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The Maritime homing beacon

Scott's Bay, Nova Scotia.

Me being silly at Scott’s Bay, Nova Scotia. (the bay is actually the Minas Basin but it’s still salt water.)

“What is it with you Maritimers?” asked a friend born and raised in Calgary. “You always want to go home.”

Home.

Home, to Maritimers, can be Nova Scotia, New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island. Three provinces with proud distinctions on their own, but together, together they are a tight-knit community unfurled on the Atlantic ocean. When we were born, somehow, a bit of that ocean must have leaked into our veins. Made us salt brothers and sisters with the sea: a life-long bond.

Today I live in Calgary. The city has grown on me like a callous forming on the palms of my hands after hard work. Life is fast-paced and the way of the West comes with cowboy boots and big trucks. I love how the land lies flat before rising into gargantuan mountains. The Rockies are a spiked forest, an insurmountable ridge that wraps its protective arms around the Calgary.

The Rockies are brown in the summer. In the fall, while leaves are changing colour, I can see the tips of the mountains slowly turn white. It’s still winter up there today while the city gets a peek at warm weather.

Other than summer and winter, the mountains never seem to change. Unlike the ocean. Which changes with our every breath and sigh. Oh to be on the water on a calm, clear morning. Flat, motionless and still. Look down and what might you see? Fish perhaps. Seaweed for sure. And you. Your reflection staring back from the depths.

When the wind finally stirs the Atlantic in the afternoon, it will smear your image on the waves. The water will bounce you on its knee and send messages to lap up against your boat. It will also rock you to sleep if you let it.

Mount Yamnuska.

View from Mount Yamnuska.

Sometimes the waves thrash instead of dance and the sea boils and froths into a fierce monster. That’s when the ocean makes you forget that it loves you. It makes you frightened and scared and fearful. Because this sea has great power — tremendous power. Enough force to take you prisoner and smother you with its affection. You are angry and it is angry and you’d better leave it alone lest you get caught up in the bitter blue. Just for now. You can return later.

Alberta is being rocked right now by tough economic times. Maritimers know all about this. That’s why we headed west in the first place, when Calgary was the land of opportunity. A lot of us are still here today despite the change in fortune. We’re staying and mucking in while the goings aren’t so good. My Maritime roots will always be tugging me eastward, towards the ocean. But for now, my home is Alberta.

Don’t be ashamed of indie publishing

Peter Rabbit in the garden.

Beatrix Potter published her bunny tales herself. Credit: Beatrix Potter – Wikisource ebook of The Tale of Peter Rabbit

I read an article by author Ros Barber on the virtues of traditional publishing versus self-publishing. Barber said she would rather be poor than publish one of her novels independently. She went on to make a lot of absurd generalizations against indie-published writers. (Such as: the only thing self-published writers talk/tweet/post about are their books.) Her judgment of indie publishing boils down to snobbery.

Self-publishing is a dirty word to many people. Perhaps that’s because indie publishing is an offshoot of vanity press. Vanity press is where authors pay printers to publish their books. It’s been around for a long time and looked down upon by authors who have books published via publishing houses. But why?

What I’ve never understood is you can busk on the street corner and make money. You can put your song up on YouTube and get a million likes and a recording deal. You can display your artwork in cafes and have people buy it right off the wall. You can post your photos online and have them go viral all over the internet, with people clamouring for prints. But once you publish your own story, it’s considered garbage.

If someone has taken the time to write a book, why shouldn’t they be able to publish it themselves? It doesn’t mean you have to read it. Not to mention, there’s a lot of crap out there that’s been published by traditional means. The editors making the choices to publish or not publish are no more discerning than you or me. They’re just being paid for their opinion.

Being published by a publishing house just means someone liked your book enough that he or she decided it’s good fare for other readers. Sure, it’s validating but being self-published does not mean you’re not a real writer. It means you’re not looking for validation.

