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Postcards to my grandmother

I love writing.  Besides having two daughters, nothing has impacted my life more.  I write all the time.  I think-write. While doing everything else, my stream of consciousness writes.  Occasionally, when stars align and time allows, I put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, shoulder to grindstone, and there is rapture.

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl, a musical comedy, I wrote, enjoyed success in Hamilton, our hometown, recently.  In his review, Julian Nicholson, a well-regarded theatre veteran said, “There’s not much else I can say about this farrago except that it is the most inventive and enjoyable musical I’ve seen since Spamalot.”   

My writing farrago started with postcards to my grandmother, three decades ago, on a magical journey.  From postcards, to a musical comedy, writing has taken me on another magical journey.  

After finishing university, in 1986, I worked for a while, then hit the road.  With a working-holiday visa, backpack, and $1200, I flew to London, England.  I didn’t have a credit card or clue, and no one had cell phone, back then.  I wasn’t sure how long I’d be gone, or where, or what I’d do, but made one commitment: to write my grandmother, who was housebound.

“A few months in Europe” became a six and a half year global odyssey.  Adventures included working in London, hitchhiking through Europe and Southeast Asia, working in Australia, sailing a homemade, cement boat to New Zealand and Tonga, working in Hawaii, sailing a small fishing boat to Alaska, working on a tugboat, staying with a friend in Victoria, living by the beach in Newport, California, teaching English in Japan, and riding a bike from Victoria, B.C., to Hamilton.

Each time I called, or got a letter from home, I was implored to keep writing Granny.  She loved the missives, I was told, and kept them in a box beside her.  She read them, repeatedly, and made guests enjoy /endure the communication, as well.

My grandmother was from Glasgow, originally.  She had a terrific accent and a great sense of humour, despite a hard life.  Janet Lindsey left a Glasgow slum at 17, sailed across the Atlantic, then travelled on trains, for just as long, to meet her older husband, on a dirt poor homestead, in the middle of Saskatchewan.  They had seven kids.  When my father, the second youngest, was seven, their father died. Then, things got bad.

All seven children grew to be honest, hard working, productive citizens.   

I tried to keep the postcards to my grandmother worthy of the high regard in which I held her.  After picking the perfect card, I’d plot for days before committing ink.  When I realized how quickly I’d forget “unforgettable” ideas, I started jotting them down and still do.  Writing, or getting lost in the thought of it, enhanced experiences and assuaged loneliness.  Like most travellers, I loved reading. Reading was one thing; writing another.

The lessons learned writing postcards to my Grandmother still apply: respect your audience; love your audience, be interesting; don’t be vulgar;  rhyme sometime; brevity is wit; levity’s a hit; don’t quit; have fun, son.  Go, girl.

My grandmother died, while I was on the road, and I stopped writing, temporarily.  I didn’t come back to Canada for the funeral, but, the next time I was home, I was given the box of postcards.  

In 1992, I was living in Nagoya, Japan, with a friend, talking about books, when he said, “You should write.”

There were two of us in the room.  I said, “Me?”  (Some people thought I was illiterate.)

“Yes,” he said.  “You see the world in an interesting way and have a funny way of expressing it.”  His comment changed my life.  A switch was turned on and hasn’t gone off, since. I thought of Granny’s postcards and the accompanying bliss.  

A week after my friend’s suggestion, I was cruising, on my beach cruiser, through a narrow Nagoya alley-street, when I said to myself, “I’m going to write a book,” and stood up, on my pedals, to accommodate the epiphany.

I knew one thing about writing: it required a pen and paper, which I bought, at a lush Japanese department store.  That was easy.  The next requirement was an idea, which couldn’t be purchased in the consumer economy.

“Write what you know” is a sound principal.  I was reading spy novels, at the time, but couldn’t write one.  All I knew was growing up, a caucasian male, in the suburbs of Ottawa: a blueprint for dull.

