So cool to finally see my first children’s story published. The School Magazine (Australia) did such an amazing job and I’m just thrilled that, “Swimmingly, Willie” is the cover story and the center fold in the June edition of Blast Off.
The 2nd Installment
Not everyone knows this but the Calgary Public Library has such a cool story dispenser program. Lovingly, Willie is part of the 5-Minute Read rotation. There are four dispensers right now. One is at the Edmonton International Airport.
Whenever I stand on the shores of the Pacific, I begin to understand myself and my insignificance on the beautiful ball circling in the universe; a place I call home.
It hardly matters that the endless blue I’m looking at is the largest and deepest body of water on Earth and that without it, I, and humanity, wouldn’t exist. Knowing that I’m glimpsing only a few thousand square miles as I stand on the shore of 60 thousand square miles doesn’t impact the sensation. I finally understand the meaning of‘ breathtaking.’
The Pacific in size is greater than all the landmass combined. Pacific means to pacify and be peaceful. Magellan got it right when he named the ocean as he sailed across the tranquil waves in 1520, not knowing that the Pacific had the power to wipe entire fleets off the face of the earth with its killer rogue waves and violent storms.
The beauty and tranquility are overwhelming. Standing on the shore of this magnificent body of water, I breathe in unison with Earth. Bathtub-warm water tickle my toes, sand massages my skin at the beach at Las Lajas in Panama with each frolicking wave. I’m beginning to understand how lucky I am to experience my minor role on this planet.
When my husband and I drove down from El Valle de Anton (Panama) at five in the morning, heading west toward that sliver of silver shining in the distance, a miraculous thing happened. A moment in time that shaped me as a person forever.
El Valle is a picturesque town nestled on the rim of a volcano and similar to Boquete in Chiriqui, a tourist mecca. I’m going to skip over the details in the part where at dusk, following behind a pick-up truck, we slowly saw details emerge in the cargo. At first, we saw household goods and a chicken coop. But like a mirage, we were soon able to discern faces among the brick-a-brack—a child holding an infant inside the cage.
As we turned a bend on the winding road, our eyes on the children, a miracle happened. Not sure about where you went to school, but l learned that the sun rises in the east. Yet, I was facing west, seeing the Pacific in the distance and an orange globe emerging on the west-facing horizon. In Panama, I saw a world not entirely upside down, but definitely sideways.
That morning I thought I’d seen it all. It was a lesson on learning not to pass judgment. Don’t compare your way of life to those living in another country and different circumstances. Where I come from, you will face criminal charges for allowing children under twelve to take public transportation without supervision. In Panama, where the family unit is the pinnacle of society, you can transport children in a chicken coop.
With my mouth agape, I watched the sunrise in the Pacific. I’ve seen whales breach in the distance in this body of water, and dolphins perform acrobatic acts. I’ve seen who I am as reflected in the water and that humanity is never satisfied. It’s why we pillage the ocean’s depths, overfish, mine, pollute, and invade this deeply mysterious ocean.
Oceans and algae help control the Earth’s climate, which is always in constant flux. It acts as a set of lungs breathing and exhaling. Only our human interference has given the oceans (all our oceans) a set of smokers’ lungs. The oceans are coughing. There’s a good chance we’ll need to operate.
Although dipping my toes into the tranquil waves in Las Lajas, I understand that the ocean is the birthplace of great violence. In this deep water, hurricanes are born. Back in 2018, it gave birth to super typhoon Mangkhut, which swept across the Philippines and China, reaching 165 miles per hour. The annihilation epic.
Hurricanes, typhoons, and cyclones all feast on the warm waters of the Pacific. In the eastern Pacific, these violent storm patterns are called hurricanes. In the southwestern Pacific, they’re called cyclones, and in the northwestern Pacific, they are classified as typhoons.
For many of us, it isn’t a choice. That inner voice nags us to sit down and expose our most intimate thoughts and ideas on paper. The difficulty lies in where and how to begin. I wish I knew the answer.
There are three trains of thought on how to write a novel. I’m in the Stephen King camp and write by the seat of my pants. Others have a detailed outline, and others snub both for the MFA in creative writing degree.
Google answers that question with 3,640,000,000 hits as of March 24, 2022; minus the four paid ads by Udemy, Friesen, Domestika, and the Book Writing Bureau (I wonder if that is like the CIA or FBI of book writing?)
One of the first things you learn as a novice writer is that snobbery in writing circles is rife. Experts abound; everyone has an opinion on what is good and bad. Some experts decry that so and so, whose piece you just finished chewing through, is a masterpiece. At the same time, the novel you loved from page one until the ending, which you wished never came to an end, resonated loudly with you, is disqualified as mediocre. Or is it loudly resonating?
Literary snobbery is fascinating. You’ll read essays and short story contest winners and second guess your English language skills. Cooking dinner in your leggings (paraphrasing) isn’t a concept I ever mastered. When I tried it, the nylon in the material always melted and ruined what I cooked. The druglords of Columbia can’t be nearly as dangerous as those of Colombia. Somehow I always imagine ‘Columbian’ drug lords as adventurists sporting athletic gear and hiking. It’s COLOMBIA. They even sell T-Shirts (in Colombia), correcting the mistake right next to hockey puck hash and bottles of coke–the powdery kind.
The sound of her winter boots on snow breaks the stillness. It’s impossible to escape with all the noise she is making. Any deer, wild cat, or coyote would hear her coming, if not smell her from miles away. Wildlife, however, isn’t her concern at the moment, as spooky as an encounter in total darkness might be.
She isn’t escaping them; she is escaping him.
Of course, there is also the track of the oversized boot prints. Anyone would see the trail in daylight shining like a beacon, “there, she’s gone this way!” Voices commanding others to run and catch her.
Inhaling the cold, Emma stands still. A painful stitch stabs her side and makes breathing difficult. She keeps her eyes on the light ahead. A light she’s been watching for months now, whenever she believes no one is watching.
The light could be a trap. Emma knows that too. But under the cloak of night, she can observe until it is safe to make a move. She knows she has at least until morning until they discover what she has done. Darkness is her only sanctuary. Light her goal.
Enveloped in darkness, surrounded by forest, she knows as surely as her heart beats that she is right to run. Regardless of what happens next, her life as she has known it will end.
She stumbles onward knowing that light is never a good distance indicator. In daylight, it tricks the eye into judging distance; it keeps moving farther away and out of reach at night. She’s been stomping through the snow for hours. The deep and uneven path makes every movement difficult. She has already fallen too many times to count. Her shirt clings to her back, soaked, beneath the dark coat she stole from the hook by the door.
It belongs to him and is much too large.
Her stomach rumbles; she has only eaten a bowl of thinned soup. “You’re useless,” he yelled, cuffing the back of her head that made her spit the soup across the table. Emma hasn’t eaten anything with sustenance for weeks. Her stomach is concave, her arms and legs sinewy.
Looking back, he didn’t say that exactly, that she is useless. But he might as well have. He also never resorts to the sort of violence that leaves a physical mark. He is way more cunning than that. Sticks and stones.
And her meager diet is self-inflicted. She has to admit that too. Ego, however, has this delicate shell and insists, “I’ll show him.”
Her ego never behaves as she wants it to. Ego has its own ego to battle.
“Keep moving!” She commands her weak limbs to obey despite the strain, but her mind is her biggest threat. It wants to tell her to lie down, curl up, give up, and invite death to take over.
Ego sulks in the corner. Now is not the time to get involved.
Her legs power through the deep snow. Sometimes she sinks up to her knee in the swollen drifts that are difficult to distinguish in the dark. Emma half expects to hear a shotgun blast, a snowmobile blazing through the snow to hunt her down.
The flickering yellow light in the distance hasn’t moved closer, or so it seems. Emma keeps her gaze forward. She has to keep moving, if not for herself, then for the others. When it all started, never in a million years did she think she’d end up like this. Lost, frozen, beaten to compliance. Fighting to survive in a maelstrom of submission and rejection.
