Three Stories

Image "Winter Crows" by Tim Hill ( used with royalty-free use license from

Image “Winter Crows” by Tim Hill ( used with royalty-free use license from

A Story About Crows for @lizzers_

Once Upon a Time, I lived far north of here in a “ranch-style bungalow” on a hill in a city bound by a river. The city itself still had many Wild Places. Not the kind of wild places where one might go after a night in one’s cups, but the kind of Wild Places one might go and get lost and not be able to find one’s way home unless one knew how to gauge the sun’s position in the sky and the placement of shadows cast by trees. There was a “little forest” in the hills behind my best friend’s house and we used to explore. Really, it was a stand of enthusiastic poplars pushing each other about on an empty lot between two houses, but to us it was a forest.

In fact, I’d be willing to say it *was* a forest and anyone who said it wasn’t can be damned.

In front of my house, the trees grew with their heads bent together, nodding against one another across the street. This formed a canopy of leaves in the summer through which dappled light played and two skeletal fists clasped together in winter. Across the street were six enormous douglas fir trees and lining our side, maples and elms.

Our neighbour’s home was a dainty wartime hut with one bedroom off the front room and one bedroom off the kitchen and our neighbour Elsie had a concrete basement lined with jars and jars of preserves. “Her husband”, my Da said, was “a drunk and a mean old bugger and when he showed up he caused all kinds of trouble and when he was gone nobody missed him much.” Our house was on a hill; theirs was on a flat, so their roofline came even with our bathroom window.

Summers were hot and humid in my hometown, and the sun and the birds up at 4am and the mosquitoes and blackflies swarming by noon. My parents were teachers, and from May until the end of June, my father cursed the birds for waking him too early, particularly after the nights when there had been Much Revelry at our house. The songbirds, he didn’t mind. He would yell obscenities at the corvids.

So my father bought a pellet gun.

And he climbed up on top of the house just before dawn, and he sat there with his pellet gun. And he saw the crows flocking out of the fir trees to roost on my neighbour’s house. And he started shooting at them. He wanted to scare them all away.

He shot out my neighbour’s windows. And the crows were back the next morning. Laughing. Cackling. Mocking.

"Old Cutlery" image by constantin ( image used royalty-free from

“Old Cutlery” image by constantin ( image used royalty-free from

A Story About @ElBne for @jamesmagnus

Once Upon a Time, I had something Very Important to tell my friend Bne*. Or maybe it wasn’t Very Important. Maybe it was more like one of those times when you really haven’t anything to do so you bum around looking for pals to bum around with. Or maybe it was something Moderately Important but only in terms of a LARP in which we were both playing. To be fair, I don’t remember what the deal, as it were, io was. But I wanted to talk to him. So, this being in the days of text messaging being something that Blade Runner and Blade Runner alone could do, I went to his house.

Phoning, you see, was not an option, because Bne lived in a house with some other gents, and sometimes they just didn’t feel like answering the phone. Or didn’t pay the phone bill. Or answered the phone and then went off in search of the requested party, only to discover an *actual* party happening somewhere else in the house and then forgot that somewhere in the house a phone was off the hook. (This being back in the days where if the phone was off the hook, you couldn’t leave a message – you got the most annoying buzzing booping sounds and you just had to hang up or go mad.)

Also, I wasn’t near a phone. These were the days, of course, when “portable telephones” were things you carried in a baby carrier or a rolling suitcase. The smallest ones were the size of encyclopaedias (which were, of course, hefty tomes of printed reference material organised alphabetically, usually one tome per letter, depending on the edition. These were, of course, the days before Wikipedia, when “looking something up” meant going to an actual library that contained actual books and which had an actual reference section that contained actual reference material. Stop looking at me like that. This is most decidedly not fiction. THAT IS WHAT LIFE WAS LIKE OKAY. People who were really good at trivia were really good at trivia because they read encyclopaedias, not because they downloaded cheats for the trivia app on their phones) or perhaps stale loaves of bread. Unsliced bread, of course. If you wanted to phone someone, you had to either spend thousands of thousands of dollars on a “portable” phone or you had to spend a quarter at a pay telephone (which is a little bit like a prostitute, only you pay to talk, not fornicate) or find somewhere with a public-access telephone or just go home and call. And since I was already nearer to Bne’s house than I was to my own, and since I hadn’t a quarter, and since I was a student and couldn’t afford Ramen noodles much less a “portable” telephone (yes, we did have Ramen noodles back then, and thank #Glob for that), I went ’round Bne’s house to just, as they say, “knock him up”.

