Boundbytheword Blog

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A little cooperation, please? May 31, 2012

An interesting thing happened this week. My youngest daughter’s teacher called and asked us to attend the monthly assembly at the school because Lainey was getting the “character trait” award. I’ve mentioned this before, I’m sure, but to refresh your memory – in order to teach good values (that kids may not be getting at home) the school board has character trait posters and reminders plastered all over the school to teach kids about integrity, honesty, courage, etc. They then reward a chosen kid or kids from each class that have displayed the current character trait throughout the month. The chosen kid gets a ribbon (the ones you used to get in track and field) and certificate, and get to parade across the stage to accept the honour with a round of applause. I don’t know if it changes a rotten kid into a great one, but my kids have come home each year with a ribbon sooner or later, and they’ve been pretty impressed about it. If for no other reason than they get to walk around all day wearing a ribbon to signify that they are more “Inclusive”, “Empathetic”, “Optimistic” or “Caring” than everybody without the ribbon. Are we teaching kids that they need to be rewarded and applauded for showing normal and socially acceptable behavior, and teaching them to gloat about achieving it? As sad as that sounds, I would say that is what we are doing – keeping that bar low. You aren’t expected to do those things, but if you manage it – you get rewarded! I don’t know if we’re doing them any favours, but since this month it was my kid getting the award – hey, it’s a pretty good system.

Anyway, when my husband and I showed up at the assembly, I couldn’t find my son in the crowd. Turns out, he was also waiting backstage for a ribbon. Well, we plumped our pride and got our camera ready. Two great kids? Wow. Imagine our pride (and frankly, surprise) when both of our kids walked across the stage with ribbons for this month’s character trait: Cooperation.


For those of you not familiar with my children, let me clear up the confusion. My kids don’t cooperate. Ever. They fight about who has to go first at music lessons, who last filled the dog’s water bowl, who brushes their teeth first, who is faster, smarter, sweeter, or the family favourite. They battle over whether music should be on or off for the car ride, whose dish was left on the kitchen table, and who got to pick the last movie on family night. At any given time, either one of them will be hollering “UNFAIR” for any number of stupid reasons – that one of them got to pick first, go last, ride in front or have the bigger piece. There is little to no cooperation going on in this house – which is why I had to contain myself from jumping up and yelling “Fixed, fixed!” from the crowd of proud parents.

Those sneaky little jerks. You mean they actually know how to cooperate? Not only do they know how, but they stand apart from the rest of the class and excel with this particular character trait? Unbelievable. Never have I been so perturbed at my kids for coming home with an achievement ribbon. I wanted to ground them both for the rest of the week and confiscate those damn certificates. My husband and I went home wearing the “in yo’ face” and “gotcha, sucka” ribbons, wondering how we managed to do something so right and so wrong at the same time. I guess different rules apply when they’re out of the house.

Cooperation? Well, I’ll pull those ribbons out during the next round of “he’s looking at me/she’s so annoying/he won’t turn that down/she won’t stop bugging me”. At least we looked like stellar parents to the teachers and other adults at the assembly. We smiled, nodded our heads knowingly, and took all the credit we could – isn’t that what being a parent is all about?


Green around the gills… May 24, 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — Noelle Bickle / Abby Brooks @ 5:37 PM
Tags: , , , ,

Jealousy. It ain’t pretty.
But lately I’ve been various shades of green from moss to emerald and everything in between. Before I have you on the edge of your seat for scandalous divorce news, let me assure you – the beast is far bigger than that. It’s other writers I’ve turned Hulk over, and it seems to have a grip on me in all the delicate places.
Part of becoming a better writer is to always be a voracious reader and word lover. Always a book in my hand or a song to my ear, I am forever listening to other writers stories, and I long to move readers and listeners like they have moved me. The latest case of this comes from brilliantly disturbed songwriter Damien Rice, whose haunting song was recently covered on the TV show American Idol by (my from-the-start-favourite) Phillip Phillips. If you can get past the redundancy of his name, you will be mesmerized by his talent as a musician. Beyond the fact that Phillip’s voice seems to do things to woman of all ages, but most inappropriately to women over 40 – he is an amazing musician. That being said – I read the lyrics of the song Volcano and was equally moved (if not stirred in questionable places). It should be a theme song given to every girl at her high school graduation. Why does it take a man younger than my eldest daughter (oh lordy, that makes me feel quite despicable!) to give me a worm ear that works its way into my brain and makes sense of past issues?
I’m pretending Damien Rice with his wise words is a good generation or two older than Phillip Phillips at the tender age of 21. I don’t want to be corrected by anyone. Though perhaps I just should take comfort in the fact that young men somehow got wise in terms of relationship smarts? Why didn’t I date writers in my youth?
So enjoy – let Phillip Phillips rock your world with his version of Volcano. Brilliant lyrics are posted below. Ahhhh…green, green, green.
And tell me…am I alone in loving everything about him?



