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Ahead by a Century (Recap of Anne with an E, Season Three / Episodes Two and One) #AheadByACentury

Ahead by a Century (Week Two):

(Spoiler alert! Read on, however, for a wider discussion of issues from stories.)

I put off writing this second week’s summery of Anne with an E (of Season Three) because I needed time to think about what I’d seen, but I do wish I could go back to find my summaries of all Season One episodes and I wish I’d taken the time to write recaps for all of last season that I missed. I was distracted, but I’m back and ready to recap!

(Either on Facebook, or here, or both.)

Only into episode two and I’m reeling from the sharpness of the storyline in this new adaptation. It’s not what many would want for L.M.’s Anne Girl character and her world, both at Green Gables and out beyond. It’s harshness is what makes it feel authentic and we can’t hide from that which is true authenticity, no matter what year we’re in.

If you want to escape from our world into the world of a century ago, to forget all our modern troubles, this show does that. The characters ride around in buggies, pulled by horses, and homosexuality isn’t spoken of. Perhaps a certain impeachable US pres’s grandfather is across Canada at this time, making money off of the greed for gold, but that doesn’t mean that this storyline isn’t going to be full of the realities of life that made it so harsh at the turn of the 20th century.

Anne is given permission and a blessing, by her adopted family of Marilla and Matthew, to go to Charlottetown and then to the mainland, Nova Scotia, to look for information on her birth parents. She must be accompanied by Gilbert, which she resents, and he is rebuffed by her moments of irritability as she is too preoccupied to see how much he already cares.

She arrives in PEI’s capital city to meet up with her gay best friend who will go with her to the orphanage she grew up in.

While Gilbert goes off and explores newly discoverable romance with another, for the time being, a whole other strange B storyline, Anne is brought back to some of the worst times from her early life. While Gilbert has a date in a tea room with a snooty young woman, Anne tries to find out if the orphanage has any record of her parents.

Again, I watch and wonder what places like that were really like for all the abandoned and orphaned little ones in the world, while wishing places like these weren’t still existing. Anne says that place is better than some and much worse than others of its kind. Sure, I like to see characters in fiction that I can relate to, blind or disabled or writers or whatever, but I’m also curious about the kind of fiction which explores lives I, myself, have never lived for good or for ill.

The woman in charge is cold and of no help at all, sipping her tea with disdain that Anne would even deem to return for anything. The man on his way out, after admitting he can’t take care of his flesh and blood children since their mother died, makes Anne start to wonder if the stories she kept going along with about her own two parents were really that of truth, that they both died of scarlet fever when she was still newly born. Was she really so loved and/or wanted at all?

Cole sees her starting to pull apart all the stories and her imagination that got her through such loneliness, as she finds old pieces of paper with her own stories written hidden in the bell tower of the building. She wonders if it was all foolishness and he tells her how brave she is to him for doing whatever she had to to survive it all those years.

As they head for the door to leave, mission NOT accomplished, Anne is stopped by a young woman scrubbing the floor. It’s another orphaned girl who once bullied Anne for daring to dream or have an imagination of any kind. She recognizes Anne and angrily shouts about how she isn’t still there, but is now paid to work there, but the whole scene is disturbing and ugly as Anne and Cole leave that place behind them.

From orphanage where children are left without love to the ferry back to the island. Cole won’t let Anne give up, but all the work Ms. Stacy and Matthew are doing to repair the old printing press so the children of Avonlea School can print a newspaper is about to lead to an unsettling ending to episode two when Marilla reads Anne’s article about meeting and visiting the village of the young Indigenous girl.

(Oh, what times these were where the fear in a white, Christian community of the “other” is so intense they refer to that other group of people as “savages” when such a term is so horrible to hear now that 2020 is the time we’re nearly living in.)

**Side note – Interfering neighbour Rachel is a woman of her time, thinking she must find the new teacher a replacement after Miss Stacy’s widowhood, whereas Muriel would be just as happy on her own as to receive any match making help from anyone, let alone Rachel Lynne. Once Lynne sees Stacy with a man, all alone in a barn, even if that man is Matthew, all that talk of impropriety gets thrown in Miss Stacy’s face. How dare she be working, out in the barn, like a man, with a man that is not her husband.

Marilla is afraid of losing Anne, now that she loves her so much, which will have Marilla acting out in all the wrong ways, but she can hear very plainly how much Anne is praying for word that she was loved by her real parents once upon a time.

To top it all off, we have the character of Sebastian (new to this adaptation) having a not so sweet second episode. He has a step son to learn how to handle, one who feels like his mother has found her do-over in new baby daughter and husband, and this young man sees with his own eyes the farm and house where his mother now lives with her new family, including Gilbert, a white boy…away from the black neighbourhood in the area known as “the bog”.

Elijah is not dealing too well with having a new baby sister and stepfather, bringing all his pain and his coping mechanisms, which primarily include alcohol and saying things he doesn’t really probably even mean, throwing insults at his own mother and accusing his mother’s husband of having an alternate plan to get rid of their new white friend and roommate, to take over the land. Sebastian is disgusted by the suggestion and the two almost come to blows.

By the morning, all Gilbert’s tangible, valuable memories of his dead father have been taken from the room and Elijah is gone. This family stuff is hard in any century.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJ166DTIV-o

Ahead By a Century:

I am back with my Anne with an E updates (season 3), after skipping this writing ritual for all of last season’s events.

It starts with a girl and her horse, Anne and Belle riding through the snow. … Pine cones. Silver coins. Anne turns 16 and desires to discover her lineage.

