Uni of Iowa: How Writers Write Fiction

I enjoyed Assignment 5 – basically I took assignment number 1 and fragmented it. Lots of fun experimentation.

Between the offer of a cup of tea and her departure there exists a lifetime of untold stories.

You don’t want to hear my stories either. When I was young, I didn’t care about much about my grannie’s blue-haired friends. I knew how to be polite though, how not to scrunch my nose up at their smell, or recoil in horror if my hand happened to brush the surface of their thin, yellow and blue skin.

She had no concept of decorum. I can see the dislike in her green eyes and cat-like smile. You know, it’s unnerving when she stands behind me. If you find me in a crumpled heap at the bottom of the stairs one day, look to her. One push is all it would take. It would be a gentle shove, so as not to leave even the tiniest bruise on my skeleton.

Of course she has no idea that I am afraid of her. Please don’t breathe a word, Mutter.

But you can’t. I buried you in the ground, after you buried yourself in the politics of war. Mutter, I always understood why we had no visitors. I played along with your stories and pretended to understand what you meant when you said it was okay to tell lies. Sometimes. Sometimes you said, it could be a matter of life and death.

And Papa.

We are in the kitchen and Papa is behind me. He watches me put on the kettle and my hands are shaking. We drink coffee, not tea. Tea is for them.

But it’s not Papa whose critical eyes burn a hole in my heart. I buried him in the ground after he buried us in the lies.

Don’t tell, but I hated him for what he did to Mutter. He made her cry. Even after they took him away. We got a teapot and Mutter taught me to make tea the English way. Boil the water. Warm up the teapot. Use loose-leaf tea and let it steep for ten minutes. Not nine or eleven. Milk, not cream and sugar into the cup first. Pour the tea. Pretend to like it.

My daughter-in-law is pleased that I make tea properly. At least I won’t ever embarrass her again by putting the milk in after I’ve poured her tea. It was a terrible day, the day I sinned over the teapot.

Now, she watches me, waiting for mistakes. No, I’m not being paranoid. She’s waiting for me to trip or spill or choke or forget my way into a Home for the Aged. You know, what I tell myself? Remember not to trip on the carpet. Six steady steps to the kitchen, or six unsteady steps to the Care Home.

Don’t kid yourself. Being old is a lot like being young. You have no say. I am not the boss of me.

“Do be careful,” she orders. “You don’t want to break your pelvis again.”

I demure but inside I shout at her. “This is where I plan to die. Broken or whole, you’ll never get me out of here again.”

Her watchful eyes narrow. Oh My. Did I speak out loud again?

Tea? Is she deaf?

“Don’t bother. I’ll pour.”

That I ignore. It’s very rude. She’s not polite for such a proper woman. Mutter would scold me if I’d behaved that way. Sometimes Mutter could be strict. She admired the man with the toothbrush mustache and he preached law and order, rules and regulations.

Mouth washed out with soap. Never say that word in our house. Never say Nazi. Do you want to get us arrested?

Of course, you know the camp they sent Papa too was an internment camp? The RCMP deemed him a danger to Canada.

What? Of course he was. Papa was a danger to Mutter and to me and to our poor cat.

She can be critical too. Where is my son? Why am I stuck with his snotty wife every day?

While we wait the requisite ten minutes for the tea to seep, (not nine or eleven) my son’s wife bites her nails. My poor son.

Will he visit me?

For a brief moment, I think she looks sad. He’s very busy. He sends his love.

She casts her eyes around the small room. Her left leg bounces up and down. Why won’t she look at me? Finally she settls on the six plants that line the windowsill. “Have you watered those this week?”

“Yes,” I say, meaning no.”

“Oh,” she says, “I’ll do it before I leave.”

You think she is kind to visit me? If you think that, you don’t understand. She doesn’t care about me. She always makes the tea too hot and it burns my tongue. Too hot and too strong.

Of course I don’t complain. It’s wonderful, I say while the scalding liquid burns the inside of my mouth and scorches my throat.

Wonderful says my daughter-in-law. I let her pour the tea. It’s a small concession, but I won’t risk a life sentence in a care home over Earl Grey. “That hits the spot,” she says.

