Paths Followed – Part 2

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

So I kind of left you hanging last week with the problem I encountered with my new novel. You’ll recall that a wrench had been thrown into the works.The plans I had for one of my characters had changed. So his storyline had to change.

I contemplated getting rid of him all together. But how? He came to me fully formed. I heard the lie in his charming voice, saw the glint of silver on his  capped tooth, and felt the tarnished gritty silk of the multi-coloured scarf around his fedora. I’d already fallen in love with him.

Whatever I did, whatever power I exerted on the story, I knew there would be consequences, not only for him, but also for the other characters and the story too. And to boot, he wasn’t going to go without a fight. He was as tenacious as an earworm. He would not be ignored.

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Paths Followed – Part 1

“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few weeks ago, I noticed quite by accident that the new novel I’m currently working on had gone sideways. Up until that time I’d been writing at quite a clip. I stopped to look at a map (dangerous things) of Europe to confirm how my character, a refugee from Eastern Europe might come to Greece. He was travelling in search of work and a better life. Would he come by sea (the way I had written it) or by land? I wondered.

Staring at the map, I saw the whole story line I’d come up with fall apart. In the real world, my character would not have traveled by sea. It wasn’t the easiest route for him to take. He would need a very good reason to make the journey the way I had envisioned it. I further discovered that he was not a refugee, or at least not in the truest sense of the word, given his European roots.

This realization came after some 75,000 hard-fought words and close to 300 double-spaced pages. So would I throw away everything I’d created or find another way?

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Friends

“The key is to keep company only with people who uplift you, whose presence calls forth your best.” Epictetus (Greek Philosopher)

During our trip to the Yukon this summer, we spent three nights in the tiny town of Haines Junction, at the edge of the Kluane National Park. After getting settled, we ventured to the Village Bakery and Deli. The local band, made up of the former owner of the bakery and his friends, played old time Maritime classics. Some 25 people were gathered outside on the deck.

The evening was fall-crisp and sunshine bright even though it was around nine at night. Trees swayed in the breeze. In the audience, young and old tapped their toes and sang along. Toddlers danced unfettered forgetting themselves to the music.

As I stood listening, I felt teary-eyed with nostalgia for community and friendship.These people, this situation made me think about the first writers festival I organized several years ago. It was a small gathering then, some twenty people in my living room, a potluck dinner, and a discussion about writing with our guest author Andreas Schroeder whom I cajoled to come to Whistler with a promise of a place to stay. The fact that he had an opportunity to ride his motorcycle here on a gorgeous summer weekend was perhaps the draw. But never mind.

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What a Tease!

“Books and movies are like apples and oranges. They both are fruit, but taste completely different.” Stephen King

I’ve always loved movies. In my twenties and thirties I think I saw everything that was ever made (ok, slight exaggeration)– from the soppy 1980 film, Blue Lagoon, to the ultra-violent, 1992, The Bad Lieutenant. I loved sitting in a dark room, eyes wide open (except during the violent bits), completely captivated by sound, pictures, and other people’s lives. For two hours the screen was not a separation, but rather a portal into other stories, other lives.

I’ve since become more discerning. Or rather, I got a life, at least one that involved more than work and movies. I also realised that I was prone to nightmares and didn’t need any further grist to disrupt my already unsettled sleep.

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Why I Do It

I was happy, I knew that. While experiencing happiness, we have difficulty in being conscious of it. Only when the happiness is past and we look back on it do we suddenly realize - sometimes with astonishment - how happy we had been.” Nikos Kazantzakis

I’m the type of person who jumps on an idea; pursues it with obsessive fervour. I brush nagging doubts aside as easily as I might a pesky fly. Naysayers beware. I have no time for reason or question when I’m in making-things-happen mode.

Still, in my quiet moments (rare as they may be) when lack of sleep is threatening to turn me into an unidentifiable shell of a person, a question plays in my mind like a recording: why are you doing this?

