Waterfront Wanderings and Irresponsible Pet Parents

halifax in front of Saltys

Tuesday was one of those days worthy of a long walk along the Halifax waterfront. I know I needed it. It is around the time of the year where it starts to get busier. Cruise Ships start coming in. I again resist the urge to show up at Pier 21 with a sign that says “Welcome to Port Hawkesbury” just to see if I can fool anyone. (Hey I am tired, my sense of humour is probably off a bit)

The springtime runners are all out in full force determined to see how much sweat they can generate in the sunshine. The patios are lined with freshly poured beer and plates lined with mostly fabulous fare for diners of all tastes.

While not blazingly hot, it was warm enough that for a dog walking along the surfaces it was a bit too hot. I walked past one large dog then a small dog, both were lifting their legs in a silent but visible protest of the heat on their paws. Their owners just continued to rush them along not seeming to care. I was out of shouting range at this point and on reflection I should have went after them.

A few further steps ahead, a lady had picked up her little dog and was carrying her along. The right call indeed.

As the warmer weather has finally returned, it is that time to remind all pet-parents not to be irresponsible careless idiots. Dogs cannot be left in vehicles. If the road surface is too hot for walking, don’t walk them. This is so simple yet many pet-parents still cannot get this through their heads. This is animal cruelty.

I want to openly thank all of the Halifax business owners downtown and everywhere who are leaving constantly fresh supplies of waters for the dogs that walk by. That is common sense compassion for our pet friends.

No matter where you are. Please be mindful of any animals left in hot cars. Call the authorities and do what you can to save an innocent life.

Do not ignore distress.

Losing and Finding Yourself in Work

May 2015 office

This is the main shelf in my home office as of today. Hard to believe it is actually cleaned up slightly. It has a ways to go yet before I am completely happy with it. There are lots of collectibles, pics and other things wedged in among the tapes and notebooks.

It is easy to lose myself in here for hours on end. It is easy to lose myself in whatever I might be working on. Whether it is something on the computer screen or trying to decipher my occasionally questionable handwriting in order to figure out an old idea. It is way too easy and a ton of fun to get lost.

I often need to remind myself to be disciplined in what I do. If I keep pushing through and keep writing, then the possibility of Writer’s Block remains non-existent. At some point in the last few years, I decided to just keep at it.

To keep working. To keep writing. As one keeps working, one keeps generating. You may be sitting at the screen or starting at the page and wanting to work but nothing is there. No inspiration. No spark. I get that. I understand. It can be difficult. Those moments of frustration are exercises in sanity maintenance. It took years of disciplined practice for me to decide to keep going. In a short span of seconds I can now easily have something written. Even the stuff that might not make sense right away, could make sense down the road.

I have found writing to be more than something related to creating and preserving an identity. It has become a great release. It has become a form of very intensive therapy. My therapy sessions are mostly spent in this home office. I prefer the solitude of this space. Occasionally, there are instances where I will spend a few minutes somewhere like a quiet cafe (hard to find) with a notebook and pen. If for some reason I am missing the notebook and pen, then consider your smart phone.  If you are a writer with an Iphone, consider enabling the dictation function and speak your thought out onto a note. Fix it up and edit it later. This eliminates any excuse for forgetting to have something to write with. I think I still prefer having something written out though.

Another way I have managed to lose myself lately is on this novel script that I keep working away at. It was an older idea that was shelved then came back to life magnificently. It has been easy to add a few hundred words every few days to this. I have been absolutely lost in the conversations and conflicts between characters. Crafting the words and making everything sound good if I were to read it out loud. Losing myself in the scenery has been equally therapeutic. The story is set between two small towns in Atlantic Canada that I know very well. So part of the exercise in writing this has been to combine the backgrounds of both towns and make them stand out on their own.

No matter what you are working on, if you get lost in transposing your thoughts to written word, you can actually find yourself. You can feel more free. A bit better about who you are. A bit better about knowing that the work is worth it. If you are staring at an empty page, look around. Find something close by and write about it. See where it goes.

