Hypergraffiti

Hypergraphia is a condition that causes people to transcribe their thoughts uncontrollably. I don't suffer from it in the clinical sense, but I may be borderline. My blog is the cyber-wall where I spray paint my thoughts for all to see. By the way, if you came here directly through blogger --if your page has no yellow frames and no pretty pic of me in the top left corner -- you may want to visit my main site at www.hypergraffiti.com, where you can read this blog and much much more.

Name:

I'm Trudy Morgan-Cole, a writer from St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. My books include "The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson," "Esther: A Story of Courage," and "Deborah and Barak." I'm also a married mom of two, a teacher in an adult-ed program, and a Christian of the Seventh-day Adventist kind. I blog about writing, reading, parenting, teaching, spirituality, and shiny things that catch my eye.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion: An Update


Some time ago I blogged about how this was going to be the Summer of Shameless Self-Promotion for me. I'm happy to report that I have been very busy behind the scenes arranging promotional events and activities for my book. I just wanted to let my devoted blog-readers know about a couple of dates you should mark on your calendar in red pen -- but only if you live in St. John's or Halifax (or nearby)!!



Sunday, September 17, 3:00 p.m. -- Reading and signing The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson at Chapters on Kenmount Road in St. John's.

Sunday, September 24, 3:30 p.m. -- Reading at the Word on the Street Festival in Halifax. It takes place at Pier 23 on the Halifax Waterfront, so if you're in Halifax or in driving distance, I'd love to see you there!

Watch this space for further developments in Shameless Self Promotion -- every writer's part-time job!


Oh -- one more bit of SSP, but not so much along the literary lines. A couple of people kindly expressed some curiousity about the sermon I'm preaching this Saturday, Sept. 2. You can actually hear me live and in the flesh if you want to ... just go to the VOAR website and click the "Listen Live" button if you want to hear me air my thoughts on the topic, "When God is Silent." The church service starts at 11:00 a.m. Newfoundland time (9:30 a.m. Eastern); I'll be speaking about 20 minutes or so into it. (Note to Sherry: Now that I've posted this, I hope you're not playing a backup sermon tape this week! It is live, right?)

Even if you can't listen to me, it's worth following that link to VOAR anyway because, for this week anyway, there's a rockin' cool picture of my handsome husband and nice little write-up about him and his radio show on the front page. See? Shameless Spouse Promotion!

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

With Bells On

Tonight was the launch of Tina Chaulk's novel this much is true. On Tina's blog, both Christine (of The Smartmouth Mombie) and I had promised to be there "with bells on," and I suggested we should take this literally, so I wore jingle bells on my pink-white-and-green bracelet, and Chris wore them around her neck, to celebrate the launch of a really fresh, fun and enjoyable book by yet another talented Newfoundland woman writer. By the way, that's me on the left, Tina in the middle, and Chris on the right. Just so's ya knows.

I think it's great that Tina, Christine and I are all women writers of a similar age (OK, they're both younger than I am!) living in the St. John's area, and we would never have met if not for the internet. Say what you will about the perils of the internet (of course, if you're reading this, you're probably not, like, violently opposed to the internet), it certainly does bring people together. We also met up with "helmut" from
The Mind Boggles, though she wasn't there for the picture.

Check out my review of Tina's book over at
Compulsive Over-reader and then go pick up a copy for yourself (if you're far from Newfoundland and your local bookstore doesn't carry it, order it online -- something else the internet is good for). Also launched at the same event tonight was Joan Sullivan's book A Newfoundland Portfolio, which I haven't read yet but which looks like an intriguing slice of local history.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Patchwork Quilt of Blog-Thoughts...

No great, overarching theme to today's blog -- just cleaning out my brain, as I am doing with my house, in preparation for back-to-school. Here are some of the thoughts I found lying around today:

According to the weather forecast, this may very well be the last reliably sunny and warmish day before the kids go back to school. It seemed appropriate to invite some friends over and break out the Super Soakers. Actually, we don't have Super Soakers, so we had to be selective and invite friends who already had them. A wet time was had by all.

In the evenings, lately, I've been reading The Fellowship of the Ring out loud to the kids. Chris is more into it than Emma is, and it's a slow read because we don't do it every night, but I'm struck by how different an experience it is reading this book aloud rather than reading it to myself. I once read a quote that said, "I have lived my life like I read The Lord of the Rings -- skipping all the poetry." I'm not sure that's true about my life but it is true for LOTR -- I've always skimmed over those loooong songs. Can't do that when you're reading aloud. Now the songs are the high points, because I have to SING them. To tunes I make up myself, on the spur of the moment. It's the most positive feedback I've ever gotten for my singing, and it turns every page into a new challenge.

Christopher, as I mentioned elsewhere, is writing a fantasy novel of his own. A few days ago I noticed that he was putting songs into the story -- long narrative songs about dwarves and elves and dragons, obviously inspired by the songs in Lord of the Rings. I love seeing evidence like this of my children's creativity, how they soak up everything we throw at them and process it through their intricate little brains and come out with their own inventions. I noticed the same thing the other night when they were out playing "Spies" in the backyard. Emma sat down at the picnic table and said, "I'm in a restaurant -- this is a human restaurant." Chris said, "Yeah, not like that restaurant on Porgeron 3 where the aliens tried to kill you and grab all your gadgets."

Either these are fantastically imaginative children, or we are succeeding brilliantly in our plan to raise geeks at home for fun and profit. Maybe both.

Oh! More about imagination -- my children love Tales from Pastor Karl's Toybox, as quirky an idea as ever came from the brain of an overstimulated youth pastor who loves to play with action figures. Go ahead, check it out. Honestly, Jason and I love them too. Lately the kids have begun putting on their own Toybox Tales with their action figures and enlisting me to videotape them. They are just about as sophisticated as Pastor Karl's.

And more about Geeks! Here's my latest "You Know You're an Incredible Geek When..."

When you use an edge guide like the one pictured here for a home painting project ...

... but you refuse to refer to it as anything other than "My batleth."



Why all the painting? We are hard at work on murals -- Jason is painting superheroes on the wall of Christopher's room, and I am painting the row houses Jason drew for me on the wall of my office at work. But no pics till we can unveil the completed murals in all their glory!!

Kids. When I blog about how creative and interesting my children are I sometimes fear I'm painting too rosy a picture of parenthood. This time of year the blogsophere is fully of brilliant mom-bloggers (such as Woulda Coulda Shoulda and Three Kid Circus) writing about how happy and free they'll be when the kids go back to school. Of course, when my kids go back to school I go back too, and while I love my job a LOT, it's not like I'm going to have any MORE free time when school starts -- I'll have a lot less.

I don't acknowledge feeling crazy like some moms at this stage in the summer, but I do have to admit that our incidences of Bizarrely Over-the-Top Maternal Overreactions are up a little this week. It's possible this could relate to the long months of quality time we've enjoyed at home together. Today I flipped completely out at Emma when she couldn't find her purple jeans -- because she'd put them in a bag somewhere while she was playing a game. "WHY DO YOU ALWAYS STICK YOUR PERFECTLY GOOD CLOTHES AWAY IN BAGS AND BOXES SO WE CAN'T FIND THEM FOR SIX MONTHS???!!!?? CAN YOU PLEASE NOT DO THAT ANYMORE?!?!?!?!" Ten minutes later, bag and jeans were found and I was feeling not a little sheepish. Maybe we do need those hours apart just to give us all some breathing space.

Oh! Books! Books! Besides Lord of the Rings out loud, I am also doing that other kind of reading, where you don't move your lips. I've read some really good books lately and I urge you to go straight to Compulsive Overreader to check out my reviews.

