Write on, dude…

13 11 2014

So I’m feeling just a tad guilty about not posting very much these days. But I have been writing. Honest, guv!

I think I may have mentioned that I was bought a Creative Writing course at UBC, which is a weekly night class workshop affair. As part of that we are encouraged to write every day, as well as undertaking several set piece exercises. More recently the course lead – the talented Paul Belserene – has offered us access to a forum where members of the course can post their “dailies” online. It’s a kind of half-way between writing in a notebook and never letting anyone see your efforts and on the other extreme reading it in class, which volunteers do in order to have their work critiqued in a non-judgemental, objective way. (Remarks are made from the perspective of the reader – what they heard, what it made them imagine, and how that made them feel. No actual remark about the piece, just its effects. It’s left to the writer to use that feedback as they will.)

Anyway, I’ve yet to see anyone post anything (except my shy retiring self, of course), and only one other from the course of 17 has even signed up! So I figured if my classmates are not going to bother reading my stuff, why not let my other audience have a look?

Early days yet – I make no suggestion that this is high art of any kind – but as ever, I welcome comments.

This was a desolate place. The wind was howling about his ears and trying hard to dislodge his coat hood. He hunkered down, turning his back to the worst of it and thrusting his hands into his pockets.

From this high rock he could see for miles out to sea. The waves seemed gentle at this distance, but experience left him in no doubt that it was mere illusion. Nearer the shore there were sudden explosions of white as hidden rocks punished the reckless surge of the tide. He could see brave birds patrolling just above the undulating waves. Amazing how they could identify a meal amongst all that chaos.

Despite the frigid wind, the sun shone and attempted to warm the land. It was a lost cause here. The rock was smooth hard basalt, stripped clean of any living thing twice a day – the moon’s spiteful reply to the sun’s offer of life. Nothing grew here. The tides left no moss or weed, nor deposited any seaweed. Utterly barren.
Another illusion.
He was here.
The birds were here.
Presumably things they wanted to eat were here.

A sudden gust buffeted him so that he had to take a half-step to remain upright. He smiled. He felt alive.

Though it is a piece of pure imagination, I drew my inspiration from my summer trip to Tow Hill on Haida Gwaii. As a complete aside, you might enjoy photos of the place posted a while ago by burnt embers.

Creative Writing

5 10 2014

As part of my birthday present this year, I was bought a creative writing course at Vancouver’s UBC. It’s a 10 week evening course aimed at teaching the participants how to objectively assess their output and hopefully therefore write more better ;o). Though we get set weekly assignments, most of the focus is on providing solid objective feedback to the work of others. Our own assignment is there primarily to offer material for others to practice their feedback on. Hopefully towards the end of the course we reach a Zen state where we can disassociate from our own words and assess them as an impartial reader might – removing the element of “well, I REALLY meant…” and reacting only to what is actually on the page.

The course instructor is Paul Belserene, a “professional story-teller”. Being the detail-oriented anal-retentive I am, I checked him out via the well of occasionally accurate information available on the internet. Turns out he is an American by birth. Originally educated there, he saw the light and now lives in BC. He even occasionally puts ‘u’ into his words just to show he’s open in principle to assimilating into his adopted country. Though gently spoken and dry of wit, his knowledge and experience on the subject make his 2 hour sessions seem far too short. He also has the patience of a saint which, not myself being of a religious bent, I would equate to other mere mortals, so I suppose that’s just a truism.

As I mentioned, we’re provided a handful of assignments each week to provide some fodder for the main task of learning how to objectively evaluate the written word. Since this course has reinvigorated my writing juices, I thought I’d share one here on my much neglected – though steadfastly quite irrelevant – blog.


Write an email that is a follow-up from one person after their first face-to-face meeting in an internet dating situation.

Hey Greg,

I wanted to write to let you know how much I enjoyed last night. I’m sure you’ve texted me like you said you would, but my stupid kid brother dropped my phone in the bath and it’s stopped working, so I can’t get my texts until I get a new one.

