Weekend whimsy

I wrote this piece several years ago after waking up with a phrase stuck in my head. Last night I ordered in Chinese food and seeing the fortune cookies reminded me of this piece. So, here’s a bit of whimsy for a social distancing weekend. Enjoy (and the egg rolls are delicious).

Cat

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat MacDonald
© 2008 cam

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked in good English how he could help. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.

Found in A Fortune Cookie
Cat Howard
© 2008 gch

I’d found a flyer from a new Chinese restaurant in my mailbox and decided to give it a try, so ordered in some food. One of the first things I discovered was they made the best lemon chicken I’d ever tasted. When I was done, I picked up a fortune cookie and cracked it.

“The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale.”

That’s what the piece of paper inside that fortune cookie read. Even upon a cursory examination I could see this was not your usual “Good fortune is on the way” type of saying usually found in these things. And they normally had the name of the company producing them on the bottom. Not this one. Other than the cryptic sentence, the slip of paper was blank. Even the cellophane wrapper, which usually had the bakery’s name on it, was blank. Nothing looks quite so bare as a clear piece of cellophane that normally has writing on it. So, there was no clue as to where this profound observation arose.

This one was far more inscrutable than most. Any more obscure and it may as well be written in Cantonese for all the sense it was making. “The end is either a whale from hell, or an estate sale.” The end of what? Life? The universe?

“ A whale from hell”. I suppose defining that could depend upon your point of reference. I mean, if you look at literature, the end for Captain Ahab certainly was a “whale from hell” named Moby Dick. And, I suppose the Pequod could have been sold at an estate sale later. But, in that case, “the end” would have been both a “whale from hell” and “an estate sale” so, I don’t suppose that was what the writer of this mystery had in mind.

Or, if you turn to films, there was a movie called “Orca” with Richard Harris and what’s-her-name, Bo Derek, wasn’t it? From what I can recall, that was about a killer whale that terrorized and I think destroyed a fishing village in Newfoundland. A killer whale could certainly qualify as “a whale from hell”

But, somehow I don’t think the slip of paper meant anything quite so obvious. There was just something, oh, I don’t know, weird about that particular fortune. In any event, by the time I’d opened the cookie and read this, I’d had too much to drink, so I tucked the slip of paper into my purse for later consideration.

The next morning, when I pulled my car keys from my purse, out fell the fortune. I unfolded it and read it again. Still read the same: The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale. Still made the same lack of sense it had last night. And today I didn’t have the excuse of alcohol to fall back on.

For some reason, words from that little slip of paper kept cropping up in the documents I handled at the office, or in conversations I had with others. I put it down to the fact I was thinking about that weird fortune. “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” is so odd it stuck with me. I tried to put it out of my mind.

I succeeded in doing so until the drive home that evening. Sitting in traffic near an intersection (construction had reduced the road to one lane and of course there was a collision in that lane), I passed the time idly looking at the people walking past me and the various shops. The car ahead of me inched forward and I followed suit. My new vantage point brought the intersection into range and with that, a limited view of the cross street. My attention immediately focussed on one particular storefront – the restaurant I’d ordered from the night before.

Although I am not normally impatient in traffic – all that does is raise my blood pressure and if it takes a few minutes more to get home, so what, I’ll arrive safely and as relaxed as dealing with the road warriors will allow – I now couldn’t wait for traffic to crawl forward again. Finally, I reached the intersection. Just past the corner was a municipal parking lot (the ones the city runs that only charge an arm, not an arm and a leg), pulled in and parked. Making certain I still had the fortune with me, I walked to the restaurant.

The place wasn’t anything special, just a little hole in the wall, with two or three small tables. Obviously most of their business was take out or delivery. I walked up to the counter, where a clean-cut young man was talking on the telephone. He acknowledged my presence, then continued writing what was apparently an order.

I took the time to look around the shop while I waited. The decor was nothing special and no doubt was a better reflection of the owner’s taste than an attempt to cater to the clientele. No fancy fans on the walls, or posters of pagodas or the Great Wall. Instead I was treated to a varied collection of cityscapes, seascapes, and posters for rock concerts. The most Oriental thing on the walls was a photo of a customized Honda.

