Thursday, July 17, 2014

Teacher Skirts.

If I had followed the path that 2009 Zara had imagined for herself (i.e., elementary school teacher), I would most definitely hop onto Etsy and buy up these storybook skirts from Interrobang.

Storybook skirts are the cooler version of the classic elementary school teacher sweater...

(Skirts via; Teacher sweater via)

Skirts from top: Marvel Comics, Alice in Wonderland, The Cat in the Hat, The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Monday, July 07, 2014

Making Peace.

It has been three months since I said goodbye to Bonzai, my bad and precious beagle. This photo is the last one ever taken of the two of us. It's a scene from the morning that he was put down, snuggled into bed with Jordan, Shannon, and I around him.

I couldn't look at the photo for a long time because it made me sad. But now I can look at it and almost smile. What a look for our final portrait - I am a teary mess, and Beag is sticking his tongue out like I was choking him out. To be honest, I was probably squeezing him pretty tightly, but in reality I think he was just caught in the middle of licking his chops.

Today would have been Beagle's 10th birthday. And, in honour of him, I have decided to talk about the journey of making peace with the loss of my littlest friend.

The day that I said goodbye to Beagle was very difficult, but living in the aftermath has been harder than I anticipated. I feel his absence almost every day, and I am told that this sense of loss can last a long time.

In the week after he died, I dreamed of Beagle every night. Sometimes he would be a key part of the dream action, and sometimes he would just be there, a presence, like he was in my day-to-day life. I hoped that I would always dream of him, as a way to keep him around, but he is an infrequent visitor in my dreams these days.

For the first month after he died, I cried most days. Not huge, body-heaving, Greek tragedy cries, but I would tear up thinking about my pup, or shed a few tears while recounting memories with friends. I am still waiting for the day when every mention of Beagle will garner a tearless smile from me, but I don't think I'm far off. These days, I have more smiles than tears when I think about him.

I still find myself thinking that I need to get home for his dinner once 4 o'clock hits. I still have his car blanket folded up in my trunk. I still have white hairs embedded in my black sweaters and tees (and probably will for years). I catch myself looking up at the doorway while I'm working at home, thinking he's about to stroll into the room for a scratch or a snuggle. His favourite nap spot on my bed still feels so empty.

He is all around me, and yet he is not here. 

I have been lucky to have a few new animals move in and out of my life since Beags - a friend's kitten, named Richard Parker, that I kitten-sat for a week; a beautiful dog, named Skate, who I fostered for the KW Humane Society. I find animals so soothing, comforting, and wonderful to have around.

People often ask if/when I'm going to get another dog, and many dog owners who have lost beloved pets assure me that it will be a wonderful thing, once I'm ready. The wisdom seems to be that I will never love a new dog exactly the same way that I loved Beag, but I will love them, and just as much.

To be honest, that idea of a new dog just doesn't appeal to me. I can't imagine loving another pet, and I certainly can't imagine losing another one. Maybe this means I'll never have another pet, but never is a long time. Likely, it means I'm just not ready yet.

I've done a couple of things since Beagle died that have helped me to make peace, for those of you who are interested. First, I am so glad that he was put down at home. Knowing that my little guy went, in bed, surrounded by people who loved him, was a comfort to me. Certain illnesses or emergencies can make this kind of procedure impossible, but I highly recommend it, if you are able.

Second, I had him cremated individually and had his ashes returned to me. My vet assured me that Beagle's remains would be handled carefully (as opposed to me receiving a pile of random pets ashes mushed together). The people at A.V.A. Pet Crematorium did a beautiful, respectful job. Beag was returned to me in a small wooden box with a gold name plate and a certificate outlining who had cared for his remains. Picking up his ashes two weeks later was a very difficult moment. I was so shocked by how small the box was. I sat in my car and cried for a few minutes, but I was glad to have him back with me.