Nevertheless, that’s what my book is about.  It took me 14 years and hundreds of rewrites before I published it.   The first few versions were scrawled, with pens, into notebooks.  At various stages in its development, I’d send out waves of submissions and have received over 200 rejection letters.  

The Internet changed everything, and, in 2006, I self-published I’m Gretzky, You’re Gretzky, which some friends and family like.  Some love.

One of the publishing houses, which rejected my manuscript, was Insomniac Press.  Mike O’Connor, the proprietor, included a nice, personal note, so I called him and asked for advice.  He said, “Get published in newspapers and magazines to establish your name and credibility.”

Later, when the first edition of The Hamilton Examiner arrived at our door, I felt divine intervention.  It was January 1998 and the periodical was monthly.  Terrified, I vowed to write a submission, nevertheless.  In February, of that year, Team Canada was eliminated from the Nagano Olympics, in Japan, and Wayne Gretzky watched the final shootout, from the bench.  

I was crushed.  Such is my reverence for the man, I wanted to call my daughters Wayne and Gretzky.  My wife said, “No,” so I called my book, my other baby, Gretzky.  

After the Nagano loss, I wrote a piece called “Chasing The Dragon No More,” articulating my need to stop having Canadian hockey players determine the quality of my life.  I would find my own happiness, I wrote, through lottery tickets.  I printed the article and hand delivered it to Sarah Thomson (nee Whatmough,) the publisher of The Hamilton Examiner and later the Women’t Post. Sarah liked the submission and published it, which was the start of a long, wonderful relationship.  

Once a month, for the next 12 years, I’d write a 1000 word piece for Sarah.  I wrote about my kids, pets, gardening, traveling, writing…  It was perfect.  I worked hard to produce a piece decent enough to be published. I stumbled and fell, a lot, but there was always a hand to help up.  I started finding a voice and confidence.  

After five years, in 2003, Sarah asked me to write about art; once a month, 1000 words, which was another life changer.  The request came from nowhere: I knew little about art.  For three years, I would immerse myself in millions of words, hundreds of pictures, hours of thought, and countless rewrites to distill an article, worthy of the subject.  It was a surreal education, which honed writing skills, sharpened focus, and taught me about art, artists, fraud, and fraudsters.

Dr. Barry Allen, a guide on my artisan safari, said it best, “Art is an accomplishment.”

I interviewed Fred Eaglesmith, also in 2003, for The Women’s Post and ended up making two fan magazines for him.  Fred had an idea for movie, and he asked if I’d write the screenplay.  I never say, “No,” and tried to put Fred’s vision into a manuscript.  The script, Billy Rocker, about a aging, failing, murderous rockabilly star was well-received, but quickly buried.

The exercise was far from futile, because I discovered a love of writing dialogue, so acute, I wrote a play, Unethical.  When it was finished, I shared Unethical with a friend, who encouraged me to send it “somewhere.”  (Thank you, Pascale.)

I didn’t know what to do with a play, so mailed a copy to Luke Brown, at Theatre Aquarius, in Hamilton.  Expecting another letter for the rejection file, I was, joyously, surprised, when I got an email from Luke, wanting to meet.  Life changer.

In 2012, Luke invited me into the Theatre Aquarius Playwright’s Unit, which has been another surreal education.  The world of theatre is a howling, joyous one.  In 2013, I wrote a comedy, Jack And Jill Beiber Fever, and brought it to the Playwright’s Unit.  It was dissected and vetted beautifully, by Luke and the other playwrights.  

Ryan Sero, a member of the unit, brought the play to The Hamilton Fringe Festival.  Ryan, who directed and starred, assembled a great cast and they put on a terrific show.  Watching was delightful and instructive.  There is a quantum leap from page to stage and seeing actors take words from my script and make them dance and sing, was exhilarating.  

Playwriting is a gas.

In 2005, a friend suggested I write for a Hamilton blog, Raise The Hammer, a website dedicated to making Hamilton a better place.  Free, easy, and limitless, I fell in love with writing on the Internet and have been publishing articles, reviews, poems, short stories… on RTH, since. 

