Serpent’s teeth and the brilliance of Shakespeare

db-0100I hated reading Shakespeare as I grew up. The language seemed difficult, the concepts dry and old. I was, of course, ignorant. And a philistine. Now I know better, and am continually gobsmacked by what Shakespeare was able to contain in his works.

I wonder who I was when I was younger – so sure of myself, so sure I knew things, terrified of being caught out yet pushing my way through, singing “Whistle a Happy Tune” and “You’ll never walk alone” to keep my chin up – but as an old friend said, it WAS up. Though I knew nothing, and inside I knew I knew nothing. I knew enough to fake it til I made it, just about. So I did.

I blame my mother. She told us we were special, and though we never really believed it, we carried it around. My adopted aunt once gave me a book which had a marvelous poem in it about “Mary-Alice”, who had great potential, and because she was so afraid of losing that potential, she kept it hidden under her bed in a very secure box and got it out now and again to look at it but never showed it to anyone.

That poem has haunted my entire life. Thanks, Aunt Shirlianne. (Love her so much, and there’s no reason she should have expected that that poem would have such an effect on me). Between my mother assuring me I was meant to do great things and my aunt inflicting overly wise poetry on me, I was and probably still am, a mess. I figure I still have to contribute – have to have an effect on the world, have to use my potential before it vanishes like Mary-Alice’s.


It’s encouraging in one way, terrifying in another. Here I am, gently losing my mind with the cognitive effects of MS, and I am flogging myself to write, to agitate, to exercise, to model healthy behaviour, blah blah blah. Add in a generous dose of Roman Catholic guilt and it’s almost unbearable in here. Wine helps. And chocolate.

Sad thing is, I seem to have visited it upon my kids, this same sense of “you have great gifts and you’d better use them to better the world or else”. It’s a lot of pressure, and I didn’t mean to make their lives the same living ratrace mentally that I spin upon, but I did.

So now they have secret lives, and are afraid to tell me their plans and are snarky at me so they don’t have to feel that I am judging them.

Which, of course, I am NOT. Funny thing about parenting. That unconditional love thing is the code.You get it through the umbilical cord, I think. So I don’t care what they do, though of course I would be sad if they got arrested or hurt somebody or sat about being unhappy and unfulfilled. But then I think they wouldn’t like that, either, so I assume we are on the same page, sort of. Maybe.

I have to guess, though, because, like those ungrateful children in Shakespeare, two out of my three wonderful offspring speak rarely to me. It hurts me, yes it does. I’m sure they have reasons to avoid me, and it’s pretty much due me as I recall I kind avoided my mother for a spell, and still argue with her though she is 24 years gone. I guess I also passed on the serpent’s tooth.

In a way, it’s good – I raised my kids to be independent, questioning individuals, and so they are. Just wish a bit that they’d be a little less questioning of me, sometimes.

Ah well, at least when we DO talk, they are interesting, witty, intelligent, and worth the wait. Perhaps you can’t have that without the tooth…


First entry, #NYCMidnightflashchallenge, a.k.a. “The Grand Derangement”

It had to be historical fiction, in a secret bunker, and involve a bag of coins. So here goes:

Picard - 4The Grand Derangement

Synopsis: In 1758, the British expelled thousands of French Acadiens from their farmlands in Nova Scotia to places all over the eastern coastline, separating families and allowing many to die. Anastasie, her daughter Marie-Madeleine, and her cousin Marie-Josée are sent to freezing George’s Island with two hundred other women and children and must use their wits to survive.

Marie-Madeleine shivered and tugged her scarf more tightly around her thin shoulders. “Maman? Why won’t the soldiers let us inside? It’s freezing!”

Anastasie Bourq pulled her daughter in closer. “They say they don’t have space in the barracks, Marie-Madeleine. I only hope they will send your father back soon so he can speak to them in their English.”

It was November 30, 1760, and the Bourqs and two hundred other Acadien women and children shivered on the slopes of Île a la Raquette, what the English called George’s Island, after their king. The only man with them, the Abbé Francois le Guerre, had managed a warm berth in one of the warehouses – not comfortable for sure, but better than out here on the wind-swept ground.

Anastasie remembered well when the English soldiers had pulled them from their churches, how they had taken her husband, Joseph, and the men, and sent the women and children to this island. Already twenty were dead from exposure.

Anastasie’s cousin, Marie-Josée, spoke some English and went to the Barracks, seeking warmth. She had been gone for days when Anastasie heard her shouting at them across the field.

