Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: memories (page 8 of 14)

Run away runway

Me landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

Me and my Cessna landing at the Waterville Airport, NS.

In my writing workshops, I talk about emotional writing and how to convey sentiment without using words like angry or happy. The best way to express feelings in writing is to actually describe what these emotions bring to you or your character’s face, body laanguage and voice.

Next, my participants do a writing exercise where we take an emotion word and write about the feeling without using the word. We write for 10 minutes and then share our stories. We then have to guess which emotion we each wrote about. Can you guess mine?

High up in my airplane, I can see the landing strip. But I can’t land. Every time I try to make it back to earth, the wind pushes me off course. Off to the side of the runway. I’ve tried three times to touch down.

One, two, three.

Sweat beads on my forehead. I’m getting hotter and hotter as the gusts use me as their toy. Their plaything to be thrown into the air and kept captive until they’re bored of me.

How am I going to put this plane back on the ground? Stupid wind. You’re going to be the death of me.

Love at first sight

cat.

Tomas

I saw him from across the room. A handsome guy with an intense stare. I decided to go over and say hello. That’s when he head-butted me.

It was my introduction to Tomas, a cat at the Fort Smith Animal Shelter. He knew he was going to be mine the moment he laid eyes on me. And he wasn’t about to let me go.

I was trying to pat the other kitties in the shelter’s cat room. There were a lot of them and everyone needed at least a couple of hugs. Tommy didn’t think so. He wiggled his way into my arms and told the others to scram.

This was my first visit to the shelter since I had moved to the Northwest Territories a couple of months before. Dixie Penner, who runs the shelter, also worked with me at the paper I had come to be the editor of: the then Slave River Journal. She suggested I volunteer at the animal sanctuary and so I was there looking around.

Tom followed me around, hissed at the other kitties, and mooed at me to pay attention to him only. (Tomas doesn’t meow, he makes cow noises but since he’s from the north we say he’s making bison noises.) After that day I started coming back to visit him and play with the other cats, well, if I could get near any of them. I walked the dogs too.

A few weeks after helping out, Dixie asked me if I wanted to foster Tom, a squat boy with several shades of grey granite on his white fur body. He wasn’t getting along with the other cats and needed to be on his own. I asked my landlords if I could bring him home and they said OK so I said OK to hosting Tomas for a while.

dog.

One of the dogs I used to walk. She was eventually adopted.

He moved in one November afternoon. When there was snow on the subarctic ground and the sun was beginning to hide for most of the day. I thought he’d be a regular guy, hang out with me, eat some food and then go to sleep at night. But oh no, he turned into a bad guy.

Tomas would run full-tilt at me and then attack whatever part of my body he arrived at first. Usually my legs. He was vicious and for the first two weeks I walked around with giant pillows so he could assault them and not me. One night I got a nasty surprise in the dark just as I turned out the light. Tommy leapt up and grabbed my arm, scratching and tearing until I managed to pull him off.

Even my friends were afraid of him. When one buddy came over Tom would hop into his lap, waiting for pats. He wouldn’t get many as my friend was frozen solid, afraid to move a muscle in case Tom sank his fangs into his flesh.

Family_Lines_Tomas_oneOver a few months Tommy became a sort-of nice boy. He stopped the attacks and bit only when I left him on his own for a while. He’s a very social cat. After a year I decided to adopt him because even though his poster was all over the territory, even in Yellowknife, no one has asked about him. (I’ve never told him this though.) He’s a great guy now after mellowing for 11 years. Just don’t whistle around him. He’ll bite you.

Target, Zellers and Grade 7

bus.

Here comes the bus!

I walked past some Calgary seniors last Thursday lamenting the loss of Target. It sounded like they were truly upset. However, one woman asked, “What was wrong with Zellers? I miss that place.” I have to agree with her. While Target and Zellers are only two of the many retailers fading away, the Mom and Pop clothing stores that used to be open on our main streets are almost all gone. But not from some of our memories. Target’s closing caused a very buried story to resurface.

Living in rural Nova Scotia meant my two younger sisters and I had to take the bus to and from school. We waited for the bus to pick us up in all types of weather: wind, rain, sleet or snow and had to be prepared to fight these elements. Therefore, from November to March, we were dressed in snow gear.

In the fall of Grade 7 my mom took us shopping in Windsor, Nova Scotia. It was in a family-run clothing store that I met and fell in love with a matching ski jacket and pants: bright yellow and puffy with a faux-leather finish. The coat had a big late 80s asymmetrical collar and a large and shiny brass belt – that buckled in the front. Fabulous! My middle sister got the same suit in blue.