OK, that's it. My brain is nice and clean and empty. Sleep now.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Tellum Things

We're here at the "Tellum Things" cyber-cafe in Eastport, having enjoyed a tasty lunch from whatever's left around -- the proprietess explained to me that they're at the end of the season so they're not restocking anything. Despite that we enjoyed a lovely cod au gratin and a good lasagna. I told Jason that once we got down to Eastport we were going to "live off the land" and so far that's working out pretty well. The kids are outside allegedly picking blueberries.

We came down here yesterday afternoon after going to church in Bay Roberts in the morning. I preached the sermon at Bay Roberts, holding my audiene of two dozen enthralled. I'm preaching the same sermon in St. John's next week so this was a good dry run -- I can tinker with the bits that weren't so enthralling. Anyway, our road trip continued with lunch at the cabin and a quick swim -- good thing we got our swim in then, because by the time we got out to Eastport at 4:30 p.m., it was overcast, cool and rainy. It cleared up later but continued cool with high winds. Our plan had been to camp if we couldn't get a cabin for Saturday night (we already had a booking at the White Sails Inn for Sunday night, and they told us that if a cancellation came up they'd hold it for us). Fortunately there was a cancellation and we were able to be under a roof last night, and believe me, even though I love tent camping, I was very glad NOT to be in a tent last night!

Today is bright and sunny but the wind is strong and a bit nippy. It's not the kind of day you want to laze around on Eastport Beach in your swimsuit. It's the kind of day you want to stand on the beach, look out at the ocean, and say in your best George Costanza voice: "The sea was angry that day, my friends." Well, that's what I want to do anyway -- it might affect you differently.

The kids, marvellously adaptable as ever, don't seem to have a problem with the cooler weather. They are having fun in the White Sails playground, and this morning (before winding up at the cafe) we went for a longish walk/hike along the several sandy beaches that ring the shore here. It was a fun ramble that involved some beach-combing, some rock-climbing, and some of what Emma calls "A Cole Family scouting adventure!!" through the woods. Max (our dog) is probably enjoying this trip better than if we'd had perfect weather, because if it was a hot day the beach would be crowded and he'd have to stay on a leash -- as it is, he's able to run freely, diving into the pounding surf and emerging wet, sandy and triumphant. I'm enjoying some reading time and also doing a bit of writing on my fantasy novel. Jason is going insane because he forgot to pack a book and has read every word in every tired old magazine and tourist brochure in the cabin -- but other than that, it's a good trip!

I can't show you any pictures of Eastport because I remembered to pack the camera but not to put the memory stick in it!! So this is one of those rare life experiences where I have to depend on my five senses and my memory rather than my constant need to document every life experience.

I've also had a bunch of deep thoughts about the cosmic meaning of life and stuff, all very blogworthy, but Jason and the kids have already left and headed back to the cabin with intent to pick blueberries on the way, so I must untie Max from the post outside the cafe and go catch up to them!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Same Great Harem, 30% Less Desire


Today is one of those rare days when Hypergraffiti gets to actually earn its spurs as a "writer's blog," because I'm going to talk a bit about writing. I'm going to talk, in fact, about how much you should be willing to revise your writing (a.k.a. "sacrifice your creative vision"), not for the sake of making a better book necessarily, but to fit the demands of a particular market in which you want to publish.

First, though, some happy happy joy joy news. My Biblical fiction novel Esther, published in 2003, has sold out its initial print run of 7500 and is going to be reprinted. This doesn't usually happen to my books and so I'm elated. I'm even more elated that my publisher, Review and Herald, is making an effort to market their line of Biblical novels to a wider variety of Christian publishers, so Esther may find herself with a few more readers.

But here's where the revising part comes in. My editor, who I like to call Amazing and Wonderful Jeannette, asked if I had any changes I wanted to make before the book went to press for its second edition. I had one that had been bugging me for years (I killed off the same very minor character twice, and that's just not right) but after I fixed that I started thinking about further changes. I thought about making the book a little less ... ahem ... how to say it? ... a little less sexy.

To explain: Esther is published by an inspirational Christian press and is thus aimed at a certain market. Most readers in that market like and expect their books to be free of explicit sexual content, so those are the set guidelines for inspirational publishing. The problem with the Biblical story of Queen Esther is that it takes place in a harem. Esther gets to be queen because her one-night stand with the King impresses him more than any of the other harem gals. So it's hard to write about this story without, you know, mentioning the bedroom. (For an example of a Christian book about Queen Esther that does this sidestep rather well, try Tommy Tenney's Hadassah: One Night with the King. For an example of a book about Queen Esther that I haven't read but that allegedly goes quite a long ways in the opposite direction, try Rebecca Kohn's The Gilded Chamber. But neither of those was the book I wanted to write).

I will always be incredibly grateful to Review and Herald and to my other editor there, who I like to call Fabulous and Terrific Penny, for wielding the red pencil with a light hand and allowing me to keep at least some of the allusions to bedroom matters in the novel. Penny did tone some of my scenes down a little, but you could still get the gist of it: sexual intercourse was being had by people.

I hasten to add that these were already very tame and non-explicit sex scenes. After the editing process, they were even tamer and less explicit. But even then, the book got some complaints from people who didn't want their inspirational fiction to contain even a hint of carnality. (Along with lots and lots of positive comments, too). So when the opportunity to revise came around I wondered: was it worth making a few changes to make the bedroom scenes even tamer, if it would win the book a few more readers?

This was especially relevant with the idea of marketing it to more Christian bookstores, because these folks have fairly stringent guidelines for what you can and can't say. Witness, for example, the following paragraph from the writers' guidelines for Harlequin's Steeple Hill line of inspirational romances:

Each story should have an emotional, satisfying and mature romance; however, the characters should not make love unless they are married. These are "sweet" romances. Any physical interactions (i.e., kissing, hugging) should emphasize emotional tenderness rather than sexual desire or sensuality. There should not be an excessive reliance on kissing scenes or use of words such as "desire," "need," etc. Please use euphemisms for the more intimate body parts. Please avoid any mention of nudity.

My favourite bit here is the injunction not to use the words "desire" or "need." I could spin off into a whole diatribe about that, exploring the interesting idea that perhaps Christian women shouldn't be encouraged to admit that they "desire" or "need" intimacy. But that would be a tangent. I do recognize that certain readers have certain expectations of books that come with an "inspirational" imprint on them, and I don't want to quarrel with that. I'm trying to focus on an issue here: I had in fact used the d-word and possibly the n-word in my novel. Was I willing to make minor changes, to turn down the heat a little, in hopes that the book would reach a wider audience?

My fellow Newfoundland novelist Tina Chaulk did an excellent blog awhile ago about outside censorship and the artist's perennial problem of writing things that offend people. I'm sure most writers have had to face this dilemma in one form or another: tell the story the way I think it should be told, or tone it down to avoid offending people? There are a lot of issues here and artistic integrity is certainly a big one. I wasn't prepared to write a version of the Esther story that ignored the fact that sex is smack-dab in the centre of this book of the Bible: Esther used the one weapon that was available to women at the time, and used it to save the Jewish people. If I can't at least allude to the weapon she used, it's not much of a story.

But another concern is respecting your market. Particularly if you're writing genre fiction, you do have to be sensitive to the conventions of that genre. Indeed, if you don't, you probably won't get published. I didn't want to see a situation where R&H, tolerant of my eccentricities as a writer, left all the "steamy" scenes in, then went to peddle the Biblical novels to Christian bookstores and got told, "We'll take all of them except that Esther book, cause that's just too hot to handle."

So I wrote Amazing and Wonderful Jeannette and told her to hang on for a few more revisions. Here's a sample of what I've done so you can see what I'm talking about here. Here's a description of Esther and King Xerxes, after they're married, in the afterglow of connubial bliss. First, I'll show you what I originally wrote:

Version 1 (a teeny bit racy): They were sitting together in a tiny interior garden tucked between the King’s bedchamber and his retiring room, dressed in as few clothes as possible because of the heat of the spring night and their own recent passion. Esther sat in the cradle of her husband’s arms and legs, leaning against his well-muscled chest, both their bodies filmed lightly with perspiration.

