Family Lines

stories for you

Month: January 2016

Playing with words

Pasting words.

Patricia Lortie, a visual artist, pastes words from her negative story, into her happy story.

We all have stories in our lives that we wish we could change. A new workshop by This is My City Calgary (TMC) gives participants the chance to do that with Write /Rewrite: a do-over.

TMC is a non-profit organization that puts artist-mentors together with marginalized people. I volunteer as a memoir writer and Patricia Lortie is a visual artist volunteer. Patricia came up with the Write/Rewrite idea after reading her grandmother’s memoirs that were full of tales of woe. Instead of leaving the sentences to fester, Patricia took her grandmother’s words and rearranged them into a positive story.

This past January, Patricia and I held four sessions of the Write /Rewrite class at the CommunityWise Resource Centre. We had a group of women from all walks of life participating in the workshops. They each wrote a memoir about a sad or tough period in their lives and then took words out of the negative story, to re-write it into something positive and powerful. Non-fiction to fiction.

Next came the visual aspect. Everyone cut out words from their sad stories to be pasted into the happy stories. The negative memoirs had so many holes in them, none could be read. The positive stories were whole and could be shared with everyone.

So if you’ve ever had an experience that you wished had gone differently or think, “Why didn’t I do this or do that?” give yourself a write over.

 

Media meltdown

Old Herald desk.

Drawer full of reporter graffiti. Names and doodles from an antique Herald desk drawer on display at the City of Calgary Corporate Records, Archives.

The newspaper industry across Canada was dealt a massive blow last week. It hit me personally as my husband was caught in the layoff tsunami. We need more trained journalists, not fewer.

I know there are other sectors hurting and the economy in Alberta is weak right now. At a Calgary Chamber of Commerce event a couple of weeks ago, I talked with a member about how she’s dealing with the tough economic climate. She said there have always been booms and busts and it’s part of the cycle. She’s been through it before and said she will weather this storm too.

I’ve been through it as well and was laid off from my newspaper job in 2009. I’m not employed as a journalist today. It’s a sad time for all media across North America and many don’t seem to see the worth in news anymore. I read the comments section of the CBC Calgary story on Postmedia’s move to combine and gut the Calgary Herald and Calgary Sun newsrooms (as well as similar mergers in Edmonton, Vancouver and Ottawa) and it made me sick to see what people were saying about papers. That news should be free and journalists only write what Big Business tells them to write. Conspiracy theories from commenters who don’t value the job of reporters.

Walking amongst the tall buildings and business workers in downtown Calgary on Friday, I overheard a woman telling another woman, “Change is good. Remember that.”

Change can be good and in fact, journalists live for change. It’s one reason why we get into the news business. But change can also leave spaces, voids, gaps in information. These holes deprive us of stories, stories that explain what’s happening in our city or country or world. Stories that unite us with other people and connect us to our neighbours.

Bloggers might be able to fill some of the cracks, but they’re not trained to follow and uphold time-honoured journalistic standards of accuracy and fairness. To separate fact from opinion. Being a journalist is not just an occupation: it’s a profession; it’s a calling. The newspaper landscape of Calgary has been indelibly changed and not for the better. As journalists disappear from newsrooms, so does the record of our city’s history, our stories.

Little snow, big snow

hill over looking a pond in winter.

Tobogganing hill over looking the pond. Twenty years ago there were fewer trees on the hill.

When there’s a snow storm in Nova Scotia, there’s a snow storm. It’s not the full-sized, plump flakes that add up: it’s the little, wee ones that fall fast and furious. They hit the ground piling up and up and up…until the bus can’t get down our dirt road. That’s when school is cancelled and my sisters and I get the day off.

With our bonus time we head outside to build forts and go tobogganing down the hill above the pond. We spend hours in the snow and I never felt cold. Just damp from the heavy, wet Maritimes winter.

When our neighbour comes over with his tractor to dig out our driveway, the snow banks grow and grow and grow. They’re mountains and they need to be climbed. One day we play badminton on top of the big hill. I’m not sure who thought this would be a good idea but we chase the shuttlecock from peak to peak. Then we wrestle to see who can stay on the snow bank the longest. We don’t call the winner “King of the Hill.” Whoever stays firmly on two feet at the summit is the winner and allowed to call the loser “Rocky Bell Bottoms.”

