The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Dawn, New Day

By Tamara Lee

Mondays have a bad reputation. In song, they’re Blue, Manic, Stormy, and generally shoot-the-whole-world-downable. But since this blog started up, Mondays have allowed me to reflect on the past and make connections that I otherwise wouldn’t consider.

And so it is with New Years. Although this rather random bookend causes some to torture their future selves with not-kept resolutions and other misjudgements, for the irresolute, like myself, New Years comes but half a dozen times a year, if I so choose. If I don’t like the start I’ve made by January 31st, there’s always the Lunar New Year, or an equinox or some other New Year in this multi-cultural land of ours, to tag as my new starting point.

Still, like many do, I read the year-ahead horoscopes and muse about all the alleged potential of the coming year. But I’ve found it’s much more fun to look at last year’s predictions, to see how it all fitted in the end, to see if life that year even half-coincided with the predictions. Yeah, so maybe I’m obsessed with looking back. Sorry Lot, sorry Bob Dylan…

Through my concave looking glass, I reflect on just how many things can happen in a year, and how many local and international deaths, births, disasters and scandals have been reflected in my discourse. Rarely do these recent events immediately affect my writing, though. The concavity of my so-called insight means I tend to make seemingly disparate connections between long-past events, letting them bounce off one another, in order to see how my present looks. (It could do with a bit of make-up, I see…)

When I was a kid, New Years was about Dick Clark and countdowns. It was about watching a balloon inflate until it popped. The anticipation was so much more thrilling than the final event. After watching complete strangers bundled against the freezing weather kiss and hug in front of an obscenely large clock, and Dick Clark summing up the year with a forgettable phrase or two, it was off to bed as usual.

‘Tis the season of inflated expectations, and perhaps that’s why it’s often more exciting to plan the evening (or the year) than to actually experience it. There have been many well-planned New Years’ abandoned for a date with the couch, a glass of wine and a good book. Too many New Years’ gone bad—stuck on the bus or waiting for a taxi, trying to get somewhere in time for the countdown, or hugging drunken strangers at the count of one—have dulled the occasion for me.

Renewal, rebirth, and so forth, happening in the dead of winter when so many other cultures choose spring, a much more symbolic New Year, has always seemed as much about needing an opportunity to burn off some Christmas season anxiety, as celebrating second chances.

Fittingly, my most memorable New Years was the Millennium, spent at a beautiful Pender Island cabin, on a cliff overlooking the Gulf Islands, sitting in a hot tub drinking champagne with my oldest friend, while nursing a broken heart after a Christmastime break-up. I insisted on keeping the reservation as part of the break-up settlement. That year I was miserable, but I also learned who my friends were, and who really mattered.

The celebratory New Year’s tradition was in fact based on the superstition that your year is reflected by how you welcome it. A new year, a new beginning, or the aftermath of a storm: All provide us something to move away from, as well as an opportunity to consider our forward motion.

Instead of that old chestnut "Auld Lang Syne," Nina Simone’s "Feeling Good" is a better New Year’s song, with its mournful-yet-hopeful spirit.

As we stare down 2007, I wish you all happiness and good health in the coming year.

Cin cin.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Patricia Parkinson

We missed this movie when it came out at the theater. I wanted to see it, kept mentioning to family and friends in conversation, "I want to go see that movie about global warming," but never did. To be honest, I thought the movie would be too boring to sit through. A documentary? No special effects? And not worth the ten dollars each it would have cost Phil and I to go. Twenty dollars, Canadian! stopped me from seeing this movie nine months ago.

I've watched it four times since we rented it a week ago.

I have now bought six copies of the DVD to give to friends and family as Christmas presents! Buy the movie here.

Watch this movie. Make other people watch this movie and change one thing, just one thing that you do already with your recycling, or better yet, add anothing eco friendly aspect to your home. Buy those new lights bulbs, the curly ones that I thought looked weird at first but are fabulous I've found and last forever, forever! I wear more sweaters - wool socks too - and snuggle up to save on electricity. If everyone does one thing, just think how many things can be accomplished!

The best thing we, as a family have done, is to install one of the those double plastic trash bins in our cabinetry. I'm amazed by how my family, myself included, would put tins and water bottles into the old garbage can in the kitchen to not have to walk twenty feet out into the cold garage where we keep the blue box. We were lazy recyclers. Since then, no word of a lie, we've doubled our recycling and have to get another blue box for the curb!!

I know that this problem, this "Inconvenient Truth," requires far larger steps than that, however, it has to start somewhere and I know you've all heard about this a million times before, probably discussed it over a meal with friends or this is not about all talk no action. Do something. Now. We are a global community. This can unite us in one cause, it's the one true commonality we share, regardless of race, religion, political views or side of a border we live on, this is our home.

They say there are no real weapons of mass destruction in Irag. There is. It's the other "Inconvenient Truth. control of oil. People are losing their lives over the thing that will ulitimately destroy our earth. Our earth.

Canadians for Al Gore. That's all I have to say on that matter.

Watch this movie with you kids and make yourself accountable to them.

Ideas to spread the word.

1. Buy a few DVD's and give them as hostess gifts to any parties you're going to over the holidays.

2. Host an Inconvenient Truth movie night at your house, invite some friends, appies, drinks, good discussion about the movie and donate to LINK PROBLEM

3. Make responsible recycling a New Years resolution. Challenge others to do the same.

I'm amazed by how many people, when I mention this movie, just shrug their shoulders and say, "Oh yeah. Global warming. It's an industry problem. There's nothing I can do." Its' such fucking bullshit.

