Fear

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A List of Fears
(exercise: tick all that apply)

of failure
of success
of inadequacy
of being caught short
of being found out
of the blank page
of revealing intimate details
of feeling stupid
of typos or punctuation or bad grammar
of presumption
of being laughed at
of new things or old things
of something borrowed
of new topics or new methods
of research or hard work or perfection
of rejection or dejection or ejection
of losing yourself or finding yourself
of caring or not caring
of the unknown or the unknowable
of peer pressure
of speaking out loud
of being unable to write like …
of being wrong or right
of political or social consequences
of free speech
of hurting others
of being misunderstood or understood
of large or small audiences
of clothing or mechanical failure
of starting or finishing or writer’s block
of having nothing to say
of having nothing worthwhile to say

fear of fear

Commentary:
Last Saturday, in Quispamsis, I facilitated a two hour workshop on things that writers fear. I began with a list of all the things that I have feared at various times during my writing career. This morning, I turned, with great trepidation, those fears into the list poem I reproduce above.  If you wish to discuss any of these fears, or add other fears of your own to the list, and remember, this is a list of writers’ fears, then please do so. I will be happy to enter into a dialog.
As for the fear of feeling stupid, I often offer this small piece of advice. It has been known to comfort those who actually have a fear of feeling stupid. (1) buy a small fluffy toy, preferably a Teddy Bear, that will fit into your pocket or purse. (2) christen that small fluffy toy with the name of Stupid. (3) you carry Stupid around with you all day knowing that you can put your hand in your pocket or purse and feel Stupid all day and nobody is going to know or care.
The moral of the story is this: when you can laugh at your fears, you fear them no more. And remember: you can stop feeling Stupid whenever you want to.

Looking Back

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Looking Back

Looking back on a wonderful weekend, the WFNB WordSpring in Quispamsis, I remember the highlights.