She tricked me though. She gave me my tea and it was cold. I spat it out. You know she pretended it hadn’t happened at all. Sorry is what she said, as if it had been an accident. I didn’t want you to burn your mouth.

I pretended not to hear her, just like I did if I heard people speaking German on the streets in Toronto. Muter said never let anyone know that you speak German. I am never allowed to speak German, even at home, even if Muter and Papa whisper to each other in the old tongue, when they think I can’t hear them. Walls are thin when ears are young. MuterPapaWhereismySonandwhatisthisfatgirldoinginmylivingroomwedidintdrinkteawhenIwasagirlwedrankcoffee.

Get your hands off me I told her. She said I was slurring my words and that she was concerned about me. Ha. Any excuse to shuffle me off to a home. Why are you areyou wearing a uniform?

Papa loved his Instant coffee. Here, Papa. Nescafe. Drink it while it’s hot. Papa why did you go away for four years that seemed like forever?

My daughter-in-law doesn’t drink Instant. She has a bad-tempered machine that spits out droplets of dark coffee into tiny cups, that she throw back like a shot of schnapps.

I caught her wiping my face as if I were a child. I pushed her hand way. Don’t touch me. Then there is a teardrop on my face. I’m leaking. Everywhere. But I hide the private leaks. A grown woman shouldn’t be in diapers.

Will you have a biscuit? Chew carefully. I miss teeth. What, it’s not old. Those past due dates mean nothing. You know, she smells her food before she puts it in her mouth, as if I’m going to poison her. Muter would have never allowed such rudeness.

They all throw out food, that generation. Even my son. Dear boy. Mutter did not approve of wasting food. What’s that thing? It doesn’t look much like a phone to me. My daughter-in-law has one. Is yours a cameral too? Did you now that she can tell the time and take pictures with hers?

The shopping list? It’s on the table. That’s what I said, even though it wasn’t. Even though I’d forgot to make one. I don’t care. Things are missing. Like my taste buds, but don’t tell her. Don’t tell anyone.

Secret: I was relieved when Papa went away forfouryearsthatfeltlikeforever. He wears an old suit Mutter found in the second hand store. It smells like mothballs. I know they are lying when they tell me that Papa is a financier.

SPY.

Wash out mouth with soap. Never say that word. I spy with my little eye. I can’t play that game because I can’t say that word. No wonder the other kids don’t like me. I wish we were like them.

You! You there! Where is Papa’s special book? You can’t touch it. It belongs under my pillow. PAPA TRUSTS ME TO TAKE CARE OF HIS NOTEBOOK.

I’m not shouting, you silly girl. Take your hands off me.

Where am I? It doesn’t matter. Where was I? Ah. I remember. Back then.

Mutter can be bossy. When someone does come over, I have to flip the picture of the funny, mean little man over. “Make sure it’s not crooked,” Mutter tells me. “Be quick about it.”

I am happy to turn it over because I prefer the picture on the reverse side. A tall, leafless tree stands in the middle of field of flowers. A wide river flows beside it and in the distance gentle slopes roll into tall mountains. A lone bird soars in the blue, cloudless sky.

Mutter cut it out of a magazine. She says the original is even more beautiful, but I can’t believe that. She says it hangs in a gallery in Dresden, across the sea and maybe one day she will take me to see it.

Thank goodness Papa is gone for fouryearsthatseemlikeforever.

No more Hitler. Oops. I didn’t say that. Sorry.

Did I tell you that my Papa is away? Yes, he’s away on business.

Where is Papa?

I told you. He is away on business. ARE YOU DEAF?

My daughter-in-law’s voice voice shakes and I know she’s had too many coffees. No. Wrong. She drinks tea. It’s Mutter.

Don’t cry, Mutter.

“You must call me ‘Mama’ now.”

But you are Mutter. Even if you hit me, I will never think of you as Mama.

Wake up! I open my eyes. Mutter. I know you wanted to protect me, but you should have told me. I know who that man in the picture was.

