Sunday, 30 September 2012

memoir writers homework-moving day.

Most people,I think hate moving.I'm no exception.Most people,I think find it hard to change,even when they want to.I've moved many times,sometimes from coast to coast and sometimes just a few blocks away.Sometimes I had a lot of things to move with me,and at other times, just what I was wearing plus a few clothes and maybe some books.A paperback copy of "East Of Eden" made several moves with me,until it became so tattered from all the moving that I eventually refused to carry it further.My reasons for moving were various:a separation,an eviction,moving to better accommodations,a fire,moving in with a new room mate.Twice I moved to Alberta,to find better employment opportunities.Once was in 1979,and once earlier this year.Both times I didn't have a lot with me.In 1979,it was just what I could take in my car,and earlier this year,just what I could carry in a backpack,a black hockey bag and the case carrying my new guitar.The train was leaving on a Tuesday night,so I spent all day Tuesday running about,trying to return library books and find a new pair of boots in Kensington Market.They could be purchased for far less there than they could in prosperous Alberta.It was hot,that moving day,and I found it sweaty and uncomfortable walking around.It was the first day of spring and already in the mid 20sC.At home I winnowed out the few items of clothing I planned to take,gave away some canned food and some bottles of spices to my room mate,then packed up the hockey bag for the first time and took all those clothes to the laundry,so that I would have enough clean clothing for a couple of weeks.I packed up the coil notebooks in which I had been doing all of my writing while I lived in Toronto,then returned my key to Mr.Sharma,my landlord,who was sorry to see me go and said if I was ever in Toronto I should come see him about a place to live.Then,with everything gathered together and packed into my bags I called a cab and the Jamaican driver drove me to Union Station.As we passed Kensington Market,I thought about asking him to let me out there so I could walk around for a bit,not knowing when or even if I would ever be able to walk there again.There was enough time,but my bags were too awkward,so I went directly to the station.Nearly two hours later I was seated in the observation car of a Via train as it drifted slowly away from downtown Toronto towards the west.For the second time in my life I was moving to Alberta,I thought as we crossed Dupont street near the place I'd lived until just a few hours before.I caught a quick glimpse of the graffiti on the railway overpass as we crossed,then all the surrounding became unfamiliar as we rolled along through the night.

memoir chapter II

I suppose being born and growing through to adulthood is a bit of a Big Bang sort of experience.At first you don't remember anything,but as you get farther and farther from your point of origin,you see a few things flashing by you.You have no idea that ,at some time it may be useful to think back to those things,so that you might tell others of them at some point in time.They are isolated events when they happen.There is no sense of knowing what history is.As you grow,there are more and more things rushing by,and they become easier to discern and to understand You are not in any one place for more than a moment,though at the time,when you are a child things can seem to move very slowly.It seemed we were in Redmondville forever,but,as time goes it was really just a moment.For me though,a year was a third of my whole life,so it seemed a very long time.Not only a very long time,but a seeming eternity in which the view never changed very much.

And then we moved.It seemed very sudden and the world became very different overnight.One of the things that seemed very clear to me,throughout life,was that if I went very far from home,in any direction,is that things became very different.As a child ,when we traveled I had a sense of being in very foreign surroundings when I was only a few miles down the road.Whenever we traveled by car,getting anywhere seemed to take a very long time,but that was just a child's illusion.We lived on a busy road,with a lot of woods around and not much water.Just down the road,the whole world changed.There were army trucks and even planes at some of the places I went with my father.There were lighthouses and fishing boats and piles of lobster traps in other places we went.In those places it was often a bit cooler than it was where we lived and you would have to take a coat along.Sometimes,in some of the driveways,there were seashells instead of the gravel in our own driveway.And the people,not really so very far away,spoke differently,in a language I did not understand.We were not native to the region where we lived,and so,I did not know that there were French Acadians living all around us,as we spoke English,and my parents had friends who likewise spoke English.I had no sense,at the time of there being any more than one language.

Moncton,though had plenty of people who spoke French.Nearly as many as those who spoke English.And so,I came to meet and know both kinds of people as soon as we moved.My world was expanding and I was gaining a sense of our tongues being confounded that would follow me throughout my life,up until I moved to Toronto,where you can hear a babel of many different tongues while out for a short walk or train ride.That's the thing about being Canadian.It is all about encountering a huge plurality of cultural realities in a country that is so very large.Sometimes those realities are only revealed over the vastness of area that our country takes in,and,over the passing of decades.But,sometimes it's true,that things change a great deal only a few miles from home.