Ambience was provided courtesy of the local soft rock station.

He finished taking the order and walked it into the kitchen, where I could hear him talking with someone, presumably the cook. Then he returned and smiling, asked how he could help in good English. I couldn’t place the accent, but it definitely did not sound like English as spoken by most Chinese who, especially if they’re from Hong Kong, tend to have British accents.

I explained that I had ordered food from them the previous night and gave my address. Seeing the look on his face, I hurriedly told him the food was great and that I would be ordering from them again, but I did have a question for him. Pulling the slip of paper from my wallet, I placed in face down on the counter and continued.

“Could you tell me where you get your fortune cookies” I asked as I picked up the fortune from the previous evening, then continued “because I’d really like to have this one explained to me.” I showed him the slip and watched his face change to a look of complete puzzlement as he read the words I’d memorized “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale”.

“You got this in a fortune cookie with your order last night?” he asked.

“Yup.”

“Do you mind if I take this for a second. I want to show it to my Dad in the kitchen. Maybe he can shed some light on it, ‘cause I haven’t a clue what the hell it could mean.”

I agreed and he excused himself.

The sounds of food preparation ceased shortly after that and the radio was turned down. I could hear a dialogue in what I presume was one of the Chinese dialects, of which I could make out only the English wording from the fortune. The volume of voices dropped to the point where I couldn’t hear anything. Finally, the young man said “Fine then. You figure it out.”

He returned, shaking his head and carrying the slip of paper. “My Dad has no idea either. This came from a new supplier and he’s contacting them now.

“Could I have your name and number and I’ll make sure to let you know. This one has me buffaloed as well. I mean, usually you get the ‘fame or fortune” kind of sayings in those things.”

Just then an older gentleman came from the kitchen “You’re the lady with the odd fortune?” again in oddly accented English.

I nodded.

“I just telephoned our supplier. The number’s out of service.. Why you didn’t try to contact them directly last nigh?”

“Oh! I couldn’t. The cellophane wrapper was completely blank. No names or any identifying marks. And, as you can see, there’s just the fortune on the slip of paper.”

The two men looked at each other. The son turned toward me. “Would you mind if I kept this? I’d like to put a little more time in on it. It’s such an odd observation that I can’t believe there’s not a deeper meaning to it.”

I waved agreement and he put it in the till. The older man said something in their language and his son nodded.

“My Dad just said to ask you if there’s anything you’d like – on the house – for all your trouble.”

“Sure. I wouldn’t mind an order of your lemon chicken if it isn’t too much trouble. It was the best I’ve had.”

As I left with my chicken (and rice – they insisted it had to have rice with it) I glanced back through the window to see them arguing. I say “arguing” because the older man was waving his hands in an angry manner and his son was shaking his head vehemently.

The next day, I was once again caught in traffic at the same place and I glanced across the intersection. The store was gone. In fact, the place looked as if it had been vacant for some time. And with it, the slip of paper with the arcane fortune printed on it.

I never did find out what “The end is either a whale from hell or an estate sale” meant. I still eat Chinese food, but the lemon chicken isn’t as good, and I no longer open fortune cookies.

I’m insulted

While trying to post the previous blog, I checked comments waiting for approval and found three. All were on different blogs and came from different ip addresses. The text was the same in all three: This blog O Canada what have you done? has helped me a
lot with my dog. Also, I used this training course (site name deleted) and now my dog follows everything I ask.
Kiss you All!

If you’ve been a long-time reader, you know I didn’t like the Stephen Harper government so that I railed against them yet again would be no surprise. This particular instance the actions of that government struck me as especially high-handed. Until this bill was passed, in order to strip someone of their Canadian citizenship, it was necessary to go through the courts. The Act in question changed it so the decision would be made not by the courts, but by the Minister responsible for Citizenship and Immigration. Naturally I was – and still am- opposed to such a star chamber approach and voiced my opinion.

