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Posts Tagged ‘Writing’

So Banal It’s Profound

October 14, 2011 8 comments

I’ve read the Facts and Arguments page in the Globe and Mail steadfastly for years. Truthfully, some days it’s the only page I read; I thumb past the political hoopla more quickly than I should and head straight to the back of the Life section. (The Saturday Arts section is also divine and renders me weak in the knees, but on weekdays I have to satisfy myself with the essay.)

On the Facts page they showcase an essay submitted by random Canadians, and run a clever illustration alongside. Often they are lighthearted musings, occasionally poignant, and sometimes delightfully funny. There’s enough space for the writer to delve into the heart of the matter, and dissect it accordingly.

In retrospect, I should have given more thought about my topic, which unfortunately is my love/hate relationship with the mall, but I’m seeking solace in the fact that Adam Gopnik‘s topic for the upcoming Massey Lectures is simply winter. And he’s speaking for a whole week on that one.

When someone asked Gopnik “why winter?”,  he replied he was waiting for a bus on a cold day in NYC when he received the offer to give the lectures, and he decided then and there to talk about winter. Right then and there! Shouldn’t he have perhaps consulted Margaret Atwood or Douglas Coupland? Or at the very least Googled “top ten interesting topics for scholarly discussion”? Past topics of Massey Lectures have included The Unconscious Civilization and Globalism and the Nation State. Winter is so simple it’s profound, perhaps.

(In any case, it works for me: winter holds more appeal for my simple mind, I refer you to my  aversion to politics.)

Not to draw similarities between myself and Gopnik, because surely there are none besides sharing a few letters in our names and a country of birth, but I stumbled across my topic in a similar fashion. My daughter had asked me for the umpteenth time that week to take her to the mall, when I felt the bile rising in the back of my throat at the thought entering its revolving doors. Instead of taking this frustration out on her I very maturely picked up my laptop and wrote about them. Then for some god-forsaken reason I emailed it to the Globe, and the rest, as they say, is in today’s broadsheet.

Click here to link to the article, and keep in mind I was using the mall as a metaphor for suburbia itself, of course.

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It Only Took Me Twenty Years

October 13, 2011 18 comments

To be totally upfront, as writing careers go mine has been far from stellar.

One month after graduating from university with a degree in Journalism, my father, a local journalist and my inspiration, died; and so did my aspirations for a writing career. I wrote about this here, in my inaugural post for this blog, in case anyone besides Mom cares to read it.

Instead I got a job that delivered decent money if not bylines, and the rest is yesterday’s news.

But since everyone loves it when old dogs learn new tricks, I have a modicum of success to report. It is really little – like a freckle on Diana Swain‘s face. But it’s the most success I’ve had since putting the perfect ratio of peanut butter to jam on my sandwich last week, or ever, so I’m rather excited.

As the rain fell and the wind blew one day, I submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail. Granted, my topic was pretty lame; it’s far from Nietzsche in scope and as always short of Austen in form. It’s about the mall.

Yet incredibly, today they replied they were using it (slow essay month, I guess). They would be publishing it this Friday, October 14th.

It took me a minute before I realized that just happens to be my dear father’s birthday, of all days. So happy birthday to my father, who was more profound and witty than I will ever be, and who never lost his enthusiasm for life.


From Vegas and Beyond With Lindy Hughes

May 16, 2011 4 comments

She endured a midlife crisis and came away from it an author. Lindy Hughes, incredible mother, wife, and ballet teacher turned novelist, is my subject today for Motivational Monday.

Every parent of daughters west of the Rockies has heard of her extraordinary prowess as a ballet teacher. Her South African accent combined with her love for fairies has little girls falling over themselves to get into her class – they are legendary, and each of my three girls were lucky to be her students.

But her rock star status amongst the five year-old set couldn’t insulate her disappointment that so many go through in their forties. She had never planned on getting married and having children, yet had done so and it naturally consumed her life. As Facebook launched and peers around the world caught up with her, she was mystified by her answers to what had become of her: how different they sounded from her grand plans of being a penniless writer.

Completely distraught, she had a very honest conversation with her husband, telling him she wanted to leave, that this life wasn’t intended for her. He asked her what her ideal life would look like.

I would be starving, sleeping on a floor somewhere in Paris, and writing, was her reply.

He pointed out she could do that here, in Vancouver, in their home. Sleep on the floor too if you want, but I’m not going to join you.

She agreed he had a point, there was nothing stopping her from writing except herself.

For the next three months, she wrote a fictional story about a middle-aged South African emigrant mother named Lucy who has an affair with her first love in the midst of a mid-life crisis. The story, she says, literally poured out of her.

