Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dimples - NWW Photo Prompt

This is a post in response to a photo writing prompt from New West Writers. - We're just supposed to write something related to the image or words in the prompt (or related to someone else's story). See their website for more details and to read other entries (hint: check the comments for each prompt). Enjoy!

     The music had carried her away, as it always did. She'd watched his hands move as he played his violin, cradled tenderly between his chin and shoulder. And he had seen her, she knew. When he'd looked up from the front of the stage after his piece, his eyes had flashed in recognition and he'd smiled, the dimples on either side of his mouth deepening momentarily.
     Once, she'd believed they'd be together forever. But it had been almost sixteen years and she hadn't seen him since that terrible night. Until now, when he'd come to find her standing in the theatre lobby at intermission.
     "How are you?" he asked and she felt suddenly shy.
     "I'm good." The silence grew a second too long and she blurted, "You played beautifully, as always."
     He accepted the compliment with a graceful nod of his head. "Do you still play?" he asked.
     A flash of memory. The two of them playing together in the small, local symphony. A lifetime ago.
     "No." She dared to meet his gaze, then looked away. "I got busy with other things."
     "What things?"
     "Ready, Mom?"
     She turned to face her daughter, back from the restroom already. It struck her then, how much her daughter looked like her, as the girl gazed up at the stranger. Until the dimples framed her hesitant smile.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Camino Interlude - NWW Photo Prompt

This is a post in response to a photo writing prompt from New West Writers. Alright, it's from the photo writing prompt that's already been replaced by a new one on their site - But I'm not going to let that stop me! The idea is to write about where the photo (or someone else's story about the photo) takes you. So here goes....

Camino Interlude

I'd walked 30 km today, a new record for me! I'd claimed my bed for the night, put on the 'clean' outfit from my pack, and hung my only other clothes up on the line after washing them, along with myself, in the shower. I'd already been to the local restaurant (maybe the only restaurant in this tiny picturesque town) serving the 'Pilgrim Menu'. I'd eaten dinner at 7, ravenous, and ridiculously early for the local Spanish population. But it felt late for someone like me who'd found myself wide awake and sneaking quietly out of the albergue at 6 a.m. so as not to disturb my few fellow pilgrims who were still sleeping.

For dinner, there had been the usual choices of starter (salad), entree (fish), and dessert (fruit). And, of course, the requisite glass of wine, which in this case, came in a large beer stein. It was wonderful wine, a rich, red rioja that slid down my parched throat far too easily and, to my surprise, I finished it all. My fellow pilgrims, Dietrich and Alexandra, enjoyed their dinners too and suggested we end the evening visiting the local church, which was holding a gathering of pilgrims where we could pray together for a continued safe journey. I declined, saying I needed to go to bed after such a long day and the meal. Not to mention the wine.

But Alexandra wouldn't hear of it. We'd walked together for part of the day, we three, and she was insistent that we should go together and receive a pilgrim's blessing too. Let me just say that, on the Camino, your fellow pilgrims become your family. And I couldn't very well let family down, could I? Despite my misgivings, I wandered to the church with them and went in. It was a beautiful old brick building, small, but beautifully decorated. Along with the other twenty or so pilgrims, we took our seats. The priest spoke mostly in Spanish, exuding good will and beneficence.

The small church was hot, despite the evening hour. The meal and my fatigue made me sink, boneless, onto the hard wooden bench. The wine in my system whispered sweet coaxing nothings and I soon found my vision blurring, the candlestick on the altar becoming nothing more than a metallic glow in the dim light. My head sunk slowly down onto my chest and, until I found myself lying sideways across Dietrich's lap, I knew no more.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

A Writer's Life

A Writer's Life

A man checks his roommate’s internet browsing history and finds searches for slow-acting, untraceable poisons and how long it takes to suffocate someone with a pillow. He knows his snoring’s gotten worse, but would she kill him for a good night’s sleep?

A woman asks her husband to duct-tape her wrists together and put her into the trunk of their car. Is she getting kinky on him, or maybe just losing her mind?

A teenager finds an article on common arson techniques and how to determine the cause of a fire. His mother has made notes on it and circled the key points. Is she planning on burning down the grow op next door?