There is nothing in that blog that would lend itself to training a dog unless, to get silly for a moment, the training goes something like “You will obey me or I will strip your identity as a Great Dane and make you a pug instead”. We had Samoyeds and a book we read on training Samis stated “figure out what the dog wants to do, tell him to do it, then praise him when he does.”

Obviously, these three comments were sent by bots using key words in the three blogs in question to generate the message, but I’m still insulted.

Remember to hug an artist, we need love (and fewer insults) too.

Cat.

Meandering through my memories

I’ll be 76 this year and while I’m still fascinated by what the future may hold in store for me, every so often, I reflect on some of the things I’ve seen over the span of my life.

When I was born, Canada consisted of nine provinces and two territories. In 1949, Newfoundland and Labrador ceased being a British territory and joined Confederation as Canada’s tenth province. So that means the last Father of Confederation, Joey Smallwood, was alive during my lifetime. Fun fact: The call letters of every radio and television station in Canada start with the letter “C” except one. St. John’s Newfoundland station VOCM was in existence before Confederation and they kept their call letters. Today, Canada consists of ten provinces and three territories, the Northwest Territories having been split and the eastern portion is now called Nunavut. I remember the great debate over choosing Canada’s now familiar maple leaf flag. I also remember I was opposed to it at first for I had served in the military under the red ensign, but I now embrace it fully. I remember Expo ‘67, the world’s fair held in Montreal during Canada’s centennial year and the excitement throughout the country at the time. I remember the dark days of the October Crisis, when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (Justin’s father) invoked the War Measures Act to put an end to the bombings and kidnappings. British diplomat James Cross and Quebec’s Deputy Premier Pierre Laporte were kidnapped. Mr Cross was later released, but M Laporte was murdered. Eventually most of the FLQ members involved were arrested and served time. I remember when Canada had a female Prime Minister – Kim Campbell. Her government didn’t last long, being brought down on a non-confidence motion.

Internationally, I remember hearing and watching much from news reports. The conquest of Everest (I’ve always had one question about that: if Hillary and Tensing were the first people to climb to the summit, how did the Sherpa guides know the safest path up unless they’d done it before?; the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second. One memory I have of that is the nuns telling us we couldn’t sing “God Save the King” any longer and spending a good hour getting us to properly sing “God Save the Queen”. I remember the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was on leave from the army when that got serious and expected to be recalled every time the telephone rang. I remember the Kennedy Assassination and where I was (sitting at my desk at work in Toronto). The rise and later fall of the Berlin Wall and the fall of Soviet-style Communism. Man landing on the moon. I remember that when Armstrong took that small step for man, I was sitting in my car in an A&W in Scarborough Ontario.

This is but a small glimpse into my memories. I have more obviously, but won’t go into them. And, as I said back at the beginning, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. We do live in interesting times.

Cat.

Horrors! A spelling cop!

I received the following as a comment intended for my post “Bring him to justice – progress report”:

Pigment Red 122
obviously like your website however you need to test the spelling on quite a few of your posts. A number of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless I will definitely come back again.

First, this person has apparently never heard of spellcheck. Second, I suspect that his/her main quarrel is that I use English, not American spellings, so the addition of the “u” in words such as “colour” are upsetting him. Too bad. I was educated in Canada so find it natural to use English spellings. (As a matter of trivia, one of the first things our first Prime Minister passed was a law requiring the “u” in words such as “neighbour” and “colour” and I don’t think that’s been repealed.) I will admit that it is well worded, which I’ve found is quite rare in comments of this type.  Finally, does the writer think I don’t know how to proofread?

I will definitely come back again. Please don’t. If your only comments are going to be criticisms of my spelling, which apparently doesn’t mesh with your view of the way things “should” be, go elsewhere.

Since it’s January 1, I wish all my followers and readers a safe and happy 2020. Remember to hug an artist, we need love (and spellcheck) too.

