Holy Moly! I’m Writing a Book!

As explained on my Bio page, my lifetimes ambitions are: own big dogs, and write mystery books. I did the easy one first. :-)

But this week, I am heading to New York for a writer’s conference, where I will have a chance to pitch my (in progress) novel to Real Live Agents.

This is the introduction business card that I will hand out to those who ask.

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“Outgoing” is a Skillset

Even people who think they know me quite well would be surprised to learn how introverted I really am.

I have adapted very well to my work environment, where I need to be out front, beating the drum and waving the flag. People no doubt think I live for that.

Well, I do sort of like it. :-)

But when I arrive back home, I collapse in on myself and rest.

Nearly all my pursuits are solitary, or include my husband and our dogs only. And my writer is a very solitary creature, and feeds off the energy that I only produce when I am alone.

Most of the people I interact with have no idea that I write novels in my spare time. I wouldn’t mind their interest, but I’d rather hold the spotlight than stand in it.

Over my career I have given a great deal to producing “success energy” and I sometimes wonder how much of what I really value has been sacrificed without my knowing it.

Feminism in the Female Line

When my grandmother was born in 1917, she was of course a human being — but she was not a person. Not according to the laws of Canada at that time. She was the property of her father, and her mother was his property as well.

When Grandma was about 12, the law recognized women as persons, and conferred on her the first of the rights that we take for granted today.

When my mother reached the age of majority, although she was an adult and a person under the law, her signature was not sufficient for the bank to open an account for her so she could deposit her paycheque. My grandfather had to co-sign for her.

These women, each privileged in her time, did not think this was unusual. But can you imagine the reaction now, if you tried to recreate this? Too many young women don’t think they’re feminists, when they really have no idea what the options are.

My parents raised me to be a person, not a gender, and in that I think they were quite successful. I was describing this to my Malaysian friend last week, and he laughed out loud. Apparently he had noticed. :)

The Wedding

I wish Tina hadn’t come to my wedding. Mother made me invite her, but I wish she hadn’t come.

“She’s your oldest friend,” Mother had said, waddling across the kitchen burdened with a roast beef – an entire roast, though there were only two of us eating. “You have to invite her, she’ll be offended.”

I knew she wouldn’t be offended. Tina never gave a darn about stuff like that. “No, Mother,” I said firmly. “I haven’t seen her for years, and she’ll have other plans.”

“She doesn’t,” Mother replied, then coyly clapped a hand over her mouth as if she had let slip a secret. She was mocking me; she’d obviously already asked Tina. I admit that for a moment I was too startled and angry to speak. I am very good at controlling my feelings, but this tested my limits.

“Carla is your bridesmaid,” Mother reminded me before I had time to speak. “Jasmine is Carla’s sister, and Tina and Jasmine are always together, they’re best friends. I asked if they wanted to come together. We have enough places for them.”

Best friends! I had to turn my face towards the refrigerator so Mother wouldn’t see the color rising up in my cheeks. Now that Tina had been invited, I knew she’d come if only because she wouldn’t want to hurt my feelings. She was pretty thoughtful, considering what she was.

Tina and I were real best friends when we were kids, but probably just because we lived across the street from each other and there weren’t many other kids around. Then, when we were seventeen, her parents moved into the new subdivision a couple of blocks away. I rarely saw her after that. She must be a terrible snob. And besides, she started trying to kiss me once.

I couldn’t tell Mother any of this. Mother didn’t even know that Tina was… wasn’t like us. If I’d told her, she would have whooped in surprise, and said something nauseating and nosy like, “Let’s have all the gory details.”

Or she might have started thinking about all the time we spent together, and I couldn’t stand to have her wondering about it. And then she might have guessed about Jasmine, and that would make Carla mad, too. Mother couldn’t keep a secret at all, especially one about s-e-x.

Anyway, the time that I kissed Tina, it didn’t really mean anything. We were just a couple of kids. After I thought about it for a while, I came to my senses and I never let it happen again. I just needed a boyfriend, that’s all. We didn’t know many boys.

