Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Today, at least here in Ontario, is the last day of school for elementary students. The children, of course and for the most part are happy. The parents, who now must come up with some manner of having their children supervised over the summer, perhaps not so much so.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that we had to make arrangements for our own children over the summer months. We lived out in the country, and fortunately, there was a young lady who lived next door to us, who came over each day. There weren’t the options available to parents then that there are now for keeping them busy, nor was there an emphasis on structured activities like there is today.

There was Vacation Bible School, of course, and that was free. But it was only one week, leaving seven more to fill. Our children pretty much were expected to play outside when the weather was good, to make their own fun—it was the age before computers, and cable television with their all day cartoon network, so making their own fun was really my kids’ only option.

I don’t recall that there were many complaints of boredom from them, but that could have been because they knew I’d find them work to do if they did complain.

These days there are, of course, all sorts of “day camp” options available for the children to attend. Some are run by organizations like the YMCA, and some by the Parks and Recreation department of the local communities. Most of the programs hire teenagers to interact with the children, while being organized and supervised by adults.

Yes, the day camps are a glorified babysitting program, but they usually feature activities to keep the children’s minds and bodies occupied. Kids attending these programs go on outings to parks and zoos, to museums and observatories, and to conservation areas where they can swim. There’re arts and crafts and games. They make friends and have fun.

There are also all sorts of specialized camps. Rock climbing camps, canoeing camps, even pottery camps can be found in our area. My granddaughter’s favorite specialty camp is Horse Camp. There the children enjoy all of the above activities, with the added fun of learning how to ride and care for horses. She’s attended every year for the last five years. It’s her favorite two weeks of the year.

All of the programs offered are expensive, but then so is hiring a babysitter in this day and age. I don’t know how parents manage. Some don’t, I suppose. There are children left to their own devices during the day while their parents work. For those who can’t afford to have their children supervised, and those who can but struggle to pay for it, I imagine the idea of year-round school is an attractive concept.

My two youngest grandchildren will have a couple of weeks with mom, while she takes her vacation from work, but the rest of the time they’ll attend various camps. No sleeping in for them, either, as their day camps usually start around eight in the morning, run until four-thirty or five in the afternoon, and take place Monday to Friday.

The children still have to have a lunch packed, the same as during the school year. And some of the camps are even held at the school, utilizing the gymnasium and cafeteria space.

I kind of feel sorry for those children who attend camp at their schools. It must feel as if they never get away from the dreaded place.

In general, when I look at the lives my grandchildren lead—the homework and projects they have to do, the extra activities they’re expected to engage in, and the busyness that is their lives, I can’t help but shake my head in wonder.

Being a kid sure seems to be a lot more work than I remember it being.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Under most circumstances, I am proud of my country and my countrymen and women. However, I am deeply ashamed of the riots that occurred in Vancouver following the hockey game last Wednesday night.

I do not for one minute believe that the rioting, the looting or the violence perpetrated against other people and their possessions were the actions of real hockey fans.

I very much doubt any of those punks actually attended the game, period.

I have no doubt that the rioting and the lawless behaviour was instigated by those who already are known to the police, who likely have criminal records. One good thing about this age of technology, there seems to be no shortage of video or still photos to assist the police in their investigation. At last count they had nearly one million images, and had laid hundreds of charges.

This mob mentality isn’t anything new, of course. There’ve been riots in the streets ever since there have been streets and people to populate them. Sadly, this is the second time such an event has occurred in Vancouver. The last time, in 1994, also followed a loss of the Stanley Cup in game seven, that time to the New York Rangers.

I like to believe that we, as human beings, have evolved beyond this kind of disgraceful behaviour. Yes, I know my naïveté is showing. Some people take their sporting events very seriously, often coming to blows. It’s happened over in Europe following close soccer matches, and in other places in North America, as well. Some folks just like to cause chaos, and actually there is apparently a class of people who call themselves anarchists whose sole purpose seems to be to simply wreak havoc.

The police chief of Vancouver stated that some of these people had come from out of town specifically to cause trouble last Wednesday night. I do not understand this group. Anarchists? Where’s the logic in that?

The price tag from last Wednesday’s rampage hasn’t been totalled yet, but the riot in 1994 caused over a million dollars worth of damage. People were hurt, then as now, so who knows what the real human toll could be? Aside from people being injured and property destroyed, how do you evaluate the cost to the province and the city of the tarnishing their reputations?

How long, I wonder, will the people of the world tolerate this kind of brazen destruction before things change in a very fundamental way? Perhaps cities hosting major sporting events, such as the Stanley Cup, or even the Super Bowl or the World Series, will begin to enact stringent measures with regard to these venues in order to protect lives and property.

