Tag Archives: writing

The Death of Me… (Reboot365-5)

Friar and body IMG_4918

By the time you get to the end of Romeo and Juliet there are bodies everywhere… There’s Paris, for example… about to be discovered in the dark by the Friar. Come to the Canmore Summer theatre Festival (coming up SOOOOOON!!!) to see who else winds up sprawled across the grass…

Here, though, in my world (which has shrunk to the dimensions of my computer keyboard), I’ve been obsessing about death. Still. Again. I’m deep into revisions of my book about medically-assisted dying and oh, my – it isn’t getting any easier. The subject matter, or being a writer.



Mountain Graveyard, by Kurt Schwitters, 1919


How is it possible that I can get to this point in a manuscript after so many years of writing books and still feel that I should perhaps be looking for other work? But it happens with every manuscript – I get to a point where I completely lose perspective and think that the whole project is worthless. It’s more boring than anything ever written by anyone – the subject is boring. My opinions are boring. Death is boring. Life is boring. Being a writer is definitely boring. Everyone in the book is boring because – guess what – they all die!

Sigh. This is the point in my day where I push back from my desk and throw in the towel. There is no point in flogging this sorry horse to… yeah, death any longer.



Thanks, Picasso. I can always count on you to have painted something appropriate to my bleaker moods. This is “Minotaur With Dead Horse in front of a Cave Facing a Girl in Veil” by Pablo Picasso, 1936



Christmas is Here!! (Day 8/365)

Guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox after we got home from the BVI?


It’s the Advance Reading Copy of the newest book!! Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in September, 2018 – in plenty of time for stocking stuffer season…



That’s a somewhat younger version of me sitting on Santa’s knee… 


As always, the book looks lovely thanks to the hard-working team at Orca Book Publishers! Also, a special shout out to Dani, co-author, daughter, and Christmas-lover who came up with the idea for the book waaaaaaaay back when… it’s so cool to see this inching toward final publication!


Also waiting for me once I was back in regular contact with the virtual world was a message in my email in-box. What a relief to read the wonderful note from my editor, Sarah, who says the first draft of the book about medical assistance in dying is in reasonably good shape. By this I mean, it doesn’t look like I need to go back to the drawing board and completely rewrite everything, which is most excellent news. Of course there are all sorts of issues to have a look at, some things to move around, and a few gaps to fill, but overall, we are off to a great start with this book about our ultimate ending! (Tentative title: When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die)

All of that’s fine and dandy, but let’s get back to Christmas… and, art – which, if there’s going to be an over-arching theme to the posts over the coming months, it will likely be that… Art, I mean… not Christmas…


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Christmas at Home by Grandma Moses


grandma moses

In case you have always wanted to know what Grandma Moses (1860-1961) looked like, there she is… Her full name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses and what is most inspiring about her is that she didn’t get serious about her painting until she was 78!! Which means I have decades in hand if I get my finger out and start doing some visual art now…



I can’t say this is really art, but it probably counts as a decorative element  in my journal (or, a doodle). And, yes, we did get stuck in the Puerto Rico airport for a bit as a result of an unfortunate ticketing error that had us boarding a plane bound for Tortola while we were still in the air travelling from Chicago… Obviously it all worked out ok because I’m now back in Canmore, but we did have some sweaty moments while trying to sort it all out! 


I’m a bit too jet-lagged to write much more today (if you didn’t clue in based on the rambling incoherent  somewhat disorganized nature of this post), but it feels good to be back, unpacked, laundry done and looking ahead to what’s coming at me over the next few weeks. Hint: more sailing, some school visits, climbing, the Camino book, art-related projects, and a bit of Shakespeare… Stay tuned!


calendar-1902 Theophile Steinlen

Calendar – 1902 by Theophile Steinlen


Note: What the heck – given I’ve now passed the 40-days-needed-to-create-a-new-habit mark, I’m going to set my daily blogging goal at 365 days and see if I can keep this streak going. Though, I wasn’t actually going to count the blog posts in April. If I counted the AtoZ posts, that would make this #38 and not #8. But really, who cares? I feel like this is the start of a new challenge embarked upon without the benefit of the inherent structure of the alphabet… and that, for some reason, feels quite daunting.