“Volcano” by Damien Rice

Don’t hold yourself like that
You’ll hurt your knees
I kissed your mouth and back
But that’s all I need
Don’t build your world around volcanoes melt you down
What I am to you is not real
What I am to you you do not need
What I am to you is not what you mean to me
You give me miles and miles of mountains
 And I’ll ask for the sea


Don’t throw yourself like that In front of me
I kissed your mouth your back Is that all you need?
Don’t drag my love around volcanoes melt me down
What I am to you is not real
What I am to you you do not need
What I am to you is not what you mean to me
You give me miles and miles of mountains
And I’ll ask what I give to you


Is just what I’m going through This is nothing new
No no just another phase of finding what I really need
Is what makes me bleed
And like a new disease she’s still too young to treat
Like a distant tree
Volcanoes melt me down
She’s still too young I kissed your mouth
You do not need me









Square Peg, Round Hole May 15, 2012

I attended another writing conference this weekend in Toronto – this one devoted to supporting the teaching of creative writing – and I felt a bit out of my element. A conference dedicated to the study of creative writing pedagogy (teaching – I had to look it up) and the promotion of creative writing standards and practices that would include academic papers and keynote talks by national and international writers and creative writing teachers and researchers? I was intrigued and terrified that I’d be sent to the corner in a dunce cap.

Truth be told, I came away with much more than I expected, which always means success in my eyes. Gold nuggets of information and a desire to write more often and with more skill – if a conference can do that, then I leave satisfied. But of course, there was much more to be learned – lessons about my faltering ego, and being kind to one’s self (or myself in this case), and giving other people a break too – we are only human after all. The lessons I learned came in messy little packages – as my bits of learning always do.

Lesson #1: Reversion to one’s teenage self when you are feeling immature and stupid makes you look immature and stupid.

I discovered recently (after some self-reflection aided by a therapist who calls bullshit when required) that it hits a nerve when I feel someone thinks they are smarter than me. Scratch that. When they think I’m a dummy. Scratch that too. When I assume that they think I am in fact, a dummy. Make no mistake; I realize I’m surrounded all the time by people who are more intellectually gifted than I am. It’s when I get the message that they perceive me as some kind of a clunk that seems to set me off. Of course – I can’t quite nail what it is that they’ve done. It isn’t as blatant as them saying, “What a clod!” They don’t roll their eyes or shake their head when I talk. Except for the odd pompous brainer, it’s normally nothing they’ve done at all. It’s my perception of their perception of me. So, it really isn’t anything about them, it is in fact all about me and my own perceptions of myself and of others. Doh! Darn it.

After sitting through a few discussions on theory that was over my head, along with a dinner conversation that made me feel like I was Peppermint Patty trying to make it through English class, I started to feel the abrasion of mhoa-wa-wa in my head and reverted back to my fifteen year old self.


“Whatever. Like I’m even listening. You’re so boooooring, my ears feel like they’re bleeding. Who are you anyway? I’m outta here.” Okay, so that was my inner voice, not anything I actually said, but I was zoning out and shutting down, and decided I didn’t care about PhD papers or the research and practice of creative writing in the 21st Century.

Of course, I do care. I want to learn and grown as a writer and a teacher, and some (inner) pouting and debriefing with some wise and wonderful friends and fellow conference goers was enough to set me straight and get me grounded. Meanwhile though, I missed out on having some interactions with some brilliantly creative minds, because I didn’t want to ask questions and look like a giant dolt. So instead I shut out what they were saying, and in turn missed out on what likely could have been potentially enlightening conversations with wonderful people who came with thier own status crap to deal with.

My inner time machine took me back to 1984 and I wasn’t budging. At least not until the next morning when I took on the day with a new approach. More like a 43-year-old approach. One that set up day 2 with a mission to get one gold nugget out of every workshop. Lo and behold, I did.

I listened to PhD types read papers that didn’t really speak to me, but waited for the moment when they looked up from the pages of dry-as-bone notes and went off on a tangent about something that struck them – a point they were passionate enough about that they simply couldn’t stick to the presentation at hand. That is where the treasure was. The moment they looked out and engaged with the crowd, they had my attention and gave me my gold nuggets. Ahoy matey.

Lesson #2. Every person who walks the earth or attends a conference comes with their own set of baggage – and I don’t mean Louis Vuitton.

Presenting a theory in front of a crowd of literary minds could cause one a little stress, which would be a great explanation for why some of them needed to keep their nose on the page. And if at times they lifted it only to hold it high in the air – well – that made more sense too, once I thought about it. Every person is looking to be respected and to be heard. If that comes from having a brilliant creative mind, or a strictly theoretical and scholarly mind – well – so be it, we all have our strengths. I guess it’s as hard to be brilliant and humble as an adult as it is for a high school student to be both cool and kind. Not impossible, not unheard of, not even unusual – but it takes confidence and faith in yourself to pull it off. Being the whole package is one tough gig.