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Yukon – Part 4

“It would have saddened me to see dust and rust where once hummed a rousing town; hundreds where there were thousands; tumbledown cabins, mouldering warehouses.” Robert William Service, poet and writer

If you’ve read my blogs in September, you can probably tell that I loved the Yukon. It left its mark on me through its vastness, a beauty that both awes and frightens. In this last blog about the Yukon, I leave you with pictures of Whitehorse, Dawson City, Tombstone, the Top of the World highway, Haines Junction and the Kluane. I can’t begin to sufficiently describe this place, but through these pictures I hope you will see why I fell hopelessly in love with it. And one day, I hope to return.

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Yukon – Part 3

He is a wise man who does not grieve for the thing which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has. Epictetus    

I had survived the trek through the Chilkoot. I now sat on the historical White Pass train that would take me, along with other hikers back to Skagway, Alaska and mercifully to a hot shower and a real bed. I was already thinking ahead to that shower, that soft mattress that wouldn’t grind my hips to shreds, the Laundromat where I could get my hiking clothes clean.

Hikers were separated from other tourists on the train for obvious reasons. We had been backpacking for five days. They hadn’t. We were in muddy boots and sweat-soaked gear. They were dressed in street shoes and in their finest. It wasn’t fair to these tourists to subject them to the odours that resulted from days of hiking and nights of sleeping in damp tents.

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Yukon – Part 2

But the Artic chart memorializes more than men of rank, power, blood or property. The real immortals, whose names are sprinkled throughout the Artic on bays and bights, capes and channels, are those who dared and sometimes died so that the map might take form. Pierre Berton, The Artic Grail  

Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothings stays fixed. Heraclitus

In my trek through the Yukon this summer, I was fortunate to visit Dawson City. A small town more than a city, Dawson is an historic community where the Klondike and Yukon Rivers converge. It was home for thousands of years to the Han People (now known as the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in). It was also the site of the 1896-1898 Klondike Gold Rush, which turned Dawson from a First Nations camp to a city of 40,000 people in 1898. Dance halls and saloons, cabins and stores were built to accommodate the influx of gold seekers.

I’m not sure I could truly imagine their excitement then, as I walked the streets of Dawson City in my life of relative comfort now, but I tried to put myself in their shoes, the shoes and footsteps of the Gold Rush stampeder.

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Yukon – Part 1

It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe. Robert William Service, poet and writer, ‘the Bard of the Yukon’.

“Why don’t you go to Rome or Paris or one of the world’s ancient cities where you can learn about history and culture, see beautiful art and design, explore something new?” These were my father’s words when I told him we were off to the Yukon. I laughed at the time, told him that I loved those cities, but this year I wanted to try a new sort of vacation, something outside my ‘city-girl’ comfort zone.

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Happy?

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Dalai Lama

I have been crying a lot lately. I can’t help it. I’m an emotional person. Who wouldn’t shed tears when witnessing events as they unfold and devolve? Poverty, disease, wars, climate change, inequality, murder and mayhem. Does it ever stop? And why is it that, as a race, we keep making the same mistakes?

The smarter we get with technology and innovation, the dumber and more vicious we become. It’s outrageous.

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Lessons

The shortest and surest way to live with honour in the world is to be in reality what we would appear to be; and if we observe, we shall find, that all human virtues increase and strengthen themselves by the practice of them. Socrates, philosopher

My parents taught me respect for myself and for others. It wasn’t a difficult lesson to learn. I can say this in hindsight. My parents may have a different version of events.

This lesson of respect was drilled into me, not just in words, but also in action. They walked the talk. And I learned by example. Anytime then and now, when I don’t know what to do, I think about what they would do and act accordingly.

As a result I am fiercely independent, do not allow others to push me around and I make time for everyone. We are all worthy of effort. Plain and simple.

