Here I am on New Year’s Eve in Coffee Shop watching snowflakes fall. And I can’t help but think: Why is Abba asking Fernando if he hears the drums? And what was in the air that night? Why is it when hubby and I go to Home Depot we never get a cart? And I have to put everything down and get one, which is always outside. Why, do men turn into The Hulk the minute they enter hardware stores? And when they do handy man stuff at home? When I go to the grocery store for one item why do I end up juggling ten in my hands? Why is it when someone complains about winter, there is always one person who tells them it’s Canada, as if the complainee doesn’t know they are in Canada. But when someone complains about the heat in summer no one says, “it’s Canada.” Why is that? Why is it that duct cleaners phone from India? They live in a hot country, do they know what a duct is? Or do they think it’s our ducks that need cleaning? Why, when I type the contraction, it’s my computer underlines it and thinks it should be the possessive, its? And what time was Paul Simon singing about in, Late in the Evening? Why is it people take things literally? Like what I’m writing at the moment. Like the man two tables over talking about the fires in Australia and predictions in the bible about the earth ending by fire this time around. Why will someone feel the need to answer the question? Why are the Kardashians popular? And what happens to all the contestants who didn’t win The Voice? Why is it no one has written a reply to the song, How Long by Ace? My enquiring mind wants to know how long it’s been going on: two months? A year? Five years? Thinking of love, why do people post their love life on social media? If I invest a minute of my time reading all about the love of their life, cheering them on, liking their posts, I need an explanation when it’s over. So, like the Bee Gees are singing right now, maybe you can tell me how a love so right can turn out to be so wrong. I need to know. I need closure. I really do. Why is it my hair never does what I want and always, always, always does what it wants, as if it has a mind of its own? Why do I think it does? Why is it Monday has a bad rap when every other day is fine? And why if Monday is good to John Phillips does it make him cry? Why am I sitting here thinking of this, this & this? Because Annie Lennox is asking, Why? And on a snowy day Coffee Shop is the best place to let the mind roam.
Cheating on my mind
I cheated. I’m blaming my hubby. He encouraged me. Told me if I wasn’t satisfied, I should go elsewhere. Glad to know he thinks that way. So, with cheating on my
I walk to the counter and say, “coffee in a mug and one of the kitchen sink cookie.” The woman behind the counter frowns at me. “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?” she asks.
I nod. She turns to her co-worker and points at me, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.”
Her co-worker shouts to two people in the kitchen, “She’s having the 800 calorie cookie.” One of them comes out and asks, “You’re having the 800 calorie cookie?”
And I think, this is turning into something from a Seinfeld or Curb Your Enthusiasm episode. After weeks of looking at the cookie, craving it, talking about it to everyone who works in the coffee shop, I’m finally going to have it. I explain to them that I didn’t eat breakfast and now it’s lunch. Therefore I can eat the cookie and call it two meals.
“Get her the 800 calorie cookie,” the manager says. They present it to me on a plate with a napkin. I fill my mug with coffee and head to my favourite seat at the back of the room. Today, it’s packed. Two girls are drinking coffee and chatting. One says: and I like went…and he like went…and I like went. It continues right through their conversation. A boy tries the door at the back. It’s locked. I ignore him. The girls ignore him. Everyone ignores him. It’s a security thing. He walks away, and a few minutes later another boy tries the locked door. One of the girls gets up and opens the door. Whoosh…icy air floods the room. He thanks her and walks to the front to order or maybe he’s doing a walk through. And I think, hmmm….The woman across the room smiles at me then stares at the ceiling as if she has forgotten something. Something important. Something she’s supposed to remember. I open my book, sip my coffee and take a bite of the 800 calorie cookie. I am disappointed.
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I’ve often wondered: What’s the secret? I found out the other day. In need of a bra for a low cut dress, I took it to one of their stores—you know the one with the sexy lingerie. The sales clerk checked the front of my dress and said I needed a plunging bra. She handed me a few: A fully padded push-up, demi, semi-padded, an unpadded one that hooked in the front, and a bustier; she thought I should try on just for fun.
