Monday, June 28, 2010

Looking for meaning

I’ve been going through one of my periodic career crises, when I wonder what I do exactly and why and whether it makes any difference to anyone, including me. Even while these events are happening, though, I write. I can’t help it. It’s what I do and ironically it’s also what triggers my question: isn’t there some other way to earn a living?

But as I say, I keep writing.

Then, when I was scrawling my Julia Cameron-mandated morning pages yesterday, I made a spelling error. I write, I wrote. I write. Then, I wright.

It looked wrong.

And no wonder. A wright is a person who creates things, fixes them.

Wheelwright, cartwright, shipwright, millwright…

Me…well, I create things. Heck, I create people. I compile information and events into pages and reams of stories and then I fix them and fix them some more.

So I wondered: Does write come from wright? Is it the Old English version of lite from light?

My Nelson Canadian dictionary says not. Wright comes from the Old English werg – work.

According to the Oxford English dictionary, write is from the same language, different root. Writan: to scratch, as in to score into wood or stone.

So which do I do? Conventional wisdom says that every story is a variation of one of very few (seven or ten or fourteen, depending on your source) basic plots; the differences lie in setting or period or other such details. If that’s true, then storytellers don’t create anything new, but you could say we fix, adjust, adapt the tales for different audiences. So that still makes us wrights and as anyone who has ever put pen to paper or two fingers to a keyboard will attest, scratching out a living as a writer sure feels like work.

Good thing it also feels, uh, right.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Other D-Day

My friend Judy is adding on to her house – or rather, a bunch of guys is doing it for her. So far, her biggest chore has been deciding whether to go for in-floor heating in her new bathroom.

Stressful for her.

But there’s an up side.

The day the excavators, dump trucks, diggers and drivers showed up to break ground, she emailed me with a two-for-the-price-of-one: a great Freudian slip that’s also a delightful new entry for the next edition of James Lipton’s An Exaltation of Larks.

Today, as I celebrate my dad and all the other wonderful XY chromosomes in my life, I wish everyone what Judy has: a backyard fun of men.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Helpful hint: Summer edition

Maggie Ross has three sons and a daughter whom she raised to be functional, self-sufficient adults able to cook well-balanced meals and sew on buttons. But while they were learning these life skills, they squabbled. And argued and fought and bickered.

At home Maggie tolerated it (most of the time) but when they were camping, she wanted peace. So being a clever parent who understands the psychology of motivation, she resorted to magic.

After every meal, Maggie washed the dishes and the kids dried – without being asked. In fact, Brent, Craig, Deb, and Buddy grabbed tea towels and practically fought each other for the opportunity to help. Maggie's secret?

Whoever dried the "magic" dish got a chocolate bar.

Maggie used the magic dish throughout every holiday, and the kids never figured out which one it was – although, amazingly, each of them got it about every fourth meal….

photo by Peter Griffin

Saturday, June 5, 2010


One of the first strategies I learned when I became a freelance writer is to leverage everything I do. One personal experience became an essay that I sold to Cottage Life magazine and then to three or four other cottaging magazines. The research I did for a newspaper article about harvesting landfill gas and burning it to create electricity led to an assignment to write about heating commercial greenhouses for Canadian Geographic and then for Greenhouse Canada, which led to yet other gigs writing about two different gas pipeline projects for the Journal of Commerce….

I call this piggybacking: using the research from one assignment to write and sell other articles, or simply re-selling the same story to more than one publication over time.

When I decided to look into how I might go about finding work overseas, I figured I might as well get paid for it, so I leveraged my efforts: I pitched the idea to the editors at Boulevard magazine. (I left out the self-serving angle.)

They liked the proposal, so I wrote an article about people of a certain age working abroad (although, alas, I haven't yet found my own job Out There).

Two of the people I interviewed for that feature, which will appear in the July issue of Boulevard, are Leah Norgrove and Ambrose Marsh, who went to Africa to help with palliative care education in Tanzania.

They had an extraordinary experience and they’re continuing their support of education for health-care providers in Tanzania with a fundraiser in Victoria in a couple of weeks. I’m putting their poster up here to give the event a ride just a little further along the information highway: