Review: A Quality of Light, by Richard Wagamese

This book took me much longer to read than I expected, for various reasons, but that wasn’t a bad thing. I received my copy in a Raven Reads subscription box, and at first the baseballs on the cover of the issue in my possession were a bit of a turn-off (never judge a book by its cover, right?) — however, in the end, the chosen imagery has incredible meaning beyond the surface, which is part of the message in the story. A Quality of Light felt largely meditative to me, not only in its style of both reflective narration and slow burn to the primary conflict, but also in its careful unpacking of various perspectives on Indigenous issues and peoples in Canada and the United States in the last half of the twentieth century. I found it was helpful to absorb in small doses. I enjoyed the story of the boys getting to know each other and growing up together, but having taken an intensive course in ways of Aboriginal knowing and leadership in education, most of the points raised resonated strongly with me. I wish now that I had followed my instinct to underline and mark key passages of meaning — I may go back in a little while to search them out and do so. As I told my friend and colleague, it’s easy to see why Richard Wagamese won awards for his beautiful wordcrafting.


From the beloved, bestselling author of Indian Horse and Medicine Walk, Richard Wagamese’s novel is a moving story of friendship, loyalty, compassion, and justice.

Joshua Kane, an Ojibway, has lived since infancy with his white adoptive parents. Johnny Gebhardt is white, and from a young age has had a fascination with Indigenous culture, craving the spirituality and strength he knows are a part of a life sorely lacking in his own. Happily, the two boys meet and form a deep bond through their “invention” of baseball, the warrior identities they bestow upon themselves, and their promise to always be loyal and good and kind.

When a nasty racial incident puts Joshua in the hospital and Johnny in a detention centre, Joshua begins to discover his heritage. Johnny, incensed at the injustices endured by Joshua and Indigenous people throughout North America, takes a militaristic stance in his fight for native rights and traditions. Each now has a disparate belief about what it means to be truly native, and their friendship dissolves.

A violent hostage-talking brings them together many years later, and they recall the oath they took as boys. This tragic event allows each man to fully realize the true spirit in the other.

A little bit of catching up. Well, a lot.

Well. It’s been about six months since my last blog post. This simply will not do!

If you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you’ll know that I’ve been alive and up to some mischief!

Some highlights (in chronological order):

  • Revised the 24 Hour Play Writing Challenge as an online event — learned some lessons on what works and what doesn’t. I suspect the success of an event like this is all about the publicity.
  • Directed a student production of a scene from The Taming of the Shrew, gender-bent and set in the Elizabethan Era with inspiration from Marvel’s Avengers. The costumes looked gorgeous, well worth the hours of work and my sore back. We also loved our set, described by one of my colleagues as being lush and opulent. 🙂 I love having a team of adult volunteers who are able to come in and help. ❤IMG_1279IMG_1282IMG_1272IMG_1292



  • I had another table at the Northern Ontario Expo! That was a lot of fun, though I felt like I had a lot to improve. Still, my fans were happy to see me there, and there was a lot of interest in my latest release, Rip Gone Wrong, which was awesome!

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I’ve already booked my table for next year, AND — get this — my American bestie, the fabulous author Tara Fox Hall, is going to be my booth-buddy/neighbour next May! So excited! I have lots of ideas on how to keep making my displays awesome: more swag for purchase and giveaway, an even better prize wheel, and maybe I’ll invest in portable wire shelves or use a room divider behind the table.

  • Ottawa ComicCon Field Trip! Third year in a row. Learned a lot, once again, what to do and what not to do, how to deal with a crisis, how I’ll organize it differently — the kids were already talking about looking forward to the 2018 OCC trip on the bus ride home. That’s something I need to start planning in the next few weeks, actually.

And then . . . with barely a breath after coming back . . .

  • I got into rehearsals again, this time in the part of Grumio in The Taming of the Shrew for Shakespeare in the Park! My hair still hasn’t grown back to the pixie cut, but I’ve gotten rather used to the short-short. Am debating whether to keep it. But the play . . . oh, I adore performing The Bard. It was wonderful fun, and reminded me of my resolution to apply for the York Theatre Program’s Master of Fine Arts program in the fall of 2018. 😀

There’s definitely a reason my floors are always covered in clutter and debris. It’s project after project (and, admittedly, I like it that way!) . . . including online graduate school!