Since I wore push-ups in the 1970s, I started with that one. I slipped my dress over it and looked in the mirror. I laughed. My breasts spilt out of the top like two globes, which hadn’t seen the sun in forty years. The lyrics, blinded by the light, silicone sisters and boulder on my shoulder by Manfred Mann came to mind. Believe me, they were practically on my shoulders. The demi was perfect, not as much spillage as the push-up. “But not enough plunge,” the salesclerk said, examining how it looked with my dress. Next came the semi-padded. It worked, and I put it in my buy pile. No problem with the bralette. It was also a go. I took the unpadded one with the front hook from its hanger. I wore them in the ‘70s, so I knew I would buy it if I could get the clasp open. I had to put on my reading glasses to see what I was doing wrong. While I struggled with it, two young women were having a fashion show in the changing area. They came out of their cubicles, strutted around in various kinds and colour bras, critiquing each other. “I don’t like that colour on you.” “The pink is much better.” “Leopard is not for you.” “I like the coral.”
Okay, I’m open-minded and I’m not old. I don’t consider 60s old. But as they were commenting about each other’s bras, I couldn’t help but think: What does it matter if pink is not your colour or you like coral. No one will see them. If they were thinking men—well I’m not sure about that. If I recalled, we had beige, black, white and pink. They never stayed on long enough for men to admire or mention. Maybe they did, and I can’t remember. But it seems the world is different in 2016. Women are no longer hiding or burning their bras. They’re proud of them and showing them off along with their cleavage. Maybe if I were in my 20s, I too would be particular about what colour bra looked good on me. And want to show off the ones I was about to buy.
Anyway, while they discussed colours and styles I was sweating and swearing and fighting with the front clasp on the bra. I’d gotten it on. Loved it, but I couldn’t get it off. I tried to pull it over my head; that didn’t work. In the ’70s they were so much easier. And what about a man removing a woman’s bra with the flick of a finger, does it still happen? If so, was there one nearby? Or Houdini. I could have used his help. Since I was alone, on went my reading glasses again. When I finally got it off, I realized that as much as I loved it, there was no way I wanted a bra I had to put on glasses to hook and unhook. It went in the no pile. Then came the for fun red and lacy bustier. I decided it was a definite possibility. But it turned out to be more work than I planned on doing to be sexy. By the time I got it on I would need a nap. And I think I hurt my back. So here’s what I found out about the secret. You either have to be an escape artist or have perfect eyesight
I remember reading Joe Brainard’s book, I remember. It brought back so many memories that I use those universal words, ‘I remember’ as a writing prompt in my workshops. It’s an easy way to start the writing process and connects people with themselves. The trick is, to write not only the good memories but also the bad ones. I went through my notebooks and looked at my ‘remembers.’ I hope it will inspire you to write your memories.
A concrete barrier brings memories: Waves from the Atlantic Ocean splashing over the sea wall, splattering our car as we drove to the sugar estate. I remember getting wet because it was hot and we always had the car windows open.
I remember the salty taste of the air, the sweetness of sugar cane, molasses and raw brown sugar. Wide open spaces, the bluest sky, puffy white clouds and the green of trees and bushes rustling in the breeze.
I remember the house, dim when the wooden shades were closed to keep out the noon heat.
I remember the sunshine, roaming the estate with no shoes, the gravel road that poked the bottom of my bare feet. The woman, who worked in the yard, her gypsy skirts, silver and gold bracelets on her ankles and wrists. She didn’t speak English, Hindi I think.
I remember being afraid of her and hiding behind my mother.
I still remember the feeling of drowning at three years old in a flood. The sensation of spinning in a tunnel even though I was lying unmoving, face down in the water. I remember the blue dress and red rubber boots I wore that day.
I remember being scared of water for the longest time until I learnt to swim.
I remember the station wagon that picked up the estate kids. I once knew the name of the driver. I don’t know it anymore. But I remember his smell: aftershave mixed with curry. He drove us down the coast to various schools. At the end of the day, he picked us up and took us back to the country.
I remember Texas. Blue Bonnets. The mile walk to Lamar Junior High and the mile home, rain or shine. The only public swimming pool, chlorine in the air, sun beating down hard, hot concrete under our feet, and The Beatles coming from a transistor radio.
I remember school football games on Friday nights, the musty smell of the bowling alley on a Saturday afternoon. The roller rink, Debbie in her skating skirt, her face red and sweaty as she twirled.
