Family Lines

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Tag: ghostwriting (page 4 of 17)

One and a half days in KL

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea this past May. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’ve decided to share my experiences this time around — only this time, on my own blog.

One and a half days in KL

Part I of Singapore ’16

Batu_Caves_oneStepping off the train in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, the heat grabbed me in a bear hug. It was only 7 a.m. but the warmth of the early morning wasn’t going to let me go. It was only going to squeeze me tighter and tighter until my clothes were saturated with sweat and I was dizzy. There was too much to see, too much to do though, and I tried to settle into the May temperatures of a place several thousand kilometres — and several degrees — removed from home.

I had thought maybe KL might spark some kind of recognition in my veins. Some sort of ancient feeling deep in my bones. Ancestors used to live in Malaysia. I talked to my grandmother about it before coming here. She told me she used to get letters with the return address stamped Kuala Lumpur. Our relatives either owned or ran rubber and tea plantations outside of the city and in Singapore as well. The resistance to the heat that had been built up in their blood had dissipated by the time it trickled down to me.

Since there were no traces of old memories or ghosts to chase, KL was mine to explore. After arriving at from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at 1 a.m. and trying to find out why my husband’s backpack had missed the plane, we laid down on a long bench in the arrival’s lounge and tried to find sleep amongst the other tired travellers. When rest refused to come, we boarded a train to visit Batumalai Sri Muruga Perumal Kovil, otherwise known as the Batu Caves. The caves are massive limestone hollows that were once used as shelter and now are part of a Hindu shrine. They also open at 6 a.m.

A stormed had rolled through about half an hour earlier and did nothing to lower the temperature. It just made the grounds of the religious site wet and the air sticky with humidity. Grey clouds still languished in the sky creating a perfect backdrop for giant golden statues. I had never seen such things before. Seven or eight skinny dogs stretched out amongst the puddles in the parking lot. They looked hungry but never wandered over to us looking for food.

At odds with the poor dogs, was the smell of rich incense in the air. Everywhere I went in KL, there was the smell of spices, a warm aroma of seasonings that I’ve never learned the names of since I don’t know how to cook. The spices coloured the scenes around me, making everything that much more exotic, even a stair climb in the damp heat.

My husband and I went up 272 concrete steps with the other tourists, chickens and monkeys to the largest of the caves, the Temple Cave. Once at the top, music from two musicians blessed a ritual being performed by a man who washed a pure white sheet in clear water flowing from a hidden tap. The darkness of the cave held in the warmth. Sweat made my grasp on the camera slippery. I took a few photos of the beige walls marbled with black and then went back down the stairs, stopping on every one. I was being hypnotized by each step and felt I was going to fall if I went at any other speed other than slow. At the bottom, my husband and I got back on the train and headed into the central train station and breakfast.

After our meal of laksa, a spicy noodle soup, and a milk tea (it came with a lot of milk, duh, and tons of sugar already added) we tried to walk around KL. Not the best idea. Sidewalks ended abruptly in the middle of intersections and crosswalks are almost non-existent. Cars and trucks and motorcycles whiz and scream and buzz by so closely that their side mirrors almost touch me. Oh yes, the sun had come out.

If I had thought it was hot before, now it was excruciating. It smothered me with its softness and overtook my brain. All I could think of was escaping the brightness. The brilliance of the heat that bored into my pores. We had to stop but found a cool drink of water near shaded botanical gardens and listened to crickets sing and watched butterflies and giant moths fly overhead.

On the other side of KL are the Petronas Twin Towers,

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

buildings that were once the tallest buildings in the world until 2004. (Now it’s Taipei 101.) We took the subway to the office towers and looked up, way up. There are 88 floors and the Skybridge, a walkway connecting the towers, is supposed to be incredible. We really wanted to go on a tour and one left in 15 minutes. We were almost at the front of the line with a couple ahead of us.

The lanky stringbean Westerners used up the whole 15 minutes to ask the tour clerk questions. We missed that tour and had to move on. Our Airbnb host was meeting us at 3 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late. We were anyway.

Navigating the train and metro system wasn’t the problem. Finding the tall apartment building where we were staying for the night wasn’t either. We could see the white concrete structure sticking out amongst the other skyscraper residences from the train. We were late because we couldn’t find the front door. Then someone told us we had to go down some crumbling stairs cut into the side of a steep but short hill, and then round a corner. There it was. Home for the night.

There was a pool in the building and so I went for a swim. That’s when the heat loosened its hot grip on me, slid off my sweat-slicked arms and withered away. It wouldn’t be gone for good on this trip. It would find me again. For now, it was banished by the apartment’s air conditioning.

Traffic.

View from the apartment. Too bad my camera phone is terrible.

The view from the 15th floor apartment was amazing: traffic,

traffic, traffic. The one-room place had floor to ceiling windows that suspended me over the busy roads. I couldn’t stop watching the trucks and cars push and shove each other looking for free space. In-between them, motorcycles zipped along, lane-splitting in a way that’s illegal in Canada, but a highly effective way to get downtown quickly in KL.

It was only early evening, 7 p.m., but the travel, the 14-hour time difference with Calgary and the battle with the stifling heat invaded my brain. It shut down my body and I closed my eyes. Waking up 12 hours later.

A return

Child in Korea.

Hans.