X is for Xavier, Xanadu, Xi, Xlotl, and Xul… and, yes, X-rays (AtoZChallenge2018)

Thanks, Dad! Xavier Cugat is not a name I’d ever come across, but Dad, who has been following along as I’ve worked my way through the alphabet for the AtoZ Blogging Challenge this month, sent me a note this morning saying I should include Xavier and his Waldorf-Astoria Orchestra as they play this 1943 song, Brazil. While you are playing that in the background, I’ll keep going with the letter X.

As it turns out, this month I’ve actually had three sets of X-rays – two on my jaw (sadly, the result of those eXplorations will be removing a root canal and installing a new one… that does not sound in any way like it’s going to be fun), and the other on my hips. The findings there were that yes, my left hip is basically shot – arthritic and rather exuberantly sprouting bone spurs, perhaps in a misguided effort to replace the cartilage which seems to have gone missing. Using an ultrasound (sort of a watery X-ray…), we managed to shoot the hip full of cortisone and some weird lubricating gel stuff and the pain is much relieved. Good news, as I should be able to keep hiking and climbing on it while I wait to get old and decrepit enough to qualify for a hip replacement.





Hm… this map doesn’t include the red dot showing exactly where Shangdu town (near where Xanadu used to be) is located… Curious? Click here…


I love to travel, but one of the places that’s been on my wish list for the longest is one I have yet to get to; Outer Mongolia. Turns out that Xanadu, in Inner Mongolia, was once the summer palace of Kubla Khan. One of these days I will get to Mongolia… no plan yet, but that seed was planted so long ago it has grown into a serious old oak and such a large tree is a bit uncomfortable to keep lugging around.

While vaguely in the neighbourhood (and speaking of trees), here’s a painting by Guo Xi from the Northern Song Dynasty (920-1126).


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Trees by Guo Xi, a long time ago in China



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The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Myself, Diego and Señor Xólotl by Frida Kahlo (1949)  I have to say that’s one of the longest, most intriguing titles I’ve come across… But it does contain an X. Thanks, Seńor Xólotl!

For those who are biting their nails and wondering how the manuscript/deadline race is coming along, here’s the update. I’ve finished a rough and tumble draft, which is a bit long. I’ve got that printed out and am going through it searching for the 2500 or so extra words that seem to have snuck in there. If I keep going at the pace I’ve been working, all things being equal I should have made the cuts (on paper) and entered the edits into the digital draft in time to send it off to my editor by Sunday midnight. That’s a day ahead of schedule, technically, but I’ll be heading to the airport on Monday and I really don’t want to take it with me, so that’s the plan.

This is the first draft my editor will have seen, so I fully expect that not long after I get back I’ll have my draft and a set of notes back to work on. But, that’s getting ahead of myself. There are a couple of things I already know I want to change in the next draft, but that’s what the revision process is all about. Modifying and refining. As always, I’ll be pretty excited to see what the editor has to say as her wise insights always make the books better…

I’ll leave you with this final image by an Argentinian painter, Xul Solar. It was cooking hot here in the mountains today, so it feels appropriate to celebrate the sun!


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Pegaso de Sol by Xul Solar, 1922

Until tomorrow! Ciao!






W is for Weary, Work, and the Wonders of the Web


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April by Martiros Sarian, 1947 Oh, April – what a speedy month you have been! In, out and yikes! May is just arond the corner!


Wow. What a month! It looks like I might just make it to the end having made my goal of a post a day, but sheesh – it’s been touch and go! I suppose I should have known better than to try to combine a big book deadline with much of anything else, never mind a daily blogging challenge and a trip or two!


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Woman at Her Writing Desk, by Lesser Ury, 1898 Yep. That’s pretty much where I’ve spent the month of April. 


I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky to be able to do the work I love and even more lucky to be able to do it from pretty much anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an internet connection available. I don’t know where I’d be without being plugged into the web, I must say.

This book I’m working on now, for example. It’s about medically-assisted dying (euthanasia, assisted suicide, mercy killing, murder) and all the many medical, ethical, legal, moral, and personal considerations that lie behind the decision to live or die. The Internet has proven to be a rich source of raw material. From documentaries and news clips to lengthy articles in mainstream newspapers to scholarly dissertations in all manner of obscure academic journals, as well books and audiobooks, I’ve been kept busy plowing through more sources than one could hope for in terms of finding lots of background on the subject.