What could city councils decide to do? They could enact strict curfews in the city centers; demand that all ticket holders board busses in outlying areas to be transported in, and then bussed out again—with marshals on each bus, of course. They could demand that police in riot gear, carrying tear gas and assault rifles patrol the streets, guarding the businesses and property of tax payers.

It all sounds rather draconian, doesn’t it?

I wonder that such tactics haven’t been used already. As a society, we seem quick to make rules and regulations in the face of stupid behaviour—hence the warning of “hot” being printed on paper take-out coffee cups, and the admonition not to iron clothes while wearing them printed on the boxes that contain those small appliances.

Maybe in the end there will be no more live events, period. Perhaps they will all be available only on video feed, and only in private residences.

In essence, eventually society will move to protect itself from immaturity and selfishness—because sadly, there seems to be no cure for these two traits.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

It’s hard to remember what it was like to not be a published author. Maybe it’s different for those authors who went the traditional route, got an agent and then a New York contract.

If that had been my reality in August of 2006—if, instead of getting an e-mail from Siren-Bookstrand, and embarking upon the journey of e-publishing, I got one from an agent instead—then I suppose it might be easier to remember the before times, because I doubt I would be standing at 22 novels published a mere 4 and a half years later.

You’d be right if you guessed I must spend most of my time writing. But when I try to recall how I imagined this would be, I don’t think I ever gave much thought to the actual process of the writing itself.

I envisioned the altered state of being a published author; I envisioned not having to hold a j-o-b; but I don’t think I thought overmuch about the actual work I would be doing, crafting stories.

I say crafting, because as much as this is an art, it is also a craft. The word ‘art’ implies that there is something transcendental about the whole thing, something maybe a little mystical, a little esoteric, a Divine gift, if you will. To a certain extent, for all of us who are writers, this is true.

Now the word ‘craft’, on the other hand, implies a deliberate honing of a skill; a practice-makes-perfect approach, a constant search for new, better, different ways to tell the stories. This is the most true aspect about being an author for the vast majority of us.

In each of us the ratio of God-given talent to acquired skill is different. In myself, as much as I wish it were otherwise, I’d say the ratio is 40-60. My father was a writer; if he hadn’t set it aside when he left school and went to work to first support his mother, and then later, his wife, who knows where his talent and work ethic would have taken him.

Of course it really is pointless to wonder. Life evolved as it did. This is my reality. I know that I have talent; and I know that I am a good writer. I am not, sadly, a great writer.

Someday, I might grow into being one, if I work hard enough at it.

Being a great writer to me has nothing to do with the genre you write. You don’t have to be an author of literary works in order to achieve greatness.

How would I define a great writer? One who is able to give you, within his or her words, an image so clean, so pure, that you not only see it, but you make it your own. As you read their words the writer disappears for you and you say to yourself, “yes, I am there. I can see it and hear it and taste it and touch it and smell it. It is real to me.”

I don’t fool myself by thinking of myself as particularly successful, and certainly not—as a friend of mine keeps telling me that I am—famous. At most, I have achieved a modicum of success and a measure of notoriety.

The latter, I would wager, as much as a result of these weekly essays as the 22 novels I have had published.

That is not to say that I am not pleased with who I am and where I am in my life. I am, and almost giddily so.

I get to do what I love to do most in all the world, all the time. I earn a living doing this that I love, and the most amazing thing of all is that people actually read my books. Lots and lots of people read my books, and isn’t that a miracle?

You have to have a dream in life, a reason to get up every day, to continue to put one foot in front of the other as you travel your particular path in this life.

Even at my age, even at where I am, right now, I have a dream. And each day I do my best to take as many steps as I can toward seeing that dream come to fruition.

I have the best life!


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wednesday's Words for June 8, 2011

Not very often, but every once in a while, I miss the halcyon days of my youth. We lived in a rural community—or as we called it in those days, “out in the sticks”.

Country living for us wasn’t graceful or privileged. This was back in the day when the wealthy still congregated to the cities, and the poor lived out on the land.

My father had died when I was 8 years old—he was barely 46. My mother, a nurse, worked at one of the hospitals in the city, about thirty minutes from home. Up until I hit grade six, I’d never been on a school bus, and didn’t even know they made male teachers.

In the spring – May and June – our air was filled with the smell of lilacs, lily of the valley, tulips and the fresh scrubbed aroma of rain. We had a term for that after-showers scented breeze . We called it, “fresh air”.

I miss the scent of fresh air nearly as much as I miss my parents. When I was 21, my mother passed away at the far-too young age of 56 – just three months shy of her 57th birthday.

I’ve been thinking these things lately because, as of today, I have lived to be 39 days older than my mother. I’d already passed the first milestone—living to be older than my father—nearly a decade ago.

