Monthly Archives: October 2011

Mom, Writer, Time Traveler


When my daughter came home for lunch today, I was in the year 1910.  In Ireland.  Needless to say, I had a hard time having a rational conversation.   She thinks I drink during the day, I know she does.  No, I’m just a writer.

Sometimes I get so deep in a story – it could be in a time and place completely foreign to the year 2011, Toronto – it’s very hard to snap myself back into the present to deal with my “real” life.  During a normal weekday, I could travel from Vermont to Scotland to London to the flanks of Vesuvius or down the street, depending on what I’m working on.   My mind refuses to stay in one spot.  I’m a wanderer, a gypsy, who sits down every morning and allows my mind to run wild – wherever it will. What never changes is, at roughly 3:30 every afternoon, I have to return to the present; to my kitchen, to greet the hordes returning from school.

This transition is never easy.  Sometimes, I write until the back door crashes open, getting the bejesus scared out of me.   Other days, I’m smarter, getting up from my chair at around 3 or 3:15 to let the story ebb away like a falling tide.  The latter method is a lot less jarring but it also means my day has not been as productive as I’d like.  There hasn’t been the complete immersion that is so sweet and so all-encompassing.  It’s the feeling that I’m swimming in a story that makes the writing so satisfying.  Then a small face appears at my side. The face is speaking to me.  It’s asking for food/drink/homework help/something not related to anything I’m working on…I blink stupidly as if long in the dark and suddenly exposed to blinding light. 

When I’m really deep in a story, I disconnect from the whirl of life around me.  I am here but not here.  I will not be “here” until the story is down, the problem solved.  Questions have to be repeated; answers are terse.  My temper is short – especially if I’ve been jarred out of my make-believe world suddenly or unexpectedly.  Worst is when I’m far away from my computer.  Writers can be grumpy creatures indeed.

I’ve said it before that I dream of having an idyllic, secluded space to write in for as long as needed.  Sadly, life intervenes, as it has to.  Otherwise, I might become a hollow wraith floating around the planet – disconnected from the real world.  The real world offers a wealth of material – I just have to remember to tune in and feel it.  The real world keeps my feet on the ground, warms my heart, and gives me sweet Goldfish flavoured kisses at 3:45 every afternoon.  1910 Ireland can wait until tomorrow…

Miss Scarlett, I Don’t Know Nothin ‘Bout Birthin Babies…


I’ve been longing for the South recently…warmer weather, pecan pie, peach pie, peanut pralines, any kind of pralines, warmer weather…ok, any kind of pie…

For some reason today I began thinking of Gone With the Wind and Margaret Mitchell – a story and a woman synonymous with the South.  It’s been a long time – too long – since I read the book.  Ms. Mitchell was what they call now a “one hit wonder.”  Sadly, it wasn’t her fault as she got hit by a car and died in 1949.  Perhaps we would’ve heard more from her – an amazingly gifted voice with a keen understanding of  the complicated place she came from (lest anyone think the South is just the land of magnolias, pecan pie and quaint accents).  When I think that GWTW was her first published novel, I can hardly fathom it.  No one had ever read the manuscript before it ended up in the arms of an editor.

Some days, I think giving birth to triplets without benefit of an epidural must be easier than giving birth to a novel.  Or for that matter, any fully-formed piece of writing.  I’ve had short stories drive me to tears, make me eat entire pizzas, and endure hours of pain bringing they emerged into this cold, cruel world.  Writing, like pregnancy and child birth, is hard work and can, at times, cause me to utter howls of misery.  Sometimes, it’s like an out of body experience.  I’m Miss Prissy, standing over my toiling self, wringing my hands and mewling, “I don’t know what to do!” 

I remember being a new mother for the first time – it was scary and the amount of conflicting advice made it more so.  It’s happening with the book too, leaving me overwhelmed and confused.  I attend seminars, workshops, and writing classes – much like the Lamaze classes I attended. Proper breathing; proper punctuation.  I learned about something called swaddling; I learn how to develop characters.  But once that baby is ready to come out, anyone who stands over me, trying to be helpful and murmuring about my happy place is likely to lose a testicle (Dr. Donovan, I’m so very sorry).  Novels, like babies, come in their own time and in their own way.  Some arrive gently; others have to be hauled out kicking and screaming.  Once born, they have to be raised-harder still.  They rarely behave the way the books or classes tell us they’re going to.  Some characters are easygoing; others refuse to settle down and go where you want them to.  Some require an exorcist.  While human baby mortality rates are low in the 21st century, it cannot be so with first-time novel attempts. 