Lose yourself, then find yourself.

@WriterDann

Perusing Poetic Verses

poets

My first publishing credits were as a poet, where I appeared in three anthologies over the course of the same number of years with the Calgary Stroll of Poets. It was a nice trip down memory lane to pull these off the shelf and review the work that they published. They were interesting pieces of poetry. One was about a trip to Moscow that never happened. Another, a reflective poem about what some of my old nightly prayer lists looked like when meditating. The third poem published was inspired after a Jazz Album by Bassist Steve Swallow and Vibraphonist Gary Burton.  “Hotel Hello”. I turned it into some story about pulling into a dive motel and staying the night.

Poetry was my first realization that I could write. My old notebooks from my teen days offer great reflection into things I was thinking and going through during those days. My memory is good enough that I can usually recall what and who the subjects of my words were. In a few instances I actually would write down who the piece was meant for or what location it was meant to be about.

Leonard Cohen’s marvelous body of poetic work was encouraging. They all stand as reminders to writers that you should write what you want and to be comfortable with your own identity within your writing.

Another book that inspired my work on more free-form styles of verse was The Tragically Hip Frontman Gord Downie’s, “Coke Machine Glow”. Gord’s book offers some great insight into the poetic mind of a singer making some notes while on the road and living life. He punches several pieces with great use of words in an improvisational yet conversational tone that even new fans of poetry could appreciate. I highly recommend this great collection of poems.

These are the moments where I will open the first few books I ever wrote in and reflect fondly on my early forays into the business and craft of writing words. It is always a trip and a half. Seeing names of people and places, and guessing the time it has been since those pages were last looked at is something incredible. My progress with writing has always been positive in nature. So it is refreshing to see how far I have come. Everyone should always take a few minutes to reflect and review on older pieces of paper. Not just for the purpose of seeing if there are any old ideas that can be refreshed as updated ones. Just to look at the words. Look at how you wrote them out. Think about how they sound when you read them out. What kind of emotions do they provoke in you? What kind of emotions they could provoke in others if they read them and learned they were the subject of those words?

I’ve received comments from a few friends and colleagues over the years who ask me why I stopped writing poetry or why I stopped being a poet. After reflecting on it some more, I’ve concluded that I don’t think I ever did stop. Because I never stop being a writer. At least once a year I still gather some submissions to send to literary publications in the hopes of adding another credit to my resume. Most times they are older pieces of poetry and prose that are given some new life.

Much of the notebooks and loose pages where ideas are kept could easily be turned into poetic verse. I’ve come to the realization that maybe my ideas all start out as poetry before transitioning into something else. If I wanted to, I could generate collections for the rest of my career based on just what I have around me and never need new ideas.

Thankfully, new ideas never stop. So my abilities to write create poetic verse never stopped either.  

@WriterDann

The Last Conversation

Black-Rotary-Phone

It was usually happening on Sundays. The phone would ring, I would see the number and prepare to settle in for a slightly long conversation. It would be only slightly long if for some reason I might feel it was going on too long.

“Hello! How are You?”

Over the last few months of his life, our conversations were mostly great. Actually they were really great. Truth is, the man and I never saw eye to eye on many things over his life. We disagreed politically and personally on many things. Those disagreements were always better reserved for round table discussions at my Grandfather’s place. Literally, it was a round table where we would all banter to our heart’s content.

Or discontent depending on who you might have agreed with.

Those last conversations on the phone were wide-ranging indeed. Dad was never missing a beat to ensure he covered all possible topics. Family, work, writing, sports. Anything he could think of where I might have a word or two in return offering. Political discussions were becoming few and far between. My interests in partisan politics was nearing the end. So if any of those discussions were happening I could easily make the case for how our country would be better served by consensus government.

Religion had long become a more difficult subject to approach with Dad. He was a Christian who was heavily involved in the Anglican Church. I had long left religion. The topic was becoming more uncomfortable to me. I think he felt a great sense of disappointment in my walking away from religion. All I was looking for was acceptance and understanding. A religious-themed Christmas card that he gave me in 2012 was a slight bit hurtful. He wrote several things in it that made me feel really rough about myself. I remember leaving his place in tears that day. As I said, all I wanted was acceptance and respect for my personal choice. My Dad was an Atheist who converted to Christianity in his early twenties so I was hoping for more understanding.

