Thesaurus

book-863418_640On the way to writing workshop I pass a book sitting out on a planter as though waiting for someone to take it. People do that these days; instead of keeping things forever as in olden times, they throw things away; purge, recycle, declutter. And someone, on this fine October day, decided to place a hardcover Roget’s Thesaurus, red, yellow, and black dust jacket intact, out on their planter for someone to pick up.

The collector in me wants to take it. I’ve never owned a hardcover thesaurus before, and my old yellowed paperback is barely holding together with crackled masking tape. But the lazy, sore shouldered pragmatist in me says, don’t be silly, you don’t need more to carry, and besides, you never use a physical thesaurus anymore. It’s true, now when I edit I keep thesaurus.com open on my browser.

I walk a little farther. At least I could take a picture of the thesaurus among the fall colours on the planter. I could post it on Instagram where I like to put my anonymous pictures, pictures without people. Is it sufficiently ironic to find this orphaned book on the way to writing group?
But I have already passed it. And to take a photo now means stopping and going back, aiming and shooting, and maybe someone will be watching me and I’ll feel foolish.

It’s then I remember the prayer I prayed this morning: please Universe, show me, give me a sign; am I meant to be writing?

Old Love New Love

old love new loveWhen I called her in the year before she died, really I just wanted confirmation that my amorous meanderings were valid. Were something she would have done.

But she didn’t give me that. She said, You know, at my age, it’s just nice to have someone to hold me.

I babbled on a little longer about a man who had thrust himself into my life and snarled it all up and she hmm’d and haw’d the way she always did with me.

How long had I been talking to her about men and not noticing that her beautiful eyes were gazing past me?

And just before she died I called and we had one last conversation and she said, Tell the lake goodbye for me.

~

Chatterbox Poems cover
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A Mouse Tale

mouse picKindergarten. We sit in a big circle on the floor. The teacher passes around a mouse. It is a very small mouse. It fits in the palm of thirty-one five-year-olds. Until it gets to me. I don’t know that I am about to do what I am about to do. There is no prior thought or plan. I am sitting cross-legged, quietly, obediently as usual. And then the mouse lands in my hand. My turn. Its little feet are scratchy. It twists its tiny whiskered nose at me and blinks its little red eyes. And then its tail. The mouse slithers its tail across my fingers and I scream.

It takes a long time for the teacher and the janitor to locate the mouse. Everyone is mad at me for flinging it so far.

 

The Riding Lesson

stallion-422110_640As the car drove onto the gravelled parking area I was suddenly reminded of the Freiderich’s farm, the crunch of the driveway, the slam of car doors.

My sister would strap on a velvet hard hat and hop onto a horse for her weekly riding lesson. The other riders and horses walked slowly in a circle around the sawdust ring. The instructor, her fiery red hair loose and wavy to her shoulders in a white turtleneck, jodhpurs, and tall black boots stood in the center of the ring, a whip in her hand, giving instruction, and smoking cigarettes.

I waited with my mom behind the window. An hour, an interminable weekly hour. The farm’s owner, Mrs Freidrich, collected horses and everything in the waiting room was a precious antique rendered worthless in my opinion by the horse in its composition. There were horseshoe ashtrays and paintings of thoroughbreds, rearing Lipizzans with clocks embedded in their stomachs, but the piece that drew my attention over and over was Lady Godiva. She was solid black metal, smooth except for two raised nipples, Godiva and her mount, frozen in iron, bareback and bridleless.

I hated waiting but only sometimes did I dare venture out of the waiting room into the stable. The horses’ names were tacked above their stalls and they stood with their giant round rumps to the aisle gazing out of small dirty barred windows except for one, the stallion, Perusso. He was jet black and had a long unkempt mane. He stamped and snorted, pacing in his box stall, prison cell. If I stood on a straw bale I could look in through the bars, into the darkness, and sometimes catch Perusso’s wild white eye.

I dreaded the horses getting loose. Breaking down their tethers and galloping around inside the stable. I feared that once free their first task would be to kill all the humans.

I was trapped there too. At the riding lesson. Not that those killer horses cared but I was trapped there too.

