… a little encouragement goes a long way

… I returned home today at noon after a marvellous weekend writers’ retreat and workshop with author Joan Clark and a number of my good and close writer friends. Joan is writer-in-residence (until this spring) at UNB, where she offers counsel and encouragement to the university’s students. The weekend event was not a student one but was for the benefit of the wider community.

… Joan took us through our paces by having each participant submit a few pages of their work, to be read and critiqued both by her and by the rest of the group. I was hesitant about how my story would be received, but I was not to worry. In spite of the rigorous going-over it was given, I came away from that session, and indeed from the whole weekend, having gained and grown much as a writer.

… next time – and there will be a next time – it will be Ana who gets to go. But that’s okay because I’m still delighting in my great and good fortune of being able to take a place in Gerry Beirne’s third year level Creative Writing course.

… all in all, this winter has been my season, not of discontent but of pleasure and satisfaction.

… it’s all about the temperature of a female medium’s frontal region

… well how do you like this weather, eh? The air is more than cold enough, but the wind could kill you to death. Remind me to come back and read this on July 13th.

… so this morning, according to someone writing in the Glob & Nail, “NHL fans are all the way back”. And I guess that’s true. But let me take a deeper gander at that, and make a revolutionary suggestion. Why not take note of the fact and start the regular NHL season AFTER Christmas (as happened this year through no fault of anyone). It would make a lot of sense really. If the regular season is reduced to something around fifty games, it will in actuality, be a season-long run to the playoffs. Fans would enjoy games which are so ‘important’ that the silliness – crap after the whistle, head-hunting, useless fist fights – simply wouldn’t happen. Teams and coaches couldn’t afford it. Also, the fall would be returned to the fans to enjoy the NFL and the run-up to the holiday time of year.

… am I in my creative writing class or not. The teacher says I am; that all I need do is reapply to the university. The university says I’m already enrolled. This little merry-go-round has been turning and turning ever since the course began. Maybe if it isn’t settled by the time the course is finished, I’ll just say “No Thanks”.

… the week this far

- first, after sleeping on it, I want to give the last words about the great session yesterday in class. One of my stories, one I had thought highly of, was on the table for group discussion. I was excited about the possibilities and thrilled about the experience. And I was not disappointed. I received the beautiful comeuppance, i.e. my story was revealed in its short-comings in such a positive way that I was invited to ‘come up’ along with it, to raise up the story to a better level and in so doing, to rise up as a better writer. It’s all about why I enrolled in this class.

- but that was not the only things on my mind this week.

- I’ve been on record as holding highly critical views of ‘hockey’ as it is played in the pro ranks. I was satisfied that there was no season of the NHL this year, but when it returned I thought I’d watch the first game just to make sure I was still on the right track. I certainly was … and am. Before the first period was over, viewers were asked to watch and endure another needless occurrence of senseless violence – a staged fight which had nothing to do with nor added anything to the unfolding of the game itself. My suggestion is that all those people who like and expect this sort of thing should begin a new sport with a new name, launch a new corresponding league, and allow those of us who enjoy hockey to reclaim that benefit of being a Canadian.

- Fredericton city officials announced plans to take away the right to turn right on red lights at a few downtown intersections. Expectedly, people have made all sorts of comments about the idea. The only one I’ve heard which makes any sense at all is this: if there is a problem with pedestrian safety at intersections because of the current practice, then stop the practice – everywhere. If it’s necessary to do it in some places, and if that in itself will cause immediate confusion, solve the problem once and for all and make it illegal everywhere. If the pedestrian problem lessens, keep it illegal; if not, return the city to the current situation.

- city traffic gurus again. There’s never a week goes by that we don’t have the requisite discussion of city traffic patterns and bad drivers on CBC. But even in mid-winter we have the opportunity to speak about one such circumstance yet to occur. The city has erected a new traffic sign on the Golf Club Road, to be there when the season begins. The sign is diamond shaped, and depicts golfers and golf carts. Since it is a yellow sign, it simply means take note, be aware that there are likely to be golfers in the vicinity. Sensible really, considering the presence of the golf course which crosses the road. But I just know that when the golfers appear in late spring, drivers will begin to stop and allow golfers to cross the road in front of them. That however is NOT what the sign says, nor is it what the sign requires. As I said, it simply asks that drivers be cautious of the presence of golfers and golf carts. If the city wanted to indicate vehicles were required to stop for golfers, the sign would be a white crosswalk sign, with an arrow pointing down. I can hardly wait to find out how many people will misunderstand yet another aspect of driving on the roads and streets of this city.

… it only gets better

… once again I have descended on your free time, asking only that you feel free to read anything you find here which grabs you and won’t let go.

… I mentioned last week that I had attended the second class of the creative writing course at UNB. Today I did the same, and received the great news that I have been moved from waiting list to full class member. So I’ll carry out the full fourteen week course.

… I want to tell you that after three weeks I can point to concrete examples of where I have learned things, been exposed to things, been challenged by things I had never considered previously. I have already found this course to be all the things I expected it would be when I set out a few years ago to find a way to enrol in such a study.

… today one of my stories was up for discussion. (It was distributed during the past week.) I had ‘finished’ it enough already to submit it to a local writing journal for consideration. This was after it had been read by a local author, and been thoroughly examined by my writers’ group, Fictional Friends. In both of those cases, I was encouraged to make that submission.

