Seek and You Will Find – Part 2

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.” Helen Keller

In last week’s blog, I wrote about how information and people have come into my life to confirm what I’ve been writing. This week I want to acknowledge those who made this journey possible. Without their help, I would not have had the experiences you’ve read about in my blogs over the last several weeks.

It all started when I made a phone call to the Greek Consulate General’s office in Vancouver. My thought was to talk to someone about my novel’s themes and to get some advice about how I might proceed to meet officials in Greece who could confirm some of the things I had been thinking and writing about. I met with Ilias Kremmydas, the Consulate General shortly afterwards. He listened to what I was trying to do, spent a great deal of time with me giving me advice and helping me focus my research plan. He asked me to put together a proposal.

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Seek and You Will Find – Part 1

“To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” Alfred Lord Tennyson

Have you ever had this experience: you’re working hard on a project or a goal, you’ve got a bunch of pieces, but you haven’t quite figured out how they are meant to fit together, then as though you’ve found a long forgotten combination to a rust-bitten lock, everything clicks into place.

I know what you’re thinking. When does that ever happen? There’s no mystery to realizing a goal. It takes work and lots of it. Period.

Yes, I agree with you.

Except once in a while, not often enough, this sort of magic does occur. And when it happens to me, it feels as though someone is watching over me, opening whatever doors need to be opened, making sure I don’t trip over myself or any other obstacles put in my way.

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Just An Opinion

“In Naples they say that a red light at an intersection is: Just An Opinion.” Anonymous

I have had such an incredibly rich and fulfilling time in Greece. I love this country (I may have mentioned this once or twice before), the people, the weather, and the great food. Everyone I’ve met has been hospitable and generous with their time (more about that in a future blog) and incredibly engaged and welcoming. There’s a vibrancy here that is infectious, a chaos that makes you shake your head in disbelief and brings a smile at the same time. There is a history that leaves you in awe.

I love the genius that is behind the Acropolis, the Acropolis museum, the Benaki Museum, all the museums that have captured the rich background of this country that was the birthplace of democracy, western philosophy, the Olympic Games, western literature, political science and so much more.

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Folklore and Myths

“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but, the myth, persistent, persuasive and unrealistic.” John F. Kennedy

The Roma people of Greece play one of the many leading roles in my new novel. I have read about them, talked to some on the street who spoke English (or understood my bad Greek), visited groups who provide specialized programming to the Roma community and tried to make contact with a few Roma associations. I wanted to see through their eyes, sense their plight through their hearts.

More and more I’ve come to realise that in order for me to write, I need to first feel.

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Yes, I Will Tell Your Story

Love and compassion are necessities not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” Dalai Lama 

Syntagma Square intersects a number of major thoroughfares in the heart of Athens. This is the place where the first constitution of Greece was granted in 1843. Across the way is the Old Royal Palace, which has housed the Greek Parliament since 1934. Kitty corner are the affluent Hotel Grande Bretagne and Hotel King George Palace. The entrance to the public gardens is down the street and the entire area teams with cafes, restaurants and people hurrying this way and that.

It is in this exclusive, affluent corner of Athens that I came across a makeshift camp stretching across the top of the square and just in front of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. On cardboard boxes, blankets and plastic tarps, some 200 men, women and children stood or sat, placards in hand. A number had tape across their mouths. Scribbled notes at their feet said: Day 5 hunger strike. Other signs mentioned Syria. Their message: it was time that Syrians in Greece were treated with respect.

I’m a writer writing about the emotional and psychological toll of the economic crisis on Greeks, refugees and others. I am also a naturally concerned and snoopy person so I tried to find someone I could talk to. I located an English-speaking bear of a man with kind eyes and an open smile willing to share his story.

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Love and Shadows – Part 3

“Because I grew up with naïve expectations of people doing right, I get shocked by every little violation.” Dave Eggers, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius

A twenty-six year old Pakistani man died in a refugee detention centre on the outskirts of Athens this week. Police had beaten him while he was in another centre because he was involved in a protest over the living conditions he had to endure while in custody. Overcrowding at these facilities is an ongoing concern because of the increasing number of undocumented and illegal immigrants who end up on Greek soil and are later apprehended and detained by police.

The man had allegedly requested medical treatment. It was denied.

There was no cause of death provided in the article, but young men of his age don’t typically end up dead for no reason.

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Love and Shadows - Part 2

"To love one another may require a leap of faith. The outcome though constitutes an act of birth for humanity. It also signifies the inevitable transition from the instinct of survival to morality.” Zygmunt Bauman (sociologist)

Last week I wrote about my impressions of Greece. I’ve now been here for two weeks and I’m surprised at how the contrasts I’ve witnessed in those early days have further cemented themselves in my views so that all I see is contradiction. My cousins reassure me there are no inconsistencies. Greece has always been this way.

“A country on the surface may appear civilized,” one cousin says, “but at its core it is as out of control as it has always been.”

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Love and Shadows – Part 1

“I knew nothing but shadows and I thought them to be real.” Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey

“Greece is always in my heart”. My command of the Greek language is no better than that of a precocious two-year old, but these words of love flow easily. I repeat them time and time again, this to the delight of some and to the utter disbelief of others. You love this country? They ask this question as though speaking to a child of limited understanding.

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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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