I’ve been long drawn to stories like Harry Potter, Frodo in Lord of the Rings, and Anne of Green Gables because the life of an orphaned character is so far from my own reality.

I may wonder sometimes about my ancestors, though at least I know of them, and I have always had present and supportive parents around. I wondered about those who never knew that kind of security and/or love.

It starts with Anne and Bell. It goes into the theme song for the show, a Tragically Hip hit that denotes the time period of Anne, as I sit here in 2019 and love this adaptation of the classic Green Gables story.

Ahead by a Century – The Tragically Hip / Anne with an E-Theme

One year ago this day I was on Prince Edward Island. I miss PEI in September as I watch this first episode of season three, expecting and seeing ads for Find Your Island with PEI Tourism making me recall it all. What a special place, an island (seen visually in red and green for many) but forever trapped in my head and heart as the setting for tragical events in a beautiful place, surrounded by water.

Sad that time moves on, even after the death of the lead singer of song Ahead By A Century, as I watch this series…from a time more than a century ago and I think of Gord’s work for connection with all who share this land before he died.

Anne and the girls watch the boys play hockey on a frozen pond and soon boys are declaring their intentions toward the girls. This is a timeless ritual, though somewhat changed in 100 years. Anne and Gilbert are meant to end up together, of course (poor Ruby), even if now it’s nothing but misunderstandings and awkward teenage encounters in the schoolroom. They will have their time, but in the meantime, brief interactions that mark a future love.

For now, as a newly sixteen-year-old Anne, she is the Bride of Adventure in her mind and that will and must suffice for now.

When season two premiered, we were introduced to Afro-Caribbean character, Sebastian, a new friend Gilbert has made far from Avonlea. Nothing like this exists in the 80’s series so many worship. I love both now, for different reasons, but Representation matters.

Creator of this update:

“I was troubled by the lack of diversity in the book, especially since Canada is such a diverse nation, both then and now,” she said.

And so, of course the novel was written in a different time, but it’s the 21st century now and the changes have only added to an already rich story with a lovely facelift.

Anne meets a young Indigenous girl and visits her community. The white people (Christians) stay separate from other groups then, but this inclusion started episode one of season three off right. I hope the friendship between the two girls continues.

Anne is open to meeting and making new friends and that’s all there is to it. She is supposed to represent the kind of openness of heart and mind that so many lack, then and now.

The scenes with Sebastian (Bash) and his wife Mary and their new baby girl made an already sweet episode even sweeter. Love scene between the still newly married couple made me grin, wanting love for others, fictional or no.

I have high hopes for this new season on CBC here in Canada, (to appear on Netflix in the new year).

That’s it for this instalment of Ahead by a Century, though most don’t have any knowledge or interest in the world of Anne, either Montgomery’s original creation or this re-imagining for a new century, but I’ll keep writing them anyway.

Here’s to all the Anne and Gilbert fans out there. What will this new season bring in the journey of their relationship?

How to be happy and content with oneself and still the possibility of finding true love with another?

I ask myself those last questions, those I posed after Season Three, Episode One, to myself all the time.

Also, I decided to go from most recent episode re-cap to the previous week’s recap here on the blog. I will return with Episode Three next week, here, but I’ve moved from Facebook to this blog because I want to catalog these and yet most people on Facebook know nothing of Anne with an E and could really care less and won’t bother to read, especially the longer my recaps end up being.

Maybe, after reading my recap here and after checking out the scene from YouTube I included above, both fans of the original Anne story and non fans alike might be curious enough to watch an episode. I say, to Anne fans everywhere, give this new adaptation a chance. I didn’t regret it. You might not either.

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TToT: The Mercurial April of 2018 – Foreshadowing Farce, #10Thankful

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

—Maya Angelou

This week, all of Canada is mourning loss of life, young and promising players, in a horrific bus crash in Saskatchewan.

Ten Things of Thankful

I am thankful that all of Canada has come together in a time of grief.

A GoFundMe page has been set up, which has already raised over 4 million dollars for families and survivors, and Justin Trudeau visited the injured. With all the bad in the world, even in moments of shock and loss, I feel better to sense a coming together of my country, from coast to coast to coast.

‘Hockey stands with you’: Condolences, support pour in for Humboldt Broncos | CBC Sports

I am thankful that hockey is what it is, means what it means to so many Canadians, even if not always especially and specifically for me.

From small town teams to the NHL, support to those (on and off the team affected) has been swift and strong.

https://ca.gofundme.com/funds-for-humboldt-broncos

I’m thankful for an angel who is going to leave something behind in tragedy, to be able to at least help someone go on, in good health again.

Lethbridge hockey player’s organs to be donated after fatal Humboldt Broncos bus crash | CBC News

I read that one of the young men recently signed his donor card. This is a tough subject, but as the sister of someone who five years ago received a kidney from another person lost, I know the other side, that the side of organ donation.

I don’t have a clue about the tragic side of having to let go like that, but to know a gift is being given, I can’t pretend I don’t recall that relief I felt for my brother’s sake and for my own.

I don’t know what else to say. It’s one of the hardest things any person could experience, I’m sure. Still, I had to speak up about it, to include it in this list.

I’m thankful for beautiful art that remains after death.

One of the fifteen killed was not only a hockey player, but he could make brilliant music on the piano. (See performance link above.)

I will start and end this TToT post, speaking of music, but as things must and do go on…

I’m thankful I got a sudden call that a cancelation came up for me to get a physical therapy appointment finally.

I’ve been waiting for this call for over a year now.

I’m thankful the therapist took the time to go through my lengthy medical history with me.

It took up her whole allotted hour. We didn’t even have time to get to any stretches.

I’m thankful she plans to educate herself, to read up on my rare syndrome, before our next appointment.

I am thankful for the smooth and textured needs of two new bracelets.

Some are smooth, but other parts are made up of lava stone. They have tiny grooves in them and you’re supposed to drip the smallest drop of essential oil on them. Then, I can have a gentle and soothing touch of scent against the skin of my wrist, wherever I go.

My cousin, who runs a hair salon, also sells handmade items, such as jewelry and things. I like to shop, supporting local makers.

I’m thankful I got to attend my violin teacher’s masters recital.

I met her family after and they, along with her friends and other students/teachers, were all so proud of her, including this one student of hers in particular.

So many people, all there to support her. She has worked at it nearly all of her life. Her skill has taken years to develop. I will miss her and everything she’s done for me, once she moves on for further education, but this show was outstanding.

I was in a mood all that day, before her show that night. I don’t know what it was or why. I kind of wonder if it wasn’t me, feeling anxious and nervous, for her sake. I get more nervous for others more than for myself, if possible, when someone I know or care about is going to be tested or performing in front of people, like when my brother plays guitar.

This time, I am not sure, maybe it was just a bad day. Then, when I sat down, the song she played on her violin seemed to calm me, changing my mood and reducing my anxiety. The song was something I’d really never heard before. It was abrupt and anxious sounding, but it seemed to put, into music, the exact feelings I’d been experiencing. It took it all down several notches and I felt like it expressed precisely how I’d felt.

I’m thankful for not only a piece of music that speaks to me, but also a passage in a book.

This one is from A Wrinkle In Time. I read it and it brought together the elements of my own head, the themes that have been with me most of my life, something deep inside, of which I’ve put into my own song lyrics in the past. I’ve even dreamt this sensation:

“This movement, she felt, must be the turning of the earth, rotating on’ its axis, traveling its elliptic course about the sun. And this feeling of moving with the earth was somewhat like the feeling of being in the ocean, out in the ocean beyond this rising and falling of the breakers, lying on the moving water, pulsing gently with the swells, and feeling the gentle, inexorable tug of the moon.”

From the moon to the sea…RIP to those lost and deepest condolences to all those who’ve lost loved ones.

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I Don’t Like Hockey, #AtoZChallenge

I am proud to be Canadian, but I do not like hockey.

Gc7K7g2.jpg

They’ll be showing me the door any day now, for that confession, but I just had to get that off my chest.

The A to Z Challenge – C is for Canada

This is a preview of any Canada Day post I may still write for July 1st, but it is a bit of a tricky subject, this year especially.

I am staying random, as this is my first A to Z year, but writing about the things I love is a good way for anyone who is new to this blog, for them to get to know me better.

Canada is celebrating our 150th birthday, but not everyone is so thrilled about that.

There were people living on this land before 1867 and they don’t like feeling like before that year of
Confederation
they didn’t exist. I don’t blame them.

My ancestors came here a long time ago, but it simply can’t compare.

I am glad my ancestors came here. I like living here. I need to see more of it.

Canada made the list for happiest countries in the world. We cracked the top 10 and I would have to agree.

World Happiness Report

Lots of people complain, and their lived experiences are probably a lot different than mine. I am one of the lucky ones.

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Good Times Had By All, #SoCS

Have a headache today, so not having much fun on this one:

#SoCS

but guess who had some fun this week?

A Friend To Count On

Barack Obama and the US hosted a state dinner for my country, Canada, and Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie and their children who were also in attendance in Washington, D.C. this week.

It was the first one in over twenty years. Our last prime minister wasn’t, in my opinion, anywhere as interesting, warm, or willing to have an open dialogue with our neighbours to the south. Not sure why, what the reason, if that, for why it didn’t happen between Harper and Bush, but the last one was between Bill Clinton and Jean Chretien in the mid 90s.

There are articles talking about Obama and Trudeau developing a “bromance”, which I think is a little silly, but I am pleased to hear the way they spoke to one another, were light and making jokes back and forth about our two countries and their battle over hockey.

The two leaders appeared to have a ball together, as did their wives. The two families seem to get along well, the two men seeing the world in the same way, in many many areas of life.

Often Canada seems like it goes unnoticed by the US and we are known as the United State’s well behaved younger sibling. Nothing exciting happens here in Canada, compared to the US, but I like it that way frankly.

For example, I am glad Canada’s elections last year were a fraction of the length and circus that appears to be the case for the US for the 2016 election cycle. We aren’t taken as seriously, but I am proud of the friendship that was visible in all the newspapers and on the news this week.

Who knows what will be going on in the US a year from now. My prime minister was asked about a possible Trump presidency and he was very tactful about it, refusing to say much, choosing his words very carefully.

The dinner was like some fancy dream ball. I don’t know why Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively were chosen to represent Canada, when I think I would have been a much better choice, but I wasn’t even considered for a possible invitation.

Hmm. What’s that all about anyway?

What will this do for Canada/US relations? Will anything of substance between the two countries get done, as Obama is nearly finished in the White House?

I could say a lot, using the word “ball” or variations on the word, when talking about my feelings about all that’s going on with the US, in the news lately, but I chose to focus on the ball that was had, the good times had by all this week, instead of the uncertainty that looms.

