Under the Sea

My newest children’s novel, Adrift, contains a section in which a teacher and his student embark on a snorkelling adventure in the Caribbean Sea. Miles from the closest island, they get caught up in a sudden, savage storm and must do some frantic swimming in order to save themselves.

I’ve had some experience with snorkelling and have never found it frightening. In fact, I prefer to be able to see what’s under me in the water, as opposed to brushing my foot against some unknown object beneath me.

But, unlike the characters in my novel, I have never been stranded in the middle of the sea, with no land and no water craft in sight. This situation would surely terrify me. Even the strongest swimmers drown when they panic.

Isla Contoy

In a month, I will be travelling to Isla Mujeres, a small island off the coast of Cancún. I hope to get in some snorkelling out in the sea.

Acquaintances of mine ask me why I would travel to a hot country when Canada is already so warm at this time of year.

Part of the reason is simply that I haven’t been back to Isla Mujeres in 20 years, that I love the place, and that I needed to return. And since I am a teacher, I have more time to travel in the summer.

But the other reason is research.

Part of my book takes place on Isla Mujeres, part of it involves a snorkelling expedition, and part of it involves the extremely volatile weather in Mexico in August.

I am certainly not hoping for any hurricanes when I travel there but I do anticipate weather that changes quite quickly from sun to torrential rain.

One of my colleagues said, “Writers should be able to use their research as tax write-offs.”

I wish.

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Stranded

Imagine being stranded on an island with only one other person: a person you don’t particularly want to be with; not necessarily one you hate, but certainly one who has brought you some hardship.

Isla Contoy
Such is the scenario with Javier, a grade 8 student about to make the rocky transition from elementary school to high school.

During a summer holiday with his mother, a journey partly recognized as an escape from his father’s abuse, Javier goes on a snorkelling adventure off the coast of Cancún. Coincidentally, one of his teachers in Canada, who has often expressed an interest in Mexico, ends up on the same excursion.

Javier and the teacher, Mr. Cameron, are caught up in a norte, one of the infamous storms that lands on parts of Mexico in August. Unfortunately for them, they are in the middle of the Caribbean at the time and are swept by a strong current towards an island.

Cameron recognizes the island, a popular tourist destination because of its bird sanctuary. Due to the rough weather, though, all visits to the island have been cancelled, and there are no other inhabitants besides Javier and Cameron.

Javier’s independence and distrust in authority will not let him be shackled to the ways and ideas of Cameron. But, given the time the two have together, they soon come to understand a little bit about each other.

In fact, Javier learns that Cameron is harbouring a dark secret, one which has changed his view of life drastically.

This story will soon be available in my new YA novel, Adrift (Note: there might be a title change).

Posted in Getting Older, Love and Commitment, Mexican History, Mythology, Parenting, Teaching, Tradition, Travelling | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Last Night I Needed to Dream

Yesterday, I was going through some poetry of mine. I came across a poem I had written five years ago when I was experiencing some health concerns. Thought it was better than most poems I attempt to write. To me, writing poetry is harder than writing anything else. Anyway, have a look:

Last Night I Dreamt Because I Needed to Dream


Last night, I dreamt
Because I needed to dream;
Forced out night and its tireless crusade
To pin me to my bed, hostage.

Youth was a time to dream
And nightfall was a comfort;
A place to stow away
Beautiful things of tomorrow.

But now, alone, I keep the light nearby.
I clutch its bright persistence;
Its artificial company.
Once, alone was comfort.
Now, when edges grow dim with dusk,
I bemoan alone.

Last night, I dreamt
Because I needed to dream.
Morning once came too soon.
Now, it’s like the slow, tortuous descent
Of a drowning man.

To me, the worst thought is to die alone, and not have the body discovered for many days.

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Last Yard Sale

 

My parents will soon be moving to a seniors’ apartment and so they are in the process of downsizing. They have owned their house for my lifetime, 50 years, and it is now up for sale.

On the long weekend, they had a yard sale and members of our family helped out. I have been through this experience before, having moved from a house to a condo, so I know the emotional, exhausting effect it can have on someone. The initial planning of what gets sold and what goes with a person is draining in itself. And then one has to actually move the items physically, watch people paw over them, talk you down in price, and then cart them away.

Why wouldn’t one get emotional?

My parents have had yard sales before, all done in fun, but this one held a special kind of poignancy and my mom and dad showed an obvious weariness as the day progressed.

The next day, our family, complete with nephews and nieces, gathered for a meal. No tears were shed but the interactions, though happy, were edged with the all-knowingness that we wouldn’t be gathering in this house many more times.

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My sister videotaped various combinations of people, the mingling of young and old, and captured rooms of the house in which we had grown up.

Mom emptied her cedar chest and passed on relics of our youth. Last night, when I got home, I went through my collection of school pictures, photos of me wearing glasses and hockey uniforms, and old school assignments.

It was while I was perusing my collection that I got slightly teary.

For my parents but also for me.

For who knows what the future holds and who knew that back then, wearing my hockey jersey and not overly concerned about too much, where my life would be today?

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Like Pollution

 

Beautiful day for a walk.

Bright, warm days always bring people out of the woodwork. That’s not necessarily a good thing because when they’re out there walking around, you can hear them talking. And since iPhones rule the world now, and people can talk aloud into speakers while wearing ear buds, one cannot help but hear their usually inane, frequently irritating conversations.

