The play’s the three

I’ve spent so much time watching our children play sports that sitting down to watch the youngest do theatre took some acclimatizing. How many quarters are there? How long is halftime? How do you know who wins?

There is much in common between acting and athletics: coaching, practicing, running scripts, staking out positions. But in sports, you’re allowed to make mistakes. In theatre’s alchemy of precision and creativity, a single error can destroy the magic. When the curtain rises, the actors wear zero protective equipment and desperately hope they don’t fall on their faces. Acting is an extreme sport.

I think of watching my son shooting a three in one of his basketball games. This is his shot, and it amazes me that he can do it, but in the pressure of the game, when James lets one go, there’s reasonable probability that it’s not going in. Between the ball leaving his hands and landing (hopefully) in the basket, my whole body tenses, I stop breathing, as I will it to hit the mark, not just so his team scores but so my child doesn’t feel the crushing disappointment of failure.

Watching Abby in Anne of Green Gables last week was like watching one long three-point shot.

It was perfectly natural for Abby’s school director to consider her for the part of Anne: she’s 12, she has red hair, freckles and scads of personality. A natch. Outside of small parts in her Grade 6 play and last summer’s local production of Annie, though, her acting experience was limited. The role of Anne, that’s a lot of stage time, a ton of lines. It’s the lead. Anne carries the play.

Age, hair, freckles, personality? Check, check, check, check. Memorizing? Oh…

The humorist Calvin Trillin once wrote that people who publicly criticize their children should have their parenting licences revoked. I’m inclined to agree. At the same time, I don’t think parents should boast about their children or fool themselves that they’re flawless. In fact, I’m certain such attitude will only lead to said child being forever dependent on said parent and, more important, said parent’s bank account.

All that memorizing, then, was a concern. Memory is not Abby’s strength. I wasn’t convinced she could sink that three.

“Are you going over your lines? You should go over your lines? Have you run through your lines?” I asked over the last few months. “You’re supposed to have the whole thing memorized by now. Do you?”

“Yes, Dad,” Abby would say and roll her eyes. “Mostly.”

It was the “mostly” that had me worried.

There were times, even, when she complained about it, said she didn’t want to go to rehearsal. This led to speeches about “commitment” and “letting down the team,” which, it turns out, are essentially the same speeches you give for sports. In the final week, though, the cast stepped up with some intensive long rehearsals. The actors missed some fun activities at school because they were so full-on committed.

Their first performance was for the local elementary school kids. “How’d it go?” I asked Abby afterwards. “It was good,” she said but made it sound like “It was just okay.”

“What went wrong?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. I’m too tired.”


The next night was the public performance. The curtain opened; the ball left the actors’ hands. Abby came on in the second scene and I watched the remainder of the play (metaphorically) through my fingers. Holding my breath as the ball arced up, up, up. And to my surprise and wonder and delight, it was sailing beautifully through the air. Abby, the older actors, her fellow Grade 7 classmates, they were nailing it. The audience was laughing and applauding, I was breathing. Abby was more than just another freckled face. She was good. She knew her lines. She had presence. She was affecting and disarming. She was loveable. She was Anne. The ball was dropping beautifully. Nothing but net.

In the final scene, Anne recites a poem, a poem I knew Abby had been having trouble remembering. On this night, she stumbled. There was a moment of panic as the ball swirled around the edge of the rim, teetering, teetering, until Abby gathered herself, finished the poem, closed the scene and returned for the sincere, possibly surprised applause of the audience.

Three points.

I’ve rarely been so proud to have underestimated my child.


More proud papa photos on Flickr.

Posted in Family - whadya gonna do? | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Tour this: #mywritingprocess

What do writers like even better than writing? Pretty much anything, when it comes right down to the actual writing. It’s like my youngest daughter: she likes the idea of books more than actually reading books. If we’re perfectly honest with ourselves, I think a lot of people felt the same way about “Breaking Bad.”

