Easy for you to say

I’m currently in a long-term relationship with words. We’re ridiculously happy together — it’s disgusting, really. When we’re alone snuggled inside delicious-smelling pages, I’m oblivious to the world outside my window.

But like any relationship, we’ve hit the occasional rough patch. And to my great shame, we often quarrel publicly, as was the case earlier this week.

“What’s the name of that local theatre company,” a colleague asked those of us gathered around a boardroom table during a routine meeting.

I knew what was about to happen as soon as I opened my mouth. I knew it, because it’s happened so many times before. This is one mistake I will never learn from.

“Shim-ear-ah,” I answered, the last syllable of the gibberish nonsense word fading away.

My colleague looked up from her laptop, and caught my eye; the woman to her left simultaneously glanced up from her phone and grinned; the millennial to my immediate right put down her mason jar/water bottle and choked on an ill-timed sip.

“You mean Chimera (kai-mira), right,” the question-asker responded with a smirk. We all laughed; I laughed loudest of all.

For someone who calls herself a writer, I manage to mess up my mother tongue regularly. I can see the word perfectly in my mind. I can spell it. I can even give you the definition and provide you with a passable sketch. But until this day, I’d managed to avoid saying chimera out loud.

Unlike pedagogy — a word I didn’t encounter much until I began poking my nose into academia. Pedagogy, you’ll note, doesn’t rhyme with ‘doggy,’ which is something I discovered on my first or second day on campus.

I’ve been involved in this tumultuous relationship with words my whole life. We fight, we make up.

There I was, 11 years old, out for a fancy dinner with my family and dressed to the nines in my red and white polka dot dress with the shoulder pads. It was my mom’s birthday, and I was on my best behavior when I looked up and asked her if I could please order “whores-de-voors?”

The answer was no, we weren’t made of money, and also, we call them “hors d’oeuvres.”

Many dates that start with hors d’oeuvres, end with lingerie, which I correctly supposed meant fancy underpants based on the sassily attired mannequins in the shop window, but I always thought it sounded more like a tasty pasta dish, especially since I pronounced it “ling-gear-ee.”

Proper names have also been known to trip me up, and I apologize in advance to any of my Irish friends.

I had a mild crush on Sean (Seen) Astin as a child; he was cute in the Goonies. Then there are the fictional characters I encountered, the Seamus’s (Seemus’s), Yvonne’s (Why-vown-ee), any random colonel (there is no r in this word!), and, of course Hermione (Her-mee-own). I even managed to screw up Reggie’s name, you know, Archie’s friend? I pronounced it with soft gs, similar to how I mispronounced digest (dig-est).

The letter G is tough to navigate — take paradigm and prodigal for example. The safest option is to avoid these words altogether by using 15 other words to describe their meaning. This is advice I wish I had taken earlier this week, thereby avoiding the whole chimera debacle.

I’ve been subdued since chimera, trying my best to learn from my mistake, and move on. Words and I have been a bit distant — we need a bit of space, perhaps, a little breathing room, and some Netflix.

Pick your poison

[The first of what I expect to be a series of super unhelpful product reviews]

This post is designed to act as a reference guide to get you through the worst of all seasons.

Tylenol, of the dye-free berry variety, is a classic. This particular vintage, made in Markham, ON, goes down smoothly with only a hint of sharpness on the tail end. Grape-flavoured Advil, on the other hand, has a memorable tang, and will make you think back to all those times you used to dip your fingers into packs of Jello when you were a child of the 90s. Great legs on the Advil, which is also a plus.

In a pinch you can serve up both and drink back to back shots for a delicious hit of medicated fruit punch, and a solid six-to-eight hours of sleep.

Both the Advil and Tylenol pair well with popsicles, ginger ale, and endless episodes of Teen Titans GO!

Handstanding Elmo. Always an excellent choice.

The pink product on the left, amoxicillin, is hard to come by. Dealers of this elusive elixir can only be found after waiting on the sidewalk for hours in the cold. Strawberry with a hint of banana, creamy and bubbly when shaken, amoxicillin is best served cold in handstanding Elmo (right).