This latest milestone is one I was never certain that I would reach. I’d had a heart attack when I was 48, followed a few months later by emergency triple by-pass surgery. That surgery proved hard on me and I had a very long and difficult recovery.

As I was recovering, I honestly didn’t believe I’d live more than a couple of years more.

Of course, the jury is still out on that one, isn’t it? None of us knows how long we’re to have here on this earth. The uncertainty of life is something we don’t really become aware of until we’re older, or until we have our own mortality held up in front of our faces.

Time moves faster now than it ever did. The days speed past, and sometimes I wonder how I can let even a moment slip by. Some days, there’s such a sense of urgency inside me. The clock is ticking. Will I get everything done that I want to do? Will I be able to look back, satisfied that my time wasn’t wasted?

I try not to worry over much about it. Sometimes, if you focus too hard on the tiniest details, you miss the big picture. I try to spend my time as wisely as I can, and I try never to pass up an opportunity to lend a hand to someone else. I try to take care of the things—and people—I’ve been entrusted with, and try very hard not to take my foul moods (I do have them) out on others.

And yes, maybe I do waste time, just a little, or so it might seem on the surface. If I’m exhausted, I nap. I may take my morning coffee outside, sit on my front porch, and just watch the sunlight dapple through the trees and the squirrels and birds hard at work.

Sometimes I play silly games on my computer, just for the hell of it.

Maybe the secret to living the best life you can live is to find a good balance between meeting your responsibilities to others, and meeting your responsibilities to yourself.

And always, always being your own best friend.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Wednesday's Words for June 1, 2011

On average, I would say that most of the people who read my essays are writers. Not all, certainly, but most.

As writers, we have certain things in common, not the least of which is a different way of looking at everything—at the world, and sometimes even at our very own loved ones.

I’ve long maintained that writers really are a breed apart, and this is not necessarily a compliment. We tend to be more sensitive to emotions and to the nuances of life than the average person. Depending upon the genre we write, sometimes we see plots where there are none, and we may easily get caught up, often at the most inconvenient times, in our own personal game of “what if”. All of the above can tend to make us a little awkward, socially, but really, in the long run, it’s all part of the species, ‘writer’.

If you’re a writer then you know that no one, except your writer friends, understands that part of you. I think, though, the same can be said of all artists.

I had a friend years ago, a gifted painter. When I asked her, she confirmed that sometimes she didn’t understand why everyone couldn’t do what she did, it seemed that natural to her.

While crafting a story is something that does for the most part come naturally to me, it’s also an endeavour that takes a lot of work. There are times when the words simply don’t cooperate, or when the plot I’ve come up with doesn’t quite fit the characters I’ve created. There are times when I stare at a blank computer screen for hours on end, while wondering what flaw exists in me that I choose to torture myself in this way.

Because writing is a solitary endeavour, and because we writers are of the temperament that makes us lean toward being slightly neurotic, it is good, righteous, and even healthy and necessary to ensure that we spend time with other writers every once in a while.

For us, writers’ retreats are golden.

I, along with my three best friends, writers all, had a wonderful writers’ retreat the first week of May this year (I’m not excluding the alligator from the list of attendees; I just don’t know him well enough yet to call him a friend). How brilliant of us to have chosen to rent a house, as opposed to going to a hotel somewhere. We were able to purchase groceries, stake out our own private sleeping areas, stake out our own preferred writing areas, and commence the ebb and flow of fellowship and solitude—the two elements that constitute the perfect retreat for a writer.

During our times of communion, any who wished a brainstorming session was free to ask for one (and thank you ladies, for the book titles). We have one television show which we all four watch—Castle, of course—and that was a treat, to be able to enjoy it together.

The uninitiated would wonder how we could expect to get any writing done, as we had so much fun; yet we all four found ourselves able to write quite prolifically. Let’s be honest here, with four muses in attendance (none of us even considered for one moment leaving ours at home) the air was rife with literary creativity. It was magic!

This was a working vacation for each of us, so there was working, and there was vacation. We shopped, we ate out, we ate in—Ms. Raina created some wonderful salads that we nibbled all week, and Ms. Emma grilled salmon, and steak, and roasted a prime rib that were beyond heavenly. Ms. Lara created a breakfast buffet that was absolutely scrumptious and Morgan, being Morgan and sometimes a bit different, made a butternut squash and red pepper soup.

We discovered a restaurant that had dozens of varieties of egg rolls, and no it was not a Chinese food restaurant, we purchased souvenirs and, of course, we adopted a reptilian mascot, our own champion of the lists, our knight in reptilian armor.

And I am pleased to report that we each returned home rested, energized, and with our creative energies restored to healthy, and happy, balance.

It was, quite simply, one of the best weeks of my life.