This is not what she thinks she has signed up for.
Her foot lands on solid ground. A road she hasn’t expected spans in long directions. She knows she’s going to make it.
The road leads to a plowed driveway, and a homestead stands against the light of the early dawn with its white clapboard housing gleaming. She slinks up the stairs and peers into the dark windows. She sees the embers glowing in a fireplace; a dog curling into a ball on a rug before it. It doesn’t lift its head and bark at the intrusion, making Emma relax for the first time in months. She appreciates the solitude of her achievement.
She smells the faint plumes of tobacco. She sees the figure rocking in the chair, back and forth, a smile that says, ‘we’ve been expecting you.’
Emma recoils from fright. She recognizes the face—the image on the dust jacket of her favorite author.
“Welcome, Emma. You did it!”
Emma collapses from exhaustion. She rolls over onto her back; she sees the stars blink, that fading light of darkness. She thinks of the others she left behind at the writing retreat. She wonders if they’d be alright. Soon enough, they’ll find the editor tied to his chair. A black Charlie Chaplin mustache painted with a permanent marker below his nose. Pages of her manuscript stuffed into the cavity of his cavernous mouth.
Whenever I have a day between writing content and getting my edits back, which is always nerve wracking, I manage to write a few pieces of short fiction. By short, I don’t mean flash.
This year I submitted to OrcaLit and misguidedly believing I had what it takes to be chosen for publication. I paid to have them review my story and send me feedback. It’s a small fee and worth the price, even if it doesn’t pan out.
I wrote ‘The Habits of Hubert LaSalle’ for fun. Part speculative and part murder/death story. I worked hard on polishing it, and admit that I love the story. The team at Orca advised me that the story was off to a good start, (the first version) and had potential. But then I missed the target and my story became predictable. The editor explained that it reminded them of a Twilight Zone Series (television from the 1960s, not the teen books). They felt it was trite, they could see the ending a mile off.
While they are right, isn’t most fiction like that? Doesn’t that somehow connect us the story? Those authors who totally blow us out of the proverbial literary world are few and far between.
Of course, I was disappointed. I rewrote the story, included more death. People can’t get enough of death, and had the gumption to resend it for another review and rejection. They kindly informed that while some of my revisions were better, I still hadn’t met their target.
Here is what they wrote:
Thanks for resubmitting this story. We can see that you’ve made a lot of improvements, but the story still lacks the punch that we are looking for. You indicate very early on that Hubert is a passive man, controlled by his wife and others. But once that’s established, you basically keep repeating the idea for several more pages instead of moving the narrative forward. We see that you changed the surprise of Hubert being dead to the surprise of everyone being dead. To us, that’s still a very “Twilight Zone” idea—quite overused in literary circles. For this story to work for us you need to take it in a very different direction — something really imaginative that we haven’t seen before. Sorry to be disappointing.
While those words aren’t what I was hoping for, I will let them rest. Hubert can sulk in the background while I find a way to fix what ails him. It’s what writers do. We keep going.
We heard the train a long way off in the distance. A throaty rumble tunneling toward us, sooty plumes of smoke spoiling the blue skyline. Our eyes wide open, we stood in the shadows of our ignorance. Hindsight deftly made fools of us, and in the bliss of our ignorance, we believed this—this happens to other people.
Sadly, based on the idleness of this flawed theory, we were sold a first-class ticket. Entry to a sport gambling on the unsuspecting. We believed we were mere spectators on the sideline. When Fate handed us the ticket, Stage 4, we knew instantly that she had mistaken us … for someone else. For days, we stood in a winding throng begging for a refund. But as we neared the ticket counter, we heard the hush of whispers, “closed for renovations.” The crush of the crowd shuffled us like a deck of cards onward, pushing us past the window clearly marked: Radiation Therapy. To our dismay, they sold out long in advance, and in exchange, we were handed another invitation: Welcome to the Chemotherapy Department. Chemo wasn’t a choice, but intrepid, we forged on. With our breath locked in the dungeon of our lungs, we knocked only to have the door slammed in our face, “access denied.” Swaddled in our complacency, believing that a system would take care of us, we veered in the wrong direction and missed an opportunity that never materialized. Dumbfounded, we wandered and lost our way when time eventually unblocked the long stairway leading us to the platform designated for surgery. Only to discover it had left the station ahead of schedule. Among the hustle of the domed station, like pigeons bobbing their heads to see clearly, we clung desperately to our only option. A carriage clearly marked Hope awaited. The train conductor blew his whistle, “all aboard.” The upside, with Hope, there’s always another way.
We took to our pre-assigned seats, no map in hand, no GPS to guide us on the journey. Blind faith chugging along, riding next to us like Zenyatta on a trot. Numbed and in pain, we were only able to stare out the window, eyes blankly seeing the scenery rushing past; glimpses of our comfortable lives vanishing in a blink. Regardless of circumstance, it wasn’t the sort of day trip anyone survived unscathed. There were, however, many vacant seats to choose from. We slipped the ticket stamped: Cancer—Terminal into the pockets of our wishful thinking. Or more accurately, desperately clinging. Our fingers incessantly toyed with the soft fringes of … why us?
Seated, slouching over our trembling knees, it occurred to us that we had been summoned on this ride based on mistaken identity. An idea we couldn’t shirk. We weren’t the sort of people who deserved this crippling invasion. Cancer happened to other people, and any minute now, someone would unchain us from this misery. Joke’s up! The carriage of Hope turned out to be a ticket to nowhere. Like a merry-go-round, we rode the nauseating ride, dizzy and hungry for a morsel of truth which we didn’t dare face. But Hope generously gave us an extension. Time superimposed a new expiry date to an ending we knew was hurtling toward us at a breakneck speed.
When we arrived at the final destination after endlessly drifting, they took our mother onboard another vessel. No one bothered to ask if we wanted to come along for the ride. Cancer has the audacity to bring entire families down. One word— such debilitating power. Our only option was to ensure our mother’s seat was cushioned. We tucked our love tightly around her and showered her with goodbye kisses. It was hard to smile without tasting the salt in our tears.
While running alongside the train that picked up speed, we watched the track disappear into the tunnel of light. We had passed all the stations of burdens to bear and waved farewell. The image of our mother, a final glimpse of her sweet face, leaning out the window of life, tattooed our souls. Her frail and ravaged body rose above everything she had endured. How she mustered the strength; only a mother can know for sure. Weak as she was, she embraced us with her eyes and heart, she asked just one thing of us, “help me die in peace.” We granted her dying wish and allowed her to slip beyond the curtain, a quick-change act was certain. We whispered a thousand I love yous, like a rosary chant to take with her. When the light in her eyes finally extinguished, her pain lifted and floated toward the ceiling, settling on us with the weight and discomfort of chain mail.
For the first ten years afterward, we journeyed to the platform with a regularity to set a clock by. Willingly, we handed the porter the luggage marked grief, welcoming him to rifle through the vestiges of every predetermined emotion. We no longer packed the hard edges of our anger, and like the train, it came and departed on schedule. And with each visit to the station, we brought the satchel infused with the memories of a lifetime. We remain as the gullible children believing in the Disney moment of our beloved Mama’s return, however impossible. With our ears to the track, we listen for the gentle chug of a train we know is en route. Afraid it’s coming for us too. Even now, we hear the stillness in our hearts softly pounding and realize it is but the footsteps of our beloved mother. She may be gone, but she remains, forever, next to us. An imprint of love and reincarnation.
In loving memory of my Mama.
Monika R. Martyn is retired, married, happy, and a minimalist. She enjoys traveling and creating stories. She has been published in numerous print and online magazines and recently honored with a Pushcart Nomination. The Lucky Man—An Act of Malice, her debut novel is queuing somewhere in the back of the ‘never heard of’ pile, though not through lack of trying.
