Tag Archives: Friends

It Takes A Village

[click here for the update]

Since moving from Southern Ontario to the southeastern part of New Brunswick (a quick 1600km [1000mi] jaunt) in August 2020 the most common question I am asked is, “Do you like New Brunswick?” and the second most common one is, “Do you miss Ontario?”

The answers, as it turns out, encompass more than a simple “Yes” or “No”.

Do I like New Brunswick?

The Bay of Fundy as seen from Fundy National Park, New Brunswick

Yes. There is a lot to like about his little maritime province of 800,000 souls.

All the people I’ve encountered are pretty chill and my biggest adjustment was to the pace. Everyone here moves around like they’re on a Caribbean island that just happens to have below freezing temperatures six months of the year. Spending 46 years in Southern Ontario, most of that within an hour of Toronto (~5 Million people), it’s a fair statement that I’m wound pretty tight, so I find myself tapping my toe, white-knuckle gripping the steering wheel, or yelling “MOVE ALREADY!” more often than I’d like to. Make no mistake though, I long for the day I can embrace the worry pas attitude of my neighbours.

Speaking of neighbours, the people here are known for being, well, neighbourly, and it’s true! That’s probably the thing I like the most (aside from the 110km/hr speed limit on the highway that never has traffic). For the most part, people here behave neighbourly regardless of your background, religion, or political stripe – until you give them a reason not to, at which point you’d better watch out or you’ll find yourself on the business end of an Acadian Throwing Star.

The province is also absolutely gorgeous. As you can see from the photo above the province is near water, bordered on two sides by the Bay of Fundy to the south and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. That said, it’s actually known more for its trees (and the Irving oil company, but I have nothing nice to say about them other than their rest stop washrooms are really clean). New Brunswick has a crap tonne of trees. So many trees, very little farmland. I was surprised at how hilly the province is. While there are relatively few freshwater lakes, the province boasts the best of all worlds. All it’s missing is a big mountain like Alberta or BC and a giant flat expanse of wheat like Saskatchewan and it’d be the geographical representation of the whole country in a tidy 72,908 square kilometre package.

Things are also cheaper here. Not everyday things like a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter, but big-ticket items like property and housing. The house you’ll see a picture of in the next section would cost me half in New Brunswick of what I would pay in Ontario. As it stands I went from a 40-foot-wide lot with a postage stamp for a backyard bordered by three fences to a 70-foot-wide one with a big-ass shed, screened gazebo, and a tree-lined rear property line backing onto an even more tree-lined crushed gravel multi-use path maintained by the city in all seasons.

The third-most common question I’m asked is if I plan on moving back to “Upper Canada”. While I can’t predict the future, one scroll through my Instagram feed should give you the most likely answer.

Do I miss Ontario?

My Last Ontario House (Cambridge)

Mostly not, but what I do miss I miss with an intensity that makes my heart ache.

I don’t miss the traffic. I don’t miss the default curtness or downright rudeness of a lot of the people. I don’t miss the rush, the hustle and bustle, and the traffic. Have I mentioned I don’t miss the traffic? I am fortunate that I get to work from home, but even if my commute was to the other side of the city it would be at worst a 20-minute drive.

It seems the Southern Ontario experience and its citizen’s default behaviour is the exact opposite of what you’ll find out east.

I really don’t miss the politicians, specifically Ontario’s Premier, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Drug Fraud, a.k.a. Trump North, a.k.a. Little Dougy). It’s probably no secret to anyone who’s read this blog that I’m not a fan of conservative politics, and the conservative politicians in Ontario are pretty much the worst. Even though New Brunswick elected a Conservative government a month after I moved here (damn you, New Brunswick, that was a real dick move!) it’s a different brand of politics. There’s still a lot of the same ol’ conservative bullshit about keeping the minimum wage low and a general disrespect to anyone that’s not: a) rich or b) a donor, but they’re neighbourly about it and have been known to listen to reason once or twice. Baby steps.