This is something we can do. We have power. Watch this movie, and Al Gore is not bad on the eyes! Really, he's my new crush!! When he raises that eyebrow, let me tell you, he sends his message loud and clear. Do not ignore it. It's not a joke, it's something that we can no longer, "oh yeah, I gotta get that composter," forget about. Where do you want your grandchildren to live? Where do you want your children to live? Where do we all want to live?

More information about Canada's recently passed Clean Air Act here

Friday, December 29, 2006

Maybe She's Born With It, Maybe It's Maybelline

By Anne Chudobiak

"The mouse," says my mother the morning of the twenty-sixth. "It's cordless. There's a base. For recharging."

She's talking to me, the Grinch, I mean, introvert, who went straight to the computer after gleefully putting the children down--"Just one story, tonight." Frances, the badger. It doesn’t get better than that.

"I forgot," I say from the bathroom, where I am forcing my daughter's hair into an elastic. "I'm sorry."

"It's okay," says my mother, her tone even more neutral than mine.

"What?" shrieks my daughter, escaping my grasp. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," I tell her, waving a ribbon. "Come back."

"The 'puter," she says. "You broke it?"

"No," I say.

"Of course not," says my mother. "Don't be silly."

"The mouse," I say. "It's cordless."

"There's a base," says my mother.

"Oh," says my daughter. "That's it?"

"Yeah," I say, pulling her in.

"Nice," says my mother, admiring the bow. "Do you always do it like that?"

Monday, December 25, 2006

Warning: Contains Both Politics and Religion

by Tricia Dower

‘O come, all ye faithful.’ I grew up in a family that practically lived at church: Bible class and Bible camp, Sunday school and youth meetings, choir practice, prayer breakfasts, sunrise and candlelight services, pot lucks, fund drives, hosanna on the highest, world without end, amen. I once considered a career as a church music director. Faith is still front and center in my sister’s life.

I fell away, so to speak, after becoming disillusioned by inconsistencies in the behaviour of ‘the church’ and the gospel it preaches. What had moved me about Christianity was the example of Jesus’s life. (The life, that is, as reported in the New Testament — however judiciously edited that testament has been over the ages by translators, monks and religious power brokers.) I never needed the virgin birth, the walking on water, the miracle of the fishes and loaves. It didn’t matter to me if Jesus was the son of God or if he rose from the dead. The message to love one another and take care of society’s outcasts was enough. If I were less selfish and materialistic I might have followed that message more rigorously.

Which brings me to someone who does: Reverend Allen Tysick, a high profile guy among Victoria’s socially conscious. I knew nothing about him until a fundraiser held in a church two weeks ago. Colin had already decided to attend and a friend urged me to go, too. “Reverend Al is like Jesus,” she said. “You have to meet him.”

Reverend Al has dedicated the past thirty years to serving the most scorned and powerless in our society: the homeless. He refers to them as family, accepts them without judgement and treats them with respect. He reportedly works fourteen-hour days, sometimes seven days a week, at a drop-in centre called Our Place, where the homeless can go after the shelters turn them out for the day. There they can warm up, have a coffee, get clothing and toiletries, use the computers and take advantage of advocacy, referral and outreach programs. A different location provides lunches and dinners. Reverend Al started his Victoria inner city ministry in 1987 out of a van. Our Place now serves over 600 people a day.

The fifty-eight-year-old Al is tall and imposing with greying, shoulder-length hair. He was the last to speak after a parade of folks who praised him so much I began to feel uneasy, concerned a cult had formed around him. (The real shame about Jesus, in my opinion, is that a religion developed in his name, that some consider the man more important than his message.)

Reverend Al told us his story — one he’s told many times, I’m sure. The passion in his powerful voice reached out and held me. One of five children, he grew up in a low-income Ottawa neighbourhood, raised by his mother on welfare. His father had returned from the Second World War addicted to alcohol. Al was ashamed of his father; angry that he didn’t “pull himself together” and support the family. Not until he began working with the down-and-out did he acquire compassion for his father. I felt my trust in him growing when he told us what his mother said the day he was ordained by the United Church: “Remember where you came from.” It seems as though he has. Like Jesus, he speaks to our conscience, reminding us through his actions that we have a responsibility to love and care for one another.

While I admire this man, it bothers me that we relegate taking care of the poor to faith-based initiatives. The governments we elect seem to focus on creating and maintaining wealth for the already advantaged. Funding to help those who can’t help themselves is inadequate, if it exists at all. The announcement that the Conservative government will provide $270 million over the next two years for what it calls its Homelessness Partnering Strategy is good news. (The cash commitment is the same as the previous Liberal government's National Homelessness Initiative, which expires at the end of this fiscal year.) However, it’s not enough. It’s projected that Greater Victoria would receive $1.2 million a year under the program. That's enough to fund about 35 temporary shelter beds or to create and operate a supportive place for eight people. There are an estimated 750 homeless people in Victoria. I’m sure the shortfall is the same in city after city across the country.

Without a deeper commitment from us as a citizenry, people like Reverend Al Tysick will be left alone to do our work for us.

Merry Christmas, eh?

Top: My hometown, Rahway, New Jersey, in days gone by, as depicted on a Christmas card by artist Lloyd Garrison.