My earliest memory is my mother reading me Dr. Seuss.  I love rhyme and poetry.  In 1996, my oldest daughter was born and I started writing poems, all of which rhyme. 

Along the way, I started a series called 50, which are poems of exactly fifty words.  A play, poem, or article take forever, so when there’s a need to finish something, a 50 is ideal.

Life Write Life

Family, job, pets… sleep, read, write…

And hope that life, somehow, works out

If life didn’t get in the way so such

There’d be much more time to write, no doubt

But, if not for life and all its business

There’d be nothing much to write about

Right, Life?

Right

Combining a love of poetry and playwriting lends itself to musicals, so I wrote one.  I’ve blessed to collaborate with Becky Jackson, who writes beautiful music to accompany the lyrics.  

Eli The Musical Guy And Pearl The Shakespearean Girl takes the idea of stage parents, who live vicariously through their children, and blows it up.  Eli, who’s been pushed since conception, has lost touch with reality and sees life as a big musical.  Eli sings and dances all the time. Similarly, Pearl lives as if she’s in a Shakespearean drama, and always speaks the Bard’s tongue.  

It was fun to write, but more enjoyable watching the talented cast bring the loveable nuts to life.  Now, I’m writing a children’s musical comedy, Singerella.  It’s Cinderella meets American Idol and it is a pleasure to write.  Becky is writing great music, again.  

Someday, I hope, a large cast of children light it up and Singerella is a smash hit. If it is or isn’t, I’ll keep writing.  I hope to die with a pen in my hand.

The greatest joy I get from writing is sharing the love.  I’ve run a Writers’ Club for children, aged 8 – 13, for the last dozen years.  When we perform, I tell the audience they’re about to see a magic show, because students, using only pens and paper, make art, where there was none and everyone has fun.  My (writer) friend, Peter Gruner, wrote of his experience, watching children craft killer, rhyming poems, on the spot.

 Writing is a wonderful hobby: it’s free, fun, liberating, empowering, fun, therapeutic, fun, challenging, rewarding, disappointing, and fun.  You can do it, anywhere, anytime; think about it.  If you’ve, ever, considered picking up a pen or pecking away on a keyboard, I can’t recommend it enough.  

 

Like a Dr. Seuss character setting off with a backpack and a one-way ticket, you never know the places you’ll go.  If you’re not sure where to begin your writing journey, start with something small, like a postcard to your grandmother.  She’ll love it.  You’ll love it, too, Writer.

Write on.

GTHA Transit Wants & Woes

A transit strike is looming that may impact the GTHA. Metrolinx shared that the strike involves CP labour unions and may commence as early as Monday. The action by the union may impact GO Transit rail services.

Metrolinx made a statement on the impending transit troubles promising that services will not be disrupted:

“While we are hopeful that an agreement can be reached, we have plans in place to ensure customers can continue to travel safely and as easily as possible if a strike occurs. Our plans have been adjusted since our last communication to customers in April and no train services need to be cancelled. In the event of a CP labour disruption, we are now able to operate trains into Hamilton GO Centre.”

The reason that a CP strike may still impact GO Transit service is that many tracks that are used by Metrolinx for these services, are owned by alternate rail companies, such as CP. A strike means less CP staff available to operate the traffic switches and signals, leading to delays and suspended services.

The unions, which include the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, have carried on talks with railway management.

A spokesperson for Teamsters Canada stated that the union would likely reject any offer and that they will request immediate resuming of negotiation to reach a deal before a strike ensues.

If the unions decide to strike, members must give 72 hours notice, as CBC indicates.

GTHA Transit efficiency is always a focus, whether good or bad, in this city. Even without a looming strike posing a threat to service, it’s clear that Toronto and GTA transit could be made more efficient. The upcoming election has the big four political parties making promises to do just that. The PC, Liberal and NDP parties are all pro-relief line plan. The line is to be built from the Danforth directly to downtown and relieve overcrowding on the Yonge/University Line. The Green Party is also making transit a focus, but in Scarborough.

