It’s like deja vu all over again

So, this happened:

Which means I spent the day receiving message after gleeful message from people about it, followed by angry tweets from people who think I am depriving Frankie MacDonald of royalties on the Storm Chips name, followed by colleagues dropping off a bag of Storm Chips, followed by other colleagues seriously asking to take my photo holding the bag (request DENIED). #Stormchips trended briefly in Halifax, a minor blizzard broke out in the comments on the CBC story linked above and then the “story” receded again, like a snowbank in spring (she said hopefully, about both the story and the snowbanks.)

So, let’s take a moment to talk about what #stormchips is and isn’t, to me at least. First and most importantly, it’s not my intellectual property. It’s a hashtag. A thing I tapped out on my smart phone while standing in line at the grocery store waiting to pay for a bag of ripple chips and some onion dip. And then proceeded to append to the live-tweeting I did that night of the eating of said ripple chips and onion dip. It’s not a thing I’ve monetized or care to. I receive no royalties from uses of the hashtag, nor do I care to. I cannot believe we are even having this conversation, as I have infamously said before. I do not believe, nor have I ever claimed, that I invented the idea of eating chips during a storm. I think I tapped into the zeitgeist and originated a funny little hashtag that people came to love—for some still-mysterious-to-me reason. I do not have an agent, I will not be seeking endorsement opportunities, I am in no way involved with these chips or any other branded Storm Chips thing—nor will I ever, ever be. I don’t think I am the arbiter of when you should eat chips, and when you shouldn’t. I don’t think I am responsible for the ten pounds you gained last winter eating chips. I don’t think I need to be included in every online conversation about everything anyone consumes during rough weather, though I do try to make sure we have a ready supply of #stormscotch round these parts, because what’s a storm without whisky?

(Full disclosure: My mother originated the phrase “what’s a storm without doughnuts” during an interview I conducted with her some other winter, when a bad storm was headed our way but had already made its way across Ontario. I have bastardized it here for my own purposes, as I think I can make it through the storm without doughnuts, but would be seriously sad to go without the whisky.)

If Frankie MacDonald feels he has a claim on the words Storm Chips, he should most definitely take that up with the good folks at Covered Bridge. Their chips were a surprise to me. I benefit in no way from them, and in fact totally torpedoed several weeks of very healthy eating once that damn bag arrived at my desk courtesy of the newsroom today. If you have derived some pleasure from #stormchips and feel strongly that I SHOULD be getting royalties from use of the term (a feeling I don’t share, as you should know if you read this far), you might consider making a donation to Feed Nova Scotia. Or, purchase any book by any Canadian writer, and drop me a line in the comments to let me know you did so. I’d love to hear what book you chose and why.

Here’s hoping for a curiously storm-free winter!


What a difference a year makes

When I was writing this post a year ago today, I couldn’t have imagined how it would change my life. I wrote it out of frustration, forgetting for a moment — or not caring — that as a CBC radio host, I am not allowed to publish my opinion. Also, my employer would very much prefer that I not drop f-bombs wherever I go. My bosses didn’t care much for the angry tone, either, to be honest. At the time, I was super happy in my role as a CBC radio host.

But after I pressed publish, after the post was shared hundreds of times, and viewed tens of thousands of times, after I was reprimanded and disciplined for breaking the journalistic standards and practises, after I confronted the strange and discomfiting feelings of having broken the rules, and the equally strange and opposite feeling of having done nothing wrong, I had to think deeply about where I was, and where I wanted to be.

Being a public radio host is a dream job. But it’s not my dream job. I am and always have been a writer. Writing is my dream job. And more and more over the past year I have chafed against the strictures that prevent me from sharing my opinion. Less and less I have been happy — let alone super happy — in my role as a CBC radio host.

This day last year I said what I saw needed saying. I said what was on my mind and in my heart to say. I thought of myself only as human, not as human-with-public-job. Thanks to everyone who read what I wrote and responded. Thanks for the wind in my sails that also helped blow away the fog that surrounded me.

This day last year I did something I have never once regretted, though I got in trouble, though I lost my sense of myself for months afterward, though it led to me making a plan to leave a job I loved. This day last year I put my foot along a path that has now opened widely before me. I will not be looking back.