On the far right, this Cabernet Sauvignon from Argentina is a Goddamned blessing. The, “intense ruby colour with the tile edges,” is nothing compared to the fact that it was close at hand, and free, having been left behind following a New Year’s party. While pairing suggestions include “roast beef, spicy & roast chicken, and hard cheeses,” it also goes well with avocado toast eaten over the sink at 10 p.m., because that’s when you get to have dinner after tending to the needs of everybody else in your household.

Mitigating circumstances

[Warning, this post contains imagined graphic violence, and some curse words that may not be suitable for all audiences, especially those who enjoy winter.]

Like most Canadians I’m easy going and overly apologetic. For example, last week, I ordered tea at Tim Hortons, they gave me a coffee, and I drank it. Honestly, it was probably my fault. I shouldn’t have ordered tea, who am I, the Queen?

But if winter was a dude and he walked up and tapped me on the shoulder, I’d reach over, grab his blue-veined throat in my otherwise gentle hands and squeeze. I’d squeeze until his jagged, ice-cold fingernails dug into my unforgiving wrists; I’d squeeze until the only thing keeping him upright was my conviction that this was right, and good, and damn it, I’d had enough.

And when it was over, and he dropped to the ground, I’d turn around, give summer a high-five and buy everyone in the room a round of mojitos, confident in my ability to mount a good defence.

Winter’s an asshole — not unlike people who only invite you to parties when they want to sell you shit from some pyramid scheme business. (No, I don’t want to go to your stupid totebag party, Linda! I will not buy your $900 eye cream, Stacey! Sell your dumb dolphin-shaped dildos to some other sucker, Eileen!)

“There were mitigating circumstances, your Honour,” I’d say, representing myself at trial.

Herein lies my defence:

No. 1: Gloves.

I estimate that by Jan. 8, I have already purchased $700-million worth of winter gloves. And also by Jan. 8, I am left with three sets of right-handers, one pair of mittens that are poisonous (as confirmed by my five-year-old who shakes and cries like you’re dipping his hands into hot lava if you so much as bring the mittens within his line of sight), and a single pair of dollar store polyester stretchy gloves that actually work in reverse by allowing in more cold than they keep out.

What is also notable about the dollar store gloves is that we can’t lose them. We’ve found them on top of the garbage can in the backyard, in a Lego bin, inside a lunch kit. I literally spent a DOLLAR on these gloves, and I bet if I set them on fire they’d regenerate. But finding a match to any of the 4,000 pairs of waterproof gloves that I’ve purchased this season for upwards of $15 a pair? Ha! Fat chance!

No. 2: Mid-winter thaw.

We recently went through a thaw. You might be thinking, “Hey, that’s nice, a bit of warm weather in the winter means you can go for a run outdoors, put away those inflatable Christmas decorations that have been stuck under a snowdrift for the past several weeks,” but you’d be wrong. There’s nothing nice about a thaw. Thaws are the worst. A pineapple express sounds tropical and delicious, but it’s disgusting. Everything is disgusting. My car? Disgusting! It looks like shit, and if I’m being honest, even with rubber mats and all the air freshners that you can buy at someone’s pyramid scheme party, it sort of smells like shit, too. Everything is wet, everything is horrible, and to top it off, each morning you’ll face the ultimate, soul sucking indignity of having to scrape the inside and the outside of your windshield. People weren’t meant to live like this.

No. 3: Boots.

With the thaw come the puddles. For those unaware, kids like puddles. They’re amazing. They’re the best! So you stand there in the morning, searching for a matching glove that doesn’t exist, and your kid puts on his snow boots and heads out the door. Before he walks the six steps required to arrive at the filthy, disgusting car, he’s found a puddle, but not just any puddle, a slush puddle. Said puddle resembles Yoda’s swamp, except less cozy and with a lot more ice and rocks and junk. When the kid steps into it (because, OF COURSE HE DOES!), it hits him at about mid-thigh. Boots fill with water, screaming ensues. In he comes, off come wet socks and pants, and out of the cupboard come the rubber boots. Amazing! There are two of them, and they were right where they should be, and they’re blue, with handles, and they’re dry inside, and they still fit, and maybe we won’t be late after all!

But wait! These boots are cursed! He can’t possibly wear these boots!

