Compliments As Currency

For as long as I have can remember, people have told me that I am a good writer.  I have been advised to “get that published” more times than I can count. Right from my first original story written for a writing assignment in Grade Three, all the way through High School, into my professional role as a classroom teacher and now, in the golden glow of my retirement years, people have been very kind in their reactions to the words I write. Believe me, I am most appreciative of the positive feedback. If compliments were currency, you and I, Dear Reader, would be enjoying a wonderful meal at a fine restaurant, right now.

As I approached my retirement, one of the goals that I had set for myself was to give my writing a chance to grow into something more than social media posts and commentary. I wanted to rekindle my love of writing and of being creative. To do so meant devoting consistent periods of time each week to my craft. Being retired has been a wonderful tonic in that regard. The posts I have created for this blog have helped remind me of how it feels to be a writer. These posts have, also, caused me to have a more creative world view. Now, for example, when I am out for a stroll or mowing the lawn, my thoughts are not on the weeds in the grass but more, on how the shadows are being cast by the tree in my yard or the sound of the waves crashing on the shores of Lake Ontario. I used to think about work-related things, mere months ago. Now, I find myself thinking more like a writer would and that pleases me.

My last blog post was two and half weeks ago. Let me briefly explain my absence. I have not been idle.  After I published my last post, I began renovations on the sunroom that sits at the back of our house. For any of you who have done your own renovations, you know there is no getting around the fact that you have to work hard. Demolition takes times, as does prepping for the rebuild. Nails have to be nailed, word sawed to measure, paint applied in colours, floors laid. The work time used to complete the renovations came out of the quiet time I had been setting aside in the mornings for writing.

However, while working on my own in the sunroom, I had time to think. My thoughts manifested themselves in the form of an idea for a story. An original story that, in my mind, I saw as a Picture Book. So, as the paint was drying on the sunroom walls, I sat down and spent several days fleshing the story out and coming up with a rough copy or first draft.  I finished the story toward the middle of last week. At that point, I had some decisions to make.

The Children’s Literature market is a thriving segment of the Book Publishing Industry in North America. In my previous roles as a Teacher-Librarian or as a classroom educator, I have interacted with this market as a consumer. I have become familiar with publishing companies, with authors and with the process of marketing books. It is a big business; one that does not suffer fools lightly. Consequently, in order to be competitive with the tens of thousands of other authors seeking “to be published”, I knew that I had to treat this new story differently than I do for my blog posts, for instance.

I am in control of my blog posts. When I finish typing these words, I will not consult editors or illustrators or finance and marketing experts. Instead, I will simply click on the “Publish” button at the top of my screen and my words will be made available you in your home on your screen of choice.  It costs me, as the author and you, as the reader, nothing but time to be involved in this creative transaction.

That is not the case in the real world of book publishing. Books don’t appear in book stores and at on-line retailers by magic. They are produced, marketed, distributed and promoted by people who all need to be paid for their services. For any publishing company to agree to publish my story, they would have to consider, not only the literary merits of my work but, also, the probability of my book being a revenue-producing investment for the owner and/or shareholders of the company.  I get that. I understand and appreciate the business side of publishing my work. I cannot divorce the financial reality from wish to have my story see the light of day.

So, that having been said, I have decided to go ahead and initiate the publication process anyway and honour my original, pre-retirement goal of giving my writing a chance. Late last week, I sent a copy of my rough draft to two friends; one with experience in the world of kidlit and one with more experience in the craft of writing and creating memorable characters and scenes. I asked them both for feedback. I chose my two friends carefully because I knew that they would give targeted feedback that would help me polish the story for submission purposes. When I have received both critiques, I intend to let my eldest daughter, Leah, read my story. While slightly older than my intended audience, she will be a good judge as to the quality and reasonableness of my dialogue, for example. It is not easy having my writing critiqued because my story is my baby and, like most writers, I am very protective of it. But, to be the best story possible, I acknowledge the need for constructive advice. I feel fortunate to be part of a supportive community of writers. I know “my baby” is in good hands.