But one thing writers definitely do love is talking about writing, which is why I readily agreed to take part in the #mywritingprocess blog tour by the talented and lovely Julie at I’m not sure what the hashtag has to do with anything, but, unlike the spry and insightful Julie at, I am old and out of touch. But you know what they say: you only live YOLO.

Seriously, go check out; she’s great. But first here are my answers to the #mywritingprocess queries:

1. What am I working on?

On top of my regular weekly newspaper column and biweekly radio contribution, which are reprinted on this blog, I’ve started working on my first novel.

Don’t you roll your eyes at me!

I know, everybody’s doing it, but now that I’ve actually begun (I’ve been thinking of it for several years), I’m enthralled by the process, particularly mapping out the logic of the plot, which is like working on a jigsaw puzzle. Or maybe a Sudoku. Word search? Battleship.

It’s a comic novel, and some of it is drawn on my experiences as a small-town reporter, but it’s not autobiographical. In fact, I made the main protagonist a woman specifically to distance the character from myself. It’s working. In fact, it’s fun to be a girl. Seriously, I don’t know what all the complaining is about.

If this were The Great Gatsby, I’d be finished at 50,000 words, but it’s not The Great Gatsby and never will be – look, it’s a comic novel, an entertainment, not earnest literature, and that’s perfectly fine – so I still have a way’s to go. But get this: I have a small publisher interested in it. And by “small,” I mean invisible to the naked eye, but that’s not the point, is it?

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

Well, it doesn’t really. (See “comic novel” above.) As with my humour writing, I’m not breaking ground here, just trying to project the world through the cracked prism of my brain. As recently expressed by my blogger friend Nic (who you’ll meet shortly), I feel my job as a writer is to “make someone’s day a little less shitty.”

But in addition to being a traditional narrative about a small town, a sinkhole, a newspaper and rare turtles (there are also beavers… of course), each chapter is separated by stories and editorials from current and past issues of the local newspaper, The Beaverly Modicum¸ as well as radio transcripts, a Grade 9 essay, government letters, a refrigerator note, etc. These provide information for the story in a non-narrative way while allowing me to use various satirical techniques and multiple voices. Original? Hell no. But hopefully entertaining.

3. Why do I write what I do?

See the quote from Nic above. But that might actually be more effect than the cause. I’ve always loved humour and satire, going back to all those Mad magazine I read at a probably not very healthy young age. An English degree, though, put in my head that I might write the Great Gen-X Novel (curse you, Douglas Coupland!) and, in fact, I gave it a shot. It was lit-rah-turrrre. And it was terrible. Cringe-y stuff. But while I was doing that, I was also trying to earn a living as a freelance writer and learned that not only was there a small market for light humour but that I was good at it. When I landed a job as an editor (later owner) of a regional weekly, I started writing a humour column. My passion for journalism abated but the humour stuck.

Plus, you can reveal the ridiculous through humour and satire in ways you can’t with straight facts. And let’s face it: this world is all about the ridiculous.

4. How does my writing process work?

I have a full-time job and a family, with two out of four kids still living at home. I have to make time to write. My regular gigs are deadline-driven, so I make sure to set time aside to do those, usually in the evening. For the novel I try to find snatches of time between my other deadlines. But then I start giggling because I just said “snatches” and get nothing done.

Thankfully, in the coming and going of my life, I’m able to do a lot of pre-writing in my head prior to sitting down and typing. This works well with humour, where I’m coming up with angles and gags that can be patched into the text or used to build something around. With the novel, my in-between thoughts are often working out how A is going to lead to B. It also means that if you talk to me, I might not be fully paying attention.

I don’t have a space of my own for writing at home, so I use my laptop and find a quiet spot where I can work. Because of this, along with my natural tendency to be distracted, it takes a while sometimes for me to settle down. There’s lots of getting up for tea and snacks, chores, WordPress stats, dogs, cats, children, WordPress stats again. What have I learned from this? You can’t eat an ice cream cone and type effectively. Bowl. Always the bowl.

I write more about my approach to humour in this post.

