No Time Like the Present

“There’s no time like the present.”

That’s what my Scottish-born mother always said, along with other tried and true gems from days past like, “waste not, want not,” and “a stitch in time saves nine.”

My mother came to stay with us when my father died of a sudden stroke at the age of 78. They had lived on the other side of the country for ten years, since my father’s retirement, and keeping in touch had been relegated to weekly phone calls and biannual trips out west with the family to visit. So, I was ill-prepared for the person who shuffled across our threshold and bore a resemblance to my mother.

This person, while still unfailingly polite, caring, funny and wanting to help, couldn’t figure out how to use the microwave or TV remote (despite repeated instruction on both). She walked with her arms held stiffly at her sides instead of swinging freely. She spoke slowly, with the words slurred together. She was incapable of making herself a sandwich. Who was this person who at one time could put on a full Christmas dinner for ten people without batting an eye, and who could golf 18 holes three times a week without a cart?

After a cognitive assessment, she was diagnosed with vascular dementia related to her lifelong smoking habit. Perhaps my father had thought he was protecting me by not divulging my mother’s issues. Well, no one could protect me now.

The loss was immeasurable. Almost every day I discovered another diminishment in her abilities, and I admit that I struggled to accept this new reality. Perhaps the symptoms of dementia would go away if I ignored them. Perhaps she’d learn if I gave her the same instruction over and over. Neither worked and sometimes I raised my voice in frustration, fear and sadness, and I felt terrible afterward. A therapist once told me I was grieving the loss of the mother who raised me, which made sense and allowed me to give myself a break when it came to my lack of coping skills.

While I was busy (not) coming to terms with my mother’s illness, I was also trying to raise two teenage children. It seems like the universe’s colossal joke to not only be sandwiched between a frail parent and rebellious teens, but also suffering the vagaries of menopause. My brain was so addled, I didn’t know whether to run a lukewarm Epsom salts bath for my 16-year-old son or ground my 82-year-old mother in her room for smoking weed.

Thankfully, my full-time employer was flexible, and I could work from home a few days each week. On the days I went to the office, I had to make my mother’s lunch and put it in the fridge. To ensure she ate it, I also had to stick a bright yellow Post-it note on the fridge door: MUM’S LUNCH with an arrow pointing to the handle, and another Post-it had to go on the plastic wrapped sandwich plate. If she couldn’t locate her lunch, she didn’t eat.

The frailer my mother got, the more I worried when I wasn’t at home. She might fall down the stairs or try to light the gas stove and set the house on fire. I was grateful every night when I returned home to a house that wasn’t burned to the ground.

After seven years, her care became more than I could manage in my home, and we began to search for an alternative care situation. Looking back, I’m sure I should have made the move long before, but I wasn’t ready. I might not have been the most nurturing caregiver, but she was my mother and I didn’t want to fail her. I took a leave of absence from work to focus on my mother’s current and future needs.

There’s no time like the present, I thought, as we pulled up to a care home that had been recommended by one of my mother’s support workers. The place was small but homey. There were only 16 residents, each living in a private bedroom with a washroom on a single floor. They were also all women and suffering from various levels of dementia. The criteria for entry included non-violence and some level of independent mobility. Despite needing a walker to get around, my mother met these criteria.

The day we moved her in my stomach was in knots. How do you know you’re doing the right thing in the moment? The answer is: you don’t.

Well, she thrived in the care home. My rail-thin mother put on a little weight and got some color back in her cheeks. Who knew that living in a house with two moody teenagers and their anxious parents could be stressful?

She made some friends and enjoyed the daily activities, like word games (her bailiwick), chair exercises, and bingo. I visited her once a week, and we did jigsaw puzzles together over a cup of coffee and a plate of cookies. I brought her home for all our celebrations: birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving. Over time, she became quieter, less able to initiate conversation, and her shuffling gait became more pronounced. But her smile could still light up a room. She continued to love chocolate and seeing her grandchildren, who, by this time, had reached their early 20s. If golf came on the TV, she cheered at every well played chip shot. She didn’t know who the players were or what had happened before the commercial break, but she lived in the moment, hole by hole.

