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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Some of My Favourite Reads of 2013    

I’ve been writing this blog week-in and week-out for a year. I typically write and post on Sundays, usually my day off from fiction writing. I know, I know. What kind of day off is that? Not much of one is my quick response. But let me take a minute to explain. The energy I use to write a blog comes from a different, more rational part of my brain. Yes, I know its hard to believe that the words me and rational fit in a sentence I’ve uttered. The blog allows me to get my thoughts down about something I’m thinking, or worrying, about in a coherent way (mostly). In the blog I’m writing about real situations. I want to express myself in a way that helps me make sense of what I see and experience. And hopefully it gives you some insight into who I am.

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A Work In Progress

I stand in front of the cashier as helpless as I would be if I were a schoolgirl facing the principle. She scowls; her fingertips tap the debit machine. I imagine her saying, “can’t you move a little faster lady, you’re ruining my chance at this month’s efficiency award.” I smile. She closes her eyes, rubs her temples.

The customer in line behind me sighs. I try to read his exhale. Is it one of understanding or exasperation? Is he in my corner? Or not? I don’t know. I have to see the expression on his face before I draw a conclusion.

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What is Remembered       

Fragrances of exotic flowers, simmering lamb, baked desserts, aromatic spices will ignite a memory, a sense of something familiar. I will be reminded of a home I once lived in, and yet, won’t be able to see in any other substantive way. The mirage won’t permit a clear view of bricks and mortar, furniture, carpets. These details will be no more than ghosts and shadows. But at some level I know I’ve been there.

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A Family Story         

In November, CBC’s Canada Writes held a contest entitled Blood Lines. Contestants were to dig through the pages of their family’s past and share a compelling story from their bloodline. We were to include a picture with our submissions. I don’t normally enter contests, but felt that the story of how we found our American cousins was an important one to tell. It’s a story we still mull over when we get together. The ‘what-if’s seem deeply entrenched for each of us even as we are thankful for the ‘what–is’.  The story has all the elements of good fiction—heroes, villains, a journey, and a reconciliation−except it’s true.

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Envy   

Remember when you were a kid? You looked up to your older siblings with a kind of wonder and enchantment bordering on hero worship? You wanted to hang out with them, copy how they act, who they hung out with, and what they did. And if you were honest with yourself, you knew you wanted to be them. Not you.

No. You don’t remember being like that? Me neither. Not because I didn’t do it. I did. But, I didn’t have an older sibling. I was the oldest. And believe me neither my sister nor my brother looked up to me or admired anything I did. I was far too nerdy for them to even pay attention to, let alone copy or respect. But that’s not my point.

Even though I didn’t have an older sibling, I admired certain friends. Did you do that too? I know. It sucks to admit it. But it’s good to be honest. Don’t you think? For whatever reason, I looked up to people who I thought were more popular, smarter, skinnier, better looking, more athletic, or better spoken. Whatever the reason, we’ve all had that experience where we wanted to be someone else. Correct?

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Friendships  

True friends stab you in the front. Oscar Wilde

A month or so ago I met up with an old friend for dinner. We’d planned this via email months in advance as we live at opposite ends of the country and we don’t get a chance to get together often. Like a kid before Christmas morning, I can get very excited about visits like this. I imagine how we’ll gab the night away sharing stories, arm in arm, laughing. I thrive on this type of intimacy. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. Man are you ever setting yourself up for a fall. It’s true I am a bit of a dreamer and a hopeless optimist. And if I’m honest with myself, I’m a bit of a people pleaser too. Okay, maybe a little more than a bit.

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Who Are We?         

Friends ask me if I’m enjoying writing a weekly blog. It wasn’t something I wanted to do. In fact, I went into it kicking and screaming as I do with any significant change in my life. But having written the blog for almost a year, I have to say I love it.

The blog reminds me of the letters I used to write to the local newspaper when I was a kid. If there was something in the community or in the news that bothered me or I had an opinion about (and when don’t I have an opinion), I used to take pen to paper. I guess I was meant to be a politician or an activist, but I didn’t do any of those things. Maybe I was too afraid I’d end up in prison.