Inset: The Reverend Al Tysick, left, greeting people at Our Place; photo by Darren Stone from this article in the Victoria Times Colonist.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Our guest, writer Martin Heavisides

In the Bag
by Martin Heavisides

This time of year I start to supplement my almost nonexistent courier income by buying used books and CDs at all kinds of sales and reselling them to dealers. I was heading out soon to the first church sale of the season, earlier than necessary as I'd soon discover, and not liking the fat flakes of snow coming down like popcorn outside the window. Not in an aesthetic sense, they were pretty enough even on the tail end of a winter we'd hoped we'd seen the last of; but my only boots each had a crack running from end to end across the middle of the sole and I'd have at least a three block walk from the nearest bus stop to the church with the sale. (In the event I walked two blocks the wrong way so I soaked up seven blocks' worth of the wet those flakes were turning to copiously.)

The windows were drawn in our bedroom. I said to Marysia "Have you seen the snow?" because that's what she'd said to me last night when I came to bed. I looked out on the balcony to check and she said "April Fool!" She knew I'd been too busy on the net, posting a flash in the Zoetrope workshop and reviewing other peoples', to notice a little thing like whether any snow had fallen in front of our big bay window in the living room. She smiled, remembering the joke and I pulled open the curtain. "Got you back!"

I took with me when I left a little carry-all bag crammed with recent work, and tucked in my jacket pocket a few scrap pages on which I was writing a new flash fiction. I hoped, besides finishing this very short piece, I'd have a chance when I settled somewhere to look over the
two scripts I was working on for a radio play competition on BBC. But all my recent work, stories, flashes, jottings, everything for the past three months, was crammed into the plastic bag I put into my carry-all.

As you already know, after I bought a coffee at an organic cafe near Runnymede and Annette I started walking in the wrong direction, which meant I'd get to Runnymede Presbyterian a few minutes late but maybe this early in the season competitors wouldn't be out in force so that wouldn't prove fatal. As I arrived I saw two of my chief competitors already leaving, well, they were interested in books mostly so if there were any CDs they'd be undisturbed. All last year I had better luck with CDs anyway. In a minute I discovered how they'd scouted this sale so briskly---the listing in the Villager had jumped the gun; the sale wouldn't be 'til April 9.

My head and feet were both soaking but the rest of me was more or less dry. Luck was with me to this extent, that I caught a bus right away to Jane station where I settled in at Timothy's for a coffee and danish. I guessed the coffee question so I only had to pay for the danish. "The African version of this animal has two horns, the Indian only one." I hadn't known that about the Rhino, but I did know it was the go-to animal for horns in that part of the world. (Of course there are antelopes and wildebeests but none of them, except by misadventure, ever has a single horn.) The next person to guess thought it was the hippo; I told him the African and the Indian hippo (is there an Indian hippo?) each have no horns. (Except, in a rude sense, the male at certain particular moments.)

By this time I was pretty much reconciled to the way the day was going. My socks were dry. My flash fiction piece was succinctly concluded. A ride one stop on the subway and a bus going south would get me home to a hot bath and a day of writing. In fact I was already on the bus and it was just about to pull out when I noticed I didn't have my bag. Jumped off, headed down to the subway platform, turning over the possibilities in my head. Probably I'd left it at Timothy's on
Jane. Possibly at the coffee shop near Runnymede and Annette. If neither of these I was screwed until at least Monday when I could get to TTC lost and found to check if it had been turned in when I left it on the bus. Three months' work. First through third drafts of materials
from two highly intricate scripts. Most likely it was at one of the cafes. If not maybe God could sweetly arrange a miracle. Before Monday please.

Two trains pass in the opposite direction while I wait. Jump on the train and wait impatiently 'til it pulls into High Park station. I was on the wrong platform. Rush to the other one, now I've got two stations to sweat through. IF the train arrives ahh! it's here. Dash past the boys selling daffodils for cancer and up the stairs to ground level---didn't know I could still clear three of those at a leap. Popping in the door I can tell by the counter girl's smile I won't need to traipse over to Runnymede and Annette. I'm sure you can imagine my relief.

I've done this before and though sometimes I've had to visit, with mounting panic, five or six places I'd stopped at before finding whatever the current project was I'd left behind, I always have found it---someplace I could have assured myself it was safe and secure. So naturally I wonder: is this a test I impose on myself from time to time, even a method of backhanded encouragement? A way to remind myself how valuable (to me at least) my writing is? I'll tell you one thing, it gets the adrenalin going.

C 2005 Martin Heavisides

Thursday, December 21, 2006

It's that time of year...

Happy Holidays, folks!

Monday, December 18, 2006

A sort of Christmas story

By Tamara Lee

Nearly a dozen Christmases ago, out for lunch with my dad at his favourite family restaurant, he told me where I could buy a fake tree.

Christmas had seldom been my favourite time of year, and a plastic and metal likeness of a tree was not going to suddenly change my mind.

‘I did sort of look into getting a real tree this year. But they’re 40 bucks.’

The price gob-smacked my dad, a Depression-raised man who had never stopped worrying about money, even when he had enough of it.

‘You can’t spend that kind of money on a Christmas tree.’

He used that same voice whenever he disapproved of an idea I had. But since we actually agreed, something rare in our conversations, I decided to ride this one out.

‘I know. I can’t believe how they exploit Christmas...’

And so on the conversation went, the two of us nodding and variously indignant about the expense and commercialization of holidays, until we were silent and pleased that the lunch was ending amicably.

Bending and not-bending to my father’s likes and more plentiful dislikes until dinner or lunch was over had become one of our sort-of rituals. It was always a tense love between us, neither of us knowing how to stop being angry with the other. Christmastime was especially a test of endurance for me. That I was considering getting a tree was new, and surprised even me.