So now here I am on my wedding day, in my beautiful white dress. I have been keeping myself for my Bryan, so the dress is bright, sparkling white like snow or arctic fur.

All of Bryan’s friends are here, too. He is in politics, so some of them are very important people. We have had a telegram from the Prime Minister and from the Premier as well, and from many other names well known in the public domain. We have an open bar, so nobody can think we’re cheap.

Later tonight during the speeches my Bryan will make a surprise announcement and resign from politics. I asked him to do it, because I can’t stand to have people staring at him all the time, wondering about him and wanting to know about our lives. He finally said he would do it just to please me. I don’t want to live in the public eye, I like to live quietly.

My Bryan and I will live in a nice house in a good neighborhood, and sleep in the bed that he refinished with his own hands. We found it at an antique store and I begged him to take it on as a project, because I knew it would be perfect for us. He’s refinishing it as a surprise wedding gift for me. He had a very funny look on his face when I asked him to do it as a surprise. I think he has no idea what it takes to be romantic.

I used to only have a single bed, so when Tina came for sleepovers we used to sleep on the pullout in the rec room. The springs were very uncomfortable. Now Mother is laughing too loud and eating too much, and I am stiff with terror that Tina will come over and want to kiss me again, for extra good luck on my wedding day. Some people think that kissing brides is lucky.

Between the ceremony and the reception we had a receiving line, and she came right up to me and said, “I hope you’ll be very happy,” and leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I kept myself as stiff as I could, and I could feel my face so brittle and cold my smile felt like plastic.

I used my most warm and graceful voice when I thanked her for her good wishes and I positioned my hands beautifully around my bridal bouquet. I couldn’t even smile at her properly. I felt like saying, You can’t kiss me now, this is my wedding and I’m normal. I turned to the next person almost right away.

I should tell you about my bridal bouquet. I have two of them actually; the one I have now is a special one just for carrying around; the formal one that I carried down the aisle was too heavy to keep on holding. A caterer in a tuxedo has put it at the head table, among the crystal and silver. Soon I will sit behind it, like a jewel in a sea of flowers.

Lucky Girl, Lesson 2: Steer from the Back

Lesson Two

So if Lesson One was to trust myself, then Lesson Two was how to lead a group so that I am getting as much as possible out of an enthusiastic team without exhausting — or martyring — myself.

This is a lesson that I think a lot of women miss. We are normally taught sacrifice over strategy.

As I provided labor and administrative support for Doc’s gun range projects, he provided me with an opportunity to watch a skilled manager recruit and motivate changing bands of volunteers.

The first thing you have to do is separate your sense of self from the results that the group produces. Anything you are attached to, in the sense of you mentally committing to what you can “make” people do, is going to be a source of stress for you.

As the leader, your job is to encourage people to contribute something they want to give, and then channel all those little somethings into a coherent output that the group will be proud of. This means balancing the baseline of work that needs to get done with whatever pet projects or interests drew your volunteers in the first place.

For example, a pistol match requires scorecards, and there is no way around that. You often get volunteers who are really excited about building fancy props, and who find scorecards too mundane to be interesting. This gives you two challenges: (1) rein in the enthusiasm for wasted effort without blowing up their energy, and (2) find someone who either likes scorecards, or wants the approval that you and the group can provide for taking on this task. This balance is what makes leadership a valuable commodity.

Without cool props, no volunteers. Without volunteers, no match. But the energy of a group of people excited by the whole picture of what they’re creating… Even scorecards can become magical.

The secret as I interpret it, is to let the group be wonderful, and steer from behind. If you put some prep in upfront and invest in a little pizza, even the unpopular jobs get done. And once the group has achieved something they’re proud of… it’s that much easier next time.

So now I always try to be the magic element that coheres the plot and makes the group succeed.

Reaction to Shootings on Parliament Hill

Submitted (but alas not accepted anywhere) week of October 22

The event at Ottawa’s Parliament Hill earlier this week was not the first time that violence has interrupted the smooth flow of Canadian life, nor should we expect it will be the last.