Moncton was,by the standard of the day,a medium sized industrial city,located nearly in the center of the four Atlantic Provinces.It was about eighty miles from where my father worked,and from where we had lived up until some time in 1964.The city of Moncton was,in those days all about trains.There was a switching yard out in the east end,and a huge locomotive repair shop in the heart of town.You could hear trains off in the distance most of the time as they shuttled cars into the shops for repairs,or,as they hitched cars together.You could hear the whistle at the shops,throughout town I suppose,but certainly at our house.Always there was a sense and a sound of trains moving,always you could feel them move beneath your feet.The repair shops were the largest buildings I had  ever seen and they looked dark and dirty,but also fascinating,to a child who had never seen trains before.You could never escape the reality of trains here.Many of our neighbors worked at the train repair shops,including our next door neighbor.

I've said that things are often very different when you travel just a short distance.I suppose that living in Moncton was a great way to gain an appreciation of that fact,as demographics seem to make that a larger truth there than,perhaps in many other places.If you can imagine the province of New Brunswick as being a square,then divide it geographically in a diagonal from Northwest to Southeast,what you find is that the Northeast part of the province is largely French,Acadian and Catholic.The Southwest is home to English speaking peoples,Irish,Scots,and the like,many of them United Empire Loyalists.Moncton,of course lies exactly on that dividing line.In fact,Moncton seems to be more French in it's eastern extremities and more English to the can travel only a short distance away to the Northeast and find villages where everyone speaks French,and,a short distance to the Southwest where no one speaks a word of French.So.on the one hand, with Moncton lying where it does,there have always seemed to be tensions.On the other hand,it also seems to be a place where such tensions tend to be accommodated,and even resolved.

And that the cultural setting of our new home.For my father,who would have just turned thirty,it was time to find a place to settle down.For myself,it wasn't my first home,or for that matter even my second,but it was the place where most of my growing into adulthood took place.Once my father bought our home there,he never left.There came a time when I couldn't wait to leave,but that was a few years off.

Friday, 28 September 2012

memoir writers homework-discrimination

Everybody discriminates even if they don't know it or think about it when they are doing it.We certainly didn't think about it much when we were growing up.Sometimes discrimination is a good thing.My parents certainly thought so.Much of our childhood was all about learning to discern good things from bad things,and good people from those who were not so good.And in this we had my parents constant guidance."Try to stay away from those who are mean,or like to fight,or do break and enters or don't respect authority.Hang out with kids from the church,or people we know,or kids who are kind and intelligent.That policeman's kids are alright,but stay away from that unwed mothers child.Nothing good can come of that"

My parents were good judges of character,so they taught me fairly well how to discriminate.But not all discrimination is good.Mostly I've learned to think of it as a bad thing.Often it was.When I was growing up there were very few visible minorities in our town.Town was divided though,.Right down the middle between Anglophones and FrancophonesAll the kids I played with as a pre- schooler looked pretty much like me.That is to say,they were white.And I didn't really care when they spoke a language I couldn't understand.We were very accepting at that age.When we all went off to school,some of the children went to the French school,while we went to the English school.But some of the children at our school were French too.I'm not certain why they didn't go to French school.Maybe their parents thought that it would be a good idea for them to learn English at school and French at home.

When I first saw how some of these children were being discriminated,it wasn't really obvious to me what was happening.I've thought about it many times in the years since though,how that teacher really didn't treat those children right.We were playing at recess when one of the kids said something in French to another kid,who answered,also in French.There was a teacher standing nearby and she immediately came running over,as though there was a fight going on,and scolded the child speaking French saying that he could not speak French,as not all of the children could understand what he was saying.Why,I wondered were two French boys not allowed to have a private conversation between themselves.Children told secrets all the time and that never seemed to be any business of the teachers.But,because I spoke English,the whole incident made me feel somewhat superior to these other children,without realizing that this was unjustified,or without even understanding why.All I knew was that there was a somewhat favored status attached to being English among the teachers we were expected to respect.It took many years for me to unlearn this lesson.

Monday, 24 September 2012

music by The Hillbenders

music by Cedar Hill

music by Hot Mustard

memoir writers craft-some reflections on having completed a first chapter

Well.I've finally assembled a bunch of pieces into the first chapter of a memoir.All told,it seemed a lot less work than I thought it would be,at least if I exclude all the written pieces from the past that have gone into it.I'd been assembling those for a number of years,and have managed to lose them all several times over.I recall most of the substance of those writings,but ,of course I can never reproduce the writing exactly as I first put it down.

I'm still feeling a sense of awkwardness when it comes to writing with a computer,but I guess that's the way it is done these days.Still though,I'm a note taker and there is a lot of work product in written form.I'll try to save and preserve that too,but really I haven't seemed to be organized enough to do that in the past.That is part of the reason that I've allowed this blog to show some of the background that,for me has gone into producing the memoir,and not just the memoir itself.Really,getting there is way more than half the fun,and I wanted to share that with my readers.

So,on completing my first chapter,there are a number of thoughts that come to mind.The first is that the writing needs to get better.I use a spell check which likely takes countless hours of revision and turns them into minutes.But I'm not great at revisions and by that I mean I'm not especially dedicated to revising on a regular basis.I though that that is one thing the computer might force me to be better at,and it still might.So,try to picture what you see here as my daily notes,like you might find in the room where I write if you were to visit.It's much more that than it is a finished product.For the most part it doesn't occur to me that my story is especially compelling.Life,after all has been rather ordinary.But I have to remind myself that,in a world that changes as rapidly as ours does,the time and culture is not necessarily something that everyone is informed about.In fact,the world of the early 1960's sometimes seems very foreign to me.There is also the fact that,like most of us,I have lived in some parts of the world that are not really familiar to everyone reading this memoir.I can stretch my imagination to believe that I may write something that is interesting or informative to them,even if those events seem mundane to me.Why should that not be true?After all,a big part of the reason I read anything at all is that I want to see places that are exotic to me through the eyes of people who live there.

Most of the stories I've related in chapter one I've been carrying around in my head for some time.Those things,once they happened have never really left me,though,as memories they have tended to evolve over the decades.One of the most insightful parts of writing chapter one was the opportunity to consider memory and how it works.Recalling things now is much different from the experience itself.I can never be certain that I've got everything exactly right.You see,I'm still firmly convinced that the quality of memory is related to the level of language development a person has,or ultimately attains.I've also come to see how a young child's mind works very differently from that of an adult.The very best memoir writers that I know have the ability to take a child's point of view in writing.It's not the only way to relate things,straight narrative will work quite effectively,but I've always admired that ability to take on the mind of a child.It's something that I need practice at.

I've never seemed to get over the idea that what I'm really doing here is writing practice.With time,and more inclination to revision,I hope the craft will get better.The completion of a first chapter really doesn't change that point of view in my mind.Keep in mind that what is written here is not a finished product.

Some of the research has been fun.Being that it's a memoir,that is to say,the world through my eyes,I tend to not do a lot of research,though at times I feel I must.I'm sometimes inclined to put things in a wrong time frame,forgetting if they happened in say,1963 or1964,in spring or fall or some such thing.So those are the things I need to double check a lot. I tried to get copies of some of the old magazines such as Newsweek or The New Yorker,as much out of curiosity as  from any extraordinary effort to do research.I like to think about those times so that I have a greater understanding of them,but I don't really want that understanding to color my experience of  the times.I fear it may change the story.

Ever since I was a child I've had a bit of a thing for maps.They fascinate me to no end.So,in relating this story about Redmondville,I am delighted with one particular piece of technology.Google Maps.It is utterly fantastic to me that today,when I'm looking at a map,I can literally take a stroll down the streets of Montreal or Jakarta or Moscow and see all the sights as though I were really there.The same applies to Redmondville.Really,though,Google Maps is a bit more valuable,perhaps, to writers of fiction than to memoir writers.Still I was spellbound by my virtual walk down that stretch of road where we lived in the early 1960's.The whole point of spending several hours in front of the computer screen was,of course,to find the old house we lived in.To this point,I don't know that I've done that.I think I've narrowed it down to a most likely possibility,but in the nearly 50 years that have passed since then,I cannot really be certain that it is exactly the house.It may well be,but I was greatly surprised at how different that area looks from the way I remember it.The house I've picked out sits in the right position,relative to the road,and it's outbuildings are in roughly the right place,relative to the house,though the driveway is not the way I recall it to be.There is no trailer to the south either,nor have I been able to locate that mud road.It is possible,perhaps even likely that both are gone.The next farm to the north looks unfamiliar too.There seems to be no little hollow between it and our old house,the way I remember.Nor can I spot the old school a bit farther down the road on the opposite side.I'm planning to take that walk a few more times though.