See that? The lack of clothes, the reference to "recent passion," Esther cradled between her husband's legs, and all that perspiration? It's pretty clear what they've been up to, even if I avoided describing the scene itself and skipped straight to the afterglow. So, that was a little too suggestive for this type of book. After editing, here's the version that eventually appeared in the published book:

Version 2 (quite a lot less racy): They were sitting together in a tiny interior garden tucked between the king's bedchamber and his retiring room, wearing as light and scanty clothing as decent because of the heat of the spring night. Esther sat in the cradle of her husband's arms and legs, leaning against his well-muscled chest, both their bodies filmed lightly with perspiration.

In the editing process, the reference to their recent passion was excised, and they are wearing as "light and scanty clothing as decent," because decency is still a concern here. Everything else stays -- the King's legs, his chest, even the perspiration (I realized too late that "filmed lightly with perspiration" sounds kinda like someone's making a movie about their sweat, but anyway).

This was one of the passages I chose to re-work today, trying to make it even more innocuous, while still suggesting a bit of "sweet" romance:

Version 3 (really not racy at all): They were sitting together in a tiny interior garden tucked between the king’s bedchamber and his retiring room. The warm air of the spring night was filled with the scent of the flowers growing all around them. Esther reclined in her husband’s arms, leaning against his well-muscled chest.

Oh, how things have changed. No more recent passion, no more scanty clothing -- I've had flowers brought in to distract you instead. Esther's leaning back just in her husband's arms -- no naughty legs -- and there is no sweat, filmed or otherwise. I did keep his muscular chest in, though.

So, I don't know. Sensitive to the demands of my audience, or complete sell-out? To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure which version I like best, though I think I still prefer my original. I guess every writer has to make those decisions him/herself, and today I've been making some. I'm excited and happy the book is being reprinted, thrilled about the support I've gotten from R&H, and trying to walk that fine line between making the book as accessible as possible, while staying true to the story I wanted to tell. Those of you who have a copy of the original print run of Esther can put a red sticker on the cover to mark it out as being the "ever so slightly racier version"!!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Random Acts of Baking


Aunt Gertie and I made blueberry pies this morning. I think I have been baking with Aunt Gertie for about thirty-five years now; I'm sure I started when I was no older than Emma is now. She taught me to make chocolate chip cookies first. They're very easy. We worked our way up to more complicated things, like banana bread. I never mastered pie crust. Then I went off to live on my own and learned to bake other things, like muffins and cakes from scratch. But I still could never do pie crust.

I'm not exactly a domestic goddess, in fact I dislike most housekeeping chores and am terrible at them. I'm a barely passable cook, a less-than-adequate cleaner, and completely unskilled in the textile arts (e.g. can't sew a button on straight). But I do love to bake. It's not the most practical use of time and energy but it is the one thing I really enjoy doing around the house. I'm not even great at that -- not, say, on the level of Dallas Green, a friend of my mom's and my Aunt Bernice's who makes cakes so moist and delicious they almost speak to you. My baked goods are pretty average. You could buy as good or better at a decent bakery. But baking is an end in itself -- it has intrinsic value, just because I enjoy it.

Aunt Gertie doesn't bake anymore, because she can't. Her hands, which have done so much baking and cooking and housecleaning and knitting in their time, no longer have the strength to cream butter and sugar together. A couple of years ago Aunt Gertie asked if I would like to come over someday and make apple pies with her. We've done it several times since then: apple pies, or blueberry pies in season. It benefits both of us: she's able to participate in the act of baking again, but with a stronger pair of hands to help, while I have one last chance to learn to make her pie crust before it's too late. Plus, it brings me back a piece of my childhood and youth that I loved. And at the end, there's pie. What's not to like about that?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Eight Baths, Ten Movies

I haven't updated here a in few days, partly because Alan Doyle's smile is such a lovely sight that I wanted to leave it at the top of the page for a while. But mainly because things have been hectic around here lately, and only now have I had time to sit down and think and write.

I mentioned last week, I think, that my father-in-law was dying. He died on Wednesday night, and his funeral was today. So it's been a busy and tiring few days -- tiring both physically and emotionally, as funerals tend to be.

I won't pretend that my father-in-law was an easy person to have in the family or that I was in any way close to him. He was a very eccentric man who dealt with mental illness all his life; now that he's dead I still don't know if those two things -- his eccentricity and his mental illness -- were all the same or if they were two separate things. In other words, even if he hadn't had a diagnosable illness, he probably would still have been quite a character. He certainly had his good points; he was funny and quirky and generous in his own way, but he also caused us a certain amount of hassle, especially in the last couple of years as his health became poor and he lost the ability (but not the desire) to live independently.

So his death was like a textbook case of complicated grief, and the only thing that was really important to me this week was making it easier in any way I could for Jason. We had all the funeral planning and arrangements to do, although we had some help from Jason's sister Janice who flew in from Seattle to stay with us. Janice is a very low-maintenance, helpful and generous houseguest, and one of the unexpected pleasures of this week was having lots of time to visit with her, as she usually doesn't stay with us and is quite busy on her trips home. Still, there was a fair bit of housecleaning and cooking involved, and we invited some family and friends back here after the funeral so that required preparation too -- all at a time when we were in the middle of redecorating Christopher's room and so had furniture out in the hall and house generally "in the slings."

It was one of those challenging funerals where neither the clergyman (our good friend Pastor Gary Hodder, who kindly gave up a weekend away to perform the ceremony) nor most of the guests actually knew the deceased at all. Most of Jason's and Janice's family (their half-brothers and sisters, who share the same mother but didn't know his father well) showed up to be supportive, as did my family and some of our church friends. Christopher made us very proud by singing a solo at the funeral, and I gave the eulogy -- which is ironic on so many levels, but seemed to go over well.

All in all, I think we gave him a good send-off, and I'd be tempted to quote Macbeth: "Nothing in his life became him like the leaving it." Except that I think it's not really true: the way he lived his life was sometimes inconvenient for us, but it suited him, and I don't think he was unhappy with it.

This was brilliantly illustrated last night at the funeral home. The staff of the personal care home where Jason's dad spent his last months dropped by to pay their respects. We were very grateful and fortunate that he had gotten into such a good facility when he needed regular care, and they were tolerant of his eccentricities. One of the stories they shared with us last night was priceless, although I didn't think it was appropriate to include in the eulogy.

There was a period last fall when, due to a clerical error on the government's part, my father-in-law was getting considerably more money than he was supposed to from his old age pension. (I know you're all thinking what I am: why doesn't the government ever make those kind of errors for me?) Essentially he was getting the equivalent of two cheques: one going to the care home to pay for his room and board, the other going into his bank account for him to spend. And spend he did, apparently, until the error was discovered and corrected. One of his favourite routines was to disappear from the home over the weekend, call a taxi to take him downtown and check into a hotel for a few days. Once, when the staff found him and picked him up after such a jaunt, one of the workers asked what he'd been doing for those few days. "I had eight baths and watched ten movies," he replied.

I thought, Why did we think he was crazy? Checking into a hotel for the weekend, taking eight baths and watching ten movies sounds excellent to me right now! We give him full marks for being a man who knew how to have a good time. The fact that it was at government expense just made it all the sweeter.

Today is actually mine and Jason's eleventh wedding anniversary. Of course when his dad died we decided to postpone our planned weekend of anniversary celebrations, so instead of dining out and relaxing we've spent our anniversary celebrating what marriage is really about: being there for each other in the tough and messy times of life. But once the dust has cleared and we have a free weekend, we are going to have a proper anniversary. And I think we just might check into a nice hotel, have eight baths and watch ten movies.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Alan Doyle Can't Get Enough of Me


Recently on a
Ship of Fools discussion about Celtic music, I was promoting Great Big Sea madly as I usually do, and another user confessed to having an "embarrassing schoolgirl crush" on GBS lead singer Alan Doyle. I posted, "Me too!" but I'm not sure the phrase is really accurate. When I was an embarrassing schoolgirl and had crushes, I would stare open-mouthed at the object of my affection as he passed in the halls, yet if given an opportunity to actually speak to him I would stutter meaningless syllables, unable to even string together a coherent phrase because I was so overwhelmed with the glory that was him. Now, as a poised and confident almost-41-year-old woman, I ... well, actually, it's pretty much the same story.