Stream of Consciousness Saturday

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TToT: 1000 Voices, 1000 Goodbyes – Stardust and Lilies, #10Thankful

“As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses. … I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death,” said Professor Severus Snape.

–Harry Potter

Unfortunately, this is fiction and Alan Rickman wasn’t so lucky this past week. Neither was David Bowie or Celine Dion’s long-time manager and husband, Rene Angelil.

Cancer is a bitch!

Since I can’t think of a less thankful item, when this whole week cancer has been in the news, I will just focus on some things I am thankful for.

TEN THINGS OF THANKFUL

For the gifts, talents, and art left behind, even when the creators of these things are lost to us all.

I have never been a huge David Bowie fan. I missed the boat, all throughout the 70s and when he was first making his mark.

I think, for better or for worse, not being able to see Bowie is part of why I am unable to totally grasp what a unique statement he made. This isn’t to say I don’t believe he was talented, as I can tell from the outpouring of tributes since his death how much of an impression he made on the world of music and more. I did have my favourite Bowie songs though, for sure.

Modern Love – David Bowie

For art, even when it is frightening, sad, or painful to watch.

Some forms of art and creative expression are understood, fully, only by the original producers of that piece of art, but that’s perfectly okay.

I’m just thankful there are those who are free, who feel comfortable enough to express it.

For a very special one-year anniversary, not a relationship or marriage, but still a happy one, unlike the deaths I started this TToT out with.

We Are One

The first time so many bloggers and writers all got together on the same day (the 20th of the month) to write about compassion was not until next month, but this was the day the idea first started to take shape.

I am so thankful it did. I am so thankful the original creators thought up the idea in the first place. I keep thanking them, but it’s because I am so much more better off since they decided to make a difference in this way

For the chance to stay with my brother again.

brianportrait-2016-01-17-11-43.jpg

It will take a while before I will run out of these because every time I do something with him, even and especially those things we’ve done many times before, I can be grateful that he recovered and we are still able to have all the fun we’ve always had together.

I go to hang out with him, for visits, and it’s always a lot of fun.

This one is not only my thankful. His friend is thankful that they can play music together again.

Trusty Fox – Whiskey and Beer

I am including a link to some music of theirs, which was just put up on YouTube.

For a good piece of pizza.

May be hard to believe, but it’s not as easy to find as it sounds.

First-world thankful right there, but pizza can be a comfort, at a rough moment, especially when eaten with loved ones.

For those loved ones.

yousophiaandkimatthechocolatefountain-2016-01-17-11-43.jpg

I know I am lucky to have them and I am reminded of this at the worst of life’s moments.

I just hope they know they have me, my support, anytime they need it and to not hesitate to reach out, whenever they need anything, anything at all.

For the life of a brilliant performer and the life he brought, on screen, to a certain literary character.

Alan Rickman passed away this week, from cancer, and I am grateful he played the role of Severus Snape, in the Harry Potter films, eight times, not to mention all the other wonderful roles he played during his lifetime.

Read my tribute to Rickman here.

It isn’t always easy to have a character from literature come alive in just the right way when the film of the book comes out, but Rickman WAS Snape. I owe him for that because he made a beautiful dream come true/to life just a little bit more for me, and that’s worth my gratitude here.

For a win for NHL team Chicago Blackhawks.

My brother and his wife were looking forward to this night out together, just the two of them, and I couldn’t think of two people who deserve it more.

I am not a big hockey fan, but my brother loves this team. He deserved to see his team win this time.

For another excellent exercise in creativity and creative writing.

I wanted to attend this particular one because it is being held by a fairly local writer, a Canadian author, whose blog I read regularly and whom I met, for the first time, last year at one of her

author readings/book signing.

Check out one description of what art is, from the writer who held the workshop from my final TTOT of this week, as she uses David Bowie’s final music video as her reference.

On Lazarus, David Bowie’s last-released video

And that is why I love her writing so much.

Speaking of love.

For love. Yes, simply, for love.

It is precisely why I plan to devote the whole of next month to the subject here.

I see it all around me, between couples, families, friends, and even from fans. It is powerful and it is ever-lasting, in one way or another. It’s at the heart of so much of what we do and who we are. It offers hope and makes life worth living.

I may choose to wait to talk exclusively about it on this blog until February, the month known for romance, but I write about it now, when times are toughest because it’s right now when I feel we could all use it most.

My Heart Will Go On

Rest in peace, all those we’ve lost this week, may they be spouses, fathers, or grandfathers.

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Statuesque, #SoCS

Middle of October and it’s getting colder, but “still” not done with fall yet.

Another Saturday and guess what time it is?

SoCS

And guess what the stream of consciousness word is today:

http://lindaghill.com/2015/10/16/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-oct-1715/

You STILL don’t know?

🙂

Well then…read on.

It’s Saturday and that means it will soon be time for Hockey Night In Canada. I know I am Canadian, but I take baseball over hockey any day. I prefer the slower pace of baseball over the fast paced slapstick, scraping sounds on the ice. It’s time for transition from summer, to fall, to winter.

I remain still, more often than I probably should. Still as a…well, I wouldn’t want to become known for using too many cliches.

Let’s just say that my mind is hardly ever standing still, even if my body is. I see myself running, not writing, not staying still so much, but only if it could keep my mind from running ahead of the rest of me.

People tell me I should learn and practice meditation, if I want to still my thoughts a little. I guess they are right.

I can’t stop the thoughts from running amuck. They bombard me, like my own thoughts are clubbing me over the head. Yeah, just try and picture that. Strange image I know.

I love autumn. I love the crunching leaves, after they’ve fallen. I can’t see them fall, but I know they have because I step on them and hear them as they dry out on the cold ground.

But although many here in Canada like hockey but dislike the cold winters, I tend to look forward to them. The stillness of a winter night, as the snow drifts down, in flakes to the frozen earth is the only time my whole body can catch up with itself, to truly feel as still as the snow.

I keep getting rejections. Oh, poor me, right? In my life, in my writing, I grow tired of them all, but I need to write, to love, to find the sort of peace that stillness brings.

I’m still standing. I won’t let anything knock me down for long.

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Speeding Up and Slowing Down

“Speeding, ‘cause it feels good.”
—Lights

Lights, Speeding, on YouTube

For the first full week of January and the new year I have moved passed writing a round-up of my 2014 goals and achievements. This is a different post entirely, but let me start here.

I took on a lot of firsts in 2014 and a lot of things I’d always wanted to do and try: started a blog, began writing on a consistent basis (facing rejection and learning I could survive its many forms), walking around the outside edge of Toronto’s CN Tower, and making the leap of starting something for myself and my future with a travel website.

I wouldn’t be able to call skating one of those firsts, but it has been on my bucket list for many years now. Before 2014 would end I would be back on that ice, for the first time in more than twenty years.

***

Out in our back yard (which seemed huge enough to me already), over the fence, through the field, and then we were there.

During the winters, when the snow covered the ground, we would all walk back and back, my younger brother often pulled on a sled, until we arrived at the frozen pond: our frozen pond.

It was our family’s own private skating rink. I have only vague memories of it now, not so clear yet never totally forgotten.

There was the box, on the sled, my baby brother would sit in beside the ice. He hadn’t learned how to skate, but there was always his boots. I marvelled at the fact that this surface was so hard and thick, that we were able to skate over it, water beneath our feet. This all seemed magical to a five-year-old, but first the built-up layer of snow had to be shovelled off and this seemed to take forever, when all I wanted to do was skate.

I probably remember more the lengthy bit of tape devoted to one of these family skates in particular we have captured on record on our home movies.

Okay, so every time we’d watch, my brother and I would fast-forward past this part. It was long and all we could really make out were shrieks and calls of our siblings and the friends skating that day. I was there, sure, but I could never spot myself on the screen, having less sight than I did as a younger child.

I think I was skating, but all I could hear was the scraping sound of the skates on the pond’s icy surface…oh, and my baby brother, at the time, screaming and crying in his buggy. I could detect, even as I fast-forwarded, the dimness on screen, as we continued to skate and the evening grew darker. We had to stop and walk back home then.

I don’t remember my first time on skates, but I think I became pretty practiced at it and it was something I enjoyed as a child, for the first ten or so years of my life.

We used to go to family skates and I would go with school. I would race around the rink, holding onto someone mostly, with the music playing through the speakers. I must have grown quite comfortable with the motion and the movement.

Then one day, something happened that would be the beginning of the end of my love of skating.

My braille teacher came with my class and I for one of those class skating trips. She offered to skate with me and off we went, me holding onto her and then suddenly, down she went …

I remember the ambulance arriving and picking her up off the ice, whisking her away to the hospital. Visiting her there, her and her broken ankle.

“They were skating and Mrs. M fell,” the other girls in my class repeated. “Kerry was skating with Mrs. M and she fell and broke something. She hurt herself. Kerry pulled her down.”

Just girls being girls. I don’t recall for sure if they blamed me directly, or if it had been simply an accusatory tone I heard in their voices. We were eight after all, but I heard them talking there, off the ice, in the stands, as we waited to return to school.

I felt guilty for what happened and I felt responsible. Had I done this terrible thing? It was an accident, wasn’t it? No matter how many people assured me, then and since that time that I had nothing to do with it, something about it stuck with me all these years.

Over time it became less and less about family skates and more about hockey games, our family time at the arena. My brother played for a few years and my younger brother (who never really got the opportunity to skate) and I would spend most of our time in the warm room with the concession stand, eating pop corn and drinking slushies.

I would get sick with kidney failure soon after that and was in no real state for skating.

I still remember the fun of skating and, although not much of a lover of hockey, I would occasionally turn to a game being played on TV and listen to those familiar scraping sounds of the players skating madly around the rink.

My father played hockey. I am Canadian and hockey, to most Canadians, is a pretty big deal. I see the cultural pride and feel my share, somewhere deep down.

For a long time I used to watch figure skating on TV, imagining I’d stuck with skating and had become a figure skater like those leaping and twirling athletes I would watch. Figure skating was one of the sports I was able to see clearly enough on television. I would stare hard at the figure skaters, spinning and zooming around, imagining how much fun it must be.

For twenty or more years I have wanted to try it again, to step out on that ice, but never made it happen. Then, I got a new pair of skates for Christmas and it seemed like a good family activity for us all, now that my niece is starting to learn.

I wondered if I could even stand up on skates now. A lot of time has passed and I am no longer that nimble kid. I have terrible balance and my ankles often turn over on the smallest unevenness in the sidewalk. Could I skate anymore? Would I fall on my butt immediately? Would I even be able to move, even a little? I had to find out.

Last year I was starting to seek out those things I wondered if I could do, just to find out for certain. I had been looking for thrills and wanting to try new things, or at least newish. Twenty years seemed like a lifetime ago. What did I have to lose?

I jumped at my first chance, when my uncle offered, to come to a private party skate. Perfect. The rink wouldn’t be packed like during a public skate. I could get my bearings and there wouldn’t be as many people there to see me fall.

