Staying Sane

I am one of the least artistic people I know. The closest I’ve come to drawing a human figure is a game of hangman. Once, several years ago, I participated in a yoga retreat that included an afternoon of landscape painting. After several random dabs of colour, I slinked off to sulk about my lack of artistic ability while everyone else created masterpieces. I have to take a poll of my friends before deciding what colour to paint the living room walls.

So, it’s something of a surprise to me that I’m taking an art class—and enjoying it.

Jack has always wanted to take up water colours. He claims to be utterly without talent, but he minored in Art in college and he’s a damn fine potter with a good sense of form and colour. And—unlike me—he’s an adventuresome soul. When he decided to sign up for an art class twice a week here in Guanajuato, I mumbled something about maybe joining him. I’m not sure I meant it. I think I was probably just trying to show support for his latest enthusiasm. But one thing led to another, and this afternoon I’ll be trotting off to my third class.

While Jack plays with colour on one side of the table, I’m learning to sketch on the other. It’s that kind of class—you do whatever you want and the teacher wanders around and offers suggestions from time to time—in Spanish or English, your choice. At first, when the teacher somehow had the idea that I’d had some previous experience, he had me draw a pitcher. I think he was somewhat relieved, as he looked at the result, to learn I’d never done anything like this before. I have now progressed from a pyramid to a line of trees. Today, I am going to see if I can make an open door look like anything more than a flat rectangle.

This is just what I need right now. I’m writing, of course—or trying. I’m hoping to gather together and publish a collection of essays, some already polished and published, some just notions. But the thing about writing is that you can’t really do it without setting your mind loose. And I’m having trouble spending a lot of time inside my head these days. It’s a bit scary in there.

So it’s something of a relief to ponder instead about how long a shadow the pyramid should have and whether the tree looks far enough away, or even whether it looks like a tree. There’s been a lot of comment in the ever-present media lately about how we need to turn off the media. “My desire to be well-informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane” says the cartoon which appears with some regularity on my Facebook feed.

I can’t bring myself to be uninformed, but I am very aware that consciously focusing on the details around me is both calming and a reminder that even in times of fear and crisis, daily routines help keep us sane and grounded. I’m finding playing with a pencil and paper can do that, too. Maybe it will even become a daily routine.

PS. I decided to embarrass myself by including photos of a couple of my artistic endeavours. I snapped the pics with my phone and emailed them to myself. They are apparently trapped somewhere in cyberspace and refuse to come through. There may be a message there…

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Thoughts from my bubble…

I have been reminding myself to write a blog post for more than a week, now. We just spent a fascinating week in Mexico’s southern-most state of Chiapas with our adoptive Mexican family. We had a wonderful time, visiting small villages struggling to maintain their distinct cultures, museums dedicated to the rich heritage of the region, spectacular landscape. And yet…I am uninspired.

Events north of the border (from my Mexican home…south from my Canadian one) are sucking the passion from anything else. I’m spending far too much time checking news sites and Facebook for what has become sickeningly predictable: yet more signs that the world I’ve lived in for seventy years is on the verge of collapse. I sometimes find myself in tears when I allow myself to contemplate the possible—I dare not think probable—consequences for my children and grandchildren of the unravelling of the civil society which my generation, and theirs, have come to consider the natural order. Not that it’s always seemed so civil, but we’re being treated to a painful lesson in relativity.

Even though I can’t seem to stop myself from reading the news, the truth is I’ve reached a saturation point. I’m rarely learning anything new or surprising anymore. Indeed, the inability to be surprised is symptomatic of the depths to which we have fallen.

It’s rare these days for a personal interaction to conclude without “the conversation”, after which everyone present is enveloped in an aura of despair—proof that I, like most of us, live within my own bubble, insulated from those who are celebrating the arrival of Trump. My Facebook bubble, of course, is filled with stories—credible and less so—designed to raise the blood pressure and tickle the click-finger. I’ve never been much of a clicker, pausing before liking even pictures of my own grandchildren, let alone diatribes by persons unknown. I nod in agreement or shake my head in horror, but I rarely sign petitions or re-post.

