2011 Archives

“If you love it, you can learn it”: Dave Bidini on writing

Dave Bidini performing on guitar

“It’s part of the artist’s job: to see and sense things that other people are just too busy to notice.”

"On a Cold Road" is a finalist in the Canada Reads: True Stories 2012 competition.

Author, columnist and songwriter/musician Dave Bidini‘s memoir On a Cold Road: Tales of Adventure in Canadian Rock (read an excerpt here) was recently chosen as one of five finalists for CBC’s Canada Reads: True Stories 2012 competition. The other contenders are Prisoner of Tehran by Marina Nemat, The Game by Ken Dryden, The Tiger by John Vaillant, and Something Fierce by Carmen Aguirre. Debates begin February 2012.

In Spring 2011, Dave was guest author for my course Memories into Story: Introduction to Life Writing, offered online through University of Toronto SCS in partnership with the New York Times Knowledge Network. Following is an edited version of my students’ interview with him, part of a collaborative assignment. Thank you to my Spring 2011 group for these intriguing questions.

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Tuesday, November 29th, 2011

Writing “Home First: A Memoir in Voices”

Guest Post by Susan Siddeley

Susan Siddeley finds a tranquil writing place following my memoir workshops for her Los Parronales Writers’ Retreat.

I love writing: fashioning sentences, crafting a tale, getting feedback. A nightmare for me is to be stranded in a queue with no pen or paper, where nothing is moving, yet life suddenly makes sense.

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Friday, November 4th, 2011

“The Boy in the Moon”: Love Letter to a Son, Voice for the Disabled

Guest Post by Mary E. McIntyre

Twenty-one years ago, my brother and his wife had twin sons with cerebral palsy. The son who was more severely affected died at 17 years, of complications from his disability. The remaining twin is wheelchair bound, unable to look after his physical needs. Though he can talk slowly and even share humour, that humour is more typical of a 10-year-old who laughs at fart jokes than a 21-year-old.

From the sidelines over the years I’ve observed and empathized with the stresses these exhausted parents faced while caring for seriously disabled children, including the emotional search for a care home in which to place them. So Ian Brown’s award-winning memoir, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son, resonated with me, and I was anxious last month to attend Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR) breakfast meeting where he was guest speaker.

Brown and his wife Johanna have a 15-year-old son named Walker. His rare disability is CFC (cardio-facio-cutaneous syndrome), a genetic mutation only recently identified by the scientific community. Walker is globally delayed, non-speaking, sickly, and has a tendency to hit himself. He can walk, but cannot express toileting needs or pay attention to much more than repetitive tactile sensations. There are only an estimated 150 to 300 cases worldwide and, as Brown laments, resources for parents of these children are limited. His memoir chronicles his efforts to understand Walker, and indeed the plight of all families living with CFC—efforts that were disappointing and painful, but that ultimately resulted in discovery and acceptance.

What most impressed me about Brown—both in his book and in his presentation—was his honesty. He didn’t sugar-coat the exhausting effect on his family of round-the-clock caregiving. For years I’d watched Brown introduce documentaries on TVO. The man looked tired. Now I understand why. Sleeplessness is a common condition in the world of CFC families. Brown and his wife alternated nights to placate Walker so they each could get some uninterrupted sleep. (They felt fortunate if they slept for even four hours.) A dependable daytime nanny/caregiver named Olga was an invaluable resource that they, and Walker, revered. But with a young daughter as well as a disabled son, with busy careers, deadlines and travel, the lines of responsibilities blurred. Resentments took their toll on the author’s marriage. Sadly, a high percentage of parents with disabled children don’t make it together. The fact that Brown and his wife are still united is a testament to their strength and determination, and their love for each other and both their children.

