The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Friday, December 14, 2007

House for Wayward Mothers: Toronto Chapter

By Anne Chudobiak

When I was in Toronto this fall, I stayed with old friends, a couple taking a time-out from fertility treatments, in what was jokingly called the House for Wayward Mothers. The room I occupied for several days actually belonged to G., another Quebec mother of two, who spent half of the week with her family in Gatineau, and the rest in Toronto, where she was studying midwifery at Ryerson. There was a miscommunication between housemates about arrivals and departures, and late one night G. walked into to her room to find me already nicely tucked in. She didn’t know me, but I recognized her from the snapshots on the wall. We laughed about this encounter the next morning over coffee. Our hosts had roasted the beans themselves. It was the only way, they assured us. How luxurious, we told them. It was hard for us not to envy them their lifestyle: it was so adult, so sophisticated.

“Are you sure you want kids?” asked G. Her own hubby was slated for a vasectomy the following week, and it was clear that as grueling as her commute was, there were benefits as well, like hanging with the adults in T.O. and drinking their freshly roasted coffee, with nary a whine to be heard, no rivalries to quell. There was some teasing, but mostly between our hosts, and even that was strangely romantic. It would always end with them cracking up and making arrangements to go out for dinner and a movie. After ten years of marriage, how had they managed to stay so connected? Was it the coffee?

Their secret never did reveal itself to me, but I left Toronto inspired nonetheless. My encounter with G. had given me an idea for an article. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband about it. Our best conversations were about stuff like that. We even had a joke: “Wait, I know what you could write about! No one’s ever written about speed dating, have they?” In our house, “speed dating” was code for “hackneyed.” We’d once had a journalist friend tell us that she was considering writing on the topic for a Valentine’s piece. That was I don't know how many years ago now, but it was still too late. We’d already watched the topic trickle down from the New York Times to the local papers to the CBC. I was never able to look at our friend the same way again. In fact, her whole profession seemed tainted by the speed-dating phenomenon. My idea would be different, surely.

I wanted to write about parents like G., who had to leave their kids for work or school. I could even draw on my own experience as the at-home partner in a long-distance situation.

Earlier this week, in anticipation of that very situation finally coming to an end (today!), I did some preliminary research into potential markets. There was a magazine that I thought might be a good fit for the story. I searched through their online archives to make sure that they hadn’t published something similar before. The results were freaky.

Not only had someone written on the topic, they’d relied almost exclusively on commentary from my Toronto hosts’ extended family. I couldn’t believe it. There was Mr. Toronto’s mother, speaking in her capacity both as an early-childhood educator and one-time military wife. There was Mr. Toronto’s brother, looking back from age 30 at their father’s many absences. The Torontos had scooped me, and by a decade! Can you say “speed dating”?

I'm now considering other options. A new angle or another topic. An exposé might be in order: Roast Your Own Coffee and Revive Your Love Life. I'll keep you posted.


Blogger T. Lee said...

Isn't groupthink a bummer? I had several story ideas percolating these past few months, all of them 'already done.' But don't be discouraged, esp if you can do it differently, if the article missed something. My creative non-fiction writing teacher extraordinaire has pointed out that sometimes, if it's been 'done', it could be done better or differently and you already have proof of some general interest (and a great source) for your proposal. Try a different publication, maybe?

Fri Dec 14, 02:52:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Was it the coffee? Probably not, although I have childless friends who not only roast their own coffee but are thinking of taking it up as a business. Kids can bind you together, but they can also turn you into Mommy and Daddy in each other's eyes, taking a wee bit of romance out of the relationship. I think G. asked a very good question of your friends.

Fri Dec 14, 09:55:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

Roasting your own coffe IS the new angle for your article! Allow it to percolate, the aromas(assuming they use a variety of beans and you're aware how these might blend in your kitchen air) to fill your senses, and then just go, girl! You always seem to find a slightly fresh angle in your posts anyway.

Tue Dec 18, 07:57:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger J.A. McDougall said...

Gosh that's too bad, Anne. I am coming up against that with ideas too these days...even when it comes to Christmas presents. Last week I thought I had mentally invented an alarm clock that plays off MP3s until I saw one at Zellers.

Tue Dec 18, 10:22:00 am GMT-5  

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