I’ve been tested many times by those who like to think they are better than others. Whether it was in the prison environment I worked in long ago or the boardroom of my more recent experiences, there has always been one person who has wanted to put me in my place, show how big and powerful they are.

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Gaza

Where is the justice of political power if it executes the murderer and jails the plunderer, and then itself marches upon neighbouring lands killing thousands and pillaging the very hills. Khalil Gibran, essayist, novelist, poet

I’ve never been an armchair anything, preferring instead to get my hands dirty to make positive change happen. As I write these words and start to form my thoughts for this blog, I can’t help but wonder, isn’t that exactly what I’m doing by writing this blog. Pontificating? Yes, of course I am.

As a private citizen engaged in life and what is happening in the world, I have opinions about what is happening in Gaza. It’s impossible not to.

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Crimes Against My Brother by David Adams Richards

In the interest of full disclosure, I want to say that I have loved every book by David Adams Richards I’ve ever read. I collect his books like I used to collect posters years ago to hang on my bedroom wall.

The stories and characters Richards creates leave you pining for more. He is in my opinion one of our greatest Canadian literary treasures.

There is an authenticity in the voices and the people he crafts, a gritty honesty that needles you like nothing else but good fiction can. His characters stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page. They haunt you with their hopes, dreams and folly.

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Collaboration

Coming together is a beginning, staying together is progress, and working together is success. —Henry Ford

I’m not competitive by nature. I don’t believe success comes because someone else fails. Pursuits where there are winners and losers are not for me. As a kid I wasn’t enamoured with competitive sports. I used to think this was because I was naturally awkward and clumsy, more a bookworm than a track and field star. While the later is true, I think I simply excluded myself from those activities because I didn’t like the fact that someone had to lose. Maybe I thought it would be me on the losing end, and I wanted no part of that feeling. I really don’t know.

I do know that even now when I watch sports, I find it hard to accept that only one team can win. I empathize for the defeated. I know what you’re thinking: what a wimp.

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Incite

Lately, I’ve been thinking about a man I worked with many years ago. Back then I used to wander a prison cellblock. Just to be clear, I was one of the ones with the keys, on the right side of the bars. That’s how long ago this was. They don’t use keys anymore. Not in the newer institutions anyway.

The man was one of several supervisors who reported to me. At over six feet, he was the beefy type with an easy smile for his boss. I liked him just fine, and in situations (rare as they were) that called for brawn, he was the guy you wanted beside you. Still there was something about him that made me think his smile hid a frightening sort of rage, the kind that goes off without much warning, let alone reason.

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Seven Word Autobiography

This week we had the Whistler Writers Group annual general meeting. I try not to make this too formal an event. I left the boardroom years ago and don’t intend to recreate it in my artistic world. Yet, we went through some formalities just the same because, as the group has developed and received further funding, expectations on us have also grown. Suddenly others are noticing.

So some decorum must be followed. Still, any of our meetings (formal or not) involve food and drink and usually a writing exercise.

Just so everyone is clear: I hate writing exercises. I can’t pull words out of a hat. I’m not a magician. I have to think and rethink. And this takes a lot more energy and time than the ten minutes usually allotted for these things. I know others love the exercises, but again, I HATE them. Okay, I’m glad that’s off my chest.

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Who Am I?

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You’re on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who’ll decide where to go. Dr. Seuss

We had lunch this week with a friend of mine visiting from Edmonton. Her husband had passed away earlier this year. She was reconnecting with friends and family she hadn’t seen for quite some time. Her husband had been ill and she was his primary caregiver until the end.

I asked her how she was doing. I know what you’re thinking: what a dumb question.  How do you think she feels? I asked because I don’t shy away from tough discussions and because our friendship goes back a long time, and I knew she’d be candid with me. I also knew she’d want to talk about what she’d been through.

“I’m doing okay,” she said. Her voice always had a singsong, cheerful quality. Nothing had changed there, but the melancholy tone that laced its way through her words was new. “I don’t know who I am. Who am I supposed to be? What am I supposed to do?“ She said that her job now was to try to answer these questions.

