Category Archives: Things About Me

Books. And me.

One of the things we writers will be doing on April 30, during Authors for Indies Day, is chatting with customers at our favourite bookstores. One of the things we’ll be chatting about is our favourite books.

I must admit I have some trepidation about this. I’m probably the least likely person a bookstore will want on the selling floor talking about other writers’ books. I’m woefully out of touch when it comes to contemporary writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I love reading. I love books. All books. It’s just that between working full-time, and researching my own novels (I’m a stickler for facts so every historical detail in my stories will be excruciatingly correct), and writing my stories, and commuting, eating and sleeping, I honestly don’t have much time left over to catch up with the books that other people are reading and talking about.

Most of my reading these days tends to be books written in the past, because I love reading contemporary accounts of the eras that I’m writing about. For  instance, for Persistence of Memory, I sourced out a wonderful relic whose title page, inside the cover, reads: A Complete System of Cookery, on a Plan Entirely New, Consisting of Everything That is Requisite for Cooks to Know in the Kitchen Business; Containing Bills of Fare for Every Day in the Year and Directions to Dress Each Dish; Being One Year’s Work, at the Marquis of Buckingham’s, From the 1st of January, to the 31st of December, 1805. By John Simpson, Present Cook to the most Noble, The Marquis of Buckingham. London: Printed for W. Stewart, Opposite Albany, Piccadilly, 1806.

This excellent book provided me with everything I needed to know about the sorts of meals Louis Augustus Duran (The Lesser) could expect to be eating at Stoneford Manor in 1825.

For my next novel, In Loving Memory (due to be released this July by Diversion Books), my reading wasn’t so much published books as published accounts, first-hand stories from men, women and children who lived through the Blitz in London in the 1940s. And stories told to me by my mum, who was a WAAF, and my dad’s brother, a child refugee from Europe who had relocated to England with his parents. And reports. So many reports, and helpful maps and diagrams, the most brilliant of which is a detailed drawing of Balham Underground Station showing the exact layout of the northbound platform and the exact location where the bomb dropped on the night of October 14, 1940, and the exact extent of the damage to the platform where so many people were sheltering that night. That diagram, more than anything, allowed me to write, with total accuracy, the scenes where Charlie and Mr. Deeley are caught in the devastation.

For Marianne’s Memory, the third novel in my Charlie and Mr. Deeley series, which I’m just beginning to write, I’m going back to London in the 1960s. I’m old enough to remember that time – I was 10 for a good part of 1965, and turned 11 in September of that year. The year before, 1964, I had simultaneously discovered the Beatles and become aware of a world beyond the little prairie city where I was growing up. I knew that London existed, of course, because I was born there. We moved to Canada in 1957. But by 1965 I’d already been back twice, and the last visit, Christmas 1961, had made a huge and lasting impression on me.

It’s one of my regrets that I actually managed to miss London in the Swinging Sixties. I was a little too early in 1961, and although we stayed until the new year, 1962, rang in, there were no real hints about what was on the verge of happening. Other than my cousin, Angela, who was somewhat older than me, who apparently mentioned to my mum in a letter written later that year, that she quite liked a new pop group called The Beatles.

The next time we went back to London was 1968. I was 13, about to turn 14, and I had done my research. I’d seen To Sir With Love and Smashing Time. I could sing their theme songs and knew their lyrics off by heart. I was Judy Geeson’s Pamela Dare and I was Rita Tushingham’s Brenda. (Well, not really. They were far more adventurous and worldly-wise than I was. And much older.) But the important thing was, I was on a mission. I was going to experience Swinging London first hand.

Except that, by 1968, it was all over. Swinging London was reduced to vinyl Union Jack carrybags touting the slogan I’m Backing Britain, sold in stalls alongside British flag buttons and black and white postcards that looked like street signs, the most popular being Carnaby Street and Kings Road.

Ah, Carnaby Street. The centre of the Swinging London universe. Except that it all looked a bit tatty and tawdry, and tired, like an over-the-hill party girl who’s been out too late and has fallen asleep on the Underground with her eye makeup smudged and her hair a bit of a mess and her clothes dishevelled.

I was disappointed. I wanted it to be like the Carnaby Street in the films, the one I’d dreamed of.

I suppose that’s why I’ve decided to send Charlie and Mr. Deeley back to 1965. They’re living the dream I had imagined. And perhaps they might, along the way, discover that it wasn’t quite the idyllic time my 11-year-old brain had conjured up. But they’ll have quite a romp in the process.