My daughter-in-law hates it when I get mixed up in time. As if it’s a crime to go backwards now and again. “I wasn’t asleep.”

“No matter. I can’t find the list and I have to go.” Gibberish.

Her lips brush my cheek. She winces. I know I’m rotting on the inside. She smells the rot. Mutter taught me to be clean. She taught me to sew when she found out that the girls at school teased me about my clothes.

Do you remember your mother?

Ah, we used to go to the stores on Spadina. Oh, if you could have seen the fabrics. We bought special material for when Papa came home. Mutter made a dress for me and a dress for her. Blue with yellow flowers for her and pink with white stripes for me. On the day that Papa came home forthefirst time in forever, Mutter didn’t have to drink cold coffee in the morning. I never saw her cry again.

The day before Papacamehome after fouryearsthatfeltlike FOREVER, I dusted the picture that hung on the wall over the fireplace and Mutter gave me a cloth soaked in vinegar to clean the glass. Even the man in the picture with the funny mustache that looked like a toothbrush and the bleached dead eyes sparkled the day Papa came home from camp.

You know who that was, right?

How was my mum today?

Drifting in and out. Lot’s of talk about her past and her parents. I hardly understood a word she said.

Thanks for visiting her.

It’s okay. I like your mother. But you know, it’s you who she would’ve like to have seen. Not me.

There is lots of time for that. I’ll try and go next week.

The daughter-in-in-law nodded. The daughter-in-law even smiled.

She’d covered the Old Biddy with a blanket before she left. Then she’d realized her mistake and taken it off. She’d hoped her husband would be the one to find her. But

a week was a long time for a body to laze at the foot of the stairs.

The daughter-in-law said,

Don’t worry, Honey. I’ll pop in and see her in a few days. In the meantime, how about a glass of wine?

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She Means Well

Assignment 1: University of Iowa Free Online Course How Writers Write 

I offer her a cup of tea, because this is what her type expects. Of course, she refuses in the way that people do when they want something. There is more to language than words, so I pretend not to hear her “Don’t bother,” and push myself up from the sofa.

It’s hard to be dignified with a walker, but I think I mange quite well. Eyes forward, back straight; left foot in front of right. Remember not to trip on the carpet. Six steady steps to the kitchen, or six unsteady steps to the Care Home.

Being old is a lot like being young. A single mistake can cost so much.

My daughter-in-law’s watchful eyes keep me upright. It takes so much effort to propel myself forward that a part of me wants to give up, to crash to ground.

Like before. They all thought that when I broke my pelvis, they’d get their way, but here I am, back in my apartment. This is where I plan to die.

My daughter-in-law follows me to the kitchen, but there isn’t room for two, so she presses herself against the doorframe, arms folded across her chest. Her left hand is hidden, but the chewed nails on her right hand glare at me. She offers to put on the kettle, but I stop her. The truth is, I’d rather she does it, but I know she’ll just add that to catalogue of ‘Things I can’t do on my own.’

Like I said before, the spectrum narrows with age.

Her eyes monitor my every move. The effort it takes me to keep my hands steady as I pour the boiling water from the kettle into the teapot surprises me. Life lesson: there is no crime worse than putting a teabag in a mug. I learned that and then I rushed out and bought the chipped Brown Betty from the thrift store. I only use it when she is here.

Milk in the creamer, sugar in the sugar bowl, two past-due-date biscuits on the tray, before I shuffle past her back to the sofa. She trails behind me, tongue clicking as she clears the coffee table and puts the tray down. While we wait the requisite ten minutes for the tea to steep, (not nine or eleven) my daughter-in-law casts her eyes around the small room, finally settling on the six plants that line the windowsill. “Have you watered those this week?”

“Yes,” I say, meaning no.”

“Oh,” she says, “I’ll do it before I leave.”

I let her pour the tea. It’s a small concession, but I won’t risk a life sentence in a care home over Earl Grey. She slops milk into her tea and sips. “That hits the spot,” she says.

“Yes,” I say, even though it’s too hot and too strong and burns my tongue. “Wonderful.”

We didn’t drink tea at my house when I was a girl. My parents were coffee drinkers. Instant. Nowadays, the faintest wisp of Nescafe transports me to girlhood.

