Whatever Happened to Passion  

It is obvious that we can no more explain a passion to a person who has never experienced it then we explain light to the blind. T.S. Eliot

Passion. This simple word spawns so many images for me: the nurse holding the hand of a dying patient, the social worker combing the streets on a cold night to offer shelter or a blanket to a homeless man cubby-holed in an alley, the teacher who comes in early to assist a student who can’t quite get the new math assignment, a mother who sits with her child night after night helping him with his essay. When I think about passion, I think about scientists and doctors spending their lives studying one aspect of a disease in the hopes of eradicating it. I see a fireman helping an elderly man escape a fire, a policeman talking to a grade one class about how to stay safe. And yes, when I think of the word passion, I do think of athletes enduring pain and exhaustion for the love and commitment to their sport. Passion to me is a boundless focus and enthusiasm for what you do.

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How Difficult Is It to Make a Good Decision       

If something bothered me when I was a kid, I tended to hide out in my room or sit in a corner away from the rest of the family, my nose in a novel. I still react the same way when I have a problem I need to sort out or I have an important decision to make. I need this alone time to figure out what to say, if anything, and what to do. I think about the ramifications of my actions, my words. I ponder and fuss and think some more. Decisions, all decisions really, have consequences.

When my mother was alive, she’d give me some space when I was in one of these funks, and then she’d bring me a bowl of orange sections and sit beside me. The bowl rocked between us as we each reached in for another piece of orange. She’d talk casually about her day, the things that didn’t get done. She’d laugh about something else my dad said or did. She kept chatting until something in me loosened and spilled out like the juice of the oranges on my fingers. I never figured out how she knew the right time to nudge me into talking. Her actions were seamless, measured and never failed to work on me. Okay, I admit it. I’m a bit of a pushover, especially with my mother.

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The Fixer      

I admire the mechanical, culinary and gardening abilities of others. I gush over what some people can create and repair with their hands. Envious? Definitely. I don’t do anything with my hands except type, and I’m only able to do that if and when characters and stories appear in my head. I also move my hands when I talk. Mediterranean and excitable, my hands flash here and there with every word that comes out of my mouth.

The lack of practical skills on my part is inherited (read not my fault). My father would be the first to tell you (likely because my mother drilled it into him) that he is not what you would call a handy man (duck tape and lots of it being his solution for most everything). My mother, on the other hand was a wonderful cook and gardener, but I always had my nose stuck in a book and didn’t take advantage of her wisdom when I had a chance (read definitely my fault). So I struck out both ways.

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Am I Finally Growing Up?

“Any man can make mistakes, but only an idiot persists in his error.” Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC- 43 BC), Roman Philosopher       

You’ve caught someone−a friend, a partner, a colleague−in a lie. What do you do? Do you confront the person, or say nothing and remain watchful. Or do you tell yourself you’ll never be duped again and shut out the person from your life?

If you’re me (a card-carrying-bleeding-heart-socialist who tries hard to look beyond the lie to the reasons behind it, usually questioning myself as to what it is about me that made the person lie) you shrug, accept explanations provided, forget the transgression and go on with your life.

I know what you’re thinking: wake up already. But, I’ve been like this forever.

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I Don’t Think He Likes You Very Much

I stood in the elevator of my apartment building, gripping my handlebars, holding my bike upright, balanced on its back tire. I jerked myself further into the corner so as not to take up too much space. My elbows and knees were grazed and oozing. A track of grease and blood ran the length of my right calf where chain had chewed away at skin. My helmet was cinched at my wrist as a piece of armour might sit. The bike wobbled in front of me like a shield.

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No Honour Among Thieves

A few weeks ago, I read how the British government blocked the sale of Jane Austen’s ring to singer Kelly Clarkson because they were hoping a British buyer would come along and keep the ring in Britain. "Objects associated with Austen are extremely rare," British Culture Minister Ed Vaizey said. "I hope that a U.K. buyer comes forward so this simple but elegant ring can be saved for the nation."

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Silky Scorpion Weed

With each step I smell the hot pine of the forest. A puffy cloud marks the cerulean sky. Towers of sedimentary rock surround me. In the distance, a sea of alpine flowers−red, yellow, white and fuchsia−wave in the breeze. A clump of deep purple catches my eye. I get closer as we are wont to do with the unusual. The petals are a delicate starburst shape. It’s not until I get a better look that I see the spikes, almost invisible, but nevertheless as pointy as freshly sharpened knives.

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What Are You Looking For           

My mother used to say, “Why? You live in one of the most beautiful places in the world.” This was her response any time I told her we were off travelling again. It didn’t matter to her where we were going. She wasn’t interested in hearing about the isolated backcountry treks in the Purcell’s, the jungles of Peru, the sunsets in northern Spain or the hills of Umbria. She wanted to understand why I had to leave Whistler. “You have everything you need,” she’d say, “what are you looking for?”