In mid-December of 2019, her health took a turn, and she ended up in hospital. The dementia was disrupting her ability to swallow properly and the food, bit by bit, was filling her lungs. Nothing could be done.

Because it was Christmastime, I was off work and drove to the hospital every day, sometimes twice a day. We spent Christmas morning with her as a family, and she opened her gifts: a pair of warm socks; a box of chocolates; and a jigsaw puzzle.

On the second last day of the year, with a snowstorm forecast, I leaned over her hospital bed before I left for home, kissed her cheek, and said, “I love you, Mum. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

My beloved mother died later that evening at 86 years old. We never got a chance to do the new puzzle together with a cup of coffee and a plate of cookies.

But I always remember her old saying: There’s no time like the present. Tell your loved ones what they mean to you as often as you can. Don’t wait until tomorrow.

Finding Productivity: Routine and Coffee

Routine \rü-’tēn\ : a sequence of actions regularly followed

Nothing spells writing success like routine. At least when it comes to the only part authors have any real control over: the writing itself.

Over the past week or so I’ve been in search of my self-discipline. And I think I found it, somewhere at the back of my brain and slightly to the left, among the mismatched and dirty socks. I’m now dedicating several hours each weekday to working on my new story. The word count goal is loose; I’m satisfied with anything from 500 to 1000 words per day.

Typically, I’ve done all my creative writing at the desktop in my home office. But when I lost my job — and my company laptop — I bought a personal laptop. Now I’m donning my metaphorical writing hat and becoming a writer-in-a-coffee-shop cliché. If it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, it’s good enough for me.

My walk to the coffee shop.

My walk to the coffee shop.

The local coffee emporium, which shall remain nameless but it charges extortionate prices and rhymes with Fartruck’s, is a 20-minute walk. The walk alone is worth it. Behind my house is the world’s largest publicly owned greenbelt: 200 square kilometres of protected forest full of trees, walking paths, and every creature this area has to offer, from wild turkeys, rabbits and skunks to coyotes, deer and porcupines. In the middle of a weekday afternoon, heading down the main gravel path, which was once a railway line, is downright tranquil. Fresh air, exercise and the space and silence to think about my characters and their world. Perfect.

Once at the coffee shop, a trusty vanilla latte by my side, I fire up my laptop and log onto the rather excellent Wi-Fi.

In an interesting, perhaps even prophetic, turn of events, I don’t have access to social media on my laptop. Right around the time I bought it, my Instagram account got hacked. How do I know? A friend texted me, and then my 19-year-old son came thundering up from the basement wondering why I’d just posted five photos of women wearing nothing more than three leather belts and a smile. Yikes!!

Immediately, I called my IT department/husband, which got to work trying to fix the issue. Before I could say son, I’ve been hacked, my husband had changed the password on every one of my social media accounts, including my email. The passwords he chose are 20 characters long and include a capital letter, a symbol, a punctuation mark, a sonnet and my left kidney. I keyed these all into my iPhone and my desktop but not my laptop, purely out of laziness. But now I’m finding this is really helping my word count. I can’t open any social media on my computer while I’m working on my novel at the Fartruck’s.

On fair days, I walk; on rainy days, I drive; on lazy days, I go upstairs to my home office. But every day I write. Some days are more productive than others, of course, but this new routine of mine ensures progress is being made, and that’s what counts.

 

A Writing Life, For Now

Last month I got laid off from my job. I’d been there for six-and-a-half years, and it wasn’t personal. I hadn’t got caught siphoning money into an off-shore account, or viewing dirty photos on my work laptop, or even stealing stacks of Post-It notes from the supply cupboard.

My position had simply become redundant.

So, now I find myself with time on my hands for the first time in…ever, I suppose. I’ve worked since I got my first babysitting gig on New Year’s Eve the year I turned 13. Minus another layoff and two maternity leaves, I’ve worked pretty steadily since then. In my early 20s I even had two jobs. I got up at some godforsaken hour of the morning to work at 7 AM doing data entry for the government, and after I knocked off that job at 3 PM, I’d hurry back to my little apartment, shower and eat, and head out to a job at the mall where I sold lingerie to fetishists from 6 to 10 PM (well, there were only a few fetishists; most people were pretty normal). I’d stagger home around 11, fall into bed and be up and out for 7 AM the next day.