I’m still in labour.  It might be a year before this story is born – I hope it’s sooner because no one who lives with me is going to want to bear witness to the pain and the howling that will ensue if it goes on too long.  Everyone will be wearing hockey helmets and er…protective devices.  Hopefully, a story worth reading will emerge.  I harbor no expectations that it will be an epic masterpiece like GWTW.  I’ll be incredibly thrilled if it is published, more thrilled if family members wait until their out of earshot before howling.  Nonetheless, I’ll begin the next one before too long because like that woman on reality TV, I just can’t help making babies…er, I mean stories.  Some day maybe I’ll feel like I know what I’m doing.

Fear of Fall


No, I didn’t forget to type the -ing.  I have a fear of fall; some would call this an unreasonable fear but to me it makes total sense.  Consider the following facts:

1.  Fall is the time of waning light.  Common sense tells me that the light has been steadily waning since the summer solstice but one really starts to notice in the fall.  I need light in order to thrive; this is the season where I know I’m in for a looooong, cold, period of darkness.  Where I live, the sun doesn’t bother shining much in winter anyway, so why hang around after 5 pm?

2. Leaves fall off the trees.  I know they are pretty but half the time the wind blows so hard they get torn from the trees before they change colour.  Dry, crumbly leaves don’t make me sad; supple green ones gone before their time do.

3. Colder weather.  As with light, I need warmth to thrive.  Canada laughs in my face, starting around the middle of October.  I must have been a plant in a former life – a delicate, tropical plant needing much heat and humidity.  And, long days.

4. Ho…ho…holidays.  I can’t even type the word without stuttering in fear.  Even now, at the end of October, I can feel my shoulders tighten and my jaws begin to clench.

5. With back to school equals a disastrous mess in my house.  I know that the position of the Earth and Mother Nature have nothing to do with this one but the minute the kids go back, the amount of clutter increases in my house a thousand fold.  In addition to piles of backpacks, papers, and assorted other things a mountain of winter boots and coats grows as the weather chills and before long, you’ve got the aforementioned disastrous mess.

If I were to seek professional assistance for my fear of Fall, perhaps the professional might say something helpful like, “Get one of those nifty light boxes!”  or  “tell the children to organize their stuff”  or “Try to embrace the cold like Canadians do – take up skiing! Skating! Tobogganing!  Ice fi-”  At this point I would find something heavy to throw at the therapist and walk out…

And,  there’s more!  With all of the above come our children’s birthdays (mind you, I love them but why oh why didn’t we plan their conception a bit better?) PLUS a full two months of holiday shopping, parties, entertaining, frantic cleaning of above mentioned disastrous mess before entertaining, did I mention shopping?  And, the parties?

I’m a hermit.  I don’t like parties and I don’t like entertaining. I’m one of the few women on earth who really hates shopping of any sort.  My idea of a good time is one or two people over for a nice, quiet dinner with good food and good wine.  I practically break out in a rash at the thought of holiday parties, especially if I’m the hostess.  My husband loves entertaining and views shopping last minute at Christmas as a thrilling challenge.

It is the end of October.  The November and December calendars loom large on my desk.  I keep trying to hide from the inevitable reality that Fall leads to Winter and all of its attendant scariness.  As usual, there is no escape.  With the ever-encroaching darkness, my mood matches.

Solution? Since I’ve not won the lottery (yet), I can’t flee for warmer climes.  I must find a way to make the best of it as opposed to making the lives of my loved ones miserable for the next few months.  This weekend, I will try to hatch a plan.  Will it involve organization?  Probably.  Will it involve everyone’s cooperation?  Most certainly.  Will it involve prescription medication?  Undoubtedly.

Reality calls.  I must go.  There’s a pumpkin to be bought, costumes to assemble, and a dish to prepare for the first of the season’s parties…before I go downstairs in my fuzzy slippers, I will put my head back and dream of summer – a time of long warm days when night isn’t in such a hurry to overtake the light.