In all these scenarios, the answer is no. It’s just a writer doing research. The most mild-mannered writer may have read about things, or even done things that would make you think twice about hanging out with them. But relax, it’s all in the name of good storytelling. As writers, everything we see, read, do, hear (and yes, overhear), becomes possible fodder for that book we’re writing. Nothing is sacred. Though for the sake of our relationships, names have hopefully been changed to protect the innocent, or the guilty, as the case may be. Sometimes we even do our research by accident.

Something happens to us and we use it, after the fact, to put some believable action or emotion into our writing. Often the things we use in our writing are painful incidents, things most people wouldn’t dwell on. But not writers. No, we take these unpleasant experiences and hold them up to the light, study them, examine them from different points of view. And then we use them. I like to think of it as not wasting all that pain, inconvenience, and angst.

A couple summers ago, I sprained my ankle. Well, not just sprained it. I tore a bone chip off, smashed my face into a concrete wall, put two teeth through my upper lip, scraped my ankle, and got cellulitis which, if not treated promptly, can apparently be lethal. I spent 3 weeks commuting to the hospital twice a day in a wheelchair for IV antibiotics before I worked up to crutches, a cane, and finally being able to limp into my physiotherapist’s office. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, but then it occurred to me.

This was perfect research for the badly wounded protagonist of the novel I was revising! Suddenly, it was all worth it. Well, maybe not worth it, but at least now my injury has a silver lining. So, if I start making notes while you talk about your messy divorce, don’t worry, I’m on your side. It’s just that I've got this new character, see….

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Coming Home

It's strange being home again. The transition from the Camino to my 'real life' back here in Vancouver was abrupt, despite the two long days of travel and the 24 hours of sleeplessness. One moment I was in Santiago de Compostela, having dinner with new friends it felt like I'd known a lifetime and the next, I was getting back in touch with friends of a lifetime who I hadn't talked to in months.

My legs and feet are prone to stiffening up and cramping, restless, it seems, to get back to the hours of walking they'd become accustomed to. My body wants to sleep at inconvenient hours and the noise and busyness of what I used to think of as my peaceful life can make me long for the hours of relative solitude and quiet on the trail. Even while I was still walking, the bigger cities began to feel uncomfortable, like a continuous loud noise you can't get used to and can't wait to escape.

I've gone inside myself and seem to be having some trouble coming back out and being social. Which is strange, because before I left I was very busy and very social. I think I'm still processing everything and it's probably not a bad thing if I keep processing it, growing and changing as a result of what I've done. People told me, before I went, that the Camino would change my life. And it has, in ways I'm very thankful for. Walking it gave me a perspective I couldn't have found staying here and continuing on the way I always have. It also gave me the luxury of time - time to consider who I am, what I want, and what I believe in. Too often these big questions are put aside, consciously or unconsciously, until we find some time (which never actually happens, it seems).

On the Camino I remembered how good I feel being out in nature, watching the sun come up and paint the sky amazing colors, walking amongst the trees, breathing the air, listening to the birds, and feeling the wind stroke my face and play with my hair. I learned to let go, let things happen, open myself to new possibilities and to rejoice in being in the moment, whatever that moment brought. I recovered my faith in the world, in God, and in other people. Most of all, I recovered my faith in myself. Once you walk the Camino, you believe you can do anything. You don't believe it'll always be easy, because walking 800 kilometers isn't easy. But you learn that if you just keep moving, doing your part and putting one foot after the other, eventually you get there. And the places you go, the things you see, and the people you meet are more than reward enough for your effort. Getting there in the end is a bonus. Life, like the Camino, is about the journey, not the destination. And what a wonderful trip I am on!

I am lucky to have amazing people to share my journey with and I'm happy that I'm healthy enough to have come the way I have so far. Tonight, some of those amazing people will celebrate with me the gifts we've all been given. They will fill the room with music and the joy of living and we will try, one more time, to help those whose journeys may be cut short by cancer. From 6 to 9 pm, we'll be at the Yale hotel downtown (1300 Granville St, Vancouver). Come down and join us!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

With a Little Help

When I started walking the Camino, I was thinking about myself. It all depended on me. Was I strong enough to walk with my pack and all my possessions on my back? Could I walk that far, for that long? Would my feet hold up under the strain? And what about my back? Could I find my way in another country and another language? More than once I thought I'd have to quit.