As a partial explanation for this reluctance to take a public stance on the current crisis, I am following a long-held conviction that, as a Canadian, I am an interested bystander but not a participant in American politics. Of course, as a citizen of the world (and the country next door), I am a very concerned bystander. It is my world, after all. But it is not my country, and I feel a certain reluctance to jump into the fray across the border. Silly under the circumstances, I suppose, when the underpinnings of democracy itself are at risk.

Lately—perhaps in a frantic search for signs of hope?—I am sensing a subtle shift, both in the press and among my American (and less reticent Canadian) friends, from despair to determination. I am amazed at the resilience of people of my own generation, who are waking up from this nightmare ready to march and protest yet again, and heartened by some evidence that protesters of all ages are developing long-term strategies. If I were there, would I still have it in me? I don’t know. I suppose at least I’d be clicking more.

In this morning’s Globe and Mail, an opinion piece by Denise Balkissoon is urging us—all of us—to resist the temptation to turn inward in a time of crisis. World crisis. It’s time to crawl out of our cocoons, she says.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/its-tempting-but-tuning-out-is-dangerous—now-more-than-ever/article33594185/

I won’t be clicking like mad on Facebook; it’s just not my style. And I still don’t think I should be marching on Washington or writing to U.S. senators. But as a citizen of a troubled world, maybe it’s time to pull the blanket off my head and actively look for ways to support those who are marching and writing and strategizing, determined to hold back the tsunami that threatens all of us, borders notwithstanding.

For my children and my grandchildren.

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Bah…er, Merry Christmas!

img_4666It’s a cold, snowy Christmas season at home, and I’m thinking about quiet December evenings years ago—after the rush of Christmas shopping, gift-wrapping, one last bedtime story for excited children—alone with the lit Christmas tree, winter darkness pressing against the windows, the smell of fresh-cut balsam, the murmur of the wind. Or perhaps the roar of a blizzard.

For most of my life, the Christmas season occupied a month-long position of prominence in the annual cycle of celebrations and obligations. As a child, of course, it was a time of magic which gradually morphed into an awkward cross between greed and good will. Our family purported to simplicity, but that was never evident under the Christmas tree. And despite the religious underpinnings to the holiday, in my mostly-secular family Baby Jesus always played second fiddle to Santa Claus in our holiday festivities.

The first Christmas I spent away from my family was also my first Christmas as a married woman. I was all of twenty-one. I don’t remember now why we decided to spend the holiday alone in our upstairs apartment in Michigan while our families celebrated in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, but that’s what we did. We bought a Christmas tree and ornaments and I baked Christmas cookies. Did I cook a turkey? I don’t remember that, either, but I doubt it. What I do remember is that when the box of gifts arrived from Jack’s mother a week before Christmas, we dug right in like a couple of unruly toddlers, leaving little suspense and a vague sense of shame for Christmas morning.

Within a couple of years, we had a child of our own, and began to establish our own traditions. Decorating the house on December 1. Setting up the crèche. Baking cookies, Christmas cake, gingerbread houses. Community carol sing. Cutting and decorating the Christmas tree. Fondue on Christmas eve. Hanging stockings and reading The Night Before Christmas at bedtime.  The Hallelujah Chorus full blast to welcome Christmas morning—well before daybreak. Muffins and oranges in the stockings, to be eaten before candy. And gifts. Always too many gifts. Christmas dinner. And then, the gradual wind-down and a full return to normal on January 1, when we took down the tree and put away the decorations.

There you have it. And while I maintained, even enjoyed, these traditions for decades, enthusiasm gave way to pretense sometime in the 1990s. The excitement began to feel more like frenzy, the rituals empty. The gift-shopping and the meal preparation  became chores to tick off a list. Balancing the gift-giving among children, and then grandchildren, became an exercise in higher mathematics. I began to sound, and feel, more and more like Scrooge. Bah humbug. Here we go again.

Finally our sensible adult children put a stop to much of the nonsense. They established rules to simplify the gifting, and they started taking charge of the holiday in their own homes on alternate years. But then—just as the youngest family of grandchildren began arriving on the scene—we started absenting ourselves more years than not. This year, for the third time in four years, we’re celebrating the holiday in our Guanajuato home. Before that, we spent it on the road a couple of times, en route to Mexico. (In case you’re ever tempted to consider it, Christmas in a Super 8 is really not Christmas at all.)

