Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Don't Make Me Kill You~With Kindness

'Ask yourself: Have you been kind today? Make kindness your modus operandi and change your world.'
Annie Lennox
Scottish Singer Songwriter, Political Activist And Philanthropist

When I was about eight, in Mrs. Beddows' grade three class, I remember the new kid. He was there for just a short time. I can't remember his name but there was something different about him. And if there is one thing kids seem to hone in on, it's the 'different'. So he was picked on and I watched and felt bad and felt sick inside. One day as we were getting our coats from the cloakroom closet, someone made fun of the argyle sweater he was wearing. I watched his face, the way it sagged, the way he looked sad and something 'popped' in my head at the injustice. I don't remember exactly what I said, but I do remember asking, in a very loud voice, if they knew how they were making him feel. I don't know if I made that boy feel better and I don't know if I made my classmates feel guilty but I know it got quiet. Then we all put on our coats on and went out for recess. Shortly after that, the boy moved away. 

I have never forgotten this experience, the surprise I felt within myself at coming up against my peers, the sadness on the boy's face. And it came down to a simple act of kindness.

When my boys were little, I taught them to be kind, to stick up for the kid who was being picked on. The most rewarding moments were when my children told me they had made someone feel better or when a mom approached me at the school to tell me my son had stuck up for her daughter when she was being bullied on the playground. Now, with my two-year-old twins, I am trying to teach them kindness. I ask them to look at each other's faces, to see the sadness they may be causing. Often I overhear one of them saying, "It's okay, it's okay," as they reassure one another. Little by little it seems to be working.

I have always tried to practice kindness in my own life, whether it be welcoming a new member to a team, smiling and saying 'Hi!' to a stranger on the street, letting someone, with fewer groceries, in front of me in line, giving up my seat to someone who needs it more or sticking up for the grocery girl who is being embarassed by a rude customer. Any act of kindness is an easy gift to give.  I'm afraid I have no respect for unkind people, people who set out to make others feel bad, who take out their own insecurities or unhappiness by bashing others, gossiping or making the check-out girl feel inferior. It's really not that hard to be kind. When you see someone's face light up as the result of your kindness, how can you not?

And that is why I can't help but infuse goodness, in some shape or form, into each of my characters that I write about. Whether it is my protagonist, who is feisty but kind to those whom deserve it or my villain, who shows a glimmer of softening toward children despite her evilness, I feel it is important to weave the goodness of human nature throughout my stories.

Over the past few months I have come across many writers. I've noticed the ones who are egotistical - the 'book spammers' who leave a trail of links wherever they go. I've met the ones who are downright rude, who have no problem bashing their fellow writers. But my faith has been restored by the acts of kindness shown by many of my fellow authors - all of whom I've never met face to face. Whether it be Buzz, paying tribute to me in his blog, Phil, giving me incentive with his support, kind words and advice or Keri, who makes me laugh and who willingly passes on her great ideas, I have faith there is a little good in everyone! At the end of the day we all remember the person who made us smile, made us feel great and went that extra mile.

And for those of you who are just plain mean, in the words of one of my favourite authors,

“When someone is mean to me, I just make them a victim in my next book.” Mary Higgins Clark

Friday, 8 March 2013

Canadian Girl Says Sorry

I've been told Canadians say Sorry way too much and we are just too happy and too polite. Well, we have a whole lot to be happy about. We live in a beautiful country and we are very fortunate to have the freedom we do. But come to think of it there are a bunch of things that set Canadians apart. So I just want to say Sorry, but most Canadian stereotypes are true and it's these very stereotypes that have shaped into the person I am today.

First of all the Beaver.

Yes, the Beaver is our national symbol and their pelts were once a lucrative trade in the 1600s. I've had several encounters with this little chap. Our buck-toothed hero always slaps his tale on the water when we get too close to his den while fishing at our cottage. Besides being proud of our Beaver and featuring him on our nickel, Canadians also love Beavertails. Beavertails are gooey pastries that resembles, what else but a beaver's tail. Covered in sugar and icing and cinnamon, it's just just plain addictive.

We say 'Eh' a lot.
I would have to agree with this one. I say it all of the time when what I really mean is 'I know, right?' or 'Ya, I totally agree!' or 'Isn't that correct?'  I think every country has their own version of 'Eh' and in Canada, where we like to simplfy things, it's a whole lot easier to condense four or five words into 'Eh'.