The little guy in the photo on the left will now be 23. It’s crazy to think I took that picture of Hans almost 20 years ago in South Korea. It doesn’t feel like that much time has passed. Today I’m returning to the Land of the Morning Calm.

I’m stopping in a few other places before landing in Inchon International Airport. From there, I’ll visit Taejon (Daejong), where I worked as an English teacher for a few months. The photo of Hans was snapped in Puyo (Bueyo), the first place I taught English in 1998. I won’t be heading there.

To get to Puyo I’d have to crisscross the southern part of the country on different buses. The trip will gouge a large chunk of time from my already busy schedule seeing other parts of the country that I never got to visit long ago. I do feel a tug towards the rural town and wonder if it’s changed over the years.

I’ve changed. Even though I don’t want to admit it. I have lines around my eyes and memories that stretch over many years. Korea changed me first though. It was in Puyo that I grew up.  Where I became an adult. Without mom and dad nearby or just a telephone call away (the time difference was about 12 hours), I had to rely on me. I had to make my own money and spend it on groceries. I had to make my own decisions of where to go and what to do. I had to sort out my own problems.

So even though I’ll be bypassing Puyo soon and driving past the classrooms where I taught and the temple I ran by every morning, I’ll resist the pull of memories. Puyo will always be part of me. I don’t need to re-visit it. After almost 20 years, my time there has been absorbed into my bones. It has made me stronger. It made me: me.

I’ll be back at the beginning of June. See you then.

Fort Mac Ties

Biking into the Wood Buffalo.

Fort Smith, NWT borders the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. Friends and I biked in RMWB a lot in the summer. If you enlarge the image, you can see the RMWB sign. Photo taken August, 2007.

While I have only been Fort McMurray once — passing through the airport a few years ago — I know a lot about the city. As the editor of what was then called the Slave River Journal (now the Northern Journal), I was responsible for covering the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. I talked to the politicians and business people serving the area as well as some of the residents. As the wildfire blazed through Fort Mac this past week, my heart has been hurting. I can’t even imagine how the people of Wood Buffalo must be feeling.

I have no family or friends in Fort Mac but I have ties there. I learned about its growing pains and other issues that often spilt the communities surrounding the city. It had drugs and crime but was also the setting for the TV comedy Mixed Blessings. (I love that show.) Fort Mac was where many Canadians found work and in turn, spent that hard-earned cash back home. In fact, when my husband and I were in Newfoundland two years ago, the first people we met while hiking on the East Coast Trail were two guys who had just returned from working in the oil sands near Fort Mac. They were home for a couple weeks off.

There are some who say Fort McMurray is getting its comeuppance, whether it be for pollution or the oil sands or its relatively wealthy residents. It’s BS and extremely hurtful to those who have made their home there, especially when some of those homes are gone.

The wildfire doesn’t wipe the environmental slate clean and there are still questions about energy processing there. However, let’s remember that people lived there and some have lost everything — homes, businesses, pets — and deserve to be treated with respect. Thankfully, Canadians everywhere, from LacMégantic to Cranbrook, are answering the call for help and pitching in to help the city rise again. To clear away the ashes and start rebuilding. To put pieces of lives back together.

Here are some details on how to help: http://bit.ly/1SYRRoC

Short Tale of Two Storrys

A grizzly paw print.

This is one of the grizzly bear tracks spotted on the hike in Peter Lougheed park, with my hand for scale. Another set of tracks was MUCH bigger.

I didn’t write a memoir for my blog today. My middle sister is visiting from Ontario and so we were busy touring around Calgary. We created a lot of memories like going hiking and seeing grizzly paw prints all over the muddy trail in Kananaskis. We turned around and headed back to the car after discovering not one, but many sets of the large bear tracks. It’s spring and the big bruins are probably hungry and we didn’t want to stick around and find out what they wanted for lunch.

My sister and I also went to 2016 Calgary Comic & Entertainment Expo yesterday. Comic Con is usually not something I’d go to but why not check it out. It was a fun day of people watching and listening to actors discuss their roles in their movies. We got the inside scoop on the television show Vikings from Clive Standen, who plays Rollo. I guess there are a lot of pranks played on the set. We also heard from Jason Isaacs (Lucius Malfoy) and Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy) about being in the Harry Potter movies. They were a comedic tag team on the Corral Arena stage and had the audience laughing the whole 45 minutes. Needless to say, Isaacs and Felton are nothing like their nefarious Potter counterparts on screen.

Clive Standen being interviewed by Garrett Wang.

Clive Standen being interviewed by Garrett Wang.

There were lots of people dressed up as Hogwarts students and professors. Other attendees were dressed up in elaborate costumes from every and anything you can imagine. One man was an Ent (a talking tree-type species from J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth). It looked like he made his costume out of pipe insulation. It was a piece of art and must have taken him many, many hours to create. There were so many imaginative characters and fantastic fantasy people it was hard to know where to look.This is why I don’t have a long story to post today – because there were two Storrys out and about this weekend.

In the news

Just like everyone can sing, I believe everyone can write. I’ve been teaching writing courses at Kerby Centre, a senior’s centre in downtown Calgary, for a few years now. This is the first time I’ve been interviewed for the Kerby Centre News. Here’s a story from Shelley Den Haan that talks about my memoir writing course. I also do a Life Writing class at Chinook Learning Services and offer private instruction too. I can help you shape your memories into stories.

Kerby Centre article.

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.”

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