Before Papa went away, he and Mutter sipped their coffee together every morning before he started his work. After he left forever, but only four years, Mutter always made a cup of coffee for him, but she drank it herself. Still, she had no energy. It wasn’t decaffeinated either. They didn’t have that in those days.

By the time she’d finished her own steaming mug of coffee and moved on to Papa’s, it was cold. She hated cold coffee. She hated it so much It made her cry.

My daughter-in-law doesn’t drink Instant. She has a bad-tempered machine that spits out droplets of dark coffee into tiny cups, that she throws back like a shot of schnapps.

“Your eye.”

I don’t understand until she pushes a tissue toward me. “It’s leaking.” I take the tissue and press it to my eye. Thank God she can’t see my other leaking parts, because even this disgusts her. I can see it in her downturned lips and hear it in her sigh. “Stop scratching. It will just make it worse.”

I take a past-use date biscuit and bite into it, chewing carefully to protect the few teeth I still have.

“Those can’t be good,” my daughter-in-law picks one up, smells it and puts it back on the plate. That’s not manners, but I hold my tongue. Mutter would have never allowed such rudeness. Or wastefulness.

My daughter-in-law pulls her phone out of her pocket and looks at it. It’s a phone and a clock and camera and a music machine. I wait. Will she make a call, show me a photo or is she checking the time? The answer comes in the form of an eye roll. “Did you make me a shopping list? I have to go soon.”

How could I have forgotten to do that? “Yes.”

She shakes her head. Holds out her hand. Her wedding ring could do with some resizing, or she could eat a little less. “Can I have it?”

“It’s on the table, I think.”

While she searches through the debris on the table for the list that doesn’t exist, I shut my eyes. I’m tired, but I also need to get away from her for a bit.

It’s a trick I often witness Mutter do; close her eyes and shut out the world. Mutter teaches me important things. “It’s okay to lie sometimes. Sometimes you have to bend the truth. Sometimes it’s a matter of life and death.”

I am never allowed to speak German, even at home, even if Mutter and Papa whisper to each other in the old tongue, when they think I can’t hear them.

Walls are thin when ears are young.

In Germany, my dad wore a handsome uniform, but in Canada he wears an old suit they bought at the second hand store. “Papa is a financier.”

I know this is not a good job. Other children at school have fathers with good jobs. They work in shops and hotels and drive cabs. They always have nice clothes and new shoes. Papa works at home in the kitchen alcove. His notebook bursting with columns of numbers and letters.

We don’t have many visitors in our Bloor Street apartment, but when we do, Papa trusts me to take special care of his notebook. I put it under my pillow, then l lie on my bed, reading or daydreaming until the visitor leaves.

Usually, the visitor is the landlord. He announces himself with a loud rap on the door. “Hello, Mr. Clarkson. Please come in. It’s so nice to see you.” Mutter hates Mr. Clarkson, but she always greets him as a friend.

It is my job to turn the picture on the wall above the fireplace in the living room over when someone visits. “Make sure it’s not crooked,” Mutter tells me when I am learning how to do this quickly and efficiently.

I am happy to turn it over because I prefer the picture on the reverse side. A tall, leafless tree stands in the middle of field of flowers. A wide river flows beside it and in the distance gentle slopes roll into tall mountains. A lone bird soars in the blue, cloudless sky. Mutter cut it out of a magazine. She says the original is even more beautiful, but I can’t believe that. She says it hangs in a gallery in Dresden, across the sea and maybe one day she will take me to see it.

I long to go across the sea to the Fatherland where everything is better, but Mutter says we can’t go until we win the war.

After Papa left for four years (but it felt like forever), I didn’t turn the picture back for days and days and maybe even months, so I got to enjoy the fields and the trees and the river and the mountains whenever I felt like it.

I hoped Mutter wouldn’t notice, but one day I came home from school, and she’d done it herself. She wasn’t happy with me. “That is supposed to be your job. You’ve let your father down.”

“Where is Papa?”

“I told you. He is away on business.” Her voice shakes and I know she’s had too many coffees.

