Writing Life

Unlikely Saints

It’s been about a year since I went to emergency with my hockey playing concussed daughter. At the time, all that concerned me was her head, but I instinctively sat between her and the homeless man. Beside him, on the other side, was an old man and a middle-aged woman, his daughter I assumed. I felt sorry for the old man, having to sit next to the homeless guy, not because he smelled, which he did, but because he was edgy, unpredictable. I was watchful, protective, ready to move my daughter, who was playing a game on her phone.

One of the nurses sauntered over to the homeless guy. “Let’s see that foot,” she said.

“It’s kind of dirty.”

“Never mind. Just take off your sock.”

He took it off. The foot was swollen and bluish.

“Did you fall off the roof or jump?”

“Fell,” he said.

“Were you drunk?”

“Oh no,” he said.

“Were you on any drugs?”

“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I was.”

“Okay, we’ll get to you soon. How about your arm—that’s a terrible bandage. Did you get that at ER?”

He nodded. “Yesterday.”

“We’ll take care of that, too.”

The old man didn’t hide the fact that he was listening. “Not too bad,” he said to the homeless guy. I worried for him. I didn’t think it was a good idea to start conversations with strung out men showing evidence of careless violence. “Look what I’ve got.” He raised his pants leg, showing off old gouges and scars in his calf.

“Wow,” the homeless guy said. “How’d you get that?”

“I rode my motorcycle into a van. Back when I was young.”

“Hell raiser,” the homeless guy said.

The old man smiled. No, he grinned, face lighting up. “You know anyone in Innisfill?” he asked. (It reminded me of the little girl on a beach in Israel who asked me if I knew Ellen in Canada, and I wondered if he was losing his marbles.) “I’m from Innisfill,” he said.

“You know Jackson Radfill?” the homeless guy asked.

“Sure,” the old man said. “He lives around the corner.”

“He’s my cousin. I used to play at that house.”

Right then the nurse called us to an examination room. All I cared about was my daughter’s head, and, over the days that followed, waiting for her to smile again. But the conversation stuck with me, the pleasure on the old man’s face, the respect he gave to the guy next to him, their mutual interest in each other, the unlikely discovery of connection lifting both out of the moment. Something ordinary, but uncommon, a kind of unselfconscious decency. A hell raiser with long scars and scooped out flesh and unstinting humanity.

Writing Life

The Gentle-Hearted Computer Scammer

Sometimes I like to toy with the scammers on the phone. It’s an exercise in quick thinking, saying whatever comes into my head, messing with them until they hang up in an outraged huff. This time it was the Microsoft scam. You know, they call and say that they’re from Windows and they’ve detected errors on your computer. The conversation went like this.

Him: “I’m calling from Microsoft Windows, Ma’am. We’ve detected dangerous errors on your computer. Do you know that it’s under attack?”

Me: “But I don’t have any computers.”

He pauses, startled.

Him: “None at all?”

Me: “No, it’s against my religion.”

Him, with a laugh: “I’ve never heard of such a thing. What kind of religion is that?”

Me, calm and earnest: “You see, I’m not allowed to use anything invented since the 1950s. I can talk on the phone because that existed in the 1950s, or use a typewriter. But not a computer.”

Him: “But why? How can anyone live without a computer or a phone or anything?”

Me: “Look at the world around you. Do you think it’s that good? Or maybe it was better before.”

Him, quickly, excited: “You know, you’re right. I had a problem with being addicted to my phone! I was on it all the time and very late. It was terrible, and I tried hard to get control of it. I’m better with it now, but still, it’s not good.”

Me, sympathetically: “It can’t be much fun working in a call centre, calling people about their computers.”

Him: “No, no. It’s terrible, and I hate it, but I have to have a job.”

Me: “If you could do anything you wanted, anything else, what would it be?”

Him, eagerly: “I want to build things.”

Me: “Could you go to school for that?”

Him: “Oh, I did, Ma’am. I went to school to study engineering. I couldn’t get a job in it, but I applied to many places, and I hope I will soon.”

Me: “I hope you will, too. You’re a good man, and you should have a good job.”

Him, effusively: “Thank you, I really thank you. It was wonderful talking.”

Me, startled, embarrassed because I was messing around, and amazed, touched, grateful that somehow, in the midst of my bullshit and his deceitful script, there was a genuine connection, a meeting of hearts, “I’m sure that you can do it.”

Him: “Bless you, Ma’am.”

We wished each other a good day, and I hung up the phone.

Writing Life

Part III

stoneI’ve finished the first scene of the last section of my new novel, unless, of course, there turns out to be more. That’s the strangeness of writing the way I do. I always wanted to be the sort of writer who can sit down and plan it all out. But I’m not. Every time I’ve made an outline, it’s killed the project, or at the very least put it into a coma for years. No, my spirit requires wandering in the wilderness until I find the right piece of stone, and then adding it to the structure. Sometimes, the stone, though shiny and appearing to be just the right shape, makes everything fall down, and I have to remove it, sit, look, re-think. Sometimes it’s heavy and I don’t have the muscles to lift it. Not at first. And I get sore in the process of getting it into place. And there are times anyone would else would think the stone I’ve picked is too ugly or common, beneath notice, but I know that when it’s polished, it will be the centrepiece.

Writing Life

2016 in Abstract

On New Year’s Eve around midnight, my two girls and I stuck our heads out the window that’s missing a screen so we could watch the fireworks, and then someone had the idea of taking pictures of the city from our window.

This is my favourite. I think the curled pinkish blob is baby 2016. It also pretty much sums up what’s in my head every time I set out to write a new scene.

(click to enlarge)

 

And for the more traditional view of January first at 00:05 there is this:

New Year's Eve 3
(click to enlarge)