My Strange Addiction and Other Confessions

I had to quit. It was beginning to take over my life.

The signs were there, long ago: that sense of urgency, and the hoarding of one last hit to tide me over until the next day when I could rush out to buy more. I’d been stock-piling extras, to a greater extent, just in case the need ever arose, and to always have some on hand. I’d take them with me on long car rides. I’d hide a few inside a Ziploc baggie in my purse for those moments when I’d have to wait longer than expected while picking the kids up from school.

People were beginning to notice, and comment. My husband had an inkling. My kids were well aware! But, what no one knew was that I’d been waking up in the wee hours and the first thing that entered my mind was no longer the pungent aroma of my morning coffee (my other addiction) but the sweet, delicious crunch of the orange baby.

What’s in a name? Street drugs always have a nickname, or a moniker less damaging than the real deal: sugar, peanuts, ecstasy, smack, China girl, pink robots,….

So I, slowly, over the course of many years and four craving-inducing pregnancies, had become addicted to the orange baby: the baby carrot, that is! Those glorious, pre-packaged, peeled, cut and washed; crispy, healthy, treats that you people so carelessly take for granted. Just writing about it makes me anxious to partake. Like smokers always say, I’m hanging for one now.

But with that addiction comes a harsh reality: a Donald Trump tan.

You see? It was never an issue before Trump came into power. It wasn’t my reality until The New Yorker (among other notable journals and newspapers) started publishing comics, and memes, and photo-shopped, re-touched photos of the Trump in his shiny, orange skin. And it certainly didn’t affect me until I saw a head shot of myself looking exactly like I was picked fresh from a Florida grove; quite sure that if someone scratched the surface of my dimpled skin I’d smell like citrus (which really wouldn’t be a bad thing, would it?).

This was the pivotal moment when I knew. Like, I just knew. I had to give it up or forever fear resemblance (whether personally or politically) to the most-hated man on the planet.

My daughter, the budding artist, said I needed to find something on the opposite side of the colour wheel to replace my orange hue. “Try celery,” she said, “or blueberries and cucumbers.”

My son, the film student, said ” Use make-up. Lots of it!” One of my other sons, the rugby player, said, ” Take up a new sport or hobby.” My husband, the doctor, said, “No one’s ever died from hyper beta-carotenosis.”

But lucky for me my lifelong best friend is an addictions counselor, and her imagined- and real- voice speaks to me even when we live too many kilometres apart: What coping methods have worked for you in the past? How can you replace the need for carrots with an action to better your health (or in this case, appearance)? Who can you turn to for support when the burning desire strikes?

Cold turkey!

There would be no other way to rid my body of the jaundice I’d acquired over the years.

There would be no other way for me to stop obsessing over my hidden, albeit ‘healthy’, addiction.

It’s been seven days now. I’m still running on a day-by-day, sometimes even hourly, basis. My addiction is real, and perhaps lifelong. I could start a club, if there were any others like me out there…Orange Babies Anonymous.

So how do I do it, you ask? How do I manage in this ‘half-your-plate, hyper-conscious, vegetable-driven’ society that pushes good food choices on us every single time we enter a grocery store? How do I ignore the racks upon stacks of bagged and ready-to-eat veggies that lure us in from first swoosh of the front door?

Chocolate.

My life is in perfect balance as long as I have chocolate.

 

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The Compass Rose

I love small towns.

I love knowing that each and every street is paved in criss-crossed paths and intertwined connections, more in the metaphorical sense than the literal. I love that people from small towns actually know their neighbours’ names, remember the day the stop lights were put in, and can rhyme off quick, detailed explanations- without even looking- when leaning into the passenger-side window to give directions to passers-by who just-so-happen to have taken the scenic route: ‘pass the house with the blue painted porch, hang a right at the one with white aluminum siding, the green shutters not the black ones, then go straight until you get to the brown brick…’ 

So it should never have been a surprise that I would meet someone, one of those artistic, worldly, ample-minded souls with whom you become instantly besotted, and find out that this huge person comes from a town so small you can see the whole of it in the span of one vista from any direction on the compass rose. Like, I mean small enough that you can stand atop the North Street hill looking down towards ‘town’, where your mind sub-consciously registers a pharmacy, a bank, a gas station, a pub, two coffee shops, the hardware, and the one grocery store that sells food but dishes gossip out for free, and let your eyes scan the horizon all the way to the end: to the end of town; to that place right there where population ends and everywhere else begins.