After lunch, Dad dropped me off at the Seabus, the ferry that links the relatively wealthy suburb of North Vancouver to the city. I lived in a downtown neighbourhood my father despised. Strathcona, Vancouver’s oldest neighbourhood, was originally an annex of both the dockyards and Chinatown, and had always been home to those who struggled with poverty. But it had grown into an artistic community full of colourful 100-year-old old houses and rowhouses, and community spirit I never felt growing up in North Van. My father resented the poor neighbourhood in the Depression years; he hated it still, and my living there. It was one of the few things he hated that he couldn't talk about.

That year, I was commissioned to write a profile on a local artist, my first freelance job. The artist's work at the time were intricate black and white lithographs, depicting old buildings and storefronts, devoid of people, but sometimes containing brief allusions to life beyond those vacant windows and falling-down walls. She was fascinated by facade, something I could appreciate.

The morning after lunch with my father, I was madly preparing my piece for the afternoon deadline. I was especially tense for that time of year, and considered not answering the knock on the door. But the second, much louder, knock suggested not answering was a bad idea.

All I could see was tree. My father was a rather short man, but I knew it was he when he said, from behind the tree:

‘Couldn’t stand thinking of you not having a tree this year.’

I tried to grasp the scene. My father in my neighbourhood was shocking enough. My father in my doorway holding up a gorgeous, lush tree the same size as him was taking a bit longer to comprehend.

‘Where did you get it?’ I finally said, knowing he would not have bought it.

‘Climbed to the top of that big tree on my lot, and tore off the top.’

And there, at the bottom of the tree trunk, was the evidence. He had not even used a saw.

I tried not to laugh.

‘You want it?’ Dad did not like to be laughed at.

‘Of course I want it, Dad. Thank you. This is great!’

‘I gotta go now. I don’t want my car to get broken into.’

‘Okay. Thanks again…’ And he walked away.

I watched him at the crosswalk, noticing how he pulled his coat sleeve over his hand so he wouldn’t have to touch the button that presumably only lepers used.

He'd never change. But the image of my short, ornery father climbing up a massive tree and ripping off the top for me was the sort of brief allusion to life our relationship needed.

Every year, now, I put up a Christmas tree. Like him, it’s a little thing, but well meaning.


Happy Holidays, folks. See you in the New Year.

(Image: Frank's Lodge, lithograph, by Ameen Gill. Copyright artist. Do not reproduce, please.)

Friday, December 15, 2006


We are happy to present the winning story from our recent Canadian Travel Stories contest. Kuzhali hails from the coast of southern India. You can find more of her writing on-line at Defenestration,, Smokelong Quarterly, Edifice Wrecked, Desilit, Ghoti, Shimmer and Caketrain.

By Kuzhali Manickavel

This story has been removed from the site in anticipation of publication. Look for it in a prestigious journal coming your way.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry

By Anne Chudobiak

I've been assigned a novelist. His name is Ian, Ian McGillis. The Quebec Writers Federation pays him to have coffee with me and read my work.

Ian's novel, A Tourist's Guide to Glengarry, has been wikified by the grade nines at a Montreal private high school. Under the tutelage of an exacting Mrs. Peters, who insists on MLA format and endearingly neutral language, Cody, Alex, Jasmine et al. have catalogued and researched the book's many pop-culture references.

I leave you with one student's reflections on Woodstock:

"There were many other problems throughout the event, including a lack of food, sparse sanitation facilities, many drugs and alcohol, and two deaths were reported, as well as two births. However, the viewers went through it all, made the best of their situation and had an amazing weekend that would never be forgotten."

En Saskatchewan

by Steve Gajadhar

It’s cold and flat and home, or at least the place I grew up. But after almost 7 years away it just doesn’t feel like home anymore. Cold and flat have almost completely lost whatever poetry they once held.

Saskatchewan is now something to tug at me, like a yearbook dug out so you can read the farewell signatures your friends made in the back. So when I hear the Les Trois Accords song or catch the movie The Accused, the novelty memories, the good ones, the shiny ones come flooding back to make me smile, phone my mother, email some of the boys and think about being home even though being home is never as grand as the romantic ideal of coming home. I never seem to learn this lesson. I set the date in my Outlook calendar and from then on I experience time in discrete chunks of anticipation. 2 months to go, 2 weeks, 2 days, 2 hours. Yet as my foot takes its first step on the plane, I wish I was staying. Now I count the time until I return. 2 weeks, 2 days, 2 hours. I think there is some deep human truth in this, but I can’t find the words to illuminate it.

You can never go home…well you know, and I don’t want to. I’m happy having Saskatchewan as the place that family and friends will forever bind me to. The place I have left but will always be leaving. And so whenever I’m headed west on the Trans-Canada and I see the sign:

I’ll always be happy and sad.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Pangea Split

We at the Canadian Writers Collective are proud to present the second place winner in our Canadian Travel Story Contest. Thank you so much Janisse.

Pangea Split
by Janisse Ray

Notice how quickly the bay recedes, abandoning more of the red-pebbled beach and leaving high-tide rocks blanketed with orange-brown seaweed. Notice back along the cliff, white asters with golden disks bloom in pockets of loose mineral and the strange branched milkweed hangs with frittilaries.

Notice Mary lying naked on the rocks in the sun, thinking of Africa.

“I wish your boyfriend were there,” she tells me.

I am noticing a shadow the exact shape of a bird passing beside us on the wide rocky beach, imprinting for a second its wings against the worn and eroded cliffs of Chignecto.