I loved the security of the way the skate felt as it was tightened and the laces pulled, fitting snugly around my ankles. the skates seemed to keep my rolling ankles in check and held firmly in place. I stood up and began, one foot in front of the other, to walk in my new skates from the change rooms to the ice. I was surprised at how easy it was to walk on skates.

I loved it immediately. The memories came bak to me as I felt the cool air on my face and saw the bright white of the ice. I always liked that I could see dark shapes of people against the glaringly bright background.

I held on for dear life to the edge of the boards as I took my first steps onto the ice in more than twenty years. I loved to smell the fresh coolness of the rink, that smell I always loved and never forgot.

I had no immediate plans of letting go of the side, but right away I felt something familiar as I began to get the feel of the ice again. I followed the side along, relearning how to move and propel myself forward on these seemingly thin blades. I listened to the scraping noises of the other skaters and I suddenly had the urge to release my hold by the open door and go go go.

I held onto the boards, onto my sister, onto my father. He and I began to skate, him taking my hands and then he was skating backwards. The first fall of the night. He and I were talking and he did not notice the hockey net sitting there on the ice. He backed into it and we both fell. I landed on my knees, getting slightly entangled in his legs. He took the brunt of the fall, but something flashed me back to being eight years old and my poor teacher going down.

My father stood up painfully, my sister rushed over, and the both of them helped me up. I clung to the boards once more, feeling nauseated and dizzy. I knew he was okay and hadn’t broken anything, that once more I hadn’t been responsible for anything, but I was immediately brought back to the past and I felt as close to a panic attack as I’ve ever felt.

Finally I could move again and I began to slowly make my way around by holding onto the side. The skate was almost over and I took my chance, just in case we did not return with the rest of the family the next day. I let go and moved a little distance from the side, but still close enough that I could grab on if I needed to. I had to learn how to move my feet, how fast to go and how to slow myself down and stop. I tried to learn how to keep my balance and how to distribute my body weight.

I moved a little and then I went down, hard, on my behind. This was okay. It was painful, but I was proud that I had taken the chance. Maybe skating with another person would be a good idea, for a while still, but I continued to yearn for the freedom of skating, fast and with confidence, all by myself.

So you might fall, I told myself. So what. Life is like that. You can go through it, never letting go of the safety of the side, or you can let go and see what happens.

Even with the falls and the flashbacks I felt a high as we left the rink and headed for home. I felt strangely exhilarated. I had felt a familiar feeling of comfort. I had felt at home, like an old memory. Muscle memory of some kind. It came back to me, like when you learn something from such an early age. It always stays with you and helps you as you grow older. I felt, even with the ever-present risk of falling, that I was home again.

It seemed, this time, like a much longer and farther distance to fall than as a child. If nothing is risked nothing is gained, I told myself to push this thought out of my head. I never wanted to leave that rink.

We returned the next day and this time I had my older brother too. I felt a certain certainty in skating with both my father and my brother. They were both tall and sturdy. They had a comfort on skates that I could feel the moment I held onto them and we began to round the rink, the side feet away and me loving the feeling.

I noticed how good it felt to work up the sweat, under my thick winter coat, the rink not even feeling cold anymore. It was a good natural high of moving forward on the ice. I wanted to speed around and around the ice, like everyone else there. I wanted to skate and skate and never stop skating. If I slowed down I wanted to keep moving again.

I was actually glad I had fallen. The next day I did not fall once. I took the risk of broken bones because I felt a sense of rightness and like I was somewhere I belonged and where had I been all this time?

It’s hard to feel comfortable and really go for it when I am at a public skate, with people whizzing by all the time. I think back to our private pond now and wish I were back there, on a silent snowy night.

I want to be able to skate and to practice and get better. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to me, childhood traumas notwithstanding. I am home. Skating is ingrained in my memory, part of my past, and hopefully, my future.

I want to make skating a yearly family tradition around the holidays, something we can do together. A totally Canadian pastime for all of us to enjoy. I can and always have handled falling down, as long as I have them there when I get back up.

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Memoir Monday

The Year I Almost Missed Christmas

The year I almost spent Christmas in the ER.

I’d been on dialysis for nearly six months. Christmas was a mere few days away, but something wasn’t right.

I began feeling ill and something going on in my abdomen grew steadily worse and worse, the pain growing and building.

I spent most of my time downstairs, in our basement, covered in an afghan to stay warm. Grandparents and visitors stopping by for the season, a loving hand tucking the knitted blanket tightly around my trembling arms.

I had come up against all the unforeseen secondary medical issues any doctor could have predicted on the list since starting dialysis in the summer: losing an eye in the process. What more could go wrong? What could this be?

Each evening my mother would go through the checklist: turn on dialysis machine by bed, unwrap and lay out all the necessary tubing and medical supplies, make sure machine was going and the bags of dialysis fluid were placed on the machine and warming up, and finally to commence safety measures to prevent any spreading of germs.

I was on peritoneal dialysis, overnight while I slept. It was a repeated cycle of fluid inserted into my abdomen and then removed, as a way of clearing out toxins. Kidney failure treatment was supposed to be making me feel better. It had been, but not now.

My stomach began to cramp up as the machine began the first cycle. The fluid, on my mother’s inspection, appeared to be a cloudy colour. This, yes while unpleasant to imagine, meant infection.

It was comforting to have doctors on-call anytime, day or night and now only a day or two before Christmas. They told us to come into the emerge right away.