“I thought that was you.” Marie-Josée hugged her cousin. She looked demented, her clothing torn and dirty, her eyes and hair wild.“You know, you can get warm anytime you want, Anna, you just have to be nice to the right fellow.” She grinned, wobbled.

“ Marie-Josée – you’re married! What of your Jean? And the Abbé! What does he think?”

Marie-Josée waved her hand. “The Abbé is drunk – hasn’t been awake for more than an hour for days and awake he is worse about grabbing my ass than the soldiers. And didn’t you hear? Our men were already expelled, on some ship headed somewhere. We’ll never see them again.” She coughed, wiped her nose. She brightened. “But I can help you. I brought food – the men bring it to pay. It may hold you until they bring the ships for us. Unless you want to come in? There’s lots of work …”

Anastasie shuddered. “Non, merci. But the food would be welcome.”

Marie-Josée nodded and put down a bundle tied in a ragged cloth. “I can get more, cousine. This is all I could take with them watching. And, Anastasie, I hear the soldiers talking. There are bunkers all over the island. If you find one, maybe you will be warmer, heh? But lookout for pirates. They shelter there, too.” She turned away. “Bonne chance, Anastasie. See you when the boats come.”

Anastasie spoke to the other frozen women and children on the field. A few came to search with Anastasie and Marie-Madeleine.

“Let’s go, bébé. Perhaps we can find a warm place to hide from the wind.”

They walked around the front of the island, the side facing the ocean, away from Halifax harbour. The wind burned their faces, but there were no soldiers.

Marie-Madeleine called out. “Look, maman! There’s a hole in the hill!”

There was – a dark cave that pointed right out to sea. Anastasie poked her head in, to discover it was a long, curving bunker which seemed to run right around the island. Little holes dug through the wall allowed some light, and she could see several doors, but there were no other people inside. She called the others and they flooded in. As the wind lessened, families spread out along the bunker. Anastasie and Marie-Madeleine sat alone; their only kin were the men, gone now, and Marie-Josée, up with the soldiers. They found a dark corner and ate Marie-Josée’s cheese and bread and dried meat. Afterward, Marie-Madeleine fell asleep against the wall, wrapped in her scarf and finally warm. Anastasie explored the bunker, stepping carefully in the gloom. At the farthest end in the darkest place, as she ran her hands along the wall, she felt a spot of loose crumbly dirt. Curious, she dug at it. In the back of the hollowed out space she touched a cloth bag. When she pulled, out tipped out heavy circles. Coins.

Anastasie sat down against the wall with a thud. Saved!

She opened the seam of her dress hem here and there, pushing the coins in, working in the dark. She had to keep them secret. They had their families; she was alone. When she had them all hidden, she woke her daughter.

“Come, bébé. We must tell more about this place.”

They walked back to the encampment and called to the others, leading them to the bunker. Warmed, the families started to talk to each other about their expulsion and the loss of their land. They wept and raged, prayed and sang. They shared food and clothing as they had before. Once the Abbé visited, but not for long.

Anastasie kept her coins hidden. There was nothing to purchase, anyway, except with her body. Finally the soldiers came and shoved them back to the field.

“Look, Marie-Madeleine! The boats are here!”

“Will we see Papa?”

“Merci Dieu, I hope so.” Anastasie’s heart soared.

The women cheered at the sign of the boats, crossed themselves.

“At last we will be free from this frozen land. I hope we go south,” a woman said. Her fingers were so frostbitten her daughter had to dress her.

They loaded eagerly onto the boats, except for Marie-Josée, who begged to stay behind. Perhaps she’d overheard the soldiers. After two days of heaving waves and sickness, they landed further north instead, in snow-covered Cape Breton. The men were not there.

Anastasie’s coins let her rent a tiny room in Sydney, keeping she and Marie-Madeleine alive until the boats came again to take them to New Orleans. There they found that their men had been recaptured, to repair their dykes and farms. None of the English knew how, and they needed food.

Anastasie counted her coins. Perhaps she had enough for their passage back. Back to Acadie, and Joseph.


Gentlemen and ladies, start your engines…

zieglerwriterdeadlineOnce again, I’m trying my hand at the #NYCMidnight Flash Fiction Contest. It’s a bit insane, given that I have officially “given up writing” (see previous blog entry), but there’s something oddly compelling about a contest with a very short deadline, given parameters, and a small word count, even for we procrastinator types.