After a significant hiatus from the seasonal frenzy, I see some signs that I may be over my humbug phase. A few days ago, I strung a few lights through a lemon tree. I put some cedar clippings on a small tray and added a handful of pine cones and a few red balls to decorate the coffee table. I arranged a couple of poinsettias beside the door to welcome anyone who might drop by. We will spend Christmas Eve with good Mexican friends, Boxing Day with a gathering of ex-pats. Christmas Day itself, here in Mexico, is a quiet day for religious celebrations or recovery from the previous night’s revelry (neither of which is likely to apply here!).

This will all be pleasant, but for the first time in awhile, I’m missing my old Christmases. Next year, I want to watch the grandchildren open their stockings, build a snowman with them in the back yard, and grab a few quiet moments alone by the Christmas tree.

Wherever you are and however you celebrate, have a wonderful holiday season!

 

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Lost (and found) in translation

We’ve been in our Guanajuato home for a week and a half now. Although our Spanish improves a bit every year, occasionally we still find ourselves tangled in a web of confusion. Like this.

Me to Jack last evening: I think we should invite Antonio and Eloisa and the family here for Christmas dinner.

Jack: But, they already invited us. Twice. We said we’d let them know.

Me: I don’t think so. They just asked what we were doing. We said we didn’t know.

Jack: I’m sure they’re expecting us. Eloisa was talking about what to serve.

Me: No, she was just talking about what’s traditional to serve here.

So…are we or are we not invited there for Christmas dinner? If so, it would seem odd—if not rude—to extend an invitation to them. Though I’d kind of like to cook a turkey…

Ambiguous text message to Eloisa this morning: Would you prefer to have Christmas dinner here or at your house? I can prepare a traditional turkey if you like.

Within moments, my cell phone rings. It’s Eloisa. The following is my rough (and, please God, roughly accurate) translation of what transpired—though on the telephone, I’m never quite sure.

Eloisa: About your message.

Me: What do you think?

Eloisa: A turkey is really big. Do you really want turkey?

Me: We love turkey. But the question is, where?

Silence.

Me (confession time): Ok. Here’s what happened. I told Jack we should invite you. He thinks you’ve already invited us. I don’t know what to do.

Laughter.

Me: Do you want to have dinner together?

Eloisa: Yes!

Me: Ok, if you were going to include others, we’ll have it at your house. But if it’s just our two families, let’s have it here. I’ll make a traditional turkey dinner.

Eloisa: Ok.

Me: Ok which? Were you inviting others?

Eloisa: No.

Me: Ok. Here then. So, that’s Sunday at…

Eloisa: No, it’s Saturday.

Me: No, Sunday is the 25th.

Eloisa: Saturday is the 24th. That’s when the dinner is.

Me: Not for us. For us, it’s the 25th.

Laughter until it hurts.

Me: Come Saturday.

Eloisa: What can I bring?

Me: Something traditional. Tamales?

And so…Looking forward to Christmas Eve dinner with our Mexican family.…And turkey soup to follow.

 

 

 

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Southward bound again…

Those of you who’ve been reading this blog for a few years are no doubt perched on the edge of your seats waiting for my annual expression of discomfort about my snow-bird life, about having two homes (okay, three even, if you count the little cottage on the lake), about the sheer and unconscionable extravagance of it all. Yup, it’s all there. The guilt, the angst, the apologies for what feels like sheer self-indulgence. But if the lifestyle itself is self-indulgent, so is the angst. Because if it bothered me that much, I’d have given it up by now, right?

I’ve usually been able to shrug off my personal responsibility for this by shifting it to Jack. After all, he’s the one who hates winter with a passion. He’s the one who originally pushed for this two-country life. I resisted. I whined. I self-flagellated. Not only was the whole enterprise too extravagant, I enjoy winter. Or I did; the truth is, I haven’t experienced more than a few weeks of it for more than a decade, now. (And this year? Well that’s another story altogether. It’s the third week of November, and for the first time this fall it’s seasonably cool/cold.)