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Death and Wife, by Albrecht Durer, 1510 In a strange way, Death has been my companion for the past many month and thousands of words… 


I’ve also been talking to people online – through texts and emails but also through online ‘phonecalls’. I’ve been able to use an online transcription service to record and then transcribe some of those conversations. Even ten years ago, such a wealth of information would have been much more difficult (impossible?) to access. I’ve been working on this book for 18 months or so, reading, researching, thinking, listening, watching and learning in Paris, Spain, the Rocky Mountains, the Caribbean, and on the west coast. I’ve downloaded books and articles onto my phone so I can read while I’m standing in the lineup at the grocery store or while trapped in waiting rooms or getting from here to there and back on planes, trains, and automobiles. I’ve dreamt about death. Thought about it pretty much every day since I took this project on.


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Birmingham Reference Library, the Reading Room by Edward R. Taylor, 1881 I bet this library had a card catalogue. I must be among the last humans on the planet to have been taught how to use a card catalog. Computers were creeping in everywhere when I was at university, but to find a book at the library, one still had to thumb through the soft-with-use cards.  


The problem isn’t really ‘can I find the information’? it’s, how on earth do I distill all this, organize it well, and then shoehorn it into what is actually quite a limited word count, considering the vast quantity of information I’m starting with?

Whenever I think, impossible! I need to expand the manuscript! I need more words! I think of something my mother once told me. She said that you don’t really understand a subject properly until you can explain it to your grandmother from another country. By which, I think, she meant that if you really know your stuff you should be able to explain anything, even the most complex of topics, clearly and succinctly to someone who has absolutely no background or understanding of the subject.


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Scissors and Lemon by Richard Diebenkorn Cut. Cut. Cut. That’s what I’m doing next. Which seems a bit odd since what I’ve been doing for months is add. Add. Add. Write. Write. Write. 


The other lesson I learned early (in my capacity as a copywriter at a radio station) is that you should be able to convey a complicated idea (in that case, usually about a business, product or event) in very few words. A thirty-second spot can’t last 35 seconds. Concise. Precise. Economical. Those were buzz words back then, and that early training has made me aware that cutting and paring are more fun if treated like a puzzle and a game. Just how many words can you take away and still tell your story?



Death of the Countess by Alexandre Benois, 1910. This might just as well be named, Death of the Writer as this is a pretty accurate likeness of me at the moment. 


With that in mind, I’m going to embrace my next couple of days of slicing, dicing, chopping, and cutting as I whittle away at what is currently a too-long draft. I have 72-hours before the deadline. I can do this. I can.

U is for Ungulates (AtoZChallenge2018)


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Landscape with Cows and a Camel by August Macke, 1914


The law of inverse proportions is in full effect here at the moment with one variable being how panicky I feel about my manuscript draft getting done by the deadline (May 1) and the second being how long I have to spend on my daily blog post! More panic? Less blog time…


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Back in my farming days, I spent a lot of time hanging out with ungulates… 


Today, I throw all efforts to tie into my theme to the wind and frantically scramble to find some visual representations of ungulates. Ungulates, in case you can’t quite remember from biology class, are mammals with some form of hoof. They include horses, cattle, pigs, camels, deer, and hippos…


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Here in Canmore, these elk are resident ungulates. 



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This bison/buffalo is on display in our town hall… 


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Ancient ungulate imagery… Two Camels Fighting (1530)


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The Moose by George Stubbs (1773)

Now, I’m going to have a quick shower and try not to disturb the neighbours with my baleful ululations (oooo – oooooo–nnnnnoooooo) as I consider the ticking clock that is ruling my existence these days… Then, perhaps a few more pages of edits before turning in.

Until tomorrow –






O is for Opportunity, Outlines, Opening and Getting Organized



Typewriter Eraser, Scale X  (collaboration with van Bruggen) by Claes Oldenburg (1999)
This is one of my favourite sculptures in Seattle. A huge typewriter eraser, it brings back memories of the bad old days when I had to retype whole pages when faced with more than two mistakes. Those erasers chewed holes in the page if you weren’t careful!


OK. Whether or not I get this post done will be in the hands of the blog gods… because, yeah – I’m not as organized as I probably should have been today. Both of my writing groups meet today – one in the afternoon and one in the evening and, of course, I’m scrambling to polish the opening of the assisted dying book to whip it into reasonable shape so I can get some feedback. That’s how it goes, sometimes. Often, if I’m honest. The deadline looms and suddenly I am a writing machine.

