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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The Bridge Cabin     

Can you picture it? Eight women in a room. Okay, I see your grin and know what you’re thinking. No, this isn’t the first line of a bad joke. I can’t tell jokes. I’m forever forgetting the punch line or the string of events or something.

Each woman has her hands on keys. Not the pearly ones, but keys nonetheless. Some hands move, some lie in wait. Anticipation marks their brow and flickers in the starry far away look in their eyes. Some women face a window out to treed pathways. Others face each other, keyboard to keyboard. None of these women sit close enough to touch and yet somehow they do.

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Getting Older

No one longs to live more than someone growing old - Sophocles  

I have a birthday coming up in the next few days. Oh, thanks for your wishes. That’s very nice of you. I appreciate it. No, I’m not turning a new decade or anything special like that. Although aren’t all birthdays special in their own way? When my friends complain about getting older, I tell them they should be grateful. I mean, really, what’s the alternative?

And now, I need to take my own advice. I’ve been feeling somewhat anxious of late. Oh, yes I know it’s only a number. What’s the big deal? It’s not. The number doesn’t bother me at all. Okay, I can see that suspicious grin. Maybe it worries me a little.

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I’m Angry, Damn It! But Why?

Men should strive to think much and know little. Democritus

I know it doesn’t show, but I’m a pretty opinionated person. Okay, stop laughing. I mean it. Can’t you see? I’m stamping my size 6s? And I’ve got my hands on my hips in that all knowing school principle sort of way I’m prone to sometimes. 

If there’s something I feel or think, I’m likely going to share it with you, whether I’m asked to or not. Okay, I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know about me. You’ve likely heard an earful in the past.

Blame this need to voice my opinion on my family, our Greek roots, and our argumentative nature. I grew up debating issues of politics, history, religion, and the state of the world. Having an opinion, even about the smallest matter, is so engrained I can’t change it even if I wanted to. And believe me sometimes I do.

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Squeaky Wheel       

We’ve all been there. We’ve dealt with a service provider (I use the term service loosely), who doesn’t listen, doesn’t care, and certainly wouldn’t give us the time of day if he or she were not paid minimum wage to answer (or should I say avoid) our call. Thankfully when all is going well or at the very least, not badly, we don’t have to deal with these people or the organizations they represent. I suppose that is how we are lulled into complacency.

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Writing and Jellybeans

The jellybean dispenser on the credenza by my desk was given to me by my son and daughter-in-law years ago. My grandchildren fall over themselves to fill it whenever they can. They think it’s interesting that an old broad like me eats jellybeans and does so until she gets an upset tummy. They’re surprised I don’t know any better.  I do. But why spoil their fun? They warn me that I shouldn’t eat all the candies at once. I tell them I won’t, but they’re not convinced. Apparently my need for, and ability to devour, all things sweet is the stuff of family legend.

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Happy New Year!   

I thrive on routine. I think I’ve mentioned that in one or two, or maybe more, blogs. I’m sure I’ve written about routine and discipline so often you’ve wondered about my origins. Is she a robot or a real person? Let me reassure you. I’m no robot. I stray from the rigidity of my life several times a year. So there. Yes, I do. Really, I do. Gee, now I sound like a five year old. Blame it on the anarchy of December.

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