People-using-smartphones--007

I was within earshot of one such woman for a matter of five minutes. I was walking behind her while she was happily talking to someone she cared about, then I passed her and walked ahead. In that five minutes, I counted the number of times she used the word, like. Ten times!

And I don’t mean in this sense: I like pizza.

More so, I, like, went up to him and, like, he was, like, so cute…

I finally found reprieve in my condo building but the only two people on the elevator were so engaged with their phones that they were like figures who have stared into the eyes of Medusa. They may not have been saying anything aloud, but they resembled zombies.

Which is an interesting observation: that the sudden zombie revitalization seems to have corresponded with the increase in technology.

I wrote a short story about the observation but the judges at the Toronto Star Short Story Contest didn’t seem as excited as I about it.

This is what’s on my mind a lot, a question that is not original only to me: is social media making people less intelligent?

Some people would say no but if you can catch their attention, you might be able to ask them why and have an astute conversation about it.

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An Impatient World

I just got back from eating at The Keg Restaurant.

When I arrived, there were no tables available and I was told I’d have a 10-minute wait so I made my way to the bar and took a seat. I had only been sitting two minutes when a manager-type guy (I won’t describe him; they always look the same) saw me sitting. I guess I looked forlorn because he asked if I had been helped.

keg

“No,” I told him, simply answering the question. I certainly wasn’t complaining.

He seemed shocked. “I’m very sorry that you had to wait,” he said. He took my drink order and said it was on him.

Less than 10 minutes later, a table became available.

I was sitting there less than two minutes when the server came over and apologized that I had been waiting. She took my meal order. I ordered a steak well done but it came red and bloody so I politely asked for it to be sent back and cooked longer.

At the end of the meal, I asked for the bill and noticed that the manager had, indeed, not charged me for the first glass of wine. I flagged my server and told her she could include the charge; I really didn’t mind since I had not been waiting long in the bar to be served.

“Do people actually complain,” I asked her, “when they’ve only been waiting two minutes to be served?”

“Some do,” she said, encouraging me to accept the bill discount because I was as much a customer as those who complained.

Is this what the world is coming to? And am I so surprised that people want instant gratification?

After all, they have to know answers so quickly that their iPhones are out automatically to solve a question that arises. No one seems to believe in mystery any more.

People cannot sit alone, or even be stimulated by the company of friends, before they start playing with their phones.

So maybe restaurants are trying to keep up by serving people as quickly as they can, worrying that they’ll lose customers if they don’t.

I told my server that when I go to restaurants, I like to take my time.

So bring my steak slowly and bring it well done, thank you very much. I didn’t actually say this but if I had, she probably wouldn’t have cared anyway.

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The Writing of Robert Cormier

 

 

I first became fascinated by the writing of Robert Cormier in 1987.

As a component of my Bachelor of Education degree, one of our professors said we had to critique a number of children’s books, including YA literature. I hadn’t read children’s literature in a long time and I was unfamiliar with many of the current writers; however, the professor provided us with a list of well-known books, and told us we could always critique classics.

I did not know who Cormier was at the time and I chose one of his books blindly, I have to admit. The book just happened to be his most famous, The Chocolate War.

The book, to use a cliché, was spellbinding. I kept rooting for the hero, Jerry Renault, to overcome the bullying attitudes presented in his school and I knew – I just knew – he would triumph.

Alas, he doesn’t and the reader is kicked in the shins. There is no happy ending; certainly no sweet revenge for Jerry.

Robert Cormier

This couldn’t be, I assured myself. Being hopeful, I learned that Cormier had written another book, Beyond the Chocolate War.

Of course, I told myself, there had to be a sequel to make up for the devastating ending of the first book.

Kicked in the shins a second time.

But Cormier had managed to hook me all the same and now I have read everything he’s written. Or, at least, published.

Never did find that happy ending.

Cormier stressed that there were rarely happy endings in life and, of course, he was right.

The last book of his that I had not read, I Have Words to Spend, I read a few days ago.

Edited by his wife, the book is a collection of articles, blogs by today’s standards, written for a newspaper and magazine, both of which employed Cormier.

The articles are extremely insightful and thought-provoking. And most of them are incredibly touching, focusing on the man’s love for his family and how he misses the people he cared about and who have died. He uses the word, poignant, a lot and this is appropriate, seeing that the articles are exactly that.

What is most poignant though, is that Robert Cormier died at the end of 2000. Here is a man, alive through his words, speaking of those he loves and loved, and now he has joined the dead. Now it is our turn to contemplate his life and his contributions to life.

In one of the articles, he writes, “…we are constantly mindful of the transient quality of life, how nothing remains, everything changes…that we no sooner arrive than we are leaving.”

I reflect on this quotation and how truly significant it is to the last two blogs I wrote.

Yet, in the same article, Cormier’s tone is slightly more optimistic when he says, “Life renews itself. The arrangements are different but the melody remains. The seasons come and go but they never cease.”

And, in another article, he reminds us of the lack of happy endings in life. But he slips in the hope that shines for all of us, one that made me smile:

“But we can still try for a happy ending, can’t we?”

Having read this collection of memoirs, and grasping how close Cormier was to his wife and children, I think he succeeded in finding a few happy endings.

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