Over the last twenty-five years, many “lone gunmen” have caused havoc for communities large and small: Montreal, Moncton, Regina, Slocan.

But as our southern neighbors rightly remind us, freedom is not “free.” It must be paid for in courage, and in our national willingness to accept some risks as inevitable. And in this case, our freedom has been paid for by the sacrifice of a soldier on ceremonial duty at a war memorial in our nation’s capital city.

It shouldn’t have happened, but it did. And security experts agree it wasn’t really preventable.

As Canadians, we have invested generations’ worth of effort in developing our ability to make room for multiple points of view, so we can live side by side with the people from around the world who come to join us. But in a clear-cut case like this one, there is no need for a second perspective.

This was murder: the random murder of a stranger. In all cultures, this is wrong.

Many Canadians believe strongly in causes that are important to them. But most of us could not even imagine planning and executing this kind of event. If the people who pose this particular risk could be identified early enough, we would prefer to help them. Up here in the True North, we want all our neighbors to be strong and free. If you need extra help, we want you to have it.

But the fact is that some of the people who walk among us are damaged: by genetics, by circumstance, or even by their own choices.

Canadians are outraged and disgusted at this attack from within, but we also believe it’s important to temper our reactions. And a key part of that reaction is deciding how we discuss these incidents at all.

First, we really should stop referring to people like this one as “the shooter” or “the gunman.” To identify a person by such a dramatic action makes him sound too much like a protagonist, like someone making a contribution to our human story. That perspective is not serving any of us.

In fact, we could stop referring to these people by name at all. Let’s limit ourselves to general vital statistics instead: Gender, age, and outcome of the event. In the case of the recent tragedy at Parliament Hill: Male, 32, dead at scene.

We could even drop our famed preference for tolerance altogether and instead say: the cowardly loser. The pathetic jerk. I am not the first person to suggest this. These terms have the advantage of being clearly non-neutral, and also strip the recipient of any pretensions to grandeur or relevance. Of course there was another side to his story. But I don’t care what it was. Do you?

The next time something like this happens, as it’s bound to do, I don’t want to know his name. I don’t want to hear from his childhood friends. I don’t want to visit his Facebook page. I certainly don’t want his horrified parents and church leaders to have to go into hiding. Let him disappear, nameless, into prison or into the ground.

Any deranged fool with a firearm can walk into anywhere and create damage. It is not heroic and for most of us, there is nothing to learn by exploring the fool’s point of view. Also, it quickly ends in death: maybe innocent people first, but nearly always the instigator himself, before the dust has settled on the scene.

Canadians are already engaged in serious debate about how and when to act on the world stage. We volunteer for the causes that matter to us, including political causes at home and abroad. We have friends and neighbors from around the world that make international concerns real to us. And most of us are determined to be the best people that we can.

This moderate approach may not be as sexy as the gunfight at the OK Corral (which by the way, was over in about half a minute) but it has staying power and it has allowed us to build an integrated society that we can rightly be proud of.

So let’s not let the occasional sad wacko with a self-excusing agenda and an inflated sense of his place in history change how we feel about ourselves or our safety.

Canada is ours, glorious and free. We will not lock that away.

Lucky Girl, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Come Out Shooting

It’s better to be lucky than good. If you’re not good enough you can always work harder… but if you’re not lucky, you’re pretty much cooked.

Lesson One

I feel I have been very lucky.

I have been very lucky in my friends, who taken all together are an odd lot! But when my heart and mind connect to someone else, I become better and smarter and faster — and often, so do they.

I think a meeting of true minds works like this for all of us, I’m not suggesting that friendship with me has magical side effects.

My most unusual — and in many ways most valuable — friend is Doc, a man twenty years older than I am, who taught me to shoot pistols. I don’t just mean he took me to the range a couple of times; we have formed a longstanding alliance based on mutual respect, affection and willingness to provide effort. I won two Ladies’ National Championships under his direction, and he is the happy proprietor of a web site built by me that has doubled the value of his business several times over the last decade.