These were expensive purchases at the time and my mother told me the yellow wasn’t a “practical colour.” I guess that meant it wasn’t flattering. There was nothing she could say to turn my head from the sunshine suit. It was mine.

“Looking good!” I thought to myself when I got home and tried on my new winter gear again. The trousers were slightly flared at the bottom to fit over my boots and the jacket cinched nicely at the waist so I did not appear all one shape: blobish. I wished I didn’t have to take my snow and ice clothing off – ever. I wanted everyone to admire my spiffy duds.

Soon after getting my new gear, I was outside Wolfville Junior High School waiting for the bus to take me home. There was a crowd of country kids in the parking lot and I was the only one in a gorgeous and swanky ski suit. I was standing with my friend Angela talking about, what do you think? Boys. Then the guy I had a crush on, a townie, walked by.

Wolfville High.

Scene of the teenage humiliation.

I certainly remember his name because Angela began yelling it at the top of her lungs.

“Steve! Steve! The girl in the yellow ski suit likes you!”

When he turned around she pointed at me. Which she didn’t have to do, as I was the only one in a bright yellow, top to bottom, snowsuit. My face was bright red.

The snowbanks around the school were piled high and I wanted to dive into one and bury myself. But shame still would have found me, as my yellow snowsuit would have been a beacon to light the way. I wanted to rip off the garish trousers and throw the stupid jacket to the wind to be carried far, far, far away from me. Oh the teenage humiliation!

Angela finally shut up and Steve kept walking away. But I was left with hatred for my previously glamourous outfit. From then on I dreaded wearing it and being identified as “The girl in the yellow ski suit with the crush on Steve.”

Of course my parents weren’t going to let me buy something else and I was too big to trade suits with my sister. I just made sure every time I came and left school Steve was nowhere in sight. Even though you could see me coming from a mile away.

Time travel

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Colville by Andrew Hunter / Goose Lane

Time travel boggles my mind. Yet, as a memoir writer I do it almost every day. One thing different about my continuum is physically I stay in the same place. But sometimes something happens and I’m transported, both body and mind, to a different era.

My husband gave me a book about Alex Colville for Christmas. Colville was an artist famous for his stark and muted everyday images that seem to have something hiding in them. He spent a lot of time in the Maritimes, in and around the areas I know well. He lived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia and while I was growing up near the quaint town, I used to see him and his wife, Rhoda, at church, walking down the street or in friends’ parents’ homes as supper guests. It wasn’t until I graduated high school did I understand that Colville was one of Canada’s prolific painters.

I didn’t know him but I feel like I do. My parents have a few of his prints and I have one too. When Canada Post included Colville’s Church and Horse work as part of its “Masterpieces of Canadian Art” stamp series, Colville autographed special envelopes for the Wolfville post office. I bought five of the envelopes for my family and kept one for myself. Now I have a whole book to look at, at any time.

Flipping through his photos and images many of them are scenes from places I’ve lived and even include people I know. Seeing these paintings I enter a different world. A world that existed yesterday and still exists today. There are scenes of Blomidon, a prominent landmark that sticks out like a pot handle into the Minas Basin. When you’re driving down Highway 101 into the Annapolis Valley from Halifax, you see Blomidon. Then you know you are home. Also along the same highway is Freddy Wilson: “The Waver” who stands on an overpass welcoming travellers to Kings County. Colville’s painting of Freddy is included in the book.

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

West Brooklyn Road, 1989 / Professor of Romance Languages, 1973

On the page next to Freddy is a work that many people might puzzle over. But I know it’s the Acadia University physical plant and a former professor. Once in a class that I forget now, we were told a story about that painting. But it’s an unsettling one that I won’t repeat.

Main Street Wolfville is featured by Colville. As a background to the main image of a woman and a vehicle, is the war memorial and post office and in behind these landmarks, houses where I went to parties filled with vodka and youth. Grand Pre and the dykes are caught in brush strokes too. In another painting, my friend’s sister rides a horse. And another, there’s Waterville Municipal Airport; where I got my pilot’s license. Today, the airport is in the midst of closing but Colville captured it alive and buzzing. Is one of those planes the one I flew?

Colville went to Mount Allison University and I worked there long after he left. Some of his images remain though for all to see as murals on buildings. I’m wondering if his Milk Truck piece is set in Sackville in the late 50s. I think I recognize the curve in the road.

Because of Alex Colville’s art, I have a tether to another world. I didn’t know him but I feel he knew me.

Top five Christmas 2013 memories

Zurich.

Zurich.

Last Christmas 2013 was amazing. Fantastic. Superuber wonderful. It should have been: my husband and I went on our honeymoon to Europe. We went to Switzerland and Norway. Today I’m listing our top five trip moments.