  1. Picking up Kerry-Lee Powell and driving with her to Quispamsis. Never has the road seemed so short, and rarely has time passed so quickly. Whether it’s our shared Welsh roots or the course I took with her online at Toronto, we had so much to talk about.
  2. Arriving to find so many friends and all of them so willing to help with books and luggage and getting me to my room. Special mentions: Jeremy Gilmer‘s hug on arriving, Zev Bagel‘s offer to help with luggage, Chuck Bowie‘s warm presence and guiding hand, Cathy Fynn‘s hug and firm control of registration and checking in, and many others, some of whose names will appear bit by bit.
  3. Settling into the room was easy.  Then it was a case of preparing for the first workshop (The Sense of an Ending) that started at four and was due to run until five. I went early to the room and met the participants as they arrived. My first surprise: Barb Fullerton, another member of our online Toronto course, announced her presence with a warm smile and greeting. We had chatted online for eight weeks and now she was here at my workshop. Wonderful. Starting the spring conference with a workshop on endings seemed very inappropriate, until I remembered my T. S. Eliot: “In my beginning is my end …” The circularity of time and the intricate relationship of the end to the middle to the beginning … it made a great central theme for the workshop.
  4. The group was composed of many excellent writers and I was able to mention many of them by name. In addition to  some of those already highlighted above [Chuck, Jeremy, Kerry-LeeZev, Chuck] , Ana Watts, Jane Tims, Neil Sampson, and Terry Armstrong stood out and I urged people to circulate during the mobile, inter-active session, meet these writers, and talk to them about their undoubted finishing skills.
  5. Time passed too quickly and we found that an hour was not enough. No problem, I checked with Cathy and we kept going for another fifty minutes in a seamless transition of lengthened workouts.
  6. Friday night passed in a flurry of conversation in the hotel restaurant, coffee house, and bar. Chuck (the TWUC Atlantic Representative) introduced me to Marjorie Doyle, the Chair of TWUC and our guest speaker for the banquet, and we held a delightful, wide-ranging conversation on literary values and travels in Catalonia.
  7. Saturday morning saw the advent of my second workshop, this one entitled The Black Ink of Fear. This workshop was by request and I was more than a little afraid of how I would handle it. I circulated my own Fear Document  and invited people to read it. Victor, my Australian friend, found his sheet was upside down and amazed the room by standing on his head, to much applause, as he read it the right way up. This clearly broke the ice and we employed Chaos Theory to good effect by doing absolutely nothing in Chaotic Fashion and getting everywhere.
  8. Lunch was a delightful selection from Chef’s Table (Sussex) and Chuck Bowie played a major role in keeping me a seat (I arrived late) and getting me settled (thank you again, Chuck).
  9. Worn out after lunch, I missed the afternoon’s sessions and took to my bed in traditional Spanish fashion enjoying a well-earned, rather extended siesta from 2-5 pm.
  10. Supper was at 6:00 pm and I was truly honored when Jeremy Gilmer read my poem Inundation that I wrote on May 6, just when the St. John River flooding was at its worst downstream below Fredericton. We dedicated our thoughts and prayers to the people in Saint John and Quispamsis still affected by the now diminishing waters. It was a double honor when I was invited to say a traditional Welsh Grace, in Welsh, followed by an English translation: “Thanks be to God for Good Food and Even Better Friends.”
  11. My weekend’s activities were not yet over and I received an award (3rd place in the David Adams Richards’ Prose Competition for my short story collection Devil’s Kitchen). I read in a thick Welsh accent a short piece of Flash Fiction from this collection, called Teeth. For some strange reason that I could not fathom, the room was highly amused by this true story of domestic bliss.
  12. Saturday night and we retired to the bar where a small group of us Marie, Louise, Angèle, John, Andrea, and I stayed up and sang to John’s marvelous harmonica and guitar music until one thirty am. Contrary to malicious rumors spread by unknown sources, not mentioned by name, we did not sing rugby songs, but a marvelous mix of Irish ballads, Newfoundland songs, Acadian and French chansons, and contemporary songs by internationally acclaimed singers, many of whom might not, midnight being long past, have recognized their own music.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. Later that Sunday morning, we made our sad farewells and Kerry-Lee and I headed back down the road to Fredericton where we arrived after what what seemed to be about five minutes driving (at well below the speed limit). I dropped Kerry-Lee off then stopped at the Happy Baker for cakes and croissants. These I presented to my beloved for Mother’s Day. We shared them over hot coffee … and that was that.

 

Teeth

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Teeth

Lunchtime.

Tiggy opens a can of tom8to soup and heats it on the stove. She slices the remains of yesterday’s loaf of bread into one inch cubes and fries them in olive oil and garlic. Tom8to soup with croutons. Then she puts two slices of bread in the toaster. Her father will only eat toast soaked in butter and layered with Marmite when he eats tomahto soup.

“Lunch is ready,” she calls out.

The black American Cocker Spaniel, bought by Tiggy’s late mother, in a moment of madness, by telephone, unseen, camps in the kitchen. It nests at the far end of the table, by the stove, and defends its territory with warning growls and a snapping of yellowed teeth. Tiggy will not go near the dog.

“Lunch is ready,” Tiggy calls out, a little bit louder. Dog, as they call him, growls and clatters its teeth. It has hidden a treasure in the folds of its old, gray comfort blanket, and guards it with the fierce, loving worry of a dragon protecting its golden hoard.

Tiggy’s father enters the kitchen as she places the soup on the table.

“I’m not ready to eat. Put it back in the pot.”

“What’s wrong, dad? I thought you were hungry.”

“My teeth,” he mumbles through a mouthful of pink gums. “I can’t find my teeth.”

“Where on earth did you put them?”

“I don’t know. If I knew where I’d put them, I wouldn’t have lost them.”

Tiggy’s father circulates round the kitchen opening drawers, lifting saucepan lids, and shaking empty yogurt pots to see if they’ll rattle.

“I can’t find them anywhere. I can’t eat lunch without my teeth.”

“But it’s only soup, dad, tom8to soup.”

“I don’t like tom8to soup. Your mother always made tomahto soup. Why can’t you be more like your mother?”