Now. I mentioned Bne lived with some other gents. This meant that any given day, if you showed up at Flamingo Manor (their abode), you could ring the bell or knock on the door and you would be soundly and effectively ignored or not heard unless The White Mass was at home because The White Mass, if I remember correctly, had a fondness for lounging on the chesterfield in the altogether, reading gaming books and waiting for some poor schmo to knock on the door or ring the bell. I did not, therefore, do either of those things. I entered the house, hollered (which was proper manners for Flamingo Manor), and, receiving no reply, I began to search the premesis for Bne. He was not in the living room (thankfully, neither was The White Mass). He was not in the “dining room” (some milk crates with a “table” made of pizza boxes). He was not in the kitchen; I didn’t enter the basement because frankly, there were things that happened in that basement that no one who wished to remain whole should ever witness. Also, Duane.

I went upstairs and knocked on Bne’s bedroom door. There was no answer. I opened the door a crack to see if Bne was abed. He might have been but it was impossible to tell because Young Bachelor Living On His Own. I decided to Write a Note.

I penned a note, and began searching for a thumbtack. Some tape. A piece of chewing gum. (That is where the search for A Sticky Substance ended, because House of Bachelors. Iew.) There was nothing. So I grabbed a knife from the kitchen counter and pinned the note to Bne’s door; the note that indicated I had been by and was looking for him and because he had not been there, clearly he sucked. Not having found him, I left.

Bne came home later. He went about his business, went upstairs, changed from his work clothes, went back down to the kitchen, made himself some Ramen noodles (or, knowing Bne, ketchup chips). His room-mate saw him. Said, “hey, cenobyte was here.”

“Oh yeah? What’d she want?” Bne asked.

The roommate blanched. “You mean…you didn’t see the note?”

“What note?” Bne asked.

“The. Um. The note stuck to your door with a knife?”

“The fuck you say?”

“There is a giant butcher knife sticking out of your door. She came here looking for you and didn’t find you and stuck that note to your door with a giant, eight-inch blade, and you didn’t see it?”

“I think,” Bne said, “I would have noticed something like that.”

Bne, incredulous, went upstairs and looked at the door to his bedroom. The door he had opened not moments before. The door where, stuck at roughly eye level, there was a large kitchen knife holding a note.

“Oh hey,” Bne said. “There’s a note here! Huh.”

And that is how Bne found the note I left him the day he was not home.

"Cat Under a Towel" image by Aline Dassel, royalty-free image from

“Cat Under a Towel” image by Aline Dassel, royalty-free image from

A Story About That Time I Wore A Towel On My Head An Pretended It Was My Hair, or Mother’s Cuts are the Deepest, for @melistress

Before I started elementary school, I had long, long hair. It was blond like spun gold and I wore it in pigtails high on my head with fuzzy green ties and bobbles. My mother would brush my hair every morning like a well-trained torture specialist. It’s a surprise I had any hair at all. She might as well have fed it through a combine.

So she decided that when I started school, I should get a hair cut. *A* hair cut. Not ALL of my hair cut. I went from having lovely, curling mermaid tresses to having a mushroom cut. A MUSHROOM CUT (they called it a “page boy”, but it was not a page boy. It was a mushroom cut). My mother said, “if you’re going to fight with me every morning, I’m going to cut your hair”. I had pointed out that all animals fight when they’re being attacked and that it was a question of survival, the way she wielded that hairbrush (it may have come out as “BUT IT HURTS WHEN YOU DO THAT!”). Hence? Mushroom cut.

The third day of school, after having fielded all of the “why did you cut your hair? You look like a boy” comments, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

I wrapped my favourite blue bath towel around my head and secured it with a headband. I once again had flowing, beautiful mermaid locks. I went to school. My teacher made me take the towel off my head and called my mother because I was “being disruptive”. I hardly think launching a legitimate human rights violation complaint citing freedom of expression is “being disruptive” (although at the time it might have come out as “BUT THIS IS MY REAL HAIR I CAN’T TAKE IT OFF MY HEAD!”), but that’s what elementary school is all about, isn’t it? Tramping all over our human rights and trying to teach us not to question authority.

The next day, I chose a *brown* towel, figuring that the reason my teacher had caught on to my ruse was because most people under the age of 80 did not have blue hair.

That was not what had clued my teacher in, as I discovered with the brown towel, the subsequent yellow towel, and the red towel. One week of multicoloured towel turbans, and not one – NOT ONE – slipped past that vicious gorgon who smelled faintly of chalk dust and stale coffee. She was on to me. Neither could I fool her with the wig I ferreted out of my mother’s costume bag. The jig, as it were, was up. I had to accept that my butchered boy hair was simply something I had to live with.

So I got tough and I got mean and I figured that if I looked like a boy, I might as well fight like a boy.

…okay, I didn’t actually get mean. But that was the year I started playing tackle football and stopped wearing skirts and girly blouses.

*Bne is not his real name. His name has been changed to protect his  innocence identity.

It was like this when I got here

This is Smog. Before I tell you too much about Smog, I should tell you that I have never been able to successfully pick out a proper cat. I’m okay with the factory rejects, though. THEY NEED LOVE TOO. 

We rented Smog from the Cat Shop several weeks earlier than we ought to have been able to. She was seperated from her kin far too young (four weeks, they say), and nursed on everything she could. Which was, of course, adorable. However, I’m fairly certain it has also caused brain damage.