 #1. Having our luggage arrive with us on our numerous flights across Canada and Europe

I’ve flown both Air Canada and WestJet and both carriers have managed to screw up my baggage on various North American trips. Imagine my surprise when our bags made it to our destination in Oslo, Norway despite plane delays.

Our flight originated in Zurich, Switzerland and we had to switch planes in Berlin. The Air Berlin flight was late leaving Zurich and we thought the gate for our connecting Air Berlin flight to Oslo would be nearby.

Nope. Not a chance. We had to change terminals!

We had about 15 minutes to get from Point A to Point B and a bunch of smoking and slow-walking airport people in front of us. We also had to go through security…again. With a long line ahead of us it was all we could do not to push through to the front. But we made it on the plane, keeping the reputation of polite Canadians intact but imagining the worst for our luggage.

To see it roll down the conveyor belt in the Norwegian airport was an awesome sight.

#2. The Spengler Cup

I play hockey and watch hockey: both NHL and the Spengler. In my twenties in Nova Scotia

Vaillant Arena in Davos. Look at those beams.

Vaillant Arena in Davos. Look at those beams.

we would tune into the European hockey tournament Boxing Day and I would think how silly the uniforms were with all the advertising on them. But it didn’t take away from the play under the magnificent cathedral ceilings of the Vaillant Arena in Davos, Switzerland.

Being in the arena was a dream come true. I got to see lots of good hockey and enjoyed seeing the Red Army take to the ice. Alex Radulov is a fantastic player even if he gets tired after 30 seconds of having the puck.

#3. The view from our friends’ house

Two generous friends allowed us to stay at their beautiful mountain home in Fanas, Switzerland while they were away for Christmas. Fanas is spectacular and photos don’t do it justice. We spent New Year’s Eve there and it was a sight to see (and hear).

View in Fanas.

That’s just one side of the amazing view.

Fireworks went off up and down the valley and from peak to peak for miles. The sky was illuminated from 11 p.m. until almost dawn. Church bells rang out not just at midnight but for hours and hours. The whole experience was just like out of a story book.

 #4. Seeing friends

I worked as a sport reporter at the Vancouver 2012 Olympic/Paralympic Games in Whistler. I met and lived with people from around the world. In Switzerland and Norway I got the chance to meet up with some European friends again, a month before the 2014 winter games.

 #5. Norway

Family_Lines_2013_three

In Oslo at the Akershus Castle and Fortress. This part sort of reminded me of the Halifax Citadel.

I felt at home in Norway as did my husband. The country’s capital, Oslo, is easy to get around in and there’s much to see and do. We took buses to museums and the subway to the outskirts of the city where there’s a quaint and cozy restaurant called the Frognerseteren. I had a delicious meal of fish cakes (which aren’t like Maritime fish cakes but actually pancakes with fish in them) and my husband had an elk burger. We had our lunch beside a roaring bright fire. Truly a meal (and price) to remember.

This Christmas will be decidedly duller. Calgary is home though and we have lots of friends here even though we’ll be far away from family.

Merry Christmas everyone.

How I wrote my book

Slave River.

Flight flying over the Slave River in Fort Smith, N.W.T.

Yes, I’m touting my book again. As an indie writer and publisher, I have too. No one else is going to promote me except me. So give me a moment to toot my own horn.

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly centres on a raven from Fort Smith, N.T., a small town that I lived in for about three years. The big birds of the North are everywhere and while they scare some people, I like them. While walking to work through the snow on dark mornings the ravens would fly just above my head. I could hear their wings go swish, swish, swish, almost like a velvet skirt rustling, as the birds rose to the sky. I wondered where they were going and what they saw when they flew around the wilderness.

Ravens are also smart and stole food from the sled dogs chained up behind various homes. I’d watch as one raven distracted a dog and then a second raven snuck behind the canine and took kibble from its bowl. The dog was none the wiser.

I came up with the idea for my book sitting in a downtown Calgary lounge while on a work assignment. I wanted to create something that everybody could read, not just adults. So I started with the idea of a little raven not wanting to learn to fly. (As a private pilot, I had to learn how to fly once but my experience is much different than my raven’s.)

At first I was photoshopping my own images and cutting and pasting ravens in the photos.

Slave River.

The photo of the Slave River used for the last illustration.

But I didn’t like the way it looked. I found illustrator Helen Monwuba and provided her with pictures from around Fort Smith. (She’s in Nigeria.) She did an excellent job bringing my Canadian ravens to life in her art from Africa.