In town, at the diner, after church, in conversation, between chatting about the crops and weather, their names would pop up like mushrooms or dandelions after a summer shower. Their names were used as a measure of something, the irony wasn’t lost on those who understood irony and the couple had become part of the landscape though they never kept still.
The Walkers. Their name was indicative, though it was Mrs. Walker who started the whole thing and her maiden name was Miller. And milling and walking were no longer fashionable, people bought trucks and SUVs to avoid walking and milling, well, no one gave a rat’s ass about milling anymore either. Unless it was around the buffet table to gossip and tattle.
Lucy, to her Bert, took up ditch walking not because she needed the few measly dollars handed to her at the recycle depot when she dropped off another trash bag full of discarded bottles and cans. She cleaned the ditch because Lucy cared. She wanted the ditch to be as meticulous as her home. Lucy couldn’t stand the clutter.
It all started one day when she tended the flower bed planted around the town’s welcome sign. The hand-carved sign had become a local tourist attraction and Lucy cared about such things as volunteerism even if she couldn’t fully understand the slur behind the meaning of white saviorism. She simply gave a fuck about her environment and community.
On that first day, when she stooped to pick a vagrant soda can, a red one, she also noticed the discarded potato chip bag, the fast-food wrapper, the windblown plastic bag, the tequila mickey, the plastic beverage bottles, and the sole flip flop. She didn’t touch the milk jug with yellow fluid though it grated on her nerves.
On that day, though they’d always been the Walkers, they became the ditch walkers simply because they cared.
Just a Barn Cat
It was the sound that would remain permanently stuck in Ted Wilson’s mind like an old vinyl record hung up in a groove. The animal that made the pitiful sound stretched Ted’s heart and soul to the breaking point.
Although he’d never tell anyone, it was just a barn cat, after all, trapped for a mere minute on the descending garage door installed without a sensor.
Ted couldn’t run fast enough. He felt his heart balloon as he ran toward the suffering cat and tried to force the heavy door off her. Luckily, his wife, thank god, ran the other way and triggered the switch to reverse the door.
The yellow-eyed look the poor cat shot like an arrow into his heart nearly broke Ted. The cat, being 19 years old, scampered to safety and into hiding. Ted, though he knew the cat had nine lives, didn’t think she’d survived the night.
All night long his mind conjured images of a stiff carcass that he’d have to bury in the snow, deep enough that the coyotes wouldn’t make a meal of it. Then again, such is the circle of life.
Three days later, when the sun graced the blue sky, the old cat came out of hiding, she took up her post on Ted’s lap and purred. All was forgiven. Cat’s don’t hold grudges.
His wife didn’t mind Ted fretting over the barn cat, she had, however, a different version of events that didn’t jive with his.
Who We Are, Not What We Are
Lorna Woods smiled at her last client; she could hardly believe the woman had given her a hundred dollar tip. Lorna relied on tips. The generous five and ten dollar bills. The rare twenties went a long way.
On the inside, Lorna vibrated with glee. Getting a job at this high-end salon was like a mercy gift from heaven. Here, she didn’t have to share her tips with a greedy boss, though she had other expenses she hadn’t bargained on. She had to look the part.
“Thank you, Ms. Sanderson.” Lorna escorted her newest client to the door and held it aside.
“I’ll see you in a couple of weeks.” Ms. Sanderson smiled back, she was a stunner and Lorna had noticed a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. As if she knew Lorna’s secrets.
It was an industry truth that clients had strange relationships with their stylists. They shared the most intimate secrets, yet a stylist was always keenly aware of the boundaries etched in client-relationship platitudes.
Lorna checked her watch, she had a ten-minute window between clients and enough time to enjoy a bit of sun outback, vitamin D was crucial for healthy hair and nails.
She leaned against the brick wall with her eyes closed. The alley, though it stank sometimes for chemical hair colorants and a mix of restaurant grease and trash, was a sun trap. Lorna could feel the hundred-dollar bill in her pocket lift a thousand pounds of stress from her shoulders.
Lorna would never admit this to her colleagues, but if truth be known, she felt she was nothing but a fraud. She could style and cut hair with the best of them. That wasn’t the fraud part.
She had learned about hair in high school; watched endless tutorials and YouTube how-to videos and attended a proper school to get certified.
Every weekend she enrolled her friends and family as volunteers to try new styles and cuts, updos, blunt cuts, colors, perms, foils, and tints. Before she was nineteen she started winning competitions. It’s how her new boss noticed her and offered her a job.
The fraud was the person wearing second-hand designer clothing that she scoured vintage shops for. The CK jeans and Gucci top were fake found in a bin rather than a hanger.
She heard the back door of the restaurant open; the noise and smell of a lunch menu in full swing followed. Chef Tony liked a smoke between serving and eating. Lorna smiled and waved, she knew an olive on a stick in that high-class restaurant cost more than the hundred bucks making her smile. Once in a while, Chef Tony would surprise whoever was leaning against the brick wall with leftovers.
Lorna had only minutes left to enjoy the sun when Chef Tony whistled and said, “how’s our newest serving girl today?” His voice was full of approval.
Curious, Lorna opened her eyes and looked at the young woman dressed in a regulation, skimpy white shirt, black pencil skirt, and ballerina flats. The hairdo she recognized.
Her mouth slightly agape, Lorna envied the young woman her ballerina shoulders and physique. That mischievous glint in her eyes.
Lorna wasn’t sure how to react, a minute ago she’d been thinking she was a fraud and didn’t belong when Ms. Sanderson showed her the true meaning of fraud.
Fraud didn’t really describe what Lorna was. Lorna knew well enough that the servers at the posh restaurant were expected to serve more than just meals for the ‘generous’ tips they earned.
Fraud was a word that belonged to a culture run by people who gorged themselves on the backs of others.
I’ve been interested in watching and identifying birds for a long time. It’s not easy because these little critters don’t sit still long enough and some look so similar at a glance that you need to get the book out and make the comparison over and over until you can identify the subtle differences.
This winter season, I’ve fallen for this adorable little nut hatcher who comes to the feeder and hangs around upside down. When it’s really cold, they puff themselves up. But they never sit still.
This post isn’t anything important. I just wanted to share this little birdie with you hoping it will bring you as much joy as it does me!
Seeing the birds and enjoying them doesn’t perhaps match the thrill of seeing a rockstar or a movie star, or winning the jackpot, yet I find it rewarding to connect with nature and to appreciate its beauty.
The planet doesn’t belong to us (people) alone and yet at times it seems like we are so busy wiping out another species with our insatiable appetite for more and more.
Instead of giving back, why ‘not’ not take in the first place.
What I’m trying to say is, forget about stuff and mementos, live to make memories and experiences. Watch a bird instead.
Happy Holidays, may kindness be the gift you keep on giving.
I always wondered if I would ever have the opportunity to learn what a Pushcart Prize nomination would feel like. Now I know, because this morning I received the news that https://www.honeyguidemag.com/ nominated “The Glass Wall Between Us” for the prize.
I know a little boy who uses this phrase, seriously, and it’s got me wondering too.
What happens to time? When I was a child, I remember that an hour seemed like an eternity when we were told to sit still at my aunt’s house. Now, each Friday I’m aghast that another week has ended. Where did the time go? How can I slow its breakneck speed and passing?
Success is a goal that is set yet hard to reach because it’s a moving target. I’ve been writing, seriously, for about 10 years now. It’s a labour of love and hate. I love it because it’s what I’m meant to do. There’s no point in arguing or debating. Whether I’m good enough or not doesn’t matter. It’s like breathing and comes naturally.
I hate it because it consumes me wholly and leaves no room for anything else. The constant teeter-totter struggle of success and failure is tiresome yet motivating.
Seriously, if writing was about writing, I’d be happy.