But back, now, to my original thoughts about books. I’ve just done a count, and in my 820 square foot flat, I have 16 bookcases. It’s fair to say that bookcases comprise probably 75% of the furniture in the flat. There are 2 in the main bedroom, 4 in the second bedroom (which is actually an office), one in the hallway, and 9 in the living room, and they’re all crammed with books. The biggest one in the living room is ceiling-to-floor and takes up an entire end wall.

Looking at the books occupying the shelves is like looking at snapshots of my life. At some point I tried to organize them by theme or author, but abandoned the idea as I kept running out of room. So now they’re a higgledy piggledy of collections. All of my textbooks from my BA in English, serious volumes about literary criticism and the discovery of deeper meaning in Milton, Chaucer, Mark Twain, Shakespeare… and most of their published works. All of the novels written by John Galsworthy and Monica Dickens and Ian Fleming and John le Carre. Spy stories and trash stories, popular fiction and unpopular fiction, old medical encyclopedias, how to make macrame plant hangers, how to play the guitar, the history of London’s Underground, assorted A to Z map books, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

All of these predate e-books, of course. I have a growing collection of digital books too though. Like many people I love the smell and the tactile feel of a real book, and I freely admit to dog-earing pages, because I believe if you turn down the corner of a page, it’s a love-sign, not a defacement.

But I also love the versatility of e-books, and the instant-ness of being able to buy and download them. And their biggest advantages for me – I can read them while I’m lying in bed in the dark without turning on a light, and I can read them while I’m waiting in doctor and dentist offices, just by taking out my phone.

I began this blog worrying about chatting to customers about favourite reads on Authors for Indies Day on April 30. I’m still a bit nervous…but you never know…perhaps I’ll find a few people who share my love of books from the past. It won’t be very helpful for all the new books on the shelves, waiting to be bought. But I can, at least, point them in that direction while I’m waxing lyrical about the joys of John Galsworthy’s Forsytes, or Monica Dickens’ The Listeners, probably the favourite of all my books.

Oh…and in case you were curious, the header photo on this Blog is a picture of one of my bookshelves (the one in the hallway). The same photo is the header on my Facebook Writer page .

And another one of my bookshelves (the ceiling-to-floor one in the living room) is the cover image on my personal Facebook page.

 

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Filed under Authors for Indies Day, Miscellaneous Musings, My novels, Other Writers, Things About Me

Authors for Indies Day

So now I can confirm I’m taking part in a very neat event that’s happening on April 30 – Authors for Indies – which you can read all about here: http://www.authorsforindies.com
Basically, on Authors for Indies Day, we Canadian authors show our appreciation for independent bookstores (indies) by volunteering as guest booksellers. We’ll be chatting with customers, recommending books, and helping everyone appreciate the importance of indie bookstores to our communities and our cultural lives. It’s not about promoting ourselves, it’s about raising awareness of Canada’s independent bookstores.
I’ll be at the UBC Bookstore (at the main UBC Point Grey Campus in Vancouver)…not sure of my hours yet and not sure what, exactly, they’ll want me to do yet… but if you’re in Vancouver on April 30 and you’d like to pop in and say hello ….I’d love to see you!
Watch this space!

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Never Stop Trying

Source: Never Stop Trying

Posted on December 4, 2015 by Joanne Guidoccio

Welcome to my Second Acts Series!

Today, we have Canadian author Winona Kent sharing triumphs and challenges during her multi-act life.

Here’s Winona!

Thank you, Joanne, for inviting me to contribute to your blog! I’m very honoured to share my story with so many accomplished people.

I had an interesting conversation with my ophthalmologist the other day. He’s elderly, and I wondered when he was going to retire. He told me that he was thinking about it, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to actually do it. I revealed I could hardly wait to retire from my full-time job in 2019, so I could become a full-time writer instead. But my doctor confessed he was afraid to give up his practice, because he wasn’t sure he would know what to do with himself. He had defined himself in terms of his career, and he was afraid that if he gave up his career, he would lose his entire sense of identity.

