat, pen in hand. I dreamt about them last night until they finally woke me at 2:00 to get up and type out their thoughts. I begged off, promising I’d be free of the fall rush soon.

My imagination has come to rescue me. Just when I thought the hectic new routines had squeezed it out, it arrived to provide respite. The imbalance of my schedule ensured I was not left out this year. In autumn 2006, inspiration has found me too.

You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star. ~ Nietzsche

Monday, October 02, 2006

Contest Update

The Canadian Travel Stories contest is closed now. We had dozens of entries. Not hundreds. I’m not sure what I expected. But it was work enough. I was the sorter. For every story I got there was a notice that I’d won a lottery! Half way through I realized I should send thank you confirmations, because if I was entering I’d want one. So I had to email everybody who entered and I couldn’t get the tick box BCC thing happening at first so they were individual. If we’d have had hundreds- yikes!- so thanks for not sending your stories those who didn’t. If I didn’t send you a confirmation email, please forgive me. I mean well. And I am thankful.

The judges have the stories now. They are a surly lot. I’ve locked them in Alice Munro’s basement. Alice is sending the maid down with snacks every three hours. When the white smoke rises above Canadian Literature, we’ll have a winner and a second place and a third. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Up the River Without an Adjective




By Craig T'rlson

I've been a bit under the weather the last few days - hence, the lateness of my post - but the nice thing about being sick is having a good reason to stay in bed and read. My latest bedside read is the classic Huck Finn by Mark Twain. I read it years ago, but as I suspected, returning to it a few decades later would be a hole 'nother 'sperience. If you have read it lately, you know why I phrase it that way and how the pages of southern dialect get deeps inside of ya (you? ya'll?)

Reading it as a teen, I probably skipped a lot of the words. I never figured out what "gwyne" actually meant - nor did I really care. I just jumped on the raft with Jim and Huck and hung on. It was a helluva ride then and now – 'specially as I got so immersed in the language I started squeezing the word s'pose into my conversation. On the phone with client I actually said "I reckon". He probably thought I was gwyne asked to be paid in punkins.

Well, never mind all that, I just can't seem to stop thinking in those broken sentences and 'postrophies... thet there is the problem.

Laying in bed, nursing a flu, it got worst as I rode down the river and met the king and the duke and their conflagrations and hi-talking ways. I swear it was the fever chawing when my wife came in the room and I asked her thet if she warn't busy, cud she rustle up some kinda truck for me to take repast. (She immediately took my temperature and wrestled Twain's book from my sweaty grasp).

She knew it was fer the best. When I read Frankenstein I had the most gorgeous long sentences and exquisite elocution. Reading Carver, I shot clipped sentences at her and would never describe a damn thing - and if I ever got ahold of a James Ellroy, well she just stayed the F*** out of my F***ing way.

This one time I'd try to explain to her, between chapters of Vonnegut, that how, listen, the whole world is going to hell in a basket. She looked up from her Hemingway and said, "It is awfully easy to be hard-boiled about everything in the daytime, but at night it is another thing.”

I sat up and bed and asked, "That happens to you, too? You start thinking like the book you're reading?" She smiled and flicked off the light.
I leaned over and whispered, "We could have had such a damned good time together.”
"Yes," she said. “Isn’t it pretty to think so?”

Damn literature.