Without question, she was right. I do live in a slice of paradise. And, yes, Whistler provides me with everything I’ve ever wanted from a community: solitude and support to do my work, friendships to sustain me, and an outdoor and cultural lifestyle to entertain any desire.  Yet, surprisingly it’s not enough.

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Just Want to Belong           

A friend doesn’t answer an email, or worse, answers with the terse, Busy. More later. Later never comes. A man goes to a party because he wants to belong, impress a friend. Some drunks beat on him. He’s never invited back. Still he wishes he could be. A street person asks for some change. No one makes eye contact. A newbie graduate is looking for an opening, any way to begin life, a working life. He’s passed over for someone with more experience, someone who looks better on paper. A small independent publisher pitches her authors to big time festival directors. The reply comes swiftly; we are fully booked this year, feel free to try us again next year. Next year, the response will likely be the same.  A writer tries to get some buzz going about her book, perhaps secure an audience larger than her family and closest friends. Reviews are good. Still with so many books out there, who will notice?

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The Country of My Birth   

I don’t have many recollections of Egypt, except foggy images of lights pawing at my eyes and pushing me awake the night my grandmother died just before my fourth birthday. Some fragrances, even now, of flowers or exotic spices, sometimes remind me of the country of my birth. Beans and other dishes my mother used to make prompt a memory of an experience I’m sure I had, but when I reach for it, it turns to mist. I recall noises, a man shouting in the street below our balcony selling his wares. I can’t remember his eyes, just his voice. He spoke a language I once understood and still catch the odd sound on my lips or in my throat. From the time I was six I was raised in Canada. I shouldn’t recall Arabic words, but I do. It’s interesting what my memory hoards.

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My Brain Needs to Think   

I ask him a question. Do you want to go downstairs with your sister or stay here with us? My brain needs to think, he says. He stares at me, returns my smile. Is he trying to figure out what he thinks I want him to say? He then looks at the floor, juggles the ball in his hand. He’s been playing soccer in the dining room, aided by his grandfather. He ponders the question as the ball moves from one hand to the other. He then says, my brain says I should go downstairs. What motivates his decision? I don’t know. He’s a three year old. He doesn’t confide his pros and cons analysis.

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How Some Groups Come Together        

I have been a member of so many diverse groups in my career and in my private life that I couldn’t begin to count them (it just goes to show you how old I’m getting). Memory being what it is I couldn’t list at the moment, the various visions, mandates, goals and accomplishments of these groups either. However, I can count on one hand the groups I’ve participated in who shine in that distinct way that is hard to define much less recreate. You know you’ve experienced something special, though, when you’re in such company because it leaves you grateful and dumbfounded and wondering why clusters of people don’t work in this fashion all the time.

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Rose-Coloured Glasses

Breaking news: Wealthy business owners say the pursuit of profit is no longer enough. Okay, that’s not exactly what the headline read. Here it is: Why Arianna Huffington says there's more to business than profit. The subheading: Pursuit of short-term profit not working anymore, Huff Post chief says. The article goes on: "It's not working for businesses long-term sustainability, and it's not working for employees' well-being. And at a time when so many governments are gridlocked and paralyzed and unable or unwilling to pursue big, bold, far-sighted goals, the private sector has a responsibility and a unique opportunity to become a catalyst for fundamental change.” Ms. Huffington went further to say, “Businesses have responsibilities beyond the bottom line, and need to be a driving force for social and environmental benefit in addition to financial gain.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I wear rose-coloured glasses. Friend and foe alike have accused me of this many times, not with the typical taunt, ‘hey four-eyes’, but rather with, ‘take those things off, you can’t see what’s really going on’. I wear my rosy specs proudly. They guide my actions.

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Scaredy-Cat

When placed in circumstances I don’t like (tight spaces, heights, flying, the dark, any or all of the above), I glue my bravest smile in place (well, sometimes I tear up first), even as it feels pallid.  My breathing is shallow, my hands sweat, and my shoulders tremble. My back hunches, my arms are crossed. What I really want to do is curl up into the fetal position, barricade myself away and have someone else take care of me. But I’m a self-respecting adult (most of the time), albeit a scaredy-cat. So I’m usually able to talk myself out of hysterical reactions.

It’s not easy to continue to function and move forward as if you know no fear. But, letting it in allows it to grow new and thorny tentacles. I’m not prepared to give my fears that much latitude or breathe life into something that will use that breath to extinguish who I am, along with my ability to reason.

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The Photograph

I stared obsessively at a photograph posted in Thursday’s edition of the Greek online newspaper, Ekathimerini. The accompanying article outlined the sudden closure of Greece’s public broadcaster, ERT, by the conservative-led government.  After reading the article, I flipped back to the photograph. I went to it several more times that day.

