Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Past Deadline: Penning a Letter

A group of friends and I recently discussed a newspaper article that bemoaned the loss of penmanship, which also sparked concern over the art of letter writing and its possible demise.

It appears cursive writing (and that doesn’t mean prose that includes a lot of swear words – that’s “cursin’ writing”) may be on the decline.

When I was a kid it was a sure sign we were almost adults when a teacher let us move from printing to cursive – especially when they said we could do it in pen. That’s practically permanent! That HAD to mean we knew what we were doing, right?

Back then I had a pile of pen pals. The first was the girl next door who moved away when we were six. I was heartbroken, as I was already convinced we would be bosom pals forever. We wrote letters for many years before losing touch, only to reconnect on Facebook fairly recently.

Other pen pals included school chums who moved away, as well as a collection of girls I befriended on beaches during family vacations. I almost always came home with a new letter-writing friend, some of whom were American, which seemed so exotic.

I still have some of those letters with their curvy, round, indecisive penmanship. Should I dot the small i’s with circles? Do I cross the small t’s with a straight line or do an elaborate thingy that makes them look more like stars?

In university I worked at a provincial park in the summers, and back in those dark ages we still filled out some camping registrations by hand. I worked with a girl (my Calgary friend who enticed me into running) who had – and probably still has – enviable penmanship. Her cursive was lovely: clean and flowing and pretty without being ornate and flowery. I emulated it.

They should turn her cursive into a font.

Ah, fonts. This brings me to the modern form of sending messages.

It’s no secret that postal services are struggling now that so much mail is delivered electronically, but that does not mean the demise of letter writing.

Yes, it is still nice to get a letter in the mail, but I have just as much fondness for getting a message by e-mail – or even a text.

See, to me, letters are just the channel or medium for the communication. It doesn’t really matter how the messages arrive, it’s the words that count.

I spend a lot of time working alone, and I have found e-mails and texting to be great ways to keep me in the loop and prevent me from going stark raving mad for lack of human interaction. It’s my home office version of the water cooler.

As well, I tend to hear from people more often than I used to thanks to things like e-mail and social media, which is nice.

Humans need to communicate, and the form changes over time. We used to beat drums and send smoke signals. Now we use our thumbs to send messages.

Just as I used to save letters, I save e-mails that are meaningful. I have some lovely, touching prose from dear friends.

Perhaps we will see less cursive as time goes on. Possibly our handwriting will give way to typefaces and fonts. I can’t decide if that’s a bad thing or not, though. It means cursive will become an art form, just like letter press printing and film photography. It’s not dead – it’s just rendered more beautiful and rare.

Perhaps one day that lovely feeling of one’s hand orchestrating the flow of ink over paper will be relegated to artists, hobbyists or the stubborn, but communication will prevail – it will just use a different medium.

A friend of mine was telling me the other day he takes his tablet to meetings now and uses it like a notebook, writing on the face of it with a stylus pen. So maybe cursive won’t be entirely lost – just transformed.

Maybe my kids will have different happy memories about great communications received, even if they can’t fold them up and carry them in their pockets.

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 23/12

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Past Deadline: Skating Around the Issue

I have a confession to make. (Possibly you are saying, “Oh, great. Another one?”)

It seems we over here, as parents, have dropped the ball on a fairly significant developmental issue. (“Just one?” Yes. For now.)

We have skated around this issue – or not skated, actually – for years.

It’s actually about skating, and how we don’t do it. Much. Hardly ever. And we don’t do hockey, either.

I know. It’s crazy! And we were all born and raised here in Canada and everything!

I am pleased to say we do like Tim Hortons and regularly complain about the weather, so all is not lost on us as Canadians.

So how did this skating fiasco come to pass? Well, I think it’s a bit of monkey see monkey do. Or not see, not do, as the case may be.

We’re not a terribly sporty bunch (although dancin’ Girlchild may break the mold). I think a big part of being sporty is learned by example. If being active is a family thing, then it comes naturally for kids.

Skating and hockey are just not on our family radar. I took figure skating lessons for a few years when I was a kid, but by the time I got to university in Ottawa, where skating on the canal was almost a pre-requisite, I was rusty.

