Life with a children’s writer

My poor husband. These are the types of conversations he has on a daily basis.

Me: We need a new mop.

Min: There’s a Canadian Tire right here. I’ll pull in.

Me: NO! I hate Canadian Tire. I can never find anything. And there are self-checkouts.

Min: Where else are we going to get a mop? Oh, I’ll stop at London Drugs.

Me: I don’t want to go to London Drugs.

Min: Okay, but I don’t understand where you’re going to get a mop. Are you hoping one will appear by the counter in KidsBooks?

Me: Ooooh… do you think that’s a possibility?

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Without Min, I would probably have spent several more months visualizing a mop, and mulling about the need for a mop, before proceeding to plan the buying of a mop.

You will be happy to hear that after this conversation, I did (begrugingly) agree to enter Canadian Tire. Hopefully we will have no further household needs in 2015, because I’m not going back.

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The countdown

Three more days.

The school is doing everything in its power to suck me in. There’s an athletics banquet today, and emails desperate for volunteer ice-cream scoopers have been arriving in my in-box. I have ignored them.

There are two scheduled beach trips. More grown-ups are always helpful when adding a hundred kids to an ocean. But I haven’t volunteered.

Instead, I have revised two chapters. I’ve churned partway through a scene list. After two false starts, I’ve managed to properly outline a non-fiction chapter.

My kids have created a list of things they’d like to do this summer. It includes waterslides, berry picking, aquarium visits, movies, beach barbecues, pools, suspension bridges, and waterfalls. Nowhere does it say: “give Mommy writing time.” Somehow, they left that off the list.

But there’s nothing like a deadline to get me working. And I still have three more days to go…

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Personal professional

I had dinner with my friend Mark recently, who teaches grade five. He mentioned that when teaching a unit about blogs, he used me as an example of someone who blends personal and professional stories.

“Do I?” I said.

And of course I do, but I’ve never thought much about it because the line between personal and professional in my life is rather blurry. The things I’m musing about in my non-writing time end up in my written work, and the social events I attend are often writing-related. All very confusing.

Yesterday, I went to Granville Island for the Vancouver Writers Fest preview. There, Artistic Director Hal Wake announced the line-up of writers coming to town in October. It was a room filled (packed!) with book lovers, half of them marking and circling on their advance reading lists. You could tell they were waiting for the introductions to end so they could start page-turning.

I also got a little hint about my own role in October’s festival, which gives me four months to get nervous. To prepare, that is. In a personal/professional way.

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Melanin moments

Race is in the news again this week. An American story, of course. Occasionally we hear of a problem in Toronto. Those of us in the rest of Canada sit back, fold our self-righteous hands, and shake our heads at all the elsewhere issues.

But we are fooling ourselves.

My husband Min was staying at an Edmonton hotel this spring, where he was a keynote speaker at a conference. The evening before his first presentation, he popped downstairs to check out the room.

Next door was another conference. And as Min left his presentation room, a woman emerged from next door and said, “Oh, thank goodness! There you are. We need to move the tables…”

Min was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt. But for some reason (??) the woman assumed he was hotel staff.

Now, Min is a friendly, funny guy and he grew up as one of the only two Burmese kids in all of Surrey. So when stuff like this happens to him (once a month or so), he tends to say things like: “Are you assuming I work here because I’m brown? You know all brown guys don’t work at hotels, right?” And he somehow says all that in a friendly, funny way.

But that doesn’t make it okay.

It’s a low-level, background racism, like the buzz of fluorescent lights — so subtle, we forget to think about it. We neglect to talk about it. Which means that my daughter is only confused when someone says to her: “When we travel, people know we’re Canadians. I wonder what they think you are?” She has no idea what they’re talking about.

But that doesn’t make it okay.

On the streets of Vancouver, we may not be assuming that Asian men in hoodies are criminals. But maybe we are assuming they’re custodians, or conservative parents, or Buddhist sex experts (that’s a whole other Min story), or bad drivers. I think we need to have a long, hard look at the assumptions we make in daily life, north of the border as well as south.

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Things that make me say “om”

I’ve been thinking a lot about storytelling, lately, and about its presence in the wider world.

AND, I spent much of last week being highly entertained by the Om the Bridge fiasco. For those of you who aren’t Vancouverites, Om the Bridge was an attempt to close the Burrard Bridge for a massive yoga gathering on July 21st, International Yoga Day.