Rules for a Rainy Day


The Canadian version of monsoon season is upon us – drizzly, dismal days so depressing the leaves throw themselves off the trees before turning any colour at all leaving the sidewalks slick as glass with their not-yet decomposed little forms.

Well, that sentence alone should give readers an indication of my mood but I’ll try to lighten it up before the sky falls altogether…

After monsoon season, we launch directly into “Holiday Season,” with all of it’s attendant shopping frenzies, fattening foods, and obligatory get-togethers.  So, in some preparation for same, I’ve started compiling lists.  I do this until the first panic attack strikes (which it already has).  Rule #1: don’t look too far ahead.  I started freaking out about Christmas when it’s not even Halloween yet.  However, retailers make it very hard not to.  As I ambled into our neighbourhood Canadian Tire the other day (the day before Canadian Thanksgiving), my progress was impeded by boxes piled high to the ceiling down one aisle after another.  You guessed it:  Christmas decorations.  Employees scurried around, their arms laden with artificial wreaths, inflatable Santas, and grapevine reindeer.  Crikey, I haven’t even planted my fall bulbs yet!

Today, in anticipation of a few holiday get-togethers already on my monstrous wall calendar, I went shopping for a nice, cozy sweater dress.  Rule #2:  Never shop for clothes when you are cold.  I left the store with an armful of cozy sweaters of every possible description, most with either a Nordic theme or a snowflake theme and all so cozy I will likely faint dead away as soon as the furnace comes on.  I also bought tights.  I hate tights.  It was everything I could do not to buy the three pack of slipper socks.  Like I said, I was cold.  Hey, at least I put back the sweater with the large reindeer pattern (I already have one, thank you).

Feeling a bit guilty about my shopping spree, I came straight home, following at least one important rule.  Rule #3:  Never walk into a grocery store when you are both hungry and cold.  Can you just imagine the things I would’ve walked out with?  Boxes of hot chocolate mix, can upon can of soup, loaf after loaf of French baguette…I came home like a good banshee and had leftovers for lunch.  Places like Shopper’s Drug Mart (or London Drugs or any equivalent location that is 30% drugstore and 70% Wal-Mart) are equally dangerous.  Things like bubble bath in tropical scents, Oprah magazine, heating pads, and cheap hair accessories seem to fly into my shopping cart on days like today.  Oh, and those cheap fleecy gloves that everyone sells at this time of year but that never last past November.

Of course, I should be following other rules that involve sitting at my desk and writing copious amounts of fiction (in fairness, I’ve done that for the last 2 days until my eyes crossed and I might need a chiropractor).  I should stick to hot cups of tea as opposed to fattening hot chocolate.  I should leave Mad Alyss alone as she’s scratched me to bits. Rule #4:  Never stick your face within clawing range of a playful kitten (applies to all days, not just rainy ones).

It’s hard to stay focused when all I can think about is burrowing into a down duvet and hibernating until the sun comes out again – sometime in April.  Weather like this makes me wonder about my Celtic roots and why my forebears didn’t relocate to someplace tropical.  Daydreaming about warm locales is risky when the American Express is just an arm’s length away. Recipe browsing is fine as long as not too much pre-holiday baking is begun.  Exchanging all those sweaters for a larger size would be no fun.

Rule #5:  Sit at the desk, keep the fingers warm by making them fly across the keyboard, bundle up in ugly socks and a warm sweater.  I need to write while I can; after all, monsoon season will end and the holidays are right around the corner.



Clarification Needed


This is what I get for writing on a Friday at the end of what has been a crappy week.  Certain readers of Write or Else misinterpreted my previous blog, thinking that I was publicly lamenting the end of a love affair.  [Insert hysterical laughter here].

I wonder, if George Clooney and I ever embark on our long-overdue love affair (once he sees reason about dating someone his own age), if I would ever lament the end of it in a public forum.  Well, writing about it is way more likely than me going on “Dancing With the Stars,” so…well, we’ll have to see won’t we?  [Oh, for God’s sake, I. Am. Kidding. ]

Here’s what I was actually going on about:  parenting and how absolutely unbelievably mind-smackingly difficult it can be sometimes.  “The Rock of Truth”  was fiction as in a make-believe product of my sick, exhausted little mind.  The metaphor, truth as a 1,000 pound rock, is something I made up.  I have not been hit by an asteroid and there is no need to call the Mounties.