That’s right!

  • While the play was still running, I started the first two of ten courses for my Master of Education through Queen’s University! The courses were excellent: I took Self-Regulated Learning and Inquiry, and Organizational Learning online from July 4 to August 22. Really enjoyed them, too, and got great marks to boot! Next up, starting September 18, will be Collaborative Inquiry and Organizational Leadership. I’m determined to knock this one out of the park in two years, so it’s done before I am into the MFA of Theatre at York (if I get in) in 2019.

A bit of sad news, amongst the good, though. We said goodbye to our beloved pup Skittles, who really hadn’t been a pup in some time. August 11 was a rough day. She was (we thought) 13 years old.

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Oh, boy, and so many other things have happened . . . I put up my own laundry line, without help. The kids performed in the annual skating show and had a great time with that. We have a new pet corn snake as of last week, a year-old corn snake I have named Mortimer. My sixteen-year-old son is now taller than his father, and in addition to performing in two plays this spring, also joined a public singing group, obtained his Black Belt in karate, refereed soccer three times a week (and often two games each time), and then worked a week at Kentucky Fried Chicken before being offered another job at a pharmacy. My eleven-year-old daughter has gotten accustomed to the glasses we learned she needed this winter, has enjoyed developing her creativity at summer art classes and acting boot camp, spread her wings with friends by running to the local parks and library’s children’s program, and left evidence of her joy all over the house. Little Miss (more and more) Independent!

And next Tuesday I’m hitting 40. I’m looking forward to it. As I’ve said to friends throughout the spring, and just this evening, I’ve felt like 40 for a while now. My approaching birthday always makes me feel somewhat pensive, as I take stock and end up being overly critical of where I am and what I’ve achieved at this point. It’s easier if I can distract myself with things like cosplay and knitting, or as I’ve been doing until about a week ago, taking courses. Unfortunately, this year, we’re not going to make it to FanExpo. Between having our little Suzuki SX4 break its front left control arm in July ($$$) and our dryer giving up the ghost around the same time ($$$), we simply don’t have the funds. We’re all a bit disappointed about that, especially given that there’s an amazing line-up of guests this year, and we all enjoy going. In fact, I’d started recognizing people that I’ve seen not just at FanExpo, but also at Ottawa ComicCon! There are convention REGULARS out there, and it’s wonderful! *sob*

But then again, not going will save us more than the travel costs, tickets, and accommodations. I always end up spending way too much at conventions, in spite of my best intentions. Next time, I need to carry a set amount of cash and no debit or credit card on me. See if that helps.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been up to. Many times, I’ve composed blog posts in my head but of course, they’re doing nobody any good in there. Remember that year that I blogged every day? That was glorious . . . I might try that again, though not necessarily with long posts (like this one). Maybe I could do pictorials. I did a lot of vlogging for a course project — that might work, too. Something else I need to get back to is working on my creepy dollhouse project. It’s official title is now Of the Empty Wood. And I need to go to the gym at least once a week. I found it difficult to keep that habit going while concentrating on course work, although listening to the readings while exercising was helpful. Remember that goal I’d set myself of being able to do a pull-up or a chin-up by this coming birthday? I’m going to test myself, but I’m not sure that it’s going to happen.

I’m looking differently at the end of this summer, I think. At all of the endings I’ve been noticing. They’re not significant because something wonderful comes to a close — they’re significant, and valuable, and memorable, because they were, and what they lead to isn’t something that’s over but something else that’s just beginning.


Tilting a View on Astrology (slightly)

Last fall, NASA crushed / shocked / surprised / amused much of the Western world with its announcement that astrology is wrong. Do a quick Google search and you’ll see what I mean:

Wait, what’s that? It’s controversial?!? Well, isn’t that fun!

(Yes, actually. Yes it is.)

