It is a whirlwind in here



In The Heat On The Way To Dachau


This heat (which seems to be a stubborn fixture) takes me back to my university days, when I worked on a farm in Germany in lieu of getting into a Goethe Institute. It was a particularly hot summer, and much was made of it. I am very glad I am not working there this summer. It was not particularly taxing farm work. I could describe how I painted apple trees with a chemical compound to keep foraging sheep at bay. Or how I escaped from the midst of a herd of bulls after breaking my whip on one of their backs – but I won’t.  However, if ever I  get to my memoirs . . .

After the farm I travelled through Germany and parts of Europe,  mostly by train.  One of my stops was Munich where, as often as not, I stayed in a Youth Hostel. And there I met the Jewish gal on her way to Dachau. She was from the US and not on a work experience as was I. Dachau was a specific destination. She either borrowed postage stamps from me, or I from her – I don’t remember though I know we exchanged them.  We had the part of two days together (no – no night) and then she was on her way. I don’t remember if she asked me to accompany her to Dachau, but I think not. Although I was on my way to Britain to visit relatives, I believe I could have taken that extra day.

As it was, we exchanged addresses and upon our return home we wrote letters. And, as it was, we arranged a visit to my New Brunswick home from her New England home.  That was quite a leap for less than twenty-four hours together. And, she must have been a bit concerned when, as I drove her through thick New Brunswick woods after sunset  after picking her up at the airport, I stopped in the middle of nowhere for two hitch hikers. I remember the deep smell of pine from their clothes, as they had been working in the woods.

She stayed with my parents and I four days (no nights there, either – though there were a couple of parked car intervals). She told me that when her mother was talking to her grandmother on the phone about the trip, she heard her grandmother bellow across the room “IS HE JEWISH?”

Thus does memory flow from a post card.

I don’t, alas, remember her last name (this being some years ago). At the time she was studying to be an air traffic controller. Whether she  became one and whither she went I do not know. When I last communicated with her she was attending Brown University. She did not discuss Dachau with me.

Margaret Atwood And I – Not A Handmaid’s Tale, But A Tale Nevertheless

Elisabeth Moss,Margaret Atwood

It was not my intent to piss off Margaret Atwood.

The opposite, in fact. I wanted her to know she was an inspiration.

She was giving a reading at the University of New Brunswick in my student days. I attended, but there was quite the gathering and she was whisked away at the end. However, I overheard there was a ‘gathering’ in her honour. Invitation only, of course. Academia and literati.

I crashed the party (that was the term used by the professor who clapped his sturdy hand upon my shoulder but – happily – did not thrust me into the night).

But Ms. Atwood was kept deep in many a learned conversation and I had no opportunity to converse. I did, however, overhear where she would be spending next afternoon – the historic University Observatory.

Next day I knocked upon the Observatory door.

It was not a cheerful Margaret Atwood who answered, and answered with alacrity.

She asked my name.

She asked my business.

And she asked how the hell I knew where she was. She had stolen the day to do some writing. Some ‘real’ writing, in this window-of-opportunity grudgingly offered on the book tour.

At least I was there to praise Atwood and not to bury her with some essay question.

Nor had I a manuscript to hand to her.

I might not have garnered a smile, but her curt thank you was reward enough.

For me, at least.



The Ghost Of A Chance In The Supernatural Workshop


I do give writing workshops, though few and far between. I doubt I can be classed as a specialist in anything, I am more a ‘nuts and bolts’ instructor. However, I do write a lot of supernatural material, and I am adept at dialogue. Both are fun to play around with.

I was blessed at one Supernatural workshop to have every student both interested, and showing an accomplishment in writing. There is, of course, more chance of this when they are laying down the big bucks, but it is still appreciated.

One of the students took me aback during the course of the day. She had handled my bizarre and distracting writing exercise with aplomb, which is always positive. However, in more general discussions, she balked at my dictat that writers must write at regular times, preferably every day.  She did not have the time (with young children at home). She even stole time when a child bathed, by scribbling quickly while watching the child. Although there was time in the late evening, she refused to intrude on that. She watched TV and let her mind rest. I can readily accept that part, as that is what I also do. I doubt I could be creative past nine o’clock  even if it meant I would win the Booker.

In the afternoon, she surprised me by, quite frankly, looking ten years younger. She was relaxed and more engaging. I like to think she was reacting to being able to be somewhere where all she had to do was deal with writing. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

In the course of further general discussion, she tossed off the fact that, the previous year, she had “written a novel”. At first we thought she was in jest. However, she was taking a course from some ‘by mail’ organization, where they give exercises and critiqued work returned to them. The woman who had no time, had written a novel in a year (besting me by a year and a half). I know from her writing abilities it would not be a poor novel, and, if nothing else, it was a foundation to other writing.  I don’t even know if she’ll submit it to a publisher – it was a learning exercise.

Kudos to her, said I, and every student agreed.



Death Masks and Death

Bliss Carman, whose death mask it was, and who supplies an appropriate quote.
Bliss Carman, whose death mask it was, and who supplies an appropriate quote.

I took advantage, for my workshop on the Supernatural, to take my students on a field trip to see the death mask of a historically known poet, conveniently placed in a near-by building.

None of them had even heard of ‘death masks’, let alone seen one. I invited them to incorporate the idea of a death mask into their writing exercises. Some did, some did not. However,  it’s possible this visit to death elicited the following story from one of my students. If any do take a look here, they’ll see that I said what I meant about writers stealing all and sundry.

My student and her husband had purchased a new house. Cleaning and renovations eventually took them to the back loft area, which was piled high with decades of accumulated detritus from a long life. They cleared out beds and boxes and newspaper piles and magazines and bundles of clothes and on and on. Anyone who has had to clear out a house knows what this is like.

Near the end of this process, my student noticed a “clump of something” on one of the wooden beams in the ceiling of the loft. Getting ladder and flashlight, her husband climbed to see what it was.  He did not nearly fall from the ladder – that’s hyperbole – but he was definitely taken aback. It was the end of a number of knotted bed sheets.


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