Strike or not, Canada’s most densely populated region needs politicians and transit services always looking to the future for betterment of the transit network already in place. Hopefully negotiations and elections lead to reaching this common goal quicker.

Ontario Government Announces Plans To Expand GO Transit

Due to increasing congestion on roadways and expenses of owning a car making public transit a more viable option for commuters, I always take it as welcome news when the government announces its plans for expansion and improvements that will further connect me to outlying regions with greater efficiency.

Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s transportation minister, has said that the provincial government has now set plans to expand GO Transit in Greater Toronto and the Hamilton region.

McGarry has shared the news about the GO Transit expansion while appearing at Union Station on Monday, when she indicated that the government has issued a request to begin selecting companies to initiate the designing, building and financing, in addition to operating and maintaining the GO Regional Express Rail network.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that we are on track to deliver the next stage in GO Transit’s evolution — Regional Express Rail,” McGarry said. This includes new trains, refurbished vehicles, infrastructure for electrifying the entire GO corridor, and improvements such as bridges, tracks and noise walls to make travel seamless. This also includes improvements right here at Union Station to its tracks as well as its platforms to make room for more train service and electrification across the entire network.”

The process is therefore underway, ahead of any contracts being offered for GO Transit expansion. Ontario will issue a request for qualifications.

Six new Toronto Smart Track stations will also be built, and there will be upgrades made to 22 current GO stations that will involve renovations to stations, digital signage and new bus loops.

Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster said the request for qualifications is a “big milestone” and the transit projects are “hugely exciting” for the provincial agency. “In many transit jurisdictions, these are the biggest projects out there today,” Verster said. “For our customers, this is really exciting.”

Regional Express Rail is also to include more than 400 projects across 40 municipalities, which is being financed with the city of Toronto.

The project Mayor John Tory initiated during the 2014 municipal election, SmartTrack, will include integrated services via rail on the Stouffville, Lakeshore East and Kitchener GO lines, as well as on the Eglinton West Light Rail Transit extension, between Mount Dennis and Renforth.

Spokesperson for Metrolinx, Anne Marie Aikins, says that this is “another step closer to building the transit people need.”

 

 

Hamilton: The Location For Your Daycation

Can’t take time off work to go on vacation? Plan a day-cation to Hamilton, Ontario. With only a couple of hours away from Toronto, you can go on the road trip you desired– without all the pit-stops. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the beauty of mother nature or just get away from the hustle and bustle of city life, Hamilton has various peaks and creeks for you to enjoy.  The best part? It’s free! You’re welcome, folks.

Devil’s Punch Bowl 

 

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It’s easy to see where this falls gets its name from. The 37 meter waterfall has been a attraction to many tourists, and has even made a movie appearance in the 2005 horror film, Silent Hill. With many haunting stories as well as its unique details, this punch bowl will certainly quench the thirst of your inner geologist and paranormal enthusiast.

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Steps away from the Bowl is a breathtaking lookout of Hamilton, where you can enjoy a panoramic view of the city’s gems, including Hamilton Harbour, Lake Ontario, and Stoney Creek Castle. (Quick tip: End your day at the lookout to enjoy the sunset with your loved ones!) The beautiful scenery, the convenient benches, and the calm ambiance creates the perfect atmosphere for a little down time.

 

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Albion Falls

Looking for an adrenaline rush? Albion Falls is the place to go! Whether you choose to stand on the top of the falls and feel the current moving under your feet or you want to admire the water falling from down below, this popular tourist attraction will have you feeling on the edge of glory.

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The steps to climb up the falls is nature’s way of inviting you to come and realize the true meaning behind TLC’s “Don’t Go Chasing Waterfalls.” It’s not everyday you have the opportunity to sit near a waterfall, let alone in between it. It’s a great location for bloggers, photographers, and couples looking for engagement or wedding photos. Besides, the sound of the water, the coolness of its splashes, and the overall beauty of it will make anyone forget all their worldly thoughts. Did you get finish that project you were working on? Who knows!

