Family Lines

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Tag: memoir (page 3 of 14)

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.

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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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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