Third Excerpt from my Novel, The Monarchs

Having travelled to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, on many occasions, I had clear ideas of how to write my book The Monarchs and what to include.

San Miguel attracts wealthy North Americans who do not want the party atmosphere of certain Mexican cities but who also want a temperate climate all year round. They are also attracted to the blend of both local and expatriate peoples and the town’s reputation as a revered art colony.

In parts of the book, I ridicule the aging North American population that has made its home in SMA but this should not be seen as offensive, seeing that I am becoming one of them myself.

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Here is a snippet from the novel:

They walked into the Teatro Santa Maria with some tredpidation. They were there to hear a talk on the monarchs but they also wanted to avoid any interaction with the Whities who they suspected would be attending in droves.

They showed an expression of something like horror when they entered a buzzing, crowded lecture room.

“I thought all of these guys would have heard this lecture a million times,” Sharon said out of the corner of her mouth.

There was an eerie, noticeable awareness of their entering the room as at least one-third of the heads turned to acknowledge them. Countless white heads of hair bobbed up and down in greeting. Teeth smeared with errant paths of lipstick flashed smiles at them. Wrinkled claws waved half-heartedly. Leathery necks craned at impossible angles. People muttered to each other.

“Are we now the last pairing needed for Bridge?” Sharon asked.

“Just pretend you don’t know how to play.”

“Oh sure. That’ll give ‘em the excuse to stay with us longer so that they can teach us.”

The novel is very heartfelt, based upon actual occurrences. We can only write so well. We can live even better.

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Scary World for 4-Year-Olds

I work in an elementary school where kindergarten children assault and swear at their classmates and teachers on a weekly basis. Accident reports take up a lot of the teachers’ time and suspensions occur regularly.

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Let’s just contemplate the reality of this for a minute: These are 4- and 5-year-old children!

Many of us question why, at such an early age, a child would contain so much rage and hostility. What could possibly be happening in their lives to initiate this anger?

We all talk of inclusivity in schools and this is mostly a good thing. We do not shun students according to race, culture, socio-economic backgrounds. Every child in the class gets a piece of the cake when birthdays are celebrated.

However, I believe that this inclusivity has to be looked at carefully from the angle of discipline.

Kids, like everyone else, carry a lot of baggage. They go through rough patches in which parents divorce, among other things. We should be cautious of unusual behaviour because we don’t always know what is going on at home.

But this should not allow us to go easy on kids when using violence. We all get upset but this does not mean we should condone violent or aggressive behaviour.

Not allowing a child to attend a field trip because of unacceptable behaviour should be pushed by the administration more often. After all, there are other children whose lives are being put in danger. Safety issues are big here and should never be overlooked.

These angry children will eventually be adults. What then?

It is a scary world when even the youngest members of society are showing this kind of behaviour.

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Technology Science Fiction

I am astounded by how people have become absorbed in their technological toys. On the bus the other day, I was amazed that a female passenger was even reading a book made of paper. I know I am old-fashioned but I still enjoy the smell and texture of a book in my hands.

The people who text their friends or spy their texts every few minutes may think they are being social. My perception is that people who choose texts over personal connections are actually being anti-social. Texting is not evil in itself; however, it can become an addiction like everything else.

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I live in a condo that has a weight room. I go to the weight room often. It is not unusual for me to see someone lift weights for two minutes, check his texts for three minutes, then continue the pattern. There are also those who multi-task when they ride the exercise bike and check texts at the same time.

I have heard of people having their hands firmly wrapped around their smartphones as they go to the washroom.

Is this what life has come to? Being without communication for five minutes is sending people into fits of anxiety? They cannot even carry out daily routines without getting sick with worry that no one is talking to them?

I foresee a sad-looking future. I foresee people having sex while one hand is poised above their thrusting partner, their phones emitting messages from someone else. It would be like an electronic ménage-a-trois. Maybe they’ll get off faster.

Or fast-paced hockey players cruising down the ice, one hand on their sticks and one on their phone. It may even become named as a brand new sport, the national game of both Canada and Japan. Perhaps even entered as a contest at the Olympics.

Don’t laugh. These are predictions that I will see in my lifetime. I’m good for at least another 20 years.

Which kind of makes me wish sometimes for a zombie apocalypse. To see all the electronics left behind as people flee to the forests.

And maybe actually see the trees.

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The Last Thing on Your Mind

The disappearance of the Malaysian aircraft is on everyone’s mind these days. The sadness of its possible fate and the people who are waiting in agonized patience to hear about their loved relatives seems too much to bear.

I was reminded of a poem that I wrote almost 15 years ago. Here it is:

The Last Thing on Your Mind

I wonder what
Was the last thing on your mind
Before your body, cold from the Atlantic, was pulled from the Atlantic.
Did you die instantaneously?
Or did you debate awhile with the sea?
For we must all, one time or another, argue with God.
In the end, the carefully selected words only stoop to meaninglessness.

Sometimes, the weather summons hail.
One cannot argue with that.