I remember wishing someone would dedicate a song to me.
I remember Texas A&M University pool. Kate and Gloria didn’t want their teased, almost lacquered hair to get wet. While they posed at the side of the pool, I jumped from the Olympic diving board. It felt like a roller coaster ride. I remember sunlight twinkling on the water like fairy lights guiding me to the top.
I remember working at The Buccaneer after school and during summer vacations for fifty cents an hour. The way chopped onions burnt my eyes. The way grease from the grill and fryer saturated the kitchen floor, my hair and face. And I made the perfect soft ice-cream cone.
I remember nearly everyone in junior high and high school drove.
I remember my aunt let me drive when I was fourteen. I never told my mother.
I remember Judy, Darla and I driving around in Judy’s brother’s convertible Thunder Bird, our hair wild in the wind as we drag-raced boys. I remember the squeal of tires and stink of rubber on asphalt.
I remember how much I missed everyone when I moved to Canada.
I remember my first morning in Toronto, November 1st, 1966. My sister and I took the streetcar and subway. It was a new experience.
I remember the rumble and shudder of the wooden escalator in Eaton’s.
I remember starting East York Collegiate. I didn’t like it. It was too big. Ice-skating at city hall, frozen toes and fingers.
I remember in 1968 CHUM FM changed to rock and roll.
I remember my first full-time job, Double Day Publishing Company, the staleness of the old building on Bond Street and the noxious ink in the books.
I remember my next job, the insurance industry. File cabinets that clanked, adding machines that clunked and typewriters that pinged. I made sixty-five dollars a week. I thought I was on the money.
I remember turning twenty-one and moving into my first apartment—builders’ beige walls, pink kitchen cupboards, parquet floors, and green tiles in the bathroom. The second-hand couch a co-worker gave me, pots and dishes my mother no longer wanted and my large record collection. Heat from the radiators, stifling air, checking and re-checking the alarm on my clock radio to make sure I’d set it, afraid I would be late for work.
I remember waking up to Jungle Jay Nelson on Chum AM.
I remember spending all my money on an expensive stereo. The airy feeling of freedom, being able to smoke, having friends over and watching television until the stations went off the air.
I remember eating strawberry ice cream with sliced bananas, peanut butter and chocolate sauce for dinner, or not eating at all, and reading all night.
I remember running down the hill in the mornings to catch the bus to the subway. The guy who stopped and talked to me every morning. When the bus arrived, he left. We had a strange bus stop relationship.
I remember someone in Becker’s asked me on a date, said he worked for K-Tel Records. He could get me as many albums as I wanted. I remember thinking, K-Tel? Really? I told him I had a boyfriend. It wasn’t a lie.
I remember on muggy nights dragging my mattress to the living room and sleeping with the balcony door wide open.
I remember bars—smoky, body odour mixed with cigarettes, cologne and alcohol.
I remember I loved Canoe men’s cologne.
I remember I used Love’s Baby Soft perfume.
I remember my friend Diane. We covered my pink kitchen cupboards with brown Mactac to give them the appearance of wood. It turned out to be a gluey mess. I remember we laughed because it looked awful.
I remember we painted my white dresser red. We ran out of paint and left it half white and half red. It looked silly. I threw it away three years later.
I remember the macramé hanger and green lampshade with black fringe that she made me. It reminded me of something out of a saloon in the Wild West. I kept that lampshade and hanger for years.
I remember one night she showed up with a bottle of Canadian Club Rye and a marijuana joint. She started to cry. Her boyfriend had broken up with her. I cried too because I was sad for her. Someone knocked on my door. By then we were dancing and jumping around to a song. Paranoia set in. I freaked. The rye and coke squished around in my stomach. I thought I would pee my pants. The stereo was loud. We were drunk and stoned. I swore it was the police. We’d be arrested. I’d be evicted. Diane opened the door to find someone from the Conservative party—could they count on our vote. After the woman left, we turned the music back up, lit wine-dipped cigarillos and played cards-Old Maid and Go Fish.
I remember Wasaga Beach May to September—blazing sun, scorching sand, Tropicana suntan oil, and the dank cabins we stayed in on the weekends. We did that every summer for three years.
