Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to Jump a Ditch and Write

We had a moat around my house; not a fence, but a moat.

Actually, most of the houses in my neighbourhood had moats; our castles protected by whatever swam within. Mostly ducks and slime.

And the odd muddy kid.

Many neighbourhoods in Richmond, B.C., established around the 50’s and 60’s, have drainage ditches separating the front yard from the road. It was with these ditches we learned courage, strength and agility.

When ditches were in their heyday (newer neighbourhoods don’t have them), the ability to ‘jump the ditch’ without falling in was a kids’ rite of passage. Even the tip of your shoe dipping in the murky water behind you as you attempted to clear the 3 – 4 feet wide span would set off gales of laughter and teasing from other kids. No one dared try the ‘super deep’ ditches, or the ditch of grumpy Mr. Brown-down-the-street-with-the-mean-dog; we weren’t THAT stupid.

Fear of humiliation should I not make it across, never mind the thought of falling in the murky water, sucked the courage right out of me. Building up the nerve to take that first running step was always the worst. A few false starts of running a few steps, stopping, turning around and dragging my embarrassed self back to the starting point was torture – but enough to kick me into action.

And then...GO!

Full speed ahead, one foot take off, two feet landing, and dry as a bone on the other side. Victory! Turn around and do it again – just to show off a little. I had already mastered it once; I was a ‘pro’ now. And the occasional wet shoe was nothing – as long as no one was looking. I had surpassed the fear, mastered the move, and was one of the gang. I was invincible.

By the end of autumn we were ditch-jumping pros; spring and summer training had paid off. But then winter would come, shutting us in, preventing us from maintaining our ditch-jumping skills. All the courage, skill and technique acquired during the months previous - gone.

Winter would have barely faded into spring, and we would be back out there. Out of practice and out of courage, we had to start over and reclaim all the physical and mental strength we mastered only a season ago.

As it is with anything, if you haven’t done something for a long time, you lose your touch. Being away from something for too long, you try to come back to it, yet feel ‘rusty’ and lack confidence. As writers, sometimes a project becomes a little unfocused, we get ‘stuck,’ frustrated and find ourselves going nowhere. Courage and momentum you once had, now a distant memory.

But you can get it back. Get into runners stance, ignore those taunting chants from inside your head, ignore your fear, take a deep breath, and start running. As you near the edge, don't come to a screeching halt – just jump. You’ll make it. So what if you get a bit wet that first time - who cares? You’ll dry off, turn around, and do it again.

Don’t jump for anyone else but yourself - and only yourself. You might have supporters cheering you on, suggesting what to do, what not to, and how best to do it. Perfect – that’s what you need. But when you are building up the courage to take that flying leap, remember my neighbourhood friends I was trying so hard to impress. When I made it to the other side, dry and unscathed, thankful I wouldn’t have the burden of those kids laughing and poking fun at me, it was my own sense of accomplishment that made me turn around and do it again...and again...and again.

Keep jumping. Keep writing. Keep submitting. And don’t let a season pass by, interrupting your courage.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Saints or Trolls: Take Your Pick for a Prosperous Writing Career

Talismans, rituals, lucky charms, muses and saints are often used in time of need; to help provide hope and direction. Whether it’s to bring luck, gain inspiration, prosper, ensure safety, or to help through a troubling time, the reasons are endless. If it doesn’t hurt anyone, why not?

And writers are no different. Some have a special pen or coffee mug. Some keep a lucky troll on their desk (apparently the fuzzy-haired guy works for Bingo players, as well).

When the stress and anxiety of waiting for a ‘yes’ from an agent, editor or publisher sends you to your knees, wailing and praying to anybody or anything, why not pick a saint? If not for luck then, at least, for inspiration and guidance. It won’t hurt anyone or anything, and the worst that can happen is your cat thinks you’re nuts while he sits watching you wail, pray and beg to thin air - or so he thinks.