For the last three months, I haven’t looked up. My nose has been bent to the grindstone churning out internet content for an agency. It’s official, I’m a professional writer, and I get paid for each word I contribute.
But man, it’s a tough gig.
The creative me struggles with producing regurgitated web-oriented, cookiecutter content because I’ve always been the sort of person who likes to colour that space outside the lines. But writing isn’t just about putting words on paper; it’s about learning and moving forward.
Writing is who I am, yet I don’t enjoy that other side of writing that I need to embrace. Self-promotion.
I’d much rather get lost among the characters living inside my head. They are good company but also demanding, and I’ve neglected them.
This morning, I decided to edit two stories that I wrote as companions to “Swimmingly, Willie,” a children’s story about a bee, soon to be published and illustrated by The Australian School Magazine.
Reading those two sequels reminded me of the pure joy of writing.
Seriously, that is why I write. For the joy, the small successes and the big ones and the failures that are mere rungs on a ladder.
The weather app on my phone lies and says there’s only a 10% chance of rain; it’s raining. I listen to the sound of the soft rain as it mingles with the stillness evaporating with the rising sun. The world sleeps, and only the doves are awake with me. Humidity is 96%. Maybe it isn’t raining after all, and the sky is merely sweating. It’s hot in Mexico.
My free hand brushes over Honey’s dusty fur. She needs a bath. With each gentle stroke, I’m reminded of the mango tree. There are thousands of mango trees; they stink as the fruit rots and ferments. Before fate intervened, Honey’s life centered on being tied to the trunk of a dusty mango tree next to the highway that runs from Cabo San Lucas to Tijuana and switches sides from the Pacific to the Sea of Cortez for optimum viewing.
Although there’s a dark desert highway, Hotel California is a fifteen-minute drive north and snakes along cactus after cactus to provide a point of direction. The lawsuit has been settled.
Abandoned to the Mexican heat, often without food and water, and denied the simplest gesture of love, Honey’s chances were slim. Dogs are social creatures, and even to this day, she soaks up affection like a dried up sponge. Beneath her shaven white fur, which acts as a strip of Velcro, her skin shines through in patches—a mishmash of seal-grey and purple. Her twitching nose is as black as her eyes. She’s one of four rescues. All thanks to a compassionate woman who one day couldn’t bear driving past the mango tree and seeing that pitiful sight. She paid to have Honey untied from a life of misery and brought her home.
Falling coconuts don’t make a sound until they land.
The thickness of the hovering humidity shrouds the mountain range to the east in a dense mist. But I know it is there. Mountains don’t move. Yet they move me with their breathtaking beauty on those mornings when the sun rises between the peaks and highlights the countryside surrounding me. I’m at the hacienda in a semiarid desert and a temporary surrogate for the pets.
A hacienda is a homestead on rural, agricultural land.
To see the beauty of Mexico, keep your focus trained slightly upward. Allow your eyes to skim over the palms and mango trees, the greenery that is coaxed from the soil with plastic water lines and plastic tarps to conserve each precious drop of water. The fields look like a Christmas tree, red and green, growing either tomatoes or peppers. The soil is a perplexing mix of dust and sand. Snakes leave their ribbon pattern; dead scorpions squashed by car tires are still recognizable if you know where to look.
A dead, upside-down lizard looks in bone structure like an alligator.
A good place to look for scorpions is in your shoes before you put them on. It’s not simply women who have a shoe fetish; scorpions like them too, only they don’t care about brands or size. It takes months to stop the habit of shaking out your shoes and clothing when you return home to the northern hemisphere.
The humidity drops to 95%, and the temp hovers at 19C. The chance of rain remains at 10%. The cement deck is awash and a shade of chocolate brown and slippery as hell. Gentle drumming raindrops land on the enormous palm leaves all around me. It is like the sound of God’s tears falling. He sure has much to cry about. I have no idea what God sounds like; I’m just saying.
Although it’s imperative always to look where you step in Mexico, look up if you want to see its beauty. The sky in Mexico is a moving picture show. Clouds moving across the blue canvas are like Monet’s brushstrokes and palette, best seen at a distance to appreciate the spectrum and detail. At dusk, I see islands and oceans in the sky, even though there are no islands and oceans in the sky. I do see the Pacific.
The Pacific makes me humble. It is a reality check that despite 7.674 billion of us, each of us is about as important as a single grain of sand. It doesn’t mean we don’t have a purpose and bring meaning to someone else’s life. Just as each grain combines to form a beach, each person needs to realize they are on Earth for the greater good. Alone we are ineffective and meaningless.
The Pacific is varying shades of blue. I’m lucky because I have seen a long portion of the magnificent Pacific. From Vancouver down to San Francisco. I’ve swum along the coastline of Panama where the water is about as warm as your bathtub. I’ve seen the sunrise in the Pacific in Panama, which is so wrong when you think about it. On the Mexican Baja, it inspired my novel and this short ramble and musing. No matter how often I stand on the shores of this natural wonder, I am awed anew. Its relentless heartbeat, as it heaves and rolls the waves and sends them crashing ashore, leaves me humbled. It’s only toying with us, giving the world a minuscule sample of its power. I’m not a gambler, but in a contest, my money’s on Big Blue.
Despite the 10% chance of rain, I take a walk. I worry about the gecko in the bathroom sink. It sometimes moves but most often doesn’t. My husband and I argue. He wants to end its suffering; I say, “give it another chance.”
The rain makes tiny dots on the soil; I’m hardly getting wet. The difference between humidity and rain is minimal. I head back to the hacienda. I walk through the plot of manicured land ready for sale. A Mexican retirement plan. The rectangular field is divided into sellable “Gringo” plots and cleared of weeds, cacti, and trash. Embedded deeply in the soil are the shredded black plastic sheets that speak of its farming history. I spot one can of Corona cerveza in my periphery. The rest is as pristine as it gets: that’s marketing to your target audience.
Cerveza is Spanish for beer. Corona Extra is a type of Mexican beer owned by a Belgian company. Corona Extra is not responsible for the virus, though it may make you sick. Why people chose to boycott it? (Insert head shaking.) That’s people for you.
Humidity is 94%—time for more coffee.
Here, I could go on a tirade about the trash, the plastic collection of soda bottles, agricultural waste, but no one gives a damn. In Canada, we also have individuals who chuck their trash wherever, whenever, too. It doesn’t even phase their conscience, and they don’t lose any sleep about the garbage they leave for someone else to remove and the generations yet to come. Don’t get me started on what it does to wildlife.
And I’ve heard every argument. You can’t make people care.
If you want to see a difference, you have to be the difference.
In Mexico, the sun sweats, the air is wet, yet the land is dry. When the coconut lands, it makes a thud. The jury is still out if coconuts kill as many people as some internet blogs suggest. Yet, I believe in the one-sidedness of truth—a falling coconut to the head will make you see stars, regardless. Coconut is a drupe and technically a fruit, a nut, a seed, and delicious. So is a fig. Learn something new every day.
About the stars. The sky at night in Mexico is also breathtaking. The Big Dipper follows me throughout life, always to the left of me. Satellites criss-cross in erratic patterns, and I had no idea there were so many. It’s a veritable freak show of space debris.
Humidity is 85%, temp at 21C. The chance of rain is still 10%. It’s no longer raining. The dogs had a bath. It’s not something I’d try with the cats. Honey’s coat is sleek and curled around her neck and stilt-like legs. We remove the prickly stickers she collects on our walk; remember the Velcro I mentioned, stuck to her upper and lower lip. I now know why I travel with nail scissors.
Later that day, the gecko vanishes from the sink.
Lester, the coolest cat in Mexico, a YouTube star in the making, is stretched out on the leather sofa. He doesn’t like getting wet but enjoys shrimp for breakfast. He’s number one in the pack of rescues, and his claws are about as sharp as Edward Scissorhands. Only he doesn’t sculpt any hedges.
