Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Can I Do My Happy Dance Now?

Ever do a happy dance? If so, what prompted it? Getting the job? Getting the loan? Getting the girl?
If anyone has ever hired you, loaned you money, or married you, you know how terrific it feels when somebody takes a chance on you. (Oh great, now ABBA is stuck in my head!) With so many of life’s dreams, that’s exactly what is required before they come true. Someone else must believe in you enough to risk their money, their reputation, or their heart. They think you’re worth it. They believe you’ll make them a profit. You’ll get the job done. You’ll remain loyal and loving. They like the product you’re offering. They take a chance on your success.

Since 2009, I’ve been trying to find a publisher willing to take a chance on me and a little novel I wrote called The Silver Suitcase. What a roller coaster ride! Doing well in some major contests, only to be “always the bridesmaid, never the bride.” Taking courses to sharpen my writing skills, only to hear I use too many clich├ęs. Receiving untold rejections from editors and agents. Reading umpteen critiques from amateurs and professionals alike—some helpful, some not so much. Revising and reworking and rewriting again. Finally gaining the attention of an agent, only to have her unsuccessfully pitch my manuscript to publishers for nearly two years, earning not a cent for either of us. Starting a second novel only to abandon it, convinced it was all pointless. Telling myself I’d give it ten years before resorting to self-publishing (where the author takes all the risk, paying the publisher instead of the other way around.)

Then, getting a phone call I’ll never forget.

Two days after my birthday this past February, my agent, Jessie, called to say she’d landed a book deal for The Silver Suitcase with Waterfall Press, a new company publishing Christian books under the Amazon umbrella. I did as much of a happy dance as one can do when one can’t believe their dream might actually be coming true. When a month went by and I still hadn’t seen a contract, I became convinced it wasn’t going to happen after all…which would have been really embarrassing after my husband bought me flowers and my coworkers all signed a card of congratulations.
Finally, on April 17, I received the long-awaited contract and subjected the world of Facebook to photos of me signing it. Waterfall plans to release the book next January and you can bet I’ll regale my longsuffering readers with more columns about this journey in the months to come.

Lest you conclude this is a get-rich-quick thing, it’s taken me six years to earn an advance equivalent to two month’s pay at my part-time day job—so I won’t leave City Hall any time soon. If the book sells well, we’ll see royalties coming after that, but they offer no guarantees. It’s all part of the gamble. 

Meanwhile, it’s such a gradual process, you never really know when the right time arrives to do the happy dance. When you receive the call? When you sign the contract? When you see the first payment deposited into your account? When you finally hold that book in your hands? When a reader writes to say she was moved by your story? All of the above? 

Here’s what I know. Dreams only come true if you refuse to give up. If Louis L’Amour could endure 350 rejections before selling a single book and Jack London 600—who am I to quit? Who are you? God’s not finished with you and your dreams yet. Keep going! And when the day comes that someone takes a chance on you, you can sing like ABBA, “Gonna do my very best and it ain’t no lie; If you put me to the test, if you let me try.”

It’s a good tune for a happy dance.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Seven Steps to Crazy

It’s the craziest way to rehearse a play I’ve ever experienced. Just follow these seven simple steps.

Step One. Agree to direct a play for the Prairie Players to take to the ACT Festival being hosted in Dauphin May 1-3. Hold auditions in January for a half-hour performance not happening for four months. To keep things challenging, cast someone who is currently in South America but will be home in March.
Step Two. Assemble the remaining cast in early February to read through the script and discuss blocking, props, and costumes. Don’t meet again for a month.

Step Three. With the globetrotting actor home from South America, rehearse like crazy through the month of March. Sleep little as you dream up new ideas to improve the play. By the end of that period, the play is basically ready to present and you’re eager to go. But alas! The performance is still a month away and besides, your globetrotter is taking off to Japan for three weeks. Worry about whether peaking too early is actually a thing.

Step Four. Meet without the globetrotter a couple of times during April, lest everyone forgets everything. Allow your title-role actor to get sick and one of your multi-role actors to go away for a week. That way, you’re always short at least two people.

Step Five. When the globetrotter returns four days before your performance, pray to God everybody remembers everything for a dress rehearsal with your tech person.

Step Six. Hold a full dress rehearsal before a live audience. If necessary, rehearse some more after said audience exits the premises.

Step Seven. Pack up and take the show to ACT Fest where your audience will be comprised of fellow thespians from around the province and where you’ll receive adjudication and a workshop with a theatre professional. Then sit back and enjoy the rest of the festival.

Meanwhile, enjoy tons of fun. Get to know each other. Tease. Laugh. Gather them in your home for line drills and jelly beans. Threaten Laurel Giesbrecht with a dollar fine every time she says “sorry” for stumbling on a line. Coax Rosa Rawlings to sing like a soulful black woman. Mock Chris Kitchen mercilessly. Give Vicki Hooke an extra role only to take it away again, using the excuse that it “doesn’t serve the story.” Relentlessly work Stephanie Kauffman, your stage manager, like a horse. Expect Terry Tully, your globetrotting actor, to play his multiple roles like a pro in spite of his absences. Show no mercy. Brag about them to everyone.

If the system works, patent it. Or at least recommend it to others. If not? Live and learn. 