“Sorry, dad. I’ll call it tomahto soup, if that will make you feel better. But it’s still made out of tom8toes.”

“Don’t be so sarcastic. Help me find my teeth,” Tiggy’s father stomps towards the stove and Dog growls fiercely from its blanket as it guards its treasure.

“Take that, you dirty dog,” Tiggy’s father lashes out at Dog with his stick and cracks it across the head.

“Dad, stop that. It’s not Dog’s fault.”

Dog howls and spits out what it is chewing.

“There they are,” Tiggy’s father bends down, picks up his teeth, still hairy from the blanket and bubbly from Dog’s saliva. He pops his teeth into his mouth.

“That’s better,” he says, “now I can enjoy my lunch.”

Comment:

I included this short story, first published here on my blog on April 13, in Devil’s Kitchen, my new story collection that received third prize in the Writers’ Federation of New Brunswick David Adams Richards Award for prose this year. I will probably read this tonight, at the awards ceremony that follows the banquet here in Quispamsis. It’s a beautiful morning, with sunshine streaming through my bedroom window. Hopefully a full day of sun and warmth will help decrease the already diminishing flood waters that have struck this area of the Lower Saint John River Valley.

Friday Fiction: Woof!

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Friday Fiction
11 May 2018

Woof!

The old man limped up to the check-out in Chapters and placed a brown, hand-made, Italian notebook on the counter.

“Did you find everything you were looking for?” The check-out girl inquired.

“No.”

“Oh dear, what were you looking for?”

“My dog. I lost my dog.”

“Here? In the store? I can page security. I’m sure they’ll find it.”

“No, you mustn’t do that.”

“It’s no trouble. What color is it? Male or female? What breed? Large or small?”

“No, no. You’re much too kind. I lost him at home.”

“I lost my cat last week,” the check-out girl told him. “We searched everywhere for her.”

“I searched for my dog. All around the block. The dog usually comes home. This time he didn’t.”

“That doesn’t sound good. We never found our cat. My mom said the coyotes got her.”

“That’s not nice. We lost a cat.”

“To coyotes?”

“No. To mapaches, you know, to raccoons.”

“I miss my cat.”

“Me too. I also miss my dog.”

“I hope you find him.”

“I will. Oh, look. Here he is. Safe and sound.”

“I don’t see him,” the check-out girl looked around the store from her vantage point behind the cash register but didn’t see any dogs.

“His name’s Woof,” the old man pulled a small, fluffy, black-and-white dog out of his pocket and put him down on the counter. “Here, you have him. He’ll help make up for your lost cat.”

“I couldn’t possibly …”

“Don’t be silly.”

“No. Thank you very much. But I can’t take your dog. Here, put him back in your pocket. Oh, and that will be eight dollars exactly.”

The old man held out a five dollar bill, a toony, and a loony.

“Thank you,” the girl placed the money in the till and the little bell chimed happily. “Here’s your receipt.”

“Thank you,” the old man turned and limped away.

When he passed through the exit barrier, the alarm bell rang, but he took no notice. He walked rapidly to his car, close by in the wheelchair parking spot. He pressed the starter button, placed Woof on the passenger seat, and drove away before security arrived. As he drove, the old man extracted a brindle hound from his coat pocket and waved him proudly.

“Hello Woof,” he chuckled. “I want you to meet Winnie. Welcome to the family, Winnie. You’re free now.”

He put his hand in his other pocket and pulled out a fluffy Dalmatian, all white with black spots.

“And this is Pooh,” he announced. “Woof, Winnie, and Pooh: all broken out of prison. We’re one big happy family.”

He tooted the car horn and Woof, Winnie, and Pooh sat up straight on the front seat, wagged their tails, and woofed in time to the tooted horn.