Filling the Empty Nest

Jada and Gus in snowLast January, a sudden bout of empty-nest syndrome collided with my daughter’s desire to get a puppy. At first, she wanted me to get a puppy that she would “visit and help take care of”. Fat chance! I outlined for her the many reasons I would not house a puppy for her. Two of them, Newman and Coal, are the now adult cats that she and her brother promised to take care of, promised to take with them when they moved out, swore they would love forever, which now live with me in my apartment. Against my will, my children turned me into a middle-aged cat lady.

When my son had moved out to live with his dad, I was certain I was going to relish my solitude and become productive, tidy, and solvent. Life was just beginning after all – the childcare train had left the station. So I was surprised when I was slammed by empty-nest syndrome, or more accurately, grief. It walloped me when my messy, stinky, noisy, uncooperative teenage son moved out. I never thought it would happen – I actually missed him. I still do.

By last January, I had been living alone for a few months, with the cats, when I realized I missed living with another human in the apartment. I’d had overnight guests in the spare bedroom a couple of times and those occasions made me recognize that I didn’t really want to share a bathroom with non-family. I wanted one of my kids to move home. Funny, I’d heard that most parents had trouble getting rid of them!

Neither of my kids wanted to move in. Then when Jada started rattling the cage about getting a dog, I found myself using the oldest trick in the book – I used a puppy to lure her in. She could get a puppy, I told her, if she paid for it, owned it, and took it with her when she moved out. She fell for it. And so did I.

We were on our way to Port Credit to meet our chosen puppy. Jada was worried that we would not pass the owner’s strenuous list of qualifications. I was not troubled about that. I was fretting that we would be declined on our first choice, Gus, and that Jada would be desperate enough to agree to take home one of the other pups. This woman had a number of puppies available, but only one breed was suitable for apartment living, in my opinion. What would I do if Jada set her heart on one of the consolation puppies,  which we were told were Rhodesian Ridgeback/Labrador Retriever mixes?

When Jada was four-years-old and her brother was one, I had decided  we needed a puppy. Ever the strategist, I chose a breed that I read would be child friendly and began the search for a reputable breeder. I read all the advice about adopting and had a checklist of conditions a new puppy must meet. The hunt proved more difficult that I’d imagined but along the way someone told me about a breeder in Peterborough where a friend had got a puppy. I called and made an appointment. The breeder had two litters ready to go.

Jada and I picked up my sister at her farm and headed to Peterborough. My sister is the animal expert in the family – in fact, she had a litter of Jack Russell Terriers in her barn at the time, but all the books said, “No!” to Jack Russell Terriers as family pets. It was a hot summer day and it was high noon when we pulled into the breeder’s long dusty driveway. Only the breeder’s name on a forlorn and crooked roadside mailbox let us know we were at the right location.

We could hear dogs barking as we got out of the car but bushes screened the back yard so we couldn’t see them. We knocked at the aluminum side door and were ushered into the kitchen of a split level home. As introductions were quickly made, a man in the next room continued to watch a blaring television. The puppies would be in the basement. We just had to wait a minute as the woman shouted for her son to help her get organized. We remained in the kitchen eyeing the shelves of hockey trophies and framed school portraits.

After a short time we were ushered down a circular metal staircase to a basement rec-room where the puppies were squirming and crawling over one another in a child’s blue plastic swimming pool.

Instantly I knew we’d made a mistake. These pups were not eight weeks old, they were much younger. And as four-year-old Jada knelt excitedly beside the pool they fled to the other side where she couldn’t reach them. One pathetic pup with rusty goop in both eyes and a dry nose was too lethargic to get away and Jada’s tiny hands were soon picking her up and cradling the puppy to her face.

My mind was racing. Certainly it wasn’t ideal but safely at home surely one of these pups would thrive under our care and attention, wouldn’t it? We’d driven a long way on a hot summer’s day. The price was right. Finding a puppy was much harder than I’d realized. And if I said no now, how would I ever get Jada to put that puppy down?