Incidentally, I have no desire to be part of any debates on religion or politics any more. Over the last few months I have begun to feel that if you are not hurting anyone in expressing or having whatever beliefs you have and if you are a good person, your religious and political ideologies would not change my opinion of you. When and if any more writing from me on those subjects is published, it would be for the purpose of telling a story and not to fulfill the need to engage in debate. 

Fast-forward to early December 2013. This time it was me picking up the phone to call Dad. It was mid-week and not a Sunday. It was an exceptionally good conversation. Maybe one of the best we ever had. We covered all the topics as per usual but with more of a positive flair. A night or two before, I had accidentally struck a coyote on the highway and it crushed me. I did not sleep for days after that. We spoke about it at length. He seemed to understand that despite all the negative words that coyotes get, it was about listening to how I felt about it. This was an animal that might have been out to hunt for itself. Maybe it had pups to feed. Who knows. Animals deserve respect, especially in the wild. The funniest part of the conversation was his critique of my second book, Throwing Dice. He told me that he “did not get it”. As much as we both loved good comedy, my style of writing for that book was not appealing to his sense of humour. It was a fair critique and I was good with it.

I managed later to steer that conversation in the direction of the religious Christmas card. I explained politely that my hope this year would be that he might consider how I felt about religion and that if he were to buy a card it would not be religious in theme. I explained that to me that I would always say “Merry Christmas”. I would also say “Happy Holidays” or anything else I felt like saying to reflect the time of year. What I wanted was not to be preached to or made to feel guilty about my personal choice to leave religion.

He was excellent in his response. He spoke without missing a beat on how he knew that he could easily find a “more appropriate” (his words) card with no religious verse on it. I felt that he was finally accepting the choice.

The end of the call was like how most of our calls would end. We would usually say a few words and phrases that would make the goodbye last up to a minute. Sometimes it was funny. Most times it was serious. During this call as our phrases trailed off to the hangup, I heard him say,

“I’m proud of you”

I remember hanging up just after that. Feeling a greater sense of optimism on where things were going with our conversations. I remember feeling that it was one of the best talks we may ever had.

On the evening of December 9, Dad passed away suddenly.  He had been in the hospital for two days. We were only contacted early that morning to be told he was even there. We all had hoped that somehow he would pull through and be on the road to recovery. His passing was a serious shock to the system. Over a year later there are days over the last year that I found myself in disbelief that he is gone.

The late great movie critic Roger Ebert once spoke about how writing was a release for him on an interview for Book Television. There is not a person in this craft and business who would disagree. This particular story is one I have wanted to release for quite some time. There is not a day that goes by where I am thankful for that last conversation. This is my way of letting more of the grief go. To embrace acceptance of the here and now, and to move forward.

So remember who your real family is. Remember your friends are also your family. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. Have a real conversation. Debate if you must. Argue if it is necessary. Don’t feel like picking up the phone but want to reach out? Send an email. People’s mailboxes are full of mostly spam these days so a personal message would probably be a welcome for somebody in your life. You never know when you will be having that last conversation. Or when they will be having it with you.

@WriterDann   

Night Reading & Write Reading

content pool

Reviewing just a fraction of the content pool, existing on paper in my home office, 4:30 a.m. on a Monday morning.

Last night while trying to rest, I started to leaf through a small notebook full of work. Some of these pages contain a single word, while others like the ones you can see openly, are a half or full notebook page long. I’ve concluded that this may be the last thing I should be doing while winding down. Ended up dozing in and out most of the night. Well, there was a decent stretch sometime after midnight where I think I slept three hours straight. The work of words can be very all-consuming at the best and worst possible times. Trying to sleep before facing the weekday morning, probably a time better spent on rest. I’ve concluded that reading a ton of writing content ideas before sleeping just cannot work. Mind you, I can, have and will continue to wake up in the middle of the night with a concept and have to write it down so it’s captured. In those instances I can easily just go right back to rest.