Wednesday Workshop: Recycling

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Wednesday Workshop
09 May 2018

Recycling 1

“You never know when you might need it,” my

grandfather said, finger-nails cracking red-
waxed parcel string. Bright sealing wax rained down
on the tablecloth, covering it with hard,
scarlet chips, wax cracked, tight knots emerging.
One by one, my grandfather first loosened
them, then sought the string’s free end, following
it along its snaking way from knot to
knot. Like Theseus following his twine
through the labyrinth below the palace, my
grandfather mused, hesitated, followed
the clues given him by the knotter’s mind.
Set free from its parceled knots and lashings,
he looped the string around his fingers and
tied the twine into a tight bow that he
stowed away for future use. Reef knots, slip
knots, sheep-shanks, bowlines, bowlines-on-the-bight,
he showed me how to tie them all. He taught
me too how to never tie granny knots.
“Never cut string with a knife: untie knots,”
strict his advice and followed still today.

Recycling 2

finger-nails
cracking red-waxed
parcel string

sealing wax rained down
staining snow white tablecloth
wax cracked
hard scarlet flakes
tight knots emerging
loosened

now seek the string’s
free end
then follow it
the way it snakes
linking knot to knot

muse
hesitate
unknot
the mind of she who tied

set free these
parceled knots and lashings
loop string around fingers
tie tight the twine

a child’s bow
to be stored
for future use

Recycling
Haiku 1
[7/11/7]

string yields blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread to lead through the parcel’s labyrinth
open now the magic box

Recycling
Haiku 2
[5/7/5]

blood-bright scarlet wax
a thread through the labyrinth
open now the box

Commentary:
There are many ways to recycle. All are valid. Some are more valid than others.

Thursday Thoughts: M. T. Head

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Thursday Thoughts
26 April, 2018
M. T. Head
 

I sat in the class, head in hands, avoiding eye contact. I hoped the teacher wouldn’t point me out, call on me, nominate me with a finger … to no avail … he called my name … “You have sixty seconds to speak about …” he paused, then produced the rabbit from the hat, “matches. Come along, stand up, you have sixty seconds, starting …” he watched the second hand go round on the classroom clock, then counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” waved his hand, and shouted: “Now!”

Matches: cricket matches, boxing matches, rugby matches, soccer matches, chess matches, matches to light the burners on the gas stove, the oven, to light the fire in the fire place … matches, matchsticks, Match Box toys, Dinky toys, toys for little boys, toys for big boys …

“Ten seconds have gone … you have fifty remaining.”

“When I think about matches, I think about …”

The first spring day in the bungalow, our summer home. The rooms are cold and damp after the winter and nobody has been here since last year. We lay a fire in the grate, but the wood is damp, as is the old newspaper we gather from our last visit. We search for sugar to aid the blaze that we hope to start, but the sugar bowl is empty. We go to the stove. Cold, winter ashes crowd the fire bowl. We scrape them together in a desperate search for charcoal remains …  but we find nothing. We move to the oil-fired lamps and oil stoves. Matches dragged across soggy sandpaper fail to spark.

“Come along, boy. Have you nothing to say? You have thirty seconds left.”

Silence fills the room. It is broken by the childhood sniggers and chuckles of long-forgotten friends. The unmentionable shuffles its outsize feet to shatter the silence. My cheeks grow red. I start, stammer, and stop.

We leave the bungalow. Go next door to where our neighbours winter over. We knock on the door. “Can you lend us a match?” we ask, holding out our hands. Mrs. Williams beams at us. “A match,” she says. “First time in after the winter?” We nod. “I thought so. Saw you arriving. Wondered why you hadn’t come earlier. The weather’s been nice. Here: I can do much better than a match.”  She moves over to the fireplace, picks up the little coal shovel, shovels up a generous portion of her fire, heaps on another lump, then two, of fresh coal, and “Here you are,” she says. “Just put it in the fireplace and add some wood and coal. You can start your first fire with this.” “Thank you, Mrs. Williams,” we say. “No problem,” she replies. “It’s good to see you back. It’s been lonely here this winter without you.”

“Time’s up,” the teacher says. “That’s sixty seconds of silence and you can hardly find a word to say on a simple subject. Are you stupid or what? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

My face turns red. I hang my head.

I feel ashamed.

I am seven years old.