Uncle_Murray

So, it’s easy to see that this was a mutually satisfactory arrangement. And it still is. But what I really owe Doc is what he taught me about how to trust myself.

A gun range is a great place to learn about yourself in relation to others, especially if you are a woman. There were other women shooters around the range, but they tended to be there with husbands or boyfriends. I have a husband, but I usually went to the range by myself — or with Doc. This gave rise to rumors, as you might imagine, which left me with two choices: face it out, or slink back home and take up knitting instead.

I’m a feminist (of course!) and would never welcome a choice pushed on me by old-fashioned thinking about my supposed place in the world. But I learned this: it’s easy to think that, if you know what’s true in your own heart, you can stare down anyone who thinks they know differently. But it’s much harder to do!

And I was not the only person affected by these particular rumors. When I realized what people were saying,the first thing I did was take Doc’s wife out for lunch, and offer to get lost. Like her husband, she shrugged off my concerns. I am very lucky.

Most of the people who were prepared to believe such a thing were not a worry to me anyway, but I did feel shock and distaste from some people who heard the rumors and weren’t able to discern the truth. Knowing I had the support of the people who mattered most to me, I learned to live with it.

I guess that the “courage” of my convictions developed over time, like any other kind of courage, and now I can face down anything at all.

This is What Feminism Looks Like

All serious shooters on the range wear electronic earmuffs, which muffle the shots to protect your ears while still permitting you to hear speech. 

In fact, they do such a great job of pulling in speech that you can often hear ordinary conversation from 30 yards or more. This is something you need to remember if you’re going to make a private remark!

One day I was on the range taping targets while another squad took their turn on the stage. My three targets were close to the front of the stage, and the first two were very low to the ground, so I had to bend down to reach them.

On one occasion I had bent over to tape a low target when a guy visiting from another province made a private remark to one of my squad. He said something stupid, like, “Oh, I love the way she tapes a target…” 

I could hear him, though I likely wasn’t meant to. I decided to ignore him. My squad felt differently, and two things happened. 

The first thing was, the man standing nearest the speaker said something short, sharp, and unfriendly.

The second thing was, without any discussion or coordination that I could see, my squad made sure I never touched the low targets again that day.

No fuss, just someone else got there first. All day.

I felt protected and honoured by their respect. The incident itself was nothing, but their response made it a very good day.

Ten years later I still carry that small but shining example of ordinary men doing the right thing. It’s not the only example I have of course, but it’s one of my favorites.

(Thanks, guys!)

Failure as a Win

“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”
― Thomas A. Edison

One of my first real jobs was as a teller with Bank of Montreal. On the application, I wrote that BMO had been “my” bank since I was a little girl. They were understandably charmed, and hired me at once.

Unfortunately, none of us knew the truth until afterward: I can’t count to ten thousand.

This is critical if you are a teller, because at the start of the shift they give you a drawer with ten thousand dollars in it, and at the end of the shift you have to say where it all went.

And I tried. Boy, did I try! But in four months of shifts, I balanced TWICE. I had succeeded at everything I had done previously, so it took me a while to believe that more effort wouldn’t help. I really, really, REALLY wanted to be good at this! And I just wasn’t.

We finally decided I had to go, and they let me resign rather than firing me, which was kind of them. And I moved on to something else.

What that taught me was, sometimes I just suck at things. And it’s OK. I’d rather be successful — we all would! — but in cases where I can’t win, things still turn out OK in the end.

So I found a field where I can succeed, and I work hard at that instead. Life’s critical lessons: sometimes if something is too hard, you’re not doing the thing wrong, you’re doing the wrong thing.

As a service to others, I now take deliberate and visible risks — and I demonstrate cheerful failure when the risk doesn’t pay off.

I don’t really enjoy public speaking, but I do it anyway, and then create opportunities for others to take similar risks. You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs! And everyone knows eggs are good for you. :-)