Cat.

on’s Gree

DATE: Dec 14

TITLE: on’s Gree

There is a little story behind the above picture. About 20 years ago, there was a building, the Metro East Trade Centre, in Pickering that had a huge “Season’s Greetings” sign on it every December. This sign was apparently controlled by four separate circuits because depending upon who was working which night, it would either read “Seas tings” or “on’s Gree”, usually the latter, and “on’s Gree” became a family joke. The building is long gone, but when I got into digital photography, I decided to see if I could duplicate that sign. I realize the font isn’t quite right, but this was the result of my efforts.

So, to all my friends, I wish a hearty “on’s Gree”

Remember to hug an artist – we need love (and Season’s Greetings) too.

Cat

From the bus

I had to go into Toronto yesterday. On the way home I was fortunate enough to get the first seat on the right side of the vehicle, which gave me a chance to observe things that looking out a side window might have been missed.

I’ve previously railed against people who will stand at a bus stop for ten minutes and wait until they are on the bus to fumble around to find their electronic pass. I discovered yesterday these are the same people who will wait until they are at the exit to fumble around to find that pass so they can “tap off”. The system in the Greater Toronto Area works on zones, so on the intercity coaches it is necessary to tap on when you board, and tap off when you leave, otherwise, you’ll pay to the end of the line. Why people, why do you do this? You know you need the pass to both get on and get off, so why can’t you have it handy?

In the far east of Toronto, I noticed a sign I’ve never seen before on a lamp post, so naturally I had to read it. Doing so didn’t clear things up one bit. The sign read “monolith sidewalk begins”. It didn’t look any different from 100 other sidewalks I’ve seen both in Toronto and the area I live, so what the hell is a “monolith sidewalk”? It can’t be referring to some archeologic site for it was next to an empty field at an interchange from Highway 401. And there was no huge black rectangular monolith anywhere is sight either as described by Arthur C Clarke.

Finally, when did chrome bumpers on vehicles become a thing of the past? My trip covered about 20 miles during the early part of rush hour so I got to see many vehicles of various makes, models and years. Of the fifty or so vehicles I noted, exactly two – both of them Ram pickups – had chrome bumpers. The rest all had the current molded, coloured body panels. Is it for safety reasons, or aesthetics?

Okay, now that I’ve given you some questions to ponder, enjoy your weekend and remember to hug an artist, we need love (and answers) too.

Cat.

And who the hell are you??

I rarely check filtered messages on Messenger. Today I did and cleaned up about 18 months worth of attempted contacts. Most I just deleted but this one deserves a reply. I won’t reply to this person directly because I don’t want to encourage him, but I’ll do it here (damn, I should have kept his message so I could send him the link to this – oh well, I can always track him down through Facebook.)

Here’s his message from June 26. Keep in mind I’ve never communicated with this person and he is not anywhere among my friends.

Hi love
In a cold and sometimes cruel world, your sweet love lifts me up and gives me peace and happiness. You are the most precious gift that life gave me and I am so grateful I met you.

Odiugho Adaoro

First off, I don’t permit people I’ve never met to call me “love”. That implies a familiarity we don’t share. So unless you’re my grandmother or my significant other just don’t. As you can see from this, it just riles me.

Odi – you don’t mind if I call you “Odi” do you? – sending a stranger that kind of message is almost guaranteed to elicit a few comments, such as that in the title of this blog. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that you saw my profile picture and fell in love. You should have gone beyond the photo. Had I received such a message from someone I care about, I’d love it, but from you, I find it creepy.

From what I could find out from the minimal contact information available through Messenger, I see he studied at some institute in Lagos. The fact he’s from or in Nigeria automatically sends up red flares. I know it’s a generalization, but so many online scams seem to originate in Nigeria (Nigerian prince anyone?) that I view any correspondence from there, unless in response to something I’ve sent, with suspicion.

One more thing Odi, such a message is not the best way to attempt to start an online friendship with someone. My first impression is that you’re infatuated with a photograph and to me it approaches stalking. So, in future, just don’t. This message assumes, falsely I might add, that I find, or will find, you just as fascinating as you apparently find me. No, I’m not flattered. The comment in the message “I am so grateful I met you” is also very off-putting for the only place we’ve met is in your mind.