You can judge for yourself whether this system works by attending the aforementioned dress rehearsal of Sleeping with a One-Armed Man at the William Glesby Centre on Wednesday, April 29, at 7:30 pm. The premise of the story? When Jim loses his right arm in a farm accident, he and Tracy need to figure out how to navigate parenting, marriage, and love in a whole new way. Based on the true story of someone I know and love. Admission is free. Donations will be received for Manitoba Farmers withDisabilities. We’d love to see you there!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I'm Pickin' Up Good Vibrations

Apparently, April is Oral Health Month. Have you noticed in the movies, they always give the villains crooked, discolored teeth while the good guys display straight, white ones? (Austin Powers excepted.) What makes me laugh are movies where the story takes place in the 1600s but the heroes still have all their teeth, perfect and gleaming. In reality, life expectancy back then was 35 and the life expectancy of one’s teeth even shorter. Someone fortunate enough to reach my age would pretty much be gumming it.

If you promise not to hate me, I’ll tell you a secret. I’ve never had a cavity. Back in the early 1970s, our provincial government funded sessions where dental professionals came into the schools each year with a giant set of teeth and a massive toothbrush to teach kids how to brush properly. I took it to heart.

When my wisdom teeth required extraction in my thirties, my dentist did one side at a time and those wise old choppers were reluctant to divorce themselves from my gums. At one point, I think the man braced one foot on my forehead for leverage. Afterward, I developed the dreaded “dry socket” that leaves nerves exposed and keeps you in pain for weeks. A month later when I went in for the opposite side, I was told it was highly unlikely I’d experience the same thing. Or maybe I misheard and they actually said “highly likely.” You can guess the rest. What a nightmare.

It was enough to make me deeply thankful for my otherwise good teeth.

Apparently, one of the reasons for my good fortune is a low acid environment in my mouth—which, ironically, has a downside. Tartar buildup becomes more stubborn than normal. Or so they tell me. So every six months I find myself lying prone, my head in my hygienist’s lap as she chisels away on my teeth. (Have you noticed dental hygienists tend to be beautiful? I wonder if it’s a requirement?) It’s a long process and sometimes I need to return for a second session because my hygienist’s arms grow tired. Once, I saw her break into a sweat as she worked loose a chunk of plaque the size of a Volkswagen.

So she talks me into an electric toothbrush.

Two weeks later, I buy one, take it home, and let it charge overnight. I study the instructions, squeeze out the paste, stick the contraption inside my mouth, and press the button. Immediately, my entire head starts vibrating. Toothpaste splatters the walls and I see about 14 of my own eyeballs arranged in a jagged row three inches in front of my face. 

People use these on their kids? I think. If someone had tried sticking one of these in my mouth when I was a toddler, I’d still be in therapy. With a mouthful of dentures.

But, I’m a grownup.  And having shelled out big bucks for this thing, I’m determined to make it work. I shove it around all four quadrants of my mouth, entrusting the sadistic little device to deliver as promised. After two minutes it starts to pulse, telling me I can stop. Thank Heavens. 

The room stops spinning. I mop my face, my hair, the mirror, and the sink. My teeth do feel cleaner, at least that’s what I tell myself. And, like most things, I suspect I’ll get used to it. If not, you can be sure you’ll be reading about it in the weeks to come. 

Take care of those teeth and gums. Yeah, Baby.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Parents, you really do have a clue

Flip through our family photo albums and you’ll come across a picture of our older son at age seven, lying on his back, holding a ruler about ten inches above his face and studying it so intensely he doesn’t notice the camera. Science books at our house actually got read. On Saturday afternoons without fail, our TV blasted Popular Mechanics for Kids
(it probably didn’t hurt that a cute, 15 year-old Elisha Cuthbert co-hosted the show). Today, this young man supports himself and his family as a competent engineer.

On another page, you’ll see our younger son at age two with the beloved toy guitar his grandmother gave him for Christmas. In a birthday photo, he gleefully holds a kit of art supplies. His former classmates and teachers remember him as the one forever doodling in class. At the age of nine or ten, he created a pencil portrait of Vladimir Lenin convincing enough to hang on the set for the senior high play. Now, he makes his living as a talented tattoo artist and plays guitar in a band for fun.

In the majority of pictures of our daughter, she is surrounded by people. From the earliest age, her life revolved around others and her generosity with her possessions put me to shame. She became the one other girls, and even boys, came to for advice or just a listening ear. She was the one I’d find crying in her room, not over some personal calamity but over heartbreak a friend was facing. Next weekend, we’ll watch our lovely daughter receive her Master’s degree in Counselling. (I must remember not to wear something with buttons down the front, lest they burst.) Soon she will begin her job at Sonshine Centre in Calgary, specializing in helping women and children live free from domestic violence and abuse.

The point of this is not simply to brag about my kids, though we are certainly proud of them. Here’s the thing. Back in the day when their dad and I took those photos, we gave little thought to what our children would do with their adult lives. We were so busy pushing them to finish their homework, take baths, eat right, be polite, do their chores, and not kill each other to think about much else. Yet the clues were all there, though we see them only now, in hindsight. Had we been more intuitive, I’m sure we could have done more to encourage, support, and equip them for the roles they were created to play.

Young parents, I want to challenge you in this. In the insaneness of your busy lives, take note of what your children gravitate toward. With some kids, it will appear obvious early on. Others may need to try many different things before discovering their niche. Do what you can to foster their talent, and remember—your child doesn’t need to play for the NHL to be a hero. Watch not only for your child’s ability, but for his heart. What moves him or her to compassion? To anger? To action? What sorts of events will get him out of bed in the morning? And if you pray, ask God for wisdom. He knows your kid better than you do.

I love Frederick Buechner’s words, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It takes too many of us 50 years or more to find that place, if we find it at all. Let’s do all we can to help our kids discover their place, their calling, and their passion. The clues are there.