Whew.  I hope everyone’s on the same page now.  I hate causing kerfuffles with my writing but it’s happened to me a lot lately.  I don’t set out to write controversial pieces; in fact, until lately, I shied away from even reading them.  However, as I’ve gotten older, I have become less sensitive to controversy.  It’s what my mother used to call the “I-don’t-give-a-rat’s-pattooty” mentality that comes with age.  I apologize if I’ve misspelled “pattooty.”  I wouldn’t say I actively court controversy; I just don’t give a rat’s  ass (much easier to spell) if someone disagrees with me.  Misunderstandings, especially personal ones, I will still work to correct but that might change in two months when I turn 50.

Don’t say you weren’t warned.

Reality Weighs In


A while back I wrote a piece of flash fiction entitled, “The Rock of Truth.”  Although it hasn’t met with wide public approval (read: it hasn’t been published), it is still one of my favourites.  It outlines the a very brief trajectory of a love affair gone awry.  The turning point of the piece is when the narrator talks about being bashed on the head by the rock of truth.  “The rock of truth weighs about a 1,000 pounds.”

Turns out the rock of truth weighs a good deal more than a 1,000 pounds regardless of why it hits.

Having the rock of truth score a direct hit tends to hurt; it positions itself directly on the heart. The term “heavy heart” keeps floating around and around in my head. My heart is a lump in my chest that drags me down and makes it hard to breathe – quite the opposite of the life-giving organ it usually is.  The opposite of “light-hearted” is what I am.

Circumstances dictate that I carry on; pretend that I’ve not been felled by a 1,000 pound behemoth.  Although the heaviness remains, life goes on.  One of the hardest parts about getting hit by the rock of truth is the painful process of crawling out from underneath it.   I have to look forward and not flinch every time a cloud passes overhead.

The bruises remain on my heart; they will fade, eventually.  The shadow of the rock will shrink as time works its slow magic. Until the next time.  There’s always a next time with the rock of truth.

Smells Like Teen Disdain


[Note:  at a certain family member’s request, I am asked to no longer “write about our family on the blog.”  Being sensitive to such requests, I will endeavour to write about family matters without naming names, specific events etc.  I will also change the category from “Banshee Life” to “Imaginary, Fictional Banshee Life.” Yeah, right.]

My first blog post here was a piece about mother sea turtle envy.  It just dawned on me in the shower why mama sea turtles lay their eggs and then lumber off as quickly as they can:  They want to avoid watching their adorable little hatchlings go through their teenage phase.

I still think those sea turtles have it all figured out.

Although the human survival rate is much greater than that of baby sea turtles, parents of teenagers must wonder when they’re right in the thick of it.  That is to say, it is not always fun to be the parent of one or more of them (not that I can comment personally, see note above).

National Geographic magazine’s October issue contains an article entitled, “The New Science of the Teenage Brain” – a must-read for parents of teens although it won’t ultimately make the road any less bumpy.

The long and the short of it is that teenage brains are only half baked which explains in large part why they do things that we wise adults consider half baked.

The article quotes Aristotle, who summed up the teen condition best when he said, “the young are heated by Nature as drunken men by wine.”  Yep.  The heat is the  neurological oven cooking in all the necessary ingredients for a happy, healthy, stable (eventually) person.  Now, with sophisticated brain scanning technology, scientists can monitor a teenage brain’s development and its patterns of activity giving a clearer but no less scary peek at “what the f**k was he/she thinking and why.

It appears all of the teenaged craziness is absolutely necessary for healthy development of the brain – without this period of drama, angst, and eye-rolling, humans would actually become dumber.

The article details how brains go through a total upheaval and re-org between the ages of 12 and 25.  The developmental equivalent of say, the formation of the Rocky Mountains.  The problem with all of this re-organization and re-wiring is that it takes a loooooong time and within bodies that look adult-sized.  This explains why someone’s 15 year old son who is 6’2” and has to shave still does incredibly “stupid” things.  The brain scan studies have led to some to question as to whether  teenagers are not in a state similar to mental retardation.