Most of all, I remember our many long conversations about everything including the meaning of life and the problem with guys. We came to the conclusion that guys were one level up from boys. Guys still lived at home with their parents and weren’t mature enough to take a relationship seriously. Their only pursuits were sex and fun. Men had their own place and were more likely to make a commitment. We were dating guys. We needed to meet men.
I remember the incredible feeling of falling madly in love and the numbness of a break-up.
I remember my second apartment, the newness of it, the recreation centre, indoor swimming pool, and Dominion grocery store. The toxic fumes of shellac on the polished floors.
I remember I bought a new couch and a lime green shag rug.
I remember when Tom, the person I dated that summer broke up with me, I said, that’s fine. After all, it was just a summer romance. He was still a guy, and the relationship had nowhere to go. He didn’t understand.
I remember hanging up the phone and thinking: yep, you’ve come a long way, baby.
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Half way through my first novel, Sunshine Girls I realized I had four 22-year-old female characters in 1973, but no sex. How could that be? After all wasn’t, sex, drugs and rock & roll the mantra of the decade? I took the problem to my writing group.
“You have to have sex,” one person said.
“No one wants to read a book without sex,” someone else added.
Since I’d never written a sex scene before, I headed to the romance section of the nearest bookstore. The first book I picked up, a bodice-ripping historical piece gave explicit descriptions of body parts. I perused a few paragraphs and put it back on the shelf. Too much like porn for what I had in mind. The next one about a woman being coy in 2011 was a little unbelievable for the era. Then I remembered the best seller, Fifty Shades Of Grey. Women loved it, so I bought a copy. I read one chapter and browsed through a few others and put it down. I’m picky about dialogue, maybe too much. From the way Christian Grey spoke, he seemed more like a vampire than young, good-looking and rich. Not the kind of person I wanted touching my protagonist. Besides my four characters were not into kinky. Or maybe they were, and my protagonist didn’t know about it.
In the four years of creative writing courses, not once did our teachers give us any hints on how to write sex scenes. And none of the articles I read on the subject seemed to fit what I wanted. I was on my own. It took me five hours to write one sentence. Mainly because I felt I needed to be careful with the protagonist, after all, she was a naïve twenty-two year old in 1973. Women still had a long way to go to lose the slut label. Once I got through the first scene, the others were easier and fun to write. I even laughed and enjoyed stretching my imagination.
The sex scenes in Paper Sun were stress-free. The characters were fifty. By the time we get to forty, the word promiscuous should no longer exist. I even put my character in a no commitment sexual relationship with a man twelve years younger.
I still don’t know everything about writing sex scenes. But here’s what I figured out:
- Make sure no one else is around when you’re writing the scenes.
- Unless it’s erotica or a bodice-ripping novel, keep it tasteful and simple—no need for long drawn out details.
- Don’t forget the characters’ emotions.
- Use your imagination.
- Sex scenes do not have to be romantic.
- Most of all be playful, laugh and have fun with it.
In my third book, the characters are 65 years old and older. I’m dealing with bodies that are no longer youthful. Not to mention the up and down feelings that go along with aging. Up to now, my research describes all the physiological problems of people sixty and over. I haven’t found much on the emotional part of older adults having sex with a new partner or someone they haven’t seen in years. So, I’m back to asking myself the same question: sex or no sex.
An excerpt from Sunshine Girls.
“The fight for rights, it has been going on long before the sixties,” Gilles said. “It’s only since Pierre Trudeau made his famous speech that the state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation that—”
I stared at him.
“Ella, don’t tell me you don’t know about the speech.”
Of course I knew about the speech—everyone did. I’d heard it when I was in high school and I knew the government had passed a law decriminalizing homosexuality. They’d also passed a law legalizing therapeutic abortions. In history class my teacher had said the changes were a big step for women. I’d doodled and half listened to her talk about Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to run a marathon with men, even though the head of the marathon committee tried to ban her and doctors warned if she ran her uterus might fall out. I didn’t think any of it affected me so I hadn’t paid much attention. After class we’d laughed about it and some of the girls called our teacher a “butch broad.”
At the elevator in our building, Gilles switched back to his “normal” self. “Read the papers, ma belle. Keep up-to-date with what is going on. I know you don’t think so but it affects you and your friends as women,” he said. “And today’s man likes a woman who is aware of what is happening in the world.”