None of this, I realize, is particularly helpful to aspiring writers. But if you were looking for help, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Maybe these guys can help you. I’m passing the hashtag torch onto three of my favourite blogger guys.

nicI like to call Nic DiDomizio of The Nicolas Blog my favourite work in progress. He’s a questing, self-analyzing, beautiful and hilarious young man making his way in a harsh world that doesn’t fully appreciate the majesty of Mariah Carey. From Connecticut, Nic has written for The Advocate as well as a handful of other websites that he says “definitely aren’t reputable enough to be listed in a bio (hint: one of them rhymes with ‘shmought shmatalog’).” One time he wrote a memoir about his search for identity amidst a seven-year string of combative relationships and absurd hookups, and then a bunch of other times he tried to get it published. He’s in one of those times right now.

Ned_HicksonNed Hickson of (appropriately) is a fellow humour columnist in what the old folks call “a newspaper,” specifically the Siuslaw News in Oregon. He’s a real mensch and probably doesn’t want to know that the firefighters in my novel are kind of jerks. But he ain’t. Not our Ned. He’s one of those bloggers I hope to meet in real life one day. In 2002, he took his self-syndicated column online and it now appears in dozens of newspapers in the U.S. as a syndicated feature for News Media Corporation. His first book, Humor at the Speed of Life, was published in January and is a collection of his most popular columns (as opposed to the kinds he usually writes, he says) during his 15 years as a newspaper columnist. Ned lives on the Oregon coast with his wife, four children, two dogs, a cat and entirely too many seagulls.

billpearseFinally, there’s my favourite philosopher blogger, Bill Pearse from Seattle, whose meditations on making your way in the world as a father, artist, man are beautifully written and thought-provoking. Bill’s pieces are like poems, wherein sometimes you intuit more than fully understand. Don’t let my vague descriptions intimidate you; go see for yourself over at Bill is working on his first novel — a Künstlerroman, or artist’s coming-of-age story honoring the James Joyce tale of the same genre. “It describes the writer’s discovery of identity through bouts with madness and the supernatural, akin to Joyce’s conflicts with the Irish Catholic church. A ‘selfie’ for the modern age, it follows a writer’s journey creating (and losing himself inside) characters that reflect his relationship to the world,” Bill writes. Bill lives with his wife, two daughters, a dog, two cats, one of whom is unwanted, and talks about all of them on his blog,

Over to you, gentlemen! Hashtag away!

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Bathed in Bubba’s tears

bubbawatson1404g_748It was clear by the 17th hole that, barring an unthinkable collapse, Bubba Watson was going to win the 2014 Masters. And yet I stuck it out, not necessarily to watch the conclusive putt but because I wanted to see if Bubba would once again weep like an emotionally fragile bridesmaid. He did not disappoint.

This wasn’t pure gawkerism on my part. It was science. Science, I tell you! About a week earlier, I had decided to document the things that make me weepy. I also wanted to monitor how I react when the going gets mush. Do I let it flow? Or do I fight back tears as though lives were hanging in the balance? And what does it mean to do either? And is this science or psychology? Is psychology a science? Shouldn’t I know that? So many questions!

As enlightened as we pretend to be, society is just not comfortable with men weeping, especially in public. When women weep in public, everybody goes, “Awwwww…!” But when a man weeps, everyone freezes and avoids eye contact, and in our heads we all turn into British military officers: “Good God, man, pull yourself together!” Continue reading

Posted in It Really Did Happen! | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 33 Comments

P4ssW()rd f0LL1es

You know what would make a good password? “Security breach.” Because that way if you get hacked, you would at least have that delightful irony to cheer you up in your time of panic.