On occasion, the theory, the craft, the talent, energy and the engagement came together and we were given a brilliant artist, whose numerous strengths were rolled into a giant presenting machine. I was witness to a few of those as well – and of course, those are who I learned the most from.

In my opinion, power in creative writing is more important than perfection. But I would be foolish to think I’m above trying for both. Foolish of me though, to think that graduation meant my education was over.

Lastly, I learned that some things never change.

Lesson #3: In social settings, if all else fails, have a good story up your sleeve and a kick-ass pair of shoes on your feet.

Being part of any gathering – social, professional, academic or otherwise – you can’t go wrong with a good story or two to bridge the gap and make highbrow scholars just people. Same goes for those who are famous, in a different class, or just plain ignorant or indifferent. Storytellers bring a people back to earth, or at the very least, entertain.

The kick-ass shoes? What can I say? I ‘m always looking for an excuse.


Ass Whoopin’ Time May 6, 2012

I attended the Ontario Writers’ Conference yesterday and like every year I came away inspired, enlightened, and needing a sedative.

The best thing about going to events like these – where the board member of the organizations put together a first-rate event with exceptional speakers, great food, and opportunities to meet with editors, agents, publishers and other authors – is that you come away feeling like your head is crammed full of gold nuggets. Whether it be the Writers Community of Durham Region, The Humber School for Writers, the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, or the Canadian Authors Association (click any of them to check out their sites, upcoming events and activities) the organizers have put in hours upon hours (upon hours) to pull together an event that will blow you away. And somehow – it always seems to. Amazing really – since all of the organizations are run by volunteers who are working their butts off (and not working on their own writing all the while!) to make it an exceptional experience for other writers. Amazing.

The downside to these events is I always leave with more to do than when I came. ARGH!

Yesterday, the stellar segment was “Storytelling 360: Storytelling in a Digital Age” presented by Cynthia Good (founder of the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber) and Mark Lefebvre (director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo Inc). They educated the crowd as to what writers can embrace in terms of transmedia potential in order to engage with readers. Interactive websites, applications, enhanced  e-books, games, social media platforms that reach a wide audience and connect with people in a new way. So much to do, so little time. Now I’m looking at what activities I can have on a website targeted at young adults (or young at heart adults) to have them spread the word about my Beautiful Mess or Life as a Teenage Mutant (depending on who’s asking). Of course that segued into a perfect spot to insert my shameless self-promotion. Click to the left. 🙂

So in today’s publishing world, writers much reach. R-E-A-C-H! Get to people and places that writers from other generations never had the chance to touch. This digital world we live in is a progressive and scary place – but I’m in it to win it – so forge ahead I must. Needless to say – my to-do list became much bigger. I want to curse Cynthia and Mark, but I have to thank them – what a wealth of information from those two!

The highlight of the day came when my mentor and all-around wonderful person  – Wayson Choy gave the final address. He talked about being an active participant in the writing game – which goes beyond writing a novel, editing and revising the manuscript, plugging at query letters and the agent pitch. It’s a jungle out there – a writer’s road isn’t apparently paved with diamonds and padded with marshmallow filling. Wayson’s words for authors who just can’t seem to get a break? “WAKE UP!” and “What are you going to do about it, how are you going to change it?” Then he proceeded to tell us to get our butts down to the bookstore and get a current copy of Writers Market, and get our stuff out there. To anybody, to everybody – get ourselves an audience in magazines, literary journals, newspapers, anthologies. Rally our own troops. Get it done, and stop whining about it.

Okay – that last part might have been paraphrasing, but I heard it that way because I just spent the 10 minutes before he got up to the podium whining to him about that very thing.  I have always said Wayson has a way of making everyone in the entire room feel like he’s talking to them. It’s his gift actually – the ability to make his 20 minute conference closing an intimate conversation with every individual there. Afterwards, I went and told him so.

“It’s amazing,” I said. “You make me feel like you’re talking right to me every time.”

“I was talking to you,” he said, and lifted the Writers Market (as big as a Toronto phone book) in his right hand. “And if you don’t get it done by the next time I see you, no more hugs. This is what I’m going to beat you with.”

Again… a gift. How does he do it? I actually felt like he might beat me. Oh, how I love me some Wayson.

Today I am inspired, motivated and encouraged to stomp down the writer’s path. Good thing I have sturdy shoes.

Side note – if what I described sounds good and  you’re looking for an upcoming conference to get you going – I’ll be at the Canadian Authors Association national annual conference  – this year being held in scenic Orillia – over the May 17-20th weekend. Click the leaf, check it out and get your writer ass whooped and motivated too!