When the winter afternoon turns into night, I lie in the snow on my back, under a huge fir tree, and look at the stars and airplanes through the branches. The wind picks up and I shiver. Time to go in. I have homework to do that I didn’t do yesterday.

Floppy disc discovery

floppy disc.

Floppy disc driving at the Calgary Public Library.

While home for the holidays in Nova Scotia, I found a treasure trove: some old, old floppy discs. Not those round ones that look like records but the hard square ones. I brought them back to Calgary and wondered how to get the data off them. Who has a computer with a floppy disc drive anymore? The Calgary Public Library.

I went to the third floor and asked for a floppy disc drive and plugged it into a port. Then I popped the first disc into the drive and it spat and whirred like an ancient engine being turned on for the first time in 100 years. The noise was loud and I was hoping no one was going to “Shhhs” me. It is a library. You’re supposed to be quiet.

I found a lot of photos I had scanned and put on disc in 2003. I also uncovered stories and homework assignments I had written at Ryerson University in 2006. The following is a piece I wrote when I lived in residence only steps away from the core of Toronto. I had a room (that I called The Coffin because it was tiny) in a four bedroom apartment. Each unit in Pitman was designed the same way. I had three roommates (women) and we lived on a co-ed floor. Here’s a vignette from 20 years ago. (Really?)

Noise. A man’s laugh is projected from one bedroom. Haunting pagan music follows from another. The sounds mix and float out of the hallway, pooling in the living room. Sarah and De sit in a circle amidst it, making their own noises.

Sarah’s arm drags across paper. Making a swishing sound as she writes. Bright purple socks sticking out of brown cords and pushed into brown boots is Sarah. De’s making clicking sounds. She’s an interior design student and she’s crouched on the floor and tediously gluing tiny, straight sticks together to make a giant octahedron. Click. She’s gluing the sticks into triangles. Click. She’s building the complex design slowly in case it collapses. De has one leg tucked under her. It’s as if she is trying to create the same symmetry in her design. Sarah walks over to help. Swish. Her cords make a rough noise like her arm on the paper. She sits the same way as De.

Pitman Hall.

Common room at Pitman Hall.

Two shadows are thrown over De and Sarah. The white wall outlines a couple. Two people in a slow dance. The shadows move together and then apart.

Swish. John comes out of the shadows. He’s carrying a plant. “Look,” he says, “it’s real.”

He gives the plant to Maura, who has also come out of the shadows. Bang. John slams the door. Maura takes a seat beside Sarah.

The room fills up with chatter. Talking, talking and talking. The conversation is light and easy. Meringue on lemon pie. Chitchat about classes and octahedrons. Nattering about New York and Chicago. Dirty dishes.

“There is no volume to it.” De mutters to her creation.

Crack. Maura’s knees break as she bends to show De pictures. Her knees sound like octahedron sticks snapping half. But De keeps going with the glue gun. “Psst,” it says. The glue gun wants to tell a secret.

“Psst, come here.”

Rustling paper. Sarah returns her focus to her writing. Maura looks out the window. Not much talk now. A few expletives from the glue gun lady. Maybe she’ll shoot someone. Psst, psst and pssssstttt!

Then smooth silence. A few strains of music escape from the room down the hall. Phone rings. Thud. Everyone jumps up. Pattering feet. Who’s it for? The circle is broken. Everyone has left and so must I.

A New Year’s declaration

Woman on a bike.

Bike!

I hope everyone had a good holiday and you left 2015 with happy memories. We have no choice in welcoming 2016 but we do have a choice about what we do in 2016. Some people like to make resolutions to map out their goals of the year. Some people just slide right into January without a thought about the upcoming months. Whatever you do, make a New Year’s declaration to make this year count. Look up from your phone and see how blue the sky is. Remove those earbuds and listen to the birds or the river or your friend’s laugh. Move: walk, run or skip. Bike! Talk to people. Volunteer. Don’t just be a consumer: create things. Try something new. Rediscover something old. Challenge yourself to have a year that matters.

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