A good one to pick is St. Francis de Sales (1567 – 1622), Patron Saint to Writers. As Bishop of Geneva in 1602, he wrote Treatise of the Love of God and Introduction to the Devout Life. These writings, as well as many others, brought instant acclaim, and were translated to several languages. His writings are said to have influenced the revival of French Catholicism in the 17 century.

Sounds like they should have had the New York Times Bestseller list back then; he likely would have been on it for sure.

Another good one is John of God (1495 – 1550), Patron Saint of Booksellers and Printers. After serving in the army, he turned to religion, and had a ‘vision.’ Given his love of reading, he felt the need to share his love of books with others, and pedalled religious books. His successes lead him to open a book shop in Granada. For reasons unknown, he went mad, ran through the streets tearing out his hair and gave away his stock of books.

Um....maybe that’s not a good one to pick.

Can’t find that coveted piece of paper bearing the greatest word, idea, sentence or plot you ever came up with? Pray to Anthony of Padua (1193-1231), Patron Saint of Lost Articles.

Too busy meeting deadlines to cook meals? St. Zita (or Sitha) (1218-1272), Patron Saint of Housekeepers, might be able to help in that area. She worked for an Italian family from age 12 until her death at age 60. Mistreated by the family for many years, she eventually earned their respect through her loyalty, devotion, and commitment; her faith kept her strong.

If lasagna doesn’t magically appear, maybe find a lamp with a genie.

Praying to St. Jude (1st century), Patron Saint of Hopeless Cases, might seem like a good, proactive idea. But stop. That would only be counter-productive calling yourself a hopeless case. You are not. Remember: you are a writer. Have faith in yourself - and keep writing.

And if all else fails, stick with trolls.
At least you can comb their hair.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

For the Love of Pink

Ah yes - the good ole days of the 70’s and 80’s. Newly invented cell phones were big enough to warrant carrying an extra briefcase. Hair shampoo like Prell© and Body on Tap© (with beer!) promised unwavering beauty, and Farah Fawcett’s white teeth were the product of Ultra Brite© toothpaste. Deodorant finally escaped the confines of pressurized cans and morphed into a healthier ‘stick.’

And the best part? Toilet paper came in 4 colours – blue, green, yellow and PINK.

Sheer bliss. Life was so simple with coloured toilet paper, but the atrocity of our bums turning green put a stop to all that. I miss that one luxury of life.

Flash forward 30 years, and I am sauntering into the grocery store with my credit-card sized cell phone in my pocket and earth-friendly reusable bags under my arm. My ‘scientifically advanced’ stick deodorant has been applied in triplicate-times-5 as I live in fear that any offending smells will be Blogged or Tweeted by the person behind me at the checkout.

But first, as always in my world, I make a beeline to the customer’s washroom.

Some things never change.

I flick on the light with my elbow, close and lock the door with my sleeve, and…low and behold! Pink toilet paper!

Over the years I have longed for the return of this 15th wonder of the world. Coloured bums aside, why can’t we go back to colour-coordinating in its most extreme? When I planned my Barbie and Ken fantasy marriage as a kid, I vowed to always buy pink toilet paper. Heck…Barbie’s Corvette was pink, so why not?

But back to the grocery store and my euphoria in the customer’s washroom….

The shelves of earth-friendly household cleaner, organic kitty litter and re-usable paper plates (?) are a blur as I bolt from the washroom. I finally find the rows of pillow-soft, earth-friendly, double-rolled, extra-strength packages of...white.

Suddenly, the dust clouds part. A single beam of fluorescent light spotlights a package of pink, and I swear I hear angelic choirs singing.

‘Stop the flushing and come look at this!!’ I want to yell down the aisles. ‘And they’re on SALE too!’

Purex®, makers of the pink (yay!) toilet paper, brought back this classic in an effort to raise money for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation; 25 cents from every package sold goes towards cancer-fighting research (double yay!). Not only will I have the glory of owning 12 rolls of bubble-gum coloured segmented squares, but I will also know I played a part in contributing to research for this awful disease.