Chuy, a black mini-pin pug-cross and sometimes a diablo, hates anything with wheels and is sound asleep in his little basket. Snoring, he’s dreaming of chasing hot-dog cookies and Honey’s tail. He doesn’t know he’s a rescue dog. He was too young when fate intervened in his life twice.
Ha! Chuy is a nickname for people named Jesus.
Lola is curled into a tri-colored ball. She purrs in her sleep but is still timid when a hand moves too quickly toward her. That she flinches tells you everything. They were all brought to the hacienda of love by that same woman.
The next chapter is waiting at the front gate. He’s black, not a good color to be under the Mexican sun. He wags his tails and whimpers whenever I meet him with a bowl of kibble. Black Dog doesn’t have a home, but I see the inevitable. He now lets me pet his head.
That night, a gecko climbs the wall, and I say to my husband, “See, you have to have hope.” I suspect, however, that he had something to do with the miraculous recovery of the gecko.
In Mexico, life happens. The Pacific reminds you that life is precarious for everyone. Hard for many. There are varying degrees of hardship. Yesterday, on a return trip from La Paz, I saw a man walking along the highway. His legs, bowed as if his hips were two sizes too large, were spindly. He wore flip-flops, which are never good for posture or walking long distances. The lines etched into his face wrote the textbook thesis of hardship. He carries bags slung over his shoulder. He collects aluminum cans to earn a few pesos.
In the rearview mirror, I watch as he dives into the ditch and vanishes—what a bunch of spoiled babies we are.
The weather app on my phone lies and says there’s only a 10% chance of rain; it’s raining. I listen to the sound of the soft rain as it mingles with the stillness evaporating with the rising sun. The world sleeps, and only the doves are awake with me. Humidity is 96%. Maybe it isn’t raining after all, and the sky is merely sweating. It’s hot in Mexico.
As an internationally qualified housesitter, I’ve been places. Back in the day the biggest hurdle while traveling used to be dragging my suitcase over cobblestones or through narrow aisles on trains.
COVID sadly changed all that. Not only has it cost the lives of millions, but it’s also impacted industry and families alike and complying with the ever-changing rules leaves most of us breathless, stunned and wondering, now what?
Although the cost of increased airline fees and molecular testing inhibits many from traveling it can’t be compared to the cost of having anyone infected with the virus.
Of course, I shouldn’t complain because after all I have had so many wonderful travel experiences, met amazing people, seen ‘stuff’, and have fortunately never been infected by this stupid virus that won’t go away, but I have been affected by the inconveniences of new regulations that don’t always make sense. Throughout, I’ve followed the guidelines and not always understood the shifting goalpost. For over a year I’ve lived with my husband in almost constant isolation. I’m so f’n done with it.
Old Cannery Near Hotel San Cristobal
I traveled to Mexico in May when it was first possible to leave because I’m a housesitter. I take care of people’s pets and homes and enjoy this unconventional lifestyle. I got the first jab in the arm as soon as the government allowed my age bracket the chance to get immunized.
Before leaving for Mexico, even though restrictions were lifted at that time, I cautiously avoided meeting with family and friends. I couldn’t risk a negative test because people relied on me. It hurt not being with people I care about; I did what I had to. I’m a bit miffed that the government was too slow in allowing me to get a second shot before leaving. I know, cry me a river.
What’s interesting about the travel restrictions in place at the time was that a flight to Cabo San Lucas used to take four and a half hours on a non-stop flight. With the restrictions, it took 24 hours and exposure to so many more people. The logic, well, I know, cry me a river.
A Moving Picture Show
While in Mexico, I continued this self-imposed isolation. I didn’t socialize, I shopped once a month and avoided people. My husband is pretty sick of me by now. Just kidding of course. I’m sure I’m highly flammable from all the sanitizer on my skin.
When the time came to return to Canada, I booked a flight, downloaded the government regulation app, had a PCR test and waited for the airline to take me home. This is where my trip came unglued. A fallout from COVID that most experts probably didn’t predict. No qualified staff. I mentioned this to my husband months ago, I worry about the mechanical problems of sitting airplanes and pilots.
With all my apps lined up, the paper version in hand I arrived at the Cabo airport prepared. It was a bit of a gong show right from the start. Our flight was listed as delayed but optimism persevered because in all my travels, I’ve never experienced this issue that would become a nightmare for me and everyone else booked on the flight.
Information about our flight status was sporadic. The airline representative tried to keep us informed but vagueness never makes anyone feel comfortable. With eyes perpetually trained on the departure board and what others were saying, I waited. I read lips, I eavesdropped on conversations for news.
The Sun Always Rises Somewhere
Scheduled to leave at 3 pm, the clock ticked and after several annoying delays, we were summoned to the gate where further vague instructions were given about our cancelled flight.
Follow person to gate 13 to reclaim your luggage
Retrieve luggage and make your way out through customs; follow the faces that have become familiar
Duty free shoppers with tobacco, liquor make sure you get your declaration form back (it’s your responsibility to ask, don’t rely on the agents to hand it back)
Instructions will be as vague as finding your way through thick fog
Return to airline check-in and wait for an eternity while the line moves slower than you could have believed possible (move quickly, first in line is always a good place to be)
Wait for assigned accommodation voucher and make sure it comes with food allowance on voucher (you will be hungry) (allocated hotel may not have a restaurant or be near a restaurant)
Follow instructions to get on shuttle, or bus provided by airline
***Get bus or shuttle contact phone number*** I cannot stress this enough
Do not rely on hotel to provide you with information about any changes to your shuttle pick-up times
Do not rely on your airline to personally notify you of any changes to your shuttle pick-up times
Check your flight status app or go online to monitor flight departure changes
It’s virtually impossible to contact your airline via phone; the wait lines are longer than your holiday
While you may not be reimbursed by the airline for any taxi/uber fares sometimes you have to fend for yourself (we booked an uber to the airport because the airline changed our shuttle pick-up without notifying us which left us with no confidence in their ability) (another long story, the shuttle driver who picked up the first group rescheduled on an earlier flight refused to pick us up because of his company rules laid out by airline)
Always have paper copies of everything if you can, which of course becomes a challenge when you are in transit
If the hotel is not up to your standard, let them know
Be considerate of other travelers in your group (in our group several weary travelers were given a voucher for one hotel only to be told that there was a mistake and they had no accommodations booked. Not words anyone wants to hear. Luckily many travelers from a large group bunked together freeing up rooms for others.)
Be courteous to staff at the hotel, at the airline, these people are doing what they can but that doesn’t mean you can’t send management a note to suggest improvements. Which I will do once I compose this note
Send valid but unemotional feedback to the airline carrier about your experience and what you see as a way to improve the experience for future travelers
It may seem impossible at the time, but remain positive
We’re In This Together
Quarantine is not fun. The officer and the system that decides this fate for you don’t care that you have been following all of the guidelines, restrictions, precautions and they can’t differentiate between those who have followed the advisory and those who haven’t. It doesn’t matter to the system that you have a story behind your choices or that you haven’t seen members of your family for months and years. Covid has made us cogs on wheels that perhaps aren’t heading in the same direction as you intended to go.
Quarantine feels like a sentence for a crime I’m sure I didn’t commit and circumstances make me guilty just for living. Suddenly, the idea of freedom has a new meaning yet I also understand that my restrictions are for the great good though at times that goal is difficult to see.
For me, the difficult part is that I have to depend on someone else, and I may put someone else at risk. COVID is like slinging mud and it may stick to my skin or someone I care about. Quarantine isn’t about me. It’s about the rest of the world.
I admit I’m sick of the pandemic. I miss the old ways of doing things, but mostly I want people I care about, and the frontline workers to be safe. I also want everyone else out there on this frequency of suffering in quiet isolation to know that I am embracing the choices you make for yourself and your family, just as I am. I wouldn’t think of degrading you because of those decisions, please respect mine. Stop the hurtful name-calling, the spiteful memes that only goad us deeper into the divide.