“That’s mean. You shouldn’t have brought four books.”

“I carry them.”

“We all carry them. Plus I’m still hungry.”

“We could cannibalize.”

“That’s really mean.” Again the fleeting shadow. Above us, sky. A gull wheels over the bay, magician. “Joe cut off his toothbrush to save milligrams.”

“Like I say, a jerk.”

Joe’s my boyfriend. He wants to hike faster. He wants his pack to be lighter. He thinks we’re going to run out of stove fuel. He hates morning oatmeal. When he says “gruel” you think he’s going to say something else. It sounds like cruel.

I sit up and stones clack together.

The cove is 100 feet wide, flanked by tumbles of jagged, wrinkled rock that look as flaky as overworked gray-green dough, and is. The cove is a U-shaped apron made of billions and billions of stones rounded from the bay as it carries them out on its 50-foot sweeps. Most of the stones are smaller than eggs. They are of all imaginable shapes, some pinkish with dark flecks, some a granite-like green, some light gray, orangish. Most are different shades of pink and green.

Below, on the sloped rocky beach, the Bay of Fundy makes a gentle clapping sound as it departs.

Mary sounds drowsy. “One hundred eighty-five million years ago,” she says.

“When we started hiking?”

“When Africa split.”

I don’t say anything. She and I have been friends for a hundred years.

“We could’ve had a free ride.”

“Speaking of free ride.”

“Don’t forget the herniated disk.”

“Why did you bring a god-damned library,” I say.

“What should I do, burn them?”

Funny she should say that. I notice Will is building a driftwood fire down by water’s edge. Will is Mary’s boyfriend, pretty new. Fires are illegal in the preserve. That’s what I don’t like about him. Joe is sitting up on a jagged abutment of rock that must submerge at times; he is carving a piece of wood with his Swiss-made knife.

“I like that idea,” I say.

“You’re not usually mean.”

This afternoon we saw our first seal. Joe spotted it. We stopped to swim and after we climbed back to the trail, he looked back and saw it swimming where we had just been. Later in the afternoon we saw more. We were sitting on top of a cliff, resting in six-inch grass that had wispy, stringlike leaves. Among the grass were flowers I do not know: a sedum with pink tips, irises past bloom and hoisting seedpods, a lavender vetch, stunted yarrow, a small aster with nickel-sized blooms yellow and white. Below us, seventeen seals lounged on one boulder. Some were white and some tan. Each had two big brown eyes, two front flippers and a divided fan tail. The sound they made was an odd growling moan.

Now the sun is preparing to set. A strip of sky between New Brunswick’s far blue shoreline and a ceiling a clouds is bright, fiery orange. Behind us fresh water keeps falling off a cliff in a dainty waterfall

I’m breathing smoke, watching the sun set.

Mary gets up. Her flesh is beautiful against all the rock. She walks up the beach with a crunch crunch crunch like running your hands through glass beads. I don’t watch her put her clothes on. I hear the crunching again.

I put on my clothes. Joe is coming in from the rock. I hug him and hold his hand. We go to the fire.

Mary has her head down and is feeding paper to the fire. A book in her lap.

“What are you doing? I say.

She shrugged. “I finished it.” She tears another handful of pages as quietly as she can.

Nobody else says a word. I’m thinking that unless it was printed on acid-free paper, it’ll turn yellow and fall apart anyway. I also think she wouldn’t do that to a hardback.
Will brings out his flask of rum. We all drink some because for one thing it makes his pack lighter and he’s carrying the heaviest load of all. Unless Joe has secretly slipped the extra fuel bottle or water filter. I have been saving a bar of dark chocolate with hazelnut toffee. I try to pretend that I’m not dividing it exactly into four parts.

“Think of it,” Mary says to everybody, pointing toward the chocolate water. “That used to be Africa.”

“It was right here and then it went so far away.”

“I’d like to go there.”

“One day,” I say.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The Season of Senselessness and Cents-Less-ness and Scentsless-ness

by Melissa Bell

A colleague and I were talking today about how few Christmas cards have shown up at the office so far this year. It's still early, but we usually have a dozen or so by now scattered around the front desks, and constantly falling over whenever someone breezes by too quickly. Maybe the business world is waking up to the fact that sending out Christmas cards all willy-nilly-like to other businesses is an enormous waste of resources.

I remember the first time an employer of mine asked me to go through a greeting card catalogue and pick out one that I felt might be suitable to send out to our customers. They were all very nice cards – lots of shiny shiny-ness and the samples provided were sturdy and not too bendy. They came with matching foil-lined envelopes and 'Your Company Name Here' stamped on the inside – in gold, if one wished. All very classy. And hideously expensive. As we didn't have a huge mailing list, 50-100 cards worked out to approximately $7.50 per card. Not including tax. Or shipping + handling. Or postage. Now, I don't know about you, but I'm fairly certain that even without a calculator you could agree that's pretty much a big fat waste of money for something that sits around for a couple of weeks at the most and doesn't do anything at all, and keeps doing absolutely nothing at all right up to and including the moment somebody decides to throw it away.

And as I'm sitting here, thinking about how to continue this post, I realize that perhaps that's all just part of the season. It's a big wasteful time of the year. Please don't think I'm all Scroogey McTreehugger – I'm not. I love Christmas and a lot of its excesses. It's shameful the things I love about Christmas.