Read the rest of the original blog posting here…

http://joanneguidoccio.com/2015/12/04/never-stop-trying/

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An Ocean Voyage

I’m one of those lucky people who’s actually sailed on an ocean liner. A real ocean liner, purpose-built for transatlantic travel, not cruising. And not just one – I’ve been on FIVE. Five ocean liners, on four ocean crossings. All of this happened when I was a child, or a young teenager, which gives you some idea of how old I am (yes, I’m 60). And it would never have happened at all, but for the fact that my dad was the manager of a travel agency, and the voyages were either free, or almost free.

We still had to get to Montreal to board the ship. We lived in the middle of Canada, on the prairies, so that usually involved a two-day, two-night train journey, also provided with a hefty discount. And when you consider the transatlantic crossing took another seven days – two days sailing up the St. Lawrence River and then five days more to reach Liverpool or Southampton – you can see why the advent of jet planes put the ocean liners out of business. Nine days to get from the middle of Canada to the middle of England… or nine hours. Hmm. Not a difficult choice.

In fact, I remember lying on a deck chair aboard the Empress of Canada in 1971, somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic, bundled up in a thick seafaring blanket and battling seasickness…and looking up at the sky as a jet winged its way east. And I remember thinking, those passengers will be in London in three hours’ time…and I’ve got another three days of this.

Because, for all its glamour and the fondness with which ocean travel is remembered, the down side is that the North Atlantic is not a placid ocean, and if you were at all prone to motion sickness – as I was – a voyage by sea was pure torture.

I’m not sure why I didn’t get one of those shots. They were advertised and available from the ship’s doctor. My younger sister got one. She suffered from seasickness worse than I did. And she ended up working on cruise ships for about 15 years. I stubbornly refused. Just as I refused to take those little pills. My mum never suffered from seasickness at all and I think I must have been trying to prove something to her. In truth, I was in misery.

One of our crossings was in the winter. We sailed east aboard the Ryndam, a tiny little ship flying the Holland America flag. Here’s a picture of her:

ryn

And you can read about her here:

http://www.halpostcards.com/unofficial/kohler.html

There’s a much newer and bigger Ryndam now, one of Holland America’s biggest cruise ships. The little Ryndam above was only 15,000 tons. Just for the sake of comparison, the largest car ferry that does the 3 hour run between Vancouver and Vancouver Island is 11,000 tons.

I was 7 and it was December 1961, and the ship was filled with women and children who were travelling overseas to join their husbands and fathers in the Canadian armed forces in Germany. We sailed through a massive storm, with huge waves that crashed over the top of the ship and tossed us wildly for several days. My mother told me many years later that she didn’t sleep at all during the storm, and stuffed our winter coats with socks and gloves, in case we had to abandon ship in the middle of the night.

I remember the sound of dishes and other things crashing to the floor in the corridor outside our cabin. I remember the outside decks being roped off with the kind of netting that was used to haul cargo onboard with cranes. And to make matters worse, there was an outbreak of dysentery among all the infants, and then they ran out of fresh milk, and all of the children were served powdered goats’ milk reconstituted with water. I thought it was absolutely foul.

But my main memory of this crossing is the passenger talent show. I was encouraged to take part, because I played the piano, and I was quite good for a 7-year-old. So, this is me, playing a piece called The Merry Go Round:

Scan10016

The piano is bright pink. I’m wearing a navy blue scratchy wool pleated skirt and top set. I’m so seasick, I’m on the point of spewing my lunch all over the keyboard. The fellow sitting behind the piano is playing the drums. He’s a member of the ship’s orchestra. Just after I began the piece, he and his colleagues decided to play along with me, taking me completely by surprise. But I remember feeling rather chuffed that I could command that kind of attention, that I was good enough that they’d want to join in. We finished to grand applause. And, at least for a few minutes, I quite forgot how miserably seasick I was.

We arrived in Southampton a few days later, and, after Christmas, we sailed home again, this time aboard the Queen Mary, the famous one, the one that’s now in drydock in Long Beach, California.

I’ve often wondered if this little performance was one of the small turning points in my life, one of those events that makes an indellible mark that you only recognize in later years, looking back. Rather than being told to stop showing off, to sit down and be quiet, I was being encouraged to do just the opposite. It must have made an impression on me, because I remember it so clearly.

My creative spirit was nudged.

I’ll write about the Queen Mary in another blog, and perhaps about the other transatlantic ships I sailed on – the Homeric, the Empress of England, and the Empress of Canada. In spite of my seasickness, I really did love them all, and my love of those old ocean liners, especially the Empress of Canada, contributed greatly to my novel, Cold Play.

My creative spirit has endured.

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A few thoughts about self-promotion

I’m not good at self-promotion.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m quite good at talking about myself. I’m happy to tell the world anything anyone could ever want to know about me.

What I’m not very good at is actually asking people to pay attention to what I’m saying.

I’m terrible at this networking business.

I wasn’t always this way. When I was a kid, I was a natural-born self-promoter. I painted pictures and ran around the neighbourhood selling them door to door, house to house. I loved showing off, acting, singing, making up stories. My mum enrolled me in art classes where we made puppets and put on a puppet show. I created a wicked witch and I loved playing her part behind the little stage, improvising the script.

I also took formal piano lessons, taught at a convent by a group of musically-minded nuns. Because we couldn’t afford a piano, I had to practise there every day after school for half an hour. Much to the nuns’ consternation, I used to depart wholly from the pieces they’d taught me and revert to the songs I’d heard on the radio. I usually scored 100% on the ear-training part of my exams, where the examiner would play a piece of music on the piano twice, and then ask me to play it back to him exactly the same way. Easy peasy.

The nuns weren’t all that impressed, however. They had Rules, and in their world, Rules could never be broken. The practise rooms all had little windows in their doors covered with wooden grillwork. I’d occasionally glance up from my pitch-perfect renditions of Beatles’ tunes to see a concerned eye glaring in at me through the window. And, of course, eventually I received a lecture about sticking to the syllabus and an order to stop wasting everyone’s time, including my own, wandering down unauthorized musical trails.

Which leads me back to why I’m not very good at asking people to pay attention to me.

It’s because that natural exuberance that I’d started out with was wholly and methodically drummed out of me in my childhood.

I remember getting a new watch when I was about seven. It was beautiful, silver, and a gift from my uncle. I was invited to a birthday party, and I was so pleased with my new watch, I went around asking everyone if they knew what time it was, and when they said they didn’t, I showed them what was on my wrist and proudly announced the time. I was roundly reproached by the birthday girl’s mother who told me to stop showing off, nobody was interested in me or my new watch, to sit down and be quiet.

I’m sure I was being an annoying little creature and the birthday girl’s mother was quite justified in telling me off. Perhaps other kids would have shrugged it off. Not me. I took it all very personally, and because I was a good little Catholic child, I revealed my sin of showing off and boasting during my next visit to the confessional. For which I was given penance and told never to do it again.

And, of course, I didn’t. The prevailing attitude at my school, which was also Roman Catholic, was that we ought not to do anything that would make us stand out in a crowd. We ought not to daydream, because that was a sin connected to idleness. We ought not to wish for things that we could not possibly obtain. That was somehow connected to one of the Ten Commandments – something about coveting my neighbour’s wife or goods. We ought not to engage in too much creative thinking, as that would lead to us questioning what we were being taught.

And the prevailing attitude among the children at that school was that if you were in any way different, if you happened to stand out, or achieve anything, or if you were smart and had better grades than anyone else, you became the target of bullying.

Which I was, for years. And to counter it, I sought solace in a piece of writing that was on the wall of the Cathedral attached to the school, behind one of the statues. “I am meek and humble of heart.” That phrase became my cloak of invisibility.

So that’s why I have a difficult time asking people to pay attention to me. As a child, the message was reinforced at home, and at school: “Stop showing off, Nona. Don’t brag. It’s not nice. Don’t draw attention to yourself. Don’t misbehave. You won’t be invited anywhere. Nobody will like you.”

Now, in my 60th year, I think I might just be able to go back and discard all those things that I learned as a child. I’m going to give it a damned good try, anyway. I think I’m safely past the point of caring about whether or not I’m going to be invited to someone’s birthday party. And who cares if I brag? I think I’ve got something worth bragging about and I’m going to make damned sure people know about it.

By the way, I’ve written a couple of very fine stories about travelling back in time. Oh, and some other books too.

Watch out, world! Winona is about to start asking you to pay attention to her 🙂

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Of Psychic Things…

For a very long period of time – years – my emotions were frozen into a block of ice. I remember the day that I made the decision to seal myself up. It was the day my dad capitulated to our next door neighbour, and gave away my cat.

It was the day my dad betrayed all of my trust in him, and took the side of someone who cared more about his prize-winning gladiolas than the heart of a little girl whose best friend was a animal who had been with her since she was seven.

My cat’s only crime was being a cat. He wandered through our neighbour’s garden. He dug a few holes. He peed and pooped. He wasn’t the only cat who visited our neighbour’s back yard, but he was the one our neighbour focused on because he lived next door.

And even though I saw other cats there, and even though I pleaded my case to our neighbour, describing them in detail, he chose not to believe me, and told my father that if he didn’t get rid of my cat, he’d never book his Hawaiian holidays through my dad’s travel agency again.

Commerce prevailed. My cat was removed.

I wasn’t home when the SPCA came to take him. I was at school. And when I came back, he was gone, and there was a hole in my heart and I cried so hard, I thought I was going to die.

And then I went for a walk. I walked along the dirt banks of Wascana Creek, which was a muddy little river that meandered around the neighbourhood where I lived, not good for much except skating in the winter, when it froze over, and flooding in the summer, when all the ice melted at once and sent the creek’s contents into our basement.

There was a song on the radio that year, 1966. “I am a Rock”, by Simon and Garfunkel. I sang it to myself as I walked with my head down, swallowing my anger and sorrow, sealing it inside.

A winter’s day
In a deep and dark December;
I am alone,
Gazing from my window to the streets below
On a freshly fallen silent shroud of snow.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I’ve built walls,
A fortress deep and mighty,
That none may penetrate.
I have no need of friendship; friendship causes pain.
It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

Don’t talk of love,
But I’ve heard the words before;
It’s sleeping in my memory.
I won’t disturb the slumber of feelings that have died.
If I never loved I never would have cried.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

I have my books
And my poetry to protect me;
I am shielded in my armor,
Hiding in my room, safe within my womb.
I touch no one and no one touches me.
I am a rock,
I am an island.

And a rock feels no pain;
And an island never cries.

I sang it to myself, over and over, until I believed every word of it, until I was absolutely certain that I could do it. I would henceforth not feel anything for anyone, for anything. I would never have to deal with that kind of pain again.

And I stayed faithful to that promise. If I felt anything over the next 10 years, I deflected it, skillfully. Nobody looking at me would have been able to tell. But, I never cried. I existed in a kind of emotional void, safe from suffering, safe from anything that could lead to suffering – like love, because love could be skewered and trampled and betrayed.

I ended up, at the age of 21, with the emotions of an 11 year old – the emotions that I’d locked away, never allowing them to grow alongside me as I went from puberty to adulthood. The reason I discovered this was because I thawed. I allowed the ice block to melt. I met someone – a young man – who didn’t terrify me, who made me burst into laughter when he came out of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” – our first date movie – doing imitations of Jack Nicholson after his lobotomy. I met someone who, in spite of all of my struggling attempts at self-protection, I fell in love with.

I intended this blog to be about me being psychic, and instead I’ve written rather a lot about emotions. But one goes hand in hand with the other.

I’ve recently discovered I’m an empath. I’m also highly intuitive. When I was a child – before my cat was given away – I knew what people were feeling. And thinking. I thought everybody had that skill, and was actually extremely relieved when I discovered that they couldn’t look into my eyes and know what I thought about them. Because I certainly knew what they thought about me!

All that was blocked out for 10 years. And then, a few days after that Jack Nicholson imitation, I had a dream. A plane was crashing. It was a small plane – painted yellow – and it dropped out of the sky, plunging into a farmer’s field, exploding into a black plume of smoke that rose high into the deep blue Saskatchewan sky.

I didn’t think a lot about the dream. It didn’t affect me. I wasn’t on the plane – I was only watching it. And I didn’t know anybody who flew planes, nor anyone who, in the dream, had been aboard it.

But the oddest thing happened, two days later. My new boyfriend was gassing up his car at the service station down the road from us. I was with him. There was a dull, loud, resounding thud off to our left, and when we looked over, we saw a black plume of smoke, rising into the sky at the edge of the city.

A Snowbird trainer plane had crashed. The Snowbirds were – and are – the aviation demonstration team of the Canadian Armed Forces. They’re based in Moose Jaw, 75km to the west of Regina, where we lived at the time. One of their training aircraft hit a duck on its initial climb. The two pilots veered away from the city to avoid crashing into a schoolyard, but they used up crucial seconds and didn’t have enough time to eject. They saved the lives of many children, but lost their own.

You can read it about it here: http://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=56791

I don’t know what colour the plane was. I suspect it was silver and red. Although in looking up the crash story just now, I discovered, a little eerily, that they used to be painted gold.

I haven’t lived a life of constant predictions and premonitions. But I have grown, over the years, to be more and more aware of what I know. It’s been a slow kind of journey, punctuated by a deep two year depression in the early 1980s, from which I emerged a different person, literally and figuratively.

One of the things that happened just before I tumbled into the depression terrified me. I was with my husband, and we were at a concert. I think it was a concert – it was some kind of gig, a rock band, in a large arena kind of place. We waded in to a crowd of people, and I suddenly felt like I was suffocating. I’d never been bad in crowds before. And this was horrible. It was worse than suffocation – I was being assaulted. Not physically, but mentally. I was aware that I was drowning in an ocean of thoughts and emotions, and I had nothing to protect myself. It was as if I was reading hundreds of minds at the same time, it was the loudest noise in the world, it was static, it was daggers and blades and flowers and pins and needles and dirt and everything else you can imagine – coming at me at warp speed.

I ran outside. I couldn’t stay. My husband – the guy who’d made me laugh with his Jack Nicholson imitations five years earlier – was nonplussed, but understood.

And I learned that I could no longer function in crowds.

I’m still not much good in crowds, but at least I’ve learned how to “switch off”, how to close down my brain so that it doesn’t intercept everything coming its way.

I want to mention three things which stand out in my memory, from the many “psychic” experiences I’ve had over the years.

The first was a trip to the Czech Republic, in 1996, for a family reunion. My dad’s side of the family is Jewish, and many of them perished in the Holocaust. Our family was scattered all over the world as a result of World War 2, and in 1996, a cousin organized a get-together for us, so that we could all meet – some of us for the first time. We gathered in the Czech Republic, where the family had started, back in the 1700s. We visited ancestral homes, a synagogue my cousin had taken it upon herself to renovate, a concentration camp (Theresienstadt), and the Jewish ghetto in Prague.

We visited the Pinkas Synagogue, where the names and birth and death dates of all of the Czech victims of the Holocaust are painted on the walls in a silent, moving epitaph. My great-grandmother’s name is there, somewhere. I didn’t see it – and the reason why I didn’t see it is because I couldn’t go inside. I tried. It’s a beautiful building, light and bright, not at all oppressive.

I stepped inside, and found myself so immediately overwhelmed by a sense of sorrow and sadness, I could go no further. It wasn’t anger, and it wasn’t fury. It wasn’t a sense of retribution or outrage. It was sorrow, and it was so deep and so overpowering that I gasped. I had to leave. If I’d stayed, I’d have collapsed.

The second experience I had was a few years later. I was sitting at my computer, updating the website I was running for the British actor, Sean Bean. Into my email Inbox came a message. It was from a woman whose name I can’t even remember anymore. I think it was Debra. I’ll call her Debra. In her message, Debra told me she was psychic, and that she had no idea why she was drawn to me, except that she followed her instincts, and embarked on journeys, and that this particular journey had led her to Sean Bean – who she found interesting, though she certainly wasn’t a fan – and then, to me.

We chatted over the course of a few more messages, during which I told her that I’d written a novel, and I was trying to find an agent for it in London. The manuscript was with one particular agent at that moment – he’d had it for about a week. Debra said to me: “He’s going to sign you.”

I said to Debra: “You’re kidding.”

Debra said to me: “I call it as I see it. Don’t worry. He’s going to sign you.”

“OK,” I said to Debra, skeptically. Because although I was intuitive, and although I was “tuned in” to what I knew…I had never actually had someone predict something for me like that. And I wasn’t entirely convinced.

“Don’t celebrate too hard,” she advised me, before disappearing for three days, on the second of which, I was advised by the agent in London that he wanted to sign me.

But Debra wasn’t quite finished. When she reappeared, it was to tell me that something very bad was going to happen to my sister. She knew only that my sister worked on a cruise ship – because I’d told her.

“What’s going to happen?” I asked, now very very worried. “Is she going to die?”

“No, don’t worry, it’s not going to take her out,” Debra said. “But it’s going to be something really serious. It’s something…too much. I can’t define it. But it’s “too much” – too many people? I don’t know – too much something.”

I sent a frantic email to my sister, who was working as the Captain’s Secretary on board a ship that was sailing the Mexican Riviera. For three weeks, my sister watched her step on stairs, was extra careful when embarking and disembarking, did everything she possibly could to avoid a dreadful accident that could result in the end of her career at sea – though, thankfully, not her life (because she did believe what I was telling her).