For the time being I've decided to keep the technique of trying to fix the various times we lived in in their historical context.Again,it gives me a chance to do some research that I might not otherwise do,and is so interesting to my mind.I love the idea of presenting new words,and thinking about how they emerged from those earlier times.It's just a short reminder to myself that it really is important to be aware of the culture of the time,even if I am trying to avoid having that influence raw memory.That could change with time though.

memoir-chapter one-conclusion

1964.The big news stories involved civil rights in the United States,and The Beatles,who were the hottest act in pop music and who began their first visit to America in February.

Lyndon Johnson was the President Of The United States ,and it was in 1964 that he signed into law the Civil Rights Act,that outlawed segregation in schools,public places and employment.The act was vigorously opposed by southern politicians.Three civil rights workers were killed that year in Mississippi and members of the Ku Klux Klan were investigated in the deaths.It was also the year that Martin Luther King king won a Nobel Peace Prize,and Sidney Poirtier became the first black man to win the Oscar for best actor in "Lilies Of The Field."Things may have been improving for black Americans,but there were still deep racial conflicts.

America seemed conflicted in other ways too.The Vietnam War was raging and,during 1964 The Warren Commission came to the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald had been the sole killer of President John F.Kennedy.In the same year,Jack Ruby was found guilty of Oswald's murder and was sentenced to death.Meanwhile,in the United Kingdom,the death penalty was being abolished.

The Olympic Games were held in Tokyo during the summer and in Innsbruck,Austria during the winter.A World's Fair was held in New York City,where the Verrazano Narrows Bridge opened as well,and was the longest suspension bridge in the world at that time.

In Alaska,an earthquake struck on Good Friday.It was the strongest earthquake ever felt in the United States,at over 9 on the Richter Scale.

In 1964,gas cost about thirty cents a gallon and a loaf of bread around twenty one cents.Most new cars were under $5000 and an average home cost $13,050,with the average yearly salary being slightly less than half of that.That was the year the Ford Mustang was first produced.

The most popular names for boys in 1964 were Michael(as it was three years earlier),John,David,James and Robert.For girls,the most popular names were Lisa,Mary,Susan,Karen and Patricia.

Three hundred and sixty three new words appeared for the first time in The Oxford English Dictionary.They included condo,disco,ninja,paki,a derogatory name for some one of Pakistani decent.I guess with all the leaps and bounds we were making towards racial equality in North America,we really needed another racial slur.Pop tart was used for the first time,as was skateboard.Skateboards had been in existence for some time,but the term was first coined in 1964.Sitcom was also used for the first time.

There didn't really seem to be what we would call  a sitcom today among the listings of popular television shows,unless you could call The Lucy Show a sitcom.Other popular television shows of the day included Bonanza,Gomer Pyle,The Beverly Hillbillies,My Three Sons,Peyton Place,Lassie and Flipper.  



Early in 1964,Bob Dylan released an album called"The Times They Are A Changing"(still my favorite Dylan song).I guess if I'd had such things in mind at the time I would have thought the song appropriate for the occasion.It certainly seems that it was a rapidly changing society at the time.It was the age of Civil Rights,The Vietnam War,with all of it's associated protests on the near horizon.The Kennedy assassination seemed to usher in an era where people were less inclined to trust their governments.From the conclusion that Oswald acted alone,the whole incident seemed to escalate into the ultimate conspiracy theory.It seemed a beginning of a whole age of conspiracy theories.