I was reading the other day a report on how Christmas lights add some crazy extra negative aspect to our already rather gluttonous consumption of energy. But I can't help but love Christmas lights. All of them. Even the craptacular lights of my somewhat odd neighbour who takes the same old sorry strings of lights every year, and appears to just pitch them at the front of his house where they stick by some miraculous method (I wish I had a picture – they're the messiest bunch of Christmas lights in the world). I still love that he makes the effort (such that it is) and they're still pretty and they make me happy to see them when I'm coming home and I'm miserable because it's cold and it's dark and it's only five thirty. Good for you, Odd Neighbour! Thank you for cheering me up, even if you are so wholly and totally lame at stringing up those lights of yours! You still rock.

Wrapping paper. I buy it. But I rarely use it. I use gift bags. They're re-usable (I'm fairly sure one of my friends and I have exchanged the same gift bag back and forth for at least five or so years now), and you can get them for extra-cheap. But I still can't resist buying gift wrap. You just won't ever get any of it wrapped around your gift. Sorry. It's mine. All mine.

Christmas fruitcake. Am I the only one who actually likes this? It's everywhere in all the stores and supermarkets, so surely there's a demand for it, but everyone I speak to seems to hate the stuff. Is it because I'm secretly 117 years old?

Egg nog. Lait de poule. And I mean that yellowish, sugary-rich concoction that comes in the carton –– the kind that can be picked up at the 7-11 is just jim-dandy by me. I don't want any of that genuine homemade Bacteria Milkshake - I know it's just waiting to cripple my holiday with a crude case of salmonella.

And my fake all-white tree that is, no doubt, made from all kinds of nasty chemicals and polymers and, when I do have to dispose of it one day, it will sit in a landfill site for about 12,000 years, but I love it because it means I don't have deal with the mess that a real tree brings with it, no matter how careful one might be. If, however, you feel strongly about my choice of fake vs. real, you are more than welcome to buy me a Dyson vacuum cleaner (purple, please) and I will instantly make the switch.

"Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas". No matter where, no matter when, no matter what…this song slays me. It's my favourite song of all, but I cannot listen to it – I cannot even think about listening to it without getting all misty. Actually, "misty" is an understatement. I need tissues.

There, well now, that wasn't too smart of me. I started thinking about that damn song. And now…well…my face is a big fat mess and I have to go now because my nose is all stuffed and runny and even if I had a Dyson and a real tree, I couldn't appreciate the latter's piney goodness anyway. (Curse you, Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane!)

Have yourself a merry little weekend everybody!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Oh My God! It's Paul Teutul Sr!

by Antonios Maltezos

I watched a spider crawling up the frame of a mirror this morning. I thought he’d freak out when he finally veered right onto the glass. I thought he’d start dancing around like a tourist walking across a bed of burning coals. I thought his tiny little insect mind would tell him that he’d inadvertently stepped into the territory of another spider, and that he’d want to skedaddle out of there as quickly as possible. No such luck, but just before my mind could reduce the whole event down to the simple conclusion that spiders are stupid, I realized that this was more a case of divine intervention. It doesn’t matter that I was sitting on the bowl. I was having an aha! moment. Incidentally, this is the same crapper I’d said I don’t like to use because it shifts when I sit down. Getting stranger, hmm? Look closer; I told myself, you are the spider walking across a mirror, blind to everything but that other section of frame across this smooth stretch of reflective glass.


Whoever it was whispering into my ear after that, he is a cruel bastard, telling me that I should stop counting the white hair on my head, measuring the droop under my eyes, sucking back the gut whenever I pass a mirror. You are getting older, fool, he said, and time is running out. Stop ignoring that pile of editing that has moved from your desktop, to the floor. Stick to the course-of-action-schedules you’ve already written, stop making new ones. Uh-huh, uh-huh, I said. If it’s a re-run, shut the TV and read a book. Don’t waste what little time you have left. There’s so much to learn yet. Mmmm. I agreed -- much to learn. It’s time to change things up a bit, he said in his best Paul Teutul Sr voice. Challenge yourself! We’re always doing the same shit around here! I am not, I shot back. You are! You are, he yelled, charging at me as if his handlebar moustache was a set of bull horns. And what’s with the little spider walking across the mirror shit? I got a size twelve boot that’ll get you clear across a room if you want. Yah! Try me!

Serves me right for flushing that little spider.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Our guest, writer Lisa Ling

A Life Worth Living
by Lisa Ling

Before we moved to Jakarta, my primary concerns about living here reflected the things I’d seen on CNN. Tsunamis, riots, and bombs mostly. Enough to make a mother tread carefully anywhere. But after we arrived, these things became the least of my concerns. Neither were the deadly mosquito and water-born diseases at the top of my list. In Canada, a mosquito bite was an annoyance, but here it could mean death or severe illness from dengue fever or malaria. The daily slathering of mosquito repellent on our kids' bodies before they ventured outdoors became an urgent routine, not taken lightly. Our baby’s baths also adopted a gravity of care not seen before. Her bath water had to be boiled to guard against potential typhoid infection, for which she would remain unprotected until age two.

These life threatening diseases were a worry, but hey, I wasn’t the first person to arrive here with a baby. If they could do it so could I. After two months of scanning the Jakarta Post, bird flu catapulted to the top of my list of things to fear.