If I hadn’t been 23 years old, I’d have died from exhaustion.

Now I’ve raised two children to near adulthood, and I spent the past six years caring full-time for my elderly mother in my home. Now Mum’s got a great spot at a care home where she’s safe and happy, and all the kids need me for is driving them around so I can have the car. And money. They also need me for money.

Over the years, in between the never-ending household chores, and caring for all the other people in my life, I’ve managed to finish writing several novels. One of which even got published, which was a great joy and privilege. But I’ve yearned for time. Time to write, reflect, walk, read, drink tea while it’s still hot. Suddenly, I see those hours stretch before me each day, like a pathway, like the Yellow Brick Road to Oz.

So, what have I been doing with those round, sweet hours for the past few weeks? SFA, nada, diddly-squat. I’ve been so discombobulated (who doesn’t love that word) by the loss of my job that I’ve been spinning my wheels refreshing my stupid Facebook feed, playing Sudoku on my phone and cleaning a house that’s frankly already pretty clean. Although with teenagers around you don’t want to get too far behind on that. When I’m not at home, they eat things without using a plate whilst wandering from room to room. (When does that stop? Send help.)

But last week, I did something. I started writing a new manuscript.Writing

This will be the first that I’ll have written without having to squeeze butt-in-chair writing time into a day that’s already full of paying job tasks. Like almost any writer, I’ve fantasized about having a writing life. But what would that look like for me? I don’t know because it’s only ever been a fantasy. If I’m serious about this writing life, for however long it lasts, I must commit to a schedule, treat the writing like it’s a job. Rather than sit and wait for inspiration, I need to write anyway, write when I don’t feel like it, write when I’m blocked, write when the characters won’t talk to me.

So here I go, boldly on this journey. If this is a false start, somehow not the story I’m meant to write, I’ll self-correct and restart a different story. Only time will tell. And if I get a job before the last word is written, I’ll finish it either way because I always do. Come hell or high water, if it’s the right story, I always finish.

If anyone has successfully made this transition and has tips or insight, leave a helpful comment for me and others.

Bowie and the Changes

It was 1982 and I was fourteen years old. I was a shy and awkward teen who liked horses and reading and not much else. I’d never had a date and, while I could write an A+ essay, I couldn’t talk to people.

At a time when I thought I might be an alien, or at least my hair was surely from outer space, into my life strode David Bowie. An ethereal figure made of white bones and stardust. His haunting voice sounded like the wind through the trees on a snowy moonlit night. Up to then, I’d heard nothing quite like it, and seen no one quite like him. In his mellifluous tones, I found solace and a kind of acceptance.

Somewhere between feather earrings and headbands, leg warmers and shoulder pads, I discovered it was okay to be different. I could turn and face the strange, embrace my weird self and it was good.

But I could also change. Bowie had been at least eight different incarnations of himself in the 1970s alone. If he could do that, I could become at least one other self. I could leave my high school and my hometown where I’d been the shy, skinny geek with odd hair. The idea of reinvention felt not so far-fetched and Bowie’s music became the anthem that gave me the strength to brave one more day of school hallways full of indifference and classrooms full of judgement.

I left home and it actually worked. My clipped wings grew back to the dimensions they’d been when I was still a child full of wonder and reckless abandon. University life allowed me to become who I had always wanted to be. I was still myself, but somehow better. Stronger and freer, I approached relationships with openness and confidence. I consciously tried not to judge others and found, in that way, I was less likely to be judged by them.

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DavidBowie_ConcertT

The T-shirt I bought at the Sound+Vision concert, 1990

The year was 1990. The concert was Sound+Vision. The city was Toronto; the CNE was the venue.

My university friend, Tamara, and I had somehow scored stadium-seating tickets to David Bowie. I was apoplectic with excitement. When we found our seats, back and to the left, we discovered, to our dismay, we were sitting behind a large pole that obscured our vision. We could hear him, but whether we could see anything depended on where he decided to stand on the distant stage.