They declined even further after that.

By the time we had kids, skating was practically a distant memory for me, and Groom-boy, who skated even less, was no help in that department.

The rare times we do go are heart-pounding affairs involving wobbly ankles and fear. I fall a lot farther and harder than I used to.

I remember being pretty excited a few years back when I had to buy some new skates and decided to try rec skates. They were comfortable and offered awesome ankle support and as I strode around the store I was sure this was the Answer to Everything.

This excitement literally came to a crashing halt the moment I stepped onto the ice. I kind of forgot that crucial part about how rec skates don’t have picks. I learned on figure skates. I use the pick to stop, go, turn...everything.

I fell so hard I smashed my watch that day.

I went out and got figure skates soon after. They are still very shiny and new.

Anyway, because the short people in the family have not shown a huge interest in skating or hockey, it never became a priority. Sometimes it is awkward when friends ask the kids to go skating and they are not interested – partly because they are not strong skaters.

So one day recently it suddenly occurred to me that I have done a complete disservice to my children by not attaching blades to their feet from the time they could walk.

Oh, woe.

After all, skating in Canada is as natural as walking, biking, drinking Timmies or talking about the weather. How could so many years have passed without my kids being able to skate comfortably?

So, naturally, because I am so “content and secure with who I am and what I am doing,” I panicked and phoned my bestie.

She has two boys, one of whom is an avid hockey player. They all skate. They are very sporty – constantly frolicking. Just hearing about all of the stuff they do in a day makes me break out into a sweat and feel tired.

Anyway, they often go to the public skating at the arena and I asked (begged) for her to please take my eldest next time they go. An occasion is coming up that requires him to skate, and I want him to go, have fun and not fret about the mechanics.

Since I currently have a wonky foot I am not overly eager to shove it into a skate – even one with a pick – and wobble around on ice, so I am grateful to others who are more competent and keen.

I should add that my dahlinks are quite good swimmers, so at least we put on a good show in summer.

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 16/12

Past Deadline: A Flying Ramble

Do you ever have one of those days when you wonder who the heck you are and what the heck you are doing here?

No? Me neither. I am perfectly content and secure in who I am and what I am doing.


However, if I weren’t 100 per cent certain of my role on this Earth or if I ever once felt like throwing my arms up in the air and stomping up the stairs and slamming a door (which would never happen), I might think it’s time to become a novel-writing bush pilot.

I should clarify that. I don’t have a whole lot of interest in actually learning how to fly. It involves a great deal of math and physics and stuff. I would prefer to be a passenger and just write about the flying. I can write about pretty much anything – even math – as long as someone else is figuring it all out.

Anyway, the point is, sometimes life (for other people, I suppose, never me) gets busy and weird and noisy and I think it would be lovely to escape by flying in a little plane over forests and lakes and ancient mountains. Then I think about holing up in a cosy cabin in the woods writing piles of Great Canadian Novels™.

Yep – a novel-writing bush pilot. Or, rather, a novel-writing bush-pilot passenger.

A friend of mine is taking flying lessons and was pretty excited about landing a small plane for the first time recently. That got me thinking about flying in small planes and how thrilling it is.

My first time flying was in a fairly small plane, and I distinctly remember looking down as we went up towards the clouds and being astounded that such a heavy object could be supported by air. (The plane, not me.) It occurred to me that I could either choose to be terrified or enchanted. I quickly chose the latter.

Then my dad and I chatted about how much he loved working in Northern Ontario with the bush pilots when he started his career as a game warden. Perhaps it’s in the blood?

There is something really awesome about flying. I still find it amazing that we have figured out the physics and the mathematics to make it happen.

This reminds me also of a dream I used to have. It stood out from the annoying recurring nightmares I had as a kid (and sometimes around exam time) when I would dream I needed to call for help and couldn’t dial the right number (these were the days before 9-1-1 service) or that I would be trying to run away from something scary and holes would open up in the ground and swallow me up. (Okay, psychologists! On your mark...get set...go!)

Anyway, peppered amid those and the usual menagerie of nondescript dreams were the flying ones, and they were cool. In the dreams I would get off to a running start and flap my arms and suddenly find myself soaring like a bird, dipping and diving in the sky at great speed, without having wings or Icarus-like feathers. Those were the best dreams.