“Don’t cry, Mutter.”

“You must call me ‘Mama’ now.” She begins to leak out of her eyes.

“But you are Mutter.” My face stings from her slap. But not for long. A cold washcloth takes care of that. Inside it hurts more. It still hurts when I think about her anger over that stupid picture on the wall.

“Wake up!” I open my eyes.

“Mutter. I know you wanted to protect me, but you should have told me. I know who that man in the picture was.”

Adults mean well when they hide things, but they usually get it wrong.

My daughter-in-law gives me that look she saves for when I get mixed up in time. As if it’s a crime to go backwards now and again. “I wasn’t asleep.”

“No matter. I can’t find the list and I have to go.” She’s taken the tea tray back to the kitchen and the windowsill is damp from where she’s overfilled the flowerpots. “I’ll pick up some milk and a frozen dinner for you tonight; chicken, but find that list, or else you’ll starve and if you don’t eat… well, I’ve told you what will happen if you can’t look after yourself.”

Her lips brush my cheek. I know I’m rotting on the inside. I just didn’t realize she could smell decay on my skin. The thought makes me sad. I always take such pride in how I look and I never forget to splash Eau de Toilette over my in the morning. Mutter taught me to be clean.

She taught me to sew when she found out that the girls at school teased me about my clothes.

Mutter and I go together to find material for a new dress for me once every four months with the seasons. Spadina Street is rich in garment stores. We only buy fabric that is on sale. A week before Papa came home, Mutter splurged. She bought enough material for two dresses, blue with yellow flowers on it for her and pink with white stripes for me.

On the day before Papa came home after four years (that felt like forever), I helped Mutter clean the apartment. I dusted the picture that hung on the wall over the fireplace and Mutter gave me a cloth soaked in vinegar to clean the glass.

Even the man in the picture with the funny moustache that looked like a toothbrush and the bleached dead eyes sparkled the day Papa came home from camp.

On the day that Papa came home for the first time in forever, Mutter didn’t have to drink cold coffee in the morning.

She didn’t cry, not even a single tear.

I must have stretched out, because when I wake up, I’m alone. “Mutter,” I call and then I remember.

The daughter-in-law has let herself out. And just like Mutter used to do, she’s thrown a soft blanket over me to keep me warm while I sleep.

I shouldn’t be so short with her. She means well.

Off Bowen Island

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Uni of Iowa Writing Courses Online

I’ve recently signed up for a writing course from the University of Iowa. If your interested it’s free, or at the most $50 USD if you want a certificate at the end of the course. Students come from all over the world. The course is not onerous, but it’s challenging and a great way to practice writing. I’m loving it. The course I am taking is called How Writers Write Fiction 2016: Storied Women. I’m going to post all of my assignments right here on my blog to track what I hope to be my progress.

Assignment One to follow tonight or tomorrow! The Old Tree in Woodbridge

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Maelor, Wales Remembering How to Play

It’s hard to believe but my residency at Stiwido Maelor, in Corris, Wales is coming to a close. It’s been a very successful, inspiring and wonderful three weeks. During that time, I’ve managed to edit and submit the almost final draft of my upcoming novel to my publisher Second Story Press, in Toronto, Canada. This would never (and those of you who are writers can confirm this), have been possible if I hadn’t been given the gift of time and freedom to write.

Beyond that, I’ve made friends with other artists and writers from all over the world.

And beyond that, I’ve discovered a magical corner of the world that it’s hard to get to from Vancouver, but worth the long hours it took to get here.

Last night I went to sleep trying to figure out what it is that makes an extended period of time away from real life in a place like Corris so extraordinary and difficult to describe. I didn’t come up with the answer before I drifted off, but this was my dream:

I was jumping on a trampoline with a group of unknown people; the only thing I actually knew about them was that they were artists and writers and they were having a good time. Every so often, one of us would leap off the tramp and skip rope or just lie on our backs in the grass. I was doing just that in my dream when a man and his little girl walked by. “What on earth are they doing?” the dad said to his daughter.