While I don’t miss Toronto and all the congestion and shitty transit services and throngs of people and the noise I do miss having access to baseball games and concerts. I really miss the music scene. My wife and I would go to shows all the time in Toronto and the surrounding area brings in every act you can think of. Since moving here we have made a commitment to attend as much live music as we can though it will never compare to what we had back in Ontario.

I miss my family’s cottage. Since 1938 my family has had a property on the water up at Wasaga Beach, the longest freshwater beach in the world. The cottage is smack dab in the middle of the beach which sits on the shores of Nottawasaga Bay, a small bay that sits off the quite large Georgian Bay which sits off the quite large Lake Huron. It was a two-hour drive from my house to the cottage and it was worth it. Soft sand, warm weather in the summer with a soft breeze to keep the temperatures sensible, decent skiing in the winter at Blue Mountain just 20-minutes away, and the best sunsets on the planet.

Most of all, I miss the village I spent 46 years building and making myself a part of. My entire immediate family, including all my nieces, nephew, and in-laws, resided within a 90-minute drive of my house. With one exception, the lion’s share of my closest and most trusted friends all lived within a couple of hours. I miss watching gold medal hockey games with some of my best buds or scooting down to Rogers Centre for baseball games. Making friends as an adult is hard, especially when you work from home and have a global pandemic wreaking havoc with outside-the-house activities.

The lack of a village to call upon and lean on was never more apparent than it was last week. My wife drove our daughter to her dorm room at the University of Waterloo, about a half-hour drive from our former home (both my and my wife’s alma mater. Go Warriors!) After a year and a half of remote university, our daughter was excited about finally leaving the nest, but wouldn’t you know it, the day after she unloaded her car, the damn thing wouldn’t start, stranding both her and my wife in the hotel parking lot on January 3rd – the day most places were observing New Year’s and were understandably closed.

Well, after a post by my wife on Facebook and another one by me a short time after we were inundated with offers of places to stay, rides to the mechanic and the airport for my wife, recommendations for mechanics, and even the loan of a car to use while her’s was in the shop. It was overwhelming the amount of support they had, almost instantaneously and with no expectation of reciprocity.

With the outpouring of support from our Ontario village, it was never more apparent that it was something that didn’t exist here in New Brunswick. That, combined with my daughter leaving the nest, was an emotional moment and probably the most emotional experience I’ve had since I’ve been here.

But all is not lost.

Rebuilding

As mentioned, making friends as an adult is hard. Everyone already has their group. Their villages are all built. Fortunately, I have a neighbour a couple of doors down that introduced himself shortly after I moved in and happens to be a member at the golf club I joined. He and I golfed quite a bit over the summer and have kept in touch in the off-season.

I also joined a curling club and play every Friday with a wonderful group of about 25 others. It’s a fun league and every week we do a “tag draw” for teams so we play with different people. COVID shut us down in December but as soon as we’re allowed we’ll be back at it.

My son played baseball this summer and toward the end of the year we found out that his teammate and his father the coach lived a few houses down the other way and across the street (funny aside: my wife pointed out the house with the basketball net and kids playing when we moved in but my son never got up the nerve to go say hello.) I see Coach walking the dog all the time and he gave me a bottle of wine in thanks for the jar of homemade salsa I gave him (made with tomatoes from my garden!)

Then, just the other day, as my wife was preparing her return from Ontario a funny thing happened. I texted my golf buddy neighbour and asked him if he could bring me back from the airport because I wanted to leave the car there for my wife. She was to get in late and I thought she’d appreciate not having to take a cab. So he said he would, and then drove me back. Not 20 minutes after I left the car for my wife she texted me saying her flight was cancelled. Golf neighbour was there to take me back so I could get the car (it was in short-term parking and leaving it overnight would have cost me a month’s golf membership dues.)

So the village is being rebuilt, one relationship at a time, but it is being rebuilt. We’ll see how things progress.

To my village back in Ontario, I miss you.