Three thousand souls. Do they even make towns that small anymore?

But she’s so smart, so chic, so limitless…how could she be from such a miniature place? My cynical urban self thinks.

But that’s just it, isn’t it? When you come from a small town your mind has two choices: it either languishes or broadens. If you’re one of the lucky ones whose thoughts instinctually reach beyond the last fence post, jump over the train tracks, and run down the dusty side roads, you’re blessed with the fortune of traveling much further intellectually and creatively than those limited by any physical or mental borders.

What else is there to do, when growing up in said Tiny Township, but cultivate a ripe imagination? When you’re hemmed in by nothing more than farmers growing crops of the corn variety, it’s only expected that your inner harvest would become the product of your own creativity.

 

“Reason clears and plants the wilderness of the imagination to harvest the wheat of art.”  

-Austin O’Malley

 

And that’s how she is, I reflect, as my tarnished urban armour is peeled away and set aside. This huge person from such a small town is like a prairie flower transplanted to the rooftop gardens of my mind, and left to blossom into wild roses that grow in all directions, as far as my eye can see.

 

“The compass rose is nothing but a star with an infinite number of rays pointing in all directions. It is the one true and perfect symbol of the universe. And it is the one most accurate symbol of you. Spread your arms in an embrace, throw your head back, and prepare to receive and send coordinates of being. For, at last you know—you are the navigator, the captain, and the ship.”

-Vera Nazarian

 

I love small towns and the big people that live in them.

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The Empty Nest Chronicles: Pilot Run

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Okay, so, like…, I am very serious here, really now, I mean business when I say that being a full-time mom for twenty-four years does nothing to prepare you for the moment of truth: that moment when the little chickens fly the coop: the dawning realization of holy ^%$#  now what?

You ‘get it’ in bits and pieces over the years with those ‘simulated’ experiences like little Johnny’s first sleepover at a friend’s house, or the first time little Suzy goes to real camp…and then, needless to mention, that dreaded university residence year when your child moves out to pursue an education or career.

And I can admit that practicing for an empty nest is something we typically treat like a trip to the gynecologist: you only do it when you absolutely have to. But let me tell you, if you’re anything like me, practice could be key to your survival.

So this is me, on a practice run.

Testing, testing, one two three. Two cows went out to pasture and two little chickens fled the farm.

Thirty minutes after my youngest two children left on their school’s international band trip, I realized I had no one to pack a lunch for, and no breakfast dishes to wash. Two hours later I had bleached their bathrooms and washed their shower curtains and bedding. I’ve done Facebook. I’ve done email. I’ve filed all the tax forms and endorsed the latest cheques to pay the most recent bills. I don’t need groceries. I don’t need banks. No one has a dentist appointment. The dog refuses to walk in the rain. And the husband has a full day of consults booked with a wait-list of eight months.

So what the actual heck?

Really now! Have some kids, they say. It’ll be fun, they say!

Here’s where it gets tough.

The jokes fly: get a manicure, get a pedicure, crack open a bottle of wine, binge watch Netflix and crack open another bottle of wine.

I won’t even mention all those years when I dreamed of having a hot meal, or a hot bath, or a trip to the mall just for fun (or to buy something for myself, gasp, is that even possible?) and not in one of those frenzied, I’ve-only-got-thirty-seven-minutes-before-someone-needs-to-be-picked-up-from-soccer-and-someone-else-has-swimming, hunts for new winter boots or those extra-special, mid-thigh, band-less, tag-free, boxer shorts that come in some cranky size halfway between tween and teen.

But I don’t want a hot meal, or a hot bath, or a quiet stroll through a peaceful shopping mall listening to elevator Zen music and watching the Geriatric Stride Team doing their indoor laps…

I want to pack lunches and do dishes and run back-and-forth from errand-to-errand making life better for everyone else and fulfilling my own while I’m at it. I want to fold four loads of laundry and figure out where someone left page two of their essay and deliver it before third period English. I want to hear the sound of their chatter and complaints and laughter and their myriad of questions and…

I guess I need more practice.

This mother hen isn’t quite ready to let the baby chicks fly.

 

 

 

 

 

This Vicarious Life

A friend of mine (author/publisher) recently said that she wanted to be ‘eyeballs deep into something that makes her desperate, that wakes her up at night,– that makes it impossible for her to waste three hours on old episodes of X television show…’  

And after I read her post I couldn’t help thinking about just how right she was, and how, nowadays, we’re all a little (okay maybe a lot) guilty of living an overly vicarious life through the experiences and activities (and multiple Instagram posts) of others (like those horrible creatures who are currently barefoot and scantily clad, paddle boarding, while smelling a lot like coconut-scented sunscreen, in the mid-day sun, on a tropical beach surrounded by palm trees, while we are snowed-under after a freak Spring snowstorm that hasn’t relented for two days).

Ugh!

Or maybe not…

The Cambridge Dictionary states the meaning as:

Vi-car-i-ous adjective [before noun] UK  /vɪˈkeə.ri.əs/ US  /vɪˈker.i.əs/

experienced as a result of watchinglistening to, or reading about the activities of other peoplerather than by doing the activities yourself.

E.g. she took a vicarious pleasure in her friend’s achievements.

So, I ask you now: how many posts or videos or photographs or gifs or tweets, from other people doing other things, elsewhere, have you watched or listened to today? Yesterday? The day before that? How many hours have you spent consuming the lives and experiences of others? How many minutes have you wasted by not living your own experiences while passively experiencing the life and times of someone else?

Isn’t it time to get up, go out, step forth and feel the sharp tingle of those snowflakes on your face, listen to the sounds of the wind whistling through the trees, hear the call of the Bluejay as he sings to his mate; see the wintry-blue colour of the sky, feel your heart pumping as you whip down the hillside, surfing your own life rather than the lives of others?

Consider for one moment, he who lives in that tropical paradise, who has closed himself into a dark, cool room, protected from the beating, relentless heat; and is perusing the Internet, watching videos and photographs of rosy-cheeked Canadians, in their warm, down-filled snowsuits, playing outdoors, smiling, laughing, and rolling in that magnificent powder, which looks, and probably tastes, exactly like icing sugar.

Oh to be them, he thinks. Oh to experience that life…

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Show and Tell 101

It’s grade three, and today is your turn for Show and Tell. You put on your best shirt, go to school wearing nerves of steel, swallow back that lump in your scratchy throat; and as soon as the bell rings and Ms. Landry hustles the others into the classroom, you reach into your desk and pull out a…

 If there’s one thing I’ve learned over these past few years, while reinventing myself as a creative writer, it’s this:  there’s a massive difference between ‘showing’ and ‘telling’ a story.

But why does it matter?

Good fiction, to me, is all about creating a visceral and emotional link, which is done by engaging the reader’s senses. A good story, like a thief at midnight, sneaks past that intellectual barrier known as ‘disbelief’, to grab hold of our minds and dig deeper into our selves.

It makes you feel like you are really there in some magical way.

Sure, but it takes more than that!

Yes. It does! You’ll notice I’ve already used metaphor and simile, tried to show you character traits, and almost placed a smoking gun on the stage to create suspense (reference a glossary of literary devices), because good fiction does all those things too! But the difference between telling (cataloguing characters’ actions and emotions, covering ground, informing or instructing readers in some way) and showing (evoking sensations and creating images in readers’ minds) can be the difference between fair stories and remarkable ones.

In fact, you need both to write right. So let the reader  SEE it.

Here are some examples:

Tell: Lynn felt scared.

Ho hum. Blah-bee-dee-blah. Okay then. So Lynn was scared. So what?

Show: The hair on the back of Lynn’s neck pricked. Her breathing came in short rasps. She looked over her shoulder and shivered in chills…

Oh, now we’re talking… Can you relate? Have you ever felt that way? What’s happening that is causing Lynn to feel so frightened?

But what if you have a word limit? Sometimes you progress more by using more words, and sometimes you just need to say it quickly, in a few words (style matters too, but that’s another story).

Tell: Bob seemed angry lately.

Show: Bob slammed every door.

Show: Bob fumed.

