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

Backing Up Work & a Story of 10 Lost Pages

pens

What a week. Here is how I started out my previous Monday.

Working from the desktop in my office I was looking for an older Excel file that for whatever reason, I needed to access. I guess because it was Monday and I was lacking in coffee or tea, I decided to start cleaning out files.

My search for this particular file ended up resulting in nothing being found. As I began to delete a few folders that literally had nothing in them, I deleted a file that was created earlier in the year which contained two pieces which will form part of my next short collection.

Brilliant…..Brilliantly Daft.

As I have spent most of this week beating the living daylights out of myself over this. These stories were two really good pieces that I was rather proud of. So in the coming days my plan is to recreate them and build on the error.

This is an opportunity to make the two pieces much better than they were. I still have the ideas and premises that formed them. Thankfully, it will be relatively easy to crib these two pieces back together. Meanwhile there is the issue of doing all I can to prevent this from happening again.

When I wrote Planned UnParenthood and Throwing Dice, I copied the files every few days to a flash drive and a secondary location on the computer hard drive. Another place I could have backed up my files was to my web mail program. This is a no-brainer when you think of the benefits. If you use a web mail program you can customize so much on it that it can be transformed into a useful file backup system. Provided you continually change your security settings in order to maximize securing of your content, it can work really well.

If you are working on a major project you can open a file folder with the name of the project as its’ header. As you email yourself copies of the most recent documents, you can delete previous ones or save them as different versions in the event you want to keep multiple backups of work. For freelance writers, note that it is equally critical that client work is backed up as often as your own creative pages.

It really is a simple solution that is cost-effective and practical. The 10 pages I lost could have been 100. Representing several hours of writing and editing that may have been lost for good. Mistakes can be made. Learn from them and build yourself to be better in the writing biz. 

 

Nova Scotia SPCA Supply Donations & Animal Rescue Awareness, Post-Storm.

The winter storms of recent have certainly taken their toll on the province. The harsh weather can have a significant impact on animal rescue shelters and their abilities to process and approve adoptions.

Anyone in the HRM that shops at the Costco in Dartmouth Crossing, please consider adding some supplies for the Provincial Shelter on nearby Scarfe Court. Have a look at the list of supplies that are needed at the shelter through their website at http://spcans.ca/branches/provincial-shelter.html

If you reside near the other branches, contact them to see what their most urgent supply needs are.

In addition to the NSSPCA, other groups in the province continue to need assistance. Hope For Wildlife has successfully drawn attention to the effects that the harsh weather has caused for the wildlife population. Their important work continues to draw international attention and is worth fully supporting.

Read on at http://www.hopeforwildlife.net

Give what you can, when you can.

@WriterDann

Looking at Longevity

Pictou Harbour Lyons Brook Office writing fountain pen

There is only one true answer to how a person can continue to be in the writing business. It is to keep working. This is a theme I have constantly run on these pages for years now. There is the simplified answer. Keep working. Keep creating. Seek opportunity. When it comes calling, answer the phone, respond to the email, open the doors.

The frustrating days are sometimes worth it. Build on them. Move on and feel armed with new information from those experiences. Keep rejection notes as a way to build confidence in work.

Create something for the sake of writing something.  Write a single word in really large printing on a notebook.

If you haven’t laughed in a while, find something funny and then write about why that particular thing is funny. I have learned much about the healing power of humour in the last few years.

Keep connecting with other writers. Respond with feedback on something they have written. Even if they do not respond back it is an exercise in writing all by itself. Many writers are now taking more time to respond to reader feedback. Being able to have an audience is one thing, keeping that audience is a whole other challenge.

Look at your health and be mindful of it. I spent most of my teens and early twenties eating a steady diet of junk food and drinking buckets of soda drinks every single day. Being cranked out on sugar and junk food is not healthy to begin with. I feel that healthier living has helped improved my productivity and the quality of my work.

I have watched many talented people pursue this business with intensive passion only to give up and walk away after a single disappointment. I refuse to fall into that mentality.

So I say to you if you are struggling. Keep going. It is worth it.