That would be a fantastic solution to my ongoing stupid foot problem, wouldn’t it? I could get around easily and all that arm flapping would be excellent exercise. Wouldn’t that solve a lot of transportation and pollution issues if humans could fly using their very own equipment?

Alas, humans are not anatomically built for flying, so I think (tangent alert!) NASA’s next task should be figuring out teleportation, just like on Star Trek. Never mind all this Mars stuff and Newt Gingrich’s loony lunar promise. I mean, really, is having a lunar base really going to do much to solve the world’s problems? Or even America’s problems? Maybe Newt’s problems....

Besides, if NASA figures out teleportation, then we can zoom wherever we need to be on the planet. Teleporting to the moon and to Mars would not be too far behind!

So, yeah. Umm...what is this column about? Oh, yes. Bad days and escaping by plane into the bush to write novels.

That’d be nice, eh?

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 9/12

Friday, February 3, 2012

Past Deadline: Night Owl No More?

I have always been a night owl.

I prefer to get things done before bed so I don’t lie awake worrying about them. Some folks prefer to get up early to do unfinished things, but I like my snooze button too much for that to be effective.

I’m no early bird. Long ago I concluded any pledge to get up early to exercise would fail. Since I work from home and the kids walk to school, I don’t have to get up at the crack of dawn to commute. Consequently, the night owl thing has worked.

When my kids were wee, it was a perfect system. I’d be busy with them during the day, which meant I might not get as much business done, but they went to bed super early. This opened up several hours in the evening to work. In those days, my brain was alert and creative and good to go at night. I’ve always been that way.

Until now.

Is this another “perk” of turning 40? I see why people pretend they are 39 for a decade or so. Perhaps denial would solve a few issues. (Would it work on my stupid foot, do you think?)

Anyway, I’ll be the first to admit that I probably haven’t been getting enough sleep since about 1989, but it appears my body doesn’t want to put up with my guff anymore.

For example, you’d think the temptation to nap could be a huge issue for someone who works from home. I’ll admit, I did take a few naps when I was pregnant and when the kids were wee babies, but generally the thought doesn’t cross my mind at all. In the last few months, however, I’ll walk past the bedroom and look at my cosy bed and experience an intense pull of longing for a nap. So far I have resisted.

A big factor in this is the fact the kids are older and stay up later. The younger one in particular has an exceptional talent for stalling at bedtime, which she (ahem) comes by naturally. She’ll try every trick in the book – water, Band Aids, lotion, some sort of medication, stories, bad dreams, general goofiness, etc.

Have you heard of the hilarious bestselling “children’s book for adults” by Adam Mansbach called Go the F*** to Sleep? I wept when I read it. This is my life.

Peace and solitude in the evening have been replaced by homework and housework and noise and corralling. The time available for getting things done has shrunk dramatically, especially if one desires even a little bit of time to unwind, which is kind of important in that whole work-life balance equation. (Work-life what?)

So now there is a short period of time once the kids are settled when Groom-boy and I fall into chairs and go over the day’s events and watch a little TV. Woohoo!

There is, however, still this need of mine to get things done before bed. The lunches get made and the schoolbags get packed, but then there is “the list.” This is the other stuff: volunteer work, unanswered phone calls or e-mails from friends, etc. In the short window available the brain refuses to fire enough to get it all done anymore.

Why? Apparently I am tired. Go figure.

I’m putting on my pyjamas about three hours earlier than usual, but I’m staying up just as late and getting less done.

The other night I put on my pyjamas and said to Groom-boy, “You know, I think I understand now why some grown-ups go to bed at 9:30.” Of course those people are probably up at 5.

I suppose that’s not much different from my current reality. Now, instead of lying awake late worrying about what isn’t done, I stay up too late and go right to sleep, only to wake up too early to worry about what isn’t done.

Perhaps if I went to bed earlier, I would just get up when I wake up. D’ya think?

This means I should...gulp...change my routine.

I hate changing my routine.

Imagine getting more rest! Ridiculous. Well, if I must...zzzzzz....

Published in The Perth Courier, Feb. 2/12