Interestingly, on the evenings where I want to read one of the many books I have on the go I can do this before turning in and usually it helps. Rarely have I ever been kept awake after reading a book at night. Night reading, and reading in general has always been something I enjoyed. It is even more of an escape now especially when a book is very good. A book that can keep my interest is one where I will spend little to no time analyzing how it is written. Instead, it is just about enjoying the content. If I am reading at night, usually I queue up a classical music station on satellite radio for accompaniment. The chance for distraction is still there, minimally.

The intensity and drive to create can feel overpowering at times. Even thinking about content is a form of writing. Just happens to be a mental exercise. You have to know when it is time to slow down and rest for a while. It would have been better for me to leave that note book  as it was. A decorative collection of paper sitting beside the bed. Come morning, it would be something I could pick up and add to the pile you see in the picture.

@WriterDann

A Home Like No Other

jocko barnjocko and the jam

A barn, covered in overgrown vegetation. Overgrown, yet perfectly placed. Behind it, a garden that has seen thousands of strawberries, beans, and other great things. Grown by my Grandparents.

The home on the property has some age to it. With all the work it needed it still was a great place with a great amount of room. You would walk into the front doors and end up right into the kitchen. Most of the time when I walked in as a kid, there was something cooking, baking or a fresh pot of tea was made. There really was always something.

Most times I found my Grandparents in the adjoining dining room. Other times, in the nearby living room. The dining room was literally the central meeting place for friends and visitors to meet. In the photo you see here of my Grandfather and myself, we are in that room. It was a spacious place. It was not a kitchen but you could host a kitchen party in there that would attract the whole town and country.

In the year or so leading up to my departure from Nova Scotia in 99, that place became a regular lunch-time meeting place for myself and the Grandparents. There, we jointly presided over my studies, my writing, politics and tv shows. Among other things. I was in college classes for half mornings leading up to my leaving, so I usually stopped in there on the way home because they were always around.  Those discussions were grand and glorious. Full of spirited debate and great exchanges of humour. I’ve rarely written about what a master improviser my Grandfather was. He did not even realize how brilliant he was until hours or even days after he delivered the goods with his humour.

If I ever showed up later in the day or in the early evening, we always convened our discussions to the living room. The high ceilings and spacious seating made it a great lounging area. My Grandfather kept his stereo in there and if he did not have the television on, there was music in the air. Usually that music was accompanied by his singing voice.

I miss his singing voice. I miss his humorous cracks which were delivered in his fog thick Scottish accent.

The top floor of the home looked cramped from the hallways. Many were always surprised to see how large the bedrooms were as they headed the short distance to the washroom. It contained a decent amount of storage space for the things that piled up over the years.

The basement was home to a unique workshop that my Grandfather proudly retreated to when moved to do so. As a kid and even into my adult years, I found a constant collection of small radios in various states of repair. These were nestled in between pictures of old cars and other mementos of the past.

Somewhere I have more photos. Somewhere I have enough pictures to justify my narrative descriptions. After this house was my Grandfather’s, it was my Dad’s. For too short a time, it was his.

I will never see the interior of this house again and happily accept that. The incredible memories are worth millions. It was a home sitting in the grand central of a small-town built on industry. It was a home of memories, merriment and humorous mayhem.

It was a home like no other.

@WriterDann

Old Blue Dog

Blue Dog

It became a regular thing once I left home. Every time I flew back. Same thing. Whenever I would drive down to my Dad’s rural Nova Scotia home. The same drill. 

Pull into the driveway with the rental car. Get out and look over at the doghouse. It was a great work of craftsmanship nestled underneath a towering maple tree, looking like it was going to topple over down the hill. Maybe take part of the house with it. It was painted to match the light baby blue of the house. It blended in well.

Sometimes he was hiding. I would call out his name and watch him slowly exit to walk towards me.

“Blue!”