The concert was luminous, like Bowie himself, and we enjoyed it despite our poor vantage point. He completed the last song, waved and left. We whistled and clapped and shredded our vocal chords with screaming. The stadium devolved into chaos and Tamara turned to me.

“Let’s rush the stage,” she said. “No one’s watching. We can at least see him for the encore.”

So we did. We left our crappy seats and rushed out onto the floor, pushing our way to the stage, hand in hand. When he re-emerged on the stage, I thought I’d surely be deaf and mute for the rest of my life, given the noise and my own screeching.

The closer we got to him, the more mythical and larger he loomed, yet also the more human he seemed. The perfect paradox for the man he was. I remember standing at the corner edge of a stage piece that jutted out into the surging general admission audience. He glided to the end and stood right above me, shook his head, and a bead of Bowie sweat flew from the end of his hair onto my cheek. I grabbed Tamara by the shoulders and screamed, “He sweated on me! David Bowie sweated on me!”

The transformation was complete. I had grown and matured and was no longer the sad, lonely teenager I’d once been, although my hair took many more years to find its groove. (Some might argue it still hasn’t.) But you never forget those difficult years and those experiences that help to form you.

Thank you, Mr. Bowie, for being there for me, for being there for all of us who needed your voice, your strength, your weirdness.

And Rest in Peace.

Food, Travel, Memory

When was the last time you ate out? Where was it and what did you eat?

If you don’t remember, you clearly do not have a foodographic™ memory.

The other evening I was out at a restaurant with some friends, stuffing some kick-ass fish tacos into my gaping maw, and the conversation turned to the concept of food and memory. My friend’s fifteen-year-old daughter apparently remembers the places where she’s travelled based on the food she’s eaten there.

And it occurred to me that my father had been the same way. From the veal Marsala he enjoyed at a Paris bistro in 1987, to the turkey sandwich he ordered at the golf club where he was a member in 2001. He had a foodographic memory.

Even my husband — who regularly purges his memory banks of non-essentials, like the name of the actor who played Jason in the Bourne Identity — has at least one strong food memory: he claims that the best clam chowder he ever ate was with his parents on the ferry to Prince Edward Island in 1984.

What is it about food that triggers such a strong association that we can carry this memory for a lifetime? I’ve heard that the sense of smell is the strongest trigger for recollection. For better or worse, a certain smell can instantly transport us to an earlier time and place. Memory is the yeasty scent of warm pizza dough rising in a ceramic bowl covered in a tea towel atop my mother’s harvest gold refrigerator. It’s also Christmases of baking chestnuts, cranberries bubbling in an open saucepan, the aroma of a roasting turkey.gourmetfood

Obviously the taste has something to do with it. The complexity of the flavours in a rich mole sauce, or the way a squirt of lemon juice cuts through the richness of the melted butter that coats a chunk of perfectly cooked fresh lobster.

Perhaps it’s also the atmosphere of a particular restaurant — the sound of clinking cutlery, the pop of a cork, how the smoky, gilt-edged mirror makes the dining room look larger than it really is.

When I was nine years old, my parents travelled from the suburbs of Peterborough to the big city of Toronto for at least one weekend every other month. Sometimes we’d stay for a day, sometimes overnight. We would shop at the Eaton’s Centre, gaze at the architectural marvel that is Nathan Phillips Square, and have lunch in a wondrous restaurant. The dining room had high ceilings and enormous, pendulous chandeliers that had hundreds of light bulbs that formed warm, glowing orbs miles above our heads. I was a picky eater and the glorious children’s menu served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches made with fresh white bread. For dessert I was served a single scoop of vanilla ice cream with a face made of candy and an edible cone for a hat. Basically, it was kid heaven. I can still feel the soft bread and peanut butter coating the roof of my mouth.

Several years ago, my husband and I took the children on a trip to Italy. We drank cappuccinos in Rome, ate pizza in Sorrento and, in a small hole-in-the-wall we found on a Venice side street, I had the best ravioli I’ve ever eaten. I recall that at the time I dubbed these ravioli: Golden Pillows of Joy.