OMG.  Not comforting news, I know.  These half baked people get driver’s licenses

However fun to repeat, that explanation doesn’t tell the whole story.    According to scientists, a more accurate explanation is that the teenage brain is only attempting to perfect its ability to adapt to changing circumstances.  The teenage desire to try new things (whether they’re dangerous or not), “leads directly to useful experience.”  Some parents may have a hard time figuring how a tongue piercing will lead to useful experience…

According to studies, the most dangerous risks are taken by 14-17 year olds; they know damn well it’s dangerous but they process things differently.  Hence, if they survive the cliff jump, the the total awesomeness of surviving it is worth far more to them than the possible risk of death.  An adult brain might ponder the usefulness of this experience and choose a more sedate activity.  If teenagers always chose the “safe” thing to do, it might lead to less gray haired parents but also the downfall of the species.

On friends:  teenagers value their friends more than they value their families at this stage – a teenage girl’s BFF knows way more about her life than her mom.  Quite a few parents don’t find out exactly what their teenagers were up to until those kids are about 30 years old.  “Oh, Mom if you only knew some of the shitt I did!”

Scientists say looking outside the confines of family for new experiences is good.   At the most basic level, it introduces them to new stuff and people.  New is good (in an ideal situation).  It’s basic species survival – in prehistoric times, this thirst for new experiences might lead to meeting cave neighbours who could help defend against pesky sabre-tooth tigers.  In the complicated neural pathways of the brain, social acceptance still equals survival; social rejection equals ceasing to exist.  This is not drama queen stuff.  If something goes awry with a social relationship and a teenager wails, “You just don’t understand! My life is OVER!!” their still-developing brain thinks it might be true.

Does all of this information make raising a teen any easier?  Maybe, maybe not.   If parents  quoted Aristotle, just imagine the looks they’d get.  The article urges parents to “guide their teens with a light but steady hand, staying connected but allowing independence…”  The steady hand part means parents should not self-medicate with that tempting cocktail of vodka and Valium, I suppose.

So when your under-cooked teen comes home gushing about the cliff jump, calmly retire to a private place and then faint.   When one of them barrels through the door,throwes themselves on the floor and declares the world is ending, breathe deep.  Don’t ask too many questions.  Don’t move too suddenly.   Never show fear or weakness (same as dealing with wild animals).  Cross your fingers, keep a rabbit’s foot, whatever it takes.  Necessary or not, the teenage years will still be a bumpy ride.

Sources:  National Geographic, October 2011 “Beautiful Brains,” by David Dobbs

Personal experience of Wee Banshee   (can’t talk about that)

Sleepless in Toronto


If this post tails off into incomprehensible gibberish, please know that I’ve not had a stroke and I have not been into the liquor cabinet…yet.  I am operating on roughly 2 1/2 hours of sleep.  How I even logged onto the computer this morning, I’m not sure.

I seem to have problems staying put at night (through no fault of my own, mind you).  I am not a sleepwalker except on days like today when I think the term “zombie” might apply.  Last night went something like this:  admonished children to go to sleep several times around 10:30; chased nocturnal kitten out of bedroom several times – gave up on all of them, locking myself in my room around 11.  Continued reading truly awful James Clavell book because I had nothing else, until midnight.

Husband came crashing in (time unknown) after “office team outing.”  Said husband wakes me with bear hug and liquor-fumed kisses.  I growl and say “SHHHHHH” in harsh voice whereby he giggles, repeats “SHHHHHHH” loudly.  Repeats bear hug with mumbling.  I repeat “SHHHHHHH” – this decidedly un-witty repartee continues until he falls asleep.  I lie there, in wide-eyed disbelief, as he begins making a noise somewhere between snoring and a donkey braying.

I look at the clock:  2:30 a.m.  I look over at my beloved and wish him a happy hangover in the morning.  Getting up I notice nocturnal kitten is nowhere in sight and my daughter’s bedroom door is open.  This is not good.  I go to the bathroom and notice raccoons are partying noisily on our back deck – what is going on – is there a full moon?