And did you think in that murky, fathomless, foreign place
That you’d ever see my face?
I only hope you went quite quickly.
You had no time to conjure words or thoughts at all.

Sometimes, animals kill their young.
One cannot argue with that.

Did you remember absurdly what and when we ate last?
And when you said to forget the past?
The future was ours; it was reachable.
But we were not stupid enough to know
That dreams do go.

Sometimes, the most beneficent people die.
One cannot argue with that.

Did you die gasping, grasping with no soul around you?
Did you laugh aloud I had not taken the journey, too?
Oh, if I could only know the last thing on your mind,
Then, I might be a little less inclined
To wonder why it was my fault.
And did you think…?

Sometimes, plants grow in the desert?
Sometimes, stars shoot across the sky?
Sometimes, earthquakes claim thousands?
One cannot argue with that.

And sometimes, planes go down.

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The Disappearance of the Butterflies

My novel, The Monarchs, features an older couple who are very much like the butterflies of the title, flitting in and out of their favourite country, Mexico; disturbed by the cold, Canadian winter, and seeking the warmth of the south.

A great deal of the novel has the couple reflecting on the miracle of the migration and wanting to observe the phenomenon one day.

But truth is always stranger than fiction and the events of my novel may soon be only a memory. Will these beautiful butterflies become extinct?

A recent article in the Toronto Star touches on the fact that “the monarch population has dropped to the lowest level since record-keeping began in 1993.”

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Factors affecting the decrease include deforestation of the land to which the monarchs migrate, and the disappearance of milkweed, the butterflies’ only food source.

“After steep and steady declines in the previous three years, the black-and-orange butterflies now cover only 0.67 hectares in the pine and fir forests west of Mexico City” (report by World Wildlife Fund).

Some people do not place the importance of preserving butterflies on the same plateau as preserving certain animals. Having seen the collection of migrated butterflies myself, I certainly do.

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The Joy of Report Cards

Once in awhile, my supply teaching allows me to take a long-term position when a contract teacher is absent for a great amount of time. My most recent scenario has been teaching a split grade 1 and 2 class while the students’ teacher is on a maternity leave.

Therefore, I have had the opportunity to prepare report cards. They are finished now and so are the parent-teacher interviews. I have done them both before; however, there is always something new that I have not experienced before.

This time around, I was safe. No intimidating parents, upset that their child received a lesser grade than expected. No delays in printing the cards. No excessive grammar or spelling issues, pointed out to me by the administration.

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I have this all down to a science now. I assess students throughout the term and so I have a good grasp of what grades will go onto the report cards. Then, I spread my workload over a few days. I am embarrassed to say that the first time I prepared report cards, I placed all the comments (I had over 30 students back then) in one night. I didn’t get to bed until 4:00 a.m. That’s how naïve I was.

Photocopying the report cards (we need a copy for the students’ files) and adding my signature takes at least an hour in themselves.

Report card work is not difficult if we teachers have done our homework (e.g., assessing the students) throughout the term. It is the tedious nature of the work that takes time. I have not always been content with the generic comments we submit. These take away from the personal nature of writing reports. Also, some of the comments appear vague to me. For example, when assessing the students’ Learning Skills (e.g., Organization), we can write N for Needs Improvement, S for Satisfactory, G for Good, and E for Excellent. To me, S and G are equivalent; whereas, we are probably expected to see S as fair.

The teacher in the room next to me was thrown off by a parent whose child received all A’s except a B- for Art. The parent wanted to know why her son only received a B-. Usually, parents are more concerned about marks for Language Arts and Math.

One always has to be ready to defend himself when discussing marks. He can never predict what is going through a person’s head.

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Another Excerpt from my Novel, The Monarchs

In my novel, The Monarchs, a husband and wife are enthralled with the beauty of Mexico. In the following excerpt from the novel, they are coming into San Miguel de Allende for the first time:

If they hadn’t been so familiar with the Mexican lifestyle and customs, they would have convinced themselves they were immersed in the making of a movie. On cue, a mariachi band struck up a chaotic dance song, their bows attacking the strings of their violins. The band was nowhere to be seen but the music seemed to follow the bus like a guardian for a very long time.

A man with a big droopy cowboy hat and faded cowboy boots sauntered by, immune to the activity around him. Sharon admired the guayabera, the shirt he was wearing. The last time they had visited Acapulco, Sharon had bought the crisp, pleated shirt for Robert. Made famous in Cuba, it was a symbol of the well-to-do. Obviously, its popularity had reached Mexico and Robert never failed to proclaim his admiration for the style.

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A husband and wife sat across from a battered table which held an array of cloth dolls, obviously made by the woman who was in the process of constructing another almost with complete abandon as she traded pleasantries with her husband. The dolls reclined in an absurd chorus line, their beautiful dresses dark purple, red, and turquoise.

Nearby, the couple’s miniature child played with a cardboard box twice his size. He would look up at his parents and gurgle loudly to get their attention.

“This is too exotic,” Robert said…

I had hoped to travel to San Miguel this March; however, work has been too busy. I will definitely go there in the summer.

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