We have no Phones in the great white north.

Really? That's pretty funny but the sad fact is this actually hits home with me. When I was a kid we lived on a farm that lay right on a boundary line between two phone companies. This meant the difference between having a Phone number that connected to everyone else for free and having a long distance number. Of course our house lay just north of the boundary so we had to pay a fee to call just about everyone. With four kids to feed and Scots blood running through her veins, Mom was a bit miserly. She politely asked that we be given the same kind of Phone number as all of our neighbours. The Phone company wouldn't budge but after many battles, Mom won. Kind of. We got our free Phone line. In the middle of our field. Yes - the middle of a pasture field. Only in Canada you say? Probably. Dad built a Phone booth just south of the boundary line. So if my friends wanted to call they had to schedule a time. Then I'd sit in the booth, wait for the Phone to ring and hope they didn't forget about me. They usually did. I was kind of jealous of my little brother. He seemed to be pretty popular and was always heading out to the Phone booth. Then I found his magazines. So forever more we were known as 'the Denbys with the Phone booth in the field' and we were scarred for life. Even now, random people will say, 'Ha, ha, ha, you guys used to have that Phone booth in the field. Ha ha ha. Is it still there?' As a matter of fact it is, ha ha ha and Sorry, but what's so funny about that?

Our mode of transportation is via polar bear, dog sled, snowshoes and Moose.

I guess it depends what part of Canada you live in but I've never ridden a polar bear or sat in a dog sled. I have snowshoed with my dad though and it's very cool, quietly slooshing through the wintery woods, looking for animal tracks and listening to blue jays and white-throated sparrows. And I haven't ridden a Moose but I almost ran one down with my car. As I headed home from a week at our cottage in northern Ontario, my car loaded to the rafters with kids, suitcases and cottage souvenirs like birch bark andsticks with Beaver tooth marks, I crested a hill and had to jam on the brakes. I'm not sure who was more surprised, me or the Moose. But I definitely got up close and personal and it was an amazing sight. I stared at him. He stared at me. The kids were silent. Then this majestic beast turned and galloped off into the trees.

Hockey is a way of life.
True. True. And True. I think you are kind of shunned in Canada if you don't love Hockey. I grew up playing pond Hockey with my brother, whom I ruled by the way. My boys used to skate circles around me on our backyard rink. We played Hockey in the street and just like on 'Wayne's World', Game On could be heard in our neighbourhood every day. I play ball Hockey in the house with my twins now and have scarred walls to prove it. The Toronto Maple Leafs are our national heros and we never miss a game. I've been to a few live games and there's nothing quite like the atmosphere of Leafs fans at the Air Canada Centre. I am a lousy player on skates but give me a pair of running shoes, a stick and a ball and I might even score a hat trick. Yes, Hockey is as essential as breathing to many Canadians.

All Canadians drink Beer.
Canada produces fantastic Beer so it is only natural to consume something this fantastic. I personally don't drink beer but we also drink liquor and wine and they are pretty fantastic too. It's cold up here in Canada. We only have two weeks of summer so we have to stay warm somehow and a frothing glass of Beer or an ice cold rum and coke definitely warms the belly. So that one is true as well.

We put Maple Syrup on everything.
We are surrounded by Maple trees in Canada and everything tastes better with maple syrup on it so why not? Back on the farm I helped my dad collect sap in the spring then couldn't wait to boil it down and taste that sticky sweetness. There is nothing like Canadian Maple Syrup. Except maybe poutine. Ya, poutine is pretty delicious. And back bacon. Mmmm. Back bacon with Maple Syrup.

Everyone wears Toques in Canada.
It is a matter of self-preservation. Body heat is lost through the top of our heads and with an average temperature of -70, forgetting to wear a Toque is like forgetting your long underwear. With so many beautiful colours and styles, we still manage to look great.

Well, there are far too many stereotypes to mention but one thing is certain, I am not Sorry to be Canadian. I am thankful and proud. Like any country we have our quirks and peculiar habits. With a population of thirty-five million people, we don't all know each other. The likelihood of knowing Dave Smith is pretty slim. Actually, though, I do know Dave Smith. Small world. No, we don't all know each other, but we do stand united.