Smog is most famous for walking in to a room and announcing “I’m a —“, where “—” is anything from “tibby tubbler” (we don’t know either) to “speed bump”. For several weeks after the #doges arrived at Chez Relaxo, Smog announced she was a dog. She is the sort of cat who learns (read: makes up) a new word and uses it extensively for the next six weeks. She thinks “the outside” is anything on the side of the door on which she is not. 

This cat likes digging up every house plant I have ever tried to grow, sleeping on the third stair from the top, and  getting “skeert” and running away. She is, however, one of the only cats I’ve ever had who actually knows how to play with cat toys. 

Seen here laughing at a joke that really wasn’t very funny at all, Smog can often be found running away, eating dog food, and judging you for being in the bath.

Two Princes

IMG_9346I leave the doctor’s office, where I have just been shirtless in front of two men I have never met. I’m feeling a little scared, because in meeting with this doctor, I have basically consented to surgery. Elective surgery, but elective surgery that may change my life and make it possible for me to run, wear seatbelts, do yoga poses properly, and lay on my stomach. So I’m a little fazed, a little overwhelmed. I decide to hit the mall, maybe buy some lunch.

I walk through the mall. It’s empty. The downtown business crowd are back in their offices. I decide I’m going to go to a shop to get some leggings because I have none without holes in. I smile at a fellow at the bottom of the escalator and head up to the shop what sells leggings.

There is a rack of leggings at the front of the shop. I’m touching every pair because texture is important. I bought a pair of leggings once that ended up feeling like elasticy burlap. I’ll never do that again. I feel someone touch my elbow. I look up.

The man from the bottom of the escalator is standing beside me. He’s touching my elbow. “I saw you,” he says. “Down stairs.”

I don’t know this man. He’s touching my elbow and standing very close to me. He’s followed me from the bottom of the escalator, where he was leaving, back up the escalator to a shop.

“You are so beautiful,” he says. “I wonder are you married?”

I touch the ring on my finger. I back  toward the rack of leggings.

“Do you have friends like you, because, mmmm,” he closes his eyes and licks his lips, “I would love to have a woman like you.”


He leers at me. Leans forward. “I would love to have a woman like you,” he says. “So much, so lovely. Like you.”

I thank him for saying so, and look pointedly away from him. I look inside the shop. There are women in there. I can just go in the shop if I need to.

“Okay, goodbye,” he says, but he continues to stare at me.


IMG_5754I leave the doctor’s office. I have just been shirtless in front of two men, nonchalantly shirtless, I might add, because, and this may shock you, I have no problem being topless anytime, anywhere, for any reason. We have been discussing my having breast reduction surgery. Talking about nipple necrosis. Did you know there was such a thing as nipple necrosis? “They turn black,” the doctor says, “and then they fall off. So you could lose your nipples.” I try to picture myself with no nipples. I figure, if it means I can lay on my stomach, do yoga poses properly, and find shirts that fit, I’ll cut the fuckers off myself.

It’s cold outside. The wind is unforgiving. I decide to head back through the mall, maybe grab some lunch. Inside it’s pretty empty. All the suits are back at their desks, monotonously clicking ‘refresh’ on their effbook pages, clicking ‘like’ on upworthy vids, wondering if anyone would notice if they looked for some light porn. Nothing hardcore. Maybe just lesbians.

It was cold like this when I was in Ottawa, when I realised I’ve blown apart the thighs of all of my leggings, and considered buying some new ones in the world’s biggest Hudson’s Bay shop. I decide to look at some leggings at the Hoopty Mama shop upstairs. It’s weird for the mall to be this empty. I ‘m used to being here at noon. Dodging crowds. Hearing snippets of conversations about who pissed off whose HR person by using the wrong pencil to fill out form HS/Q1-22. But it’s early afternoon and the only people in the mall are people who don’t have to be back at their desks.

A man leaves the down escalator. He looks me in the eye. I smile at him. I hear him say, “hello!” in a kind of surprised voice, but it’s too late. He’s behind me. It would look weird if I turned around and said hello. It’s damnably uncomfortable being Canadian sometimes. Plus, I’m focused on leggings.

I’m standing at the table of leggings at the Hoopty Mama shop. I feel someone grasp my elbow. “Hello,” the man says.

It’s the man from the bottom of the escalator. “Hello!” I say. “You said hello to me downstairs, and I completely ignored you and walked away! It’s only because I’m so damnably Canadian and realised Too Late I had walked away from you. I’m very sorry. That was rude.”

He smiles. “You are so amazing,” he says. He indicates my hair. “Your hair,” he says. “Are you from Canada?”

“Yes, damnably so, I’m afraid.”

“Always from Canada?”


“Are you Aboriginal?”

“I’m not,” I say. “Although there are rumours about something my great-grandmother might have done when great-grandfather was away, and why my own grandfather had such high cheekbones and such dark skin.”