But the burden is not all Jack’s anymore. I have two homes in two countries, and I’m okay with that. Finally.

This year, given the choice of leaving for Mexico in early December or after Christmas, I argued for the former. I do hate to miss all of winter, and I’m always sorry to miss out on the pre-Christmas season here, not to mention Christmas with grandchildren (next year, we promise!). But there’s a logistical reason for the early departure this year. We’ve committed to a trip to Chiapas with our good Mexican friends, Antonio and Eloisa and their family, leaving Guanajuato on December 28. That would have made Christmas in Canada a bit of a rush and introduced the unpredictability of winter travel into the equation. So, we’re heading south next week—first for a few days in Toronto with friends followed by another few days in Kitchener with children and grandchildren. Then, on December 8, we fly to Guanajuato. It will be the second time for me, third time for Jack, to be in Guanajuato early enough in December to feel part of the Christmas celebrations there, and we already have commitments on our calendar.

Mexico will never replace Canada as home. If (or when) the time comes that I must choose where to spend my dotage, I’ve no doubt it will be in Canada. But so far I’m holding my dotage at bay, and over the past few years the Mexican half (5/12, really) of our life has been feeling more and more like home, too.

When we come back in the spring, neighbours often ask “How was your holiday?” It’s not a holiday. It’s where we live. Our Mexican roots—though shallower than our Canadian roots—are expanding and nourishing us in new ways. Each year, we reach out to more people and learn more about how to live in a culture that is not our own. And we return, richer for that, but also with a sense of relief, because you can’t change cultures like you change your jacket—something we need to remind ourselves when dealing with newcomers to our own culture. My only fear is that my Canadian roots will wither as a result of perennial absence, but I think they’re deep enough to endure.

So in a couple of weeks we’ll arrive to cool December weather in the central Mexican mountains. In late April, we’ll be home again, grateful to slip back into the comfort of our community, our language, and our well-worn spring jackets.

 

 

 

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A Riff on Changing Countries

Canadians—not amused by the election of Trump—are nonetheless amused by the assumption that their neighbours may be contemplating a mass migration north. Canada and New Zealand are apparently the most likely recipients of this horde of liberals, and I for one would be delighted to inoculate Canada’s political landscape with a healthy injection of committed liberals! But, as a Facebook friend noted two days ago, these countries, too, have complex immigration policies and laws which make it a little more complicated than packing a bag and crossing the border.

Humour aside, though, that’s pretty much what we did in 1968. We, and a lot of others. Canada was surely the net beneficiary of the anti-war protests in the 1960s as thousands of young idealists flocked into the country. We’re often reminded of the contributions they’ve made to the political, intellectual, and cultural life of this country. We don’t often hear about what they might have done if they’d stayed.

As I listen to and read about people eager to leave the U.S. right now, I’m thinking back to my own twenty-something self and the decision to change countries if not quite on a whim (the war and the draft were very real, so were the riots and assassinations), at least without much awareness of the implications. And I’m wondering what I’d do now.

Am I sorry? No. I have never for a moment regretted that decision. I feel a greater affection for this country—which is far less perfect than many disaffected Americans seem to think—than I ever felt for the United States. I was twenty-three. Not quite rootless, but impulsive as young people are, and without the sense of belonging that comes with a longer and settled life. And I didn’t want my young husband, father of my soon-to-be-born child, drafted to serve in an unjustifiable war. It was both a principled and a self-interested decision.

Of course, there were those who challenged us, accused us of putting self-interest ahead of principle. How could we justify jumping ship when so many others were staying to make a more powerful statement than we could ever make by leaving? They marched and protested. They risked arrest and served jail time rather than go to war. They wept at the loss of lives and the assassinations, but they stayed. And when that horror ended, they stuck around to become the voice of liberalism in the U.S. for the next half century and to protest new horrors.

Okay, I’m romanticizing a bit. Some of them became corporate moguls and climate deniers, and some of them probably voted for Trump.