As a writer, I feel the need to incorporate kindness into my favourite characters. But I also don't forget to weave the feistiness of a true Canadian into all of my stories. And so, as a proud Canadian, I leave you with this:

If you would like to see more of my writing, my novel, A Thistle in the Mist, is free today and tomorrow, March 8th and March 9th. Sorry, but Canadians are shameless opportunists too :)  http://www.amazon.com/A-Thistle-Mist-ebook/dp/B00B2XML88 Thanks for reading!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Skeptics Need Not Read

‘Carry on my wayward son. There’ll be peace when you are done.’ My ghost obviously never heard this song. No one told him he should just carry on. He never knew there was peace beyond his earthly connection. And so he stayed to haunt me.

Ghost stories are the best. Sleepovers at my girlfriend, Christine’s, house were always charged with excitement. In between giggling about boys and choreographing dance moves to Olivia Newton John’s Physical, we exchanged stories that made our thirteen-year-old voices squeal with delight and fear. Gathered in our shadowy backyard, with flames from the bonfire reflecting on their eager faces, my boys never tired of, Who Took My Golden HandAnd scaring them with The Monkey’s Paw or imagining the shrieks of Moaning Myrtle, while cuddled in sleeping bags around a sputtering kerosene lamp at the cottage, will forever be one of my favourite memories.

Ghosts and creepy dreams have always plagued my sleep. Whether waking in the dark to see the red light of my VCR moving across the room to murder me or cowering from the person standing next to my bed, these nightmares used to recede as I blinked myself awake. Until the night the figure beside my bed refused to leave - refused to leave for months.

My ghost was the Supernatural kind, the menacing kind Dean and Sam annihilate while Wayward Son plays in the background.

The first night he woke me, my heart did the familiar race, the familiar thump as it tried to hammer its way out of my chest. The trembling took hold and my skin was soon slick with sweat. A figure curved over my bed. Slightly bent and completely motionless, he stared down at me. He wore a long, dark cloak with a hood that shadowed his face. I closed my eyes and opened them again, as I usually did to chase away my uninvited guests. But he stayed and as I watched, he backed away from my bed. Fully awake now and literally paralyzed with fear, I watched him methodically back across the floor and out of the room. On the wall outside my door hung a three-tiered shelf, lined with homemade mementos made by my boys. My ghost backed out my bedroom door, backed up the wall and sat on the top shelf where, in eerie silence, he watched me. 

I remember the first time, as I opened and closed my eyes, trying to rid myself of the apparition. But he would not disappear. And my heart would not stop racing. Each time he appeared, the ritual was repeated. I would wake to find him watching me. He would back away from my bed. He would back right up the wall (the most disturbing part of all) then he would sit on my shelf and watch me. I would watch him back, until eventually, after one of my long, sleep-deprived blinks, he would be gone.

Truly, it was terrifying. Fearing that people would think I was a lunatic, I told no one but my family.

Until the night I invited my ball team back for a little postgame party on my deck. After a few pink grapefruit Woody’s I spilled my ghost story to the team. Instead of the skepticism I expected, a few of the girls shared their stories and I instantly got that warm and fuzzy feeling you get when you realize you’re not alone. One of the girls, a long time resident of our little village, told me an old house had stood where mine stood now and it had been taken by fire. Another teammate suggested an exorcism was in order. After months of broken sleep, I was game for anything. So I rifled through my kitchen cupboards and found my salt shaker. Debbie, Jen and I poured a trail of salt around the perimeter of the house as Deb firmly ordered my ghost to leave, to quit haunting me.
Well, many would think I am a lunatic. Many would think it was just the power of suggestion and I’m okay with that because, after that night, my ghost never came back. But he made an impression on me I will never forget. One of my sons told me recently that when he was about ten years old, he sat on the swing, facing our backyard when a girl ran past him. She ran straight through the wire fence and disappeared into the field behind our house. My son is twenty-two now and I believe. I believe we were haunted. I believe we lived amongst unsettled spirits. We no longer live there and at the risk of jinxing myself - the Scottish are notoriously superstitious - I no longer have a ghost standing over my bed.

I still love ghost stories and I infuse the supernatural into my own writing. But my ghosts are not the menacing kind. Yet.