He doesn’t understand. He squints at me. It occurs to me that English is not his first language. I smile. He smiles. “Are you married?” He asks.

I show him my rings. “I am!” I say.

“Oh.” He sounds disappointed. “It’s just that you’re so beautiful.”

“Sir, I would hire someone to follow me around every day to say that to me.”

“What!? NO!”

“I’m just being silly. Thank you very much. You’re very kind to say it.”

“Do you have friends like you? More women like you?”

I laugh. “Oh, good God no. There ain’t no more of me, baby. I’m it. And let me tell you, that’s probably a good thing because this world couldn’t take any more of me than there already is.”

“Wow,” he says. He shakes his head. “Wow.”

I offer him my hand and ask his name. I offer him mine. I thank  him again. He leaves. I leave.

I end up buying a really shitty juice and some mediocre noodles.

Storytelling Month – The Basement

To celebrate Storytelling Month, I’m going to tell you at least one story per week in  February. These are all true stories.

I don’t think I’ve ever told this story before. Maybe I have and I’ve just reached that stage of perpetual awesomeness where my memory of stories is like that thing that things get out of. A prison or a sieve or a colander or politics or whatever.

Part of the reason for that is that I can’t actually be certain whether it’s fiction or fact. When I look back at the whole thing with my remembery, things are hazy. Flash-bulb, like when you dangle too far into your cups at a hootenanny and your only memories of the evening come in postcard-like flashes because probably your blinks took several seconds each. Like dancers in a strobe. Like headlights on the highway.

IMG_5201I would have been in grade four or five. Maybe grade six. I was around ten or eleven years old and my neighbourhood school had rapidly declining registrations. It was …it *is* a gorgeous old school, built in 1924, I think. It’s a Band School now, but at the time it was a public school. I remember the dust-and-chalk scent of the classrooms, the sound of runners squeaking in the halls, and the way the sun burst through the walls of windows in each class.

The kids I went to school with had been attending this school with me since Kindgergarten, for the most part. Maybe one new kid here and there, but not many. My neighbourhood was in an older part of the city, where there were three elementary schools (two public and one Catholic) in a ten-block area, all on the same street. The point here is that I knew everyone in my school.

When you only have twenty kids in your age range (and split-grade classrooms), you often go to every birthday party that rolls around. It’s a bit like living in residence at University really, or in a small town; when there’s a party, everyone goes. There was a birthday party – a slumber party – and I’d been invited, and my mother didn’t want me to go. She couldn’t really articulate why, but in retrospect, I think I understand. All she could tell me was that she didn’t know the family very well. Didn’t know the parents at all. She was nervous. She said I could go to the party but had to come home before the sleepover started.

I didn’t listen.


“Corners” image from

I went for the party and after hotdogs and cake I phoned home and asked if I could stay over. Mum said she wanted me home, but I begged and pleaded and wore her down in the way that only eleven year olds can do. She knew where the house was, she knew the phone number, she knew some of the other kids who were there. I didn’t tell her that some of the girls who’d been to the party had gone home. She brought over some pyjamas and a change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a pillow. She told me to be home first thing in the morning. Before noon.

All of us were down in the basement, flopped all over the floor like a litter of puppies. Some girls had sleeping bags, but most had been given some blankets and pillows to sleep on air mattresses at the foot of the stairs. I was curled up on a foam mattress a little way away, listening to whispers and giggles and staring into the darkness watching shapes form and reform as my retinas did whatever magic thing retinas do when the lights are out.

I wish I could remember more details. What the house looked like. Who was there. What time of year it was. But I can’t.

At some point when the whispers and giggles had turned into deep breathing and light snores, I heard something. Someone was coming downstairs. I don’t remember exactly, but I think my birthday friends had older brothers and sisters or uncles or family friends…someone was coming down the stairs. I remember a sliver of light as the door to the upstairs opened. I remember the sound of unsteady footfalls on the stairs. I remember the vague outline of someone walking past the foot of the mass of sleeping girls.

I remember the weight of someone on top of me. I remember pain. I remember, vaguely, at least I think I remember, being told to stay quiet. I remember being completely disoriented, having trouble walking the next day. I remember going home the next day wearing panties that weren’t my own. I remember Mum asking me where I’d got them, and I didn’t have an answer. I don’t know what else I knew then, when I was eleven years old.

That was the last time I ever went to that house, though. I didn’t even talk to the girls who’d invited me to their party very much after that.

Although I still don’t know what exactly happened in that basement, I think I was raped.

It’s neither here nor there now. I don’t remember it, so ultimately it might have all been something that never happened. The only thing I know is that I came home the next day in someone else’s panties and it hurt to walk. It doesn’t affect me. I don’t have PTSD. I’m not a victim. I don’t even really ever think about it. I only tell this story now because not all stories are good ones. But all stories are important.