However, July 21st also happens to be National Aboriginal Day. That caused a fracas. Then people figured out that the BC government was supporting Om the Bridge with $150,000, at the exact same time they were suggesting that the Vancouver School Board close 19 schools to save money. And finally, the event was being co-sponsored by Liberal donors/yoga/yogawear companies and, for some reason, Atlagas.

There was a massive Twitter uproar, led in part by:

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The event was cancelled.

What I find interesting is the way that, in the space of a few days, the story entirely changed. It was supposed to be (I assume) a story about how fun and quirky we Vancouverites are and about how beautiful Vancouver looks from the Burrard bridge, especially once a bunch of Lululemon-clad bottoms are doing downward dog. Amidst all those bottoms, presumably Christy Clark and Altagas were going to look fun and quirky, too.

But thanks to social media, the story changed. It became a tale of corporate interests vs. respect for First Nations, and public relations funds vs. education spending.

Many times, when we favourite a tweet about a particular cause, or retweet a petition link, we’re succumming to laziness more than we’re actually participating in democracy. But this weekend showed what Twitter can do well. It can act like one of those elementary school writing games, where one kid starts a sentence, then another adds, then a third…

It can take a basic idea, examine it from 974 million angles, and reinvent the story entirely.

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Cupcakes to save the world

I’ve just put the finishing touches on the introduction for my newest non-fiction book. I usually avoid writing introductions for as long as possible. In fact, they’re often the last thing I write. (Because how the heck am I supposed to introduce a book before I know what the book is going to say?) But this one came together like a perfect cupcake recipe.

Now let’s hope the batter for the rest of the book is just as good…

With my writing goals accomplished, I’m off to buy a Father’s Day gift. Which, like the topic of the non-fiction book, shall remain secret for a little while longer.

After that, it’s real cupcake baking. My son’s class is holding a bake sale tomorrow to raise money for victims of the earthquake in Nepal. And I think chocolate cupcakes might be just the thing to solve all the problems in the world. Don’t you?

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Quake training

I wanted to see San Andreas this weekend, to improve my earthquake survival skills. Since I’m chair of the school’s seismic committee and all, it seemed like a personal responsibility.

But the movie got terrible reviews and, in a strange reversal of our usual roles, Min argued against an action flick.

I will have to wait for the Netflix version.

In the meantime, my kids went to Kidsbooks to spend some gift cards and my son returned with this:

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Do you think paranoia is genetic?

I’m waiting for him to finish the book, so I can start my training.

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The meaning of tween

My daughter turned 11 this week. Her aunt asked her where she’d like to have a birthday lunch and, after much debate, she chose Montana’s. She chose it because:

1. She’s allowed to order off the adult menu at Montana’s, not the kids’ menu.

2. They have giant moose antlers which they place on your head while they sing happy birthday.

I thought this was such a perfect example of what it means to be eleven. You want to order off the adult menu, but you still want the moose antlers. It made me wish I wrote middle-grade fiction, just so I could include these details.

Birthday week events are culminating this weekend with a sleepover, a screening of Grease, and many, many cupcakes. As I am NOT eleven, I am off to buy earplugs…

grease

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The sassy soldier

My friend Leanne and I were seated beside an elderly woman at the elementary school’s volunteer tea. Leanne chatted her up, and soon we were both holding copies of her book.

Doris Gregory is 94. She’d just returned from a book fair in Victoria, where she’d met the lieutenant governor.

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Leanne flipped through her book, and pointed to a photo of Doris and a young soldier.

“Was this your boyfriend?” she teased.

“One of them,” Doris said. “There were a hundred of us dropped into a camp of more than a thousand men. We got plenty of attention.”

So of course we bought her books. As a young student journalist, Doris raged against gender-segregated English classes at UBC. As a member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, she crossed the U-boat-patrolled Atlantic, survived air raids, and worked in various war offices. Her stories, as she takes on everything from war bureaucracy to unwanted pregnancy, are smart, witty, and insightful.

Doris eventually returned home to finish her degree, pursue a fellowship, and become a psychologist.

Her book is called How I Won the War for the Allies: One Sassy Canadian Soldier’s Story. I dislike the word “sassy” in the title; I feel as if it lessens Doris’s accomplishments. But she’s a wonderful writer, and I loved every other word in the book.

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If Doris is sassy, I can only hope to be so when I’m 94.

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