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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Lucky by Kathryn Para

Lucky explores the impact of war on those who bring it into our living rooms – the foreign correspondents. The novel is divided into two sections: 2004 and 2006.

2006: Ani, a photojournalist is home after a stint in the Middle East. The pictures she’s taken, the experiences she’s had, and the disappearance of her friend, Viva, reoccur as grainy images haunting her.  

Living in her native Vancouver, Ani has to reconcile her life now with the adrenalin-filled one she led in the Middle East. Hooked on adrenalin then, hooked on the “V-drug” now; Vodka.

We get some insight, into how Ani feels about being home, with passages such as this: “Claire’s parties are as bland as the house−cream and taupe on the walls, chocolate leather, cappuccino and cream carpet. Silk drapes, wool carpet, mahogany, marble, thread counts and empty calories. Everything beautifully immoral.”

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Crimea          

My sister has always been stronger than me. I’m the oldest, but she got the take-no-prisoners gene. Her stubbornness left its mark on me. Some good. Some? All I can tell you is we laugh often when retelling the story of how our dad took me to emergency several times when I was a kid with yet another broken bone? Asked by a concern-weary nurse what had happened, Dad replied, “She was playing with her sister.” The nurse tilted her head, raised an eyebrow. “Her sister plays rough.”

I learned a lot of street smarts from my sister. That’s the good part. Overall this kept me safe and gave me the common sense I needed, but had a hard time grasping.

I’ll never have her instincts, but I’ve become less Polly Anna. I doubt she’d agree with that statement. And perhaps you won’t either after you read this blog.

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Protest         

To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards of men (and women – I’ve added this bit because I’m sure Mr. Lincoln would agree). Abraham Lincoln

More than a few years ago now, I took a poetry workshop at Simon Fraser University, not because I wanted to, but because the creative writing program I was enrolled in made this course compulsory. The professor was excellent. I was in awe of my fellow students who teemed with enthusiasm and talent.

Me? Well, suffice to say, I’m not a poet.

Don’t get me wrong, I love every aspect of poetry: reading it, listening to it, dissecting it, interpreting it, and trying to understand the subtle meaning behind every word so wisely placed. What I can’t do is write it. It takes a specific gene or a talent or something I simply don’t have. Trust me on this one. I’ve tried.

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Apology Vs. Action

You prove your worth with your actions, not with your mouth. Jean Paul           

Close to 70 years have passed since the end of World War II, yet its influence prevails. Or at least, that’s the theory I wanted to explore in my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters. To be honest, when I first began the project, I wasn’t sure where I was going with the story or what I wanted to say about this war. But I dove in anyway, uncovering details of a long forgotten tragedy. Along the way, I learned a bit of what makes me tick.

WWII was a backdrop to my novel, an interesting distant past for the characters I had created. The war provided some insight into the actions of my protagonists even though some hadn’t been born. I dug deeper and discovered how this conflict shaped not only my fictional characters, but also a nation’s psyche.

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Spreadsheet

My brain used to be a quiet place where I could explore bold ideas while keeping them safe from prying eyes. When the opportunity presented itself, I would bring them out into the light to see what might happen.

Lately though, my brain resembles a spreadsheet: tangled, multi-layered and formulaic. Awake or asleep I see its web. It has all sorts of nifty cells. All I have to do is keep adding more data. I’m good at doing that. More tasks, more dates. More bits and pieces of me. I’m not so good at exiting the quagmires I create.

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Schoolyard Antics   

I would rather be a little nobody, than an evil somebody. Abraham Lincoln

You see these people everywhere. Or rather, you experience them. Whether you want to or not. It’s in their doggedness, the soulless bird of prey gaze and the rush of words that interrupt you. The pursed smile meant to entice, then consume what they see as the little nobody.

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Well Intentioned Advice   

I’ve been in the advice business for a very long time. As a kid, other kids sought my help about how to get a girl’s attention, or what to do about this or that boy, or how to talk to mom about dad’s drinking. Those early beginnings led to my life’s work, the kind I loved and found incredibly rewarding. It was never a slog. My work gave me so much more than I believe I ever gave.

A few times lately, I’ve been on the receiving end of advice. I don’t mind this in the slightest. In fact, I usually solicit it because as a leader I know I don’t have all the answers. The more heads involved in problem solving, the better. Securing advice (both solicited and unsolicited) has made me pause, though, to think about how I give it and just as importantly, what gets my back up when someone, well intentioned as they may be, alienates me to such a point that even if the advice were sound, I wouldn’t take it (cranky, stubborn bag that I am).

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Why We Look          

Fifteen years ago we lived in a small village in England frequented by tourists and vacationers. People flocked there for the theatre, the river, and I suppose to see how the other half lived. It was a rather affluent community, quaint and picturesque. We lived in what the British called terrace houses and what I think of as row houses.

I loved the history contained in the mortar and brick walls, the tiny English garden at the back, the meandering staircase to the small landing on the second floor and the two equally snug bedrooms. And when I soaked in the claw foot bathtub, I wondered about those who had come before me, what they were like, what this house must have been before it was updated with central heating, electricity, indoor facilities. Being the wimp that I am I doubt I would have liked the reality of the past. Much prefer fantasizing about it, romanticizing it.

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