Family Lines

stories for you

Tag: writing (page 6 of 17)

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.

Little snow, big snow

hill over looking a pond in winter.

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

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

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

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

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

Floppy disc discovery

floppy disc.

Floppy disc driving at the Calgary Public Library.

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

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

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

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

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

Pitman Hall.

Common room at Pitman Hall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Psst, come here.”

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

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

A New Year’s declaration

Woman on a bike.

Bike!

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

Young and Restless Anne

Anne and Gilbert from Anne of Green Gables.

Photo credit: norika21

Almost every weekday at four o’clock in the afternoon, I stop work and watch the Young and the Restless. It’s my dirty secret. The silly show is a nice break and the story arcs are so fantastical they’re ludicrous. Except for a couple of weeks ago when a scene sparked a Christmas memory: Anne of Green Gables made an appearance on the show.

Yes, Y&R is a soap so I wouldn’t fault you if you thought Anne Shirley was actually brought on as a real-life character. But no, she stayed in word form. A little Y&R girl, Faith, couldn’t sleep and her stepmother (young Faith’s fifth or sixth stepmother) told her that when she was a child, her mother would read to her to help her get drowsy. The stepmother, Sage, then got a book from a shelf and said it was Anne of Green Gables.

Sage started reading the first paragraph of the first book that begins with:

Mrs. Rachel Lynde lived just where the Avonlea main road dipped down into a little hollow, fringed with alders and ladies’ eardrops and traversed by a brook that had its source away back in the woods of the old Cuthbert place; it was reputed to be an intricate, headlong brook in its earlier course through those woods, with dark secrets of pool and cascade; but by the time it reached Lynde’s Hollow it was a quiet, well-conducted little stream, for not even a brook could run past Mrs. Rachel Lynde’s door without due regard for decency and decorum; it probably was conscious that Mrs. Rachel was sitting at her window, keeping a sharp eye on everything that passed, from brooks and children up, and that if she noticed anything odd or out of place she would never rest until she had ferreted out the whys and wherefores thereof.

That almost put me to sleep too. Because it’s boring.

When I was about eight years old, my parents gave me a box set of Anne of Green Gables for Christmas. They also gave my sisters and me a tape recorder. (The tape recorder was the iPhone of our time.) The tape recorder was cool and I couldn’t wait to play with it. My parents suggested I read Anne of Green Gables into the recorder. Judging the book by its cover (a pastoral scene with two girls walking hand in hand) I thought it looked fine. I cracked the spine of the soft cover book and began reading aloud the same passage Sage read to Faith.

While I didn’t get to see Faith’s reaction, mine was one of disappointment. This book was going to be super boring. I liked the C.S. Lewis Narnia books: full of action and adventures in unknown worlds. Who was this Mrs. Rachel Lynde and who cared about the stupid brook?

I couldn’t get into the cast of characters who lived in the pages. They were not coming alive in my imagination. I read a couple more paragraphs aloud and captured my voice on cassette tape. (We still have it somewhere at home.) Then I put the book down and put in an ABBA tape to listen to.

I used the tape recorder a lot over the years but it took a while to get back to Anne. She wasn’t someone I wanted to get know right away. Then one day, I picked up the book and pushed past the beginning and something magical happened. Anne became my bosom buddy. I wanted puff sleeve. I fell in love with Gilbert Blythe. I cried my heart and eyes out when Matthew died. It was a sad day too when I finished the last Anne book.

Children before me and after me and everywhere in the world feel the same way about Anne. One of my memoir clients who grew up in Poland in the fifties read Anne of Green Gables. Lucy Maud Montgomery gave us a place to go with a girl who knows what it’s like to not fit in and who gets in trouble without meaning to. Ann with an e was our best friend when we didn’t have one and our escape from school and life. She never changes no matter who is reading about her. Even if Faith gets another stepmother, she’ll always have Anne.

 

Heart of the matter

ebook cover.

Cover by Eveline Kolijn.

No matter who we are, we all want the same things. We all want to be sheltered from the heat and cold, have food to fill our stomachs, and to be loved. In the book, Voices in the Wind, you’ll see this as a common thread. Pick it up and follow it to your heart because some of the people found on the pages lack the basic necessities of life.

The authors of the stories and the creators of the illustrations are Calgarians who participated in workshops with This is My City (TMC). TMC is a non-profit organization that puts artist-mentors together with marginalized people. The contributors to this book come from places like the Calgary Drop-In and Rehab Centre, Alpha House, the Women’s Centre of Calgary and Inn From the Cold.

Voices in the Wind is an ebook and free. It’s best downloaded on an iPad, however, you can preview pages by clicking on the preview link at http://bit.ly/1NMC4vH.

Read it 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.”

30 years of helping

Family_Lines_STARSSTARS celebrated its 30th anniversary recently. I was lucky enough to write a piece on the history of volunteers with the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society. Read the story by clicking on the image to the left or go to the STARS Horizons – 30th anniversary edition, page 16.

 

A Slightly Tainted Hero

book by Graham Clews.He has done it again. Graham Clews released his second book of 2015. The Westlock, AB author is a writing machine and just launched A Slightly Tainted Hero. I’ve started to read this humorous yet philosophical look at an accountant’s late-in-life romp with marriage, money and his 15 minutes of fame. Check it out:

A Slightly Tainted Hero

Dave Lockwood is an accountant. He just turned sixty and he’s feeling old–mainly in body rather than mind. Then there’s his office manager, Irene Blanchard. She’s about twenty years younger, about the age Dave’s mind seems to think it is as it valiantly labours to adjust to his ‘maturing’ body. Which is why he unwisely confronts a mugger while escorting Irene to an underground parking lot in downtown Edmonton. Oh and the mugger is armed.

Blind panic follows as shots ring out and somehow Dave becomes an overnight hero. In fact, he’s shocked to find that he’s now a successful, wounded, nationally known hero. But instant fame has its drawbacks as Dave’s past sins slowly emerge from behind a long closed door. Louise, his wife of thirty-six years, is not pleased. Neither, it seems, is anyone else as the fallout spreads: his partners at work, the police, the mugger’s family, and even Dave himself.

This novel takes an often humorous, sometimes thoughtful look at the bittersweet irony when the good things in life turn out, as they often do, to be ‘Slightly Tainted’. Or, as Dave likes to put it: “Every silver lining has a cloud!”

Graham now has seven novels to his name, covering many different subjects and genres. From historical fiction to stories for young adults to political humour, the characters keep forming and jumping from his mind to the page.

For more info on Graham and A Slightly Tainted Hero, go to: http://www.graham-clews.com.

He’s also on Twitter, GoodReads, Facebook and has a blog.

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