On the meseta, I thought it sounded like a good idea to walk on part of the old Camino - the Roman road. So much history, and I'd seen some portion of intact Roman road earlier on. The romance of it lured me. Turns out it was about 25 kilometers of walking with only one village en route, early on. And, instead of large flat stones leading off towards the horizon, it was dirt, with fist-sized round boulders unevenly distributed across its surface. My ankles and knees twisted constantly, barely keeping me walking upright. By the time I'd gone about 16 kilometers I was tired. By the time I went another 3 I was exhausted. I could barely walk and I was checking out the farmers' fields to see if I could put my sleeping bag down in them for the night. I really wasn't sure I could make it. It was hot and dry and I hadn't seen anyone else for quite a while. There weren't many others to begin with. Apparently most of the other pilgrims were smarter than I am and had taken the new route.

I sat by the side of the trail in the dirt (there was nowhere else) and cried. Then I pulled myself together and walked a bit further. My feet burned in my boots, chafing, despite the greasing I'd given them that morning. I stopped again and tried rubbing them with my anti-blister stick, planning how I'd book the next flight home. I was in intense pain and it was just too much.

A man came by and said something in a language I didn't recognize. Then he asked, in English, if I was alright. I lied and said I was. I should mention here that I am very bad at asking for help. And besides, he couldn't carry both our packs, so what point was there in telling the truth?

I am also apparently a very bad liar. Unconvinced, he stuck around, asking if I had enough sunscreen, then enough water. When he finally started walking again, I followed, though I couldn't keep up to his pace. He seemed to stop ahead frequently, to adjust his poles, his pack, or to take a picture. And he kept looking back to see if I was there. All the way to the next town and the alburgue, he watched over me from a distance. When I thanked him later, he said it was, "no problem".

Another time, only a few days from the finish, I hurried to the next big town where there was an ATM. I had about one day's worth of cash left and most of the small towns along the way don't have banks and don't take credit cards. Neither of my bank cards worked due, it later turned out, to some system-wide technical issues my bank was having. At the time though, it was the middle of the night back home and I had no idea why I couldn't get at my money. Alone and broke in Spain was not good. Panicked, I stood by the church, wondering what to do.

Some Spanish people I'd walked with a few times came by and invited me to join them. I told them I thought I'd have to stay and explained what had happened. I was afraid I'd have to stop walking the Camino, at least temporarily. My friends immediately insisted on lending me 50 euros, with more if I needed it. I walked with them and they bought me dinner, helped me contact my bank and send a message home from a town which consisted of only a bar and the alburgue. They got me a bed and breakfast and calmed my fears. All this after having only spent a few days walking with me and chatting. I was so touched at their trust and kindness and was very happy when I could repay them.

But my 'Camino angels' are not so unusual here. Everyone on this pilgrimage helps each other, relative strangers from dozens of countries who are unlikely to ever see each other again once the walk is over. I've watched people bathe and bandage someone's badly blistered feet, bind a stranger's sore knee using their own tensor bandage, share their food, provide a shoulder to cry on, loan out their phone, and give each other clothes.

The Camino reminds me that we all depend on one another and that you don't have to go through difficulties alone. A good lesson, I think, as I walked to raise funds for cancer patients who are at a time in their lives when they can definitely use a friend.

If you can, please donate to my Camino Against Cancer @

Note: I finished my walk and arrived in Santiago de Compostela today!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Long, Hard Road

Walking the Camino has been more of a challenge for me than I anticipated. I knew, behind my cheerful enthusiasm which seemed to spring up beyond all reason as soon as I heard about the Way of St James, that walking every day for over a month would be difficult. 800K, give or take, is not a weekend stroll. But I never expected the other challenges I´ve faced.

Like being sick before I even began, with a cough that still sometimes troubles me 20 days later. (I have had it checked out, don´t worry). That cold cost me 2 days in St Jean Pied-de-Port before I even began and 2 more days in Pamplona.