“Mommy, NOOOOOOOOOOOO,” he shrieks as if you’re brandishing the lava mittens. “Don’t make me wear them, they’ll make me too… [sobs hysterically] … slowwwwwww!”

Yup, we’re late. Again.

And that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

No. 4: Sickness. Whether they’re barfing, coughing or swallowing razor blades, children are sick from December through April. I spend half of my paycheque on waterproof gloves, the other half goes directly to Advil and Kleenex (I buy booze on credit).

No. 5: Socks. Everywhere. They’re balled up, inside out, wet and full of rocks, dry and full of rocks — all of the socks in the world, but none of them are clean, none of them match, most have holes.

No. 6: Darkness.

No. 7: NFL playoffs.

No. 8: Wind chill.

No. 9: Shovelling.

No. 10: Chapped everything.

I’ll rest my case, and fold my gentle hands into my contrite lap. The judge will look to the jury, and they’ll nod in agreement, sentencing me to time served. We’ll all go home, wash our cars, dig out our flip-flops, and drink mojitos.

The end.


Four years later…

“I need to start writing again.”

He knew she was serious. They’d been re-watching HBO’s Rome, Vorenus had just found out about his wife’s infidelity, Julius Caesar was in the midst of a savage attack in the Senate, and she’d just pressed pause.

“I need to start writing again,” she repeated, when he shifted around to look at her. “But I can’t write in the office. It’s a disaster in there, and the window looks out to the garbage can.

“And I can’t write in the kitchen. It’s always full of dishes that need to be washed, and agendas that need to be signed.

“The bedroom is out. Oprah once said that you shouldn’t work in the same room that you sleep in, or else you’ll never sleep properly again.

“And the dining room is too cold.”

“Well,” he said, “how about the playroom? There’s a window in there. It’s warm and quiet when the boys aren’t around. There’s plenty of room.”

“Maybe. We’ll see. I need to start writing again.”

Days later they unearthed her old desk from beneath a stack of children’s artwork, receipts in need of shredding, and the bag of fall rye that they never did get around to spreading on the garden. In the desk drawers she discovered two framed third-place certificates that she’d been carting around from house to house for the past 16 years. Who hangs a third-best journalist award? The third-best human-interest column? Second loser, more like, she thought. But the laughter died in her throat as she looked at the dates and did some math.

She was 22 when she took her first third place, twenty-four when she won the second. She was a baby, then. That’s not nothing.

Underneath those dusty plaques, there was another. A mock front page, mounted on a foam board, so old now that the corners lift at the edges. The one-of-a-kind Danna Edition of Kamloops This Week, published on Nov. 15, 2005, her last day at the paper. Five photos with appropriately inappropriate cutlines, and a 72-point headline proclaiming: “We hardly new you, Donna.”

It was both a self-depreciating nod to the newsroom’s occasional copyediting gaffs, and reminder that she couldn’t go a day without someone calling the front desk and asking for Donna, Diana, Dana, Darla. She once covered a conference and came back to the newsroom with a lanyard around her neck and a name tag that read: “Janet Johnson, Reporter, Kamloops This Week.” Her colleagues were humane, and stopped calling her Janet within three months.

The fake front page went up on the wall.

Then her husband unearthed another plaque — bigger this time, and wrapped in plastic.

When the Kamloops Daily News shut its doors in January 2014, employees were handed severance packages and a copy of the final front page, professionally mounted. Her severance when into mutual funds, and the broadsheet went into the back of a closet.

“Sure,” she told her husband. “Hang it beside the other one, maybe.”

And he did. And here she sits, with both front pages framing her computer screen, in her perfect little writer’s nook that is neither too cold, nor too noisy.

“I need to start writing again,” she whispers to herself, knowing that four years have passed, and 208 weekly columns have gone unwritten.

“I need to start writing again,” she breathes, her fingers restless on the keyboard. For 200 or so weeks she’s been writing press releases, video scripts, social media posts and other miscellaneous marketing content — this shouldn’t be so difficult.

But after a four-year, self-imposed silent treatment, now that she’s ready to speak, she’s lost her voice.

What if she can’t do it?

What if people read it?

What if they don’t?

“I need to start writing again,” she wrote.