Each week, new cases of bird flu were discovered in Indonesia, headlined across the front page of the local paper. Soon those cases started to appear in Jakarta, the city where we lived. Whole families were dying because of contact with infected poultry. I wasn’t worried about any of us contracting the near-certainly fatal bird flu from chickens. We lived at the Four Seasons Apartments after all, not exactly your backyard poultry farm in the kampong (village). What seized me with fear was the thought that if bird flu mutated and became easily transmissible between humans, we would be stuck on this archipelago of 18,000 islands in the middle of a pandemic. Airports would shut down and other countries would not accept flights from Indonesia. We would quickly go from paradise to hell as drinking water shortages occurred, food became scarce, and security broke down. True, no place on earth is safe from a bird flu pandemic, but I would much rather be in a country with decent hospitals and resources to deal with the problem than one without.

Week after week, reading the morbid reports in the newspaper, my concern mounted. I attended a meeting of a medical expert from World Bank headquarters who had come to Jakarta to speak to field staff, warning of the “serious threat and potential evacuation” that would be necessary in the event of a bird flu pandemic. I remember the moment I received that news. I think that was the last straw. I didn’t sleep for days.

Fear and worry ate away at my adventurous spirit like termites at a cedar tree. Unable to cope with my feelings, I went to the gym, my usual therapy when I feel lousy. On the treadmill, I picked up the pace, hoping to ‘burn out’ my negative feelings. With each stride I could feel the stress and worry that had built up over the past two months draining away, as if the black rubbery surface of the treadmill was drawing it out of me. I pushed myself to run faster, drinking in the feeling of release.

As the treadmill neared its maximum speed, I jumped off. Bowing my head in part from physical exhaustion, in part emotional exhaustion, I gasped to myself. “I can’t live like this. “I’m miserable, yet we live in this amazing, interesting place.”

I stood grasping the rails of the treadmill, sweat dripping from my forehead, with my chest heaving, sucking wind. Slowly, a calm came over me. I looked up and caught a glimpse of something moving in the wind outside the window. It was a small, pink, flower, floating away in the breeze, framed by broad palm leaves against a blue sky. Sunlight poured in through the gym windows, bathing me in its warm glow.

Suddenly I was filled with a sense of gratitude. Gratitude for this moment, seeing the beauty of my surroundings, a tropical paradise. Gratitude for the chance to have a break from our kids and time for myself to workout. Gratitude for all the mothers who had come before me and raised their families here. Gratitude for being alive! In a country where children the age of mine begged for food in busy traffic intersections, I was reminded daily that life is not something to be taken for granted. I felt gratitude for the chance to live this adventure. In Indonesia I didn’t understand the street signs or the culture, four seasons gave way to two – monsoon and dry, and mangrove forests replaced evergreen trees. In this strange land, I felt a sense of trepidation yet excitement that made me feel alive.

Just as a mountain stream rushes downhill between rocks and crevasses, the feeling of gratitude flowed inside me, filling in the places where fear and worry had sat. In that moment, I decided to make the most of all that Jakarta had to offer. The thought that we might be evacuated at any time only added urgency to the opportunity. What had once fueled my fears would now fuel my passion.

In that moment of transformation, everything changed and nothing changed. The risk of a bird flu pandemic was a high as ever. Malaria, dengue fever and typhoid continued to exist, and bombs were an ever present risk. Yet suddenly these dangers were no longer my focus. They had moved to the periphery of my world and been replaced by thoughts of things that filled my life with joy. Time with our kids, teaching karate, playing jazz piano, yoga, meditation, running. With my change in focus the whole world looked different.

With renewed energy, I left the gym and went home. The next day, I started teaching a kids karate class, bought a piano, joined a yoga group, and started meditating again. Now, well into our second year here, Jakarta has become a home we love.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Gadget Sisters

by Tricia Dower

I traveled to Watsonville, California, two weeks ago to spend US Thanksgiving with my sister Lillian and brother-in-law Glenn. Me, myself and I. Colin had university classes to attend. It had been nearly a year since I’d seen my sister and I needed a ‘fix.’ “What do you want to do when you’re here?” she asked. “Just hang out with you,” I said. “Just talk.”

We were invited for Thanksgiving dinner at someone else’s home, our contribution to be pies and appetizers for fourteen people. From home I brought recipes for Blue Cheese and Caramelized-Onion Squares and a veggie dip concoction called Garden Cheesecake. Lili is an even better pie-maker than our mother was, wouldn’t think of using a prepared crust or a box mix. On the night before Thanksgiving — after the toddler grandson she takes care of four days a week had been returned to his parents; after we’d had dinner and she’d made Glenn a cup of decaf — she started on the pies: two pumpkin, two apple. The pumpkin pies were dispatched with relative ease. Glenn went to bed.

I offered to peel, core and slice the apples. Lili said she had a device that would help and brought out something an Inquisitor might have used to torture heretics. She couldn’t remember how it worked. I clamped it onto the kitchen counter, impaled an apple and turned the handle. The apple went round and round to no effect. It was getting late and we’d been sipping wine. We laughed as only sisters with a shared, neurotic history can. Lili laid her hands on the device as if she could heal it, and we laughed some more. There was nothing to do but wake Glenn who had it working in less than a minute. “The reason you couldn’t figure it out,” he said, “is because you were never in the military. You have to cock it like a gun.”

It was kind of him to propose an excuse, but the truth is that Lili and I are hopeless when it comes to gadgets. If the toaster stops working, we stop having toast. Cell phones are as fantastical to us as Dick Tracy’s two-way radio wristwatch once was. We have trouble remembering the proper name for anything considered a tool. Everything’s a ‘thingy.’ It would be reasonable to blame genes, but our parents were quite handy.