Initially, I thought that some friends and I would scatter his ashes around Waterloo Park, where we walked several times a week. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn't ready to part with the ashes. Some people have suggested scattering some and saving some, or mixing his ashes into soil and potting a plant. For now, the box is sitting on my dresser, with his collar draped over it, and there it will stay until I decide to do something different. I pat the box as I walk by, and it's a nice reminder that he is, in some small way, with me.

Third, I asked friends to make a donation to the KW Humane Society in Beagle's honour. For my birthday, everyone contributed hundreds of dollars that I was able to use to buy items off of the organization's wishlist. I liked the idea of Beagle giving back directly to other animals in need, and am so grateful for my friends' generosity.

Last, I memorialized Beag in a painting. Well, hold on, I didn't memorialize him. What am I? Picasso? I actually purchased this painting from an Etsy shop about 3 years ago after being struck by how much the dog looked like Bonzai. I decided - somewhat morbidly, in retrospect - that I would frame the piece after Beagy was gone. So, the day that I picked up Beagle's ashes, I had the painting framed at Framing + Art Waterloo. The women there were so lovely and comforting, helping me choose the right frame and mat as I tearily explained that it was a tribute to my deceased pet.

I am planning to paint my bedroom walls soon, after which I will hang it in my room - his favourite spot to nap in the sun. 

If I have learned anything throughout this process, it's that people are so generous with their love and sympathy. Almost everyone I've encountered along the way has been kind and sincerely empathetic. We are a good species, we people. I am so grateful for the understanding, friendship, notes, and hugs that have been extended to me.

Grief is a strange and winding process. It is deeply personal, and there are no right answers or quick fixes. My best advice for anyone who has lost a pet is to let yourself feel it. Don't worry that your sadness is disproportionate because you've lost an animal and not a person. Don't feel bad if you want to get a dog the next day. Don't be concerned if you don't ever want a pet again. Have a funeral, tell some jokes, write a song - do what makes sense to you.

For me, what made sense was writing. My two long posts (this one, and the one on the day he died) have been cathartic and healing. I never used to be comfortable with being publicly sad. I didn't cry in front of people or talk about sadness. But I have learned to embrace it. It's okay to be sad - happiness without sadness would not be complete.  

My heart still feels very broken, but I have no regrets about having loved my dog for the seven years I had with him. As the wise words of C.S. Lewis go: to love at all is to be vulnerable. I opened up my heart to Bonzai, and my life has been irrevocably, beautifully changed.

Happy birthday, little friend, wherever you are.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. 
Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. 
If you want to make sure of keeping it intact 
you must give it to no one, not even an animal. 
Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries;
avoid all entanglements. 
Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. 
But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. 
It will not be broken; 
it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. 
To love is to be vulnerable.”

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Matched: Atticus Finch.

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it."

Ah, the quotable Atticus Finch, devoted father and quiet hero of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Somehow, I managed to escape high school without ever having read this novel - can you believe that? Tragic. It's my mum's favourite book, and she gave me a copy a few Christmases ago. Now, in spite of having come to it late, I have read the book at least a dozen times. No matter how many reads, however, the strength and courage of Atticus doesn't fail to stick right in my heart; a literary father to love.

Today's Matched is in honour of my own dear dad, who is celebrating his 61st birthday today. He crusades in the trenches, fighting the good fight, with a slightly noisier courage.

Love and hugs, daddy-o.

(1. Moleskine reporter notebook; 2. J.Crew cashmere cable sweater; 3. "Mockingbird Trill" by Linda Rous; 4. Campus plaid bowtie; 5. Tiffany cufflinks; 6. Necco candy wafers; 7. Dylan wingtip Oxfords)

Monday, June 23, 2014

How to Have a Writing Retreat.

For the last year or so, I've been itching to go on a writing retreat. I had visions of renting a little cabin (like this) and disappearing with my pup into the wilderness for a weekend; no internet, no TV, just me and my laptop.

And wine. For

Enter Dana, my longtime editor at Faze, writer, and newly-minted friend. Last month, Danes and I united over our mutual love of board games. Recently, we decided to take our friendship to second base. By which I mean: giving one another feedback on our fiction pieces. Dana is goal-oriented, open, and driven - I couldn't think of a better writing retreat partner.