In the forefront, there is a crying woman hunched over her control panel, her fingers stretched over switches as if to protect and defy anyone from turning them off. There is an inconsistency in her bold stance. I wonder about her tears. Perhaps she knows the inevitable will come and this is her last stand. She is focused, despite the tears. I get a sense she won’t go quietly. Although I don’t know her, I’m in her corner, cheering for her. If I were in her shoes, I hope I too would be stubborn to the end.

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What I Would Say If Asked

It’s over. It ended in a bar in Montreal (Blizzarts) exactly one week after it started in a knitting shop (Beehive Wool Shop) in Victoria. No, this wasn’t one of those fast-to-ignite-quick-to-burn types of things, although sometimes it felt like it. Yes, there were new discoveries made. And yes, it did feel at times like running head long into the unknown with no brakes, heart pounding and palms sweaty. Yes, there was love, that all consuming, insecure-but-hell-be-damned sort.

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Democracy

“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber.” Plato

I watched Mr. Harper last week give his speech about the Senate scandal. Besides not providing any viable explanations in his prepared statement, the man sat with that arrogant smile pasted on his face, his lips pursed, and refused to answer any questions. And when journalists persisted, his cabinet ministers rather than advising him to respond to the issues of concern to Canadians protected him and then threw journalists (who were invited by the Prime Minister to this soiree) out of the room. I know journalists can be a bloodthirsty bunch when tracking a salacious story. I don’t condone such behaviour either. But this time journalists simply asked the questions we citizens would have asked.

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Silence

“When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” Yevgeny Yevtushenko (Russian poet)

Remember when you were a kid? I know, I know. It’s been a long time for me too. I mean the being a kid part, not the remembering part. I have flashes of memories from my childhood all the time. Joy, regrets, pride, shame, and hard lessons learned. Remember when your mom asked you if you’d done something wrong?

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Fictionistas

We’ve all heard of Fashionistas, women who are major proponents of fashion as an art form, but what about Fictionistas, female authors celebrating their craft at several tour stops across Canada?

Billed as FictionKNITstas, this year’s tour begins on May 27th in Victoria and sees participating all-Canadian female authors, each one from a variety of independent Canadian publishers, partnered with knitters for a twist on the traditional book tour. There will be 11 stops across the country, in bookstores and wool shops alike.

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Sleepless

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature's soft nurse, how have I frightened thee? That thou no more will weigh my eyelids down. And steep my senses in forgetfulness?” William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 2

You guessed it. I’m going through another bout of sleeplessness. I wish I could say that this nocturnal restlessness had to do with my writing life or the characters in my head elbowing each other for center stage, prodding me, shouting over each other to get my attention. If it were just that, I’d simply get up as I’ve done so many times before, go to my notebook, write down what I’d just heard and go back to bed. And typically fall back to sleep secure in the knowledge that my bleary-eyed scribbles and characters would be waiting for me in the morning.

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This Too Will Pass

I’m a city girl. I’ve admitted this in previous blogs. I was born in a city, raised in a city, and have been fortunate enough to work in many different cities. I love everything about urban living: the chaos, the noise, the mayhem, and the humanity. As Nikos Kazantzakis wrote, “A man needs a little madness....” As does a woman. My particular madness (well, among my many peculiarities) was city living.

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Boston

I felt helpless last week as I watched the events in Boston unfold. The loss of life deeply saddened me. There are no explanations, no justification for this act of violence that would make sense to the victims, or to anyone, really. And yet, I do want to understand. I want to know what motivated these people, not because I want to condone their violence, but rather because I believe that prevention is the only answer to ensuring safety. And effective prevention comes from trying to comprehend the motives and root causes of those who choose to flout our laws. I know it’s not the easiest thing to do (to understand, I mean). Call me a radical or a lefty if you want, but having worked in corrections, (horrible, horrible title for prisons) I know there are no solutions that don’t first begin with understanding.

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Dear Mr. Harper

I wonder if there will come a time when you stop attacking others and actually tell us what you believe in, stand for. Or perhaps that is exactly what you’re doing with each of your volleys against the opposition. Your new object of derision is Justin Trudeau. And I’m still trying to figure out what he’s done in less than a week on the job that has you running so scared, finding the minutia to pick at as you would a blackhead.

Let me see, Mr. Trudeau took off his shirt for a charity event. Oh, the shame of it. And here I thought giving to and helping others in need was what made us Canadian. We’re the ones who have typically gone to other countries as volunteers after a disaster, or as peacekeepers in time of strife, or as honest brokers, for example, in the Middle East (oh, wait, Mr. Harper, you have ruined our reputation on that front, too). Yes, I could see the shock in your labour minister’s (Lisa Raitt) blotchy red face the other night on the news when she commented about Mr. Trudeau’s antics. “What would you say if a woman had taken off her top? Think about it.” Um, excuse me, but what does that have to do with anything?

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Noise

Ever notice the noise that surrounds us? Headlines shriek, politicians yell, ads bellow. I don’t typically notice the racket, because I’m a gurgling commotion all on my own and I’m drawn to other ruckus like a moth to a flame.  But then I attend a writers festival (one I haven’t organized myself. Yippy!), and in the hush of an author’s reading, or the rapt concentration of a workshop, or the quiet milling of a book fair (hungry authors hoping their book will be lovingly fondled, leafed and purchased) I realize we’re all trying to be heard above the noise. And for writers and writers festivals, being heard is no easy feat. In fact, it seems nearly impossible sometimes. Notice how I said, nearly.

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All will be yours

All will be yours when I’m gone. She used to make these bold statements − I never believed she wouldn’t always be around − whenever she bought the umpteenth kitschy knickknack to stuff into her china cabinet, or a fifth etched glass vase for the dining room hutch, or the tenth figurine to display in the living room. They will be worth something one day. Or maybe you’ll put them in your own home. This, she said, pointing to an exceptionally large sculpture of an eagle in full flight, talons at the ready, would be perfect on your coffee table. Was it just the other day when we spoke? It seems like it sometimes, but that’s not possible. She’s been dead for more than two years.

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Passing the Torch

Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. Helen Keller

We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Orson Welles

Two quotes, two different perspectives. Which one do you subscribe to? Give that some thought while I tell you where I stand. For me, everything is better when it’s shared, whether it’s dinner, a movie, a good read, or more esoteric things like what I’m learning or have learned from others. Sharing makes life better.  Actually it’s what life is about. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with passing the torch? I’m hoping to figure that out as I write down my thoughts. This is my process: ideas pop into my head, I get them down, figure things out as I go, edit later. I know what I believe. That’s not the problem, but sometimes, getting it down on paper isn’t straightforward. In fact, it rarely is. So come along for the ride won’t you, and we’ll see where we end up.

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The Next Best Thing

So have you heard about the Next Big Thing? It's a blog game similar to an interview, with a bunch of questions, where you publish the answers on your blog then tag (if you want to) 5 more people. I decided I was in because it’s meant to raise the profile of your work (always a good thing especially with all the noise and other distractions out there) and it sounded kind of fun (and apparently I have an aversion to saying No). Enjoy!

The person who tagged me is a friend and author with an upcoming book to be released in April. Here is his post. And my answers are below.

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Where Does This Stuff Come From

As part of the release of my novel, Nicolai’s Daughters, I’ve been doing readings in various locations both close to home and further away. I love meeting new people and getting to know them, love hearing their comments, love their many questions, just plain love all human interaction, particularly since my work typically requires I toil alone. This is such a hard thing to do for someone like me who is so how do I put this − social. Others might say, talkative. I think the ability to form and maintain relationships is such a gift. But I digress. 

I give a great deal of thought to every question that is asked of me and of my novel during these reading events, wonder later if I could have provided a better answer, tell myself I’ll do better next time, and basically try to learn from every experience. There are, however, some questions that come up time and time again that simply won’t let me go. One such question: how do you develop your characters? Initially I stumbled on this. I’d talk about writing and rewriting, research, doing character mock ups, listening for a particular tick in speech a character might display. Basically I didn’t really know, or perhaps hadn’t given it much thought, but with all the arm waving I did when I responded to this question, I thought I was convincing.  Maybe. As I’ve thought of this question more, I’ve been able to streamline my response (haven’t given up on the arm waving though): I’m not so sure I develop my characters as much as they find me and insist on being uncovered. This happens usually when I’m minding my own business and doing something else.

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Still Grieving

My mother died on March 15, 2011 at ten to three in the morning. She lay in her hospital bed, muted lights trembling above her head, while one daughter slept in one hospital chair, a grandson slept in another, and I, the other daughter sat beside my mother’s bed feeling a biting cold none of the blankets the nurses gave me could ease. I listened for my mother’s raspy breathing, something that had kept us company for so many of those last days, and heard nothing but early morning hospital sounds. Mechanical sounds, sweeping sounds, buzzing light sounds. And still the cutting chill in my bones persisted.

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Opinionated and Unrepentant

I have a few pet peeves. Okay, maybe more than a few. Okay, maybe a whole lot. I’m opinionated, I hope in a nice, respectful, able to listen and understand way. I don’t believe in violent protest, I’m a pacifist. But at the same time, I’m not prepared to just sit back and let others determine what is right or good for me. Resistance, as the filmmaker, Costas Gravas once said, is a good thing.

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