A journalist who is naturally curious and investigative, Brown was nagged by questions from the time of Walker’s earliest diagnosis. “What is the value of a life like this—a life lived in the twilight, and often in pain?” he writes. “What is the cost of his life to those around him? Sometimes watching Walker is like looking at the moon; you see the face of the man in the moon, yet you know there’s actually no man there. All I really want to know is what goes on inside his off-shaped head, in his jumped-up heart.” His longtime editor and friend Cathrin Bradbury convinced him to write about Walker, and Globe and Mail editor at the time, Carl Wilson, reviewed early sections for a series in the newspaper, which Brown later developed into a book.

The author’s passion to share what he has learned is palpable in the room at the WCDR presentation. With humour and sadness he introduces us to CFC: its range of symptoms, and how early diagnosis, research funding and humanizing care are elusive, time-consuming and expensive to pursue. Brown’s efforts to help his son and understand his condition led him to reach out to other CFC parents, to doctors and scientists and to administrators of cutting-edge treatment facilities. He’s unashamed of his feelings of guilt, wondering if he should have done more, earlier. He’s unashamed of the intimacy he feels between himself and his son. He’s unashamed of the distractions he faced in worrying about his son—distractions that often impeded his ability to focus on his wife, his daughter, his work, his social life and his friendships. Walker was all-consuming.

Yet, when briefly Walker is able to relax against him, Brown sees these rare moments as gifts of love. And in many ways this memoir is a love letter to his son.

Brown’s search for balanced alternatives for his boy’s care was tireless, but eventually the couple was forced to acknowledge that Olga was aging, that their daughter should not be responsible for her brother, that they themselves were worn out. The Boy in the Moon, now 15 years old, has for five years lived in a specialized facility, spending 3 days of every 14 living with his family at home. Their decision to relinquish Walker’s full-time care was a bittersweet one that involved a difficult transition for Brown and his wife and daughter to accept.

What also impressed me about Ian Brown was his ability to acknowledge what he gained from knowing Walker, the lessons he learned about himself as a father and as a human being. Walker, he says, made him better in both roles. His boy taught him patience, acceptance, boundless love, and how to feel joy in small miracles. Walker’s journey of living with a severe disability became one with Brown’s journey to advance his awareness and understanding, and to share what he learned. As a result, The Boy in the Moon gives voice to the plight of all disabled individuals, their parents, their doctors, researchers and caregivers.

The audience gave Brown a standing ovation following his presentation, a fitting tribute to a father and author whose story is provocative, educational and hopeful. The best memoirs are written to inspire and even transform us as readers, and there’s no doubt that Ian Brown’s does both.

*  *  *

Ian Brown has won impressive awards for The Boy in the Moon: the 2010 British Columbia’s National Award for Canadian Non-fiction ($40,000) and the 2010 Canadian Nonfiction Charles Taylor Prize ($25,000). He is also recognized for a string of journalistic accomplishments: host of The Human Edge and The View From Here on TVOntario; host at CBC Radio One, including for Later the Same Day, Talking Books and Sunday Morning; business writer at Maclean’s and the Financial Post, feature reporter for The Globe and Mail and a freelance journalist for magazines including Saturday Night; editor of What I Meant to Say: The Private Lives of Men, a 2006 collection of 29 essays by prominent Canadian writers; contributor to the U.S. public radio program This American Life; and author of two other published books, Freewheeling and Man Overboard.

Watch Allan Gregg in conversation with Ian Brown here.

Canada Reads: True Stories

Based on reader votes, The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for His Disabled Son has made the Canada Reads: True Stories “Top 40” list. To vote for up to 5 of your favourite nonfiction books and help Canada Reads select its “Top 10,” click here.


Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Claire Dederer: Taking her memoir voice out for a spin

Claire Dederer

Claire Dederer’s memoir, Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses, published in January by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is structured around her developing relationship with yoga and the insights she has gleaned from her practice. Her wry and sincere writing style elevates her book above the typical “yoga saved my life” story. Claire didn’t need saving, exactly, but yoga provided a window through which she came to a better understanding of herself and her life: her daily struggles to reconcile the roles of wife, mother, freelance writer and yogi, and, deeper in the past, events of her childhood that may have influenced her, especially her feminist mother’s decision to leave her father. Claire’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, New York magazine, The Nation, Real Simple, Slate, Salon, and many other publications. She lives on an island near Seattle.