Dana's wonderful aunt and uncle have a farm in Prince Edward County, and we were invited to spend last weekend there; writing, eating, and soaking up the beautiful country air.

Before we left, Danes and I each made a list of writing goals, sent them to the other, and promised to keep ourselves on track. Spoiler alert: neither of us finished our ambitious lists, however, we were pretty productive! Throughout the weekend we did writing exercises, discussed interesting articles, wrote solo, and cooked up blog posts.

It was so reinvigorating to take a full weekend away from work, email, TV, Netflix - all of the things that distract me from my writing. New goal: go on two writing weekends PER YEAR!

I went a bit snap-happy with my camera, documenting the experience.

If you're interested, here are a few shots from the weekend!  

The guest house we stayed at was a cute cottage beside the gorgeous main building.

It was beautiful - full of books, and art, and light. The perfect place to take a break from writing and join our hosts for a bite to eat and glass of wine.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the food. Oh, my friends, the food. Dave and Sarah live the farm-to-table life, and every meal they made us was fresh, delicious, and made from scratch.

I honestly haven't felt so spoiled and healthy in ages. Cereal and toast for all meals of the day just really can't compare to what they whipped up. I've been inspired to try a little more cooking in my day-to-day life, starting with the gravlax recipe that Dave recommended. Mmmmm.

Danes and I managed to sneak a little bit of time outside between writing sessions.

We were a hop and a skip from the water, and a quick drive to the beautiful beaches of Sandbanks, so we spent some time canoeing and basking on the shore.

Sidenote: I finished Lynn Coady's Hellgoing and adored it. To be able to write like that, wow...

I cannot thank our hosts enough! Sarah and Dave were generous, thoughtful, and such wonderful company. I am so grateful that they invited us to stay.

P.S. Here is Dana's reflection on the weekend.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Matched: Ramona Quimby.

Ah, Ramona Geradline Quimby.

She's the spunky, clever, curious, and absolutely infuriating little sister of Beverly Cleary's much-loved books. She is one of my very favourite literary characters, and I often think I will saddle my future daughter with the name Ramona (if such a daughter ever materializes).

Today's Matched goes out to my very own little sister; simultaneously a pest and the absolute best.

Happy 27th birthday, Bops. Love you  much.

(1. Fox necklace by minifelts; 2. "Only Ewe" sweatshirt; 3. "Quick Trip" backpack (or packsack...); 4. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh; 5. "Max" illustration by Nan Lawson; 6. Chuck Taylor youth high-tops; 7. Grape Bubblicious gum)

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Worst Ways to Begin Your Novel.

I love great first lines of novels and stories. Sometimes, if they're particularly good, I'll read them again and again, prolonging the start of the novel while I enjoy the beauty of  well-crafted opening words.

Some first lines are very well-known; most book lovers could match them to their respective titles relatively easily...
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

"All this happened, more or less."

"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

“Call me Ishmael.”
One of my favourite books, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, begins this way: "It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York." Such a satisfying start - what could possibly go wrong? (Spoiler alert: a lot goes wrong).

I recently read a post over at The Write Life that shared several literary agents' first line pet peeves. To save your works of literary genius from being shredded, recycled, burned, or otherwise re-slushed, take heed and avoid these worst ways to begin your novel:

1. False Beginnings - "it was all a dream" opening scenes? What a rip.

2. Prologues - just...prologues.

3. Exposition + Description - avoid a "laundry list" of adjectives and otherwise flowery language. Ain't nobody got time for that.

4. Backstory - on the topic of things ain't nobody got time for, avoid sharing too much information about a character's backstory before you've even gotten to the plot.

5. Boring openings - "Once upon a time..." "since the dawn of time..." "On the first day of school..."

There are more in the article, if you're interested (including some genre-specific pet peeves). Give it a gander and check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Hope the start of your week is as beautiful as the start of your novel!

P.S. Authors' favourite first lines

(Image via)