Going to the cinema was such a treat. I had no idea that “Death in a Storm Drain” was still showing. Thanks for letting me buy your ticket – so many men these days insist on paying, which hurts my feminist ideals and would have ruined the romance of the movie. I still can’t believe you had your wallet stolen while we were out. Don’t worry, you can pay me back for your train ticket later.

How is your flat mate? It was sad to hear of his Haemorrhagic Fever, but maybe we can go back to your place next time instead. I think I wrote your number down wrong because when I called today there was a Chinese restaurant that answered. Please email me back soon – I bought us tickets for that batik design seminar I told you about.

Hoping to be yours – Elsie

Now, if you want to play the game, you assess the piece in three phases:

1) What do you read? Assess it AS WRITTEN. Infer what YOU will, as the reader.

2) What do you imagine? Use your own experience and knowledge to paint the mind pictures around the specific words you read. What do the words lead you to imagine?

3) How does it make you feel? What emotional response results from that?

As the reader, these are your assessment of the impact of the piece. Only the writer knows if those responses are even close to the intent – but they’re valid nonetheless. Notice that there’s no judgemental element? There’s no concept of good/bad, only a report of how one reader was “moved” or had reactions to the piece. The writer can then use that feedback to tune the piece if those responses are not aligned with the intent.

Eventually I hope the course will allow me to perform that feedback loop myself, and get at least one step closer to my intended reaction before letting my writing loose on an unsuspecting reader. I’ll let you know how things progress…

Thank-you and goodnight

12 07 2013

So I have this thing.

Actually I have a whole bunch of things, but the thing I want to tell you about right now relates to travel.

I suppose I should apologise to those of you who have noticed my lack of output of late. I’ve been away on a trip to Europe for work, and then got busy trying to catch up and then took a weekend camping to re-acquaint myself with my kids. Any or all of the above may eventually become the subject of blog entries, but I want to start gently and talk about my thing.

Ever since I first got to travel for work, I made it a habit to learn how to say “thank-you” in the local language. I firmly believe that if you make an attempt to show gratitude then you can get away with a lot more stumbling and pointing helplessly at menus. Actually, my first ever business trip was to Oman, and I confess my “thing” hadn’t yet occurred to me, so I don’t know how to say thank-you in Arabic. Everyone I interacted with spoke better English than me, and it didn’t seem necessary.

When I went to Taiwan though, I learned that “xie xie” was the Mandarin for thanks. My recent travels added Romanian and Hungarian to the list, so I thought I’d just show off a little and enumerate all the ways I’ve learnt to say thank-you to beer-suppliers around the world…

[Edit: 5th August 2013… I realise I’d forgotten Portuguese!]

Austria Danke
Belgium Bedankt
Denmark Tak
Finland Kiitos
France Merci
Germany Danke
Hungary Köszönöm
Italy Grazie
Japan Arigato
Korean Kamsahamnida
Netherlands Dank u well
Portugal Obrigado
Romania Multo mesc
Spain Gracias
Sweden Tak
Taiwan xie xie

Suck cess

16 04 2013

Did you know that “cess” means “tax”? Nothing to do with cesspits at all. Though I think you’d likely agree that taxes are the pits.

But anyway… here’s a couple of quotes I came across today in my meanderings through life:

Success is not the result of spontaneous combustion. You must set yourself on fireReggie Leach

Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasmSir Winston Churchill

The Writer’s Dilemma – In search of Janus

16 04 2013

As often happens, I sought one thing and found another.

I was looking for an image of Janus.

I found one, but better… I also found this:

The Writer’s Dilemma: Content Writing Tips for Using an Inward and an Outward Gaze – GWHQ Productions.

The Things We Say – Your journey has molded you for your greater good

26 03 2013

I’d never heard of Asha Tyson until I stumbled upon “The Things We Say”, and this quote: The Things We Say – Your journey has molded you for your greater good.

