And now for something completely different….
Four weeks ago, I started a class at NSCAD on creative non-fiction called “The Writing Life” taught by a writer named James Leck, author of a series of Young Adult novels called “The Adventures of Jack Lime”. Four weeks in, and I’m shocked at just how much I’ve learned from this guy in such a short time, and just how much better my writing can (and will!) be. The following is an example of homework I might submit to the class – a class I so actively participate in I even annoy myself – but instead of reading it aloud to ten other students, I’m putting it out there for all the world to see. Not my usual humorous fare to be certain, but I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless…
The coffee shop in downtown Halifax serves as my office space, its patrons my characters in waiting. I listen as the pretty blonde girl at the next table over tells her gay best friend she’s decided to leave her boyfriend of two years. He had hyped a present all day yesterday – she wondered if it was a ring, or at least a piece of jewellery, but instead it was a cheese grater. “A freakin’ cheese grater” she says, “can you imagine? And he thought I’d be excited and GRATEFUL?” Her BFF’s just moved back from Ottawa. He has blonde streaks in his hair and wears a charcoal grey sweater two sizes too small. I listen as they giggle over all the partying they’ll do once cheese grater boy’s gone. Its sounds like some bad murder mystery plot as they gleefully plan his unsuspected demise. I wonder if she’s been unhappy for some time, and her friend’s timely arrival back in the city created an opportunity to escape she simply couldn’t refuse.
I watch another young couple, clearly on a first date. I first assume it’s a blind date, someone’s set them up, with some thought they’d simply be perfect for one another. He’s nervous, and I can smell the cinnamon and nutmeg he heaps in grand amounts, with shaky hands, in his latte from across the room. ( I think I would’ve ordered coffee. Certainly nothing with the words “tall” or “skinny” or “half caff” in them, and definitely not strung together.). Alas, it is an online meet up, as I hear the guy say he’s never been comfortable trying out Plenty of Fish, but all his best girl friends had met their significant others that way. He winks at her and says, even still, he’d suggest they not tell his mother this is how they met. He smiles broadly at this joke, giving her a hopeful look. I think bringing up other women on a first date is just bad form, especially your mama. She’s here for a drink and a chat, not a life long commitment. Soon it becomes quickly apparent he’s lost her. Her face is more guarded now, she’s not laughing quite so hard at his jokes, and then I see her texting madly, under the table, imagining she’s talking to her best girl friend and saying get me the hell out of here!
Growing up, our house always seemed to be the central hub of activity in our neighborhood. On any given day, you’d find a posse of screaming 7 and 8 year olds, running through the yard swinging taped together leftover Christmas wrap holders substituting for light sabers as we acted out our favorite scenes from Star Wars. Or find a gaggle of teenage girls crowded into a small pink bedroom around a portable record player, talking about boys they liked, and dancing and singing to the likes of Donna Summer and KC and the Sunshine Band. Or a herd of teenage boys draped all over the furniture in the living room, cheering for their favourite baseball team on TV (Toronto Blue Jays!) all the while pretending not to notice or care about those teenage girls giggling away just a floor above. And as much as our house was so often full of people, it was also full of stuff. Lots of stuff. My mother, for instance, had a fondness for Blue Mountain Pottery, Royal Albert Blossomtime china, and her own rough-hewn but lovingly handmade bowls and oddities that she spun into creation twice a month at her ceramics class, and you’d find examples of these on table tops and wall shelves and mantles all through the house. My father was a huge sports nut, particularly hockey, and there were many nods on walls and shelves to his favourite team, the Leafs. My oldest brother suffered a rather gripping fascination with all things militaristic, with a growing collection of amry and navy memorabilia to commemorate the same. My other brother was practically a bowling legend at his junior high school, and seemed to arrive home with an even bigger and increasingly more garish trophy once a week to complete for the already limited shelf space. My older sister was the pretty, popular girl at school, and with her came all those trappings of clothes, makeup, and hair products aplenty, enough to overwhelm her bedroom and our tiny shared bathroom. As for my younger sister, her interests were mostly my interests, and she seemed agreeable to whatever toy, movie, game, or TV fad that struck my fancy at the time. And so we’d often alternate from having my 12” GI Joe action figures (not dolls!) rescue all the Tetley tea animals from the war zone that became our dining room table, to running over those evil Barbies gifted to her by a cousin of ours with my Tonka Trucks in the driveway (so um….maybe that part’s a bit disturbing in retrospect), but never remembering to clean up after ourselves once finished our great make-believe adventures. And so with all these varied people about, with all their varied interests , stuff began to accumulate. And the house, with both it’s inhabitants and their belongings, always appeared very full. Although we were each charged with our very own individual chores to aid in the upkeep of the home – my oldest brother was praised as being the world’s greatest vacuum cleaner guy, while my specialty was window washing, mainly because I was so obsessive I wouldn’t walk away ‘til it was spot and streak free! – and as much as our parent’s worked hard to instill the very ideals of good proper housekeeping, things inevitably always ended up feeling a bit cluttered and….well….lived in.
Welcome to my very first blog post, on my very first and incredibly shiny new blog page! Why blog you might ask? Why NOW? And why should you, dear cyber browsin’ one, with that ever growing list of shiny new distractions out there ready to tear us away from our busy lives, bother to stop by, sit down, maybe put your feet up for awhile, and take the time to read it? Good questions. Let’s see if I can answer them….
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Without question. Even when I was a small child, from the moment I learned to hold a pencil in my hand and carefully shape letters into words across a crisp white page (and always told, by the way, from that very beginning, what neat penmanship I had…”for a boy”.) . It’s all I dreamed of being someday when I grew up. Not a fireman, like my dad, or a navy seaman, like my brother. Not a teacher, although I admired all the knowledge they seemed to have and all the books full of cool stuff to know they had arranged row by row in their classrooms, and how they always seemed to faintly smell of chalk. Not a doctor (innards, eww!), a policeman (hated uniforms, and don’t get me started on hats), or a lawyer (although at times I excelled at arguing and acting all know it all like, so for a time that lingered as a very close second). In fact, I have a clear memory of standing in front of my Grade 2 class, during a lively class discussion on what it would be like someday in the far off distant future to be an action hero or a circus clown or a rock and roll singer, and yelling “yeah, well when I grow up I’m gonna be a JOURNALIST and report on the news, and along with that I’m gonna be a WRITER too, and write the biggest book you ever saw!” The blank stares, surprised looks, (even, or most especially, from the teachers), and silence were only interrupted by my friend Glen crying “you wanna be a jer-nee-WHA??
Hmmm. So not the most auspicious of debuts indeed. Read More