I have a long history of falling for local musicians and having heart-pounding brief encouters with them (for example, the never-to-be-forgotten Day
Con O'Brien Winked At Me In the Royal Bank). Amazingly, for someone who's lived in GBS headquarters since before they were famous, I've never actually met Alan Doyle face to face. (I have been in the soup aisle at Sobey's with Bob Hallett, and while I don't have an actual crush on him, I do have this whole tongue-tied thing going on will ALL celebrities I admire, so that was awkward).

ANYWAY. Last night Jason and I went to an event called "A Bulletin of Doyles," featuring music and readings by a number of people, not all related but all with the last name Doyle. Almost all. There was some great harmonica music by
Mike "Caribou" Stevens, who was onstage not because he's a Doyle but because his organization, ArtsCan Circle, was one of the beneficiaries of the event. We also had readings from Marjorie Doyle and John Doyle of their latest books, three songs by the lovely and talented Dahmnait Doyle, and, at the end of the evening, my main reason for being there, a few songs by Alan Doyle and his dad, Tom Doyle.

We had bought tickets two weeks in advance, as soon as we heard about this, but we needn't have bothered -- they were still selling tickets at the door even though the Masonic Hall, where it was held, was incredibly overcrowded. Standing Room Only, I believe the expression is -- and we stood. Actually I sat on the floor some of the time, and stood leaning against the back wall the rest of the time. Despite this inconvenience it was a great show and I definitely felt I got my money's worth.

But the real news of the night was that, given the informal, down-home nature of the proceedings, the performers were all out hanging around with the rest of us when they weren't onstage, so I had three perfectly good opportunities to speak to Alan Doyle. Three times he walked right past me, close enough to brush against my arm (he touched me! oh, he touched me!). Two of those times, he said something that might have been "Hey." And I said ... nothing, of course. This made me look like an idiot, but on the whole I think it was preferable to saying, "Ohmygosh you're Alan Doyle, you're so cool, I love your music, I gave birth while listening to Great Big Sea, I'm your biggest fan, I even read your tour blog, you're so funny, you're so cool...." Because, you know, celebrities love that kind of thing.

Still I was able to go away and brag that Alan Doyle touched me three times. Jason said, "Wow, he just can't keep his hands off you, can he?" (Lest you worry about how my husband handles my schoolgirl crush on a handsome local musician several years younger than I am, you could ask him about Dahmnait Doyle. Ask him about what she was wearing last night. Apparently we're each allowed our share of Doyles to fantasize about, as long as we both know with whom we're going home at the end of the evening).

When Alan took the stage he and I reverted to our normal roles of performer and starry-eyed-fan and that was a much more satisfying interaction. He did two songs solo, then called up his dad, who claims to have taught him everything he knows. They did a couple of songs together (including "The Dutchman," a lovely song that my dad also sings) and had the crowd laughing with their wit and their obvious affection for each other -- lots of classic Newfoundland humour that probably went by too quickly for some of the mainlanders in the crowd to even grasp it. I wish I'd brought my camera so I could post a pic of Alan and Tom Doyle together, but a photo alone wouldn't capture the fun of seeing them sing and carry on together.

I should add that the entire evening was made possible by the fact that my cousin Jennifer was at home babysitting for us, which gives me an opportunity (one day late) to say, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY JENNIFER!!"

Bottom line: Great evening, wonderful performances, well worth the $10 ticket -- and Alan Doyle touched me three times!!!

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Hole Truth

OK, this is just a little something that made me laugh yesterday.

We went up to the cabin. My dad (for reasons too lengthy to get into here) has cut a window between the kitchen and the dining room area in the cabin. The kids were very impressed with this. "Oh look! There's a hole in the wall!"

Jason said, "Yeah, Grampa went out and bought a hole to put in the kitchen wall."

Thinking I was being witty, I said, "I bet he bought that holesale!" But Christopher quickly topped me: "Maybe he picked it up at Hole Depot!!"

Everyone was being the comedian yesterday. When we went swimming in the pond Jason and the kids were in the water while I was reclining in luxury in the inflatable boat. They were swimming towards me with the intent to get me into the water, and I was ineffectually paddling away. "Resistance is futile," Jason warned, "You will be aswimilated!" (Sorry, that was probably only funny to the other Star Trek geeks out there. Hi geeks!!).

So yeah, we're all in top form for being witty. I'm also, amazingly, doing some writing again. As I mentioned earlier, my current project is allegedly a complete rewrite of the much-too-long fantasy novel I wrote many years ago. I'm not revising: I'm just taking the same characters and setting and writing the whole thing again from scratch. But I got bogged down about halfway through and haven't written anything for months. This month I've been making myself get back at it and write a bit. For awhile there I was doing really well to get 700 words a day (I was shamelessly using Katrina and her daily word counts to motivate me!). But in the last few days things really seem to be flowing again and today I wrote over 4000 words. Now, they may not be great words, but I wrote them, and the fact that I'm writing again makes me very happy.

Jason and I have also launched on our latest home redecorating project, which is repainting Christopher's room, complete with superhero murals designed and executed by Jason. As with the murals in my office, I'll post pics once they're done, but we're in the early stages yet.

And finally, a thing that made me laugh -- again this is one for the geeks, Star Wars rather than Star Trek this time. This has been on the web for awhile, but if you haven't seen it, it's worth checking out -- from the blog of some guy who rented Revenge of the Sith in Chinese, with English subtitles. In other words, the English movie was translated into Chinese, then back into English for the subtitles...with some very bizarre results. I particularly like the way they translate the phrase "Jedi Council." Here you go: enjoy.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sunday Morning Reflections

This morning I woke up bright and early to a sunny Sunday morning and decided to do an extended version of my walk with Max ... until Emma decided to come with me. Actually I encouraged her to come because at that point Jason and Chris were both still asleep and I figured she would torment them till they woke up bitter and unhappy.

I knew Emma's six-year-old legs were not up to the challenge of a brisk walk around Quidi Vidi so we opted instead to walk around Kenny's Pond. This meant that Max and I got less exercise on the walk, but considerably more entertainment.

One-on-one time with either of my children is always a good thing, and too rare --although they bicker constantly, they also insist on doing everything together. It was nice to walk along chatting with Emma as she pointed out flowers she informed me were called "dragon-snaps." ("Where did you learn that?" I asked. "Daycare!" she replied, shutting down any possibility of argument.) In the car we listened to the Barenaked Ladies' "If I Had a Million Dollars," and I said, "What would you do if YOU had a million dollars, Emma?" She thought for a few minutes and said, "I'd use it to help kids who were, you know, sick and stuff." AWWW! I swear, that was her unprompted answer. What did I do to deserve this little gem?

My favourite moment of the morning, however, came when I explained to her about Max's habit of peeing every few minutes along the walk. "He does that so other dogs will know he's been here," I explained. "See, he sniffs in the grass to see if he can smell other dogs, then he does his pee so that when other dogs come, they'll know Max was here."

"Oh," Emma said. "So it's kinda like, 'I'm just gonna send an email to anybody who happens to be passing by.'" Of course, when she saw how this cracked me up she said it fifteen more times and for the rest of the walk we referred to the dog's bodily functions as "sending an email." When she saw him sniffing a patch of grass hopefully she said, "He's like, 'I'm just going to check my answering machine...'."