A new feeling amidst all of these is anxiety. It’s that rushing of nauseating adrenaline that makes my heart race and a ball in my throat gag with an attack of emotions that are mine yet I don’t want them.
What if I have this frigging virus?
Always Checking Over My Shoulder
Because of my lifestyle choices, I rely on the kindness of friends and family to put up with my needs once in a while. To them, it might also mean more frequently than I like to admit. Being beholden even within the circle of kindness is not something I do lightly. The idea that these virus spores are stuck to my skin and clothing each time I enter a house causes panic.
With this last airline fiasco, I was upset about the many levels that went wrong. The missed flight, having to stay put, having to ask family and friends to change plans to accommodate mine is annoying. But the airline also exposed me. As I said, my contribution to avoid spreading this thing has been isolation, a lot of handwashing and cleaning, more isolating, physical and social distancing, yet they forced me into a situation I’ve avoided.
And each day I log my symptoms on the ArriveCan app, I read the yelling letters from the Government of Canada about quarantine rules and that I will be beaten with legal implications and worse for breaking the rules.
Traveling is still fun. After my quarantine ends I can venture into territories, perhaps a beach resort, an upscale boutique hotel, or a road trip because I am so blessed to have these experiences and grow from them.
These hurdles are mere learning opportunities to keep everyone safe.
Life isn’t just about me. It’s about community. It’s about appreciating the good things in life. They exist.
As a Canadian, I know about the weather. It’s a gateway to a conversation, and everyone has something to say. Opinion is divided. Sometimes it sucks; sometimes it’s absolutely glorious.
While I think about the snowstorms I’ve survived, I wonder how a Mexican, a Panamanian, an African who has never experienced the winter of my discontent feels about the blizzards I’ve shoveled my way out of. It must be not unlike how I feel when I watch the footage of a hurricane or monsoon race toward a population that can’t possibly survive the onslaught yet most miraculously do.
I’m waiting. I hear the sound of pitter-patter. Rain has been falling off and on. It’s not as loud here as it is in Panama during the rainy season. Humidity is no longer a feeling of moisture. It’s become an extension of who I am. Hurricane Olaf is jockeying on the southern tip of the Mexican Baja and getting ready to blow.
Shortlist Winner published in Adelaide Literary Award 2020 Anthology
In light of the travesty unfolding in Canada, where authorities are unearthing hundreds of Indigenous children buried in unmarked graves, I thought I’d share this scandalous story with you. Several months ago, I came across the story of Catherine Corless, an Irish woman who exposed the sickening truth behind the Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, Ireland. The similarities between what the church inflicted upon the children and their unwed mothers and the Indigenous are a breathtaking reality. This revelation is not to diminish the travesty inflicted on the Indigenous community; it is to highlight and support their cause for justice and reiterate that what happened to them is criminal.
I can honestly say I’ve never recovered from discovering these facts of what the Irish government and church officials sanctioned as appropriate. What is alarming to me is that we allow the real culprits an escape when we hide them behind the terms: government and church. Government and church are the names applied to people in charge of organizations. It isn’t a building or conglomerate–it’s people.
In Ireland, as many as 35,000 unwed women entered into the care of these horrific institutions. As many as 6000 babies are assumed buried without records across the beautiful Irish countryside. And at best guess, as many as 15,000 children were sold in an adoption ring without consent (or forged consent) from their mothers by the nuns in charge of these institutions.
Just as devastating is that these women and children were abused to such an extent until 1996. Even now, the government of Ireland can’t face the horror and no matter how you say it, Sorry, is simply not enough.
And there is yet another layer that needs to be brought to the surface. Just where were the fathers of these children? The families of these girls who were subjected to such inhumanity?
Thank you for devoting so much effort to promoting The Lucky Man-An Act of Malice with your rather unconventional methods and for no payment/ransom fee. Just saw a nice spike in my book sales, thanks to your action. Maybe there is something to reverse psychology. You might be interested to know that someone who read my book mentioned me in the same sentence as Hemingway. (I think that was so nice of them, don’t you?)
Have a fantastic day!
Sorry for calling you names, but with all your aliasses, Gavin, Joseph, Kenneth, perhaps something foreign, or Clarissa, it’s hard to decide what to call you. I’m sure your situation is dire. Why else would someone resort to such tactics? Extortion is a crime. But have you ever considered getting into marketing? You’d have to drastically change your business model, but with some hard work, who knows? Look where it’s gotten me. I was published. The Lucky Man-An Act of Malice
(In response to a threat I received this weekend.)
(Shitty People is the name Joseph applied to his partners and they pride themselves as being a team of shitty people.)
Part One: The Ransom Note
Thank you for your last email. It is endearing how you called me a penny-pinching bitch and threatened to destroy my career before it even began—really heartwarming on your part. I’m not going to lie and say your note didn’t affect me. And I’d like to share with you the reason behind that initial emotional bruising, and that you are completely wrong about me. But thanks for choosing me as your target. I’m many things, but I’m not a bitch.
My novel is the catcher and keeper of my dreams. I didn’t just fire it off. Unlike you, I work for what I have and don’t feast off the efforts of other people like vermin. For me to publish my novel, it’s taken roughly ten years to become even remotely good enough. During those ten years, I have dedicated my life to writing, to taking classes when I could, and never giving up. So you want to fuck up my dream? Well, here’s the truth. Go ahead. I obviously can’t stop you and your team of shitty people. Now why anyone would associate themselves with shitty people is beyond me. My approach has been slightly different, and I reach out and commit myself to partner and support amazing people. Just a suggestion, but try it sometime.
It’s also interesting how you are so kind in the opening of your email and are offering to provide me a service (completely illegal by the way) to work and promote my book and I quote, ‘we want to strike a deal with you’. And whether you meant to imply it or not, I take it that you see the huge potential in my novel The Lucky Man-An Act of Malice, otherwise you wouldn’t bother.
You are suggesting that I am doing something immoral or illegal by using a sanctioned Goodreads platform designed for authors to reach authors and reviewers to exchange ARCs and swap reviews. You must be getting your information from fake news because it’s a practice that has been ongoing and Amazon, who owns Goodreads, is aware. Please read up on the subject. Amazon does have a policy and I follow their guidelines.
About ruining my career. Thanks for that. Not that there’s much to destroy at this time because I just got going, and, without a doubt, it would be devastating nonetheless. But remember how I mentioned that it’s taken me ten relentless years of trying to get here? Well, if you decide to fuck with me, I promise that whatever shit you throw at me, I’m simply and creatively going to spin it to my advantage. Authors are used to taking ‘shit’ and making something from it.
And here’s a tip. By going after those of us just starting out you are targeting some very tender egos, but I can guarantee that we are fighters. What you fail to understand is that budding authors don’t have a budget to hire marketing teams, publicists, agents, tour managers, and the what-nots, or extortionists scumbags like you, to become rich and famous. Here you might also do the math: count the names of the very famous authors alive making huge money (I’m sure math is hard for you) and then subtract the thousands of authors who don’t make a dime from their efforts but continue to write simply for the love of writing. I’m on that team with thousands of others.
So you and your crew of shitty people, go ahead, make my life miserable. I already learned from the thousands of rejections that I am a survivor. Should you happen to live in a country where life is the shits and this is the only way you can see a way to get out, I suggest you come up with a better, hopefully, more honest attempt. Try hard work, it always pays off.
Wishing you and the shitty people you’re in cahoots with a lovely day. May those be raisins in your cereal.
Getting book reviews is not the only uncomfortable request authors have to master, but when another reviewer emails you this comment, the hours you devoted to your book are all worth it.