I grab a package, and like a football player, hug it to my body as I charge past the other customers and their carts full of lentils and goat’s milk. Don’t worry – I make it to the checkout safe and sound. Can’t say the same for the lentil-buying customers who dared get in my way, though.

I forget everything else I need to buy – my family will just have to starve. As I break the speed limit going home, a 3-minute drive on a slow day, I lovingly stroke the pink package in the passenger seat beside me.

Pink-dyed skin be damned, this is gonna be great!

As you will recall, I have an on-going renovation project of my new bathroom/office (see post from September 9, 2010, Writing with the Toilet Seat Down), and the pink rolls are a perfect addition. I have claimed full ownership of this ‘office’ (see previous blog as mentioned above), and this means everything within. No one will be allowed to use these pink rolls, even if down to the last….solitary...white…square.

Now if someone could please tell me where I could find scented toilet paper…

For more information, visit the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation at, as well as Purex at

Friday, November 5, 2010

Come On, It's Just a Little Water....

As a ‘west coast girl,’ I grew up in the rain - literally. With the ditches around my house overflowing, the school field flooding every year, and my Holly Hobbie umbrella always in tow, it was a way of life - constant rain. Therefore, I hate the heat, AND, of course, anything tropical. My body, my psyche, just isn’t acclimatized to being dry for long periods. I hope to one day travel the world, invariably leading me to places of blistering heat. But the rain will always be my comfort. Give me the sound of rain over sweat-pooling heat, any day.

Dashing from the car to the store without an umbrella is commonplace in these parts. Coats with hoods and a little extra hairspray in the morning, and we’re good to go. I store spare shoes and socks under my desk at work. I have two umbrellas; one under my desk, one in my bag. Also in my bag is yet another pair of socks, just in case. I always keep a plastic bag in my purse, should I want to sit outside and read – under my umbrella.

Those sun-worshippers mockingly curl their zinc-covered lips at my apparent stupidity; “What’s with all that stuff needed for wet weather that can last for 8 months? Is it worth it? It’s MUCH easier somewhere tropical wearing next to nothing!”

But then I would be carrying around sunscreen, after-sun lotion, Noxzema©, sunglasses, extra deodorant, and extra clothes to change out of sweaty clothes. And then, eventually, think of all the anti-wrinkle creams, laser treatments, and miracle-to-end-all-wrinkle treatments I would have to spend money and time on! What’s that stuff those cowboys use on saddles to keep the leather supple? I will have to find out and express-courier some to those leather-skinned sun worshippers.

And as for the wearing next to nothing bit? My pasty white body would blind the whales surfing by, and that wouldn't be very nice of me, now would it?

To think there are places where sunscreen application stations are EVERYWHERE – like Australia. At places of employment, schools, parks….truly, there are! Which is smart, thank God, but all that work, all day, everywhere you go. Ugh! The agony of constant application…..

The freckles on my arms are misleading. Some think I am a closet sun worshipper, secretly basking in the sun during those non-rainy months. Everyone needs a bit of a break from all those cats and dogs, and those sun-kissed streaks in my hair from the harmful rays has me channelling Bo Derek. But if you look between those spots, pure white skin shines through. Bo Derek, I am definitely not – and proud of it.

Sure my hair is frizzy, and the ends are often damp. What do you think ball caps and ponytails are for? Keep a hair dryer in your desk! And skirts and pantyhose can still be done; just wear your boots to work. This is normal. No one will look at you funny around here.

Aw come on….it’s just a little water! What’s the big deal?

A little water doesn’t stop life for I-of-the-West-Coast. The sound of the rain on my hood is hypnotizing as I hike through the woods, my extra-tread boots tightly laced. Jogging through the drops at 5:30 in the morning, water in my eyes, dripping off the brim of my cap and streaming down my ponytail – there’s nothing better.

So make like a duck, and get out there. It’s just a little water!