One of the things I love about being with my kids is getting to explain things to them, because they come up with the most interesting questions. In the last two days, besides explaining why dogs pee on a walk, I have also had the opportunity to explore creationism vs. evolution, the basic outlines of our criminal justice system, and the difference between civil and criminal law -- all prompted by random questions the kids threw at me. It's always fun and their perspective is always refreshing.

One question I'm tired of answering, however, is, "Why do people get cancer?" We've been through several rounds of this already and now we're going through it again as Jason's dad is in hospital with a brain tumor and not doing at all well. In their short lives the children have already lost their Uncle George and their Nanny Kay to cancer, and we tried to gently prepare them last fall for the possibility that they would also have to say good-bye to Aunt Gertie, who had surgery for breast cancer at age 91. Aunt Gertie, however, proved to be the most resilient member of the family so far, which provided the positive lesson that sometimes, people survive cancer (they haven't seen much evidence of that so far). Now we are trying to explain to them that Poppy Cole probably won't get better, and I am getting tired of explaining cancer, explaining sickness, explaining death. Having to do this over and over with your children at this age really hammers home the brokenness and fallenness of the world we live in.

It does, however, make us very grateful for the older relatives who are still alive and well, including my parents. My mom celebrated a birthday on Friday and we are definitely blessed to have Grammy with us for another year. I've been pondering doing a post on Good Advice my Mother Gave Me, in honour of her birthday. This has the potential to be a very long blog entry, although if I limited it to Good Advice My Mother Gave Me Which I Actually Took, it would be much shorter. Let's see, I could include:


1. Marry a man who can cook, who makes you laugh, and who treats you kindly. (Actually, I can't remember if she ever put this into words explicitly, but she certainly taught by example and made it clear that these were the appropriate priorities. Point taken and followed to the letter, with excellent results so far).

2. Credit card debt is evil. Only charge what you can pay off at the end of the month. (This was stated explicitly, and I have pretty much followed it, and looking at the financial mess most people I know are in, I am eternally grateful for my mother's wisdom on this issue).

3. Never comment negatively on food you eat at a church potluck; the person who made it is probably sitting next to you. (Ain't that the truth. Also, a subset of church potluck wisdom: don't put lids on the dishes you bring to potluck, because then you'll have to look for the dish and the lid afterwards).

I can think of tons more good advice, like Always Send Thank-You Cards Promptly, but I'm afraid it wouldn't fall in the category of things I've managed to follow. Well, there's always room for improvement! Happy birthday, Mom!!

Move Along, Nothing to See Here...

Sorry, not a blog update, just a little techie thing I have to do to register my blog on Technorati. I'll try to update later today/tonight.

Technorati Profile

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In Which I Free Political Prisoners and Take them to the Mall


Today was a big day at our house. Today we went to Toys R Us.

One of my freakish little parenting issues is that I basically don't buy toys for my kids unless it's Christmas or a birthday. In today's completely consumer-saturated world, I'd like to give them a childhood in which buying a toy is still a somewhat special event, rather than a God-given right that you expect every time you pass a store. Call me naive, but that's what I aim for.

So all summer the kids have been saving money in their banks of piggy, money earned during long hot hours slaving at the lemonade stand (the two days they did it) or loose change handed over by Aunt Gertie, who likes to clean out her purse and load up the children with the resultant booty.
Last night Christopher finally thought to count his money (I'd been waiting for one of them to suggest it) and discovered he had nearly $25 dollars, which was apparently enough to buy some monstrous Lego creation upon which he had set his heart. I promised a trip to TRU this afternoon.

When we counted Emma's money, she had $35, because the last time we did this, back around the time school ended, they each had $10 and Emma didn't spend hers. This gave me the opportunity to deliver a timely lecture on the value of saving money rather than spending it, which of course they completely ignored. But hey, I got my teachable moment.

The money, once acquired and saved, is theirs to spend pretty much as they please, although I do try to nudge them towards what I consider wise decisions. Christopher, once in the store, eschewed the Lego thingie he'd planned on getting in favour of a B-Daman toy. Knowing that he plays with Lego about a hundred times more than he plays with B-Daman, I urged him to reconsider, but he was sold on the B-Daman so that's where his money went. Emma went for yet another little Quik-Clik Polly Pocket domicile complete with magnetic Polly clothes. Which was just fine with me, until I had to get home and help her set it up.

First, the Ceremony of Opening. I don't know who's taken over the packaging of children's toys -- maybe it's the people who used to run those Soviet labour camps, who probably don't have much to do these days. Sometime between my childhood and the birth of my children, a deathly fear of escaping toys seems to have overtaken the retail industry. Perhaps they were all watching Toy Story. Toys now come packaged in the most bizarre, over-the-top way -- every item packed in a double layer of molded plastic, screwed into the cardboard backing with heavy plastic twist ties, and secured with packing tape. Getting Polly and her friends free from their package is like trying to free a bunch of tiny political prisoners from a miniature Gulag.

Once they're out, we have to get the toy working. Now this is not some fancy electronic toy; it's all moving mechanical parts. The basic principle is: Polly Pocket is a doll you dress up in clothes. That's a classic childhood toy, right? Admittedly, just allowing Polly in the house puts a bit of a dent in my anti-consumerist philosophy, since Polly's only purpose in life appears to be to get dressed. She doesn't have Barbie's body image issues, but she also doesn't have Barbie's active career portfolio as a dentist, veterinarian, figure skater, etc. Polly goes to the mall and tries on new outfits. End of story. Still, what could be more natural and sweet than a little girl dressing up her doll in cute clothes?

Except that's not enough for the makers of the Polly emporium. Polly used to have little rubber clothes (yeah, I know, kinky) that you maneuvered onto her body. Now Polly has magnetic clothes that clip on, front and back. But you can't just put the clothes on the Polly, oh no. Polly has to go into her change room, where her clothes have been pre-hung on magnetized hangers. Then you have to insert her feet into the magic shoes, click her into the change room, and presto, she comes out wearing her new clothes!

In this latest version, even that's not the end of it. Polly has a special scooter. You put Polly's scooter in her change room, then you put her clothes in, then you put her in and press the button. Polly changes into her clothes, drops onto her scooter, and shoots down a ramp and out onto the floor -- dressed and ready for action!! Setting up the whole process takes about nine times as long as it would take just to put the clothes on and stick Polly on the bike -- I guess the fun is in seeing it happen magically. Or maybe the fun is in watching Mommy try to get the scooter, the clothes, and Polly inserted in the right order so that it can happen magically. Maybe the fun is in trying to read the instructions, which look extensive, but that's only because they are in sixteen languages, with the only English words on the entire page limited to: "Make sure doll is facing right."

Maybe the fun is in watching Mommy bite her tongue so she can't say all those words she doesn't want to say when Polly's empty scooter shoots out of the change room ... followed by Polly's clothes ... followed by Polly in her underwear. Maybe the fun is in hearing that special edge to Mommy's voice when she says, "Let's wait till Daddy comes home, OK honey??"

Or maybe the fun comes when Mommy goes back to the computer (where she belongs, obviously, as it's within her tiny skillset) and Emma busies herself about the Pollyrama Thingamatron, only to announce five minutes later, "Oh look Mommy, I've got it working!! There was just a tiny piece of tape still stuck to it, see, that's why it didn't work! See? Look at Polly!"

Meanwhile, Christopher was downstairs happily assembling his B-Daman, a task I wouldn't even attempt as it's way beyond me. It seems to me that children's toys have become needlessly complex, but it's possible that I'm just living in a world that is becoming more and more adult-proof.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Why Yes, Thank You, the World DOES Need Superman


Jason and I are probably the last two people on earth to go see Superman Returns (that is, out of the subset of people who were ever going to see it). We went to it Sunday night and I've been mulling over my review/analyze-it-to-death blog entry, ever since. I think I'm finally ready to weigh in on the latest incarnation of the Man in Tights. Oh, sorry, he prefers "Man of Steel," doesn't he?