Oh yes, also as I said above, I already have someone in my life.

Finally, as I said in the title “who the hell are you?”

Cat.

How can you not know this?

Yesterday I took part in a study at a Toronto hospital. Part of the intake procedure involved completing a questionnaire for the Ministry of Health.

There were eight questions in total, most of the multiple choice variety. For all questions one choice of answer was “prefer not to answer” and one was “do not know”. What incenses me with this answer relates to the nature of the questions. First question asks what language would you feel most comfortable using when speaking with a health-care provider. There were 34 choices ranging from Amharic to Vietnamese, plus “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. How the hell can you not know what language you are comfortable speaking?

Next: Were you born in Canada? “Yes”, “No”, “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. I have a problem with that as well. How can you not know where you were born – not the city necessarily, but what country are you from??

There were two questions dealing with income – how much do you earn in a year? with six income brackets to choose from along with “won’t answer” and “don’t know”. The second question was the number of people supported by that annual income. For this one, you had to fill in a number, not answer or say you don’t know. You don’t know how many people your money supports? C’mon now. At a minimum, the numerical answer is one – yourself.

There were also two questions dealing with gender identity and sexual preferences. Okay, I’ll give you these two. Depending upon the age of the respondent, they may not honestly know what gender they believe themselves to be. It may not be the one assigned at birth. As for sexual preference, same thing applies. The respondent may be uncertain.

The other six questions though, deal with concrete facts – the language you speak and where you were born for example, so how on earth can you answer those six with “do not know”?

Am I the only one who finds the choice of “do not know” frustrating when offered as an alternative answer to a question asking for definite facts? And no, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer.

Cat.

For the writers among us

A few thoughts and observations on that demon that haunts us ink-stained wretches:

“… writers don’t like the actual writing bit.”

“Being literate as a writer is good craft, is knowing your job, is knowing how to use your tools properly and not to damage the tools as you use them.”

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Douglas Adams, (1952 – 2001)

The above three quotes are from Douglas Adams, best known as the author of the five books of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy trilogy. (I know, but that’s how he described it.) And from personal experience I can say that first quote is spot on. As well, I have written many short stories that prove the third one as well.

As for the second, that would be for the reader to determine. I like to think I write well, and use, but not abuse, the English language properly. One piece of advice I was given is “write the way you speak.” In other words, if you don’t commonly use “ten dollar words” in your daily vocabulary, don’t use them in your writing, even if you can get them half-off. You’ll sound pretentious and will probably use them wrong. My writing always uses the vocabulary and speech patterns I use in everyday communication and people have told me that when they read my stuff, they can hear my voice reading it in their minds. I consider that a compliment. The only time I vary from that is if the character requires it.

There are several other “rules” of writing that make little sense to me at least, such as “write what you know”. That may be fine if you’re writing a technical piece, but doesn’t necessarily apply if you’re writing fiction. When it comes to my fiction, many of the stories start with me asking myself “what if …?” then answering the question. How bleak would the literary world be if authors only wrote what they know? We’d have been deprived of works like J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series as well as many books that are now considered classics.

“Write what you know.” I’m a blogger – sporadically recently because there are things going on that interfere with the writing as well as Douglas Adams’s first observation – and my blogs are usually about things or events that either interest me or incense me. And given the newly elected government in Ontario, I think there’s going to be a few things that incense me. In my more honest moments, I frequently describe my blogs as “rants, raves or reasoned discussions – reader’s choice.”

One thing I read somewhere (I think it was a writer I friended on MySpace years ago) was that in order to be a writer, you must write 600 words a day. What that writer didn’t add was that it must be six hundred words you want to keep. I don’t agree with that word count. You can only write so much and if only 10 words will come that are “keepers”, then that’s ten words you don’t have to worry about later.