Or like being feasted on by bedbugs in my sleep - not once, but twice - in St Jean and in Grañon. My sleeping bag was sprayed against them after the first time but the second time they pòinted out to me that I sleep with my arms outside the bag. The bites are red spots that, at least on my sensitive skin, swell up and out and itch annoyingly, so you look as bad as you feel. So I take an antihistimine, slather myself in cortisone foam, and keep walking, usually covering my spotty arms with a long-sleeved shirt. And I try desperately not to scratch. For days afterward, as you lie in your bed, you imagine you feel them again, biting you as you sleep.

The thing I worried most about before I came was blisters. Every morning before I put my socks on, I slather my feet with petroleum jelly and, so far, I have only peeling, callused feet - no blisters! I know that doesn´t sound like cause for celebration but, when you see the other pilgrims walking around with huge, disgusting bandages on their heels or the bottoms of their feet, when some of them are stuffing sanitary pads into their shoes for cushioning and absorption, you feel very lucky. And calluses, while not good in tiny, pretty shoes, are protection for your feet from the constant pounding of the camino.

The unrelenting weight of walking for 6-8 hours, carrying all your worldly goods on your back, takes its toll on your body. The bottoms of your feet begin to feel as though someone has been beating them with a stick. The tendons in your ankles stiffen up, shorten, and then seize up altogether. The ones in the backs of your knees twange unexpectantly, liked plucked strings on a guitar. Once in a while, although luckily not often for me, the muscles in your back begin to grumble about your pack not being adjusted properly.

So, you massage your ibuprofen gel into your legs and feet at the end of each day, stretching your feet and toes gently. You remember the exercises you learned and never did to stretch your hips, legs, and ankles, and now you do them. You think of your body as an ally in the fight to get to your goal and you begin to treat it more kindly, with more respect.

And when your mind begins to doubt you can do this, whispering its misgivings and then getting louder and louder, when it tells you it´s okay to quit, you are kind to it too. You give yourself little breaks and treats and you think about how far you´ve come. You look around yourself at the legions of walking wounded, carrying on, encouraging you to do the same, and you are in awe. Awe of what people, including you, can accomplish when you set your mind to it.

Then, early one morning, you´re walking out after a good rest and food and sleep. You are part of a procession, with people stretched out along the path in the semi-darkness behind you and in front of you. It´s quiet except for the birds celebrating the brightening sky. You stop and look behind you and you are momentarily unable to carry on. The sun is rising, painting the white clouds a brilliant pink in the blue, blue sky. And you know that this day, this journey, is a gift. And you are grateful.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Simple Life

Walking the Camino simplifies life. You get up early, pack up your few possessions, eat something, throw your pack on your back and head out. You walk, following the yellow arrows until you need to rest or eat and at last you stop somewhere for the night. You shower, wash your clothes, rest, eat, socialize if you have the energy, then sleep. And the next day you do it all again. This routine frees you for other things. At first you think about the scenery you're passing and the people you're meeting from all over the world. You try to remember how to order something besides tortilla at the bar for lunch, although you love it. And you try,really hard sometimes, not to think about how heavy your pack is or how much your feet hurt or how many kilometers still to go before that town you read about in the guide book.

Then it happens. You begin to ask yourself the questions. Why did you think this was a good idea is usually one of the first ones. And it occurs to you that maybe you won't be able to go all the way as you'd planned. What if that pain in your knee doesn't go away or gets worse? Whatever made you think you could walk across an entire country in the first place? When did you actually lose your mind?

Once you accept the fact that you're crazy (but no moreso than the others you're walking with), you can begin to relax. And then you start to think about more important things, like why you react to situations the way you do. Memories you hadn't thought about in years float up to the surface of your consciousness and you are by turns euphoric and on the verge of despair. Then you know the Camino has begun its work on you.

You are grateful for the wind that blows up suddenly to cool your face as you reach the top of a long, steep hill; for the butterfly that flutters in front of you in the path to distract you just when you think you've reached your limit; for the warm wet sweetness of blackberries or grapes plucked from the side of the path. Most of all, you're grateful for the kindness of strangers - both other pilgrims and the locals who go out of their way to help you or wish you 'Buen Camino!'.

The Camino turns your thoughts outward to the world you walk through, keeping you in the moment. And it turns them inward too, forcing you to see yourself and reflect on who you are. The Camino simplifies things, and at the same time, makes them more complicated than you would have imagined. And you revel in the experience, pain, beauty, and wonder that is revealed.