He seemed to be referring to Doris. She was smart and well informed. But Mary on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, who worked in a man’s world and whose job depended on being on top of world affairs, even she dressed in a feminine manner, wanted to find true love and get married. Now I was more confused. From everything I’d read, men didn’t want smart women. They wanted women who made them look and feel good. Maybe that was Mary and Doris’s problem—they didn’t follow the rules.
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Today as we gathered at the Second Cup for coffee and cake, a farewell to Avi and Tenil, I couldn’t help but remember when they first took it over. I wasn’t sure if I would like them. I’d grown accustomed to the previous owner and his cronies that took up all the tables and chairs. One day something happened that made me realize that Avi and Tenil cared about their customers. I wanted a seat so I approached a man who had taken over two tables, one for his coffee and one for his work. When I politely asked him to move his papers he informed that his files needed the table. I left. The next time I went into Second Cup the situation had been dealt with. Tenil and Avi had set a rule, one table and chair per person.
For me, today was not only about saying goodbye to two wonderful people and their staff, it was saying goodbye to the place where I wrote Sunshine Girls. I’d bought a notebook from Chapters and for a longest time I called the novel, I’m Not Here Right Now. And I wasn’t. I was back in 1973 Toronto and Wasaga Beach. Everyday I went into Second Cup bought a mug of coffee and filled pages of the notebook with words and sentences. Then I went home and typed them into my computer. Once I finished the crummy, jumbled first draft, I printed out the manuscript and took it to Second Cup. Day after day, I sat and marked the pages with a red pen, made notes and scribbled in the margins. It became a ritual. But Second Cup wasn’t just a place for me to write. Avi and Tenil allowed me to host many Words and Music events. It was my drop in where everyone knew my name. I took my class there for an afternoon of writing. “Find one person and give them a life,” I’d said. Little did they know it was an exercise in writing through noise and distraction. And it was the place to meet friends for coffee and a chat. Where I went to relax and read the newspaper.
The reason behind the closure: A new Second Cup has opened has opened a block away. I’ve been to that new one. It’s corporate and cold. It lacks the warmth of Avi, Tenil and their staff. I won’t go here. So, as I tearfully hugged Avi, Tenil, and the staff, and thanked them for everything, I said goodbye to my long relationship with Second Cup.
When I’m working on a novel or short story and the words aren’t flowing I don’t see it as an obstacle. For me it’s a time do something different, something out of the ordinary, something wildly creative. It doesn’t have to follow rules or be correct. It is what it is: Imperfect and Perfect at the same time.
Take a bite, make a list, pretend I’ll complete it. Turn on computer, turn on music,
get into the groove. Check email, open pen, open book, scribble word. Search
for another pen. Write about obstacles, scratch out line, add line, gaze
Take a bite, check plant, check window, check paper. Write, about dogs,
about cats, about slippery with bad news rising. Count paper clips.
Take a bite, stand at window. Look south, north, east, west,
shift from foot to foot. Sit down. Write Jasmine blooms: brilliant,
too brilliant, too too brilliant like desire, un-attachment,
aversion, lust, scratch out blooming Jasmine.
Take a bite draw flower add stem and leaves. Scratch out flower.
Write about loves lost, beaches, Beach Babies they called us.
Summer Boys I named them—he laughed. What were their names?
Forgotten—so long ago. Open holy water, sprinkle, make sign of cross,
visualize. Visualize what? Visualize chakra. Scribble word on new blank
page. Scratch word, scratch head, scratch arm. Write deluded deadline
Take a bite, move box black and white with polka dots. Climb in-jump out.
Write goals pretend I’ll meet them, meet, meet, meet who? Where? When?
How? Kill adjectives,adverbs, verbs. No. Need verbs. Prepositions maybe.
Take a bite, look at John Lennon framed on the wall. Look at Bob Dylan
framed on the wall. Ask them their thoughts on stifling people at tables
in restaurants. Watch a man shake off winter and tramp through slush searching
for house number nine. Number nine. That’s it—Beatles. Number nine. Dig deep
into my soul, my essence, my being. Write about spades about shovels, about hoes.
The ho reached for the john. The john reached for the ho. No soul. No essence.
No being. No ho. No john.
Take a bite, close pen, close book, shut down mind—Perfection.