Worry pas,
Andrew.

UPDATE!

A day after I posted this we got hit with a big snowstorm. Our first nor’easter since moving here, and it was a doozy. It started in the late afternoon and for reasons only known to the Powers That Be my son’s shift at the grocery store wasn’t cancelled. He does shopping cart collection there so there’s no reason to have him working when there’s a foot of snow expected, but nevertheless, they persisted.

The view after dropping my son off at work.

His shift was 5-10 pm and by 8:30 they made him clock out and we got the texts asking to come to get him.

There was only one problem:

So I got to work:

Only my wife’s 4×4 Pathfinder got stuck around the corner. One way or the other we were going to put our new village to the test. Golf neighbour didn’t know anyone with a snowmobile or a truck. I didn’t text Coach, but my wife and I both put out messages of assistance to our Facebook friends as well as the neighbourhood groups, my curling group, and my golf club group.

Just like with my wife and daughter last week, the offers of help came in one after the other. It was comforting and heartwarming. The people here, even the strangers who don’t know me from Adam, are truly good people. The plows came to our street, someone who knows someone who knows my wife was actually at the store where our son was and he met my wife halfway. By 10:00 pm everyone was home safe and sound.

Turns out we didn’t have to wait very long to find our village after all.

Twelve hours later:

The Importance of Others

I have touched on the subject of online writing groups a couple of times before but this time I would like to come at it from a different angle. I thought I would share a bit about what I love about one of the writing groups I am in and then see what some other writers I know have to say about a group they are in as well.

There are all kinds of online writing communities. Some are straight-up critique groups, others are for folks all with the same publisher, some are there for people to shameless self-promote, and still others are there to help with motivation, word counting, and goal tracking.

I am in half a dozen online writing groups on Facebook incorporating all but the shameless self-promotion, but I have to tell you my favourite group of them all brings in all the elements and then some. As someone who is generally annoyed by people but is also fascinated by them and values friendships this group is a little slice of internet heaven for me.

Here are just a handful of the things that make this writing group my first destination in the morning when I open up Facebook and usually the last place I visit online before I got to bed:

  • Advice in this group is never dispensed without someone having asked for it. 
  • There are no agendas.
  • It is not political (except for a unanimous distaste for the current U.S. President).
  • Occasional shameless self-promotion is welcome, but more often than not group members are promoting other group members. 
  • It is not always about writing. Friendship and emotional support are in abundance. 
  • Inappropriateness is high, but respect for everyone, their beliefs, and their experiences is paramount. 
  • It is diverse, not just in writing experience, but in age, gender, and geography. 
  • There are two different views on the Oxford comma (those who are in favour of it and those who are wrong). 

As you can see, there is a lot there to like. But I am just one person. So that is why I reached out to a number of writers I know who are either in my favourite writing group or another one of which they are fond. Here’s what they had to say:

“I love our group. No downsides. We are shoulders, soundboards, and friends beyond multiple borders. Filled with people who changed my life in more ways than just writing.”

“This group is about respecting and caring for one another and the work we’re doing, rather than using one another for our own means.”

“Respect, encouragement both in real life and fictional, friendship, love and a true safe space amidst the faceless 1’s and 0’s of the digital social media universe.”

“As one of the few members who hasn’t had any fiction published, I like being in this group because I still receive a lot of tips and pointers, encouragement for my non-fiction writing, and encouragement to get off my ass and actually write some fiction. There’s more to be had here: lots of love and respect, a lot of humor… and some of you are just darn cute.”

“I’d heard that anyone can achieve their writing goals simply by hard work and honing their craft, but I have discovered that’s nonsense. Behind every Harry Potter is a Ron, a Hermione, a Mad-Eye Moody, and a Dumbledore. Everyone needs a team, a group of people you can trust, be yourself with, even if you’ve got a bit of the Voldemorts that day, and share in your victories. I was lucky enough to be invited into a group like that and I would urge others to find their peeps and stick with them.”