Needless to say, spoilers abound here, but as I said anyone who's going to see the movie probably already has, so we won't worry too much about that.

First up, you have to understand that I am not a comic book fan. Unlike my husband I wasn't raised on comics; I don't read comics. My only exposure to superheroes is through the movies, so to me, Superman is Christopher Reeve, in the 1978 movie -- that was the first time I ever saw him. So there won't be any of this tiresome comparing the movie to the comic book that all the real Superman fans always get on with. Superman, like Spiderman and Batman, is a movie character for me.

Superman 1978 set the standard. When I went to college in the early 80s, my cousin Jennifer and her roommate Grace had a life-sized poster of Christopher Reeve as Superman hanging in their dorm bathroom. Their Korean suitemate, Heidi, used to complain that "I can't do my Number One and Number Two with Superman looking at me!" But the poster stayed. (Heidi, we presume, adapted). Superman was iconic.

Another thing you need to know about me is that I hate action in movies. Action bores me. Chase scenes, explosions, suspense, people getting shot, people getting beaten up -- all this stuff puts me to sleep. I really can't concentrate on it.

What I enjoy in movies are the interactions between characters -- the human dramas. So for me, Spiderman II is a great superhero movie because of the relationship between Spiderman and Mary Jane. What interested me in Superman Returns was how they handled the "man" part of Superman -- his own understanding of his identity, and how he relates to the human beings around him, especially, of course, Lois Lane.

Here we hit my first and largest roadblock with this movie. I'm sorry, but I completely and totally could not buy Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane. She can't even try on Margot Kidder's shoes, much less fill them. She looks like a little girl, fragile and uncertain. The movie can't decide whether Lois is a strong woman or a damsel in distress, a Pulitzer-winning reporter or a ditz who wonders how many "f"s are in "catastrophe." A strong actress could have pulled the role in an interesting direction; Kate Bosworth just flounders around looking sad and waiflike.

The worst part about this is that Parker Posey is in this movie -- as Lex Luthor's galpal Kitty Kowalski. Parker Posey. The one actress of this generation who could put on Margot Kidder's shoes, fill them, and stomp around making some serious dents in the scenery. How could they have put her in the movie and not cast her as Lois Lane? (I realize she's about 10 years older than Brandon Routh and that might not have worked for some people, although I wouldn't have cared. I also though Routh, while he looked the part and acted about as well as Superman/Clark needs to act, was too young for the role -- Superman would be a lot older than 26 by this point in his career, wouldn't he?)

So once I got past my annoyance at the casting of Lois, there were lots of exciting action scenes where I had time to mull over questions that bothered me, such as:

-What's with the fists? When Superman is flying, he sometimes has both arms extended with his fists clenched in front of him. Why does he do that? Does he have to do that? No, because sometimes he has just one fist extended, and sometimes his hands are open. Does hand position make a difference, aerodynamically speaking?

-If Lex Luthor has all those wigs on stands in his lair, why is he usually bald except when he's in disguise? Does he really think it looks better? Does anyone still buy this "bald is sexy" shtick?? (To be fair to this movie, BTW, I should add that Kevin Spacey rocks the casbah in this role. But he's only sexy in the two scenes when he's wearing hair).

-If a Big Mean Guy locks you in a small room, why would you immediately start pounding on the door and screaming, "Let me out!! Let me out!!!!"??? Because first, if he wanted you out, if he had any inclination to allow you to be out, would he have put you in in the first place? And second, surely nothing good is going to happen if Big Mean Guy is on the same side of the door as you are. Isn't it better to have a heavy locked door between you and BMG?

-Lex Luthor's dad always told him to buy land, because it's the one thing they're not making any more of. Oddly, my dad often says the same thing. Yet I have never had the urge to become an Evil Overlord and create my own continent at the expense of billions of lives, making everyone else come crawling to me for some of my precious Land. Why not? Clearly more goes into the making of an arch-villain than either nature or nurture.

Amid all my musings I did stop to reflect on the more serious themes of the movie. Just about every superhero movie has to do the superhero-as-Christ-figure thing at some point. It's just a given. Spiderman II did it to the extend that I took to calling it The Passion of the Spidey after I'd seen the train scene the second time. Superman Returns lays the Christ-imagery on pretty thick. Superman's real father, Jor-El, does some heavy voice-overs telling Supe how he's sending "you, my only son" to the people of earth. People keep referring to him as a "savior." He gets not one but two death-and-resurrection scenes -- the first comes complete with an ascension, and the second includes the obligator body-stretched-out, arms-at-sides cruciform pose as Supe floats through downwards through the air (see also: Passion of Spidey, front of the train scene for further examples). In other words, they're laying it on pretty thick to make sure we don't miss the parallels.

I suppose the hero-as-Christ-figure is irrestible, and perhaps even unavoidable, and some might suggest that the paradigm even predates the historical Jesus, going right back to savior-figures in pagan mythology. Maybe it's the oldest story because it's the only possible story: if God were to enter our world and save us, He would have to suffer and die and be reborn. Maybe it happened that way because there was no other way it could happen. And every hero story before and after echoes some element of this essential reality.

The central question of Superman Returns is, thus, an interesting question from a Christian perspective: Does humanity need a savior? More specifically, do we need a savior from outside, like Jesus or Superman, to come down and do what we can't do ourselves? Superman returns from a five-year absence (hitchhiking around the galaxy, Finding Himself) to discover that Lois, who has Gotten On With Her Life, has won a Pulitzer Prize for an editorial entitled, "Why the World Doesn't Need Superman." He reappears at a crucial moment, saving Lois' life and the lives of many other people, and swings back into action doing all the stuff we humans can't do for ourselves -- moving planes out of the way, thwarting criminals, grabbing people as they plummet to their deaths, etc. At the end of the movie, Lois sits in front of her computer screen to write an article titled: "Why the World Needs Superman." But, significantly, her cursor blinks on an empty screen: she writes nothing.

It's the quintessentially modern question, and the movie answers it in a typically postmodern way: Yes and No. Superman does save humanity; we do need him. But he also needs us. Lois and her son and her perfectly decent boyfriend save Superman when he can't save himself: that good old human spirit proves tough and resilient again, and leaves us wondering whether humanism doesn't offer the best answer after all.

As a philosophy, I love humanism. I love humans; I think we're a great race. If I were picking beliefs based purely on their appeal to me, I'd be an all-out humanist. I watched Superman Returns and cheered when the humans saved the superhero. I watch Star Trek (any series) and want to believe that someday we'll solve all humanity's problems, clean up the earth, and zip up in our matching spacesuits to go explore the galaxy. Part of me wants to believe that humans alone have the answer, without needing saviors from space to rescue us.

The problem with humanism is that, much as I love humanity, our track record at saving ourselves pretty much sucks. Every bit of human progress we see turns into one-step-forward, two-steps-back (Exhibit A: Israel vs. Lebanon, Summer 06). I can't seriously believe we'll ever rescue our race, or our planet, without outside help. Which, fortunately, I believe is on offer, though not from Krypton. So I guess I'd come down on the side of saying that we do need -- not Superman, but the Superman's prototype: Jesus Christ.

There, that's some pretty heavy reflection for a mediocre Hollywood summer blockbuster. But if you snooze through all the shoot-em-up action scenes, you're left with quite a bit of time to think.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Mermaid Quest


It is the summer of mermaids in St. John's, Newfoundland. Ten larger-than-life mermaid sculptures, each painted by a different local artist, are scattered around the city's downtown. At the end of the summer they'll be auctioned off as a fundraiser for Easter Seals. But for now, they are a striking contribution to the city streets.