Here’s what I’m asking myself today: If the past fifty years had been spent in, say, New Hampshire (which was the job option Jack turned down in favour of the Sault, after the risk of the draft had abated), would my sense of belonging be as great as it is here, now? Probably. Would the magnitude of this disaster be enough to rip me from a comfortable life to start a new life elsewhere? At twenty-something, maybe; at seventy-something, probably not. And, upon reflection, would leaving really protect me from the threat—as it surely did protect young men from the draft in 1968? Because from where I’m perched, not far from the imaginary line that separates us, the border doesn’t seem much of an impediment to the kind of economic and social upheaval that may well be in the offing.

So, what would I do? Would I try to carry on as though everything were normal? It would be tempting, wouldn’t it? I could do it, being white, heterosexual, essentially invisible. Would I have the energy and the commitment to protest and resist? Would I point to younger people and say this torch is yours to carry? I’m asking these hypothetical questions to my hypothetical self. But if the imaginary line doesn’t hold, it may not remain hypothetical.

Good luck to all who are struggling to come up with the right response to this threat to democracy, their country, and the planet. Good luck to all of us.

 

 

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Above earth’s lamentation

I’m returning to earth after a particularly satisfying week. The launch of my memoir, Shifting Currents, went spectacularly well, and I’ve been basking in the realization that it’s now an actual book and people are reading and, I hope, enjoying it. I’m still struggling with distribution issues—Amazon.com is working well, Amazon.ca still lists it as out of stock (though if you look at ‘more buying choices’ you can order it from Book Depository), and I’m having some issues converting it to an ebook. For local folks, it’s available at Tippy Canoe in Bruce Mines, the Totem Pole at Fourth Line, and the Art Gallery Gift Shop (as of tomorrow). I’ll be checking things out at both Coles stores soon, and it may be available there as well. And until the end of this month, I have a personal supply.

Then, before I’d quite landed back on terra firma, we had our annual hiking weekend with good friends—a combination of hiking, eating too much good food, and drinking just a bit too much good wine. This event has become a fall ritual over the past dozen years. We’ve noticed the balance of activities has changed a bit in that time—what with bad knees, aching joints, and broken bones—but this year all six of us managed a challenging several-hour hike along the shore of Lake Superior and felt we’d earned whatever indulgences followed!

So, it’s been a good week. And yet…

As I found myself humming an old hymn the other day, I thought about how we manage to separate our personal selves from geopolitical realities. Adopted by modern Quakers but originally written by a Baptist minister in the 1860s, its opening lines speak to my bifurcated sense of reality these days.

My life flows on in endless song, Above earth’s lamentation

My life does flow on, if not in endless song at least with a cheerful whistle while I rake the fall leaves; a loud guffaw at the latest Trump idiocy, as though it were not an actual threat to the planet; a flood of happiness when things go well, as they did this past week.

But there can be no doubt that the earth is lamenting. How can it not? Of course, top of mind these last weeks is the debacle being called an election campaign south of the border. Its potentially horrifying outcome at first seeped and has now flooded across this and most media borders. For now at least, our own sunny ways are no match for that grim spectacle.

And speaking of sun—we here in Ontario are having such an oddly warm fall that so far we have had just a few serious frosts and daily temperatures are steadily in double digits. It’s November, for god’s sake. Pleasant as that is for finishing up the last of the garden tasks and hiking on the lake shore, I find it hard not to worry about the planet.

I know, I know. I’ve read the prayer too. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” I’m afraid I’ve never been granted any of those. So I worry. I worry about what will happen on November 8 and the days that follow. I worry about my grandchildren’s futures. I worry about the sense of a new Cold War looming and the potentially terrible outcome in a world suddenly (or perhaps not so suddenly) gripped by sectarianism and intolerance.

And then I find myself humming again as I pull out the last of the chard and Brussels sprouts, chewed almost to the ground by my resident deer, and prepare the garden for winter, which will come in its own good time.

Take a deep breath. And keep singing.

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On the account, please

Last week when I stopped into my small-town grocery store for a bag of onions and some dish soap, I stopped short. The familiar aisles were gone, the shelves in disarray, many empty.

“What’s up?” I asked Glenna, the woman who’s been punching in my four-digit code and handing me a charge slip to sign for the last umpteen years. “Rearranging?”

