Category Archives: Writing

What I learned from my aunt

In honour of my aunt’s 80th birthday, I’m re-posting a piece from a few years ago. Blessings to her again!

A woman on guitar beside a toddler on piano
Aunt Erma and my daughter entertain – 1997

My Aunt Erma celebrates a birthday today. She is a strong woman in a family of strong women. I’m proud to say that when the women in our family have an idea or a purpose, stand back.

From her I learned:

  • How to be authentic – You might not agree with my Aunt Erma’s opinions on any given matter, but you can be certain to know what they are. She never puts on airs or hides her true feelings behind a façade of false politeness. I admire her forthright approach to life and the authentic soul I see because of it.
  • How to tell a tale – My aunt has had many stories published in the local paper, and her writing group—The Henscratchers—published a book. I appreciate her ability to capture life in a story or a poem.
  • How to weather a storm – She has had more than her share of uncommon heartbreaking events in her life—the kind that knock you off your feet for more than a few days. I respect her strength and resilience in bouncing back, picking herself up and carrying on.
  • How to entertain a whole room – Give my Aunt Erma a guitar and some elbow room, and she’ll happily provide the songs for the night. She and her sisters (including my mother) have sung together at community events. I envy her enthusiastic ability to sing out without inhibition.
  • How to teach with calm assurance – My aunt was the kind of teacher who kept order in the classroom and expected the best from her students. She’s petite, so her authority came from her manner, not her stature.

There’s a whole lot of power packed into a diminutive woman in my Aunt Erma. I would say that she’s like her mother in that regard (my grandmother), but I’m not sure she’d like that. .

Like all strong women, she might have ruffled some feathers over the years. More than one person might have shaken their head and said, “Oh, that Erma . . .”

If I can live authentically, inspire with calm assurance, weather life’s storms with strength, live to tell the tale and entertain a whole room with songs, then I will be happy to ruffle a few feathers along my own way.

Book Cover for Pick of the Crop by the Henscratchers
The book published by her writing group.

Teenager creativity: Poetry month

The public library where I work is attached to a high school. The students come and go around us every day.

Today’s teenagers are something else. They are open and honest about aspects of life I either didn’t understand when I was their age, or wouldn’t have talked about with anyone. Sometimes I need to hold on to something to regain my balance when I catch some of their conversations.

They’re also freely creative. For poetry month, we set up a poetry station.

I love the art they created—en anglais et en français in Ottawa, Canada.

This one is good advice for anyone, most days.

Poem: May you should chill out.

Maggie’s birthday, and the Montreal Expos

This morning I checked the date and thought, “It’s Maggie’s birthday!”

I laughed at myself then, because Maggie isn’t real. Well, that’s not true. She’s real to me.

She’s a character in a novel I’m writing. She was born in Shea Stadium on the day the Montreal Expos played their first game—fifty years ago today, April 8, 1969. The place and time of her birth determine her destiny: She is the female entrepreneur who brings back the Montreal Expos.

Some people say baseball is life, and I would agree. That’s why so many of our day-to-day expressions (clichés) come from the game: step up to the plate, go down swinging, cover all the bases, throw a curve ball, swing for the fences, or better yet, knock it out of the park. I’m just spitballing here, and maybe you think it’s a screwball idea coming out of left field and that I’m way off base—you can touch base with me about that later—but if you’re a heavy hitter who plays hardball, even if you occasionally strike out, soon it’s a whole new ball game.

I could go on.

Life Lessons from Dead Women (working title) is about baseball and life. Some of Maggie’s life lessons include:

Hot dog buns make excellent pillows.

Damage helps us get a grip.

Wrong is right and right is wrong, but it’s all right.

Curious . . .? I hope so.

Expos baseball cap and jersey with number 8
My Gary Carter jersey. Gary Carter’s birthday was also April 8.

I was alive at the time the Expos played that first game against the New York Mets, but I don’t remember it. I know that my father would have had his nose up to the TV. He was a baseball fan in general and an Expos fan in particular. He taught all of us the game, and led us on trips to Jarry Park to watch them play. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the bleachers and watching the great Rusty Staub warm up.

I don’t remember the game, but I’ll have a chance to listen to it. TSN 690 Radio in Montreal is replaying the original broadcast at 7:00 p.m. EDT, April 8.

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/schedule

Boy at bat
My favourite Expos player: My son, Ben, age 8, during his first trip to the plate.
Steve Rogers signed baseball
Steve Rogers was pretty good too.