The little girl looked up him with a puzzled expression on her face. When she replied, she sounded worried or maybe puzzled. “They are playing, Daddy,” she said. “Have you forgotten how?”

And I think that’s what I’ve been remembering for the last three weeks; how to play and be free and create without any restraints. As they say here, ‘that’s brilliant.’ And it is.

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Stiwdio Maelor; Wales Writing Residency

One of the greatest gifts a writer can have is being invited to spend time in a Residency. Last year, I applied and was accepted to an International Writers’ Residency in Wales. The process of applying seems so long ago, but suddenly it’s only a month away. My heritage on my mother’s side is Welsh so in a strange way, it feels like I will be travelling to a country that feels familiar, even though that familiarity is a product of stories I heard as a child and my imagination.

I’ll have the precious gift of time to write and I hope to keep up a blog while I am there, so check back for news and stories of my time in Wales.

I’ll be at stiwdiomaelor, and no, I can’t pronounce it yet, but that will change when I arrive mid-May. Thank you to Australian artist Veronica Calarco for giving me this wonderful opportunity to Write in Peace.

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There’s something unknown waiting for me! 

 

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The Preludes to Assaults

Thank you Jane for saying what we all know to be true.

Jane Eaton Hamilton

Feel free to share.

#gomeshi #ghomeshi #ibelievelucy #IStandWithLucy #BillCosby #hairextensions #truthmatters #rapeculture #cndjustice

Jian Ghomeshi, you [redacted]. I don’t know you very well, but I know this: one night in early 2004, after I’d been awarded a writing prize in Ottawa, you followed me to a side room annexed to the main hall, where I’d gone to get away from the crowds, and while my (then) wife was in the bathroom or off getting another drink, I’m not sure, you put your hand on me. That hand. One of the very hands that is being discussed in court this week. You closed the distance between us and you massaged my shoulder/neck while talking to me about how I needed to relieve the stress of my big win. Eventually my (then) wife returned, you dropped your hand (that hand), and we chatted politely while you bashed the Rockies, BC and, in…

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Authors Demand Fair Contracts

January 5, 2016

An open letter to the members of the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), the Literary Press Group (LPG), and the Canadian Publishers’ Council (CPC):

Today, author groups from around the world have signed on to an open letter regarding the Fair Contract Initiative from our sister organization, the Authors Guild (AG) in the United States. The Writers’ Union of Canada (TWUC) has included its name and logo on this letter. TWUC works closely with the Authors Guild on many initiatives, most notably global copyright concerns (TWUC is, for instance, a friend of the court in the AG’s ongoing book-scanning lawsuit against Google). We fully endorse the AG’s recent work updating contract principles.

TWUC has been sharing with its members the AG’s new contract principles as they have been published on their website over the last six months. As a founding member of the International Authors Forum (IAF), TWUC is also contributing to work on new, global contract principles for creative professionals. You will find attached both the AG’s open letter and the IAF’s Ten Principles for Fair Contracts.

TWUC has long advised its members on contract terms and negotiation using its own Model Trade Book Agreement, and we believe the time has come to update this document to better reflect the changed reality of writing and publishing in Canada. There is no question the economic reality for Canadian authors has deteriorated in the years corresponding with massive changes in the publishing industry. TWUC’s 2015 income survey report shows that author incomes have declined 27% since 1998, and that, distressingly, annual writing income is below the poverty line for 80% of Canada’s writers. These findings are mirrored by similar studies in both the US and UK. The reasons for this decline are complex, and contract terms are not solely to blame, but they are part of the mix and need to be addressed.

TWUC is aware that many independent Canadian publishers have used its Model Trade Book Agreement as a template when drawing up their own first contracts. In that spirit of professional cooperation, we want to make sure you’re aware of the fair contract movement in the author community. In fact, we invite representatives from the ACP, LPG, and CPC to be part of the Canadian discussion around new contract terms. TWUC proposes a roundtable discussion about contract principles aimed at establishing general best practices. In the meantime, please read the many tweaks and changes to industry standard contracts proposed by both the AG and the IAF.

Thank you for your attention.

Sincerely,

The Writers’ Union of Canada

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