Take your heart’s candle and relight it

The first time I heard Old Man Luedecke‘s song I Quit My Job, I felt uncomfortable. Everything he sang resonated with me, about not letting them take the joy that you make. The assertion you could always live on rice and potatoes. The encouragement to take your heart’s candle and relight it. The pride in a community made of friends who work their dreams with their hands. By then I’d been working at CBC Radio for four years, happily. So happily. I’d found a place at Mainstreet, behind the scenes as producer and on air as a fill-in host. I loved the work I was doing all day. I couldn’t believe they were paying me to ask interesting people nosy questions about their lives.

But every time I heard that song, a little voice nagged at the back of my mind. My heart’s candle was only dimly lit. I’d been a writer for thirty years at that point, but I was most decidedly not engaged in working my dreams with my hands. Working on a radio show had never been my dream. It was a sideline to my true work of writing — and it turned out to be a pretty demanding sideline. Even more so when I became the permanent host in 2008. Who even knew that I was a writer? I didn’t exactly do a tonne of it. And working at the CBC meant I couldn’t share my opinion much — which I’d previously been very accustomed to as a newspaper columnist. I managed to write two novels, mostly against the odds, mainly by spending weekends, evenings, and early mornings hunched over my keyboard. A small grant from the province of Nova Scotia gave me two months to be a full-time writer of fiction and it was intoxicating. A glimpse of what my life could be.

But then, always, reality. We have a mortgage. And my spouse is a folk singer. They are not known for making a lot of dough. Though they do write songs that oughta be worth a million bucks. And anyway I loved my work, and I was pretty good at it, too. Maybe someday I’d get a chance to host a national show. I loved covering elections. And political scandals of all kinds. And I got to interview people like Mary Gauthier. And Phil Keoghan. And Burton Cummings. For some reason those are the three that come to mind at the moment. And who walks away from a job like that? Surely the best job in Halifax. Eventually they even made me staff, and I started paying into the pension program. Who walks away from a CBC pension, for god’s sake.

But that song. That exhortation to take your heart’s candle and relight it.

I am writing another novel. Slowly, so slowly. I need to go faster. I need to write more. I need to be free to be my whole self. It’s time to get back to my regularly scheduled life as an artist. To express opinions. To dance in the kitchen to Old Man Luedecke. To make rice and potatoes for supper. To work my dreams with my hands.

And so I’m stepping off this comfortable ledge and into the abyss. I don’t know what will be next, honestly, besides writing. I once again have a small but mighty grant from the province, so I’ll have at least a few months of writing fiction. And after that, I’ll be hustling, working when I need to at whatever I can.

It’s been an honour to be the host of Mainstreet. I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ll be revelling in the moments to come between now and mid-December when I’ll turn off my mic for the final time. And then I’ll just be here, relighting my heart’s candle.

Back on the road with Lansing, Evan, and Dacey

Books have a lifespan, or they’re supposed to — a book that’s been out for eighteen months is pretty much done. Which is bonkers in some ways, because it’s not like books go bad, or have a true expiry date after which you consume them at your own risk. But in the fast-fast world of marketing, books do have a shelf-life, if you will.

So it is with total surprise that I’ve been fielding a number of requests for Fallsy Downsies’s time lately. Sarah Mian and I travelled to Moncton last month to read at the Attic Owl series, and we’ll hit the road again together to check out the brand new Lexicon Books in Lunenburg on Friday, June 5. I always love a chance to hear Sarah read from her excellent book, When The Saints, and I’m beyond delighted to have been asked to read from Fallsy Downsies that night too. Before that, I’ll head up to Sydney, Cape Breton on Sunday for an afternoon of readings and a panel discussion about becoming a writer. I’m thrilled to have been asked to do this event, which is put on by the very fine Cabot Trail Writers’ Festival and features a number of writers I’m keen to listen to, including Rebecca Silver Slayter and Lesley Crewe.