Storytelling Month – A Bigger Man

To celebrate Storytelling Month, I’m going to tell you at least one story per week in  February. These are all true stories. Okay and I forgot last week’s story but I gave you two stories the week before so it all evens out.


And I was going to find you a picture for this story, but when I really started thinking about it I realised you really don’t want pictures for this story so I found a royalty-free image that kind of has something to do with part of the story and by the time we get to the end of the story, you’ll understand why I chose that and you will thank me.

You. Will. Thank. Me.

When Drang and I lived together in the little boxcar house (which has since burned down, no fault of ours) with no doorknobs, a busted pool table in the basement and a full-wall mural of Homer Simpson smoking the world’s biggest doob, we were never very far from one a’ them…whattayacallems…thinly veiled excuses for having some shindiggery. Drang worked X weeks away at the mine and X weeks back home, and that led to rather a lot of intense ballyhoo action when he was home, and several weeks of recuperation when he was Away. And since most of our friends were mutual friends it was never very difficult to get a Troupe together for a hootenanny.

Cue birthday celebrations.

#HisNibs shares a birthday (or thereabouts at least) with Our Fair Canada, and with my grandmother, who is now dead but at the time this story took place she was very much alive. For the record, my mother (who was  a heavy drinker) was also very much alive. Neither of these latter two facts really plays a large role in this story; one plays more of a role than the other, but we might not get to it so I really just put that out there because this is how I tell stories. Everyone strapped in? Hands and feet inside the car at all times. Ready? Okay, here we go.

Wait. You’re going to want to take that…whatever that is…out of your mouth because I will not have anyone choking. Snorting beer, coffee, milk, or carbohydrates through one’s nose is acceptable; choking is not.

First, you need to understand the boxcar house. Which I think you do if you’ve been reading along. It was a slum house we rented from slumlords who were famous for offering to trade rent for sexual favours, and who didn’t think there was anything *wrong* with renting out a house that had no doorknobs. The walls were made of buffalo board, which is one step down from gyprock and two steps to the left of cardboard. It was a two-bedroom house that was smaller than my garage. AND WE LOVED IT. Because we were 20-something punk/goth gamers whose primary goal in life was to save enough empties to buy a carton of cigarettes. These are not lofty goals, my friend. However, if you set your goals low enough, you can prove success quite effectively.

ForbiddenWe declared the weekend of #HisNibs’ birthday to be International White Trash Week. Because…um…well, because…uh…kay here’s the thing. You have to look at GOALS first. OUTCOMES. What is the END RESULT you’re looking for? We wanted to spend some time drunk on a beach, but we didn’t have a beach handy (we did, but we’d roont ourselves on it the previous month celebrating the Best Day of the Year). We did, however, have a bunch of shitty lawnchairs we’d picked up at the beach the month prior.

Now let’s just talk for a minute about the Aristotelean ideal of “lawn chair”. No, no. Let’s back up from there even. Let’s talk about the Aristotelean ideal of “chair”. If we sort of…deconstruct the concept of a “chair”, we’re left with “something upon which one may sit”. This could, then, arguably, be an actual chair, a log, a chesterfield, a bunk bed, a rock, a tuffet, or any number of things. Drang and I had “sourced” some “lawn chairs” (by which I mean ‘relatively portable items upon which one might plant their bottom out in the yard’) from the “rubbish bin” at the “beach”.

So. Here we have two to four shitty, busted “lawn chairs”, the dregs of several bottles of liquor, a basement full of empties, half a carton of cigarettes, and a fridge devoid of everything but a quart of milk, half a pound of butter, and two half-eaten Big Crunch chicken sandwich burgers from KFC. Oh, and some mustard and BBQ sauce.

Now, we posited that combining those items and a Saturnalia in honour of #HisNibs impending natals would be a Good Thing, and the theme that presented itself, quite organically, I might add, was “International White Trash Week”. Because, you see, we planned to spend that entire week, a week which Drang had free from work, which I had free from work, and which #HisNibs had free from work, slurring our words face-down in a gutter. Lofty goals, gentle reader. Lofty goals.

So we invited our peeps and informed them there would be a strict dress code. Nothing that wasn’t torn, cut off far too short for modesty, or clean would be permitted. Tooth black, while not required, was highly recommended. Bathing beforehand was strictly optional, and there was to be a bonfire so anyone with aerosol hairspray, jerry cans of gasoline, or incriminating evidence was invited to bring it on over. Those few of our friends who had successfully bred at that point were told their children could attend, provided they were solidly attached to a hunk of twine, the other end of which we would wrap around the neighbour’s fence for safety.

Drang and I realised our laundry (A-frame tee shirts quite politically incorrectly nicknamed “wife beaters” and army surplus dungarees) was Far Too Clean, so we spent the afternoon squirting one another with mustard and bbq sauce and spilling coffee down our fronts followed immediately by rolling about in the dirt in the back alley. I shit you not, dear reader, this is a TRUE STORY. Eventually the sun fell low in the sky and Drang built our bonfire high enough that I thought it would warp our neighbour’s siding. We tossed in the “Vote Conservative!” sign our landlord had lovingly staked in our yard, after we stabbed it with knives as a political statement. Drang may have also urinated on it. [Note: my political leanings have not changed.]