He was named after the various dogs of the same name that Hockey Legend Don Cherry had over many years. A great name that anyone would remember.

As he approached me his tail would start swinging. In his still-younger days he would completely lose his mind at the sight of anyone he knew. I could be gone a year or more. Sometime I was.

Old friends reuniting.

I would let him off his chain and he would follow me into the house. Even if Dad was home we would still head into the front room of the house. On the way there, I would pass the fridge and grab a beer, or put the kettle on for tea. I would feed him even if it was a little before his dinner time. It didn’t matter.

We would spend hours in that front room and look for a good game on TV or watch an old movie. Good times with an old friend. If I was ever to stay the night he would never leave my old room. He would follow me in and crash out on the floor for the whole night. Never moving until sunrise.

Blue was a husky mix that followed Dad home one night during a walk. I remember the night he brought him in the house even though I was not there. I was visiting a cousin in New Brunswick and on the phone with my brother. Mid-conversation I heard some chaos.

“Dad let some dog in the house!”

I was splitting my time between my Mom’s apartment in town and Dad’s old house. When I arrived back I was rather excited to meet the new addition. Dad still was not sure if he was going to be kept or if he was going to be adopted out. It was a tough call. A few difficult weeks went by where he had to be trained a bit. After all, he still was a pup. By the time a month went by it was pretty much a certainty that he was going to be a member of the family.

I remember many long late nights staying up with him because he would not settle. He would hear something outside and want to go after it. He needed a lot of work to be trained to settle in to a normal and less chaotic life. He was a pup that was allowed to run and roam freely. He was not fed properly if at all. It was a drastic sudden change for him to have some structure and people constantly around.

Somehow it all worked out.

Later on into my teens I began to spend more time in town. Still I would make regular and frequent trips down to see Blue. Sometimes I was truly there just to see him. Even my Dad knew that and was cool with it.

Long after I left Nova Scotia those trips down to the house became more important. I wanted to see him first more than anything or anybody. Every time I left it was always difficult. As he aged I would always think more about if I would ever see him again.

During the last year or so of his life things were a bit difficult for him. Dad would run home after work to ensure he was fed before running back out the door to tend to the needs of my Grandparents. Their own health was starting to slip and he did a lot for them. Some of his relatives would come down to tend to Blue when they could. Dad would still get back home in plenty of time to have at least a couple of hours with him before calling it a night.

While I mean no disrespect to my Dad’s memory, as my brother and I were both gone I used to worry constantly that he was not getting enough attention. I was told multiple times by Dad and some of his relatives that he was, but I never always bought those explanations. I missed Blue more and more.

One night Dad called to tell me something was wrong with Old Blue. He seemed very weak and unstable. Somehow later on that night he had calmed down and was back to his normal self so Dad did not worry.

Two days later Dad called again but this time it was with rough news. The night before after he had taken Blue in and went through his usual evening routine, he seemed really off again and suddenly. He laid out on the floor and seemed really warm. Dad put a fan in front of him to help cool him off.  He was getting ready to take him to the Vet but before he could even get a phone call in to the clinic, Old Blue had passed away. Right on the living room floor where he and Dad spent hours together.

Dad was crushed. The guilt consumed him for some time. He always felt responsible and that maybe he could have saved his life by doing something two nights before. He waited until the next day to tell us because he was too grief-stricken.

On my first trip back after his passing, I will never forget driving down to the old house and pulling into the driveway just like normal. I got out of the car and started walking towards his dog house. It was still there. His chain was still attached to the house and stretched out completely towards the patio. As if I expected him to magically appear, I called out his name again.

“Blue!”

I waited a few irrational seconds. It sank in. He was gone. I picked up his chain, disconnected the end from the structure and headed indoors.

Over time as I reflect back on Old Blue’s life, I dwell on what a wonderful rescue story he was. He seemed to enter our lives at the perfect time. He was given a home and a family. He gave us life lessons and loyalty. This photo now hangs in my home office. I look at it every few days but not with a sense of loss.

Rather, with a sense of love for an old loyal friend.

@WriterDann