My teenage son was all over this. It’s the fact that the zodiac is based on constellations, and Earth’s relative position to those star and planetary positions has changed over the last two thousand years or so that makes the current knowledge and application of the zodiac to be a little hincky.

But here’s my take on it, after a deep philosophical discussion we had last week. Are you ready?

It’s my humble opinion that the stars and planets are representative symbols of the zodiac signs and may continue to influence us, not because of physics or cosmology as we know them now, but because of our collective unconscious.

Stay with me, here.

Carl Jung, that old son-of-a-gun, developed this concept while he was working with schizophrenic patients at the Burgholzli psychiatrist hospital in the early 20th century. I like how it’s summarized at

The collective unconscious is an universal datum, that is, every human being is endowed with this psychic archetype-layer since his/her birth. One can not acquire this strata by education or other conscious effort because it is innate.

We may also describe it as a universal library of human knowledge, or the sage in [humans], the very transcendental wisdom that guides [hu]mankind. (emphasis mine)

So, we are each born attuned to an unseeable frequency connecting us to every other human being. Some of us retain this sensitivity as we get older (this would help to explain certain psychic abilities, as well as some mental illnesses), with varying degrees of strength, while the majority lose the sense of connection through non-exercise, distraction, and the mundane priorities of daily life. The best time or way for ordinary people to come into contact with the collective unconscious? Why, it’s in dreams, of course!

By the 1940s, Jung had expanded his theory to include and discuss the significance of archetypes. From

Archetypes (Jung, 1947) are images and thoughts which have universal meanings across cultures which may show up I dreams, literature, art or religion. 

Jung believes symbols from different cultures are often very similar because they have emerged from archetypes shared by the whole human race. For Jung, our primitive past becomes the basis of the human psyche, directing and influencing present behavior. 

So, here’s where we come back to astrology: WHAT IF it influences individuals not directly through the stars, but through the way we have come to connect the constellations and movement of time to our collective unconscious, and the archetypes that the zodiac signs represent?

Once upon a time, in order to help make sense of the world, early humans began drawing connections between being born at certain times of the year, when specific heroes, animals, and magical beings were visible in the night sky as gatherings of light points, and taught each other over generations that an infant who joined the world on this day/night, at this time of year, would grow up with different characteristics than a sibling born at a different day and time. Such concepts made sense, then, in a time when magic and philosophy and storytelling were practical truths more than superstitions, and continued to be so informative and useful in communities and pairings that these ideas embedded or wove themselves into our collective unconscious — the unwritten history of humanity that gets passed on through an unmeasurable layer of electric signals touching and bouncing off each other all the time. Call them auras, if you like, or spirits, or souls. Astrology as a means of answering questions, determining destinies, making decisions, and righting wrongs became highly specified and nearly a science in its own right, until the scientific method arose and took priority in helping us to understand our world (with good reason, I might add — slight pun intended).

And eventually science came around to astrology, focusing its magnifying gaze on the source and impact of astrological beliefs and practices. If it was once based on star and planet positions, then that means (logically) once those positions have significantly changed, whatever influence they might have on the thoughts and actions of walking apes must be either significantly different than before (or negated entirely).

At this, my son crows triumphantly. Astrology is no more!

But if astrology is not wholly dependent on the positions of stars and planets — if it uses these as symbols of meaning, archetypes commonly recognized and shared among generations and communities and societies, connecting with other archetypes of other generations and communities and societies — then it still exists, has meaning, and thus has an influence on those who believe it does. The zodiac, whether Chinese, Native American, Celtic, etc., resonates deeply in the continuing human search for meaning, purpose, and connection. It’s a reflection of our biological need to categorize, our emotional need for bonds, and our intellectual craving for understanding. Therefore, we don’t really need to say that the stars and planets are influencing us, astrologically, but when we say that they are doing so through a horoscope, it’s a symbolic language that is being used, reaching out to the knowledge buried deep within the collective unconscious.

Do you think Jung would agree?

PS — I’m a Virgo. 😀

24-Hour Playwriting Challenge 2017!