Happy 50th birthday, Montreal Expos. And Maggie.

Beating the Odds

I swear I didn’t plan this.

Sometimes when words won’t flow, I use a writing prompt. One of those prompts involves finding a certain page, in a certain book, on a certain shelf.

“Top shelf, third book from the right, page 56.”

I went to my office and looked at the top shelf. Among other books were some that contain short stories of mine. “Huh, what are the odds that the third book to the right is one of those?” I asked myself.

I counted and the Blood Is Thicker anthology, which contains one of my short stories, was third from the right. “That’s pretty amazing,” I thought, “but what are the odds that my story is on page 56?”

I opened the book and flipped to the right page. Yep. My story was there.

The line that stood out: “NOTE TO SELF: Those are pretty good odds.”

The title of my story?

Beating the Odds

I guess I’m supposed to write that even if something seems unlikely, if you set yourself in motion, you might beat the oddsand have a laugh while you’re at it.

Title page of the short story "Beating the Odds"

Life as sacred pipe

“I raise the pipe of my being to the rising sun in openness and humility.”

Richard Wagamese in Embers

About a month ago, I participated in a book study about Richard Wagamese’s beautiful book Embers. That night the leader asked us to pick a line at random and answer a series of questions. The line at the top of the page was my line.

What words does it bring to mind? 

The sacred pipe in Wagamese’s First Nation context is the pipe shared in a circle as part of community. It brought to mind blessing, cleansing, centering, sharing and accepting each other in community.

What does it remind you of? 

It reminded me of the Hafiz quote from my last post and the poem I wrote for Jessie. “I am the hole in a flute that God’s breath moves through.”  

What does it call you to do?

It calls me to be an instrument for co-creating using what nature provides. Using matter–the science–to create a beautiful story.

If I am a sacred pipe, I am blessing, cleansing, centering, sharing and accepting others in community. Passed from person to person in a circle,  never-ending, with respect and with intention.

That was my line, brought to my attention just weeks before Jessie died. I send you out into the day to find your line. Choose a book you love, pick a line at random.

What words does it bring to mind? What does it remind you of? What does it call you to do?

Thinking our way to true self

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” 

Eleanor Roosevelt

“Can you eat an apple by yourself?”

That was the question asked of the children gathered at the front of the church. All of them nodded. Yes, eating an apple was an easy thing for them to do. 

“Could you always do that, or did you have to learn?” 

Roxanne Goodman, a performance instructor in popular voice with Carleton University, started her presentation with those questions. I think she wanted all of us — children and adults — to think and learn and honour our potential.

Every day she works with people who tell her they want to develop stronger, more beautiful voices. The problem is, she says, that those same people don’t have a good perception of their voice at the time. 

In other words, they want to “eat an apple” but they haven’t yet, and they’re sure they’ll never do it as well as Ella Fitzgerald, Lady Gaga, or Elton John.  

She shared a story from her own life to help us on our path to understanding. When she was a young woman she sang a solo in her church. After the performance a gentleman said to her, “You have such a beautiful voice.”

“It’s okay. It’s all right,” she replied. 

Hearing that, he said, “Tell me, am I the only person who’s ever said this to you?”

“Oh no, people tell me that all the time.”

“Do you think that we are all lying to you?” he said. 

After that she asked herself: if she was wrong about her ability as a singer, what else was she wrong about? What else could she do that she was telling herself she couldn’t do?

She started from there, with a new belief that she had a beautiful voice. She studied to learn the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out.

She made lots of mistakes and learned from those too. 

She believes that anyone can learn to sing from their true voice if they do two things: 

  • Appreciate what they already have; believe in the beauty of their voice.
  • Sing from the depth of their being, their essence. 

She pointed out that Eleanor Roosevelt didn’t say we must do the thing we cannot do, but the thing we think we cannot do. 

We sometimes think our way out of facing fears and opening ourselves up to the next step. 

We can also think our way to our true self. 

I apply Roxanne’s lessons to writing: appreciating the beauty of my writing voice, learning the technical aspects and how to get the emotion out, making lots of mistakes, and allowing myself to be vulnerable enough to let my readers see me. 

Can you eat an apple? What else can you do that you’ve been telling yourself you can’t?

Start with one bite. 


Listen to what she had to say: http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Reflection-181118.mp3

Visit Roxanne’s website: www.confidencebooster.ca

Go to the Big Soul Project Christmas concert: Saturday, December 8

Start with one bite.