When the story and illustrations were complete I published my book. Now comes the hard part: selling it. The ebook is the cheapest option at $4.99 and the softcover is nice too but a bit more pricy at $32. That’s because each book needs to be printed and then shipped. Don’t let that stop you though. Go get a copy!

The Raven named Flight and How She Learned to Fly

Flight is a young raven born in Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, Canada. She loves her family and hanging out in their comfy, cozy nest. When it comes time for Flight to spread her wings, she first has to overcome her fear of flying. Thanks to her parents, she finally leaves the nest.

Print book

Blurb: http://blur.by/1zZpZdi / $32.99 CAD without shipping

Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1320278310 / $28.58 US without shipping

Ebook: 4.99 CAD

Blurb: http://store.blurb.ca/ebooks/p43a9f931da2cda4398e5

Apple iBookstore: http://itunes.apple.com/ca/book/id950045042

 

Cooking up dreams

Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

Walking past a downtown Calgary restaurant the other day I smelled something good. What wafted through a restaurant door, hitting my nostrils on the cool winter day, was a mixture of inviting and warm comfort food: tomatoes, fresh bread and a hint of cinnamon. Maybe not something you might think of together but for me it combined into a memory of the Marché Mövenpick in Toronto.

The Marché was just off Yonge Street and near Front Street, close to Lake Ontario. The restaurant was where my friends and I would go on chilly December Saturdays or freezing February evenings after dancing the night away in the late nineties. We were young and going to Ryerson University, taking demanding second degrees in fields like journalism and landscape architecture. We had the world by the throat. Ready to go once the gates of academia opened, letting us out to pursue anything and everything like ravenous monsters with wide-open jaws.

We were hungry. Hungry for life and hungry for a good, hearty (and cheap) meal. That’s what we would get at the Mövenpick. It was cafeteria-type place with lots of food stations so we could each get our fix of whatever we wanted to eat. From bruschetta to steak to waffles, it was there for the feasting. The three of us – me, Mo and R – would stash our mittens and heavy winter coats at a hard-to-get table and then go our separate ways in search of what would make us smile.

I truly can’t remember what I ate. Just that it was delicious. It was the atmosphere of the place I recall best. It was always a bit dark in the restaurant, dim, and with the low lighting it was dream-like for me. We were hovering in a different world, one that helped us escape the realities of school life for an hour or two.

It was always warm and cozy in the Marché. We abandoned our scarves and extra sweaters and toques in the tropical, lively restaurant, almost floating around we were so light. Unused to being weightless without all our winter gear holding us down to earth.

apartment.

Saying “hello” to a former apartment in Toronto. I lived here for a time during my Ryerson years.

Once back at our table, each with a different meal, our conversation would continue from 20 minutes before. Picking up from where we had left off before we sat down. We talked about boys, our classes, boys in our classes and eventually, our future careers. For me I would be a newspaper reporter, hopefully a foreign correspondent. Little did I know then that journalism would eventually seize up and stall. Forcing me to find another future. But at the time, the time at the Marché, everything was wide open. There were no limits. Everything was blue sky ahead.

The Mövenpick was where life was fresh and dreams were cooked along with the tomatoes and bread. When I smelled that familiar Marché smell the other day, many years and restaurants later, it sent me back to that time. I thought about how some of my dreams from then had come true, while others hadn’t. But life has turned out just the way I wanted.

Hurdles

Not all of us have happy memories to write about. There are those of us who have painful secrets and keep them buried deep down so the thistles and thorns won’t poke through our skin. One of my clients though, is facing her past, demons and all, in her memoir.

The client has committed to reliving a tumultuous and damaging childhood by putting words down on a page. She has had the courage to write her story and she’s come a long way since being forced to be an adult at a young age. Her next big step is to tell her family about the book, her biggest hurdle as an author.

I wrote a couple of things to my client, which she liked. She put my words on a photo and sent it to me. I’m happy to share the image below. When she is done her book, I’ll be sure to post a link to it. You’ll want to read it.

words.

Dressing like a “gangsta”

pen.For the past four weeks I’ve been spending some time at the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre teaching a memoir writing workshop. Every Wednesday morning for about an hour a few people write around a table in the midst of a busy room buzzing with conversation and movement and a movie blaring on the TV in the corner. It’s not hard to block out the distractions: my participants are keen on learning how to craft their stories and ask a lot of questions.

The workshop is offered through This is My City (TMC). TMC is a non-profit society that brings art and people together no matter their income bracket or social status. As a TMC volunteer I’ve been offering my four-week memoir session to homeless and detox shelters for about two years now. Last week was my last trip to the Drop-In this fall.