I will keep you all abreast of developments as they occur. I am happy that you are coming along for this part of my journey and invite you to see it through with me to fruition. Your support and encouragement is what has gotten me to this point in my writing career. Thanks for everything you do, in terms of reading my posts, sharing them with your friends, offering comments and so on. It all means the world to me.

51WGD151BGL

Gotta love the New Yorker Magazine. Hopefully, my story won’t lay an egg!

Come on!  You know you were thinking it, too. 🙂

Nature Nurture

A boy was born today.

The hospital played, “Ode to Joy” to announce his arrival.

For a moment,

Staff paused their treatments,

Patients forgot their pain.

Hope filled their hearts

…..for a moment.

33-word micro-fiction post about the whole Boys Will Be Boys debate going on in our society. Thanks to my pal, Emily, for the word nurture as a story prompt.

Museum of Memories: a Lifetime of Reading to my Daughter.

You never know what a day is going to bring. Yesterday, while scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across a tweet from an American teacher. She tweeted about her Grade 5 class receiving a “Mystery Box” as part of a literacy programme sponsored by a blog called @BreakoutEDU. She showed photos of her students using clues that came with the box to crack secret codes which, in the end, opened to reveal a book called, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Ballet.  The teacher’s original tweet was aimed at the author, letting her know how excited her students were to begin reading Chasing Vermeer.

Being the supportive fellow that I am, I tweeted back to this teacher and told her that Leah and I had read this book aloud together a few years ago, along with the other two books in this trilogy and enjoyed them immensely. I went on to say that, in fact, Leah enjoyed the books so much that she had a framed print of the Vermeer art work mentioned in the story hanging in her bedroom as I typed.

Within a few minutes, I received a reply from the author, Blue Balliett, herself. Like all authors, she expressed her gratitude to me for informing her that her work had made a difference in some reader’s life. IMG_2720In turn, I sent her a photo Leah’s bedroom so she could see the print for herself. ***You can see the print on the right side of Leah’s bookcase, in the middle of the column of three framed works. The painting is called, Lady Writing.  Blue Balliett replied that Leah’s room was “the bedroom her dreams”.

This got me thinking.

Leah and I have read together from the day she was born.  As a result, we have read thousands of books together. That time we shared was very precious and has helped create many warm memories for us, both, of the books we read, the characters we came to care about, the conversations that occurred, the warmth of our snuggles and much, much more.  Reading with your children is always about more than the words on the page. It is a bonding experience that is quite loving and profound. In time, as you read an author’s words, you start to feel the books in your hearts and minds.

For most of Leah’s early life, the books we shared were simpler in nature because her intellect was not mature enough for weighty concepts. But, with each book or book series read, her mind grew stronger and her inventory of literary experiences swelled. Soon she was ready for longer, more complex stories. The first series we read that made an emotional impact on us was The Little House on the Prairie books. We read all eight books consecutively. When it came time for Pa Ingalls to help Laura into Almanzo’s wagon and then, watch them ride off together, as husband and wife to their new home, I choked up with emotion. Leah and I both knew that scene was as much about us and how we will one day feel in that situation, as it ever was about Laura and her Pa.

IMG_2710We finished the final book in late Fall. Because of the emotional impact of the series, I decided to try and find something that I could give to Leah for Christmas that would serve to remind her of our time reading Little House together. My search took me to the Laura Ingalls Wilder website. There, for sale, was the china shepherdess doll that Pa had given to Ma Ingalls in their early days together. The same doll that had accompanied them across America. This doll was my gift to Leah that Christmas and has sat on a shelf in her bedroom ever since.

The commemoration of a shared experience with a story or series started with the china shepherdess doll and became a tradition that we continued with each subsequent  book series.   The Vermeer print was the piece chosen to remember the Chasing Vermeer trilogy. What follows are snapshots of other memorials to books that Leah and I shared.