In my time here on earth, I’ve travelled a modest amount. The memories of meals I’ve enjoyed at both restaurants and the houses of friends and relations are firm reminders of the comfort and power of both food and memory. As my children move onward and my nest begins to empty, I look forward to having more time, and I hope enough money, to take my foodographic memory on a tour of places I haven’t yet explored, both mundane and exotic.

Bon appétit, my friends, and bon voyage!

The Heart Grows Not Old

When I was online the other day, I came across a piece of artwork that resonated so deeply within me, it briefly took my breath away. It was so evocative that I instantly felt the sting of tears.

Not everyone would feel the same way I felt upon viewing the image. Just like I haven’t yet been emotionally touched by some of the modern artwork I’ve viewed and moved past without truly understanding its message.

Art can be deeply personal but it also serves to remind us we are not alone. The human experience, as communicated through media such as a photograph, painting, film, song or novel, is universal. I am made up of all I have seen and done, all the people who have come and gone in my life, every joy and sorrow, every harsh and tender word. I bring all this to bear when experiencing a piece of art; my reaction is mine and your reaction is yours. But even though our sensibilities might differ, great art can show us how much we are the same, our common truth.

When I saw this image, my heart both broke and soared at the same time.

Memory

Image found here: https://twitter.com/Ou_Prg/status/579004166204465152

I am completely undone by the truth and beauty of the image, a sweet whisper that let me know someone has felt as I now feel.

My mother is eighteen. She is going to a dance with her sister after she finishes her workday as a secretary at a law firm. She loves to dance. Maybe she will meet a handsome gentleman who will open the door for her, light her cigarette, take her elbow gently as they walk into a clear, cool night.

My mother is eighty-one. She speaks very little as she sits in her chair watching television, hands clasped together. Her joints grow stiffer each day and she uses walls, counters, the back of a chair to navigate the house so she does not lose her balance and fall.

My mother is both eighteen and eighty-one.

When I grow old, I will feel young. My spirit will skip on a schoolyard, ride a golden horse through a thick forest, and hold the smooth hand of the one I love on a midnight walk under the moonlight.

Even if my body fails me and I can no longer do the things I enjoy, when I no longer remember yesterday, I hope I at least have someone I love nearby.

A piece of Veronica, by Elvis Costello:

Is it all in that pretty little head of yours?

What goes on in that place in the dark?

Well I used to know a girl and I would have

sworn that her name was Veronica

Well she used to have a carefree mind of her

own and a delicate look in her eye

These days I’m afraid she’s not even sure if her

name is Veronica

Wasn’t it Just Yesterday?

I recently took a tour of a university campus. Not because I’m planning to go back to school but because my son, somehow, is heading off on his post-secondary adventure in the fall.

How is it possible the scrawny baby who arrived three-and-a-half weeks too early and refused to nurse is about to embark on this journey?

Wasn’t it just yesterday when I headed off down highway 401 from Peterborough to Kingston in the backseat of my parents’ sedan, driving beneath overpasses that had banners hung from them, which  said things like, “No More Milk and Cookies” and “Say Goodbye to Mom and Dad.” I was terrified.

Wasn’t it just last week when I went out to a campus pub with friends from my university residence and met a skinny blond guy in a striped rugby shirt with a rip in the front? I was in love.

Wasn’t it just last month when that blond guy slipped a ring on my finger and we exited a church with bells chiming into a muggy August afternoon? I was married.

Wasn’t it just last year when someone handed me a squirming bundle of boy and we took him home and I cried, overwhelmed with the impossible responsibility? I was a mother.

My son is taller than I am and a better young man than I could have hoped for when I was pregnant and first wrote out how I felt about this child of mine. The teen years have not been without their share of difficulty. At first, I expected to escape the traumas of raising teens. I thought my sweet children would somehow not be typical, they would circumvent the cliché and be studious, forthright and lasting companions, who would not use “like” every other word, would not lie or deceive, and would not hate me. I have been disabused of these notions over the past eight years as we all struggled to navigate hormones, relationships, peer pressure, and exam and deadline angst. To find ourselves coming out the other end, blinking into the brightness of life after high school is a palpable relief. One down, one to go.