My sister asked if we could meet the pups’ mother. Of course we could. The woman led us out through the back door to the kennels. Immediately the steady barking turned into a frenzy. Countless dogs were housed in plywood shacks with narrow fenced-in chain-link runs. It was a hot day. Some dogs stood on top of their houses barking ferociously. I held Jada’s sweaty little hand tightly as the breeder led us to the home of the pups’ mom. She was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of whistles and a sharp call, a cowering female dog slunk from her shack and watched us warily from her platform.

Okay, we’d seen enough. We thanked the breeder and told her we needed to go have lunch and think about it. Jada chattered at me as I strapped her into her car seat. “When are we getting the puppy, Mom? Which one are we getting? I love those puppies.” I’d wished I had something with me to clean her hands.

On the long drive back to my sister’s farm Jada fell asleep and my sister posed the question, “Why don’t you just take one of my puppies?” Oh no. I’d read terrible things about Jack Russell Terriers. They barked incessantly, destroyed furniture, jumped on everything, they were untrainable, hyperactive maniacs.

The scruffy little Jack Russell my sister placed into Jada’s arms a few weeks later lived a healthy sixteen years. She was a terrific pet, a wonderful companion, and one of the best dogs anybody ever met.

A twenty-one year old Jada pointed out the turn off for Hurontario. What would I do or say if the puppies on this trip turned out to be less than desirable? I couldn’t take her by the hand and lead her away, or strap her into a car seat.

Gus entered our lives that day and I had no inkling how he would change my life. Looking back, I have to laugh at how naïve I was. Today, Gus and I sit in our usual morning places in the living room, him snoozing, me writing. We are waiting for Jada to wake up. We spend a lot of time waiting for her, me and Gus. I have a feeling it’s going to be like this for a long time.

Why Christmas turns my Crank

PC0602winterhearthAs an atheist I would never have wished Christmas away, entirely. Granted, I bristled at the Christian takeover of a pagan solstice celebration; but I had nothing against a saintly old man who poured gold pieces into the stockings (hanging to dry by the fireside) of some desperate young sisters (their orphan-hood and poverty were luring them into a life of prostitution), nor his 20th century counterpart who brought proverbial gifts to ALL the children of the world on one winter’s night each year. No, I quite approved of Santa Claus.

When I was a child, and an atheist, I celebrated Christmas with my atheist family. We housed a decorated evergreen in the living room; we exchanged gifts and feasted on roast turkey; we raised our glasses, in-canting peace on earth – goodwill t’ward Man. We enjoyed the glorious voice of Mahalia Jackson on record and the angelic contralto of my classmate Tommy Faulkner singing O Holy Night in the near empty church where my grade 5 choir performed.These days, even if I fall for the crass commercialism and consumerism of Christmas, my soul, I think, responds to a deeper yearning – to fall in love with the world, to wish everyone peace and harmony, to drink in the coniferous beauty of my urban forest home, to feel gratitude overflow in my childish ticker, and as Ebenezer says, ‘honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.’

Gluttony

Yesterday I pondered: why is gluttony considered a sin, or why would God, if there is such a being, care whether I overeat. In other words, is it not God’s will for me to enjoy the edible abundance and bounty in my world? And if not, why not?

It didn’t take long for Mr Google to inform me that abusing the temple (my body) that houses my spirit is rather wilful of me. If my task on Earth is to fulfill my soul’s purpose it’s hardly a good idea to court the health risks associated with chubbiness. Being unhealthy makes me unprepared for whatever the Universe holds for me today. Okay, I get that, it’s better to be healthy in case God calls on me. But there’s more.

It turns out gluttony includes being fussy, decadent, and ungrateful. Gluttony means taking more than my share, and eating carelessly and mindlessly. It means adoring food, and it means obsessing about weight gain or weight loss, distracting me from my soul’s purpose. Uh oh.

So, I asked myself, how could I eat differently to signal to the Universe that I am willing to have  gluttony removed from me? Answer: in addition to making simple, nutritious, and smaller food choices, I could pray. People have been saying grace or a blessing over food since the invention of the God switch. My grandparents held hands and blessed every meal they ate. I could easily add this simple gesture to my life, or so I thought.