Back to daughter’s room.  Nocturnal kitten likes to crawl into the box spring of her bed which concerns me because there are nasty springs and hazardous stuffings.  So, of course, I spend the next 30 min face down on my daughter’s dubious carpet trying to extricate stupid (but unbearably cute) nocturnal kitten without waking my daughter.  Mission accomplished.  It is 3 a.m.

Nocturnal kitten chases me down the hall to my room, batting at my feet.  I am fully awake now and the braying can be heard through the bedroom door.  I grab my pillow and head back to my son’s room.  He is also snoring/braying but he is not drunk; he has a head cold.  I think.  Anyway, I shove him over to where I have my minimum requirement of 12 inches of mattress and settle down with nocturnal kitten, in hopes of getting some sleep.  Nocturnal kitten (who’s nickname is Mad Alyss) has other ideas and begins pummelling my jaw with her hind feet, practicing her kickboxing.

I give up on sleep, deciding that playing with Mad Alyss is more fun whereby she decides to call it a night, leaves the crook of my arm and settles herself at my feet. Until dawn I lie, perched precariously on my 12 inch strip of mattress,wondering what it might be like to sleep through the night.  I am serenaded by snoring, braying, and a noise I cannot adequately describe coming from the raccoons outside the window.

Morning:  Mad Alyss has crashed on the sofa – utterly exhausted as usual by her night’s adventures.  Husband woke up looking slightly worse for wear and dodging nasty looks from me over breakfast.  Everyone was sent packing with all due haste.  And, here I sit, bleary-eyed and feeling as though I’d been run down by a truck; willing my brain to function on massive amounts of coffee.

I look out the kitchen window and damned if I don’t see a raccoon curled up on the roof of our garden shed, sleeping off his/her good time.  Jealous, I pour yet another cup of coffee.


When Lightning Strikes…


Some people can predict lightning before it strikes – they get tingly sensations in their extremities, the hair on their arms (sometimes even their heads) stands straight up and a few seconds later, BAM!

I’m not one of those people except when it comes to getting verbally zapped by one of my writing teachers.  Right now, the hair on the back of my neck is standing straight up because she is gonna hurl a bolt at me like Zeus from the top of Mt. Olympus.  Any second…why, you may ask, would a nice lady writing teacher wanna do a thing like that to a sweet wee banshee like me?

I’ll explain:  To continue along the Greek mythology vein, I have not one but two Achilles heels.  The first is that I am a fast, reckless writer.  I’m just not as careful as I could be.  I get an idea, write it, and too often, submit it.  My second Achilles heel is that when I get busted for being a fast and reckless writer, I hurl a few lightning bolts of my own – usually at myself.  I ignore the good points and focus only on where the piece has fallen short.  Which gets me exactly nowhere.

In the calm after the storm, I ask myself:  could this energy be harnessed in a more productive way?  Perhaps I might consider writing a piece, walking away for a bit  and then re-visiting it.  Perhaps I could be more c-a-r-e-f-u-l instead of writing as if the Hounds of Hell are chasing me?  Problem solved!

Not so fast…

When an idea comes, I write it down with great enthusiasm.  Before I know it, I’ve got five or six pages – which is awesome!  Sort of.  Often, though, the five or six pages are conflicting, confusing, and wayward.  So, I keep going, thinking more is better and it will all work itself out.  Ten to fourteen pages into it, I still have no idea what the characters are doing – even though they might be very busy climbing mountains, talking, petting llamas, killing each other.  Why?  What drives them?  What has brought them to the point of climbing the Andes while moaning about global warming and half-heartedly trying to push each other over the odd cliff?

Therein lies the problem:  I write first, ask questions later.

There has to be an easier way.  Oh, dear.  I think it’s called an outline…or something along those lines.

So, to address the second Achilles heel, if I’m going to write as if I’m on a Formula 1 circuit, I should be prepared for the occasional fiery crash or almost worse, be prepared to run out of gas halfway round the track.  First of all, a piece written at  warp speed is likely to have issues.  Second of all, even a piece not written at warp speed is likely to have issues.  They always do.  Somebody, somewhere is going to have issues with something.   But I stand a better chance of avoiding crashes and lightning bolts if the submission is carefully thought out and as good as I can make it before I send it off.

Time to go deal with Zeus… carefully.