I’ve done both: self-publishing and going the conventional route of working with a publisher. In both cases, I still had to do a lot of my own marketing. Just because your story was picked up by traditional publisher doesn’t mean you sit back and watch the profits roll in. You have to promote your book, just as you would if it had been self-published. The difference is, people respond differently to me when they find out I’ve had a story printed by someone other than me. To them, my writing becomes a little more important. (This is their perception and not one I necessarily agree with.)

Barber wrote that only amateurs self-publish, that if you want your prose full of plot holes and mistakes, do it yourself. However, I’ve read a few novels that have been professionally published and found a mistake or two. In fact, one book changed the name of the main character halfway through. (No, this wasn’t a plot device.) I can’t remember the name of the author nor the title but it was a big-name writer.

Some people don’t have the time or the patience to send out query letter after query letter only to receive rejection letter after rejection letter. There’s a long list of well-known authors who were repeatedly told “No,” before they were finally published. (Check out the list here. It includes my favourite novel, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, which was rejected 38 times. Beatrix Potter published her bunny tales herself.) Imagine all the great books that haven’t been published. Then consider all the great books that are being published: indie or not.

Festival Time

It’s April and the month full of festival events for This is My City Calgary (TMC). TMC has music, theatre, visual arts and stories for you to experience.

TMC is a volunteer-run, non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status. The festival is made up of different events taking place around the city. It’s a great opportunity for Calgarians to take a look and have listen at some of the projects from citizens we usually don’t hear or see. Click on the image below for the schedule. Come join us! This is our city.

2016_home_page_festival_marquee

Golden moment

two dogs.

Two of my family dogs: Jasper, the golden retriever grandpa, with Kola, a cute fuzzy and energetic puppy.

It was 1996 and I was going to Ryerson University. I was in the Journalism for Graduates program and I had to write a non-fiction story for my course Magazine Fundamentals. The class was taught by writer David Hayes and he asked us to write about a “golden moment.” I wrote about my family dog, Jasper. He died not soon after I wrote this piece. I’m glad to have these memories of my old friend.

He walks crookedly. And he is big and red and he loves me. It’s just me and my dog. We chase Sasquatches and bears and run away from bees. We like to go fishing and swimming and diving for rocks. We used to go on bike rides and he would follow me everywhere. But now he’s too old.

Sometimes he’s bad. He once ran away from home for a whole week. It was a very long week. I called his name and looked up and down the lake and searched the cow corn fields. The morning he dragged himself down the driveway, hurt and scared and hungry was a blue sky day. For the next few weeks he had to wear big casts on his front legs. He looked silly. He looked like he was wearing oversized sports socks.

We watch TV together. He lies on the floor and I put my head on his stomach. I can hear him breathing. I always try to match my breath to his but he is always slower.

He can’t see well anymore. He won’t go through the kitchen to get to the music room. I think the glare of the floor tile is too bright for his eyes. I put him on a mat and drag him into the next room. He thinks it’s a lot of fun. He thinks he’s surfing.

When we go cross-country skiing he messes up my trail. I break two perfectly narrow tracks in the deep snow. Perfect so I’ll be able to go faster on the way back. He gets lazy and walks right in the middle of my hard work. His feet get balls of snow tangled in the fur and so he lies down in front of my swishing skis. As he chews off the snow, I have to wait.

I saw him kill a rabbit. He was savage and he scared me. He bit the rabbit’s neck and spit on its fur and looked crazy. I tried to save the rabbit. I put it in a wood barrel but it started to convulse and scream and its eyes rolled up into its brain.

Jasper thought it was funny. I saw him laugh. I know when he laughs. His lip curls up on one side. He does this especially when I’m around and he’s happy to see me.

Jasper is all my golden moments. When I think of my dog I can see the woods we walk through, the streams we wade through, the snow we trudge through, the stars that fall, the flames that wave to the sky and my best friend.

Come to the festival!

Found poetry,.

TMC: Found Poetry. An 2015 festival exhibit at the library.

Since 2012, This is My City Calgary (TMC) holds a festival in April full of music, theatre, visual art and stories. TMC invites you to see what it has going on this year.