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Tew’s Falls

Simple and refined is one way to describe Tew’s Falls. Hamilton’s highest waterfall. Unlike Albion Falls, however, this waterfall requires a bit of a hike to reach the bottom. You can choose to skip the hike and take in the pleasure from afar but like most nature enthusiasts, a walk through some greenery never really feels like ‘exercise’.

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Not tired yet? Another 20 minute walk away is a gem called Dundas Peak. On your way to the peak, keep on the lookout for scenes such as this one. Yes, there are eagles (at least that’s what we thought they were) in Canada. Who would’ve known! Their majestic soars through the sky will leave you wanting a little bit more…

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A little bit more is exactly what you’ll get. Dundas Peak provides a stunning view of the city beneath you. Filled with lush greenery, this scenery is worth the hike. Take a seat, catch your breathe, and take in nature’s beauty. Just don’t be afraid to look down!

Have fun and don’t forget to let us know how your trip went by tweeting us @womenspost!

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How tacky is it to sell things on Facebook?

We’ve all seen it.

“Hey, I was cleaning out my closet and itemised, catalogued, and photographed all of this stuff to be sold. Oh maaaaaaaan, there sure is some good stuff here!”

Maybe you’ve even been the one doing it.

“Hm, instead of donating all this old crap I could make a few quick bucks. Stacy did say she liked this top after all. And it was fifty bucks new when I bought it in 2009. I suppose there is no harm in making an album and selling a few things, right?”

Wrong.

My mother used to drag us around to yard sales on every spring and summer weekend looking for deals. On the right kind of day you’d see half a dozen just driving to the grocery store. We would stop at every single one and then stop again on the way back to get the things she wasn’t sure about the first time we were there.

There is a dignity associated with the yard sale. This is a family, couple, or person who has come to the end of their spring or summer cleaning and actually just has a bunch of stuff to get rid of. They’ve thrown it all out on the lawn and put a kid with a tin box on the hopes of scrounging up four dollars for their once priceless CD collection, or maybe a quarter for a Rocko’s Modern Life colouring book that is half finished.

By the end of the day the afternoon are mostly empty and you have to go knock on the door to get their attention. By supper time they’ve given up, folded up the card tables, and thrown everything left into a hamper with “FREE STUFF” written on a poorly torn piece of cardboard in front of it. Game over. They participated in the time honoured tradition of the yard sale whereby you are granted no more than eight hours a year in which you can shamelessly grub for money from your friends and neighbours for stuff that is worth little more than it’s kitsch value.

Although it exists in the digital world, Facebook peddling is still a violation of this ancient suburban rule.

Remember that one yard sale that was just a little ways out of town that would be going on all year? You stopped and looked a few times and it was the same old crates of coke bottles and dog eared Danielle Steele novels every time. The reason you felt uncomfortable at these extended yard sales, aside from the pitbull chained to the tree in the lawn, was because you already understood that they were violating this code.

In your mother’s generation it was Tupperware parties or AmWay that violated The Rule by trapping friends, family, and neighbours into situations where they felt obligated to buy something to avoid the risk of being rude to someone close. No one enjoyed this, save for perhaps the person without social skill who pinned them there.

Today we have Facebook peddlers to fill this role by trying to run their apartments as if they were stores. Let me be the one to tell you that whatever money you may gain is most likely lost tenfold in respect from your peers. If you need the money so badly you should try and sell it on Craigslist or at a pawn shop.

But they won’t give me a decent price for it on Craigslist or at a pawn shop. 

Then you can’t get a decent price for it, and expecting your friends to pay more doesn’t put then in a very high regard. If you can’t find a decent price for it then donate it to a non-profit drive like Goodwill or a local church

But this is too nice to be donated to some stranger.

Then donate it to your friends. In addition to saving your friends from feeling obligated or uncomfortable by seeing your used clothes tick by in their newsfeeds you’re saving yourself the social disgrace of being considered tacky.

Bottom line: If it’s still good keep it, if you can get a buck sell it to a stranger, if you can’t then give it away.