Image from

Friends showed up in various attires of the redneck trailer trash cracker variety. I have never in my life (and never will again, I surmise) seen TUO in ‘hotpants’ (cutoff jeans) that short. Our friend D showed up – a fellow a few years older than us, who we all just kind of …assumed… had been a biker. Or still was. Or knew some. Or, you know, was hiding from some. We…didn’t ask a lot of questions.

He tied in to the whiskey pretty hard, halfway through the bottle announcing he’d been on the wagon for a number of years, but this…THIS he had to celebrate. By that point, nobody much cared, and in fact that was the moment that Drang ran up to me to announce he had just vomited! Over there! In the yard! By the end of the night, the cat had escaped and been caught (by #HisNibs), Drang had vomited! In the yard! Over there!, TUO had burnt her knees at the fireside, Suzi had scared the ever-loving Christ out of me by pretending to be my mother, and D was looking a little green around the gills.

Here’s the thing about fêtes. If you CHOOSE to go to bed/to sleep, it doesn’t count as having imbibed so much that you passed out. I *chose* to retire to my own bed at an entirely unreasonable hour, with an entirely excellent choice in partners. In fact, I had stayed up, sobering up, most of the evening, waiting for Drang’s Conflagration to die down enough so that I could put it out with the neighbour’s garden hose. So I missed the Excitement happening in my salle du bain.

The next morning (I’m an early riser much of the time and especially after I’ve been in my cups), I found D snoring loudly on the couch, and although I did my best to creep past him on my way out with #HisNibs to fetch some delectable morning-after fare, D woke with a grunt reminiscent of bears rumbling out of hibernation. “Where you off to?” He mumbled.

“Breakfast. Want to join us?”

He cocked an eyebrow, then rolled himself off the couch and rose unsteadily to his feet. “I could use some coffee.”

What he did not know, what he *could not* know, is that my favourite thing to do after a night of imbibery is to eat greasy fast food. So we drove to the greasiest, fastest-foodiest, arch-related restaurant in the vicinity, where I ordered two greasy mcwiches, several far greasier hash brown patties, and a large cup of coffee drowned in cream and loaded with sugar. I ordered for everyone, as D was still a little unsteady and had opted to have a sit-down in the sit-downery (see: Aristotelean ideal of “chair”) to wait.

I returneth, bearing a tray of sweet, greasy ambrosia.

D’s face turned several shades of…actually I don’t even know what I’d call that colour. Orc? Sun-dried dog  poo? Anyway, the man did not look well. He gulped a few times and said “what the hell is that for?”

I said “Breakfast!” and began to chow down. Now, truth be told, I ate far too fast for the state my stomach was in. But watching that man change colour was far more interesting than any minor protestations coming from my pyloric valve. I didn’t know human beings *turned* those colours. What I did not know was that D had spent much of the previous evening in the loo, retching horrifically…actually, I don’t believe “retching” is an appropriate descriptive verb here. According to #HisNibs, who is a consummate raconteur, the noises coming from the WC were somewhere between “a jet engine revving up” and “an entire pride of lions roaring into a very deep cave”, which lasted “for longer than [he] thought humans could survive without breathing” for the better part of an hour.

“Holy shit,” D said, watching me eat, wiping his brow as he watched. I noticed he was shaking a little. “You’re a bigger man that I am.”

Storytelling Month – Grandmothers

To celebrate Storytelling Month, I’m going to tell you at least one story per week in  February. These are all true stories.

Every day at noon, the bells in the fire hall in Climax (the town in southeastern Saskatchewan that was home to my mum, and to me every summer, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, and most spring breaks) would sound out the Westminster Chimes, and bong their bongers twelve times. No matter where you were, you knew it was time to go home for lunch.

Or, in some cases, you knew last night had been a hell of a night and you buried your head under the pillow and cursed the English once again for every travesty they’d committed upon your ancestors, your ancestors’ ancestors, good food, and the middle class.

Either way, to this day, I associate that particular melody with everything that was good and right and wonderful about childhood. Lying on the the dry, crinkly grass (it was always dry and crinkly down there, no matter how often you watered it because the only trees in town other than the spruce trees planted by Old Mrs. J at the end of the block were two weedy and spindly poplars we planted in Nama’s yard that grew at a 60º angle because of the constant wind), staring up at the cloudless azure sky, the Chimes of Westminster would break you out of your reverie and in you’d go for toast squares and blueberry pie and a tall, cold glass of milk.