My father was away by the time I had gotten to bed, one of his men’s hockey league nights. We drove to the nearby town where the arena was and switched vehicles with him, not wanting to rely on his old Trans Am to get us all the way there.

My brother came along for support. It was into the front seat of the low-to-the-ground car, ten minute drive to arena, out of low front seat and into the family van. Not so easy in my condition. Stomach hurting so much with the unsuccessful attempt at a PD run earlier.

The whole way to the hospital my big brother sat in the middle seat of the van, holding me up and secure to all the bumps and the jolts. By this time the pain in my stomach was getting even more intense.

Finally we made it to the hospital and I was taken right in, given a bed and a curtain to close off the rest of the hustle and bustle of the overnight ER.

I spent a few hours on that bed as I was given antibiotics to try and stop the infection, through my abdominal catheter, same procedure as any other night’s dialysis routine.

We returned home, early on the morning of Christmas Eve and I spent the next few days horizontal.

First my brother and I both collapsed on opposite ends of the L-shaped living room couch, exhausted from the excitement of the previous night.

I had no idea what it was going to require in that emerge, so close to Christmas 1996 and if I would make it back in time to celebrate with my family. In the end I spent a somewhat uncomfortable Christmas Day, opening presents, grateful for dialysis and it’s many surprises (often unpleasant) but still necessary.

This holiday season I reflect on that particular Christmas and so many more, while I appreciate the almost twenty years that I’ve been dialysis free since that terrible, memorable night.

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Book Reviews, Guest Blogs and Featured Spotlights, Writing

Review of Interference by Michelle Berry

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Today I am pleased to welcome to the blog, author of short stories and novels, Michelle Berry. She is here to promote her latest, Interference, published this month by ECW Press, and I was honoured when she agreed to also let me interview her about her books, this one in particular, and about writing. I knew I could use this opportunity to learn something about writing from an expert in her field.

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1. Did you always want to be an author? Did you write as a child? I grew up in a house full of literature and art. My mother is an artist, my father is a now-retired English Professor. So I always wrote. I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer. It was just part of me. Part of who I am. I wrote a lot as a child — journals, diaries, stories, even novels. My father and I wrote (and I also illustrated) a children’s book called, “Sailing the Deep Blue Sea” when I was about five years old. It’s quite catchy.

2. What was your first break in your writing career? I would say the first “break” was when Turnstone Press accepted my first short story collection. I was about 7 months pregnant AT the time and thought I’d given birth that second as I jumped up and down screaming. I first published in high school, though (a high school anthology called, “Unicorns Be” )— so that was my first publication. And before Turnstone Press I did publish in quite a few literary magazines (“Perhaps?”, “Blood & Aphorisms,” “The Malahat Review,” etc), so I got a lot of “first breaks.”

3. How do you handle the rejection that goes along with being a writer? I’m still trying to handle it. There is always rejection. Always. No matter how much you publish, how famous you are, how well-received you are, etc.. I’m sure Alice Munro still writes stories that need editing and aren’t immediately loved the minute they are finished. Maybe. I think. I handle rejection by getting first really sad and mournful (“No one loves me,” “I’ll never write again.”), but then I suddenly become angry (“What do they know anyway?”) and that’s what fuels the desire to keep writing, that’s what fuels the work, that’s what makes me a better writer. Writing is all about rejection and loneliness. I tell my students this, but they don’t believe me. They think it’s all chocolates and feather boas.

4. Where did the idea for this novel come from? It creeped up on me. It’s loosely based on quite a few things in my life. My daughter was the same age as Becky and Rachel (characters) when I was writing it, there is a big tree across the street from me, the school had sent home a letter saying that someone was stalking children in the neighborhood, I do play women’s house league hockey, my husband and a friend were going through cancer and treatment, etc.. But it’s one of those things where I combined all that was going on and heightened it, morphed it, faded it, played with it. I wrote around it and through it. Created a story. Used my imagination.

5. What is your daily writing routine? Lately I’ve been teaching so much (I teach online at U of T, online at Humber College and in-class at Trent University), that I don’t have much of a routine. But I usually try for an hour or so a day of good writing — or at least one or two days a week. Last year I rented an office for six months downtown and I would teach Monday to Wednesday and then do nothing but write for eight hours a day Thursday and Friday. It was wonderful.

6. Which character from Interference is most like you? Which one is least like you? Most like me: Maria (sadly, I don’t want to be like her — but she has all my faults — a bad back, kind of ornery to her husband (sorry!), clean freak, worried all the time). Least like me: Dayton (stylish, beautiful, but damaged). Although, to be truly honest, all of the women are a mesh of me — Trish’s behavior when she ducks behind the couch when there is a knock at the door (me!), Claire’s thoughts on death, on cancer. Even Ralph wandering through the snow in his slippers — he has a bit of my melancholy.

7. What is your experience with the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council? I’ve had a few grants over the years. They do a wonderful service. I’ve been on juries for them. Love them both.

8. I have seen a lot of debate on what makes someone an author and when to call them a writer. Do you see a difference in the two and when would you say it’s appropriate to use either one? Yes, I’ve been hearing a bit about that lately too. I’m not sure what I think. I always thought of myself as both author and writer and used the terms interchangeably. But I think “author” is becoming a hoity-toity thing to be these days (not sure I agree with that). I don’t know. I’m both, I guess. I am the author of books that I have written and the writer of books that I have authored. How’s that?