We talked about using description, show: don’t tell, in our stories. For example: Janice was very angry. That’s telling. Janice was waving her fists in the air and her face was very red. That’s showing. Description paints the scene for the reader by proving details that appeal to the senses using the senses. What do you see? What do you smell? What do you hear? How do you feel? These bring a world to life in your story instead of just telling a reader what he or she should be experiencing.

I asked my Drop-In participants to describe something. One man decided to illustrate himself with words. Here is his piece:

I am a large teddy bear on steroids with long curly hair, a weathered looking face with an unwanted belly that travels in front, defying my efforts at reduction. This belly laughs at me, “Hah, hah!” it says. “Try and lose me, my friend.”

“I will lose you,” I retort, “one day.”

When I am in decent shape I dress “gangsta.” I dress in Ray-Ban, True Religion, FUBU. I look good, sexy. I’ve been taught to do that. I like the look.

All it takes is one person

market place.

A market in Gambia. The yellow car with green stripes is a taxi.

Ghosts are real. I know because one haunts me. He doesn’t just appear at night – he comes anytime, anywhere. This ghost is not a fanciful wisp residing in my brain, this ghost is real. I’ve seen him. In the flesh.

I went to West Africa, along with a woman from New Brunswick, to work as an intern at a non-governmental organization (NGO) in The Gambia. This was several years ago when I was around 24 years old. Before this experience I thought I was going to change the world. I was going to make a difference. However, throughout my time as a publications officer recording human rights violations on the continent, I realized the planet was set on staying the same. Humans like the status quo.

Gambia is sub-Sahara and sand is everywhere. Peanuts, what they call ground nuts, thrive there as well as palm oil from the abundant leafy trees. Temperatures and humidity are high and sweat rolled down me from all directions. Gambia is poor, very poor, but there are a few rich, extremely rich, people. It’s evident in the large sprawling compounds built next to families living amongst their chickens.

Most people are friendly. Some, mostly men, too much so. They thought my roommate and I were in the country for a different reason. (There’s a booming market for sex tourism catering to Europeans women.) After a month living in Fajara, we went from polite Canadians to rudely snapping, “Go away!” in Wolof. I got good at tuning out the voices of passersby or those sitting by the side of the road calling to us. I became such an expert at ignoring people in the street that a friend had to tap me on the shoulder to get my attention. He had said hello to me three times. My ears had blocked his greetings and I was ashamed.

Travelling opens your eyes but it can also close your mind. No one talks about that. They only talk about the good, the positive, which is great but not realistic. Why can’t we have authentic discussions about the good and the bad? In Gambia I got used to some people asking me for things, wanting things, begging, stretching out their hands and asking, “Give me money.” I walked by. Not hearing.

In the middle of my several month term we were invited to a conference in Dakar, Senegal. Travel! Cool. (Or I should say, scorching.) We were driven from Gambia to Senegal in an SUV piloted by the NGO’s competent driver. He stopped in a busy and dusty Senegalese town a few hours into the trip. I can’t remember why: maybe for a bathroom break or for gas. He parked near a market where hundreds of people and booths packed the sandy street. It was hot, too hot. The sun was bright, too bright. It was noisy at the bazaar, too noisy.

I could see a man sitting to the side of our vehicle. One of his legs was half gone. One arm was half gone, the stump hanging from his shoulder. I didn’t know what was wrong with him. I didn’t get out of the SUV to ask. I didn’t get out of the vehicle to see him. Why would I?

The man saw me.

He saw me and maybe saw a bit of hope. He saw me and thought maybe I will help him. He saw me and thought maybe I’ll give him a chance.

The man couldn’t walk. He didn’t have a wheelchair or even a cane. He wiggled over to my window by moving his hips side to side in the dirt. It must not have been comfortable. It must not have been easy. It was a struggle. He made it the two metres to my side of the SUV and lifted up his hand to me. Said something I couldn’t hear. I refused to hear. It was nothing I haven’t heard before.

I did nothing.

baobab tree.

A baobab tree in Kololi, Gambia.

Our driver got in the vehicle and drove off. Leaving the man amidst the busy market. Where everyone got on with their business.

Since that day I’ve asked myself why, why, why? Why didn’t I spare an extra dalasi (dollar)? Why didn’t I give him something to eat? Why didn’t I at least hear him? How did I become that person, that person who turns away?

I don’t know. I’ve rationalized it: if I gave something to everyone then they’d expect it from others who come after me; I would have gone broke if I had to shell out money to everyone looking for a handout, or something along those lines. I still don’t have an answer.

I do know that this man changed my world. One man. His ghost comes to remind me that change starts with me. That listening to people and hearing them is what matters. That ignorance is not bliss. That no matter where in the world you are – you can make a difference.

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