… but oh how we can assure ourselves something is finished. At today’s class ( the third year students are of such a tender age – median would be twenty one I would guess), my story was seen for what it is – a raw piece of ore out of which it may be possible to craft a good short story. I say this not because I am filled with false humility, but because of how impressed I was with the class – with the insight of those kids, and of how easily I took their correction and came away determined to continue work on that story.

… now my worry is that if I am intent on carrying on with that amount of work with all my short stories, when will I ever get the time to continue with the two novels I also have under construction. I feel young again.

… don’t just keep me out of it; don’t do it in the first place

… I walked down the street yesterday, something I don’t do often, now that I’m retired from working in that area. As I made my way, I heard parts and pieces of a conversation between two people only a few feet behind me. The two, a man and a woman, both young bureaucracy types, were discussing the happenings at a meeting they’d attended at the Finance Minister’s office. It wasn’t difficult to hear; they were in full voice and certainly not trying to keep anything sotto voce. But there was traffic noise, the sounds of the street, and I couldn’t hear everything they said.

… what I did hear disturbed me. And it appeared, disturbed the man as well. The gist of their discussion was that a community group had approached the finance minister’s office looking for support for some event or other. In the course of that appeal, the response was a two-edged one. At one and the same time, the minister wanted to offer support. He wanted to be kept away from an association with the event itself so that anything which might go sour could not be turned back on him, but he had a burning desire to make one condition imperative on the financial offering. The event must be seen as supportive of ‘family values’.

… the man telling the story told the woman he was slightly shocked at this remark, but when he confirmed it later with the minister’s aide, he was gob-smacked. The aide told him the minister has absolutely no intention of seeing any of the money given used for ‘gay pride’.

… I assume the minister is Blaine Higgs.

… it’s only fair

… my daughter gave me a Kindle e-reader for Xmas, and I love it – at least for now. In today’s paper, I read a story about two (more) independent bookstores closing down.

… as for my Kindle, for the past few days, I have been downloading sample after sample taken from any number and variety of books, not so much to get the flavour of the writing as to resist the actual act of purchasing something over the Internet. (Shudder!) And now, as I work my way through these snippets, my longing for the full meal deal is being progressively tweaked. I’m sure I’ll break down soon, dive into the deep end of the web and buy at least one of these books.

… but what will that mean to my local bookstore? At last fall’s gathering of the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick, I discovered that publishers – at least in Canada – are aware of the writers’, and many others’, concern over the hard times independents are going through, a problem to be laid not primarily but certainly at the feet of the ‘e-reader’. One representative of the industry told us of a very interesting and hopeful idea. She said that sometime in the near future shoppers will go to the bookstore, peruse the shelves, then access a barcode pasted underneath their selection. The barcode will then actuate a purchase for their e-reader, and the bookstore will get a percentage of the sale. It may work; it may not. But anything’s worth a try.

… what I propose for myself is much more simple. My New Year’s resolution is this: for every book I buy for my Kindle, I will go to the local bookstore and buy another from them. It’s only fair.

… at long last

… we have arrived. It’s now officially 2013 and I resolve to experience the full year, day by day. To that end, I would like to promise as many of these delicious posts as there are spaces to fill. I’d like to promise that, but making rash promises is not the best practice in a life such as mine. So I’ll simply say that you should watch this space on occasion to see if something more has been said.

… it’s not all there is

… I’ve been a member of the Coop for more than thirty five years. My wife and I joined just after we were married. We did so not only because it was a way of saving a bit of money as we embarked on a long term family life and process, but also because we believed in the ideals which had brought about the Cooperative movement back in the 1930′s.

… Fr. Moses Coady explained to depression-era farmers, fishermen, woods workers etc. how joining forces could ensure them a secure and hopefully better return on their efforts from the business leaders with whom they dealt.

… the Coop stores of our experience have operated on similar principles, believing that the buying power of many members can result in better prices. It worked for a time, but in the end many Coop stores have had to close or change their ways to compete with other retailers. That is a depressing and disappointing fact which causes me grief. But as long as there are Coop stores to support and be part of, I will continue to be a member.

… this fall at our Coop store, at the end of our regular members appreciation week sale, even lower prices were offered for the dismal reason of competing with what is called “Black Friday” in the US. It isn’t surprising really, when you consider the wholesalers and distributors have for years demanded the Coop become a buyer just like all the newcomer box-stores. Still it marked for me, a very sad day.

… today is Boxing Day, and I had occasion to drive my daughter and her friend to the friend’s house. On the way, the friend, who recently lived in Ontario, let it be known how surprised she was that the stores were closed here. She wondered why they wouldn’t be engaged in Boxing Day sales like in Ontario (and of course, in the States). Why should they be open, I asked, and she mumbled something about this being the Bible Belt.

“Boxing Day has nothing to do with religion”, I told her. “It’s a statutory holiday.” I thought it was everywhere in Canada. Then she went on to tell me that in her experience the stores were open at eight or nine o’clock in the morning on Sundays, just like every other day. Clearly she can’t get it out of her mind the reason it’s different here in N.B. is because of the church.

… the bottom line for me is that religion has nothing to do with it. I asked her, and I will ask all of you, is there no possibility that in our society, we can set aside a common time during the week when no buying and selling is conducted? Can we not as a community, make it clear to all concerned that society is not based solely on business? Is it not true that commerce is only one part of life, not the be-all and end-all?