See, in the contest, you are sorted into heats, given a genre, a location, and an object to work into your story. This time they are allowing some freedom about the genre definition, but really really want the location to figure prominently in your story. There are hundreds of people competing in the contest, which has several rounds; people gradually get winnowed out and tossed to the four winds until the last round where you compete against maybe a hundred people from around the world for the last fast fast entry.

As for me, well, I’m procrastinating. What else would you expect? I was given the genre “Historical Fiction” and a location and object that I don’t find particularly inspiring to my creative mind (plus I am not a fan of historical fiction genres unless they are very well-done and I can guarantee 1000 words is not going to be enough to do a good job). So I’ve been researching, looking into ideas that I can pluck from my local area and inhabit with people.

Right now I’m thinking of George’s Island (sometimes without an apostrophe), a little drumlin in the harbour in Halifax that has been used for defence since the first inhabitants landed here. It’s nicely situated in the middle of the harbour, with commanding shooting lines to cover any entry to the landing spots themselves.

The island has been used as a fort, as a prison, as a party locale(recently), a provincial park, and also, alas, as a parking place for many of the Acadians expelled in the Grand Derangement. It’s a windy spot, always, and tales of the poor women and children left there in November of 1756 give me the chills. The Brits didn’t treat the Acadians well, to put it lightly, tossing around 10,000 of them out of the Maritimes and leaving them to freeze and die on boats and in the water and on George’s Island (until they needed them to repair the excellent farmland dykes the Acadians built that were broken down and so they allowed a few of the men back). True, it was wartime. True, the French and Mi’kmaq were winning battles and scalping people and some of the Acadians were right in there fighting the Brits, despite some of their neighbours swearing non-combat oaths. But so many died with the expulsions that the shame was great enough to alter the course of Canadian history.

Longfellow made up Evangeline, and the rest, as they say, is history. Never deny a poet can move a country. Even if he’s never been for a visit to the place.

But enough of politics. Now I have to whip together a story involving these elements, make it read human, channel my inner Wolf Hall-ishness (hahaha), and come up with a readable short short story to send in by midnight tomorrow. Yikes!

On the very good side, we get feedback from our entries, and I can post my entry in the forum for other participant’s comments. Should be interesting…and who knows, maybe this will get me started writing for real again.

Or maybe, my apartment will just get really really really clean…


Featured Image -- 6047

Not a single story … but a real one nevertheless


I’m donating. Why not join me?

Originally posted on johnageddes:

I simply have to share this today.

My friends Heather Haynes and Cathy Cleary have recently returned from a trip to Congo where they have been helping a group of women who have had horrific experience with war and rape and disease and poverty. Cathy and Heather have immersed themselves in attempts to assist these women. I have watched a couple of their YouTube posts and must encourage you to do the same.

My experience in East Africa has taken me to places where poverty and the consequences of poverty have impacted many lives. Lack of opportunities for education or health care, no clean water to drink and no place to defecate except a field or behind a tree or in a plastic bag that is thrown to the railroad track that runs through the slum. This is poverty beyond what you can comprehend if you don’t see it. But…

View original 359 more words


Thats it, I’m done.

pallas-cat-manul-6__880I can’t do it anymore. I took a break, I tried again, I hated every minute. 

I’ve spent I don’t know how many dollars and hours taking writing courses over the years. I took them to learn the trade, to force the inspiration, to try to get closer to some real, for life publication. 

I’ve been published, for short things. I’ve won a prize or two. For short things. I’ve entered contests and placed. Again, for short things. I like the thrill of the dash, the lack of dreadful other stuff – the synopsis, the pleading cover letter, the explanation of WHY YOU ARE THE BEST PERSON to write this particular thing…all of that hangs over my head like a dead albatross, frozen, on a stick. I can’t face it. It is a powerful disincentive to write.

But that’s an excuse, really. The thing is, I’m missing the feeling in writing lately – that wonderful flow. You writers out there know what it’s like. It feels like walking with the gods, hand in hand with a muse. I laugh out loud when that happens, such is my joy.

I remember writing my first three day novel and laughing throughout. It was such FUN! My character took off and I raced behind her with my keyboard, trying to keep up.

There is such intense joy in such moments that it is impossible to continue when they aren’t there.

So I’ve talked with myself. I’ve bargained with myself. I know I can write, it’s not a self-confidence thing, I’m not depressed. I simply don’t want to. The world suddenly feels full of books to read and I think to myself there is no need to add mine to the pile – there are much more persistent sorts than me out there, people who will push, who need to push. 