The campus we toured last weekend was not the campus of my youth but so much about it feels the same. The buildings have their lecture halls, study nooks and common areas where students gather to discuss their professors and assignments, or their weekend plans. The campus bookstore is full of textbooks and clothing proudly emblazoned with the university logo.

The spring open house was held during a snowstorm and as we trailed behind our guide we were soon soaked with melting flakes. I recalled my own long ago walk from one class to the next, trying to be on time while slipping on the snow-covered sidewalks, books gripped against my chest, shaking out my wet hair as I found a seat in the back of the classroom. The scents of paper, pencils and melting snow. The sounds of backpack zippers, books opening to page 216, coughs and sniffs as we settled into our seats.

However, I find it even easier to remember the friends and the fun. The perfect marriage of freedom and lack of responsibility. You decided your own fate for the first time in your life. You went to class or didn’t. Passed the assignment or failed it, or something in between. People came and went, in and out of your dorm room. Some you’d met, and some you hadn’t. You met more people in your first week of classes than attended your whole high school but you weren’t as overwhelmed as you thought you’d be.

I’m overjoyed that my son has decided to go to university. The hard work will be worth every formative experience. When I send him off to school in the fall, I won’t hold his hand until he joins the Kindergarten lineup. I won’t let go to watch him disappear into the school and know that I’ll be back in the same spot in a few hours to collect him and hear about his day over a grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

I don’t know exactly how it will be, leaving him for the first time, but I know it’ll be right. He’s ready, even if I am not. And all I can hope is that when I next see him, he will tell me about his first semester, his ups and downs, friends and classes, over another grilled cheese sandwich and glass of milk.

Fiddler on the Roof, Sunrise, Sunset

Is this the little girl I carried,

Is this the little boy at play?

I don’t remember growing older,

When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty,

When did he grow to be so tall?

Wasn’t it yesterday when they were small?

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly flow the days.

Seedlings turn overnight to sunflowers,

Blossoming even as we gaze.

Sunrise, sunset (x2),

Swiftly fly the years,

One season following another,

Laiden with happiness and tears.

How Life is Like Sudoku, But Not Really

SudokuI recently took a month off from caring for my 81-year-old mother. Granted, the month was February, the shortest month of the year, but it was the longest respite period I’d taken since she moved in with us two years ago. My brother and sister-in-law have always been available to look after her during our short and sporadic family vacations, but that has never left me alone in my own house for more than a day or two at a stretch.

A month felt dream-like and I could barely visualize it. A month. When I told a friend about Mum’s vacation, she said, “Only a month?” My friend is in a rotation with her siblings for caring for her own elderly mother. And she’s a good friend.

One of the reasons I requested my brother’s help was because it’s ski season. When a child competes in a competitive sport, in this case downhill ski racing, it consumes a parent’s life. It’s about getting up before the crack of dawn, commuting, volunteering, preparing equipment, paying fees and drinking a lot of wine. There are races at hills that are two hours away by car, and spending a few nights in a nearby hotel makes sense when the team is skiing there several days in a row.

With my mother at home, however, I don’t have the flexibility to spend the night away or not be at home to prepare dinner. Mum can manage alone during the day or evening, but is unable to prepare meals for herself (aside from breakfast). In fact, this photo shows how I make sure she gets lunch when I have to make the twice-weekly trek into the office.Mum_Lunch

What would I do for a whole month (aside from the ski obligations, my full-time job, and looking after the rest of the family whom I couldn’t farm out to relatives)? I would write, read, exercise, go for long walks, snowshoe, eat ramen noodles for dinner in front of the TV, learn a foreign language. What did I do? Not nearly enough of the things I’d hoped to do. Instead, I played a lot of Sudoku.