I’ve finished with The Lucky Man, and was quite impressed. It’s definitely a page-turner and delves into the deep end of the plight of our planet while keeping the reader in a state of suspense that only a well-conceived well-written who-done-it can do.
I was kept on the edge of my seat The Who way, and the … of the Spencer’s completely took me by surprise. Well done. Nothing will change my mind about giving this a strong FIVE stars.
Nowadays, we are often led to believe that the world is a terrible place. That there is crime everywhere, that we shouldn’t trust anyone.
While there is crime and everyone is out to make a dollar, the world is also full of unique, kind-hearted, generous people. Think of our healthcare workers who have been fighting for a year now to keep us alive. Despite being physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted, they forge through the fire: For Us!
Take a moment. Close your eyes and think of that person who reached out to you when you needed someone. Or the stranger who smiled and held the door open for you. Or those individuals who rescued a dog and are giving it a good home or those who donated to this or that cause. Those are kind people. And yes, people’ fuck-up’. That’s who we are. All we can hope for is that we learn from our mistakes, develop a growth mindset, and move forward, even apologize if the occasion warrants it.
This week, I also want to thank one of those individuals I have never met in person. I met Sir Peter through WordPress, and he gifted me with a wonderful gift. He took the time and read my manuscript and gave it such a glowing review that I cried. So thank you, Peter. It means so much.
This is the book cover for my novel, with emphasis on my. It’s been in the making for a year and, at times, frazzled my nerves. Publishing is slow-moving.
Now that I’m so close, I feel a bout of stage-fright coming on.
If you’ve never written a book but love to read them, please do so with the perspective that the person behind the words put their soul into their effort and to bring a story that you may (or may not) enjoy.
Writing takes hardtack, perseverance, dedication, and grit. While I love writing and could do it for hours and hours, this self-promotion is another species altogether. To write a novel, I had to learn so many new skills, mostly self-taught, and sometimes it felt an awful lot like a fish out of water, knowing I had to return to the water to survive but not always knowing how to get there. But promoting myself is the opposite: I feel like I’m drowning in so much information and advice that it becomes impossible to know what is what.
Writing has taught me that those who commit, whether self-publishing, indie, or house publishing, take on a tremendous amount of effort. There are many days when the question, “Why am I doing this?” begs for an answer.
Because we love it, or a voice tells us to. Some might even take it on as a challenge to explore our most inner selves. There are countless reasons for writing, just as there are for not choosing to write.
So in the next few weeks, I will be seeking out individuals who would like to read a copy of my novel and post a review on amazon.com. It would be so awesome if you could.
If you want to make anyone uncomfortable, simply tell them that you own nothing. In a second, their eyes roll slightly inward as they compute the idea of what nothing could mean and that you must be joking: they’re waiting for the punchline that what you’re saying can’t imply the same nothing that means nothing.
Others may nonchalantly glance over their shoulder to see their belongings and that your nothing has nothing to with their everything. After all, what is life for if not for gathering stuff?
When we are born, people already bring us stuff. Baby clothing, toys, food. As we grow up, more stuff comes our way. We receive a collection of items to make us happy, to make us fit in, to help us live comfortable lives, and to shape us into unique individuals. Those articles are often given out of love.
There is also a constant trade and evolution, perhaps. Pink bikes are exchanged for ice skates, blue bikes are exchanged for balls, dolls are replaced with sweaters and lipgloss, real cars and trucks replace the Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars taking up space attic or basement. Of course, some of us collect those items forever because they are too precious to part with.
As writers, we sometimes take our work and effort much too seriously. Sometimes you just have to have some fun and allow your mind to do what it will. It’s part of the creative process. So here is me having fun with words.
Ménage à Trois
There’s something about a sunshine-filled day that brings out the best in people, but I still always wonder, ‘where do they all go?’
From my apartment window, I have a good view— a snapshot perhaps of the world. As it stands, I’m not inconvenienced or affected by what occurs beyond the thin pane of glass, the lock and key, the apartment complex within a complex.
If anything, I am spoiled. My home is warm, I am loved and eat nothing but the best, although I work very hard to earn both of those life-sustaining elements.
The woman I love is one of those people out on the sidewalk. Every morning, I watch as she heads east to catch the bus that shuttles her to the tube. And farther, to the fabulous place that employs her and pays all of our bills. I know all about bills and contributing. Sheila, the woman who adores every nuance within me, reminds me daily of how hard she works, how no one else works any harder, so that we can live in comfort and style. Of course, I appreciate her effort and let it show.
When Sheila arrives home, the first thing I do is show her how glad I am that she is back and that I missed her. I heard someplace, probably on a talk show or news radio station, that one of the key elements in any successful relationship is appreciating your partner and all the little things they do to contribute to the relationship and your well-being. Sheila and I share such a bond, and I value her contributions.
Off to the west, I see a grey cap of clouds rolling in. A summer shower is in the forecast; I can feel it in my bones. But a minor storm is always welcome. It brings out the birds I enjoy watching as they peck and bob their heads on the soft lawn in the park across the street. I have a keen eye for such things and can identify many species of birds, chickadees being my favourite because they are entirely comical to watch. I’d dare say they are parrots of the north.
Sheila, of course, affectionately encourages my hobbies. She bought us books on bird watching, and we have a magazine subscription that the mailman brings monthly. Sheila recently read that there has been a shift in the migratory and behaviour patterns in birds, which are highly influenced by an insect invasion in the city. Most people don’t know this, but in many countries, insects are thriving on city landscapes and are sadly vanishing in rural areas because of chemical pesticide toxins. That’s the thing about Sheila, she reads such fascinating facts all the time.
There’s no point in denying that consistently blogging is not my thing. Not that I don’t enjoy reaching people and receiving their kind comments and replies, but I’m really torn between focusing on my creative writing skills and committing to a blog. For the past few months, I’ve been knee-deep into the writing courses I registered for and am looking forward to the next set starting in March. Writing, it seems, is a never-ending learning curve that is mostly uphill. But the truth is that I love it.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve also thought much about a continual trend I see in the television and movie industry: Remakes, Spin-offs, Sequels, Copy-Cats.
There are twelve Superman movies listed on Wikipedia, and to me, it feels like there are hundreds. The same can be said for Spiderman, Jedis, Karate Kids, Witches, and über-cops, (who like witches, don’t exist anywhere on the planet). While I understand that some of those concepts are sequels or reinventions, I have to ask: Are we that boring that we can’t come up with something new?
In this house, Friday night is movie night, and there are a few shows that really deserve a shout-out. While book or movie reviews aren’t generally my thing, as we head into lockdown in Alberta, Canada, watching a film that has depth and meaning might make the next four weeks more bearable.
Lion is a breathtaking and emotional journey best enjoyed with good friends, and a box of tissues. I give this movie a solid 10/10. It’s a cultural excursion loaded with sensory overloading imagery and thought-provoking scenes. (Same calibre as Life of Pi and Slumdog Millionaire)
This title and book belong to the author and leadership guru Jayson Krause, and I feel so privileged to have been given an advanced copy to review. It’s a great companion book to Carol Dweck’s Mindset and I can’t wait to put the lessons into practice. It also explains my absence from this website, these books involve a true commitment to self-development.
While Jayson is a well-respected leadership strategist and founder of Level 52, and a former team bobsled pilot on the Canadian national team, he shares his experiences and growth mentality generously. The lessons harvested in his book speak to all aspects of life and help individuals fine-tune their growth mindset, the power of their influence, the culture they thrive in (or not), and personal development.
Every week, Grammarly https://app.grammarly.com/ sends me a progress report and encourages me to keep on writing. My current status is ‘Philosopher” and in October I managed to write 48,000 words. That’s the reason I’m not always active on WordPress, on any Social Media platform. I am, however, always touched when my followers like my posts or comments. Thank you for that.