My mom and dad took the children on a drive downtown to see the mermaids last week, and once I heard about them, I decided the kids and I should re-do the trek on foot to get a better look. We went downtown today and walked the length of Duckworth Street and Water Street, spotting mermaids and snapping pictures. I made a concerted effort to travel at child's pace, stopping and slowing according to their agenda ("Look at the moth! Let's play hide and seek! I need a rest!") instead of my own. Actually I had to make some compromises, because if I'd done it entirely at their pace, I wouldn't be here writing this at 5:00 p.m.; we'd still be downtown. As it was we took about two hours and saw eight mermaids, which we thought at the time were the whole lot. In fact we missed two, but it was still a very rewarding trip, and here are the pictures to prove it. We discussed our favourite mermaids and I read aloud to the kids the stories about each mermaid posted on the plaque at the bottom.

When the Mermaid Tour was finished, we went home to get some lunch and then drove up to Manuels River. It's a wonderful, hot, sunny day, and as we head into the second half of our Newfoundland summer these days are become as rare and precious as -- well, as mermaids. To be enjoyed, not taken for granted, for as long as they're here.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Enhanced Performance

Finally the weather is back to ... I'd say normal, but I think last week was closer to "normal" (gray, cool, wet). Today it's back to what I think it should be. I'm hoping for a couple more weeks of good weather before school starts.

Since it was so beautiful this morning and I had lots of time, I took Max for an extra-long walk: around Quidi Vidi and then some. By my rough estimate it was about 8 km and it felt great! I think even Max was slightly tired when we got back, and that take some doing, because he is a dog that raises the concept of "energetic" to new levels.

Today we're going to Jason's company family BBQ, but at the moment we're at my office where Jason is beginning a mural for my wall. It is going to look amazingly cool and I will post pictures when it's done (which won't be today or anytime too soon, but hopefully before school starts).

I just noticed on someone else's blog that today is August 6. 61 years since the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. On the downside, in 61 years humanity hasn't worked out any better way to solve disputes than dropping bombs on each other. On the upside, for 61 years we've managed to resist using atomic and nuclear weapons again, which at least shows some sense.

Despite that anniversary, the top news story I heard while driving to the lake today had to do with yet another athlete getting busted for a positive drug test. I will freely confess that, not being a real sports fan, I had never heard the name of Floyd Landis before this particular controversy erupted. If you'd asked me who won the Tour de France I'd've said, "Um...Lance Armstrong again?" But as average citizen, non-sports-fan who still has a vivid memory of the Ben Johnson scandal, I have to say I am honestly sick to death of these athletes and their performance-enhancing drugs. If you can't do it on your own merits, what's the freaking point of doing it at all? It's not like athletes are actually accomplishing anything necessary; all they're doing is testing themselves and proving their physical strength and skill. If it's not about achieveing your own, unaided personal best, then why do it? Maybe I'm missing something.

But it gave rise to an interesting thought which I pondered as I meandered down the Rennies River Trail. What if there were performance enhancing drugs for writers? (I'm well aware there's a longstanding tradition of writers who believe alcohol and various hallucinogens enhance their performance, but that's not what I'm talking about, as it's not my think and also has been widely demonstrated to be counterproductive). If there was a drug you could take that would actually improve your writing and guarantee better books sales, better publishing contracts, a better chance at winning major literary prizes -- and there were no known side effects -- would you take it? Writers, what do you think? If a simple pill could combat my cripping case of Lisa-Moore-envy by giving me access to a Lisa-Moore-like level of success, would I take it?

I tend to think not. I'm only interested in succeeding on my own merits. But does that mean that writers are inherently less competitive than athletes, or just that I'm not that ambitious, or what? I'm really curious to know what other writers would say about this so I hope a few of you give it some deep thought and post an answer!

Friday, August 04, 2006

Child's Play


Both my children had friends over to play today. Not at the same time, unfortunately -- things go so much more smoothly when they each have a friend to play with, but time-wise that didn't work out, so we had awhile when Christopher's friend was over and then another point later in the day when Emma's friend was over.

When I watch my children playing with friends they both, especially Christopher, remind me so much of myself it makes me both smile and cringe. I remember so vividly the experience of being a child with an overactive imagination, trying to urge others to share my imaginary world. (It was worse for me because I was an only child; at least my overly imaginative children can do pretend play with each other, when they're not fighting over whose game to play). I don't recall ever being interested in organized sports or in any games with rules -- I always wanted to do pretend play, and I always wanted to make the rules, because I wanted the real-life action to conform to my vivid inner reality.

I see the same thing with my kids. Christopher is writing a book (actually in his mind, it's a series of books) called Lord of the Wizards. It's a fantasy epic that borrows loosely from such sources as Lord of the Rings, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Harry Potter -- supplemented largely by his own imagination as he hasn't actually seen any of those movies or read the books yet. The three main characters in Lord of the Wizards are based on Christopher and his two best friends, which means that when he gets with his friends, all he wants to do is direct them in scenes from the story (which of course they know nothing about).

I watched him today at the playground, ordering Robbie into his role as "Valtron" and insisting that he pull out his sword and fight (Robbie was more interested in showing Christopher how he could hang upside down from the monkey bars, although to give them both credit they eventually figured out how this skill could be worked into the storyline). Later, I heard Emma taking her friend Nicole out into the yard and giving her a choice: "We can play pirates, or -- oh! We can play mermaids!"

Highly imaginative children often come across as very bossy, I think, because they are always trying to cast their friends as actors in their private movies, trying to bring to life the stories that swirl inside their heads. Sometimes their friends co-operate; sometimes they don't. After all, the friends may have their own dramas to enact.

Today things went relatively well: a few minor meltdowns, but for the most part everyone played happily. A highlight of the afternoon came when Christopher played and sang "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee" on the piano in a very operative, over-the-top style, accompanied by (I swear I'm not making this up) Robbie belching the tune. Emma, of course, provided the gales of laughter. I thought I would have to spend a lot of time with her while the boys were playing, but in fact she played with them for most of the time Robbie was here, and while they were all out in the yard I actually had time to sit in front of the computer and do a little writing.

Like Christopher, I am writing a fantasy novel, although lately I have not been approaching it with his level of single-minded devotion ("I can't come to supper! I'm working on my book!!"). In fact, for quite a long time I'd laid it aside and couldn't get my head back into it. But today while watching the kids play I actually had a good idea for a scene I'd been stuck on for awhile, and I sat down and wrote it out, and got pulled back into the world of the story again. The best thing about growing up to be a writer is that you get to create those imaginary worlds and bring them to life as vividly as you could ever wish -- and once you learn to do it on paper, you can stop bugging your friends to act out roles in your stories, which improves your social life, so everybody's happy. At least, that's how it worked for me. I'm hopiong for an equally positive outcome for the next generation of creative minds.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where There is No Vision, the People Manage

When I was a child, my mother used to have visions. No, she didn't go into trances and report back messages from God for His people. Instead, we would plan a family outing or event, and if it went wrong or didn't go as planned, my mom would say with a sigh, "I had visions of us ..." And she would go on to describe how the event had played out in her mind, contrasted with what had actually happened.

I guess we all do this. I know I do. I set out to do something, and there's a whole vision in my head of how it's supposed to work out. Sometimes the reality matches the vision pretty accurately. Other times it differs sharply -- maybe for better, maybe for worse. I don't think we'd accomplish much if it wasn't for this kind of vision -- a dream of how things could be, or should be. You couldn't plan a party, a vacation, a career, a life if you couldn't envision the outcome. I've always been fond of the KJV translation of Proverbs 29:18: "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

But I also remember from childhood that my mom used to seem very let-down when the thing she "had visions of" didn't live up to the vision. And this taught me another important lesson: don't get too attached to your visions. Reality is its own thing, with its own curious and difficult shape. I've seen people so married to their "vision" of how things should be that they miss instead the lovely and interesting thing that is. I still have visions, but I'm trying to learn to sit lightly with them.