Today I went to a restaurant for lunch with my kids. As we waited in line for a table, I remembered that I intended to say grace over my food. No one had to know. I thought, maybe I should do it as soon as I sit down so I don’t forget, but my mind said, no, wait until the food is in front of you.

I ordered sensibly, even though I was hungry and my stomach cried out for french-fries and chocolate chip pancakes. I requested no home-fries with my omelette, and asked for the salad dressing on the side. When my meal came, there was a mound of home-fries crowding the omelette, there was pink stuff on the salad, and a piece of cantaloupe garnished the plate, ew. Unconsciously and instantly, I decided to say nothing but when the server left the table, I muttered under my breath, “Thanks for paying attention, Girly.”

I was not grateful for the food before me. I forgot about saying grace. I felt self-righteously annoyed. I ate the salad and the grilled tomato; I ate the piece of pineapple that travelled over a thousand miles to reach my gullet; and I ate the delicious omelette without a thought for the lobster that gave up its life for it. The only thought in my head was whether the drizzle of raspberry vinaigrette was worth more than one Weight Watcher point.

My gluttony only occurred to me after lunch. On a full stomach, I became aware of my lack of gratitude and humility, my absolute unconsciousness when presented with the unexpected. God, forgive me. And thank you. At least I noticed, eventually.

Illustration “The Fat Women” by Igor Grabar, 1904

ENEMY, the movie

Jake G EnemyMy Review of ENEMY: This movie was filmed so that it looks like a bad, yellowy Polaroid from the 60s. Everything, including Jake Gyllenhaal, is brown. It’s shot in Toronto, and our city never looked more depressing – reminded me of my childhood. I found it very humorous, but then I laughed throughout FINDING LLEWYN DAVIS. You can’t just put JAWS music behind a film and say it’s a suspense, suspense doesn’t actually work that way. This movie could also be called, OVER-REACT MUCH? The acting is great, the over-reacting funny, the audience burst out laughing several times. Much discussion was generated after the film and by the time we got half-way home we had the plot figured out to our satisfaction, thus we have become hipsters. I’m not going to say what we figured out because that would ruin the movie for you. This is not a small screen movie, I’m betting you’d turn it off after 15 minutes. At the theatre you’ve paid, so you’re forced to watch it. Was it worth it? I’m a hipster now, so yes!

My Biased and Ignorant Academy Awards 2014 Preview Review

Oscar-Nominations-2014I love the Academy Awards. It’s live TV and anything can happen on live TV. For example, I howled when Melissa Leo dropped her grateful F-bomb. And I still quote Sally Field, “You like me, right now, you like me!”  I watch the Oscars for these spontaneous live TV moments. And also, I love movies.

The list of Best Picture nominees is lengthy this year but I managed to see all of them on the big screen (except Captain Phillips, which ironically, was a pirated version). I’m not into predictions, because that would mean I’d have to pay attention to Holly-politics and celebrity gossip, neither of which is of any interest to me. These reviews and prize awards are based on my own ignorant and biased opinions.

cbLet’s start at the top with American Hustle, my choice for Best Motion Picture. I love the irreverent, fast moving, and continual twisting of relationship skirmishes. This movie mesmerizes me: the characters, the pace, the costumes, the plot, the settings, the soundtrack, the hairdos! And I can’t take my eyes off Christian Bale; in my humble opinion, the Sir Laurence Olivier/Daniel Day Lewis of our time. I’m awarding Mr. Bale the Oscar for Best Actor.

Captain Phillips. Suspenseful and heart pounding but the usual dollop of USA propaganda spooned out by Hollywood. Some barbaric enemy, in this case skinny East African Muslims aka Somalis, have the audacity to rob innocent Americans transporting food relief and clean water. We know the Americans are innocent because isn’t that Walt Disney captaining the ship? These Somali simpletons never heard of ‘no man left behind’ and they sure get their come-uppance. Am I cynical? You bet I am.

jared-leto-dallas-buyers-club-1012013-123830I looked forward to Dallas Buyers Club because of the trailer, and the first half of the movie lives up to the promise. But then Matthew McConaghey steps out of his entirely believable and sympathetic character and right before my eyes becomes the arrogant, lizardly, sleaze ball I imagine him to be in real life. For me, the movie should end [SPOILER ALERT] when a certain character dies. Jared Leto, not to mention any names, shares my award for Best Supporting Actor.