“They’re downsizing,” she said. “No more fresh meat, no more bakery, no more produce.”

No. It can’t be.

“They’re building a wall to make it smaller. It’ll be a convenience store.” Walls. The world is full of walls and threats of walls.

She pointed to a sign by the cash register. All running accounts must be closed off by October 8.

“What do I owe?” I asked, still in shock, putting my onions and soap on the rubber counter that never moved like the counters in supermarkets. “I’ll just pay up now I guess. Two-three-two-one.” Those are the last four digits of my phone number. An easy code to crack, but no one ever has. When my name comes up on the screen in front of her, she doesn’t have to confirm it. She knows who I am.

I’ve been shopping at the grocery store in Echo Bay since we moved here forty-four years ago, when it was still Buchanans General Store, owned by three siblings who had taken it over from their parents somewhere in the second quarter of the last century. It’s on the tip of my tongue to say I haven’t appreciated it really, until now, but that’s not actually true. I’ve enjoyed chatting and laughing with Glenna at the check-out. I’ve been grateful for the owner and fine butcher, Loggy, for rescuing a dinner party by cheerfully re-rolling a holiday pork roast after I’d unrolled it, “stuffed” it with dried fruit, and ended up with a floppy pocket of prunes and apricots.

Loggy's meat counter

Loggy’s meat counter

I thought I’d miss his parents, Pat and Maxine, when they sold it to him, but they didn’t really leave. They hung around, helping out behind the meat counter or stocking the produce, because they just couldn’t turn their backs on the work and the customers they loved.  I don’t think that happens at Metro or IGA. And while I sometimes run into people I know in the supermarkets, the Metro doesn’t feel intimate. Dinelles does. In fact, when Jack and I were considering selling the farm and moving to town a few years ago, one of the things I realized I’d miss the most was Dinelles.

Need a fruit tray in a hurry? Call Dinelles. Want your Christmas turkey fresh, not frozen? Order ahead and Loggy’ll hold it in the cooler until Christmas eve, save your fridge space. Putting on a community event? Dinelle’s will make sure you have what you need, when you need it. At a good price, and with a smile. It feels like home.

But it’s not where I’ve done my major food shopping, and I suppose that makes me, along with most of the community, part of the problem. Our little town is only half an hour from Sault Ste. Marie and the major food chains. Dinelle’s has been an in-between place to shop, where you can count on finding what you’ve run out of to put off going to town for another few days. Where you can run in and out with a few items, without even opening your wallet.

“On the account, please.” A token of community membership. A few years ago, some out-of-towners in the line overheard me and said “You can charge things here?”

She can,” said Glenna, pointing at me and laughing. Yes, membership has its privileges.

But it’s not a public service. Small grocery stores are in trouble. I suppose we’re lucky to have had one this long. When a new four-lane highway bypassed the few businesses in Echo Bay a few years ago, rumours flew that Dinelles, and perhaps the gas station, would close. When that didn’t happen, we breathed a sigh of relief and forgot about the threat. For those locals who are interested in the details, see http://www.saultstar.com/2016/10/13/landmark-echo-bay-store-faces-downsizing

****

Dinelles as it dismantles, looking from the back toward the new "convenience store"

Dinelles as it dismantles, looking from the back toward the new “convenience store”

I’ve just returned from checking it out. It’s all true. Glenna was still there at the cash register. Loggy was putting up the wall. Where the wall’s not up yet, I could see remnants of the store as I’ll always remember it, the big red signs now signifying nothing.

The new, tiny store occupying the front quarter of the building does include a wall of coolers with some lettuce, apples, a turnip, and a freezer with packaged meat. You can buy a tiny bag of flour or a tiny bag of sugar. Where the carts once lined up, there’s a shelf of items drastically reduced: the things that will no longer be sold, I assume. Large-size cans of tomatoes; specialty cereals; barley; split peas; some whole grain crackers. No sign of the carts, which probably wouldn’t fit in the new tiny aisles anyway.

It’s still Echo Bay though. I did run into a friend I haven’t seen for ages. We stood in the way of the only other shopper, bemoaned the loss of our grocery store, and caught up a bit. Then I picked up some ice cream and a loaf of bread. Paid cash.