As a writer, I’m familiar with the rejection process. When I submit I float on that cloud that maybe, just maybe, this is the submission that will be recognized. That glimmer of hope floats until that email arrives that holds the power to change everything.
The Spanish Flu was tragically given an erroneous name. Spain wasn’t the origin of the devastating influenza strain, but Spanish newspapers acted as the first messengers when the pandemic competed with the tragic events of WW1. Because of military censorship, countries involved in WW1 prohibited the release of vital information, which may have contributed to catapulting the flu to epic proportions. The flu crippled the entire world, ravaging bodies from 1918 to 1920 and decades to come. No reliable data can determine the origin, yet some truths regarding this catastrophic pandemic remain relevant today.
In Canada, the H1N1 influenza A, or Spanish Flu, strain took the lives of 55,000 people who competed for grave plots with the 60,000 soldiers who fell in WW1. This international pandemic also took 675,000 US citizens to their grave. In New York alone, 19,000 people died from complications associated with this lethal strain. In total, this flu claimed 40 – 50 million bodies. Some experts even suggest a number as high as 100 million. As records indicate, 500 million people became infected during four ferocious waves, making the Spanish Flu one of (if not the most) deadliest pandemic in human history.
Every writer needs validation. We may kid ourselves and say we write for our well-being, but the truth is, most of us write because something in our ‘soul’ propels us to do so. And it’s impossible to argue with our inner self; we are deeply biased.
I come to the writing process the hard way. When I was a kid, I dreamed of working in the cosmetic industry. I enjoyed a great career and still miss all those fabulous freebies. In college, I was introduced to some amazing ladies: Jane Austen, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, and Virginia Woolf. Meeting those ladies sent me on a journey to read just about every Penguin Classic novel ever written because my dear Jane’s collection is relatively meager. I chewed my way through: Tolstoy’s War and Peace (Twice, once for the characters and the second to really understand the war portion) Hardy, Thackeray, Dickens, Eliot, Hawthorne, Fielding, Cleland, Collins, Steinbeck, Twain, and Harper Lee all the way to Dostoyevsky among many others. Finally, I hit a roadblock when I tried to tackle Cervantes and failed. Although I didn’t know it at the time, reading the Classics prepared me for something despite not understanding the journey.
For most people, the prairies inspire feelings of boredom. The vast landscape of nothing, the images of flat land, and endless poker-straight roads are not appealing. Most people crave the scenic beauty of mountains, the sun glaring off the sand at some ocean resort in the tropics, or the hubbub of metropolitan flair.
But the Canadian Prairies are so much more than that, and seeing this landscape amidst the fall harvest puts it in a new light. Leaving Calgary on the new ring road takes us quickly away from the city, and we enter the countryside. Our destination is Mantario, Saskatchewan. A bleep on the radar, population (2011) is 5, yet it has its own Wikipedia page. We immediately taste the prairie landscape as we travel the lesser highways and appreciate the blue sky, populated with sheep-clouds as a reference point. Soon, we encounter massive farms, Hutterite operations with silver silos that twinkle in the sunshine. Before we reach our first stop, Drumheller, we pull over. With the window rolled down, I ask two farmers who are chatting, undoubtedly, about the best harvest in the history of mankind, in the middle of nowhere, leaning against their big trucks. “Is there a McDonald’s around here?” They laugh, and appreciate the joke and point us toward Drumheller, the last chance for gas, and the burly man jokes, “there’s a McDonald’s, a Tim Horton’s.”
Despite arguing against it, most of us are affected, afflicted, and impacted by the internet and its child prodigy: Social Media. Even those who sneer at Social Media with disdain and refuse to surf the gigantic internet waves championed by AI forces, must submit that technology is a revolutionary tool destined to stay and there is no escape. Refute technology and progress if you will, but humanity is attached to the sticky substance of the web and is entrapped in the process. Blindly, yet willfully, we are maneuvered like puppets, and our shallow lives are starting to resemble those of Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984.
On the other side of our device’s screen, be it an Apple, or Google, or Smartphone, or Microsoft, someone is commanding how we think, move, shop, vote, eat and even decide how we inform ourselves. And those conglomerates aren’t in it for the good of humanity. It’s a business, first and foremost, that wants a piece of our money and even our soul. Every contingent of our lives is ruled by the wide-reaching net called the World Wide Web (WWW).
Last summer, I had the pleasure of experiencing three wonderful months living in England, and, I adored every day and every minute experience with Britain’s friendly people. But there was one minor interaction that puzzled me. The question: You alright? (often followed with dear) insert favorite British accent here.
My first instinct was to check myself? Do I look ill? Is there something on my face? Am I covered in blood? But it turns out it is just their quaint phrasing of, How are you?
Frankly, it’s surprising. Since the beginning of time, some version of ‘people’ has been roaming this extraordinary planet. Estimate for human existence is at roughly 3.2 million years old, subject for an everchanging debate, yet, the question of what to eat, when to eat, or how to eat is still on the table—untouched. Is the answer lost in the fact that people have been roaming for so long that they misplaced the original instruction manual and became complacent? While eating is a complex issue, it doesn’t have to be.
What is fascinating is that as people, passion for food literally consumes them. They want to prepare it, share it, ‘you must eat something,’ and it ties them socially into a fabric; each culture weaves their own pattern. It’s the one common thread they can agree to, even if the question of what sort of culinary delight tangles the weaver.
For this article’s intent, let’s glimpse our North American and European eating habits. Many cultures exist which still consume a diet closely related to their ancestral roots. This is not about vegetarianism, veganism, keto, paleo, Atkins, or the many other so-called best diet regimes. This is speaking in terms of culture and ancestry. It’s no secret that people have conflicting theories on this continent about diet, exercising in correlation to health. If people ate what was suggested, …well, it explains the state of their health reflected in their bodies. Confusion is rampant. What should they put into their mouths?
Clasping his grandson’s small hand, Pierre led the way around the soft bend in the lane, around the outcropping of trees rustling in the breeze, and away from the Sunday church crowd, gathered on a picturesque Normandy landscape.
“There,” he pointed.
He watched his grandson strain on his tippy-toes to find the marker in the green field that had been embedded not in the soil, but Pierre’s memory. Pierre’s eyes glistened, as always, he had just stepped backward in time to July 13, 1944, a day tattooed with the ink of blood in his mind. He lifted the child in his arms, held him close, and inconspicuously wiped his tears. The boy didn’t need to see that.
“I was standing right about here,” Pierre spun them around, “when the airplane fell from the sky. A plume of black smoke spiraled across the sky. We’d been listening to the dogfight among the clouds. It was hot that day, and I hoped that any second the pilot would bring the nose up and land safely in the field.”
Jack Spencer made a fatal mistake. One that landed him in the Pacific, literally without a paddle. As he struggles to survive the elements that the perilous blue throws at him, Jack comes to terms with the truth. He’s guilty. The most prevalent mistake: an affair with the woman about to marry his best friend. But does the punishment of being set adrift on the ocean warrant the crime? Only he can answer, only one person can save him.
As soon as Myra Spencer reaches Hawaii, her senses shift into overdrive. Her son, Jack, is missing. But everyone downplays his vanishing act and evades the truth. Hints suggest too much of a good thing as rumors of a mysterious beauty surface followed by copious amounts of booze before a wedding that will never take place. But as his mother, Myra knows better. Jack’s in trouble. Only she has no way to prove it—other than the suspicions her heart dictates.
Dumbfounded, Kai Hale holds the paddle belonging to his missing canoe in hand. The canoe is his lifeline to make amends with mounting debt. Slowly Kai’s life collides with the Spencers, and the reality of Jack’s disappearance is tied to his canoe.
But why? That is the question everyone is desperate to answer.
What Jack can’t know is that he’s on course with destiny. A path that leads him to an island and people who await his arrival. An island not charted on anyone’s map. The truth changes everything.
( What Jack can’t know is that someone close to him is out for revenge.)