Hating the Gym (Beginnings and Endings 3)

walker's-runners

Hands up all the people who hated the gym when they were at high school.

Right. Me too. And my friends.

It wasn’t as if we were unathletic. We were tennis players and rugby players and cricket players and (above all) soccer players.

And agreed – kicking and chasing a ball, or trying to hit it with a chunk of wood before it gets past you and knocks over three little sticks stuck in the ground (cricket, in case you don’t recognise it), or whacking it backwards and forwards over a net, or throwing it to one another while you dodge being ground into the mud, are pretty mindless activities, but that’s the nature of sport, and at least they’re fun, unlike having to throw yourself at a vaulting horse with the attendant dangers of self-mutilation, or having to swing from one horizontal bar to the other, wondering whether hands or teeth are going to make contact with the lower one first.

But above all it was the atmosphere of backslapping jockism we despised.

That and the hearty exhortations and testosteronic exhibitionism of the gym teacher.

All of which gave me the beginning of Walker’s Runners (J. Lorimer & Co. 2002), which I’ve used so many times at readings I can almost do it from memory.

     Toby hated the gym.
      He hated it for its noise – its triumphant shouts and derisive hoots. He hated it for its smell of mouldering sneakers and frantic sweat. He hated it for what it represented: a shallow comradeship and noisy jockism …
      And he hated it for the humiliation he feared he feared every time he entered it, the humiliation that awaited him in just a few seconds, unless he could fend it off with a few good wisecracks.
      His grade six class was standing in six groups at the end of the gym, five students in each group. Ms. Watkins, the phys. ed. teacher, had pointed to six students and told them they were team leaders, and then each team leader had taken turns choosing whom they wanted on their team. That was humiliation number one. Toby knew he was overweight, and he knew he was slow, and he knew he’d be the last to be chosen.

Every time I read this, I pause at and he knew he’d be …

And every time the audience (young or old) choruses last to be chosen.

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Last Bus

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When I was in high school the last bus home to the village where I lived was at 5:30 on weekdays and a daring 10:00 on Saturdays. After that, you walked the ten miles home, or hitched.

I never worried about missing the last bus. It was the price you paid for hanging out in the city with your friends after school or on Saturday nights. It was part of life, part of who you were.

Missing the last bus home left you with a strange, disembodied, floating sensation. You were expected to be – you were supposed to be – on the bus but here you were, setting off through the city on foot, no-one knowing where you were. It was like disappearing, almost as if, because you weren’t where you were supposed to be, you were no longer quite real.

It may seem a non-sequitorial stretch going from missing the last bus home to writing, but here goes …

My last book (Walking Away, Fierce Ink Press 2013) was an e-book, and I’m now in discussion with a publisher about publishing a teen novel – by me – in e-form, as well as having several other titles available in e-form, but I still harbour the foolish feeling that ebooks don’t really exist.

I know … I’m an outdated, outmoded, out of time, out of touch, anachronistic, nostalgia-soaked Luddite shouting into the void, “Don’t change anything!”, and of course I appreciate the advantages of ebooks – their ready availability, their ease of acquisition, their ease of transport – all to the advantage of the author!

But the feeling of unreality persists.

And if ebooks don’t really exist – how can the people who write them exist?

Wrestling with this thought, I had that same old disembodied feeling, the one brought on by missing the last bus home, and I still can’t decide whether I should embrace this potential opportunity, or turn it down and – as it were – miss the bus to the future.

Writers and Musicians

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Glancing from the stage into the black void created by the stage lights glaring in our eyes, I had the fleeting thought: Writers and musicians have much in common. We send words and music into the void without ever really knowing what impact, if any, they are having on reader or listener.

Our band, Stepping Out, was playing in St. Stephen, New Brunswick, at the Relay for Life, in aid of the Canadian Cancer Society, 10:30 to midnight, last set of the night, just one of a line up of local bands giving their time and expertise.

Three of us look a tad extraterrestrial in the photos a friend grabbed. While Tony and John, on drums and guitar respectively, look normal (normal being a relative term, of course, especially where drummers are concerned), Dave and Julie, fronting with vocals, and me, tucked away at the side on keyboard, boast an unearthly glow from the shoulders up with the stage lights full on our faces.

At least that’s how the camera saw us. Participants, too, I suspect, looking up at the stage as they circled the field, where the only light came from the luminaries lit in memory of lost family and friends.

And looking out, all we could see was darkness, only the whoops and shouts and applause from the dark field reassuring us that there were people out there listening, just as the only reassurance that writers get that their words are being read and having any impact is receiving those oh-so-welcome emails, and letters, and comments at readings and signings and chance meetings.

Next band gig: Another benefit, Saturday 21st June, this one in support of the We’ve Got Your Back project, at the People’s Pub in St. Stephen. Stepping Out opens this time, the first in another line up of local bands playing through the afternoon and evening. Drop by if you’re in the vicinity.

Beginnings and Endings (2)

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“You’ll never get away with that,” said Nancy R., laughing as I read the end of a draft of Suspended to her.

I have trouble with endings. Not with writing them, but having them approved by editors. My endings tend toward the ambivalent, or the downright bleak, and editors, at least of YA fiction, usually seem to want something at least a little uplifting or optimistic.

Hence Nancy’s response to the last sentence of Suspended (J. Lorimer 2010), the fourth novel in the Brunswick Valley series, knowing how I’d struggled in the past to finish YA stories on an acceptable note. It’s not a bleak or ambivalent ending, but it could be deemed borderline subversive.

Here’s the backstory: Shay, who lives with his grandfather, is in serious trouble at school for leading a revolt against the school’s code of conduct, a revolt in which he and his followers systematically and deliberately broke every rule in the code. Knowing retribution is coming, he confesses all to his grandfather. Shay is the narrator.

     “Come round here where I can see you,” said Grandad.
      I stood in front of him.
      “So – because you thought those rules were an infringement of personal expression, and were unfair to struggling students, and stopped you having a little fun, you took it upon yourself to deliberately break them, and you led your friends to do the same.”
      I hung my head. “Yes.”
      “And although you knew right from the start that your protest was going to land your friends, as well as yourself, in serious trouble … you still led a kind of doomed rebellion.”
      “Yes,” I whispered.
      He stood slowly and put his hands on my shoulders.
      “That’s good,” he said. “I’m proud of you.”