Keep in mind that your choice of words can also give insight into the compelling characters that you are developing, and all of that makes for superior fiction!

Tell: Jane wanted to know why Sam kept shutting her out. He refused to answer her many questions.  

Show: Jane pelted Sam with questions like she was the Red Baron bombing London. Sam blew smoke rings back in reply.

Does that example show and tell you anything more about your characters?  If desperate Jane keeps pestering silent Sam how will he respond? Is he going to be gentle and sweet? Or is he going to explode?

And the differences can be striking or subtle but a good writer can manipulate things.

Tell: “Come on,” Judy said impatiently.

Show: “Come on!” Judy urged.

In the above example we’re told that Judy is impatient. In the second line we are shown, through use of a stronger verb and an exclamation point, that Judy, for some reason, is impatient.

Use strong verbs so you can avoid adverbs.

Tell: Lou walked down the street, happy to finally be going home.

Show: Lou skipped homeward, swinging her hips and whistling.

 Tell: Joe wrote messily on the paper (*verb needs adverb to modify and help create image).

Show: No one could read Joe’s writing (*character trait developing).

Show: Joe scribbled something illegible (* better verb choice).

Show: Joe’s writing was chicken scratch (* show using metaphor).

 

Darla walked softly up the stairs.

Darla crept up the stairs.

Darla slunk, snuck, floated, crawled, slithered up the stairs…

Darla inched up the stairs, holding her breath and listening.

 

Let the readers discern for themselves how they feel.

When reading, I dislike being told how to feel, don’t you? Like…

Tell: Lily turned and suddenly, when she least expected it, he was standing there before her.

Show: Lily closed her car door, turned around and banged straight into someone. But it wasn’t just anyone. It was him. 

Or,

Tell: Luke was the kind of guy who made Sarah feel dirty when she stood beside him.

Show: Sarah was jostled into the elevator beside Luke, with his sweat-stained armpits and his breath that smelled like yesterday’s staff meeting. She looked downward, hoping for a draft of air and dreaming of her white-tiled shower.

But don’t be ambiguous.

Tell: Karla was well-dressed.

What does that mean to the reader? What does the writer want it to mean? It’s all relative to one’s opinion of what well-dressed means, isn’t it?

Show: Karla wore a pristine silk pant-suit with a delicate crocheted shawl. Her hair was coiffed like the ladies on the streets of old Paris and her nails were manicured to glossy perfection.

The second example shows the reader what the writer thinks well-dressed means.

The writer could also say:

Tell: Karla was enigmatic.

Or better yet,

Show: When Karla entered the room all heads turned to see.

Show: When Karla walked down the street men in passing cars honked their horns and other women adjusted their skirts and fixed their lipstick.  

Tell: Stan was mean by nature (what does ‘mean’ mean?)

Show: Stan kicked the neighbour’s dog when he thought no one was looking.

Tell: Alice was shy around others (is ‘shy’ the same as introverted?)

Show: Alice hid behind her mom’s legs whenever strangers spoke to her in public, but giggled until her body shook when playing with friends at daycare.  

The truth is, it takes all of this and more to craft a ‘good’ story that others would want to read (what is a ‘good’ story?).

But the showing is always in the telling.  

The morning bell reverberated off the painted brick walls and vibrated the vinyl window blinds until they hummed. Kids scrambled to kick off wet shoes and line them against the wall as they hopped over puddles into their dry classroom.

Ms. Landry stood at the front wearing her usual pink and white smile until the National Anthem finished singing.

“Shhhhh, take your seats please,” she said. “That’s quite the June rainstorm we’re having isn’t it? Okay everyone it’s Geraldine’s turn for Show and Tell. Johnny, sit! Would you like to come forward Geraldine?”

Every pair of eyes in the room from twenty-seven heads swivelled around to stare at Geraldine in her back row seat. She gulped, and reached into the dark spaces of her desk where her hand made a fist around the object she’d waited so long to share. She glanced at the clock and stood up, ignoring the sweat that trickled down her back as she marched forward to stand beside her favourite teacher: the one who had encouraged her to see beyond the ordinary.

“What have you got for us today?” Ms. Landry asked with eyes that twinkled.   