And then, at the end of the three weeks, I got a phonecall at work. My sister had collapsed and was being medivac’d off the ship, and flown to a hospital in Los Angeles. Chronically suffering from fibroids and excessive bleeding each month, she had ignored doctor’s advice and warning signs, and her red blood count had finally dropped so low, along with her blood pressure, that she was near death.

Too much blood.

And she didn’t die, though she was in hospital for three weeks after an emergency hysterectomy, and my mother had to fly down for a further six weeks to help her recover in a hotel, all paid for (thankfully) by the cruise line.

Over the past five years or so, I have been exploring my own intuitiveness, and my own ability to “be psychic”, for want of a better term. The people I’ve met on this journey have mostly been by accident, but they’ve all tended to share the ability. We seem to be able to find one another in crowds – which doesn’t surprise me in the least.

What I’ve learned on this journey – is that I’m a psychic infant. I have nowhere near the powers, or skills, or whatever you want to call them, that my mentors have. I’m not sure I ever will develop them. I still have training wheels on, and I’m wrong as much as I’m right. But that also means – I’m right as much as I’m wrong.

But I did want to say that I recently experienced something so profound and so meaningful to me, that I’m still shaking. I helped someone.

All I did was ask a few simple questions, and listen to the answers, and offer some answers back – but as I listened, and responded, I found myself “feeling” what that person was feeling…sadness, frustration, anger, sorrow, shame, helplessness and finally, a little blossom of happiness that I hope – I really hope – is going turn into something much, much more.

The experience utterly drained me. I’m sure it had nothing like that kind of effect on the person I was talking to – though there may have been some degree of complete fright.

I’m told now, by those who know, that doing this sort of thing is exhausting, that it pulls the energy out of you and that I must now learn how to “shut myself down” – the same way I learned how to protect myself in crowds.

But in doing this, it was as if I was paying something forward – perhaps a gift Debra gave to me, dropping into my life for a few weeks and then disappearing, just as mysteriously.

It was as if I was finally acknowledging the feelings that I had locked away when I was 11, honouring something that I’d put on ice for so many many years. The love and benevolence I felt for this person, as we spoke, was overwhelming.

And if this person is reading this – and I do hope you are – I want you to know that you were my “first”. I’m fairly certain you won’t be my “last”… but because you were my first, this will always be incredibly special, and very very humbling, for me.

You gave me something wonderful.

Thank you.

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Off Switch

I don’t drink.

I mean, I don’t really.

I used to. Really.

I have many tales to tell about my blind blotto face-in-the-toilet days, but most are best left not told, as I’m not proud of them, and I’ve always questioned how people could wake up from these things, sick from dehydration, head pounding and teeth aching, and proclaim they had the Best Time Ever Last Night.

The last time I got drunk – and I mean, really really passed out drunk, so drunk that I was insensible on the bathroom floor – was when my husband was fired from one of his radio gigs. It was Winnipeg and I was much younger, and not used to dealing with the insecurities inherent in the broadcasting world.

So I bought a bottle of Amaretto and drank half of it, took off all of my clothes and fell down on the bathroom floor. We had a friend over who was commiserating with us – being a friend – and when it came time for her to use the toilet, my husband thoughtfully draped a towel over me, the friend stepped over me, did her business, and then went back out into the living room to continue her visit with my husband.

I remember it because I was only half-passed out, drifting in and out of awareness – as one does.

What amazes me is that my husband and our friend just carried on as if it was the most natural thing in the world for me to be incapably drunk, and naked, on the bathroom floor.

I recall a few years before that, being at university, and turning my last two years there into a primer on How to Drink Myself Stupid.

I wasn’t happy. That was a given. I was bored. I was dealing with grief (see my earlier blog about fire and my best friend). And I was at that dangerous age where you do things, and you don’t know why. You just Do.

This fine Alcohol Spree also occurred at about the same time that I decided to Dare Death. If Death could take my best friend, he might also be interested in me. And so I embarked on a run of near suicidal activities. Which included standing on the main east west track belonging to the Canadian Pacific Railway, waiting for a train to come, and staring at it as it approached me.

I waited until the locomotive was about five seconds away, and then I would calmly step off the track and walk away.