I’ve also fielded a couple requests lately from book clubs. Yesterday in fact, I travelled out to Enfield to meet with a book club who had just finished Fallsy Downsies. It was great to hang out with them for an afternoon, answering their questions about writing and chatting about the book. I’ll visit another book club in mid-June. and if your book club reads Fallsy Downsies — or Homing, for that matter — I’ll come visit you, too, if you want! Just drop me a line and we’ll see if we can make it work.

In a perfect world, I’d be writing every day and reading from my books every week. But this world I’m in? It’s pretty close to perfect.


How grief rolls

May brings confusion and wonder, always. Tulips, forsythia, lilac profusion. Turn the furnace off, open the windows. Bundle in sweaters, wear socks to bed, shiver anyway. Days so beautiful they break your heart, days so awful they do the very same. Birthdays, Mother’s Day, death days. Terrible anniversaries you’d do better to forget, but somehow never can.

Fifteen years of this, and I’m an expert, or I think I am. I am arrogant in my grief. I got this, I think. I swagger through May while others stumble. I talk about it easily. Oh, there were four of us, I say, when someone asks how many siblings I have, but my brother died. Stomach cancer. Incredibly rare. It was awful. He had two young daughters, the eldest of whom was only two and a half. So blithe, so confident that I am on top of my grief, these years later.

Till this year. When it was on top of me.

Grief is a rogue wave. It’s a Loch Ness monster. An iceberg. A yawning sea of salty, salty tears. You’re in a rowboat, thinking it’s a sunny day.

When bad things happen, I want to process the shit out of them. I want to talk them out. Talk them to death, if you will. I want to put them in a container and tuck it away somewhere I can find it if I need it—and then I want to move forward. But that’s not how grief rolls.

Grief rolls over and on and on. it rolls where and when it wants to. It doesn’t care about you, even a little. And time means nothing. Time is a thief and it is also a gift. I am impatient with grief, I think, it’s been fifteen years. I should be better at this. And in the next moment, my god, it’s been fifteen years already. Some day it will be twenty. That takes my breath away entirely. Some day he will be more years dead than he was alive. I cannot fathom the depth of that canyon.

This year grief rolled over me, for all my experience, my arrogance, my impatience. Grief roared up and engulfed me. It plucked me from my rowboat and held my head under till I begged to be let up.

Night came, then day. I am on another shore now. Less sure-footed in my grief, but on more solid ground somehow.

The road, hitting it

Long time no type. What a terrible winter it was. The backyard is still full of snow, but the birds are singing and there are little green shoots in the front garden. Looks like we made it. There were times I thought we wouldn’t.

In celebration of spring and being able to get around without being buried under a wall of ice and snow, Sarah Mian and I are hitting the road on Thursday, bound for Moncton, New Brunswick. We’ve been invited to read at the Attic Owl series, and I couldn’t be more excited. First of all, Sarah’s debut novel, When the Saints, kicked my ass all over the place while I was reading it. It’s even better — funnier, truer, more intoxicating — than I had expected. And my expectations were high. So I’m keen to hear her read from it in front of a lucky, appreciative crowd. Second, Sarah is at least as awesome as her book is, so making the trek to Moncton with her will surely be a highlight of the season. The only thing that could possibly make it better…is if you show up to say hello. Say you will!


Oh, what a time it’s been! After this post and its attendant …virility? Is that the adjective for viral? Doubtful. Anyhow, after the post that seemingly went everywhere last fall, I kind of thought I might fly under the radar for a while, which is exactly where I prefer to fly, which is probably a strange thing for a person who hosts a radio program to prefer, but hey, I’m a conundrum wrapped in a riddle, dipped in milk chocolate, I guess. Anyhow anyhow, it was not to be, all because of stupid Blizzardageddon 2015 or whatever the hell we settled on as a name this time. A bit of snow, some high winds and #stormchips. Can’t a girl get a bag of ripple chips and a container of dip in peace anymore? Apparently not.

If the little hashtag that could is what brought you here, hello! I write longer form things as well, and you can find them here and here.

And if you’re in the Halifax or Dartmouth area, drop by Celtic Corner in Dartmouth tomorrow night and meet me in person! I will sign your bag of chips. And copies of Fallsy Downsies and Homing, if you’re at all interested in them.


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