Which is not to say I haven’t been working on the book for the last… oh, I don’t know – 18 months or so. I have been steadily busy – reading, researching, making notes – organizing my thoughts, writing outlines, writing sections and then – making more notes, re-organizing everything, adding more stuff, finding better ways to express complicated ideas.

But there’s something about knowing the editor needs the manuscript on her desk on May 1 that sends terror into my heart, lights a fire under my backside, and sends words flying across the keyboard (or, fingers flying across the keyboard and words scrolling across the screen).


Edits Assisted Dying IMG_2282

Sometimes it’s a real challenge to follow my thoughts as they zig-zag all over the place during the revision process…  


It’s coming along. I will get the draft done on time. But wow – this has been a tough project to wrangle into shape. That said, when I had the opportunity to explore a topic as interesting and relevant as this one, there was no way I was going to let it slip away. In that way, I am a ‘yes’ person through and through. I’ve never been one to walk away from a challenge. That’s not to say I’ve always been successful with every project I’ve attempted: failures have taught me as much (more?) than my triumphs. But neither (successes or flops) would have been possible without trying.


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Edouard Manet: Young Woman With a Book (1875) It’s sooooo much more fun to relax and read a good book than it is to pull out your hair trying to write one… 


And that, my friends, is all I’ve got today. Here’s hoping things will be a bit better balanced tomorrow and I won’t be writing this with one eye on the clock and my heart beating just a bit too fast than is probably good for me.



H is for Home



This series of travel-themed blog posts would not be complete without the obligatory out-of-the-plane-window shot…


I’m a good traveller. It doesn’t take long for me to feel at home wherever I find myself. One of the ways I accomplish this settling in is to unpack a few of my favourite things…

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Oh my but I ate well in Paris! This was breakfast at my Air BNB… fresh fruit, Greek yogurt and some fine dark chocolate. Ooooh la-la… Peeking out to the right is the outline for the book about medically-assisted suicide… top left corner some of the many writing/drawing/colouring instruments I took with me… maps, of course, to orient myself, a notebook and my bullet journal to make sure I stayed on track and didn’t miss out on anything essential during my stay.

I like to unpack my bags, even if I’m only staying for a few days. I never travel without taking work with me – last week I took along a book I’m reviewing for the Ormsby Review and the current work in progress (the book for teenagers about medically assisted dying).  This is one of the great advantages and simultaneous disadvantages of working for myself. Home, wherever that may be, is also my office. There is no escaping. So, while it may sound delightful to be able to go to work in pj’s, the reality is that there is no such thing as leaving anything at the office.

These days, my office fits neatly into a small backpack, so at this very moment I’m taking a break from said dying book and working on this blog entry at the local Starbucks in Canmore.


That’s me in my plaid shirt. The tangle of wires around my neck are my wireless (I know… that’s a lot of wires for wireless) headphones. I like to listen to music (of my choice) while I’m working. On the walk (or drive) to and from the coffee shop, I like to listen to audio books. I wish I could listen to audio books or podcasts while I write, but it seems the areas of the brain engaged are too similar. Sadly, I don’t hear a word of what I’m listening to… I’ve tried. It would be so cool to be able to read and write at the same time!

At home, as in my actual more or less regular place of residence, something that makes the place feel homey is having pictures up on the wall. I’ve got these photos up on a shelf in my office (Dani had them made for my 50th birthday) and here and there in the condo


IMG_2131 Nikki Pikkis

Family photos… time travel, of a kind. Dani printed a series of photos of me in each decade of my life and displayed them at my surprise birthday party. She also arranged to have people from my past show up for the event. It was quite the celebration, I must say… and one I am transported back to each time I look up from my desk and see the row of photos. 


I also have various of Dad’s paintings up on the walls (most are reproductions… sadly, I can’t afford the real thing!). I’m particularly fond of this one – a print of a painting Dad did of me riding one of my horses on a rare snowy day near Victoria.

IMG_2132 Tony

Dad is the same way, actually. When he travels he also takes a bit of home (and his studio) with him.


In Spain last fall when we walked a section of the Camino de Santiago with Dani
he drew and painted most days, setting up in a corner of the hostel common room or pulling out his sketch pad at restaurants and bars we stopped at along the way.



My home office doesn’t look so different to my home away from home office… 


Home is where your work is? Maybe that’s how it’s going to be more and more often as we move into the world of Digital Nomads who choose to live and work wherever the wind blows them…

And, just because today is H day, here’s a link to a short animated video about the search for happiness… From one of my favourite websites, Short of the Week…