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Thursday, October 13th, 2011

New Writers’ Organization Launches in York Region

Whether you’re a writer or aspiring writer, an editor, a publisher, or an avid reader—or several of the above—WCYR, a new writers’ organization in York Region, has something to offer you.

The Writers’ Community of York Region (WCYR) launches Sunday, October 2, in Aurora, with a workshop, luncheon and guest speaker. And while registration for this inaugural event is already full, don’t worry — WCYR has lots more coming up. (The second monthly meeting is scheduled for November 13, and as featured speaker I’ll be there to talk about the ins and outs of the author-editor relationship.)

Hyacinthe Miller, a member of the organization’s provisional planning committee, is encouraged by the enthusiastic response to its first-ever gathering and believes it’s a promising start for WCYR.

“I feel York Region is ready for a community like this,” she says, “a community that will bring writers of all genres and skills together in one place! The Region is enormous and has incredible resources to draw upon. We know of numerous small writing groups around the Region, but we want to be the place where lovers of the written word can meet periodically to hang out with other writers, learn, find mentors and celebrate their successes and the successes of their colleagues.”

This Sunday’s inaugural meeting features children’s author Richard Scrimger as luncheon speaker. The event will be catered by chef and cookbook author Deb Rankine, a.k.a. The Fridge Whisperer. And in conjunction with Culture Days, Susan Lynn Reynolds, past president of the affiliated Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR), will lead a free pre-luncheon workshop titled “Unleash the Writer Within.”

All WCYR luncheon meetings will take place the first Sunday of each month, 12:30 to 3:30 p.m., at the historic Aurora Cultural Centre on Church Street in Aurora. Space is limited, so separate advance registration through the organization’s website will be required for the luncheon and any associated workshops.

WCYR offers opportunities for information-sharing, networking and support, education and professional development, Hyacinthe says. It also looks forward to being a partner with other organizations promoting writers and writing in York Region.

Annual membership is $50. Members will receive $5 off the $25 cost of monthly WCYR lunch meetings and discounts for WCYR-sponsored workshops, opportunities to promote their creative writing through reading events, weekly updates on calls for submissions, contests, and news about the writing world, opportunities to promote their books at meetings and book-related events, access to a directory of writing groups/circles and, for a nominal fee, opportunities to promote their workshops on the WCYR website.

No, you don’t have to live in York Region to join and benefit.

The Writers’ Community of Durham Region (WCDR), founded in 1995, has mentored WCYR in the planning stages, and WCYR members will have access to all of the other WC organizations in the collective: Durham Region, Kawartha, Haliburton, Simcoe County, WHEN (Mississauga).

“WCYR wants to build excitement about the craft of writing,” says Hyacinthe. “We want people of all ages and skill levels to come together to develop friendships, to network, to go off on their own or establish new groups, feeling energized and  confident that they can do this … they can write.”

Check out the organization’s website at www.wcyork.ca.


Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Memoir of Growing Up Black in 1950s: 1st Runner-up

Lynette Dathorne, age 12

Toronto-based writer Lynette Dathorne’s story “Scenes from My Youth,” an excerpt from her memoir-in-progress, has been named first runner-up in the Nonfiction category of the annual OASIS Journal anthology competition in Tucson, Arizona. “Scenes from My Youth” will be Lynette’s first published story.

“The year was 1953,” she says, “and the focus of my submission was on my family leaving British Guiana for London, England, when I was thirteen years old and my experiences at school when I arrived. The major theme of my memoir is what it was like growing up in London as a black girl during the fifties and sixties.”

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Monday, September 26th, 2011