And yet we have no problem giving our credit card info over the phone to this guy... photo

And yet we have no problem giving our credit card info over the phone to this guy…

I’m all about best practices when it comes to my own password: at least seven characters including a capital letter and a numeral. The fact that I use this same password virtually every time for every new account I create is about as bad a practice as can be, almost as bad as the fact that I list this and my handful of other passwords in a single Word document called “Web Passwords.” So if you know which of my dead pets I’ve based this password on, you can essentially access my life. The fact that I have many, many dead pets is too bad for you, not to mention for my highly traumatized children. Continue reading

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BookStackWe’re still three months away from Summer Beach Reading Season, but you don’t have to wait that long to read the books that everyone else is reading because other people told them to read them and you should too. That’s because it’s Spring Snow Bank Reading Season!

Here’s a list of must-read books perfect for perusing in partially melted back yard snow drifts while obstinately wearing shorts and sandals because it’s spring, dammit! And by “must-read,” I mean go now. Right now. Don’t even finish this article; take it with you. No! Stop ordering online! Too slow. Go get these books this instant. Get the hell out! Git! And thank you for supporting your independent book store.

The Burghermeister’s Burger by Isabelllllll Plechette

The fourth in her Possessives series (The Baker’s Forklift, The Alchemist’s Bassoon, The Crossing Guard’s Gelato), Plechette expands her exploration of people who own things, what they own, the relationships between the owner and the thing owned, the byzantine nature of small claims courts and the inherently awkward nature of literary sex scenes. Set against the backdrop of the Great Salmonella Scare of 1974, Plechette asks whether love, like hamburger, can simply be too rare. Continue reading

Posted in Never Happened, Reading? Ugh! | Tagged , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Seriously, what the hell is maple milk?

I took a short vacation from Facebook recently. More like throttled back. Facebook, to put it simply, was driving me nuts. And what happened next you won’t believe!

Yeah, that was the kind of link bait nonsense that was driving me nuts, that and the inane and hateful political comments, particularly regarding Quebec politics as we headed into the current provincial election campaign.

A real thing.

A real thing.

During my Lenten-election-blood-pressure-Facebook-fast, the only thing I really missed was polling my constituents, as it were, about the unknown. As many of you know, I live in maple syrup country. This time of year, the stores are filled with maple — maple fudge, maple candy, maple cones, maple butter. But for the first time this season, I’ve seen maple milk. “What the hell is maple milk?” I wondered. And more important, how does it taste? Alas, without Facebook or actually buying some (no thanks), there was no way to find out.

It didn’t take long to fall off the Facebook wagon. I knew I was doomed when I rushed to inform a Gwyneth-hating Facebook friend about this “conscious uncoupling” business. (Being a Gwyneth-hater, of course, she was already aware. And gloating.) And before long I was sucked back into the politics — the angry, miserable, self-loathing politics of Quebec.

But miserable politics makes for good satire. For those of you, then, who follow Quebec politics (and why the hell would you?), here’s my latest piece at Life in Quebec. For the rest of you: is it just me or does “maple milk” sound kind of dirty?



Posted in Canada and/or Quebec | Tagged , , , , , | 50 Comments

Abby ate a cow

The parking in heaven must be hell. All those dead people who ever lived looking for a spot to hear Mozart and Gershwin in concert, with Keith Moon on drums. Imagine the honking, although this being heaven, the honking is surely mellifluous.

This is how the mind wanders when stuck on a side street in Montreal, trying, along with the other unbudging cars, to find a spot reasonably close to the hospital. Walking distance was looking increasingly unlikely. After I made a U-turn, drove several blocks and jammed my car into a snow bank beneath a sign that read “Stationnement 15 minutes,” I settled for sprinting distance.

Here’s why we were at the hospital:

TYR Coolers


Abby’s metabolic condition, tyrosinemia, is controlled through medication and strict diet (specialty foods, no meat, dairy, soy or legumes, minimal protein all around). She also consumes supplemental drinks that are universally blechy, whether the barfy so-called “milk” or the gaggy coolers. Gross or not, these drinks have all the nutrition she needs minus the amino acid tyrosine, which her body can’t metabolize. Even with medication, too much tyrosine can cause serious complications. Continue reading

Posted in Reading? Ugh! | 33 Comments