Many people who don’t write and don’t understand writing will often joke about the process and sometimes point to the hoary opening “It was a dark and stormy night” as an example of writing. Actually, I used that twice in one story just to see if it was possible to use it without seeming trite. Here’s what I came up with:

It was a dark and stormy night – a real nasty one – the kind I’ve come to dread ever since that night. I was sitting quietly, enjoying my beer, when I noticed the guy staring at me. I ignored him as I do anyone who is rude enough to stare. Then I sensed him coming over.

After a bit of small talk, he stopped talking and just looked at me. I looked back. “What, you want to hear about the time traveller?”

“If you wouldn’t mind telling me,” he said, signalling for refills for both of us.

I thanked him, then said, “I don’t mind telling, if you don’t mind listening. All I ask is that you don’t interrupt too much, because I don’t really like talking about it.”

He agreed and, after a sip of the beer, I started.

“It was a dark and stormy night “ I stopped as I saw him glaring at me, then I said “I know, I know – any story that starts that way has to be pure bull, right? Hear me out, then you tell me.

In the introduction to this piece I wrote “I planted my tongue firmly in my cheek and here’s the result”. I know it’s hard to tell from this short intro, but what do you think? Did I pull it off? If you like, I’ll post the entire story later this week.

Okay, let’s try to get serious for a few minutes here. Writing is, by its nature, a solitary pursuit. When you’re working on a piece, be it fiction, a blog, essay or factual, most writers don’t want anyone around to derail their train of thought. I usually have classical music playing quietly while I work. In one short story, I destroyed an entire planet with “Ride of the Valkyries” in the background. Yes, some writers say that so-and-so is their muse, their inspiration, but that doesn’t mean that muse has to be present all the time. I’m fortunate in that respect as I live alone so there are minimal interruptions.

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” Very true. I can’t count the times I’ve started writing something with a plan in mind only to have the characters dictate what happens through their actions. I usually just leave it since on the occasions I’ve tried to bring the story back to my vision, it didn’t work as well.  And yes, it can happen that something you’ve written will send a story off in a new direction rather than following your roadmap. I think it works this way: You write something and your mind picks up on that and asks “what if I follow that line instead?” That is what I mean by the character dictating the ensuing actions.

It seems that many good writers are also voracious readers. Not to see what the “competition” is doing, but simply for the enjoyment of the written word. No, the excuse that it cuts into writing time won’t work. Without some kind of break or diversion, your mind goes stale and your work will suffer.

And, I think I’ve done it again – started off with one idea in mind, but ended up somewhere else. I could have probably spent much less time writing this if I’d simply said “write about what interests you; write it with passion and in cohesive sentences and the readers will come.” To finish off, a quote from Robert A Heinlein (1907 – 1988), the great science-fiction writer “You must write.”

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love too.

Cat.

How can you not know this?

My grocery store had a short survey link attached to the bottom of the cash register receipt. Since there was a chance to win a $1,000, I filled it out. I was doing fine until I came to this question:

On your most recent visit, did you have any problems that required assistance from Customer Service or other staff?

Yes
No
Don’t know

Seriously? Are you so out of touch with reality you don’t know whether or not you had a problem that required assistance from staff? It’s either “yes, I needed help locating a certain product” or “no, I found everything on my own”. This is one question that doesn’t need a “maybe” option. Or if you’re that unaware of what’s happening around you and to you, why are you out without a keeper? And, by the way, a keeper could have helped you.

I’ve seen similar questions on other surveys. Questions that should be a simple “yes” or “no” often have “don’t know” or “undecided” as options for something that either is, or isn’t. I can understand the need for a third option for some questions, such as those related to politics or world events, especially if the respondent doesn’t keep abreast of the news, but not for a question asking about a personal experience.

When your perception is based strictly upon what you observed or experienced, there is, or should be, no gray area. It should be black or white. Let’s pick a simple example: There is a certain vegetable you have tried and wouldn’t eat again. Are you going to answer “Do you like this vegetable?” when you know damn well you aren’t going to say “I don’t know.”

Is this third option on the above question a case of trying to avoid upsetting anyone or just a lack of thought on the part of the person who prepared the survey?

Enjoy your day and remember to hug an artist – we need love (and definite answers) too.

Oh, my answer was “No”.

Cat.