Gravity triggers my fear of heights throughout, which makes for an exhilarating, on the edge-of-my-seat experience. So absorbed in technology as I am, Gravity reminds me of my lack of appreciation for the elemental stuff of life: water, human contact, love. The best part of the movie for me is Sandra Bullock’s big teardrops flying around the screen in 3D.

People say you either love Her or hate Her. Not true. I just find Her boring. The extended shots of pale Caucasian eyes and shots of Mr. Waistypants lying in his bed listening to an off camera voice, put me to sleep. Admittedly, I saw the late show on a full stomach, so who knows what my opinion might be at a matinee. The consciousness theme interests me mildly but requires too much speculation about what Scarlett Johansson is doing in the off-camera ethernet. Like the characters in futuristic Los Angeles, I feel manipulated (pun intended) by this movie.

juneSeveral movies this year sport the parent as alcoholic story line (see Saving Mr. Banks and August: Osage County). And in Nebraska Bruce Dern does a very good job of playing an alcoholic in denial. The film’s authenticity is smirk-smirk humorous and I award the Best Supporting Actress to the wonderful June Squibb as Bruce Dern’s long suffering wife. Shot in black and white Nebraska is artsy and ho-hum. Next.

Judi Dench in PhilomenaI enjoyed Philomena very much. The story of a child ‘given up’ for adoption is intriguing and heart wrenching, and nun bashing is always an interesting subject to explore. Philomena is not going home with the golden statue but Judi Dench is! She’s superb. She eats up the camera. Best Actress 2014, mark my words, it’s the year of the old lady.

12 Years a Slave is so realistic I can barely stand it. The scenes seem deliberately drawn out so as a viewer I can feel the interminable duration of those long years of torture. I came away wondering, yet again, how could people have been so incredibly cruel? I hope no one can say they ‘enjoyed’ this picture. It is very good, great acting, cinematically accomplished, but oh so painful to view.

jonah hillDebauchery. That’s a theme? What are we, ancient Romans? Word to the wise, do not see The Wolf of Wall Street, as I did, with your seventeen-year-old son. The endless parade of blowjob jokes, depraved extravagance, the joy of drugs, okay, okay, we get it, debauchery. I would be remiss if I did not take note of Leonardo’s inebriated crawl down the stairs of the country club to his car, simply the highlight of the movie. And he does do an incredible job appearing in every single scene of a three hour movie. A shared Best Supporting Actor to Jonah Hill who creates a complex and charming character. Wonderful job, Jonah.

And that’s it, folks. My Oscar preview reviews and awards. One thing before I go, as usual the Academy overlooked one of my favourite movies of last year, The Way Way Back.  There are a few performances (Steve Carell, Sam Rockwell) in that wonderful flick that deserved Academy Award nominations. Boo, Academy. Let me know your opinion of this year’s contenders and about any other great movies the Academy missed in 2013.

Sexopause

Sandy Day at the beach

Have you ever had a phase in your life when, in spite of being open to a sexual relationship, your romantic universe just doesn’t collide with the universe of Mr. A&A (Attractive and Available)? I call this, Sexopause. It can last a few weeks, a few months or, as in my current case, a few years.

Sexopause can seem tiresome. Our world abounds in not-so-subtle pressure to couple up. Books, blogs, movies, advertisements, songs, all urge you, entice you, advise you, to find a screwing partner, pronto! Life can feel frustrating when, despite your best efforts, you find yourself single on Valentine’s Day. This is all perception – there’s no need for Sexopause to be tedious or exasperating. This year I celebrate Sexopause by sharing with you some of its many benefits.

1. Hairy legs in winter. No one is going to see or rub up against your legs, armpits or crotch during winter, so unless you love doing it, why shave? I rather enjoy turning into a cave woman for a few celibate months.

2. The only dirty socks and clothes lying around are your own. Ditto flatus, toothpaste dribbles, and curly hairs in the tub.