I did all of that, in my work and in my parenting. I worked hard hard hard. I ended up disgracing myself with a breakdown caused by MS. I parented hard hard hard I played hard, too) – loved those three creatures with every cell in my being, and, well, they grow up. I exercised my way through bilateral knee replacements with MS to a recovery my own doctor finds amazing. I needle felted over 40 animals in the space of a month to raise money for MS.

So I know I can work hard. But I also know my time is more limited now. MS lurks in the shadows. To keep it at bay, I have to exercise every day. I have to rest, every day.

And in the remaining hours, I want to feel that joy, that flow. I find it when I am creating with my hands – building creatures, hooking rugs, constructing things, brewing beer, making bread, throwing pots, tactile things. Perhaps my MS brain has shifted me out of the word side, has pushed me into touch-based creations.

I remember going on a date with a fellow once – we went to Westport, ON, and as we walked along, I ran my hands along the stone buildings, feeling their texture. He wondered why. I couldn’t explain, but it was the same temptation that made me want to run my hands over his shoulders – he was a professional hammer thrower and his shoulders felt like warm granite, bulked with muscle I’d never before felt.

So I’m leaving the darkened corners of my head, that place where writing lurks and refuses to come out and play, and heading into the tactile light. 

Don’t be alarmed if I touch you.

I’m so popular!!!

twitter_follow_meGosh. My little heart is overwhelmed. Today I had three new people start following me on Twitter. I’ve got 532 followers now.

Makes my heart feel all warm and cuddled.

Except that 75% of these are either self-published authors who do nothing, nothing, nothing of interest except use the platform to advertise their books, or people who offer to help me promote my self-published book.

I don’t have a self-published book.

I may in the future, but you can bet your callused writing fingers that I won’t be hiring some shady Twitter creeper to help me market it. And I HAVE bought the occasional book from a twitter feed (see William Frederick), but that’s cos his twitter comments were funny, they made me snort coffee out of my nose, they engaged me and I wanted to read more of what he had to say. His book is a fun romp, too – I encourage y’all to check it out. And God. His/Her tweets are worth a read.

Oh, you social media people, do please stop to think about all the noise out there. People will not be enchanted by repeated entreaties to buy books. Tell them a story, tell them about you, make them look by doing something silly. Make it worth their while to spend the time with you.

As for my twitter friends, well, sorry if I’m not in touch with you all. I rarely tweet and if I do, it’s all about current events or things that grab my attention. Your multi-hashtags and repeated titles  – not so much.

See you on the inter webs.


Writing resistance

So, I’ve just realized a project I thought was nearly done is in fact, only halfway there.

It’s too short. It’s 24,000 words. It should be 35-40,000. I could weep.

I’m tempted to send it around as a novella and hope it gets published that way. But I’m also tempted to rewrite the entire thing and add bits to where it is thin and FIX it. It will take me a long time. But the story will have more depth, something that my wonderful writing mentor, Donna Morrissey, suggested when I was working with her thorough Humber’s School for Writers.

But I can’t help but wonder, is this a real need or is this resistance? I just finished reading the excellent The War of Art by Stuart Pressman. It’s filled with tales of how/why we procrastinate. The tune was familiar. I could probably play it on my ukulele. Let me just see…

But I digress.

I could also felt a scene to describe it. Let me try that…

The sad thing is that I set myself up for mocking as I procrastinate. Everyone is onto me now. Truth is, I find writing HARD. I enjoy it when I’m in the flow, but the flow is harder and harder to maintain. That’s why I can actually do the three day novel contest, but no way can make it through Nanowrimo.

I’m a 50 yard dasher. I always have been, even in school. I could run like the dickens for 50 yards, but my energy petered out for the long term. It wasn’t until I laboured for my daughter for 18 hours that I realized I had strength to endure, and it’s not like I had any choice in that.

So I fling myself into a writing jag and block out people but I can only maintain it for a while. Then I find my wandering eye sliding over to a neat art project or that pile of yarn or a book to read or a tune to play…and the flow is lost.

Resistance? ADD? Or am I just not suited to writing, after all?

Every time I start writing, I go through all of these doubts and then I realize how perfectly I’ve created a wall to doing it. I need to do what I’ve done before in all sorts of other areas and just shaddup and push on through.

From Writers Circle: