Wednesday, 30 December 2015


Auld Lang Syne - This common New Year's Eve song comes from a ‪#‎RobbieBurns‬ poem. In Scottish, it means, literally, "old long since." In our modern lingo it means that we're saying goodbye to the old year. Listen to it here:

I hope you have a great 2016, folks, whether you're glad or not so glad or completely neutral about 2015!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015


gruntle - This rare old word means "to please." And so, my hope for all:

May you be fully gruntled this holiday season!

Wednesday, 16 December 2015


Snickerdoodle - This is great cookie with a great name. Snickerdoodle, snickerdoodle. Say that 5 times fast!

I came across this cookie recipe in a cookbook many years ago and had to try it just because of the name! Such a fun word to say...and tasty treat to eat. Here's a recipe:

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Writing it Real

A peculiar thing can happen when you think of yourself as a writer. It has nothing to do with whether you've been published, or whether you write fiction or non-fiction. It has nothing to do with what others think of your writing…if you've even shown it to anyone.

This peculiar thing will  improve your writing by making it more real because, as writers say ad infinitum, you will be writing what you know. It's about writing the unpleasant, the unhappy, even the terrible experiences of your life, the benefits of which are at least two-fold.

Firstly, many who write their experiences are helped to actually feel their feelings and think their thoughts by the very process of writing them down. It helps a great deal to name feelings and express thoughts, thus making them more concrete than they might be when they're crazily spinning around in your head. This is part of what happens when you write in a journal or diary. The process also helps us become more objective about our struggles, thus equipping us to better deal with them.

Secondly, writing your experience enriches your writing, which is something of a positive Catch-22. In order for writing to be believable it has to be based in reality, and since you're the one writing it, it needs to be based in your reality. Yes, imagination has a huge part to play in writing fiction, but the words and characters must still feel real to the reader. It's your job to make them real, warts and all. In sickness and in health; for richer, for poorer; for better and for worse. Since your life and your readers' lives are real, you have to make your characters' lives real, too.

So, you need to pay attention to the details of your life, and here I'm talking about the sickness, poorer and worse parts. The peculiar part of this is that you need to pay attention while you are sick, broke, devastated, grieving. Remembering is useful to some extent, but if you're a writer it's a good idea to think as a writer while you're lying in bed feeling wretched with the flu or when you're crying your eyes out or storming around after being fired or dumped. I am not suggesting you do this all the time, because it's definitely important to be human during hard times -- feel your shock, sadness and anger; take care of the aches, pains and nausea. But when you can during those hard times, also think like a writer. 

When you're sick with a cold, how do your nose and throat feel? Start with "itchy" and "scratchy," sure, but keep going. Does your throat hurt so much you almost weep every time you swallow? How about the sneezes and coughing that rock you over and over? Then there are the aches and pains of the flu or, certainly, of more serious diseases. Here's an example. 

I was recently  sick for several days with a strange flu-cold thing. I lay in bed and sat in a chair for days, feeling lousy enough to be there but not bad enough to use my scant energy to clean up, get dressed and drive to Emerg. I probably would have fainted long before I got there, anyway. The point is that on Day 3, after I'd been feeling sorry for myself in direct proportion to how wretched I felt, I remembered that I'm a writer. My brain was beginning to function again, even if my body wasn't. So I reached over for the pen and paper I always keep on my night table and started to brainstorm words and phrases to describe how I felt. The list is not brilliant or necessarily original, but it was a start:
  • wrung-out dishcloth
  • tired old flag, drooping in a windless sky
  • listless
  • flagging
  • uncooperative arms, refusing/unable to hold up a phone for more than two minutes
  • how can bones ache? Mine surely do.
  • limp
  • Unbidden sighs and grunts escape her lips after just one short trip to the kitchen.
  • open-mouthed breathing
  • too limp and foggy to even listen to the radio
Writing those few words and phrases helped pull me forward a bit because writing helped me objectify my experience somewhat. I don't know if I'll ever use any of those descriptions, but making the list sharpened my dull mind slightly and also gave me the idea for this post, so it's already been useful twice. And I'll have the descriptions if I ever do need them for a scene in a book or story. 

There's something grounding in immersing myself in a feeling and experience in order to translate it into words. Another example of using writing to deal with difficult experiences and, by extension, using the difficult experience to inform my writing, came several years ago when my step-son died. It was horrific and shocking. I seriously don't know how we got through. Only a few weeks after his death, I was closeted away in my room, unable to stand being around people, especially if they were happy or doing the ordinary things of daily life. Too raw, too exhausted on every level. As I lay there, aching and angry, the thought floated in that it might help me to write what I was feeling and thinking. Goodness knows I'd written enough journal entries through the years to know how helpful it can be.

So, I found a notebook and pen and began to write out my misery, wishing only to relieve some of the agony of our loss. It did help a little, and after a while, the writer in me patted me gently on the arm and suggested I continue writing my experience because it might help someone else down the road. Again, goodness knows, I'd done a lot of that sort of writing, too, and it had been helpful to others. So, as I wrote and wrote, crying, even smiling with some memories, the process helped pull me along a bit further, gently reminding me of the nature of life and of hope. And somewhere in there, my inner writer knew that by being in my feelings and delving for words to express them, I was also enriching myself and my future work. 

To be honest, when I realized that, I felt a little like I was betraying my grief, my love for Daniel. So I wrote about that, too. Yet I also knew how fortunate I was to have some way to be in and to express my terrible grief. In those horrible days, I didn't care much about helping others in some distant day, but the awareness of that possibility lay within me just the same. That day of writing my grief was a strange one that felt like I was in the past, present and future all at the same time.
The early days of grief are a vacant,
impossible time.
 Shock turns me into a zombie, incapable of lucid thought and simple tasks.
 Grief renders me senseless, and I become wooden, too stunned to function.
 Then you come along – all of you – and you gently hold my wooden form and pass me, hand to hand, moment by moment – a baton in a death-born relay race.
 You pass me along gently, moving me through time until I can do it once again for myself.
Has it helped me since those terrible first months and years to have written my grief? Absolutely. Will I use any of that writing in other material? I have no idea. In any event, whether writing out my sickness or my sorrow, I am reminded by doing so that finding the words and putting them together is a huge part of who I am. And so I keep it real by using that process for my own good and, hopefully, for the good of others through my writing. 

Wednesday, 9 December 2015


invinotice - An announcement that does more than just notify recipients about an event. It also aims to invite them in a warm, friendly way. This might be one of my less inspired portmanteau words, but, hey -- if you can't have a little fun with your word play, what's the point? I kind of like the homely little thing.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015


Fortunately, I'm not this bad. This is a serious book collection!
bibliotaph - a person who hoards books. I didn't make this one up, but I am one. Now I'm working on a cure, which is that I won't buy any more bookshelves. The trouble is that now I am stacking books on top of bookshelves and any other flat surfaces that present themselves, so I have devised Rule #2: For every new book I put on a bookshelf, another book must be removed. And I'm sure that will work for a least until I decide what to do with those pesky knickknacks that are hogging the space. Once that problem is resolved, I'll have more room for books!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Listen, My Friends, and You Shall Hear

Leonid Osipovich Pasternak

Listening is a huge part of writing. Being receptive. Noticing details as well as the wide sweep of something. Bowing to the emotions, considering ideas that do not, perhaps, come naturally to the writer. One needs to, wants to, sometimes cannot help but give attention to what one receives, hears, notices. Even if the attention given springs from disgust or boredom, these reactions must also be heeded because it is all grist for the proverbial mill.

When I listen to others who create, no matter their medium, I hear them express similar ideas about the need to go inside themselves, slow down, allow ideas and feelings to flow or charge or explode. This shared experience is an interesting and delightful aspect of creativity. It's an exciting, enthralling and sometimes quite scary process in which we participate.

Today I have been in the presence of several animals lovers, people who care for animals and treasure them as wonderful companions and friends. I have had relationships like that with some animals, as well, and as I listened to these friends talk, I felt the resonance of something familiar but couldn't put my finger on what that was. Then tonight, after a long day of get-togethers and conversations, I wanted to explore this feeling of synchronicity or unnamed resonance I've experienced for the last several hours.
I think that listening to the deep animal lovers felt familiar because it is so similar, maybe identical to, my experience of creativity and creative expression. Those who love animals (or babies or music or the soil or colour or the stars or…) are listeners and receivers. Noticers. Animal lovers create space for and are open to inner knowing and exploration. They respect that which they love, as do writers and painters, singers and dancers. This sort of love sometimes requires us to "get out of the way," as one friend said today of her time with animals.

And this is true for me when I am writing. I am a participant and a co-creator at the same time. As in any relationship, I sometimes have to just get out of the way and let the thing flow and be whatever it is. Then I come back into the process or unfolding and consciously shape and direct it, but – when it works the best – only in a way that shines the truest light on that character or story or scene, so that it can show itself. It is so difficult sometimes, and such a privilege, too.

So these conversations today have given me several hours of pleasure and opportunity and fun. I've learned some new perspectives on love and devotion. It has been thoroughly satisfying. Thanks very much to all those animal lovers and open listeners today.

Thursday, 26 November 2015


First off, I can't believe I forgot that yesterday was Wednesday! So here is yesterday's WordWednesday entry.

Lewis Carroll first coined "portmanteau" for words in 1871. For example: "slithy" is a portmanteau word he formed by combining lithe & slimy

Portmanteau words don't always work in both directions; slithy works, while limy and limey do not. Another example: I have combined the words notice and invitation to make invinotice. I think it works better than notivation does. 

You'll see a lot of portmanteau words in my WordWednesdays because they're just a lot of fun and, often, quite clever.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Alphabet Soup, Anyone?

OK, folks, pull your chairs up to the table; it’s time for lunch. Today’s special is a big helping of
alphabet soup. It’s not exactly like the kind you had when you were a kid. No, this soup is specially made to save time and energy, often growing out of the tiresome and unwieldy labels one encounters in certain arenas of life. It’s just how everybody talks these days, OK?
Vernacular alphabet soup comes in two basic flavours: initialism and acronym. An initialism is “a group of initial letters used as an abbreviation for a name or expression, each letter being pronounced separately (e.g. BBC)” (Oxford English Reference Dictionary). Other common examples are CBC and  ER. An acronym is “a word, usually pronounced as such, formed from the initial letters of other words (e.g. Ernie, laser, Nato)”. (Oxford English Reference Dictionary)  More about acronyms another time.
Initialism alphabet soup takes many forms. There is sports soup – NHL, NBA, PGA, CFL – and government/military soup, such as OPP, IRA, KGB, MP, UN, CIA, and RAF. Then there are commercial/industrial soups, which include IGA, GT, GM, IBM, PR, and COD.
Alphabet soup has become so common you might have experienced a new linguistic malady called Alphabet Soup Confusion (ASC, for short), wherein one struggles with the increasing ambiguity of now overused initials. For example, who supports the WWF – wrestling fans or animal lovers? Is a PC better known to computer users or Canadian voters? And did you know that BC stands not only for British Columbia and Before Christ, but also Bachelor of Chemistry and Bachelor of Commerce? There’s probably something else, too, but not in my world. And anyone who enters a new field or job usually has to learn new terms, many of which are initialisms. The little critters can even be regionally or personally different; WW I and WW II are initialisms to some people but not to others. Do you say “dubya-dubya-two”  or “double-you double-you two” or “World War Two”?
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Internet chat and texting lingo, which has taken initialism to new heights… well, places, anyway. It has become so much a part of Internet language that some chatters are forgetting how to spell. It’s possible that chat-talk can’t even be called initialism, because Internet chatters rarely use capitol letters; holding the Shift key takes too long. Here are some examples: brb (be right back), cu (see you), lol (laugh out loud) and 4u (for you). Even “okay”, which is often spelled “ok,” has been further shortened to “k.”
Now I have to admit that many of these chatisms (if they can make up “words”, so can I) are very efficient. Nevertheless, I can’t help but worry a little about where this rampant initialism is dragging our beautiful English language. It seems we can’t even take the time and energy to say four or five syllables just because two will do. What’s the big rush? I understand that when you’re chatting on the Internet or texting on your phone, you want to keep the conversation moving, and shortcuts help. Fine. But when you’re talking face to face? Are you going to walk out on someone who says, “I’d appreciate your doing that as soon as possible” rather than “I need that ASAP” because they’re taking too long?
I honestly can’t figure out what to make of the whole thing. I say TV, CAA, PEI, and CPR. And I am aware that contractions, which I use regularly, are a short form that someone probably objected to about 100 years ago. So what’s my problem? I guess it’s the part of me that doesn’t want this wonderful language to change too much. I sometimes feel sad to hear it misused so freely, because I like the sound of English when it’s used well.
Yet the irony is that I also enjoy the flexibility of English. I like making up words myself, as you may have noticed. So, I guess the only solution, as with so many conundrums in life, is to look after my own English and let everybody else look after theirs – unless they’re in my English class. Then they’d better watch it.
 A little word challenge for word-nerds like me: Time yourself for three minutes and see how many initialisms you can write down, not counting the ones mentioned in this column.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015


Prepone: to hold an event earlier than originally planned. Opposite of postpone. We preponed the meeting from June 1 to May 15. I didn't make this one up, though I wish I had because it's just such a sensible word. Instead of "moving the meeting up (or back or ahead...?)" you could simply prepone it. How easy is that? According to John Morse, president and publisher of the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, prepone is used by English speakers in India. I suggest we borrow the word in North America.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

#‎WordWednesday‬: Carbage bag: a trash receptacle for your car, maybe handily hanging from the gear shift...? This portmanteau word was made up by my friend, Christianna Jones, who sews handy little carbage bags to sell.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Keeping a Journal 101

Writing in a journal or diary is a useful and simple way to sort through your thoughts and feelings. You can write words you would never speak. You can draw and muse and meander or you can record daily events and weather.

I have a friend who has written in her diary every single day since she was a girl, and she's now in her seventies. Some of her entries are short and simple -- Storm today, for example -- while others contain significant ups and downs, emotions and ideas. While I don't come even close to that sort of constancy, my journals provide me with a welcome outlet for muddled thoughts and exploding emotions, for plans and possibilities.

In most journaling workshops I offer, I meet people who have never kept a journal and feel they don't know how to start. In response I quote The King in Alice in Wonderland: "Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end: then stop." In other words, just get started. What you need to say will come out, and you can stop when you're done. Spelling and punctuation are not important, and it doesn't matter when or where you do your writing.

So find yourself a simple spiral notebook, a beautiful hardbound journal, or a new "sheet of paper" on your computer and give it a try. I suggest you write the date at the top of each entry; it can be interesting to look back later and see what you thought or what was going on at this time in your life.

Here are two good ideas to start with if you've never journaled before or would like to get back to it:
  1. Write this sentence starter and then finish it with whatever comes to mind: I have no idea what to write, so I'll write about the time somebody told me...
  2. Describe the weather at this exact moment or when you first woke up. Does the weather affect your mood or what you do?
From time to time I will offer other journaling ideas in this space. Have fun, record your life for posterity, or explore your inner workings. Your journal won't tell.