"Moroccan Breakfast" photo by Piotr Menducki, used with free license from

“Moroccan Breakfast” photo by Piotr Menducki, used with free license from

Today I walked a few blocks west of the hotel in Pasadena, letting the sun warm my bare arms and dry my hair, and I stopped in to a little restaurant for breakfast. I ate on the patio, and the part of my leg not sheltered by the sun shade grew hot, but I didn’t move it out of the sun. So what if eight inches of my right calf got sunburnt? It’s summer here and there’s no goddamned way I’m budging an inch.

I drank hot, rich coffee and read the book I’d brought with me. I made plans to stop in at the Pasadena library on the way back, because it looks like the lovechild of the Alamo and a colonial spanish ranch-style bungalow. (It turns out it has a courtyard with a fountain and a wall of books devoted to Doctor Who. I love libraries.) A few minutes after my order arrived (eggs benedict florentine with avocado and Canadian bacon), a woman arrived with a young boy – the boy probably not quite old enough for school. The woman had short greying hair and the boy had Spiderman clutched in one hand.

She ordered for them (waffles, orange juice, water, and two plates so they could share) and I read my book and ate my breakfast and drank my coffee in the sun. If this story ended here, it would be just fine. But it doesn’t. Because, as Anton Chekov says, “something-something gun in the scene, something-something better get shot”. I may have muddled up the quotation a bit but the gist of it is that if you introduce something into your story, you had better be prepared to use it.

The waitress brought my bill and I sipped my coffee and watched the grandmother with her grandson and I had An Idea. It was one of those Ideas that kind of jumps out at you from behind the topiary and then slaps you around a bit until you agree that it is, in fact, a Good Idea. Because the grandmother and her grandson were having breakfast together, on the porch of this little café, and I thought about all the times I had eaten at my grandmothers’ tables. I thought about grandmothers. About how maybe someday I’ll get to take my grandchild to a restaurant and share a plate of waffles.

I thought about how, even now, thirty years after she died in a cold and green hospital room, I miss my Nama fiercely and think of her often. I thought about how despite the differences my Gram and I had. one of her greatest joys was taking us out for a meal (and how she nearly shivved His Nibs when he attempted to pay for dinner one night). My eyes were filling with remembering, and this Idea was still beating me up.

This was taken the last fall she was alive.

This was taken the last fall she was alive.

When the waitress returned to take my credit card, I asked her to please add the grandmother’s and grandson’s bill to mine, and to please not tell them I was doing that. And the moment the waitress walked away, a church nearby began to ring out Westminster Chimes. I left a note that said “please tell the grandmother and her grandson how wonderful it is to see them enjoying each others’ company, and to always remember how lovely it is to spend time with your grandmother.” And I paid their bill and left my tip and got up and walked down the stairs toward the library.

Now go ahead and call me flaky, but I could damn near feel my Nama walking next to me. She was smiling as she told me, “that gift came from me, you know.”

To Print or Not to Print

You’ve heard by now that HarperCollins will be publishing a “new” book by Harper Lee, the author of one of my favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird. Harper Lee, renowned for being reclusive and very protective of her work, may not have made the decision to publish, and that raises some interesting questions. Questions about art ownership and intellectual property and commerce in the creative economy.

The decision to publish is a commercial one. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating because I still hear the hateful phrase “art for the sake of art” more often than not. So I’m going to go on a little tear about that phrase, then I’m going to talk about publishing as a commercial creative production, then I’m going to (hopefully) draw the whole thing together, and back to Harper Lee. Are you ready for this? Okay. Let’s go.

As an artist, I do not “do art for the sake of art”. I do not “make art for the sake of art”. I’m not into that bullshit belly-button-gazing phrase because I don’t know any artists who do “art for the sake of art”. In fact, I don’t even know what that phrase means. People tend to use it to mean “people who create things without an intent to commercialize/monetize their works”. That is a very different thing from “art for the sake of art” (hereafter referred to as AFTSOA).

Some artists, and many hobbyists, may decide to spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars creating works with no intent of ever recouping any costs at all. You know who’s the worst for this? WRITERS. We undervalue our work *all the time*. We think nothing of tossing a blog post up or a piece of fan fiction or several chapters of our next book because we are under the mistaken impression that if you put your work out there for free consumption, we’ll become well known and publishers will start beating down our doors to get our next manuscript. I don’t want to be a poopypants here, but that’s not going to happen.

Chances are *pretty good* that the next Stephen King or Alice Munro is not sitting in front of their laptop posting the next eighty chapters of their Lloyd Robertson/Mike Duffy slashfic. And chances are *even better* that Random House is not trolling tumblr to find the new Stephen King or Alice Munro. The reason why Stephen King and Alice Munro are successful is because they devoted their lives to their art. They had little or no income. They worked shit jobs to pay the bills so that they could spend their time doing what they’re driven to do – what they can’t NOT do – and artists grok this. We do what we do not because we choose this lifestyle but because we go bats without it.

Ultimately, though, we want to make a living. Ask any artist what their dream is, and I’d put money on them NOT saying “working at a desk job for the rest of my working career”. I bet they’d say something like “being able to quit my job so that I could focus on writing/music/sculpture/theatre career/photography/stand-up comedy”. Some of us are fortunate to find work within our creative sector, and most of us aren’t.