3. The remote control is where you left it. And guess who decides when the TV set goes on, when it goes off, not to mention what shows get watched or flicked through? I revel in no more televised MLB evenings, no more Hockey Nights in Canada.

4. Dick Flick Hiatus. During Sexopause, when you head out to the movie theatre it’s to settle back and lose yourself in a romantic comedy, or a drama starring some brilliant female actress or gorgeous, hunky man. One of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen during my Sexopause is Toy Story 3. I know I would’ve missed it on the big screen had I been coupled up at the time of its release. Will you notice the absence of car chases and explosions, the “action” plots and scantily clad female love interests/male fantasies? I think not.

5. Serenity, composure, and calm. These are your states of mind when you settle into Sexopause. Conversely, when I’m in a romantic relationship my attachment mechanism (which is anxious, thanks Mom, thanks Dad) is triggered. Unless I’m feeling secure, I’m in a state of perpetual low-grade anxiety – trying to play it cool when he doesn’t call or return messages; trying to ignore his wandering eyes and new Facebook friends. On a bad day my attachment mechanism fears losing him and I have been accused of paranoid suspicion. Hmm. Serenity or fits of jealous vulnerability – which do I choose today?

6. In Sexopause, the only possibility for you to contract a STD or STI is via a toilet seat. And that aint gonna happen, sister, so case (and toilet seat) closed.

7. Self-care. As Alvy Singer put it, “Hey, don’t knock masturbation! It’s sex with someone I love.” Women’s health experts recommend sex a couple of times a week. I interpret this as a prescription for orgasms. And believe me, during Sexopause, you can be as healthy as you like.

8. Dressing for you. No one casts aspersion on your old yoga pants or the comfy torn tee you choose to sleep in. No one eyes your rear end when you pull on your somewhat snug but favourite jeans. No one says, when you wear your new sweater for the first time, “Where’d you get that?” You wear what you want, when you want.

9. No one pressures you to have sex (and I mean no one!). As much as sex can be rollicking good fun, you gotta admit, at times it’s messy, sweaty, smelly, and a bit too action-packed. Seduction is wonderful, but plain old sex when you’re too tired and lazy, well it’s one chore I’m rather glad is not on my to-do list today.

10. A reading room on your bed. On the half which used to be reserved for a snoring, 98.6°F human being, you can keep an assortment of books and reading material. Before you decide to darken your room for a night of undisturbed sleep (okay, that may be an exaggeration if, like me, you have cats or the bladder of a middle-aged woman) you can lie in bed and read as long as you like. I often pause, gaze around my bedroom and smile. I’m happy, I’m content, and like everything else in life, this too shall pass.

photo credit Roxanne McLeod

Publishing in Chalk

Sandy Day reads from a book.My children attended a tiny public alternative school in Toronto. Each year all families were encouraged to attend the graduation of the grade 6 class. This whole-school event was a tradition.

I appreciated the inclusive nature of our school’s pedagogy so I went and sat in the hot gymnasium to witness the graduation of eight children I did not know.

As the children read their speeches (which rivaled any Academy Award ceremony) I noticed an absence. What was it?

I recalled my own grade six year, eleven or twelve years old. What would I have said to my school?

Poetry! Poetry was missing! None of the children wrote poems to sum up their school experience, or to convey their gratitude. I was surprised.

The following September I approached Wayne, the school’s beloved Grades 4, 5, and 6 teacher. I asked him about poetry and offered to run a workshop in his class. He readily agreed and I began what became for me a delightful annual endeavour.

For six or eight weeks I would go into the class and guide these enthusiastic and imaginative kids to use words to paint sound pictures – poetry. Borrowing heavily from Kenneth Koch, a poet I read during my university years, I created a workshop which produced the desired result – confidence in the students’ ability to write.

The most extraordinary part of each class was when a student “finished” a poem, and I asked if they’d like to write it on the blackboard for all to see. At first there was some reluctance but once the thrill of publication coursed through the classroom there was an energy that defied even the dismissal bell.

Children jostled for their spot in the queue. There was only so much blackboard! They transcribed from their notebooks to the board their poem. I prompted them at this level to check spelling and punctuation and line break. I urged them to realize that any glitch could sink a whole poem.