Two-three-two-one. It’s just a phone number now.

 

From Shifting Currents, here’s my memory of the first time I shopped in Buchanan’s General Store, 1972.

I parked in one of the dozen parking spaces in front and pulled open the heavy glass door. Immediately to my left, an overweight woman of about fifty, with tightly-curled grey hair, sat on a stool behind an old-fashioned cash register. I smiled hello at her, took a grocery cart, and headed down the first aisle. As far as I could tell, I was the only customer in the store.

I picked up a head of lettuce, a bag of onions, a bag of apples, some carrots and potatoes from the meager display of produce. Opposite the produce, several shelves held bread, hamburger buns, and cookies…I pushed my cart up and down the five aisles, taking stock first of the canned goods and dry groceries, then cleaning supplies, school supplies, sewing notions, greeting cards, magazines, garden tools, work clothes, and miscellaneous hardware items. This side of the store smelled like nails and rubber boots. At the back of the store, I found a cooler with dairy products, and beside them, the meat counter.

I was trying to decide between hamburger and pork chops when a tall, heavy-set man in glasses and a white apron came out of a man-sized refrigerator door carrying half a pig. He looked over at me, dropped the pig on a butcher’s table, wiped his hands on his apron, and approached the counter. “Good afternoon,” he said. “You must be Mrs. Dunning from the White farm, right? I’m Garfield Buchanan. Welcome to the neighbourhood.” It was the warmest welcome I’d received yet.

“Thanks,” I said. “How did you know who I was?”

He chuckled. “Word gets around, you’ll see. I hear you’re Americans.”

I sputtered. “Not really. Not anymore.”

He smiled—indulgently, I thought. “What can I get for you?”

I was walking toward the check-out with both pork chops and hamburger, wrapped in brown paper with the price marked in grease pencil, when Garfield called out. “Eva! This is Mrs. Dunning from Fred White’s farm. Open an account for her!”

Really? I hadn’t asked for that.

Eva Buchanan didn’t have her brother’s charm, but she was efficiency itself. “I’ll just mark it down,” she said as she totaled up the items on the clattering cash register.

“I can pay,” I insisted.

She shook her head. “This’ll get your account started. Then, you can pay up every month.” She pulled a big, flat book off the shelf beside her and opened it to a page with D written on the top and rows of little pockets neatly labeled Dean…Downy …Doughty. She tucked my bill into an empty pocket, labeled it Dunning, and closed the book. I was in.

“Al-ex!” She called, her voice rising on the second syllable. The third Buchanan appeared, a taller, lankier, and somewhat younger man. “You want to carry these bags out for Mrs. Dunning? She’s on the Fred White farm.”

“Y-y-yes, b-be glad to, Mrs. Dunning. Welcome to Echo Bay.”

 

 

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Small pond…

I love living in a little place where I’ve lived for a long time.

Last week, I finally felt ready, took a deep breath, and ordered 200 copies of Shifting Currents. Since they’re printed in the US, it was much cheaper and easier to have them shipped to a UPS depot in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan and bring them across the border myself. It’s just ten minutes farther than downtown Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, when the border is quick.

They arrived late yesterday afternoon, just in time for me to rush over and pick them up. Of course, the border wasn’t quick. It’s Thanksgiving weekend here and for some unfathomable reason quite a lot of Canadians seemed to want to drive into the US to express their thanks. It took me 45 minutes to cross the border, and I rushed into the package depot just before it closed.

Standing in front of me was a young woman with her Canadian passport in hand, so—just to be friendly—I asked if she’d just crossed the border, and wasn’t the lineup awful? She nodded.

“So, are you here to pick up your book?” she said.

I expect my jaw dropped. I’m quite sure I had never seen this woman before in my life. Obviously the word is out. I’ve really been counting on fame and fortune, but it seems to be happening more quickly than I’d hoped. That’s good. At my age, you want these things to happen in time to enjoy them.

The woman laughed at my confusion. It turns out she works with the person who is organizing my book launch and reading at the library (for locals, October 26, 7 pm, in case you missed that detail.) So much for fame and fortune.