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Zen and Anger

Anyone can become angry that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way this is not easy. Aristotle (384 BC-322 BC) Greek philosopher

Over a conversation this week with visiting guests, we had a discussion about what makes us angry. Most around the table said they reacted to people who shoved their way in line ahead of them, or who cut them off in traffic.

I could feel the sense of injustice our guests felt when they talked about these slights. It was as though they alone were the protectors of good behaviour.

For my part, I said I had a Zen about these situations. If someone cuts me off in traffic or in a grocery store line up, I first figure that they must not be aware of what they’re doing. Or perhaps they’re in a hurry, they need the space more than I do.

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The Speech I Would Have Given

The Whistler Excellence Awards dinner was held this week. The event honours excellence in the areas of Service, Innovation and Sustainability, and outstanding leadership in Arts, Business and Community Service. I was surprised and honoured to be a finalist in the category of Whistler Champion of Arts and Culture.

It was lovely to get dressed up (something I don’t get a chance to do living in a ski town), and it was wonderful to share the evening with so many friends. Friends, acquaintances and strangers were very generous and supportive. They made me feel loved and so grateful I live in such an openhearted, loving community.

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Access Copyright

I know that each one of us travels to love alone, alone to faith and to death. I know it. I've tried it. It doesn't help. Let me come with you. Giannis Ritsos, 20th century poet

You’ve heard it said many times. It’s a message worth repeating. An author, unless he or she is famous, makes little money at their craft. There I’ve just said it again.

I don’t drive a Lamborghini or own homes on every continent. Nor would I want to. I’m grateful for what I have. For the most part, I work alone and in obscurity, for little financial return. Still I pore everything I have into what I do, not because as my husband claims, I’ve become allergic to money, but rather for the pure love of touching another person with the words and characters I manage to create.

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Dad

And what he greatly thought, he nobly dared. Homer         

He set out to do better by his children than his own father had done by him. Against all odds and in the absence of a suitable example, he dared to take on fatherhood.

As a young man, he was exactly that kind of man. An adventurer. Imagining a better life, he moved his family to a country at the other end of the world, a place with cold winters, and customs he didn’t understand. He didn’t know a soul. The Canadian Immigration officer who greeted him and his small brood at Pier 21 called him crazy, and then he smiled and said, “You are brave to have come so far.”

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From Where You Write

“Yesterday we obeyed kings and bent our necks before emperors, but today we kneel only to the truth.” Khalil Gibran (artist, poet, writer)

In Robert Olen Butler’s book, From Where You Dream (the Process of Writing Fiction), he says, “the best way to write fiction is to sit down each day and think about a scene, write a few lines about that scene on an index card and then write another one.” Apparently you do this until you have the scenes you think you need to complete a novel.

You then arrange those cards in the order you think your story will unfold and you begin to write while staying focused on scenes. He calls this process ‘dream storming’ and makes an argument that it is better than writing multiple drafts because, “no matter how open minded the writer is, she has to make approximations in the first draft, then she must make approximations in the second, and more in the third, adding more rough, headlong stuff in the fourth.

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Knowing and Doing the Right Thing        

There is a website entitled, Ancient Greek Battles which catalogues ageless Spartan stories and any resulting quotes. I’m not into battles, ancient or otherwise. Usually I stumble onto a site by accident when I’m searching for background information for the novel I’m working on or to find a quote that might inspire my work forward.

In one particular story noted on this website, an old man went to the Olympic games and couldn't find a place to sit down. As he went from one area to the next, he met with insults. No one would make room for him. Then he came to the Spartan section. The boys and many of the men rose and offered him a place to sit. Seeing this, the other Greeks applauded, commending the actions of the Spartans. The old man shook his head and said, “It seems that all of Greece knows what is the right thing to do, but it is only the Spartans that do anything about it.”