Once the poem was thoroughly proof-read I called the class to attention. The poet became solemn and self-conscious. As the rest of the class read along silently with the blackboard version, the poet read his or her poem aloud. You could’ve heard a paper airplane land.

Always applause. Good, bad, or ugly, the children always applauded the courage and effort of their classmate. Then there were questions and comments. The poet squirmed in the limelight, then rushed to their seat when the fleeting moment of fame had passed.

And the next poet was ready, vibrating with excitement, “Can I read mine next, Sandy? Can I? Can I?”

Publication: the world stops whirling for a moment, and reads.

Writing my Grandmother to Life

Portrait of Sandy's ancestorI’ve written little while immersed in the world of self-publishing (for my soon to be released book, Chatterbox). Even my journal has gaping, week-long lapses between short terse entries. As Chatterbox reveals, I write to relieve pain, often. My writing, as my editor Thomas Hamilton pointed out to me, is scriptotherapy.
So, in periods between emotional tooth extraction or fog-blind confusion, I rarely write. After all, happy songs are insipid, are they not? (See: Paul McCartney)
The Advice says, however, upon self-publication, my fans and readers will clamour for more. (They will? Fabulous!) And, the Advice says I better have something in the works, or I will lose self-pub momentum.
It does seem silly to say, sorry, I’ve nothing else for you. You’ll have to wait until the next bastard comes along and rips up my life; or until I begin excavation of another of my character defects, examining the shards and fragments of its sordid origin.
I wasn’t awake nights worrying about the Advice, and I don’t know why, but one morning in the bathtub (where I do my best meditation) an instruction came to me. Write poems about your grandmother, it said. Really? Granny? She’s rather boring, isn’t she?
As I turned the idea over in my mind ideas for poems broke off like sparks from a rusty blade against a grind stone.
And so, days later, I pick up my pen, and using a book she purchased in Stratford-Upon-Avon in 1972 for inspiration, I begin the poems. I really know very little about Granny, but my imagination does. I am writing my grandmother to life in me.

Where there’s Smoke…

During my first year of marriage, anxiety was paramount. I lived in fear, afraid of the most mundane occurrences. Everything felt as though it was out of my control and at any moment might spontaneously combust into a catastrophic and painful apocalypse.

One of my recurring fears, for which I sought reassurance from my husband on a regular basis, was that the electric wiring behind the walls might catch fire. My fear was a fire like this would sizzle and smoulder undetected for a long time. And when it finally burst through a mouse hole or an outlet it would be out of control, inextinguishable.

My husband looked at me as though I was crazy, laughed, and carelessly tamped out his cigarette in the already full ashtray.

When I emptied the ashtrays, which I did often, I felt the bottoms of them repeatedly to make sure they were cold. No warm ashes in the trash in my kitchen, no sir!

I drank; and once inebriated I forgot about fear. I became too lazy to care about the inferno smouldering in the wiring.

I found a therapist. Of course, I told her my irrational fears: how the whiff of a barbecue or bonfire ignited my imagination and set off a four-alarm response in the fire engines of my brain. At the same time, we did what is known as family-of-origin work.

I was the youngest of four daughters. Had something occurred in my young life to rattle me loose from the foundations of sanity?

There was one year, one year of big changes. Enough changes to warrant a top rating on the stress scale. And I was only eight years old. What happened that year? A big secret. Something worth silence.

We moved. That’s a big stressor. A family of four school-aged girls yanked from their friends and neighbourhood just one month before the end of the school year. I was the new kid in June!

The same summer we moved to a new cottage on the family compound, not an enormous change but a change nonetheless. Our new cottage was the beachfront building of our family’s summer resort; the other hotel buildings were sold.

A shift.

The hotel had been an integral part of each of my previous seven summers. First, as my grandparents’ hotel, my dad keeping the books, we ran around, before the guests arrived, investigating every drawer and cabinet, lying on bare mattresses. Then my uncle’s hotel, a little more posh after a red carpet renovation, a new direction for the hotel, rented for a month at a time to a ballet school. We became “ballet girls”.