I picked up my 7 heavy boxes of books and headed back across the border. There was no lineup. Huh.

The guy at the kiosk asked for my passport, then looked at the boxes piled up in the back of the car. “What are you bringing in?”

“Books.”

“Books? What kind of books.”

“These.” I handed him a copy.

“For resale?”

“Yes,” I said. It was never my intention to sneak them across the border, but I wasn’t quite sure what the procedure would be. I could hardly claim personal use.

He was turning the book over in his hands. “Oh! This is the barn behind your house!”

You see? I really am becoming famous. And I now see that one of the problems with becoming a celebrity is that everybody knows you, and you don’t know anyone…

“Um…do I know you?” I’m going to have to work on my response. This sounds amateurish.

“Sort of,” he said. “I’m friends with Robin.”

Let down again. He went on to tell me how he’d seen my daughter-in-law and my grandson at a hockey game just last week and how my grandson is so very tall (which I know—handsome, too). Fortunately, there was no one lining up behind me to get into Canada.

Then, “I don’t know what to do with these books. Technically, it’s a commercial import.”

Dear God, what does that mean? I have to become a business?

“But…but” I stammered.

He nodded and called his supervisor, then sent me into the non-commercial side of the building where some discussion ensued. It seems that not being a business is a complicated thing when you want to sell stuff—but I decided, wisely I think, not to launch into a description of Embajadoras Press and the authors’ cooperative publishing venture (emabjadoraspress.com) which really, in a money-making way, isn’t a business. In the end I paid the required taxes and headed home, books in tow.

Shifting Currents will be available in local bookstores after October 26, and through Amazon when I figure out how that works…soon, I hope.

 

 

 

 

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How visible is too visible??

Two days ago, I spent an hour and a half with a friend who’s a whiz at social media. I’m not. I’m not even sure I want to be. But suddenly I am faced with the daunting task of promoting my book—as you probably know, since almost everyone I’m friends with on Facebook has shared the news of the imminent release of my memoir with everyone they’re friends with. Isn’t that enough, already? I’d like to think so. Apparently not.

When I stopped in at the public library in Sault Ste. Marie a few weeks ago, thinking I might rent a room for a smallish book launch, the librarian at the information desk said, “We do that!”, proceeded to book a date and a time, and offered to design a poster and issue a news release. The poster is now a reality and the news release went out a few days ago. Someone from the local paper interviewed me, so I’m pretty well committed to the date and time. I’m also committed to ordering a pile of books and living with whatever minutiae still cry out for one more, tiny edit. Just one more!

Thankfully, my social-media-savvy friend doesn’t think Twitter would do much for me unless I’m prepared to tweet regularly—say at 3:00 am?? Which I’m not. A few years ago, I signed up for Twitter. I never tweeted, not once, and I’ve long since forgotten my name and password, although they’re probably the same ones I use for almost everything, given my propensity to forget and my assumption that the details of my online life are of minimal interest to anyone. I do still receive regular emails telling me all the great tweets I’m missing from people I’ve never heard of.

My friend did suggest I blog more often. I often compose brilliant little essays in my head as I take my daily walk. But like early-morning dreams, they usually evaporate the moment I try to give them an actual shape. I promised her I’d try harder.

To help affirm my status as a writer, she also suggested I start an author page on Facebook. I’ve gone so far as to assign my name to one. Facebook, she explained, is a lot more than chit-chat. She showed me how to target my message, how to increase the odds of being seen, how to use and time posts as a marketing tool.

Her final advice: Don’t worry about being too visible. Well, that’s a hard one. I do worry about being too visible. How many times do people want to see that damned poster, really? Or my name, for that matter? At what point will they decide that I’m a self-serving, egotistical maniac? I am not a self-serving, egotistical maniac. But I’d like people to read my book. Sigh.

Now, I must head off to hang a poster in the Echo Bay Lending Library. That feels safe. Hardly anyone goes there…

And here it is, yet again, though I can’t seem to convert the pdf to a photo file of decent quality so you’ll need to get out your magnifying glass. Or check me—or Embajadoras Press—out on Facebook 😃.

(Now here’s the kind of question that can really engage me: Does punctuation go before or after an emoticon?)

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