Things were changing in our family too.My father still worked just down the road from our home in Redmondville.But he had somehow decided to move the family to Moncton,about eighty miles down the road.It was to be a big move for us and must have been a difficult decision for my father.The only thing he ever said to me about that decision was that the schools were better in the city,with better funding and newer,and students at those schools achieved at a higher rate.So he decided to sacrifice and commute the eighty mile to work every day.It was to be a decision he stuck with from the day it was made,as he moved us into the only home he had ever owned.For us,it was a big move,from country to city.The times were indeed changing.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            End-Chapter One.




Sunday, 23 September 2012

memoir writers homework-a rainbow

We were always told that a rainbow was God's promise that He would never destroy the world again by means of a flood.But recently,though I'm not entirely sure how recently,rainbows have taken on a new symbolic meaning.They have become a symbol of the gay community.This is something I became keenly aware of when I moved to Toronto in 2010.It seems that the rainbow flag flew everywhere around Wellsley and Church streets,and many businesses had small stickers on their windows as well.I suppose the purpose was to let potential customers know that the establishment bearing the flag or the decal was gay friendly.I suppose not every business establishment is,the world being what it is,so acceptance is a good thing to know about.Likewise,I suppose,if someone is redneck enough to want to avoid business contact with gay people,the rainbow affords them the opportunity to do so.Maybe that saves everyone a lot of grief.

But on July first,2011,I saw a different kind of a rainbow flag,and it offended me,to be honest.Now I'm really not one who defines a person by who they choose to sleep with,so the rainbow flag,by itself does not offend me.I know many gay people,and I've found that most of them want to live in peace and dignity and safety,in a country that values them as people.And in Canada,I think we do,to a greater extent than in many other places.The problem with this particular flag was that it featured a Canadian Maple Leaf in it's center,as a Canadian flag should.However,the outer parts of it were composed of the rainbow colours of the flag indicating gay pride.Again,I bear no ill will to the gay community.The nature of the offense has nothing to do with gay rights in my mind.It was,and is,to me a simple matter of patriotism.I don't like to see my flag corrupted,especially on Canada's national holiday.Not by rainbows,marijuana leaves,or pink potatoes,or anything else for that matter.To me,the flag stands in part for the collective values of Canadians-things like freedom and human rights.Gay rights is not something that is embraced by all Canadians.So,fly the rainbow flag,and I promise not to be offended.Fly it with,and by with,I mean along side of the Canadian flag.

So I walked home that warm summer day in a rather introspective mood.Was I being too much of a redneck?I hoped not.Was I getting old and set in my ways?Again,I hoped not,having always considered myself fairly liberal.But the presentation of that flag bothered me.It still does.I'm sure that there are those who would point their finger at me and say"homophobe" knowing how I felt.I try not to be.

memoir,chapter one-continued

Redmondville is in the northern part of the province of New Brunswick.In winter it can be very snowy and quite cold.Winters were often that way when I was growing up.Roads there were not anything of the quality of the ones today.In summer they were rough and in winter they would have been snow packed and icy.On the warmer winter nights they could be covered in black ice,invisible to the eye,but enough to send a car out of control.But those were later winters.The winter we spent in Redmondville,and there must have been only one,to the best of my recall,has fallen victim to the frailty of my mind ,such as it is.I simply do not recall a lot of snow,so it may have been a mild winter.

Of that winter I have only two snow memories.The one is of the neighbor throwing snowballs in the spring or summer,past the time that snow lingered on the ground.She must have kept them in a freezer inside the trailer.My other memory of snow,or,to be more accurate,ice,is of a time we drove a babysitter home in my fathers car.It really couldn't have been so far away from where we lived,but,at that age,all things seemed very far.My whole world you see was a small strip of driveway,so going anyplace where that house could not be seen seemed very different to me.

We must have taken her to a place near the coast,Black River,perhaps,or Point Sapin,as my father knew people in both places.But we drove down the back roads for a while.Now there may have been snow on the ground then,but I don't remember it.At some point we came to a large body of water,a bay of some sort.Here my father stopped the car and let the young woman out,and she started out across the surface of the bay on the ice.We watched her for a while,and I suppose that it may have been that my father feared she may fall through the ice.But she did not.It must have been no later than March as people would not normally have crossed open water later in the spring.The lady with the box full of snowballs must have come later,and that would have been very close to the time we left Redmondville for Moncton,in 1964.