Sudoku is a simple distraction when your mind is otherwise occupied. Reading and writing are difficult with only half of your brain because you really need to concentrate. Solving a Sudoku puzzle takes just enough brain power to challenge your intellect but leaves just enough brain power to let you still think about other things, like where my seventeen-year-old is with my car, the deadline I have at work, or how to find time in an evening to bake a banana loaf for the volunteer lunch and watch the latest episode of The Walking Dead on the DVR.

But all this Sudoku playing taught me something. Solving the puzzle grid, with its nine little boxes that each contain nine little boxes, depends on recognizing patterns. If you can see the pattern, you can solve the puzzle. I began to notice that when I got stuck, when I just couldn’t see what the solution might be, I could take a break from it, look away, clean a bathroom, bake a loaf. When I returned to the puzzle with fresh eyes, the solution magically presented itself.

Taking a break = Fresh eyes + Magical solution.

Now, math is not my strong suit, but given this rudimentary equation for solving Sudoku puzzles, could life be like that as well?

My conclusion is: sort of. We all know what they say about absence and what grows within in one’s heart. A month without my mother gave me enough moments of solitude to reflect on my life and hers. She has spent 81 years living on this earth, and even though I know plenty of seniors who are still spry and full of wit and conversation, she is not one of them. But, however frail, Mum’s still here with us. She’s still able to give a hug, hold a hand, offer a kind word.

The other day, my father-in-law, who I love with all my heart, asked, “When do you think you’d need to move your mother into a home?” He recently lost his wife after years of caring for her while she slipped into the fog of Alzheimer’s. Less than a year since my mother-in-law’s death, I can still hear the grief in his words and sense the sadness in his gestures. I thought for a moment and considered.

“When she’s no longer able to look after her personal needs,” I said, suddenly sad at the prospect of this horrible loss, should it ever happen. And I realized that some problems don’t need to be solved. Making the best of a bad situation is more about acceptance and tolerance, and then being ready to face the next challenge. Because you know there’ll be one, it’s inevitable.

One day, this phase of my life will be over and I will be devastated when my mother is gone. I will be heartbroken. I will be an orphan.

Life can be a puzzle but sometimes it’s one that you simply cannot solve. And all you can hope to do is approach it with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and accept the vagaries of its changing landscape.

Cover Reveal for Burn Baby Burn Baby by Kevin Craig

Eight years ago it was still creepy when, if someone asked you where you met so-and-so, you said, “Oh, I met him online.” It still had an eerie, stalker-ish feel about it.

These days, people connect with others online all the time. And these are real people, many of them normal, whose lives aren’t that different from yours and mine. Only the odd person turns out to be a bizarro psychopath who lives in a sewer and likes to wear raw meat. Typically you can tell who these people are by their online posts. It’s not possible to hide when you’re that whacked.

Online message boards, now and eight years ago, are, in fact, a great place to meet people with a common interest. They often provide a forum for people to share information and stories about the topic that most interests them. For me, it’s writing. In 2006, wanting to write for publication and knowing nothing about writing or publishing, I joined the forums of an online writing community, Absolute Write. At first I lurked because it was vast, international, and intimidating as hell. It was also my first foray into forums and I felt understandably cautious about revealing myself to a million strangers, some of whom might live in raw garbage and enjoy wearing hats made of pork chops.
But, over time, I got comfortable with the community. I learned who to avoid and whose opinions to trust, but most of all I learned a TON about writing and publishing. Many of the members of this forum are internationally published authors or big-time publishing agents, although most of them participate incognito.

As soon as you reveal that you’re Canadian on a site like this one — which is largely populated by Americans, with a few Europeans here and there — other Canadians start coming out to you. “My name is Caroline, and I am Canadian.” One of the first to reveal himself was Kevin. Not only was he Canadian, he lived in my province, not more than a few hours’ drive from my house. And he was one of the founders and organizers of a growing writers’ conference. He sent me the details and asked if I’d be interested in coming to his shindig. Oh, boy, was I interested! But, of course, I was terrified. I wasn’t a real writer; I didn’t even play one on TV. I’d never published fiction. I just sat in my little home office and dabbled. Conferences were for real writers. I’d be fingered as the impostor, the fool. But Kevin promised his conference would be welcoming and friendly. I begged a couple of people from my writers’ group to come with me and I signed up for the weekend.

And it was awesome! You can read about my various Ontario Writers’ Conference experiences here and here. Oh, and here. I met other writers, attended workshops, learned. But best of all, I met Kevin Craig, and he wasn’t even wearing an outfit made of rotting pork. As one of the organizers, he was busy but made sure he introduced me to other writers from the same forums, and to some of his writer friends and fellow-organizers. It felt like I was home.

In the eight years I’ve known Kevin, we’ve both enjoyed some success (mine far more modest than his) and have cheered and supported one another. He even arranged for me to do a reading of my newly released little debut novel at the conference, for which I’ll be forever grateful.

Over the years, I’ve had the immense privilege to call Kevin Craig not only a fellow writer, but also beta reader and best of all a friend. He’s a champion of writers everywhere and a writer of wonderful novels for young adults. I celebrate his success and take great joy in watching him gain confidence with each novel he publishes. He is only now realizing how talented he is.

And so, I present the cover of the latest young adult novel by my friend and mentor, Kevin Craig. Burn Baby Burn Baby is scheduled for release by Curiosity Quills Press on December 11, 2014. Get a copy and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.Burn Baby Burn 1000

Description

Seventeen-year-old Francis Fripp’s confidence is practically non-existent since his abusive father drenched him in accelerant and threw a match at him eight years ago. Now badly scarred, Francis relies on his best friend Trig to protect him from the constant bullying doled out at the hands of his nemesis, Brandon Hayley—the unrelenting boy who gave him the dreaded nickname of Burn Baby.

The new girl at school, Rachel Higgins, is the first to see past Francis’s pariah-inducing scars. If Brandon’s bullying doesn’t destroy him, Francis might experience life as a normal teenager for the first time in his life. He just has to avoid Brandon and convince himself he’s worthy of Rachel’s attentions. Sounds easy enough, but Francis himself has a hard time seeing past his scars. And Brandon is getting violently frustrated, as his attempts to bully Francis are constantly thwarted. Francis is in turmoil as he simultaneously rushes toward his first kiss and a possible violent end.

About the Author

KC2Kevin Craig is the author of three previous novels; Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, and The Reasons. He is a 4-time winner of the Muskoka Novel Marathon’s Best Novel Award. Kevin is also a playwright and has had eight 10-minute plays produced. His poetry, short stories, memoir and articles have been published internationally. Kevin was a founding member of the Ontario Writers’ Conference and a long-time member of the Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR). He is represented by literary agent Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group.

Find Kevin: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads

 

Restoration

Vacation Restoration

I recently arrived home after two weeks of summer vacation.

I tried to make the trip a kind of therapy, designed to wash myself clean of chaos, stress and onerous responsibility. I was searching for peace.

My vacation therapy consisted of walking barefoot on the beach in the evenings under a blood moon. On a night as bright as day, the waves drummed a rhythm against the shore, the sea foam crawling up the sand like fingers, and then receding, leaving tiny white crabs that scuttled up the beach to the safety of dry land. I watched while one beady-eyed fellow burrowed beneath the surface, leaving a round, dollar-sized hole in the sand. It was then I noticed the hundreds of holes across the beach in varying diameters depending on the size of its crab occupant. There they hid, waiting. For what, I wondered. Prey to happen by, the tide to return, the morning light?

I imagined the dark silence of a sand hole.

There is always a breeze on the shore and with it came the scent of the still warm beach, the cooling waves, the salty tang of the Atlantic water. Other seaside locations I’ve been to have stunk of fish and rotting seaweed. And I realized this was one of the sweetest smelling places I’d ever been.

Wrapping a cardigan reflexively against a breeze warmer than my skin, I looked out across the vast ocean, the water glittering in the blue light of a depth of stars. The tide would pull itself relentlessly inward, until the moon whispered “enough” and it would reluctantly begin to recede in a pattern as old as time.

The sea was the future, vast and unknowable. The beach at my back was the past, dotted with crab holes, pockets of secrets in the dark.

I breathed. There between the sand and the sea was where I found, at least for a moment, a kind of peace.