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No Guts, No Glory  

It’s true. I’m anxious. I know it doesn’t show. I’m standing tall, moving through the gathering, stopping here and there to give my thanks, connect with those who support the craziness I foist upon them. Smile in place. Check. Handshakes. Appropriate nods. Blink. Smile again. Check. Move on. Greet. smile. Repeat.

This may make me sound shallow. I’m just preoccupied with all the small details. I guess that is what I’m trying to say or show.

I would prefer to be in the background, fiddling, worrying, and making sure everything comes off smoothly, but as chief bottle washer, I can’t hide. I can’t even run. We’re here because of me. Or I should say, we’re here because of an idea I had.

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Brittle

When liberty is taken away by force it can be restored by force. When it is relinquished voluntarily by default it can never be recovered. Dorothy Thompson

Of all forms of government and society, those of free men and women are in many respects the most brittle. Dorothy Thompson

“Just look at those tiny, fragile bones,” the radiographer said, and I knew, before my arm was placed gingerly in the x-ray machine, my elbow was broken. My bones break easily, as does my heart.

I take vitamins, eat well and exercise to keep my crumbly bones as strong as they can be. In terms of my heart, well I can’t out run my nature. “She plays well with others, likes to get along.” That’s a direct quote from one of my old report cards.  Some things never change, despite age and experience.

My problem in a nutshell: I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes, try to understand them despite the behaviour (good or bad) they are displaying. Even when my heart is broken, I give second and third chances. I’m taken by surprise each and every time someone hurts me.

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He Doth Protest Too Much           

Late last month the Supreme Court of Canada rejected the Harper government’s proposal for Senate reform. The fifth kick in the butt this government has received of late from the highest court in our land. Makes you feel warm and fuzzy just thinking about this. The Supreme Court of Canada is still an independent body.

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Teachers       

The task of the educator is not to cut down jungles, but to irrigate deserts. C.S. Lewis

As a child I was a klutz. I was worse than that. My scrawny body and unruly limbs seemed unable to move in unison. I left bits of my flesh on corners I bumped into, bruised my hips and knees on table edges, and broke my arm riding my bike. Standing, sitting or walking, I had the uncanny ability to trip over my own feet.

I was the kid in gym class picked last, the one who found any excuse to avoid the lesson in the first place. When I made it to grade 10, I discovered this was the last year I’d ever have to take what was euphemistically referred to as physical education. In all the years I’d been forced to take this class, I hadn’t learned viable ways to control my clumsiness, let alone, get good at any of the sports I’d tried. At fifteen, I’d concluded I would never be good at these things. I would raise the white flag, and not suffer any more hits to my already waning self-esteem.

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Immortality 

Higher than the question of our duration is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in the future must be a great soul now. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I felt with great sadness the loss of authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alistair Macleod this week. Their stories entertained, called us to action and gave us glimpses into ourselves through the circumstances of others. I loved them through their writing. I was also fortunate enough to meet one of these wonderful men.

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Books and Readers 

O day of days when we can read! The reader and the book, either without the other is naught. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I should feel vulnerable and intimidated before entering a room of book aficionados. I wonder if I will have anything to say of value. Will they feel good about the discussion we’ll have? The participants are not discussing just any book. They’ve chosen my novel this month. I’m grateful and frightened. Excited and terrified. I am as eager to please, as I am to facilitate the thoughtful discourse I hope will come.

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Yes, I'm Working on A New Novel

I utter these words with some trepidation when asked. The novel, if you can call it that, is an assortment of ideas, concepts, thoughts and characters. They’ve infiltrated my brain and refuse to leave. They nudge. They keep me up at nights. Come on, already. It’s time to tell our story.

It’s a confusing process this writing business. I, myself, don’t often times understand how it comes together until the final word is typed. And even then I’m not sure what I’ve got. That’s what I really want to say when asked.

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