Earlier in the day I had made the Garden Cheesecake for which I needed a blender. We borrowed one because all Lili had was something called a Veg-O-Matic which she only uses for Margaritas when a particular group of her friends come over. The borrowed blender arrived with two rubber rings inside the cup and even though we were told where they were supposed to go, we couldn’t figure it out. I managed to crush the Cheezits for the crust and topping and merge the cream cheese, yogurt and green olives before little puffs of smoke wafted from the motor. Lili got out the heavy-duty Veg-O-Matic we should have used in the first place. You could probably stick a log in it and make wood chips. It devoured a celery stalk, green pepper and onion in seconds.

Lili puts more apples than normal in her pies. Piles them high. As she was trimming the top crusts, I read aloud from her Better Homes and Gardens cook book: A cookie sheet under the pie is recommended to catch spills. It was getting close to midnight and Lili wasn’t even sure where her cookie sheets were. “It’ll be fine,” she said. We sat down to sip more wine and share memories of a spooky house a couple of blocks from where we grew up. I want to use that house and its emotional associations in the next story in my collection. I had a page of notes and the pies were nearly done before a curtain of smoke rose from the back of the stove and began to fill the room. The cat went nuts.

“Why didn’t your smoke detector go off?” I asked later. Lili pointed to it, lying disabled on the kitchen counter behind a wooden thingy.

The next morning she told Glenn what happened. He had managed to sleep through the smoke and the subsequent airing out of the house. "The Gadget Sisters," he said.

“And just you wait,” Lili said, "she’s gonna blog about it, I know.”

You betcha.

The next day: raves all around for the Garden Cheesecake and veggies, the tray of onion and cheese squares and the pies, the fabulous pies. Nothing to it, we said.

Photos: Top -- A long-ago turkey day with our mother Mary, far left, and her sisters Fern and Georgie. We think the kid was Georgie’s nephew on her husband’s side of the family. Bottom -- Lili (right) and I before we were domesticated and obliged to use gadgets.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Yeah, In Your Dreams

By Tamara Lee

Over the past ten years my dreams have started to haunt me. Not only the usual flying alligators and freaky minotaur stuff, but also dreams that unfold like stories, full of interesting, sometimes recurring, characters and conflicts; stories with a beginning, middle and end, possessing a bit of back story, a dramatic climax, and even themes.

For a while, I didn’t bother too much about them, and often flat-out ignored them. Seemed to me the dream only had value if I woke up remembering it.

Packed with so much cinematic detail, they seemed only to be there for my viewing pleasure and seemed more interesting than anything I’d ever write. Until it occurred to me that if I was dreaming them, I could probably write them. I’m not always a quick study when it comes to the subconscious.

The experience is not like lucid dreaming, which I’m sort of able to do, too. To change the story of the dream as it happens. I usually only try this when it’s a nightmare which, thankfully, I don’t have too often. These story-dreams, though, are never edited or altered; they're like little movies for my subconscious self, settling down with a bowl of popcorn, an audience of one, not knowing what’s going to happen next.

Eventually I decided to try rolling over and turning on my lamp—with little regard for the time or bed-partner—to write the damn stories out before I completely wake up. It’s become one of my favourite mental states, that place of split consciousness, when I’m able to relive the just-passed dream yet remain mindful enough of the present to write the words that both describe and evoke the essence of the dream.

Now I’ve a drawer full of dreamed-up stories jotted down over the years that I haven’t done much with. Some of the more interesting ones I can recall like any story I’ve written. Some I reacquaint myself with on those rare days I flip through old journals, wondering if the characters will ever see the light of a computer screen.

A couple months ago, some characters revisited me for a third time. I’d not thought of them for over a year, so when I dreamed about them, it was like reuniting with old friends. It was nice to see how they’d gotten on. The one boy was older and wiser from the experiences of the previous dreams, and there were new characters and storylines woven in and connecting to the original dream that have given more texture to the tale.

And still I have not written this story beyond those middle-of-the night scrawls. Maybe I’m afraid to touch it, to ruin the weave of its fragile structure. Maybe I sense the story just isn’t as interesting as it seems on paper. Maybe not writing the stories that keep haunting me implies something else.

To be honest, I’ve no idea where these story-dreams come from, and I'm not interested in researching the psychology or new-agey magic or juju behind their recurrence. Too much research can be a “big clunker,” as Michael Ondaatje discusses in this interview. He also describes how his creative process is to investigate the meaning and story behind a haunting single image. Perhaps the story-dreams are now a part of my creative process. I know I look forward to them, it’s just I never know if I should do anything with them afterwards.

It’s possible this three-part dream wants to be a novel. Novel writing is new to me, having moved through poetry to flash fiction and short stories, and short scripts to feature-length scripts. But I’m overwhelmed by the scope of story required for novels. The other genres all allow quick first-drafts, stories I can get out in a day, a week, or at most a month. And their revisions are more about tightening up the story, not necessarily expanding it.

Understanding how the big stories need the freedom to breathe and explore, to go skinny-dipping and dumpster diving on the same day, has been a slow learning. And I wonder if starting from scratch is easier, exploring the meaning of a single image, instead of trying to wrench out a story from a fully formed dream.

Whatever the answer, it’s sure to include the act of turning on a light and writing, with little regard for time, and at least some cursory acknowledgement of that consummate bed-partner, the popcorn-stuffed subconscious.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World

Here is the story that placed third in our recent Canadian Travel Stories Contest. We are happy to share it with you! And keep on coming back for more!

Riding a Greyhound Bus into the New World

by Len Joy

(This story has been removed from the site. It's been happily revised and is on it's way to a good (published) home. Thanks again, Len, for sharing this great story.)