I’ve had an interest in setting up performance experiments for a while, and through my activity with the LaSalle Theatre in Kirkland Lake, I was able to set up the first 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge in 2015. It went very well, and we expanded it in 2017, with a lot of success.

This year, due to circumstances beyond my control, it’s going to be a write-in event only, which is awesome: although we’re not having in-house writing overnight in a well-lit library with comfy couches and beanbag chairs, followed by a live performance by trained and volunteer actors, we’re trying something new once again:

The 2017 24-Hour Playwriting Challenge is opening up to online entries with the winning script to be performed live via YouTube in June!


The challenge is open to all ages, and available for international takers (registration and prize money in CAD)!

To sign up, please download and fill out the form at the Facebook event page:

Testimonial from Judge #1, Artistic Director for the LaSalle Theatre, Michael Rawley:


Writing Stops and Starts

Okay, so I’ve been struggling to get back to the writing project on the creepy haunted dollhouse, in part because it’s going to take research to get where I want to go with it, and that’s a time and energy thing. But the more I rewatch my current favourites and obsessions — Marvel movies, Castle, OUAT, SupernaturalThe MartianGhostbusters (reboot) [I go through periods of obsession over a universe and then they are overtaken by new ones, but they are always in the background] — and read articles about their characters and writers and directors, the more it’s bugging me that I can’t get this story under control or back into momentum or whatever you want to call it.

For me, writing is both planning and pantsing: I know what I want to produce, and I think I know how to get there, but in the middle of it all the damned thing surprises me over and over again as the characters take on their lives. Sometimes, I start to feel like I’m just an observer for the words that are coming out, a passenger on the journey who is tasked with documenting what goes on.

The creepy haunted dollhouse thing was supposed to be a narrative at first, but then I realized that it really wanted to be an epistolary. So, I started working on that, building a treasury of tales of the consequences of coming into contact with this object that had been built for mysterious reasons out of used coffin wood. Had to come up with those reasons, after a while, and doing so opened up a whole second world of possibilities, some of which my teenage son told me were too out-there for the whole thing. But for whatever reason, I can’t just let go of that secondary plot. I tried exploring it more in NaNoWriMo, and found that by the end of November, it was almost cornering me in. Sought out feedback from friends and other talented writers (who are friends), and it was very helpful in conceptualizing, but I still have to do the work.

Tonight, thinking about The Martian again, I realized that I need to make a list of things to do for the creepy dollhouse novel in order to get the first draft done. It’s not like writing the Talbot Trilogy, not in the least. Here’s what I need to do, how to work the problem, as Mark Watney would say — how to begin:

  • Soundtrack — I find it really helps to have music going on in the background for inspiration. I had playlists for the Talbot Trilogy, and I think I’d started on one for this, so I’m hoping I can find it. Songs connect to theme and character development, plus inform plot twists and moments of insight as they come about in the writing.
  • Protagonist — I’ve got her name (Bronwyn) and I know her genealogy, but I need to write it out in full, I think, with a timeline of events in her life to really know where she’s coming from. Sometimes these things come up during the drafting, though, as well. I had a recent experience at a hypnotist show that probably explains my rekindling of interest in the Bucky Barnes storyline, in the psychology of memory, so I may delve into that for Bronwyn’s purpose and actions. This means I’ll likely be re-writing her chapters. I want to sigh about that, but you know what? Sometimes the second draft is more satisfying than the first.
  • Research — a lot of what Bronwyn does is based on my own suppositions and extrapolations from past experience, but it doesn’t feel authentic enough because I haven’t done the proper research into the job she does. There’s a list of things I need to look up, in my head, that I need to put to paper. Kind of jealous of Diana Gabaldon and her team of researchers and assistants . . .

The big thing is that I have to consider what attracts me to the Bucky storyline, as well as others that involve amnesia and brainwashing — big fan of the Bourne series, for example — and the elements of horror and suspense that I want to include, and keep them in mind at all times when I’m putting bits of the story into place. This is why Stephen King recommends staying on the draft until it’s done, I guess.