While we were in England on the houseboat, the children sat down one day and made up a cake recipe. It wasn't bad, as child recipes go; they've done enough baking with me that they pretty much know what goes in a cake, they're just vague on amounts and proportions. They decided that when we got home, they would bake the cake and throw a party for all our friends and family to welcome us back home from England. Their plans got more and more elaborate and I could see my two budding visionaries cooking up quite a picture of this gala event.

I enjoy a party as much as they do, so while recognizing that their plan would need some modification, I agreed in principle. We got home on Sunday, and Wednesday of this week was Regatta Day, so I said we'd have a barbecue on Regatta Day, and the kids could bake their cake, and we'd throw ourselves a welcome-home party.

I guess I should digress here and explain about Regatta Day for those who aren't Newfoundlanders, but I can't get into too much detail because it would just be too arcane and bizarre to grasp. I'll try to keep it simple: this is an annual civic holiday centred around an outdoor sporting event (the Royal St. John's Regatta, oldest continuous sporting event in North America, 188 years and counting) which requires good weather to proceed. The Regatta is not just a boat race but also a huge carnival/festival on the shores of Quidi Vidi Lake, with booths set up to sell food, games of chance, etc. On a good Regatta Day, there can be as many as 40,000 people around the lake, a few watching the races and the majority just having a good time.

Did you get the part about the weather? Remember that we live in a place where the weather is capricious and completely unpredictable. If Regatta Day isn't a good day, then the races--and everything else, including the civic holidays of thousands of working people in St. John's -- will be postponed to the next day. So on the morning of Regatta Day, you wake up and turn on the radio to find out if you have the day off or not.

This can be a challenge if you want to plan, say, a backyard BBQ for Regatta Day. You have to make plans and invite people in advance, but you make your invitations with the disclaimer, "Come over Wednesday afternoon -- if the Regatta goes ahead Wednesday."

I made the calls, disclaimers and all. Struck out with a few -- some friends are out of town, some had other plans for the day. Christopher's best friend was at summer camp and Chris was pretty disappointed about that. But our plans kept unfolding. I had visions of a sunny, warm Regatta Day afternoon, the yard full of kids playing on the swingset and in the treehouse while grownups sat around the deck chatting and admiring my beautiful scrapbook of pictures from our trip to England. The kids presumably had similar visions, except that theirs were louder.

Showers were in the forecast for Wednesday. Jason and I lay awake at 6 a.m. listening to the radio coverage from the boathouse at Quidi Vidi. "The Regatta Committee have been in there for some time now ... they may be close to a decision ... I hear some applause from inside...." It sounded as though the next announcement was going to be that the reporters saw puffs of white smoke coming from the boathouse and a new Pope was chosen. But no. They came out and announced that the Regatta was going ahead.

If you're planning a party on the day of a holiday that is contingent on the weather, the one thing you'd think you could rely on would be good weather for your party, right? Wrong. When the Regatta Committee decides the races (and thus the holiday) will go ahead, they're thinking of one thing: wind. If it's going to be too windy, the pond conditions won't be good for rowing. If it's going to be flat calm, they don't much care whether it's cold, warm, sunny or rainy. Sure, the 40,000 people on shore might care (especially those who paid for concession booths) and the rest of the denizens of St. John's might care (especially those hosting BBQ's), but that's not the committee's primary concern.

The races went ahead. My co-workers on the Murphy Centre Teamsters rowed to a respectable third-place finish in their race. It was, by all accounts, a fine day for rowing races; in fact, a new record was set on the women's course. But it was pouring rain the entire time. Not much fun for the fairgoers down at Quidi Vidi, or the people losing money on the concession stands. Or people who had visions of a lovely outdoor party.

We were already striking out on many scores -- most of our friends with children were away, so we only had one family coming with kids and they were all girls -- Christopher was disgusted and threatened to boycott the party. We had too much food on hand for the people who were coming so I made phone calls urging everyone to come around suppertime so at least the food would get eaten. And there was clearly going to be no outdoor play or sitting around the deck while burgers sizzled on the BBQ. Real life was not matching up to the vision.

We went ahead with preparations. The kids and I made the cake -- I gave some guidance in the area of amounts and proportions, and they did the rest of the work. I finished scrapbooking our trip photos so people could look through them. And about 5:00, guests began to arrive.

The rain kept coming till about 6:00 -- it stopped just in time to allow Jason to do some BBQ'ing without getting drenched. Some of his family who were in town visiting dropped by, then the friends-with-kids came (and Christopher did not barricade himself in his room, but played relatively well with the girls), then some of my family. We sat around our living room instead of the deck, and the kids played in their rooms and in the rec room, and most of the food got eaten, and there was much laughter. After supper the kids went out to play in the still-damp yard for awhile. Eventually some guests went home, and our kids went to bed, and we ended the evening the way I knew it would end. We sat around the living room with the people I find most entertaining in the world -- my parents, my Aunt Bernice and cousin Jennifer, and my friend Sherry -- talking and laughing and telling stories till it was time for them to go home and us to go to bed.

So our Regatta Day BBQ didn't quite match my vision, nor the kids' visions of what our welcome-home party would be like, but a good time was had by all anyway. Visions are great -- I wouldn't get a thing without them -- but it helps to know when to lay them aside and step boldly forward into the reality we are given, even if it's soaking wet.

I loved everyone's responses to the "Humped Pelican Crossing" sign I posted the other day! Unfortunately, nobody got anywhere close to the right answer, and if I had to give a prize for the most creative response, that would be tough! Just in case you wondered (and, unlike my dad, you didn't Google it), a Pelican crossing is a Pedestrian Light Controlled crossing -- the kind where you push a button to make the "Walk" signal come on, and the "Humped" refers to the presence of a speed bump. Not nearly as interesting as some of the suggestions people came up with!!

By the way, if anyone's looking for book reviews, I have updated Compulsive Overreader with reviews of the books I read on my holiday (not all of them, but some that I thought review-worthy). Check it out!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

We've been back home for a couple of days now and I haven't had anything blogworthy to write about ... so I am just going to throw together a hodgepodge of things that are on my mind. I'll start with the signs.

This is the last holdover from my trip-to-England pictures ... I just had to share. While there I became fascinated with street signs that were unfamliar to my Canadian eyes -- so I took snaps of a few particularly unique ones.

This one mystified Jason and me. What was it warning of? A snake that had swallowed a pig, lying in the middle of the road? Turns out it's nothing more amazing than speed bumps.

Here's one of my absolute favourites. You know those "School Crossing" signs, or "Children at Play" signs with the silhouette of a boy and girl? In England, they have these:


They appear near retirement homes, etc. Sometimes they say "Elderly People Crossing" but other times it's just the visual. I love it!

Finally, my vote for the "Most Obscure Street Sign in England" competition:


I think I'm going to throw this one out there as a contest -- to readers outside England, of course. Not sure what the prize will be for a correct answer, but I think I'll have lots of time to come up with something. Blogreaders, I ask you: What precisely is a "Humped Pelican Crossing?" What should one do upon seeing this sign? Place your answer in the "Comments."

Speaking of contests (file this under "Shameless Self Promotion"): Did you know that right now, if you post a reader review of a book on www.indigo.ca , you are eligible for a prize draw in which you can win a big mucho grande gift certificate for lotsa books? What a good time to post a review of The Violent Friendship of Esther Johnson!!! Everybody benefits!

Again with the contests ... thanks to the host and judges of last month's "Blogging for Books" contest for voting me the winner! If you missed my essay, "The Waste Land," you can go back and read it. B4B is a great contest ... every blogger should have a shot at it.

Finally ... this is just for a laugh (not that the thing with the signs was all that serious). Last night I visited the website that makes me laugher harder than anything. So hard I cry; so hard I'm weak afterwards. It's a good, cleansing, cathartic laugh. Of course, if your sense of humour is different from mine and Jason's, you might not find it funny at all. BUT ... if you want to risk being very amused, go to ... http://kookychow.com .