IMG_2708

A pencil drawing entitled, Lucy at the Lamp Post, hangs on Leah’s wall by her window. It says, “A Fairy Tale begins…” on it and serves as a reminder of our joy at reading The Chronicles of Narnia and how every epic adventure begins with a fateful decision and a leap of faith.

IMG_2709  We read the entire How To Train Your Dragon series. This framed print was the first time I paired a quote from the series with art work. The quote was uttered by the main character, Hiccup and goes like this:

Because: Love never dies. What is within is more important than what is without. The Best is not always the most obvious. And, once you’ve loved truly, Thor, then you know the way.

IMG_2715

One of my favourite book series was Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising books. There are those who claim that this is the series that most influenced J.K. Rowling when she was writing Harry Potter.  In any case, the quest that 11 year old Will is on to collect six “signs” and help the forces of Light in their battle with the forces of Darkness, is summed up in this important poem from the books.

When the DARK comes rising, six shall turn it back;

three from the circle, three from the track.

Wood, bronze, iron, fire, water, stone,

Five will return and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday. Bronze carried long.

Wood from the burning. Stone out of song.

Fire from the candle-ring. Water from the thaw.

Six signs the circle and Grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold,

played to wake the sleepers; oldest of the old.

Power of the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea.

All shall find the light at last; silver on the tree.

Leah can quote this from memory.

IMG_2717

Our memory from The Hunger Games trilogy was “Rue’s Lullaby”, as written in the book. If you have read the books or seen the movies then, you will know how poignant this scene was.

Deep in the grass, under the willow,

a bed of grass, a soft green pillow,

lay down your head and close your eyes

When again they open, the sun will rise.

Here it’s safe and here it’s warm,

Here the daisies guard you from every harm.

Here your dreams are sweet,

Tomorrow brings them true,

Here’s the place where I love you.

Deep in the meadow, hidden far away,

A cloak of leaves, a moonbeam’s ray,

Forget your woe and let your troubles lay,

When it’s morning, they’ll wash away.

And here….is the place…where I love you.

IMG_2719

From author Lois Lowry came The Giver trilogy.  From that set of books, we opted for the following quote:

   It is better, I think, to climb out in search of something instead of hating what you are leaving behind.

IMG_2718Finally, Leah and I are big fans of Phillip Pullman and His Dark Materials trilogy. I maintain that the final scene in the final book is one of the best scenes in Children’s Literature. From it, a speech of Love that spans the entirety of Space and Time.

I will love you forever, whatever happens.

Til I die and after I die.

And when I find my way out of the Land of the Dead, I’ll drift about forever, all atoms, til I find you again.

I’ll be looking for you, every moment…every, single moment.

And when we do find each other, we’ll cling together so tight that nothing and no one’ll ever tear us apart.

Every atom of me and every atom of you…

We’ll live in birds and flowers and dragonflies and pine trees and in clouds and in those little specks of light you see floating in sunbeams.

When they use our atoms to make new lives, they won’t just be able to take one

They’ll have to take two; one of me and one of you.

Leah spends a lot of time on her own in her room now that she is becoming a teenager. But, as she does, I am still there; an inseparable part of who she is and who she is becoming. Her room is a museum. A museum of memories from a lifetime of reading wonderful books while surrounded by Love.

If you care to know more about how to read with your child so that they come to love books as Leah has, please pop over to my friend, Jackie Currie’s blog, Happy Hooligans. I guest-posted for her a while back. In that post, I told the story of Leah and I and the whole list of books we read together. The post is called,  75 of the Very Best Chapter Books for Girls between 5 – 13.

Leaving For School

My mother is 87 years old. Her mind is still sharp and she will make you a hot cup of tea should you care to pay a call. Catch her in the right mood and she will tell you stories. Mention that you know me and she will tell you stories of my childhood. One of the stories she will tell you is of the day I left home.