“Unfailing, unquestioning love and support, including a well-aimed kick in the ass when it’s needed.”

“It’s a safe, non-judgmental place for [us]. No one cares if you are a newbie, a wanabe, or a published author. People will listen to your ideas or concerns and offer advice when asked for, hugs when needed and lots and lots of talk about no pants and cookies which just makes my day 

There you have it, folks. The votes have been tallied and the results are in. Writers, who are stereotypically known for being solitary hermits who hammer away at a keyboard in some writerly-looking cave only coming up for coffee and chocolate actually value the interaction and camaraderie that comes with being part of a community.

I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. It is nice to know that you are part of something bigger than yourself and even nicer to know that there are so many of us out there who value the importance of others.

~ Andrew

Exposing Yourself

(…and other tips for new writers)

Some time ago I took a few paragraphs of my novel and posted it to a couple writers’ groups and my personal wall on Facebook. It was the first time I had let “the public” read anything I had written (the short story I had published last year was only seen by my wife and my editors). The feedback was wonderful and supportive from everyone and the critique that came in from the writers was helpful. It was a gut wrenching experience.

Those were just a few paragraphs though. I had written an entire novel (and fired the cupcake cannon), but there was still SO MUCH work to do. So much work! At this stage the whole thing was a disjointed passive voice character smorgasbord blarg of word vomit. In the 25 Steps to Becoming a Traditionally Published Author I had only completed Step 6. If you read that article (which I highly recommend everyone does even if they are not writers) you will see that the next step on the list involves “major surgery”.

I’m not a surgeon. Hell, I only took one biology class my whole life and it was a first year university course I took in my fourth year for the easy credit. In a similar parallel, I’m not a writer. Well, I am a writer, but I have limited formal training in the craft. The task in front of me I’ve never done before. I haven’t even seen anyone do it on TV. This was going to take a lot of reading / learning / crying and a little bit of help.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jBDF04fQKtQ?rel=0]

So, I read a few books; novels written by people I knew. I paid attention to how the dialog sounded in my head and to the cadence of the prose. I went back to my notes, the ones I jotted down after I put those few paragraphs out there. Then, I sat down and took a chapter from my novel and gave it a little more shine. I cut a bunch of stuff that didn’t move the story forward, tweaked a few things to “show” instead of “tell”, and I firmed up the dialog. To keep a promise I made to my wife I plunked the chapter on Evernote and sent her the link.

Step 8 in the 25 Steps article (which I still highly recommend you read) is to give your book to someone you trust. Well, I trust my wife, but there’s 240 more pages of surgery left before it’s ready. I knew if I didn’t get some more feedback soon the rest of it wouldn’t be worth reading. So, I took a deep breath and pasted the link into one of my Facebook writer groups.

New Writer Tip #1: Find a supportive writers’ group and actively participate.

I posted my thousand words to the group with a request for people to give me their thoughts. Pressing “enter” was the easy part. Settling my stomach down afterwards was significantly harder. It didn’t take long for the critique to start flowing. My eyes instinctively jumped to words I wanted to see. Much to my dismay “amazing” and “award winning” weren’t anywhere to be found. It was still early but I was getting the feeling that the Giller Prize would have to wait.

What I did get were many excellent suggestions about how to turn certain phrases differently to achieve this or that, helpful comments about wanting to know more about my main character, tough but fair critiques about certain parts, and a dash of ego boosting praise about my dialog. All in all what I got out of this exercise far exceeded my expectations.

Was it worth it? Yes.

Will I do it again? Absolutely.

With every chapter? Absolutely not. 

My goal is to get better at this so I can write a readable novel without having to crowd source the major edits and rewrites that I should be doing on my own. It’s going to take a lot of work, and because I am really lazy it’s going to take a lot of time. The good news I won’t be going at it totally alone all the time. I’ll have a little from some friends who don’t mind seeing my work in a naked state.

New Writer Tip #2: When exposing yourself keep an eye out for stiff prose.

~ Andrew