TMC is a volunteer-run, non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter what income bracket or social status. The festival is made up of different events taking place around the city. It’s a great opportunity for Calgarians to take a look and have listen at some of the projects from citizens we usually don’t hear or see. Here are two festival events that I’ve been involved with and will be involved in.

Stories from the River’s Edge

Tuesday, April 12 there’s a screening of Stories from the River’s Edge, a collaboration with TMC, ACAD, East Village Seniors Community Association, Loft 112 and the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre. The film captures tales from those who have lived in the East Village: past and present. I led a story-telling workshop for seniors on how to tell their stories. Many of their anecdotes are in the documentary.

Where: John Dutton Theatre Library (616 Macleod Trail SE)

Date: Tuesday, April 12

Time: Doors open at 6:15 p.m., screening starts at 6:30 p.m. followed by a short reception with film makers, participants and community.

Voices in the Wind

On Wednesday, April 13 there will be a book launch for Voices in the Wind. The authors of the stories and the creators of the illustrations are Calgarians who participated in TMC workshops. Contributors come from places like the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Alpha House, the Women’s Centre of Calgary and Inn From the Cold.

Where: Shelf Life Books (1302 4 St SW, Calgary)

Date: Wednesday, April 13

Time: 7 p.m.

Book sales are to support the ongoing programming of TMC. Bring a friend – and buy a book or two.

Come join TMC at the festival! Read the stories. Look at the art. Hear the people as they tell us in their own voices, “it doesn’t matter who we are, or where we are, once we get down to the heart of the matter, we’re all the same.”

A Heart for Kristy

Leaf in shape of heart.When meeting Kristy Thackeray, the first thing you’ll notice is her big smile. The second thing is how friendly she is to everyone: she really cares about people. Kristy was a participant in one of my Chinook Learning Services memoir writing classes last fall and she went out of her way to comfort those who got teary-eyed while sharing their life stories. It was only when she began to share her own writing that I realized how much this woman has been through. It is truly unbelievable what Kristy has experienced and yet she still manages to be a positive and empathetic person. She is putting her life story into a book, which I have the honour of editing. Here is Kristy in her own words introducing her memoir.

My book chronicles my journey of requiring a heart transplant. May 25, 1996 I was granted a wish from the Children’s wish foundation – to meet country superstar Reba McEntire. My family and I arrive in Texas and the unthinkable happens: A heart has been found. My family and I need to get back to Edmonton, AB – NOW!

While I am receiving a life-saving heart transplant, another family is dealing with the loss of a loved one: a daughter, sister, cousin, niece and friend. I received Dawn Marie Tremblay’s heart on May 26, 1996 (Dawn’s birthday). It would take some years for our families to meet. But meet we did, five years later when I became pregnant with twins at 19 (Dawn talked about having twins!)

It was a miracle and I was the first heart transplant patient to deliver twins. Two years after the Miracle Twins were born, one of my girls developed symptoms that were concerning. Tests confirmed my worst fear – my daughter had the same rare heart disease and required a heart transplant. Twelve years later, my daughter is doing amazing! I think about her donor family every day and I wish so badly I could meet them.

In my book, I share my discouragements and small victories along with insight into a world that is filled with medical tests, terms and equipment. When my memoir is available for purchase, I hope you will get yourself a copy. This book is for anyone who wants to laugh and cry as I share my journey of having a heart transplant; because that is truly when my life began.

Amazingly my donor family has also contributed to the book and shared their experiences of losing their daughter and the process of organ donation.

If you would like more information about my book please visit my Facebook page. Also share with your friends.

Some of the proceeds from my book will be used to develop a support program for Donor families. Something that is really needed in Alberta!

La cervix

Horton_High_School_logoIt’s the first French class of Grade 11. I’m sitting in a small beige room with about 18 other students. Since it’s high school no one feels cool but we’re all trying to impress each other with our Beaver Canoe sweatshirts and high-end binders. Heck, even intelligence counted a little bit.

Madam L.W. asks us, in English, if we know what the word for brain is in French. Oh! I know! My hand goes up. It’s the only hand up. Not only is my hand the only one towering over a sea of heads, I’m the only one who thinks she’s pretty smart knowing this word, the French word for brain.