I will concede that there may be some hobbyists (and I make the distinction here between professional artists and hobbyists because professional artists spend decades learning how to be better at what they do) who choose to write stories or make earrings or paint landscapes because it’s cathartic and they never want anyone to see what they do, except maybe their kids and friends. There are people who use art as therapy (and it is a POWERFUL tool in that arena), but those people aren’t professional artists. What makes a professional artist professional is that they have chosen art as their career. Which means they want to make a living at it. Which means they want to get paid.

In order to commercialize artworks, there needs to be some kind of production – visual artists may have their work exhibited in a gallery; musicians make albums and go on tour; and writers’ works are published. The decision to publish is entirely a commercial one. Publishing, even if you’re doing digital publishing, is not easy to do well, and it’s a dear venture. The truth is that people place more value on products they pay for, and if you want your creative product to “get out there” so that “people will read it”, you need more than just a PDF available for download on your website.

Manuscripts need editing, design, sometimes typesetting, marketing, distribution…they need PRODUCTION. And this is where the new Harper Lee book becomes very interesting.

Publishers publish because they are businesses. They need to make money. They may be non-profit or for-profit, but non-profit doesn’t mean no revenue. It means the profit recognized from sales gets rolled back in to the operations and that shareholders don’t profit. Let’s look at HarperCollins. This is a HUGE publishing house with hundreds of publishing professionals at their disposal. They have an accomplished and notable sales force. They have international distribution and rights deals. They can move a lot of books because they have a lot of money to put behind a title.

HarperCollins doesn’t want to publish Go Set a Watchman for the good of the people. They probably don’t want to publish this book to benefit the author. They want to publish this book because they know it will turn a profit. They’re planning an initial print run of TWO MILLION COPIES. To put this into perspective, an indie or small press publisher might print 5,000 copies if they think they have a particularly strong title.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with publishing being commercial, and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with huge publishing houses producing enormous print runs. I’m not anti-business (especially if it means artists and the creative economy benefit).

But if what Madeline Davies says in the Jezebel article is true, and I don’t see anything in that article to indicate she has her own ulterior motive in questioning this publishing choice, then a bigger question is at play.

Let’s just say that Harper Lee has a really good reason why she hasn’t published this title before now. Maybe she didn’t feel it was as strong as To Kill a Mockingbird. Maybe she felt that To Kill a Mockingbird was an important enough book that she didn’t want to put another one out there. Maybe that one book was enough. Maybe she only had one story in her, and that was the one (and what a hell of a good story it is). Maybe she wrote To Kill a Mockingbird because what it talked about – racism, rape, and the American justice system – needed exposition in modern literature. Whatever her reasons, she opted to stop publishing novels (but she didn’t stop writing essays and articles and letters). She chose, for more than fifty years, not to publish another novel.


Do you think she’s just mean? She just doesn’t want you to find out what happened to Scout and Jem and Atticus? She thinks you can’t HANDLE it? She doesn’t want any more money. That’s it. She has sold enough books with her first novel that she’s said ‘no, you know what? I don’t need any more money’. [Note: Harper Lee probably didn’t get incredibly rich from sales from her novel.]

Harper Lee has received numerous accolades as a result of this book – not just a Pulitzer prize, but a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a National Medal of Arts. And she has fiercely and successfully defended her own copyright and intellectual property.

And, let’s play devil’s advocate too – let’s say she has decided, in her later years, that really, that second novel really SHOULD be published. That the people of the world really do need to find out what happens to Scout and Atticus. That maybe what happened to those characters after that trial in Alabama is important too.

I’m not convinced. And here’s why this is important: As artists, our intellectual property, our artworks, are commodities. They are our products. We have control over whether or not our works *become* products. If we don’t feel a work is good enough, or ready, or says what we want it to say, we don’t send it out. There are numerous reasons why, and those reasons, each of them is legitimate because  our works are the product of our labour.

If writing a book is like building a house, then publishing a book is like selling the house. If the wiring isn’t up to code; if the roof leaks and the grade is off and the foundation cracks, that house isn’t going to sell. If I’m the builder, I want to make sure I build a good, solid house. A beautiful house. A house that will hold young lovers, and tiny babies, and rammy kids, and old farts. And then more young lovers. I don’t really know what this simile has to do with anything. But I kind of liked it.

Anyway. I think I won’t buy the new Harper Lee book when it comes out. I figure that the important story she told in To Kill a Mockingbird wasn’t about Scout, or Jem, or Atticus, or Boo Radley. I think I don’t want to know what happens to those folks. I’m happy with Scout staying 9 years old forever. I’m happy remembering Atticus clean off his glasses. I don’t much think about what those folks might have gone on to do, because their zenith was in that court room, and in the jail cell, and back at Atticus’ house. It was never about the characters, in other words. It was about the truth.