I had graduated from High School and had been accepted at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute in Toronto in their Radio and Television Arts Programme. On the last Saturday in August, 1982, my mother took me to the train station and watched as I boarded the VIA Train (Canada’s version of Amtrak, for my American friends) taking me to Toronto, the largest city in Canada. I was only 18 years old. This was the first time I had travelled alone.

It was some years later that I got to hear my mother tell her version of the story of this day. Unbeknownst to me at the time, she had watched the train pull out of the station and immediately got in her car and drove to the next station stop down the line, in the hopes that I would have changed my mind about leaving and had gotten off.  I passed through that station never knowing she was even there. I never knew she had been at the third station stop, either. But, she had.  Then, at last, she turned the car around and went home. I understand that there were tears.

As for me, I made it to the heart of downtown Toronto in one piece. Dazzled as I was by the sights and sounds of a city bigger than any I had ever known, struggling as I did to find my academic footing in university, tempted as I was by the alcohol and girls that were made readily available to me at parties that seemed to be everywhere, all the time, I did not call my mother for a full four weeks.  Needless to say, that first phone call was met with a mixture of emotions on both ends of the line.  I have called her every week since, for the rest of my life. I never realized, up until that first phone call, how much I really meant to my mother. Children, sometimes, take their parent’s Love for granted.

The scene that I have described is not unique to me and my family. Every year, parents take their university or college-aged children to far flung locales and bid them teary goodbyes. There is always a mixture of sadness and pride amid the tears that flow. As parents, we want our children to be happy and safe and successful in life so, at some point, we have to say good-bye and trust that they will be ok without us. It hurts. But, at the same time, it fills our hearts with Hope.

Regardless of any family’s specific story, the general truth is that these separations are planned for well in advance. There is a whole process of applying to various schools, gaining acceptance at one or more, discussing the pros and cons of each choice, dealing with finances, accommodations and much, much more. There are timelines to follow and milestones to pass before there is ever the chance of the tearful goodbyes at an apartment building or dormitory steps. That is the way it was for me and my mother. It is the way it is for countless other families, too.

But, at one time in Canadian History, the idea of children leaving home to attend school far away was, in fact, viewed as Government policy; not for all families in the new land of Canada but, specifically, for the children of Indigenous families. Indigenous nations existed in all regions of, what became Canada, long before European settlers crossed the Atlantic. Their cultures and traditions were rich and well-established. However, as European explorers arrived and began claiming tracts of land for foreign masters across the sea, they did so with a mindset that dictated the need to “civilize the Natives”. By this, they meant forcing the existing Indigenous populations across the land to abandon their own customs and beliefs and adopt those held by the European settlers. One way these beliefs were turned into actual policies that were set into motion came in the form of the Residential School System.

The thinking behind the establishment of the Residential School System was relatively simple; if they could “educate” children in the ways of the Europeans then, these children would grow up to be, more and more, European and, less and less, Indigenous. If successful, the Residential School system could completely transform the thinking, attitudes, beliefs and customs of the entire Indigenous population in only a few short generations. Assimilation would be complete. Indigenous life, as was known at the time, would disappear. Canada would be “civilized” from coast to coast to coast.

When these schools began operation, Indigenous children were forcibly removed from their homes and families. They were sent to schools which were, in many cases, hundreds of miles from their homes. Once they arrived, their hair was cut, their clothes were taken from them, they were not allowed to speak in their own language and they were treated with harsh discipline.  It was a terrible time for these children and their families.

 

To get a sense of how Indigenous children suffered in the Residential School System, please watch Gord Downie’s cinematic re-telling of the life and, subsequent death, of one such child, Chanie Wenjack. There is no happily ever after in this story.