“Oui, Lea?”

“Cervix,” I say with pride.

A strange look comes over Madam L.W.’s face. She twists and turns her mouth as if she’s hoping to keep in a laugh. Her eyes narrow as if she’s trying to think of something not to tell me. As I’m wondering why she’s not saying, “bonne travail” I slowly realize the reason why.

Oh. I know.

“Non, Lea,” says Madam L.W. “The cervix is part of a woman’s body.”

The class laughs and laughs. Laughs some more.

Right. That’s it. Brain is cerveau and I certainly was not using mine. I want to bolt from the room or at least hide under the table. Instead, I sit through the class wondering how many coolness points I lost. Probably didn’t have many to start with. But for the rest of life I will never forget what brain is in French.

Where to go from here

Rogers Communication Centre.

Standing outside of the Rogers Communication Centre, home to Ryerson University’s Journalism program.

When I graduated from journalism school the economy was in rough shape. It was 1997 and there was a global economic crisis. There’s a recession now too and journalism grads are in the same boat I was in almost 20 years ago. One recent go-getter grad e-mailed me and asked for some advice. I met him a couple of weeks ago and shared what I learned about being an unemployed and young journalist.

In 1997, the global economic crisis hit Asian countries the hardest. That’s when I decided to teach English in South Korea. I had been working at the Gap in Toronto and wasn’t getting any bites on my green journo resume. I left for Korea and spent several months there. While I made next to nothing, I wrote a biweekly column for a newspaper back home in Nova Scotia. It gave me a chance to hone my skill writing to deadline, as well as share my insight into a different world with people from home.

Things are different for journalism students today. I got out of school with my degree and had a good possibility that I was going to be hired by a news agency, eventually. Now with the shrinking (and outright shutting down) of newspapers, news programs and news magazines, the possibility of solid work for journalism grads is slim. But there are other places to go, especially when you’re 23 and don’t need to support a mortgage or family.

Take a look at the International Youth Internship Program (IYIP). I went to The Gambia, West Africa as part of an IYIP internship. I was the publications officer for a human rights non-governmental organization, a position that required me to use all the skills I had picked up during my six years of university. I learned a lot and the experience taught me more than a job in an office in Canada would have. Take a look at the internships available today.

Newspapers are important but they’re becoming extinct in urban Canada. In northern Canada, many still rely on the paper for news. People are excited to see their children’s photo on the pages of a community paper. I worked as an editor for the Slave River Journal, (called The Northern Journal today) and it was fantastic. There are a lot of issues and news north of 60. Working at a small paper broadens your perspective on Canadian culture and you meet

forest fire.

Flying over Wood Buffalo National Park and checking out a fire.

people from all walks of life. You get to do cool things too like go ice fishing or take a ride in a helicopter to check out a forest fire in Wood Buffalo National Park. See if these places have openings for reporters/editors:

NWT
Northern Journal
Northern News Service
Hay River Hub

Nunavut
Nunatsiaq News

Yukon
Yukon News
Whitehorse Star

This site was invaluable to me when it came to finding jwork: http://www.jeffgaulin.com/ I hope the journo grads reading this find it useful too. Good luck.

From idea to business

Family Lines logo.Capital Ideas is a community of business owners, helping business owners. Recently, they asked Calgary entrepreneurs: How do you know when it’s time to launch your business?

Here’s my answer: http://bit.ly/1K6AFyX

*There a lot of factors at play when deciding it’s time to launch a business. But there is no one right time. Of course, you can conduct research and do studies and look at algorithms to try and find that perfect opening for your business. However, sometimes you’re forced to be your own boss. I started my writing company after I found myself without a job in the volatile newspaper industry. I wanted to stay in Calgary so I created my own job with an idea that had been bouncing around in my head for more than 10 years. Opportunity knocked right then and there and I opened the door. When launching a business there will always be uncertainty – that’s the only thing you can be certain of.

*Originally published in the Calgary Herald FP section on January 21, 2016.

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.

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