Then the hotel was no longer ours, sold out of the family. And then the fire, in which the new owners appeared guilty of arson. The old main building burnt to the ground. The blackened stone fireplace stood among the charred rafters now fallen into the foundation. We poked around with our grandfather after the blaze, before the clean up. He took photographs, and probably cried.

Wait. A fire?

A catastrophic fire punctuated my year of traumatic change. Yes. But the hotel was not ours at the time, the blaze should not count.

No matter how far we distance ourselves from people or property, their images are seared into our brains. My eighth year was singed by a secret and unspoken grief. I was oblivious, a child desperate to hang on to a world which turned too fast, faithfully grasping the writhing hose that was my parents’ protection. Uncertain, but determined to keep my eyes and mouth shut. Still, the smoke got up my nose.

An Apology to Poets

Shakespeare portrait
Da Bard

True confession. Yes, I have a degree in English literature. Yes, I’ve read the “Faerie Queen” and “Leaves of Grass”. No, I don’t read poetry.

Why? Like most readers, I don’t get poetry. It’s difficult to read. It takes effort and time. I like to read stuff I quickly understand. Stuff which enters my brain and instantly computes. Granted, I’ve enjoyed poetry, sometimes. Especially when it’s explained to me!

But wait a minute, I write poetry! How is this possible?

I started writing poetry as soon as I learned how to use a pen. Poems just came out of me. How did I know what a poem was? Well, I was read to as a child. Bedtime stories were the poems of A. A. Milne and Robert Louis Stevenson. My mom disapproved of Dr. Suess, but she read me many other books like the long poem, “Madeline”. This doesn’t entirely explain my knack for writing free verse, but it will have to do for now.

So my apologies to all the poets in the world, alive and dead. I do read your stuff from time to time. Especially when you thrust it in front of my nose. And if it’s easy to read; if it flies off the page and into my brain and gives me that “Ahhhh” feeling, which a brilliant combination of words tends to do; I thank you! And I keep on writing in my quest to pass that feeling on to you.

butterflies are free!

I’m going on my first ever trip to Florida. I’ve seen pictures of the blue sky, the ocean, the palm trees and the enormous beach front hotels. It looks like the Florida of my imagination. I’m going there to vacation, to lie on the beach, to spend time with my friends, and to relax.

Relax? As a writer struggling to emerge from my 50 year old cocoon the notion of relaxation is as foreign to me as interest payments on my bank balance. I don’t want to relax! I want to be writing and creating and letting the world know I’m here and I believe I have something to say!

I’m not taking a computer. My desktop probably wouldn’t fit in my luggage. What’s a writer to do?

I write long-hand so all I need is a pen and paper, right? But what if I have no ideas? No inspiration? Last night the four short stories, which keep each other company in a dark file on my hard drive, called to me. Print us! Work on us!

So, voila! My Florida work is ready to go. I’m excited now to find some shade under a palm tree, to scratch and scribble and perhaps return with something that delights me. A week to write? Paradise.

speaking Michelangeloly

I haven’t written many new poems lately; I’m in between inspirations. But I have been revising. I realized today that revision is my favourite part of writing. In fact, before I send a poem out to a potential publisher, I read it over and usually change something. Poems never seem to be finished.

Revision is when I banish extraneous words and move punctuation around. It is also when I replace words I threw in as a place holders. Removed from the urgency of the original inspiration I have time to chisel around the idea I wished to express in hopes that a more accurate word emerges from the stone – speaking Michelangeloly.

The most thumbed, dog-eared book in my possession is my Roget’s Thesaurus; I’ve owned it since my teen years. I love finding a word’s exact right substitute. In my opinion, Microsoft Word’s right click synonym is the best feature since drink holders in cars.

It’s rare I scrap a poem. If I think it is worthy of transcription to the computer (I write in longhand) then it usually withstands my revision process. But if it’s deemed too sappy or personal I have a little file called Really Bad Poems; there are about five or six in there.

I have scores of poems, a plethora, a multitude. I could plaster the Sistine Chapel in my poetry – I promise, I won’t. I’m just saying, if you need to read a poem – I’ve got one. Wait, let me just tweak it one more time, then you can read it.