Turns out she’s a motivational speaker. “Homeless at 17, retired at 26″. Asha Tyson Dynamics (her corporate self’s website) claims “Upgrade and Supercharge Your Life in 1 Week”. Hmmhmm…

As I recently counselled a Ugandan friend whose brother had been offered a job at a Toronto hotel via email… (All flights included for free(!). Salary paid in $US(?). “Hotel Manager” of a major chain with a yahoo email address (!?!!)): If it seems too good to be true… it likely is!

Actually this quote caught my eye for a very different reason: “molded”. Now Noah Webster was a very smart gentleman, but it didn’t stop him butchering the written English language in North America. Shades of Ministry of Truth in my view. Double plus bad.

He tried to bring rationalisation and a quest for simplicity to English. Trouble is, as we learned from Google’s recent foray into dictating Swedish word usage… language refuses to be fettered like that. English is a pig to learn, and even native speakers frequently get bits of it wrong when forced to commit it to writing. (Self being an extremely prime example!)

The thing I put on a wheel and what happens when I’m sleepy may sound the same, but they have different meanings. Spelling them as tyre and tire avoids any confusion: a sensible stance taken by the entire English-speaking world… well – at least outside North America. Unlike many cases where Canada “could go either way” and use English or American spelling, this one is definite. Canada sticks firmly with the US variant. I cringe every time I enter Canada’s version of Halfords: Canadian Tire.

Even things you might consider important like weights and measures are negotiable in Canada. Here, a pint can be 16oz  (US) or 20oz (rest of world). All the more confusing because technically we’re metric anyway!! For the most important use – measuring beer – conflict is avoided by selling it in measures of “a sleeve” which is generally accepted to be in the approximate region of a pint (for a given value of “pint”), plus or minus. It neatly side-steps the entire issue and allows us Canadians to continue peaceably drinking together whilst (I love that word) watching the blood and mayhem on the TV as we follow the ice hockey. We’re violent by proxy. In fact we often import Finns, Swedes and various other folk of Viking lineage to do it on our behalf.

Confusion is true of linear measures too. I was shocked the other day to see in large letters across the back of a fire-engine: “Stay back 150 meters”. Voltmeters? Ammeters? Water meters perhaps? Surely a meter is something that measures (or meters out) some quantity. A metre on the other hand is a unit of length. C’est un mot français, n’est pas? Comme “centre” ou “theatre”. OK… so the difference in these last couple is historic. Despite the fact that the revolutionary Americans relied on the French military for their gaining independence, they didn’t follow England in adopting trendy French words like autumn (Shakespeare used “fall”) and theatre (common in England from ~1700).

All that to bring me back to mold. I was taught in school that a mold is a fungus. A mould on the other hand is something that shapes something… like a personality.

To be molded by a journey smacks ever so vaguely of contracting athlete’s foot! Hardly inspirational, now, is it?!

On Compromise

26 03 2013

The last week or so we’ve been joined at work by a couple of colleagues from Timisoara in Romania. As is so often the case, I’ve been stunned by the level of English our visitors command. I speak not one word of Romanian, but they are entirely comfortable conversing and writing in English. Their entire support infrastructure (which they linked through to in Romania via the Internet to demonstrate to us) was in English. Every specification and document used by the entire development team is in English. Their command of my language is so good that they were freely laughing at subtle word play and making jokes themselves.

Yesterday though, I was reminded that language is not just the words, but the idioms used by native speakers. In Romanian, it seems, a compromise is described as “keeping both the goat and the cabbage happy”. It struck me how pastoral the image was, and I struggled to think of the English equivalent. The best I could come up with was “squaring the circle”.

In looking for an illustration, I discovered that the French have a similar phrase: Ménager la chèvre et le chou… Managing the goat and the cabbage. It would seem it comes from the old puzzle about crossing the river with (in this case) a wolf, a goat and a cabbage. In English, it’s more usual to puzzle over a fox, a chicken and a sack of corn.


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