Written with self-deprecating humour and just the right amount of poignancy, she self-published her book, It Never Stays in Vegas, through Amazon.

My book club read it, and Lindy gamely attended our meeting. Over wine and dinner, we barraged her with questions about the book, lobbing tougher questions as the wine flowed. She answered all of our questions in a straightforward manner, dealing with criticism as well as compliments. It was our best meeting ever, consumed not only by the book but also grander conversation about life and its challenges.

“Each life is just a story, and we CAN change things. Every day you are writing your own chapter,” she says. Writing her book was cathartic, and put her in a better space. “The world would be a better place if everyone would write their own book.”

She is in the midst of finishing her second book, Tutus, Tiaras and Tassels. This one is non-fiction, and is a collection of essays about lessons learned from the dance studio. Where Lindy is concerned, there is never a dull moment, and I am anxiously awaiting its release. Suffice to say this woman has chutzpah, but I can’t give anything else away.

“We must get over that fear of embarrassing ourselves,” she says, referring to the fact that everyone should live their best life, whatever that means for them. “At the end of the day, it’s just you on your deathbed, so you can’t let anyone else rule your life.”

I salute you Lindy, for making lemonade when life gave you lemons, for your fresh perspectives and your unflinching honesty, but mostly for going after your dream.

Who Do You Love?

May 5, 2011 6 comments

I am coming out of the closet, in my own small sense. I was nominated as one of Vancouver’s Top Mom Bloggers for 2011. A very nice nod of approval from VancouverMom.ca. If it’s the equivalent of a peck on the cheek, I’m presenting mine for a lipstick stained kiss.

Otherwise, I was content to keep this between them and me.

But upon further researching last year’s contest, I realized to my horror they show the results of the voting. Keeping this little secret to myself will be a big mistake when I register zero votes, and I look like the equivalent of the kid who gets picked last for Red Rover. Having been there and done that, I really don’t want to revisit my youth.

It’s down to the wire – voting closes tomorrow – so if you would be so kind as to click on this link and cast your vote, I would be forever indebted to you. In fact, I just might give you a Junior Mint the next time I see you.

As you can imagine, if you know me, this act of self-promotion leaves me squeamish and with sweaty palms. But saving myself from embarrassment ranks even higher on my list than asking for help.

It’s not about blogging domination, for which I clearly lack the killer gene. It’s about coming out of this contest with a marginal amount of composure, so that I don’t need to wear a bag over my MothersTonic face when running my errands around Vancouver.

Unlike our federal election, one vote really can make a difference – these are slim margins we’re talking about. Save me from becoming the blogging equivalent of Michael Ignatieff. And I did promise you a Junior Mint.

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Just Like My Daughter

May 2, 2011 7 comments

Sometimes the people who motivate me are at a great distance. They are on television or in history books, and I will never meet them.

But other people who motivate me are right under my nose. In fact, today’s case only comes up to my armpit, and I feed her and take care of her everyday. She’s nine. She’s my daughter.

She has a tendency to throw herself into everything she does with gusto, full throttle and heart first.

This daughter of mine has a tenacious grip on what she plans to be when she grows up. Since she was a wee thing, she has wanted to be a writer. And to this end she writes volumes of articles, stories and blogs. Her imaginary play revolves around her role as a reporter, and she walks around the house with a notepad and pen tucked into her shirt. When I clean up, I come across scraps of paper she has written on, and other evidences of her pretend articles.

How can I be a better writer, she would ask me, and I would reply, keep writing. And so she does. Day after day.

I was not as single minded as a child, wanting to be a veterinarian, a teacher, a doctor, a magician, depending on which way the wind blew. I keep expecting her whim to change, but she remains fixated on her goal.

Inevitably, the day came when she asked me, Mommy, weren’t you a writer? And I so eloquently stammered, ah, well, sort of but not really, um, a long time ago. She wouldn’t let me off the hook. Well, why don’t you write?

Why indeed.

I had always thought it would be my job as a parent to cheer my children on in whatever they pursued. It would be my job to instill in them a desire to persevere and work hard to achieve their goals. But quite the opposite has transpired. It is my child who motivates and teaches me.

Watching her diligently go about her work and play, I realized I needed to step it up. I needed to at least try to write. As Lyle Lovett once asked us, “What would you be if you didn’t even try? You have to try.” Taking a good hard look at myself as a role model, there wasn’t much to go on. I didn’t see in myself anything that could inspire her.

So now, everyday, I try hard to be like my daughter. In manageable chunks, I try to emulate her enthusiasm and dedication for writing. Her unfailing cheerfulness, generosity and kindness are other things to strive for, but I will attempt these another day. First things first.

When I grow up, I want to be just like my daughter.

Wings of Paper Mache

March 14, 2011 4 comments

Whenever I’m in a book store discreetly trying to find a self-help book on how to make my life perfect, incognito in hoodie and sunglasses, I inevitably bump into another woman I know.

We exchange weak smiles and tell each other we’re looking for a gift for a down and out friend.

When I was growing up there was a copy of Dale Carnegie’s bestseller, How to Win Friends and Influence People, floating around my house. My brother was a disciple of this book, and quoted it often. I once thumbed through it, but quickly determined it would not help me in any way break into the cool crowd in high school. That was a different chapter altogether.

Since then I have read many self-help books that have been as unhelpful.

My inclusive but not exhaustive list includes: Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, All I Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, The Happiness Project, The Four Agreements, and The Secret. I draw the line at anything with Dummie or Chicken Soup in the title.

It was worth a shot, I thought, if the key to the perfect life was written in black and white, it would be silly of me not to to read it. Like buying a lottery ticket, they were a harmless gamble. But the only thing any of them did was instill in me a desire to write a legitimate self-help book, one that would actually give practical tips on living a better life.

I’m slowly getting it. The secret is there is no secret.

None of these books seemed to speak to me, personally. Of course they didn’t, they were written for the masses. They were written for the world at large, as though our brains function similarly. As though we are all wired the same.

We are so not.

I once saw Sia, a folksy Australian singer, in concert. She came out on stage wearing massive seven-feet high paper mache wings. It was quite a spectacle. She told us they were made out of every self-help book she had ever read. Ironically these heavy wings caused her to suffer from heat exhaustion and she left the stage after only four songs.

All those self-help books did was weigh her down.

And so it goes. Last week I went to the Momcafe in Vancouver, where the speaker implored us to stop looking for that last self-help book. The room erupted in laughter, we all knew what she was referring to. The answers can’t be found on a book shelf. Yet we can’t stop ourselves from looking, which is why The Power, the sequel to The Secret, has become a bestseller. Obviously, The Secret didn’t quite get it done.

Like Dr. Seuss summed up so eloquently in Oh, the Places You’ll Go!, so many of us are in the waiting room. Waiting for the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or a No… Everyone is just waiting.

I was waiting to read the perfect self-help book.

The answer is in each of us, if we care to listen. What’s important to me might not be important to you. What I love you may despise. Listen to yourself, and don’t let a book tell you how to live. Instead, write your own personal version.

When terrible things happen to other people, it’s a wake up call to live your best life now. There can be no silver lining from Japan’s tragic earthquake, simply a reminder to all those more fortunate to not take any day for granted, squeeze whatever you can out of today because tomorrow holds no promises.

In creating its famous advertising campaign, Nike inadvertently gave us all the perfect slogan: Just Do It.

Between Nike and Dr. Seuss, I have all the self-help I need. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some wings to build.

We Interrupt This Program for a Poetic Interlude

February 24, 2011 1 comment

As promised, today I am reproducing three of many beautiful poems I discovered on bentlily, a blog by Samantha Reynolds, dedicated to posting a poem a day. She has embarked on this project in an effort to remain more present in her life and find the beauty that lurks in mysterious places.

Always one for shortcuts, I’m hoping to achieve this same result by reading her poetry. Enjoy a moment of savouring language.

The short story

I know people who hate short
stories. I don’t
blame them.
They are arrogant
and gorgeous. They are literary
one night
stands.
All intimacy and no
commitment.
Just as you are falling
in love
they disappear. You knew
all along
there was no future
but you can’t help it,
the wondering.

Those tiny things

It’s nice to be appreciated
for hard work and
our best qualities
like grace
competence
boldness.

But those are only
the bullet points
of my being.

What makes me crumble
with love
is when you adore
the poetry
that is smudged around
the edges of me:

those tiny things
about me
that I didn’t know
existed.

We are not so innocent

In German
the word for nipple
is breast
wart.

It’s no wonder
they grow so many
existentialists.

But we are not so
innocent.

Consider the effect
of telling a child
they have
hit
puberty.

I always imagined
my little body
young and running and free
and suddenly
a wall.
Now, I watch myself
walk.

What if we gathered our young
and whispered instead
with sparkle in our voices:

How exciting,
you are about
to meet
your adult
self.

Samantha Reynolds is Founder and President of Echo Memoirs, a company which captures memories of individuals and companies and turns them into storybooks. These poems are reprinted with her permission.