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Archive for October, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Okay, I’ll admit it. Halloween is not my favourite holiday. There are parts of it I like, of course, and look forward to. I’m a fan of traditions, and Halloween offers its own unique set of them. I appreciate that. When it comes to Halloween traditions, these are a few of my favourite things:

– Driving my daughter to the front door of the school (a rare treat), where we know we will see the long-time principal wearing a school t-shirt and his Frankenstein mask, welcoming the costumed kids and, despite his best intentions, not fooling even the littlest kindergarteners;

– The little ones in their costumes. The under-seven crowd has always been my favourite part of Halloween, so adorable and earnest in their outfits;

– The joy of not having rain for trick-or-treating. In the Lower Mainland of BC, that’s more of a treat than the chocolate, almost;

– The chocolate. Chocolate is always good, no? Chocolate in tiny little packages that really don’t count…? Excellent.

– The contraband. Inevitably, I end up with at least a couple of Peanut Butter Cups, culled from the kid’s haul and traded for things she likes, for my once-a-year enjoyment;

– The excitement of others. Firecrackers and scary movies and zombies are not really my thing. But I love to see kids excited, planning their costumes, running from door-to-door, interacting with each other and the neighbourhood and generally having a great time.

Those are the best parts of Halloween for me. Whatever yours are, I hope you enjoy them today.

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The Right Goodbye

My friend Leslie was a cool chick. She loved her kids, her boyfriend, Star Wars, her friends, and standing up for what she believed was right, probably in about that order. The top three on that list meant so much to her they were inscribed permanently on her body in an impressive collection of ink. She didn’t fit, visually, on our playground, where I knew got to know her as one of the school moms. But she fit with us and she cared, big time.

For some people, funerals are the right goodbye. For others, it’s a wake or a party or a tiny gathering of friends. When Leslie died in July, there was no immediate memorial planned. The three of us who’d been four until then held our own, privately, toasting her at a repeat of the birthday dinner we’d had for her the year before when she’d hoped for a future and told us what it meant to her to celebrate her birthday with us. It was a good way for us to say goodbye, but it was just us. The universe, I thought, still had something else in mind.

There were other gatherings for her, with friends and family and the sea. But today, I saw the goodbye I didn’t know I was waiting for. For me, this was the right way to see Leslie off. I don’t pretend to know very much about Burning Man, but Leslie loved it. And she would have loved this, too. She’s one of the pictures in this piece, and this, for me, is the right goodbye.

Dear Temple of Transition [Burning Man 2011] from Ian MacKenzie on Vimeo.

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While I was sitting at Sunday lunch at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference on Sunday, my elementary school celebrated fifty years of existence with a reunion of all the staff and students they could round up from the last half century. I’d have gone if I could have, and I’m sorry to have missed it.

I loved school. I had a lot of great teachers, and I fondly remember the secretaries and even the custodian – who, well into his nineties and not able to see very well anymore, was at the reunion. Among the teachers are a couple to whom I owe a deep debt of gratitude. Turns out they were there, too, and I would have had a chance to say thanks. Having thought about them a lot since I heard about the reunion, I think I’m going to seek them out anyway and let them know. One of them will be in the acks of this book when it finds a home, but I don’t want that to come too late. I’ll tell him soon.

But had I been able to attend, I would have done so trembling with the sort of anxiety that comes from remembered trauma, too. Because much as I loved school for school’s sake, it was a difficult and hurtful place for me to be, too.

Me in grade four, in the top left corner

I look at this photo and there are faces of ten-year-old children in it that make me anxious still. At forty. That’s a sad thing, isn’t it? I was never one of the “in” crowd, always a bit on the outside. That came to a head in grade six and seven, when I was the one they picked on for two solid years. Why? Who knows. I know part of it was that when they tried it on with me, I cried, so they had me, and they knew it. It made them powerful. I wasn’t an athlete, I wasn’t a partier, I was just a kid who loved school and loved to read and had a sensitive heart. That was enough reason back then.

Two people told me about and invited me to the reunion. One is the principal of my daughter’s school, who happens to have been a grade seven teacher (not mine) at my school when I was a student. The other was one of the mean girls. She came to me a couple of years ago online to apologise for what she’d done. I appreciated the gesture. Still do.

My biggest wish in sending my own daughter to elementary school was that she avoid the hurt that had such a deep impact on my life and still does. It affects you long-term, bullying, though they didn’t call it that back then if you weren’t being physically intimidated. It changes the way you trust, the way you choose people to be in your life, your ability to be open to others… all kinds of things. So far, my kid is far stronger than I ever was. She’s a leader, and has no patience for meanness. Long may that continue. It’s one of the things I’m proudest of about her.

I missed the reunion. But I’ve been reminiscing about all the things – good and bad – that shaped me in those days. I think in life as in fiction, there is no story without conflict. So happy anniversary, Daniel Woodward. Here’s to another fifty.

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It’s been more than a little while since I was last here. For those of you who keep track of such things, sorry about that. My list of excuses is long and varied, but suffice it to say that a to-do list at least as long as my absence has been the primary culprit. I’ll try to be a bit more interesting here. For the moment, here are a few highlights – and lowlights – of the last few months:

I’m home from SiWC 2011, still deep in the post-conference hangover stage. Everything went better than I could have hoped. We met great new presenters and old friends alike and the atmosphere was amazing. At one point on Sunday afternoon, I stood in the quiet of the second-floor hallway when everyone was happily engaged in workshops and had a lovely quiet moment of satisfaction for a job well done. It was an excellent feeling. This year’s conference was an incredible amount of work thanks to big changes for us administratively and the added stress of sharing the hotel with two ex-presidents – Clinton and W – on our master class day, and, of course, all the security they require. But in the end, everyone got to class and everything went well. There’s nothing quite as exhilarating and exhausting as the conference, especially now that it’s the culmination of a year’s hard work. I need to take some time to reflect on all that came out of it before I can talk too much about it, but it’s what’s taken up many of my waking (and sleeping and should-be-but-can’t-be-sleeping) moments.

Thanks to accountability fiends Isabelle and kc and a punishing writing schedule, I finished a complete draft of my novel in August. I’m working through an edit now, polishing what needs to be polished and making an important character more sympathetic, but apart from making it shinier and – hopefully – more attractive than it was when I wrote “the end”, it’s done. It was just as good a feeling writing those two words this time as it was the last. I hope that never changes.

This summer included writing, time on holiday with our best friends, and a very quick trip to visit my friend anovelwoman at her cottage with mutual friend kc dyer. It was a most excellent trip, not least because I’d finished my draft and could travel guilt-free, knowing I’d reached my goal. And because anovelwoman has The Best family ever.

In sad news, the beginning of the summer was the end of the battle for my friend Leslie, who succumbed to cancer on Canada Day. It was the note of bitter in a summer of sweet, and I think of her often, remembering her every time I drive into New West, see something from Star Wars, or look in the face of either of her young kids.

That’s a little bit of how I spent my summer and the beginning of fall… it’s a quick update from someone without the mental capacity to do laundry, let alone write, but it’s a start. How are things with you?

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