If I had a room in my house dedicated to writing, I’d put these keys on the wall. I want my creepy dollhouse project to be about the creepy dollhouse, and the things that it does, but I also want it to be about memory, programming, identity, secrets and revelations, hope and despair, being trapped and searching for escape. I see it as The Dybbuk Box meets World War Z, in a sense, touching on fairy tales and lore. It’s a huge project. I don’t want it to take years; I can’t afford for it to take years, too, because I’ve applied to do grad school online and I have a full-time job on top of that, plus I’m going to apply to theatre grad school in two years. But I can’t rush this process, either.

Here’s a video I keep coming back to — for some reason, it keeps connecting with the creepy dollhouse in my head. Wish I knew why. For now, it’s tenuous.


I should be sleeping, but this is how it is — sometimes, my head grabs hold of these things and won’t let go. So I’ll list some strategies to try out tomorrow, see if that helps:

  • Character sketch
  • Freewrite / association
  • Brainstorming through mind-map
  • Timeline of (possible) events
  • Soundtrack with associated (possible) events
  • Specifics to research

Maybe it will help to tell you what happened at the hypnotist show. I’ll do that tomorrow, too.

Thanks, Internet peeps. Appreciate the listening ear and reading eyes. 🙂

Thank you, Peterborough Book Club Ladies!

I want to send a special shout-out and thank you SO MUCH to the ladies of the Peterborough Book Club for hosting me via Skype tonight! I had a wonderful time chatting with you and answering your questions — very much appreciated talking about Rayvin, Charlotte, Andrea, and the malevolently marvellous Malcolm de Sade! Cheers and hope to meet you all in person, too! <<hugs>>

Nails, Teeth, and Napping: Battling My Anxiety

These are the three big ways that my anxiety manifests itself: picking at my nails (or my eyelashes), grinding my teeth, and napping. I sleep when I can’t handle the negative emotions threatening to overwhelm me.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen and everyone still finding a label or choosing to be label-free — I am one of those who has struggled with my mental health for more than a decade. Sometimes I’m vocal, and other times, I keep it to myself for many different reasons, some of them valid and some of them fabricated by my own mind. But right now, I’m healthy, and that’s something.

One of the indicators of health is controlling my sleep, only napping when I’m truly tired instead of using it as avoidance or coping, or because the exhaustion is a result of pushing myself beyond my endurance. Another is that picking. I’m not a nail-chewer, though I’ve tried it once or twice. No, I run the tips of my fingers over my nails regularly and frequently, checking for snags, dips, chips, and weak spots; I rub my cuticles, looking for loosened bits of skin in the corners and along the edges of my fingers; I examine them closely, and the moment I feel imperfection, I begin to work at it. I whittle and pull and slice with the other nails in a futile effort to bring things back to smoothness. Sometimes this ends up taking the nail right down to the quick, or in a cuticle turning into a hangnail, or both. It’s a nasty, occasionally painful, and curiously satisfying business, but only to a point — as soon as I find another irregularity, it starts all over again. The only thing I’ve found to be helpful in stopping the madness? Knitting.

This week, I discovered that because I’d been knitting again, consistently, my nails had grown out to a surprising length — long enough to clack and click on the keyboard, and therefore be prone to chipping, dipping, snagging, breaking, as well as being a general nuisance in my documenting at work. I started to feel the urge to pick.

Instead, I found a nail kit I’d bought months ago and stashed in my knitting bag. And folks, I slowly and carefully trimmed and filed my nails to an appropriate length. No pulling. No mad angles jaggedly running down into the pink bed and making hand washing, typing, and peeling fruit a stinging pain. I didn’t get the temporary satisfaction of material easing away, but I do have ten even, clean fingernails with healing cuticles (for the most part).

Part of my brain will tell me that this is trivial in the face of other problems in the world. But another part of my mind says, this is a battle won. Self-care is important when it comes to mental health. If I can take this little step of looking after my hands, instead of abusing them, it’s one more positive light that helps to push back the dark always threatening around the edges of my perspective.

I took care of my hands. Point: Me.