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Lululemon    

Yoga has many definitions, but I’ll use this one from the Merriam-Webster on line dictionary: “a Hindu philosophy that teaches a person to experience inner peace by controlling the body and mind.”

I wonder if Lululemon’s co-founder Chip Wilson practices yoga? He seems to be having trouble controlling his mouth these days and perhaps could benefit from the practice. Just last week, he said that Lululemon pants aren’t for all women. “They just don't work for some women’s bodies,” he said, as his wife looked on, her jaw tight, her forehead furrowed. She probably wanted to tell him to shut up. But he was having none of that. Instead he rambled on.

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Who Among Us Is Perfect?

I made an appointment with a hairdresser. My high school graduation ceremony was the same evening. Dress and high-heels were already taken care of. But now I needed an expert’s help. There was no taming my waist-long, forest-like head of hair. It was raining that morning and I took the family car without permission. My parents were preoccupied with something, but I don’t remember what. Lucky for me, I thought. I asked my sister to come along. I needed an accomplice.

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Sneaking Peeks       

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us. Franz Kafka

An eternity ago, we moved to England for work. We lived in a typical row house on a quiet street in a picturesque village about thirty minutes away from my office. Narrowboats wound their way through the canals and old trees towered overhead. This was the village of Shakespeare. We chose to live here instead of the city where I worked because this was the England I had read about and imagined.

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Enfant Terrible        

If you were a quiet kid in school, the middle of the road type who did your work and didn’t make a fuss, no one likely gave you much notice. You were left to fend for yourself. If you were an honour student, you were showered with praise and teachers smiled with pride when you raised your hand to answer a question. You got lots of attention, sure, but nothing like the kid who was belligerent, smoked or sold pot, got into fights, and did whatever he could to get noticed. That kid got some serious focus, the kind only microscopes can provide.

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A Nudge from a Stranger  

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls. Aesop

I’m exhausted and teary-eyed. It’s over. A year’s worth of planning, organizing, begging, cajoling, worrying and praying is done. Well, it’s not truly done until the paperwork and numbers are submitted. Did we accomplish what we initially said we would? Yes, we did. I had the proof, long before launch date, in spreadsheets full of numbers analysed on different parameters. In addition to a spreadsheet analysis, I will write reports and incorporate participant feedback. I will record these tangible measures of success and forward this to our funding sources, but I’m not sure they will tell the whole story. Some lessons are difficult to capture in a report.

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No House Has Ever Sunk in the Making of A New Friendship            

My husband says our house is sinking under the weight. I don’t pay attention. He tends to exaggerate. Instead, I pick up another friend. They’ve been recommended to me because of their clever stories, their poetic words. Or sometimes I just like the look of them, the way they feel when I innocently run my hand across a spine.

When I run out of space, I look for solutions, places I can continue to proudly house my loves. What does Dave have to complain about? They occupy such tiny corners. Well, okay, the thicker ones need more room. I admit it. So what? They deserve the places they command.

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Why Do You Do It   

From January right through to mid-October, your friends, your family, perfect strangers ask you why you do it. You ask yourself the same question. It kicks around in your head, wakes you in the middle of the night, and dogs you when you’re deep in the woods trying to escape its demand. It, like the fear of failure and the subsequent consequences, never leave you.

Isn’t it time you gave up on doing this thing? Sometimes you’re asked this question too. You smile. Avoid eye contact. When you’re by yourself, you wonder, perhaps this will be the last year.

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The Messy Bits

A recent horoscope of mine gave me some sage advice. I don’t typically read my horoscope (where have you heard that before), but sometimes something catches my eye and has the kind of nonsensical message that makes complete sense. This particular one, in our local paper a few weeks ago said, “it’s important for you to learn from the messy things in your life and not just assume it all needs to be scoured and disinfected.”

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