Geraldine lifted her closed hand and glanced sideways to smile at her teacher before thrusting her hand forward, open, with the palm facing up, for the everyone to see.

“What is it?” Johnny yelled.

Mike stood on his chair. Laura did too. Kids craned their necks and grumbled until the entire class was standing, and some were pushing their way forward, trying to get a better look the way people do at rock concerts and Boxing Day sales.

“That’s just a dumb old button.” Arlo said before he plopped back down onto his seat.

“Yah,” Bryce scoffed.

Someone else laughed.

The inseparable Maya and Luna giggled and whispered to each other, having hoped for something a little more exciting, cute and fuzzy, or larger and louder with flashing lights like the robot June’s dad had brought in two days earlier.   

“Class!” Ms. Landry raised her voice. “SIT DOWN.”

They all shuffled and stilled.

“Geraldine, please tell us what you have and why you want to share it.”

Geraldine spoke in her mouse-like voice that took everyone several attempts to hear over the commotion that one tiny button had caused.

“This is a button from my grandma’s jacket that she wore during World War II,” she whispered, staring not at her classmates but at the ornate, tarnished brass dot that rested in her open palm.

There was a collective gasp from the group.

“COOL!” Johnny yelled.

“My grandma worked at breaking German codes. She was very good at math…”  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why This? Why Now?

Self-pub·lish

– to publish independently at one’s own expense.

– ‘private printing’ where the author remains in total control of the entire process including: design of the cover and interior, formats, price, sales, distribution, marketing, public relations; launches, promos, and, at times, catering.

– the [multi-tasker’s dream] ‘do-it-all-yourself’ approach to going very crazy rather quickly (when all you really want to do is write stories).

Why This? Why Now?

So I’ve been sitting here beating myself up over a few, itty-bitty, teensy-weensy typos found in my latest book after printing. Gasp! The shame! The horror!

Yes! It’s true. My eagle-eyed kids found a few things that myself and the editor  missed when we read the final proof x3 before going to print: not big things but things that bug [me] because they were so blatant, and simple, and should have been caught.

Let’s not talk about the comma issues, okay?

(And just so you know, I happen to love the Oxford comma: Google it).

This is the blunt truth about self-publishing, I thought, this is my punishment for taking too much on and trying to ‘play publisher’ when all I ever wanted to do was write my own children some cool stories, and gift them with the legacy of their mother’s printed words.

Cool gift, right? Huh!

Maybe not, if the reader is left considering those errors as careless omissions or worse… general lack of knowledge. Eeeeekkkk!

So I’m here now, today, to defend the rights of self-publishers everywhere, and to champion their mission!

It takes a great deal of courage to put something ‘out there’ and even more to hold your head up high when someone calls you up with the old, “Oh, hey, about chapter 7 page 39 and that (insert wildly fantastical grammar term that no one ever knows the real meaning of/rules to) you messed up on.”

And so, here I am getting all down on myself, and blaming myself for being so single-handedly s-t-u-p-i-d, when I pick up the latest Giller-prize-winning, professionally published book… dah, dah, dahhhhhh (scary music), and find errors.

Errors?

Yes. Mistakes. Grammatical ‘incorrections’. Words that should be plural and are not. Words that should have double ‘rr’ but don’t. Words that are, ah-hahhhhh, incorrectly spelled.

(Twelve of them so far, but who’s counting?)

Yippee! I’m not the only one.

And thus, I somehow magically freed myself from the self-loathing and pity that was beginning to engulf and conquer my usual shining sense of confidence.

I AM A ONE WOMAN SHOW, with the help of TWO INCREDIBLE professional graphic artist friends (Merrick Art and Graphics in Port Perry, Ontario- they deserve the endorsement for sure) and access to a small tribe of ‘blinded reviewers’ and Indie bookstore owners (A rare breed of supremely incredible beings who actually own their own stores and support ‘local’ authors), who has managed to pull-off the greatest feat of self-publishing ever imagined in the history of self-publishing…(Well not really, but let me gloat for a second will you?), and published two novels- in as many years- for my four children: to have and to hold, forever and ever, amen.

So, thank you very much for over-looking those tiny typos, and I hope you enjoy the stories that I took six years to write and self-produce in order to maintain some kind of control over their ‘everything’.

It was sooooo worth it!