 

Eventually, the Residential School System came into disrepute and ceased to exist as formal Government of Canada policy. But that was not before lasting harm was caused to  many Indigenous Nations, their families and to the children who were taken from their homes against their wills. The utter failure of the Residential School System can be seen in a renewed call for understanding, reconciliation and forgiveness between Indigenous Peoples and those of us who call ourselves Canadians.  One of the first steps taken on this healing journey was the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Many victims of the Residential School System were allowed to appear before the Commission and share their personal stories. Many Indigenous elders were asked to document the toll these policies took on their communities. The pictures painted by their words were not pretty. When all were heard, the members of the TRC issued a number of “Calls to Action” aimed at raising levels of awareness of Indigenous issues across the country, as well as, helping to implement systemic changes in how Indigenous culture is recognized, celebrated and appreciated.  One of those calls to action can be seen in public schools all across Canada in what has become known as “Orange Shirt Day”.

Today, in classrooms all over Canada, students are being encouraged to wear an orange shirt. They will hear the story of how a young girl, Phyllis Webstad, had her orange shirt taken from her on her first day of Residential School. These modern day students will come to learn of the broader story of what happened to so many Indigenous children and that it was an attempt at, what some, including the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, term “Cultural Genocide”. Hopefully lessons, painful as they sometimes are, will begin to be learned and younger generations of Canadian students will grow up with a greater level of respect for Indigenous culture, customs and beliefs, as well as, those of other countries, too. When we all take time to appreciate the beauty and wisdom found in cultures different than ours, we all grow richer as a result.

So, when my mother tells her story of the pain she felt as I boarded that train, I have no doubt that her pain was real. But, the choice to leave home that day to go to school far away was mine to make. My mother was involved in every bit of planning that led up to our train station goodbyes.  Despite of a few forks in the road, my life has been a happy and successful one since that day.

But, I can’t even begin to imagine how different everything would have been if I had been forced to leave. If soldiers or police officers had dragged me away from all I had known to a life completely unknown. In Life, the freedom to make our own choices is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of how we live. During the time of the Residential School System, freedom to make decisions that affected the most important part of life….Family……was taken away. Powerlessness and anguish followed in its’ wake. Those were terrible times for Indigenous families and stand as a black mark on Humanity.

As my daughters left for school today; Sophie with me to her school and Leah, with my wife, to Leah’s school, all four of us wore our orange shirts. Orange Shirt Day is a somber day but, a hopeful day, as well. Sometimes, going to school brings academic lessons. Today, on Orange Shirt Day, the lessons will be a bit more primal. They will be about the bonds of Love that unite families and how nothing is more important than Love and Family.

back

Leaving for school and then, coming home to those you love, should always be the bookends to one of childhood’s most important memories. May it always be so for all children, forever more.

The Magic of a Moment

On August 14, 2003, while driving home, I pulled in for gas. It was approximately 4:00pm. Little did I realize that at that same moment, power surges were knocking the entire Northeast electrical grid offline, in what became known as the Great Northeast Blackout of 2003. By the time I arrived home, there was no electricity to be had anywhere in town.

Like many people, my wife and I were caught completely unprepared.

All of our means of communication (telephone, pre-wireless computers, radio), our food supply (stove and refrigerator) and our access to our financial resources (debit and credit cards) were all taken away from us in the blink of an eye. Between my wife and I, we had barely six dollars of actual cash on hand. The only food we had that didn’t require cooking or cooling were boxes of crackers, some cookies and dry cereal. The radio in our car still worked so, we spent time huddled in our garage, straining to hear any detail that might help us to understand what was happening and how we should respond.

But, the funny thing about the whole situation was that, after our initial moments of prancing madly about in panic, we came to realize that we were actually ok. Our world had gotten very quiet but, we were not hurt or in immediate danger. Everything slowed down. Our world shrunk to the parameters of our physical environment.

So, we lit our candles. We dined on our crackers and drank some warm wine we had in the basement. A friend came by so we chatted the evening away. And then, the real magic happened. The stars came out. The same stars that are always there but which lay covered in a blanket of artificial light from below. The stars came out and they were everywhere! What beauty! What majesty!

silhouette of man during nighttime
Photo by brenoanp on Pexels.com

There are many wonderful stories that emerged from that blackout. Stories of citizens who took the initiative to help direct traffic when the traffic lights went out. Folks with generators or barbeques who cooked meals for their neighbours or other passersby. People who called upon seniors and sat with them throughout the night in order to provide security and stability in a time of confusion. The good in our society shone brightly in the darkness of those hours.