I must have given the engineers heart failure. It’s impossible to stop a train composed of three diesel engines and a mile of boxcars, on a dime. They would have known that had I not stepped off the track, they would have hit me.

I read now about the trauma that train engineers go through when they collide with cars that are stuck on crossings, or when they run over people who either deliberately or accidentally, didn’t get out of the way.

And I’m so, so sorry for causing such pain to those good men of the CPR.

I wasn’t drunk when I stood on the tracks, and it’s a good thing too, or I probably wouldn’t be here now, writing this.

My other Death Dare was to drink myself blotto (cheap student wine being the poison of choice – Baby Duck, it was called) and then drive myself home.

Let me point out here that I lived in a small prairie city that was laid out on a grid. All of the avenues went East-West, and all of the streets ran North-South. There was only one hill, and I lived at the bottom of it. If you missed your corner, you could drive on to the next, and be reasonably certain that if you kept turning left, or right, you would eventually get home.

Let me also point out here that these binges invariably happened in the winter, when there was a lot of snow on the ground and the roads were mostly tracts of ice with wheel ruts worn into them. The city scruffed the ice up a bit with sand – it was too cold to use salt – so there was traction, but as a result, all winter long the ice and snow covered streets were the colour of chocolate milk.

And the third thing I want to point out is that my car was a 1962 Volkswagen Beetle, running on three cylinders, with nonexistent heat, a leak in the exhaust which required driving with the window open or dying of carbon monoxide poisoning, and no snow tires.

Let me explain. On the prairies, in winter, snow tires are mandatory. They have deep treads, and sometimes they’re embedded with studs, and they grip the snow and the ice and they give you traction. They allow you to stop. And go.

I had four bald summer tires on my VW and on side streets, which weren’t as ploughed out as the main roads, my usual method of stopping was to throw the thing into Neutral and slide nose first into a snowbank.

Now add one incoherent, close-to-blacking-out driver into this mix, and you’ll have my Death Dare.

As I said, I’m not proud of this. I shudder to think what could have happened if I’d skidded, lost control, lost consciousness… never mind what I would have done to myself – what could I have inflicted on other, innocent, people?

Anyway, I did drive myself home, on many occasions, and on some of them, I have no memory of the route I took. I remember getting into the car, starting the engine, rolling down the window, and slithering off into the night. The next memory I have is of being four or five blocks from home, ten or fifteen minutes had passed, and I was eyeing my favourite snowbank ahead of a Stop sign I knew was coming up.

Sometimes I just drove straight through it, my addled logic being that it was two o’clock in the morning and I was the only person on the road, so to Hell With It.

The last thing I want to mention about those years is that I was one party animal. Not from any sense of joy or fun. I drank because it was more or less expected, and I had nothing better to do. So I’d show up with my Baby Duck, plant myself on a couch, listen to music I hated, and talk to people about nothing. Having drained the bottle, I would then lock myself in what was usually the only bathroom, throw up into the toilet, and then lose consciousness.

Incessant knocking on the door would usually bring me round, and I’d stagger out to the living room past a lineup of desperate party-goers, and promptly pass out there too. Until it was time to go home. And then I’d go… still drunk, still unhappy, still wondering why everyone claimed they were having The Best Time Ever.

I made a decision to stop drinking so much after I’d woken up in the middle of an afternoon one too many times, and realized that I’d wasted what could have been precious writing hours, and that I was going to have to spend another half day recovering, and I could never get that time back.

I have, as my good friends who are in AA sometimes enviously tell me, a Functioning Off Switch.

Which is, apparently, what helps to define me as Not an Alcoholic. I wasn’t born with the gene. I was able to make the decision, it was easy, and once I’d Switched Off, I didn’t miss the booze. I could take it or leave it.

So I left it. And found other ways to deal with my unhappiness.

There is alcoholism in my family – my mother’s brother drank himself to death before cancer of the esophagus could claim him – so I may have dodged a bullet.

The novel I’m currently writing has two main characters. Both are alcoholics. One drinks. The other doesn’t. I’m at the point where I need to draw on my memories – distorted and drenched as they are – as well as the experiences and nightmares of my friends whose Off Switches are broken – to help me define what makes these two tick.

I’m not sure why I’m just a tiny bit reluctant.

Perhaps, after all these years, I still need to forgive myself.

Perhaps, after all these years, that forgiveness will come, finally, in the form of fiction.

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