9. How would you define literary fiction as a genre? Good question. My students never seem to understand what literary fiction is — to me it’s fiction that leaves more to your imagination than any other genre writing does. So things aren’t explained and told and shown with such detail. It is subtle and intelligent and often has underlying meaning all through. But it can also be fun and wild — it doesn’t have to be stodgy at all. I consider my fiction to be literary. I don’t go into detail about scenery and appearances. I don’t tell you that a character is feeling blue (I hope), I try instead to show it through how that character moves and talks and acts. I try to give the reader a scene or situation he/she can interpret in his/her own way.

10. Community is the setting of this novel. What sort of neighbourhood did you grow up in and did that come into your writing of this fictitious neighborhood? This is more my neighborhood now rather than the neighborhood I grew up in. It’s an amalgamation of the street I live on presently and of the neighbors and community around me now. Sort of. But it’s fiction.

11. What does the photo album with the circus postcards in main character Tom’s childhood basement illustrate about Tom and his character or the themes of this book? I debated having actual “freak” photographs in the book. But it didn’t work (too costly to do and might seem gimmicky). Tom learns a lot about appearance and about how we all see the world through those postcards and his interest in them. I guess I was trying to say that we all judge all the time, we have our own opinions and views — but we aren’t always right. There are many sides to every issue. People we think are scary because of their appearance, might not be the scary ones. They might be the good ones. Tom sort of sees this by the end of the book — the old saying, “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

  1. You teach writing and have had success with short story collections and novels. What would you say to anyone hoping to have a career as an author? Don’t do it! No, just kidding. It’s an infuriating business as you are always scrambling to find freelance or teaching work in order to pay for the time you need to write the book. Because of this you never have time to actually write. But I guess the two best pieces of advice I can give are:1. Be a reader. Read all the time. Read the kinds of books you want to write. And think about how they are written and why they were written and what they do for you. And then write. And, 2, write because you have to. Don’t write to get published or “be famous” or — hilariously — “to be rich.” You might as well decide to be a famous actress at the same time. Write because your story is important to you, because it’s all you can do not to write. Because you need to write more than anything. And then get a paying job!

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I thought “Interference” refreshingly unique (letters and emails sprinkled throughout), starting with a letter home from the school to the parents. Throughout the novel more letters and emails are sent and received. A Cease and Desist order from Build-A-Bear Workshop and the women’s hockey team announcements. There are angry and threatening messages from one spouse to another. A question is posed by a son to his parents about the past. A short correspondence takes place to the director of the men’s shelter and one to a woman who volunteers for an organization driving cancer patients to their appointments.

Michelle Berry’s “Interference” is what good literary fiction should be, a gripping contemporary literary fiction story which forces the reader to think about the deeper questions in life and the things that ultimately interfere with the status quo.

She poses these questions in terms such as: “We’re all a little strange. We’re all different.”

“Life is not fair; life and death.”

“It’s good to have something to look forward to.” This line really did sum things up nicely for me.

I pondered all these things as I was introduced to the people and the families living in and around the neighbourhood of Parkville.

On Edgewood Drive the story opens. A man and his wife rake leaves on an autumn day, while their twelve-year-old daughter plays basketball with the neighbour girl across the street. Berry puts us directly in the mind and thoughts of Tom and his prejudices are laid bare almost immediately when a stranger with a hideous scar across his face wanders into the yard, offering to help rake.

Tom is influenced strongly by being a husband, a father, and a son and has seemingly forgotten himself in the process. I was automatically drawn in by Tom’s memory of an old album full of faded postcards of circus freaks, high up on a shelf in his grandfather’s basement. Does this memory mean anything more or is it simply an example of the sort of judgement that goes on by people against others who are different, in neighbourhoods and towns everywhere?

The man with the terribly disfigured face. The creepy bald man in the brown suit. The still stranger in the dark hoodie watching the schoolyard that only Tom’s daughter Becky has seen. The teenaged boy sitting up in the stands every Wednesday evening who watches the women’s hockey league play. The slow boy who acts inappropriately and hangs around the playground at the school after hours.

Pedophile rings and child porn. Someone is stocking around backyards and peering in windows. Kidnapping and cancer scares. The unpredictable and spurned husband who could show up at anytime.

I see it as the kids vs. the adults in a way. Children vs. adults. Men vs. women. Husbands vs. wives. Each group has their own battles, issues, and things going on that they don’t or can’t necessarily talk to anyone else about.

The women of the neighbourhood interact different with one another during their Wednesday night games and in the dressing room than they do off the ice and during their interactions in their homes and with their spouses, children, and next door neighbours, back on Edgewood Drive.

Just off this idyllic street the ones on the fringe peer in on suburbia and can’t help looking in on what they could have had and probably never will. I was constantly on edge to see who would survive through the winter unscathed.

Michelle Berry provides a glimpse into all kinds of people and she leaves me to wonder how things aren’t always what they seem at first glance. I wanted the residents of Parkville to learn something about their neighbours, themselves, and those different, but no less deserving of a little understanding and acceptance and I came away from reading this novel having learned something about those things myself.
That, to me, is the mark of a well-thought-out and touching view of humanity wrapped up in a well-crafted literary fictional package.

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Interference Blog Tour Schedule:

Monday, August 4: Laurie’s Not the Worst

Wednesday, August 6th: Obscure CanLit Mama

Thursday, August 7th: Cozy Up With a Good Read

Friday, August 8th: Feisty Little Woman

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I want to thank Michelle B and Michelle M for giving me a chance to take part in the blog tour.
Michelle Berry’s Interference is published this month by ECW Press, Toronto. Check it out

Here,

or

on Amazon.

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