But, what most people remember about that night is the stars.

 

 

Often, the most magical of moments are the ones you least prepare for. Those times when destiny arrives unannounced. My wife and I learned a lot about ourselves during that blackout. We are better prepared now for an emergency (in the sense of having a supply of food and water on hand at all times, having a small stash of cash safely tucked away in the house and so on). But, more than that, we have learned to slow down the pace of our lives and make time to enjoy the world around us.

Admittedly, we both still like our “screen time” and the access to information it gives us and the connectivity with the world it provides but, we also, realize the importance of making time for those “star-filled” moments that exist outside of the noise and hoopla, just waiting to be discovered. We make purposeful time, each and every day, just for us…..together and/or with our children….to talk about our day, to share our discoveries and our dreams, to go for walks and allow the beauty of the world around us to soak into every fibre of our being or, let’s be honest, to just be nosey, sometimes, too.

There was a time in our lives when we prided ourselves for our ability to multi-task and get so much done. How productive we both were. And, how little it really mattered when the power went out that August afternoon.

In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop to look around, once and awhile, you could miss it.” The Great Northeast Blackout of 2003, gave us permission to stop the hustle and bustle of our lives and look around. What we saw in each other and in the world around us, was beautiful. It was the magic of a moment that revealed the joy and wonder of the world in which we live. For that, I am eternally grateful.

P.S. It is not by fluke that this work of art is my family’s favourite.

img_1417

Mother Love

artist celebrity freddie mercury idol
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There he was. His body now a bat-like wing, propped up by silken pillows on his favourite velvet settee in his parlour. The sunlight filtering in through draped windows

“Did you bring it,” he implored?!

I nodded and pulled out a notebook from inside of my coat. Loose pages fell into my hands.

“Good”, he said hoarsely. “Poetry on nakpin slips.”

A nurse appeared beside him with water. He drank eagerly from the straw.

“Feed me your words and I will sing them back in reply.”

“Are you sure,” I replied, looking down at my notes?

“Of course! One line at a time. Three times each. Use the best take as you see fit”.

He coughed. He cleared his throat. I fed him the first line from “Mother Love”.

His eyes kindled. He forced his body straighter. He summoned what was left of his life force. And he began to sing.

For a moment…..that moment….my preening, prancing peacock, who had commanded the grandest stages in the world, returned.

For a moment.

After a verse or two, he relaxed. His body folded back into his pillows. His eyes became ghosts. Quiet filled the void.

The greatest showman the world had ever known…..my friend….was gone.

The last song that Freddy Mercury lent his voice to was called Mother Love. When you listen to the song, you will note that bandmate Brian May sings the final verse or two; completing the song for his friend, arguably, the greatest showman in the modern music era.

I thank my friend, Geraldine Van Ginkel, for sending me this word prompt. It was an excellent choice.

Change

I want to start off by thanking everyone for providing me with such a great list of word prompts. I have plenty of inspiration to draw from in the days and weeks to come. I promise to use every word, at some point, in the next few weeks. So, if you don’t see your story right away, not to worry, it is bubbling away in the cauldron of my imagination and will be ready soon.

I was challenged this very day by one of my writing mentors, Jo-Anne Teal, to create a 33-word post that revolves around the word, “change”. She said that she was going to play along by publishing her own post tonight. So, I found some quiet moments this evening and cobbled together the following piece of writing. i hope that you like it.

 

    

close up of apple on top of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

The Other Side of the Fence

 

Once I was entrusted with the lives of young children. Now, my fingerprints are all that separate me from the predators. What a change being on the other side of the school fence.

 

If anyone wants to know the story behind this story, I will tell you in the comments. Feel free to ask. Thanks, as always, for spending some time in my world.